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That time I witnessed the killing in New Orleans. Or what I think was a killing. I mean my mind tries to interrupt the notion despite looking into his eyes. Glassy and pinned straight to the sky; on his back still and a woman, more still than I’d assume when a partner has died. Maybe that’s how it looks, a woman in shock, drunk and in the midst of a Saint Paddy’s parade.
A young man, thrown and chained to a fence ten feet to my right as a commotion stirs in my view. You can’t so much hear anything strange, the horns, the cheers, the murmurs of a carnival crowd. But a shuffle and a wake of people escaping the center, where the assault has taken place and the undercover cops are fighting this kid to that fence.
He was dirty, his hair long and nappy, white boy dreads, but I think now just dirty. His clothes sort of fell over his gaunt body. He was lively like a puppet flailing about. And the noise of the handcuff chains, the rattling fence. Or was it wrought iron. This is New Orleans. My memory fails.
It does happen in slow motion. More to take in I guess. I learned once that when trauma occurs the thing that keeps it from leaving your mind, keeps it eating away at you forever, is the interruption. The mind is trying to piece together a linear recollection, subconsciously, and because it can’t, the mind cycles again and again around the memory until it grows from trauma to post trauma and so on.
His eyes glistened and I remember them large. I remember them larger than they were because I examine them in my minds eye in the shadows of my brain. Only until they are coaxed to the surface to I even come to see what the brain has been doing with this little piece of information. And this is maybe that attachment I have to New Orleans, that thing that keeps a warm place in my heart for the old place I spent 10 days. A long time ago.
Gary Patrick Harvey
Eye of the Story
Feb, 19, 2016
A Meditation on reality as it is captured or simulated.
Where can you find the truth in a moving image?
In Masculin/Feminin, Godard tried from a filmmaker’s lens to capture the experience of French youth. However, according to the lead character Paul’s statement at the conclusion of the work, he recognized that one cannot achieve a wholly objective truth through interrogation but instead through behavioral observation. Perhaps if the camera were hidden and there were no audience or interviewer, to coax a response, this might be possible.
I found myself fixated on a very short moment in a scene featuring a woman known as Miss 19 or “A Consumer Product” in Godard’s intertitles. I will not hide from my fixation on finding truth within the films that I watch, perhaps a reflection on my preference to achieve truth in my own work.
In any case, I suspect the moment I studied was captured by chance. The moment lasts approximately 10 frames, assuming the film has been shot and played back at 24 frames per second.
As this woman, Miss 19, is being grilled on her feelings about contraception during the 6 minute long take she grows tense, reluctant. In a brief moment of honesty, perhaps seeking a safety net or an escape from Godard, she glances directly into the camera. This seemingly insignificant ‘mistake’ is a definitive acknowledgment which cannot be hidden without losing the freshness of the shot. In the whole of this film no such glance is seen in this way before or after. A truth. Yes there is the truth of the tension, the insecurity and reluctance seen in the body language. But by looking ever so briefly into the camera she is breaking the fourth wall. She is acknowledging to the viewer that, in fact, we are seeing people pretending before a camera that is pretending to show us reality, in a simulated real time. We are seeing her honest desire for an escape from this line of questioning and from being on camera to answer it.
Godards long take and this truth that jumps out from it recalls, to this viewer, Andy Warhol’s screen tests of the 1960’s; in particular, that of Ann Buchanan (1964.) The subject, a mutual friend of Warhol and Allen Ginsberg, is the subject of one of these long takes; her mostly still face appearing before a fixed camera. The demand upon the viewer in Warhol’s long takes is to simply watch and wait. With no narrative or even technical movement of the camera, the film, 4 minutes in length, elicits a temporal, and literally indexical experience from the viewer as it seems. The viewer is forced to set down all expectation of the filmic form as has been established through it’s evolution as a storytelling device and just observe; observe and project their own story upon Ann’s face. To the viewer who has the patience of mind, one might be able to experience the world of Ann’s face, the world through Ann’s face; noticing the most subtle of twitches or swallows. For that viewer the grand crescendo is that of the welling of a tear that finally falls from her eyelid down her cheek. And perhaps you will find the same feeling arising in you. To the viewer agitated by the lack of action on the screen, the piece is performed within the viewer’s mind, in the stirring elicited by the anticipation of something to happen; and perhaps consequently missing the action on screen entirely.
Experimental pieces like this strip away the fundamental elements of the filmic form as a storytelling device and regardless of intent, expose the sensory illusion of film; the suspension of reality within a viewer. While you may have judged the Ann Buchanan screen test as reality, what you in fact saw was falsified evidence. Warhol shot his screen tests at a faster film speed then they were shown; shot at 24fps, played back at 16 fps. What you felt was a projection via a suggestion, like Paul’s failed objective experiment in Masculin/Feminin,
The Akand Path.
Maybe it’s all those sits at the Book – the Sikh Guru at the Gurdwara on the mountain- reading in continuous fashion; dozens of devotees, full, half or just tasting; reading, one after the other without pause. Three days it takes. Twenty-four hour days and no more if the readers are of an averagely moderate pace.
The slightest gesture communicating to the closely watching attendants; people waiting in their line, arriving minutes before, sometimes an hour before their turn. Meditating on the sound of the Nam – the whole of creation in the Sikh faith. The words of the book are the Nam. The people lie in their corner; the top of the cloth covered head or side body, but never the bottoms of the feet facing the book. They lie in meditation and wait glancing at the clock on the wall. There is always a clock on the wall. The Gurdwara is not a place for cell phones, though I suspect they have glowed their glow from time to time. Everyone cheats on their faith at some point or another.
Forty-five seconds prior to their prescribed time at the latest will they be shuffling their knees across the floor and beside the outgoing reader. The reader with finger tracing a line their last sentences to indicate where the incoming should begin. For a brief moment, perhaps three or ten words (pace dependent) both voices read aloud together as the baton is passed.
Hesitation is unholy in the Gurdwara, or so it would seem. And I’ve never once seen the reading interrupted, the chain broken. Never once has a person interjected their own words into the reading.
Maybe it’s been too long since I’ve been to a Gurdwara. Too damn long even. But it’s like being up against that fence at the NOLA St. Paddy’s parade or clopping my shiny black dress shoes down the marble floors of St. Josephs School in Lodi. I’m not there but it is in my cells. It is in my habits.
Eyes always stay on the page at the Guru. In the zone. No stopping. Awareness on the words, whether half understood or just pronounced. All is still until the new reader is heard entering the room. The only anxiety, a touch, as the blurred form of the next reader rises off the floor toward the book… Breath fuller. Tense and compensating. Like passing the the most delicate Penguin egg from one warm body to the other. Until the exchange has been safely made.
My Black Star Album arrived today. It was damaged.
The China Clipper. At the dank dirty heart of this town. By day, [just a place not to go by day.] By night, the bar where you’ll find fading dreamers sousing themselves into delusions of grandeur; to take a mic and belt their beloved cover songs at audio levels unmatched by the worst sound designers of the VFW grade d.j. scene of 1987. Though in this dream our beloved, my beloved Clipper sits at the top of The Exorcist staircase in Georgetown University, only here Georgetown is instead Olympia, Washington; that being the welcome difference. An unnamed recently deceased rock star, gaunt yet dressed for a night in Michael Jackson’s “Smoothe Criminal” video takes a barstool along side me. We begin to sing along with a man performing on a stage several feet away. I can’t see the man. I don’t know if he’s really there. Maybe we are just listening to a recording. I don’t recall. The scene is as ugly as… the China Clipper. Brown and gray and some random colored lights spill in from the neon Beer signs. The overhead lights are three shades above what would be considered a comfortable evening experience. But there is this haze that softens everything enough to accept the circumstance. So enveloped in my observation of the scene it is a sudden surprise that the gaunt rock star has vanished. I leap out of my body and observe myself, physically; seeing myself notice the disappearance, my head turning to a door that swings slowly shut like that of an old western saloon. History and the evolution of the modern bar are bending into each other now; here; in the ugliness of the China Clipper, where nobody knows your name and if they do it’s time for a change of scenery. I rise off my stool and run to the door. It pushes out to this steep stone stairwell, lit by a single lamp at the end where the cracked sidewalk meets the black tar on the perpendicular street. The stairwell is sandwiched by the shaded brick walls of two high rise buildings creating a thin, tall strip of light between the walls. It is not raining but the street glistens wet. Somewhere between the stool and the stairwell I have jumped back into my body and I’m seeing all of this detail at once. The pace of this memory, this dream allows me to take in every odd and random detail. And now again I take notice of the man who had vanished, his thin stature, his pressed gray suit and cropped hair; running gallantly, like the stairs are his dance floor. He dashes left out of view. I pursue.
The steps are slick and I move slowly though I’m running. I reach the bottom of the stairs onto a short glistening strip of alley leading to the street. Here I am bottlenecked by three men turning the corner in opposing direction. Their bodies move like Jeff Bridges in “Star Man”, stiff, sharp, alien movements. Their faces, three identical faces of Andy Warhol; each head looking in a different direction. One up and to the left, one down and to the right, one directly at me. The white hair messed like silver clouds, the powdery faces, the sunken cheeks. Confused, I turn onward to the street, though I’d never stopped moving forward. Time as it does in a hesitant dream, had bent back out again and stretched like taffy. It had stretched and I continued on to try to reach the deceased rock star for whom time, unlike me, had continued on all along. I slap the brick of the left wall with a flat hand as I turn the corner that opens out into a wide, dark, empty city street. He is gone.
I had a dream last night where Caitlyn Jenner appeared walking down the road. She looked incredibly depressed.
Can you draw what is behind you from the perspective of looking forward?
What’s your plan? The film is the plan.
My mother and I return to our hometown of Lodi, NJ to piece together the story of my uncles life. It’s been 51 years since his murder and 34 years since I first stepped foot into this amphitheater, a moment that is one of my earliest memories.
My first movie was Peter and the Wolf at the East Stroudsburg Drive-In just off the Route 206 intersection. It was just behind the old IGA. It was knocked down for a parking lot too many years ago now to remember. Though since my visits to the Poconos became less frequent beyond my teens, numbers of years sort of sweep quickly together in a colored blur of absent memory. The Drive-In, with it’s old frayed screen and rusted beams, had been long left to waste, swallowed with overgrowth by the time it was dismantled; an eye sore. Within view was the house on the hill that the Jaycees used for their annual Halloween haunted fundraiser. The best and scariest I’d ever been to than or now. Sadistic bunch. –
They knocked that house down as well, at near the same time as the Drive-In. It did look and did sound condemned back when parades of us would shuffle through the cellar door entrance in the dark, to the attic four flights up, into a room with a strobe light, painted white, with a crucified Jesus coming off of the cross and coming after you, with the thorns digging into his skull as the blood makeup smeared down his face and around his eyes suggested. You can’t make that up. Like I said. Sadistic bunch.
The old haunted house was replaced with a church. The old church that came before it sat on a small hill within view of both the house and the Drive-In. Though, I never recall thinking much about the old church, I remember the cemetery that sat just at it’s side wall. A turn of the century cemetery. Tightly packed with simple stones bloating from a fenced of Iron or aged wood. I remember remembering the church first when it was gone. A cylindrical box-like building with a stucco like face of caked on layers of white paint, pale as powder. The cemetery and the structure shared about an acre of clearing from the forest to the street.
One day however many years ago or later, I made the turn down that road and it was a new glassy and millennium-modern car dealership. The scene of that car dealership against a colonial cemetery is what I remember most now. But I want to, I guess, remember the old church instead.
Gary Patrick Harvey
Eye of the Story
Writing American Cultures Review
Virtual Reservations (excerpts)
Within the majority of these works lies a rich opportunity for self discovery, identifying that which makes us who we are or where we come from. These studies act to voice a truth not necessarily predetermined by the writers themselves.
The first chapter, written by Ataya Cesspooch, lays out a relevant example of how a peoples story can be arrested by the projection of an outside source and driven by popular media. Ataya discusses the 20/20 episode hosted by Diane Sawyer “Hidden America: Children of the Plains.” He writes that it ‘followed the story of three youths on the [Pine Ridge] reservation against the backdrop of high alcoholism and suicide rates. It documented the struggles and hardships that some of the youth have been through and how they have overcome their troubles.’ (pg 10) It might be argued that the producers and Ms. Saywer herself might have thought they were doing a service to the community. Indeed opening a lens that is rarely seen to a mass audience may spark further inquiry to those enlightened to it for the first time. However what is argued by Rob Schmidt, a reporter for Indian Country Today, is that the question “Why are people in these conditions?” is never asked. He goes on to say that “It’s not that any of these stories are false or unrepresentative. But they seem chosen for the maximum heart-tugging effect. You’ll suffer with the children in the first half, and you’ll feel their joy as things improve in the second half.” Ataya concludes that the real problems are crafted into a heart-warming television special.
“It seemed they were always focusing in on all the negative parts. They were focusing on them and either loathing us for them, or pitying us… If they did show some success story it was drenched in pity: some phoenix child who had risen from the turmoil of the reservation to fulfill her true potential.” (P 10) The 20/20 broadcast is guilty of building it’s plot off of this stigma.
I recall our classes previous discussion of James Baldwin’s eye on plot from the Devil Finds Work. Baldwin states that “a plot must come to a resolution, prove a point; a plot must answer all the questions which it pretends to pose.” The 20/20 piece imposes this plot upon real people and inevitably omits the back story, context and unspoken elements of the people. It speaks for them rather than letting them speak for themselves. As filmmakers and writers we don’t want to undermine the ethical responsibility we have in our modes of representation. How far will we impose our voices and how far will we allow the subject to be the voice.
Sawyer asks “Why don’t you just leave the reservation?” Ataya’s shares writer Vic Glovers passage as the answer. “You could say that many of us living up here have given up on the American dream, because we find that the values extolled and pursued by commercial, consumer-driven American society, in and of themselves are illusory, mythological, essentially empty, and selfishly unfulfilling. Where in American culture is the heart?” “Living outside of the American Dream, people are able to provide real meaning to their lives, through strong family ties and strong cultural identity.” (p. 12)
He writes on (pg 10) of the American perception of Native America, “They couldn’t understand why we would want to stay on the reservation and how our values differ from theirs. They never could quite grasp the complexity of it, the way that we were living out tradition but in the only way we could, in the present.”
Jack Sukimoto: JA/LA: Shifting Meanings of Japanese American Identity, Culture and Community.
This final paragraph of my essay on Ataya ties into themes in other writings from this book. In particular Jack Sukimotos “JA/LA: Shifting Meanings of Japanese American Identity, Culture and Community.” As he journeys through a gentrified area of Little Tokyo in Los Angeles he sees how his old home has transformed into a place more welcoming for tourists and non-Japanese American people. “It still feels Japanese, but some of that authenticity I remember is gone. I realize how touristy it is, clean and straight, neat and rigid. And where were those mobile knick-knack and food stands in the middle of the wide walkways? Were they even there in the first place, or was that just my imagination?” (p 94.) As he learns of these changes he identifies ways the community holds on, the Japanese-American Baseball League, the Girls Club… things that are arguably American conventions, but are redefined by the people who adopt them. The Japanes-American Baseball League itself is a response to the banning of Japanese from the games during World War 2.
In response to Jack’s concerns about the loss of the culture his subject Craig responds: “One day, if and when you have a family, if it’s that important to you, you’re going to make sure it happens in your own family, and that’s how tradition gets passed down. You may not be cooking the same stuff; you may be cooking taco salad instead. That’s how tradition changes.” In the end Jack asks “How might the culture change , and how can we embrace this change to find our own Japanese American experience?”
I think this question can be said of any culture, of any community. We live often separated from our roots, our homelands, our home towns, our ancestors. Somewhere in history the American Dream became something so viciously hoped for that some of our ancestors actively forgot and actively deprived their offspring of ethnic history. Unfortunately that hope was not always born in the lightest of circumstances. It was often born in discrimination, fear, oppression. In Ataya’s case, his community reacts to set the story straight with media. In Jack’s case, his community creates and participates in organizational activities.
Khmao Euy Khmao: Colorism Amongst Cambodian Americans
Linna Teng’s account uncovers an internalize racism. It appears that her Cambodian American community internalized a bias of light skinned over dark skinned people which was passed it down generationally. The language translates “Dark but beautiful” and there is no term for “Dark and Beautiful.”
She returns to her community to discuss how Americanization manifest in her Cambodian community not only in style and food, but also in a preference in many that she interviewed to have partly white, not fully Cambodian children. “There seems to be an abundance of interracial Cambodian children and so many Khmer Americans giving their children American names, how will I know when someone is Khmer?…This seems to be a trend amongst many that I interviewed many were uninterested in having full Cambodian children.” (p 55)
What this collection of stories tells us is that sometimes we need to dig deeper and even pry out our respective histories. And these histories are not always a given, not celebrated and highlighted in our mass media. Our elders may not even have access there own loss of culture, there own histories, their own biases built around normalizing into the American way. It’s through engagement, conversation with our elders and community that we learn where we come from. I also think that we, as the documentarians, visually or written, should remember that we play a role in revitalization, in the continuation of our stories. When I returned to my home town to piece together my uncle’s story, my family history, most of these folks had not talked about it in years. This was a new chapter for them as well. We shouldn’t take our own influence for granted. We should take care to present and represent as honestly as we can. Giving voice to the voiceless is not a game.
Lists. I make them once or twice a year. I lose them almost as fast as I write them. So what’s the point. I guess every so often I convince myself that I’ll ahve my shit together this time. And so I’ll write a list. Keep a planner. I’ve had this las planner for maybe 4 months. Maybe 3 and just purchased it late in the year because I lost the previous one. As I look through it for this date, I see I was on top of things in October, almost made it into November. Then a few blank pages, weeks. No cross outs to mark the passage of a day or confirm the completion of a plan. I pick up a few days in late November, I must have had a dental appointment. I have been having them so frequently I wonder if novacaine is addictive. It looks like I went though the trouble of slashing through some empty dates with a pencil around this time. I’m all about calendars when I have dental appointments. I imagine they charge you if you miss an appointment at the dentist.