An Otherwise Pleasant Afternoon (third preamble) video transcript, 2017
You watch an endless line of Southern Yellow Pines scroll staccato, past the window of your family’s yellow Datsun. The angle is low, from the perspective of your tiny head, which rolls against the back seat as the car lurches between gears. This is your first memory of a movie, the movie itself being absent, and for the next forty years you fixate on the drive there, pressing your synapses to exit the highway and find the theater, with its crimson curtains that part for a cast of mammoth faces, slightly out of focus and bellowing from behind a luminescent screen.
The next image is always the same, the endless tree line, now at night, moving in the opposite direction. The trees are visible at the point where the headlights cast into darkness. Their needles are zapped of green and replaced with vague swaths of grey.
You wonder why the night steals the color out of things - why the world moves so much faster to the side of a car but not in front or behind, and how the trees, normally so real, to be carved into, peed upon, are suddenly questionable. You close one eye, compressing the view. Leafy ghosts howl past the window (just like the movies) under the whine of the Datsun’s engine.
As you grow, you wonder at insignificant details that linger in the background of every movie you see. By the time you are an adult, you have learned to soften your eyes so that the edge of the screen dominates. Peripheral items. Tertiary little strokes - the salt shakers of eras past, an ashtray of obscene circumference on the desk of the diabolical Dr. Mabuse.
The closer you drift to the edge of the frame, the more you wonder about its creation, and if Fritz Lang’s monocle is just a director’s viewfinder, enveloped by the eye socket, a corporeal declaration of proficiency. You puzzle over how his cheek keeps the optic in place, unlike John Ford’s eye patch which is equally awesome, but clearly secured tight with an adjustable strap. And you’re not sure which is more imposing; Ford’s blind eye, or the saliva that hangs at the corners of a handkerchief that he chews all day.
With Fatty Arbuckle, there’s no doubt when it comes to his blue peepers in black and white. Whatever the gag, they are persistently mesmeric and tinged with secret rage. You can’t watch him, without a dull ache permeating your gut.
So, thankfully, there’s Jaques Tati, who’s eyes you long to meet, because they are never close enough. He looms, perpetually small, stumbling through crisp architecture. He gawks at the edge of the frame, with you - a sweet man trapped in his own movie.
But the real wonder lies in your guiltiest pleasure, in the mustard yellow viscera of Phantasm Two, and in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which, when you first see it, distresses an otherwise pleasant afternoon. The frame seems to disintegrate as it rolls through the VCR. It’s vulgarity oscillates brilliantly against beige venetian blinds, drawn tight, conjuring fear while accessing the gentler corners of your subconscious. You are disoriented when you finally open the blinds. You wonder at the solemnity of daylight interiors and why the screen violence you just recoiled from is now a comfort.
The Brothers Grimm know why; they know that the most violent stories are next to God.
You wonder at Conan the Barbarian. He sits atop his throne. His intumescent arm presses a fist under his chin in a gesture of mythic self confidence turned inward. The stillness of the frame is stirred only by the mist rising around him. The scene is so placid that you wonder, at this opening shot, if you’ve come to see a movie at all, if instead you’ve been tricked into watching a painting.
And the amazement swells as you watch your mother descramble the cable TV box with a playing card - the Jack of Hearts. Your anxiety over what will happen, if mom is caught pirating cable, is quieted only by Adrianne Barbeau’s heavy breasts when Swamp Thing, in persistent rotation on Home Box Office, repeats for you, four times a day. Your enthusiasm for the experience is revealed in photos that mom takes, moving 80 miles an hour across America, documenting you and your sister’s miserable longing to be anywhere but in the rear of the VW camper. You long to get back to the VCR, to the cable box and the Jack of Hearts, now expertly crimped and inserted into the seam above the dial, then pulled outward until an image is illicitly revealed.
Blinding, unfamiliar terrain scrolls past the camper’s window, moving slower to the side and increasingly faster in front and behind. The songs of Enya soothe tensions brought on by a sour, family odor that permeates the dimness of the Vanagon; sail away.
Back home, the card trick stops working, and Swamp Thing is a disappointing squiggle. But the sounds of the movie are in tact. Wild blotches of red, green and blue quiver, reacting to the voice of Adrianne Barbeau, so you relax into your chair and descramble the movie yourself, taming its flailing images by tapping a memory of the scene. You breathe into a phone which connects you to Mitsy Wellington, two doors down, who watches silently with you. But her cable is legal and unobstructed, and you’re afraid to admit that you can barely see.
Adrianne Barbeau is enveloped by a varicose smear of green. She turns to the inside of the TV to embrace the Swamp Thing, but her head remains still, her neck twisting like a soaked towel. In this impossible contortion, she studies you up and down. She knows.
The Time Warner man creeps past your house in a covert white van. A radio dish juts from the roof and casts for evidence of the Jack of Hearts: a surge in the RF signal where it should be quiet. If you listen carefully, you’ll hear a squeal at the top of the frequency range. And if you move, you’ll feel it, like water, deep inside your ear.