Wednesday, April 04, 2007

"Shirt basket?" "Shirt basket." Gerry, 2003.

It's tough for me to think about this movie without referring back to my first viewing of it. Freshman year of college, when I was still at Pratt, I went to Paris with three friends for spring break. It was a spontaneous decision to go, made just barely over a week before I left. We took a freewheeling approach to exploring the city, outlining a few things we knew we wanted to see, getting a general feel for where that was located relative to where we were and then trying our best to find our way there, allowing ourselves to get distracted by whatever caught our eye along the way. I made a conscious decision to not take too many photographs, opting instead to document the trip with a detailed daily journal that I wrote each night from the various two word notes I wrote to myself throughout the day. Of all the trips I've taken in my life, I remember it the most vividly.

One night, while walking the Champs-Elysées, we decided to take in a movie. We stepped up to a theater and saw it was playing Gerry in ten minutes. I'd read about it in the Boston Globe when it came out in the States while I was still a few months from graduating high school, back in New Hampshire. I'd wanted to see it, but it never came to the local art-house and I never made the trip out to Boston. We all wanted to get a little taste of home, so we went in. There were maybe ten other people in the theater. This was my first big exposure to the long take aesthetic that I've since grown to love; I took to it almost immediately. How ballsy that ten-minute long shot of the sun rising in real time felt to me! I was surprised by how funny the movie was, too.

My group was laughing constantly at the strange conversations peppered with "gerry," a word of seemingly endless applicability in this movie's world, and the playful, verbally inventive banter between the two leads. No one else in the theater so much as chuckled, which made us laugh all the more. They weren't jokes, but situations and attitudes, methods of communication, that made us laugh; untranslatable things. The movie starts off so innocently that I was immediately struck by how interesting it was, in spite of its apparent mundanity. A long shot of the two Gerrys racing each other through the trees was interesting solely due to the beauty of the photography and the charisma of the actors, there was no plot investment at this point. I was looking at something because it was pleasant to look at and nothing more and I really liked seeing a narrative film do that. I was also impressed how, by being forced to stare at a single image for a long time, rather than being bored I found myself more invested in it, interested in analyzing the image more closely. Everything started taking on a higher level of significance, the way the character's shirt rinkled, the cadence of his breathing, the subtle fluctuations in the furrowing and unfurrowing of his brow; it all felt important.

The gradual degradation of the situation the two men face was handled with such grace that it almost entirely snuck up on me, which resulted in an all the more gut wrenching experience by the end of it. The movie left me in a daze, completely out of sorts and unable to communicate with anyone around me. I didn't want to talk about it, I just wanted to think about it and feel it for a while, so I deliberately walked up ahead, away from my group so I could be by myself. We emerged from the theater, back onto the Champs-Elysées. I felt as if I was lifting off, my brain trying to soar up out of my head but my skull keeping it in place, the resistance between the two resulting in the sensation that I was slowly being pulled up off the ground by a helium balloon, like in a cartoon; only the balloon was my head itself and the lift was coming from within. I could differentiate between every individual voice around me, taking every piece of sound coming at me and dissecting the overall field into separate tracks. A woman speaking a mile down the street was as distinct to me as a couple ten feet in front of me, and when I zeroed in on whatever sound source I selected, all the others faded. I realize it sounds like I'm describing a drug experience right now, but the film was so powerful to me that it actually had a physiological effect.

Having viewed some of the works that influenced this film, although I still haven't seen any Béla Tarr films, Gerry is less impressive to me than it was in the past, it ultimately feels a little superficial, like a stylistic exercise more than anything else, but as a point of introduction to this unique school of cinema, it's proven to be invaluable to me.

I just checked, hoping that I'd serendipitously be posting this on the anniversary of this screening, but the three year mark happened a little less than a month ago. Ironically, I started writing this entry about eight days after that mark, but that "start" only constitutes the first two sentences of this post. The rest were written today, April 4th 2007. A review of March will come in the next couple days.

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