Thanksgiving Is Ruined

The Personal is Political. The Political is Personal.

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December 06, 2007
Everett Sloane's greatest hit

Among many.

It would have to be this, from "Citizen Kane":

Welll, you're pretty young, Mr., Mr.... Thompson?

A fella will remember a lot of things you wouldn't think he'd remember.

You take me.

One day, back in 1896, I was crossing over to Jersey on the ferry.

And as we pulled out, there was another ferry pulling in.

And on it, there was a girl, waiting to get off.

A white dress she had on.

She was carrying a white parasol.

And I only saw her for one second. She didn't see me at 'tall.

But I'll bet a month hasn't gone by since . . . that I haven't thought of that girl.

A filmclip of the scene is currently here. The movie's script is here.

A hypothetical viewer easily could be forgiven, if they recalled the scene when contemplating a certain wall text in an amazing recent exhibition of photographs by Chris Marker.

The particular text read:
I stare at them, but not enough, not long enough.

There is a beautiful poem by Valery Larbaud, who evokes four young women he caught a glimpse of during his journeys, and he laments not being able to reach them now. "For, I don't know why, it seems to me that with them I could conquer a world."

There is something of that megalomaniac melancholy in the browsing of past images.

Perhaps, if I could catch up with that absolute beauty in Cape Verde, the violinist in Stockholm lost in her thoughts, the grandmother in Corsica kissing the sacred stone, the exhausted Chinese laborer, the Japanese extra sleeping between two takes, the two Russian girls listening to poetry, and the old man with his paper toys, perhaps I could conquer a world. Or rather, they would conquer a world for me.

TiR theorizes that the Larbaud poem that Marker references is "Images." The poem has been published in this volume. The poem in its entirety is here.

Marker's phrase, "megalomaniac melancholy," is mysterious and powerful.

Maybe we could take it to mean, contrary to the superficial impression created by the references to world domination, that the would-be megalomaniac here is not Marker but the melancholy.

That sense is supported by the photos in the exhibition, taken from forty years of political demonstrations around the globe. In another wall text, Marker suggests that, over those decades, he's watched protesters' faces become grimmer, and more pessimistic and distant from one another.

We can feel through his photos a yearning for lost time, lost people and lost individual causes -- an absence suffiently deep, without bottom or limit, encompassing all but swamping any past particulars (the particular instances become, in a way, irrelevant) -- that to surrender to giving it all the mourning it deserves would threaten to swallow up both rememberer and world.

[Yes, of course, this sentiment is trite.

Very very very trite. You, the reader, wisely know this. I mean, you said to yourself, yawn, whatever, right? And correctly so.

But later, it becomes completely not trite. In fact, to point out its triteness -- as if to do so were some strikingly original insight -- suddenly appears as the most trite thing to do.

After that, naturally it becomes trite again, in a way that is new but so obvious that one is ashamed to have previously overlooked it.

Then later, it tackles one all over again, launched like a linebacker from a previously undiscovered blindspot, as being non-trite, but in a richer, more interesting way.

Etc., etc.

You get the point, no?]

Marker's apparent sensitivity to the irretrievability of past time came through in a brilliant response that he gave to an interviewer a few years back, about why he couldn't meaningfully answer questions about the movies he'd made decades earlier:
Twenty years separate La Jetée from Sans soleil. And another 20 years separate Sans soleil from the present.

Under the circumstances, if I were to speak in the name of the person who made these movies it would no longer be an interview but a séance.

At the same time, the remembrance embodied in Marker's photos is not necessarily mournful.
[Or at least not only that. As we know, "melancholy" is a large and many-splendored thing.]
Neither, necessarily, was Mr. Bernstein's in "Citizen Kane."