THE LAST HOUR OF TELEVISION
It’s 2 am and I am sitting in the cold gallery cube that is 47 Canal. I am with my friend Bradley and the artist Lary 7 who has been holding all night residencies in the space for the past month. He takes photos, records conversations, and explains the various gadgets on display. Constructions to recreate lights and cameras that work despite themselves. Lary recycles and reconfigures the scavenged and defunct into something inspired. New. He calls the show Detritus.
The press release describes it like this: Disintegration, product of decay after an event, leftover from what came before, stuff left behind, shit that no one wants. Anything – biology, geology, material, debris, junk, dust, rubble, rubbish, scrap, trash, remains of something destroyed or broken up – abandoned and forgotten. Re-made into something else-ness.
We drink some wine and a bottle of sake while he walks me through the pieces, a microphone looms from the ceiling as if it were some minimal ceiling fan. We mostly babble about arts funding. Does it even exist ? And then Lary announces we should watch a film.
A map of snow and then a face. Newscasters and late night infomercials. Salad spinners.
And ladies. Broadcasting and selling. Their presence.
He tells us this film is what he shot during the last hour of television’s analog frequencies in the US. Television and its rabbit ears. The in between ness of channels and then finally landing ……he just ran a camera while his cohorts turned the dial ever so slightly. Hollywood puff piece. News report. Commercial for dish soap.
What we are watching, the digital television transition, which was also called the digital switchover, the analog switch-off (ASO), or the analog shutdown was the process in which older analog television broadcasting converted to and was replaced by digital television. This primarily involves the conversion of what we mean when we say the original television technology that uses analog signals to transmit video and audio.
Analog signals vary over a continuous range of possible values which means that electronic noise and interference becomes reproduced by the receiver. So with analog, a moderately weak signal becomes snowy and subject to interference.
This is the part that can be quite beautiful. This disconnection. The only snow you can rest your head on. Or in. For days.
This conversion to digital cable began in 2006. It was an involved process because the existing analog television receivers owned by viewers could not receive digital broadcasts; so viewers had to purchase new digital TVs, or converter boxes which would change the digital signal to an analog signal which could be viewed on the old TV.
My friend Matt arrives in the middle of our viewing to take a break from delivering baked goods around the city. We all get real close to the wall it is projected on, admiring its pointillism.
Bleary eyed and committed to the light. We stand silent in the shadows and I think about the intersection of my childhood and the television.
A latch key kid and her most consistent babysitter.
This one dies before my eyes. Over and over.
Gene Youngblood describes the experience of a expanded cinema as an ‘expanded consciousness.’ He continues, “Expanded cinema isn’t a movie at all: like life it’s a process of becoming, man’s (human) ongoing historical drive to manifest his consciousness outside of his mind, in front of his eyes.”
I think this is what Nathaniel Dorsky means when he describes the cinematic as having the potential to be baptismal. A translucent thumb print of light placed on one’s forehead.
The becoming of the self before the screen and in producing the image.
The representation of self is a production.
During the last snowstorm that kept us inside for several days, I binge watched Spike Lee’s remake of his own film She’s Gotta Have It under a stack of thick blankets. Now it is a web series. With a millenial protagonist. Set against the gentrifying of Brooklyn. So, now it is modern.
I have complicated feelings when I first hear about this project as the intention in the remaking feels unclear.
Remaking one’s thesis film from the 90’s doesn’t scream out as an obvious ‘doing it for the money’ kind of move.
Also, I feel strangely protective of this film. It comes from a certain moment in the 90’s independent film moment that made one feel like anyone could make a film so I champion it for that reason. Flimsy as it may be.
Maybe my loyalties would have more weight if I centered them around the protagonist, Nola Darling, who was unlike any other woman I had ever seen in a film. Someone so determined to be in total control of her life. An inspiration born from Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God.
But here in lies the the real complication with the film.
Having three lovers should have been a by product of Nola’s agency in this narrative but in Lee’s twenty five year old male hands, it is the only point of focus. Analysis. Critique. Her sexuality dissected under a microscope. Centering her whole reason of being as an sexual object. Negating all boast of empowerment. Freedom.
There are two significant problems in the film: one being a rape scene that essentially negates Nola’s liberation by essentially punishing her for her choices by one of her lovers. The perpetrator being the supposed “good” one who would be willing to offer her any kind of stability as a partner. The second being a problematic and shallow depiction of Nola’s lesbian friend Opal as a predator determined to steal Nola away from all men.
This misogyny was not legible to me when I first saw it and I wonder if that is because I had already been conditioned to accept that for every potential of a reality where a woman could truly be powerful in her life, there would be repercussions for that assumption.
This wondering pervades especially now as women and people of color come to terms day to day with these realities being exposed to the world. The disconcerting juggling act of justification and a lifetime of bitter pills. So, maybe I just feel protective of Nola.
Despite the fact that the director always gets the last word, this time I am feeling that maybe he has put her through enough.
Everybody get free until someone else decides you’re not.
Later in film school, I watched the film several times, more problematized by the content but focused on the technique. The loving portraiture of the Republic of Brooklyn (which is how Lee refers to it) inspired me to write rapturous comparisons to Godard and Allen which now leave me with another kind of guilt.
Eventually I would like to write about what it means to develop as an artist in a female body and to have to digest the crumbs of inspiration from male artists and their varying latencies of misogynies. But now is not the time. Or maybe it is.
Once the speaking is spoken, there is no going back.
I watch the show with my hands over my eyes as if watching a car crash.
But It turns out to be better than I think.
Nola is more fully rounded. An artist. Strangely a film buff who only seems to be interested in male directors. But also works. As a teaching artist in a public school.
Due to budget cuts, she is forced to buy her students art supplies out of pocket and fights with Con Ed as often as she argues with her boyfriends.
This time….the physical confrontation is on the street by a stranger. Not a rape but just as disconcerting as more women than not have experienced that fear of being grabbed out of the blue.
The tightening on your wrist. Wrestling for your life. The panic in your throat.
The rest of the series, she confronts the trauma in her art and in therapy.
Her opening monologue confronts the word ‘freak’. The binding of language. She claims other words for her identity. In multiple. She wants to be.
And then from the perspective of Lee’s intention, I think about Youngblood’s quote about how cinema can be like life and a ‘process of becoming, ‘man’s (human) ongoing historical drive to manifest his consciousness outside of his mind, in front of his eyes.”
And this makes me think about the relationship between cinema and redemption and whether or not it can be possible for anyone which leads me to the character arc I love the most in the new series who is Nola’s boss at the public school where she teaches art.
This person Rocalotta Moss articulates her power by talking about herself in the third person as a way to cope with trauma, redefinition and repurposing. We come to learn that Rocalotta is the daughter of a crack addict who pimped her out at the age of twelve for drugs until the foster system removed her.
Nola describes how she understands this personal othering by Rocalotta as a way to remind herself that she was not what they did to her body. But what she did for herself and that is essentially how Lee redeems himself and redeems Nola.
By acknowledging the story of her body and how her reclamation of power was not just for herself but for all the others who have had to put it out there by simply being in the world, by choice or against their will.
To counter being the disintegration, product of decay after an event, leftover from what came before, stuff left behind, shit that no one wants. Anything – biology, geology, material, debris, junk, dust, rubble, rubbish, scrap, trash, remains of something destroyed or broken up – abandoned and forgotten. Re-made into something else-ness.
My favorite trope in all of Spike Lee’s films is his cinematographer Ernest Dickerson’s signature shot of putting the subject on a dolly so they stay still while the whole world moves behind them.
An individual against the world. A body in motion controlled by their thoughts.
Set adrift on this thing called life.
Alive despite an existential sea.
I am watching this from my bed and I am wondering if the baptism still happens if I don’t watch this in a theater.
How can this still be a poetic ? One that exists through multiple containers. A container being a page, a screen, a transmission, a conversation or a touch.
Yesterday I saw the Jean-Luc Godard movie, Goodbye to Language.
When people talk about it, they talk about how it is in 3D.
Godard does 3D. And that’s a thing. His dog stars in the film and that’s a thing. I friend her, Roxy Mieville, on Facebook. She has 184 friends and recently had a birthday. Her presence in the film is framed by a quote by Darwin, “the dog is the only living creature on earth that loves you more than it loves itself.”
But, I speak of this film, not because of the dog, but because of the first shot of the film.
A medium shot on two people’s hands. These people are standing in front of an outdoor book vendor.
One pair of hands holds a book, the other holds an Iphone.
Godard is considered a filmmaker. ‘who uses the camera in the same way that a writer uses a pen.’ There is no gun to my head but this question repeats like rapid fire whenever I pick up a camera or my laptop. According to Godard, all you need is a girl and a gun to make a film. BUT if I want to make the film I have to put all of my energy towards becoming THE girl and the THE gun.
I google a plot synopsis of Goodbye to Language, and all I see is language as language that exists to to describe this film. It says:
The idea is simple : A married woman and a single man meet. They love, they argue. Fists fly. A dog strays between town and country. The seasons pass. The man and woman meet again. The dog finds itself between them. The other is in one, the one is in the other and they are three. The former husband shatters everything. A second film begins: the same as the first, and yet not. From the human race we pass to metaphor. This ends in barking and a baby’s cries. In the meantime, we will have seen people talking of the demise of the dollar, of truth in mathematics, and of the death of the robin.
Does the film even matter ? Which came first, the film or the poem as description ?
Going back to the book table shot…it appears on the screen and the audience that I am sitting among laughs and I laugh too but I am not entirely sure why.
To clarify, I do get the inference towards some sort of “death of the book” commentary and I guess that is why I laugh but the thing I am not sure of is whether it is because I am in mourning or is it because I have already moved on.