Some Memories Don’t Need Photos
Picture (no pun intended) a scene from circa 1990. I carried an Olympus Stylus at the time (I still shoot it when I get sentimental) and usually one or two rolls of 24 exposure ISO 200 film. I wasn’t as serious about photography then as I am now, but I always had my camera at the ready.
So I was armed with my trusty Stylus and three rolls of 24 exposure when my buddies Brad, Chris, and I went to NIU’s homecoming. I have some great memories of pre-game festivities, the game itself (we sat in the visitors’ section for giggles), and of a post-game get together. A few drinks and good times were had by all. I burnt through all three rolls of film that day. I shot a couple of keepers but most of them ended up in a shoebox. But what would have been the best shot of the trip occurred on the drive home.
It was about three in the morning when we drove past a house that had been TPed. This was (and still is) the finest job of toilet papering I’ve ever seen. It was a grand undertaking in both scale and style (we’re talking house, hedges, lawn ornaments, and every tree in the front yard were covered). The breeze was just strong enough to blow some of the toilet paper hanging from a tree into the road. Brad slowed down to about five miles an hour drive through it. Chis and I leaned out the passenger windows and were actually able to touch the Charmin softness. Of course I didn’t have any film left to shoot it so I didn’t even bother reaching for my camera.
For a while after that night I regretting not being able to take a shot of that scene, but ultimately it taught me two lessons. One is that no matter how well prepared you are you aren’t going to get every shot. The other (and the more important one to me) is that to truly enjoy a moment with friends it may be best to put the camera down.
The Visual Appeal of Journey to the End of the Night
I just got back from a week on the road, and I’m thinking about the cliché that says the journey is as important as the destination. I’m wondering if the person who said that ever drove a compact car for fourteen hours straight? I’m also thinking how that old cliché can be applied to movies? There are many movies that have rather predictable plots but we still watch. More often than not we enjoy the movie not so much for the reveal (the destination) but for the development (the journey). Eric Eason’s Journey to the End of the Night is one such movie. You won’t find anything groundbreaking in the movie’s plot, but you will discover a movie that is beautiful in its film noir imagery.
I’m not going to go into great detail about the plot of Journey to the End of the Night. Let’s just say that it has some of the standard plot features of traditional film noir: betrayal, jealousy, and double cross. The topics of plot and character development could easily be an essay on its own, but I want to focus a couple of visual elements of this movie that are great examples of film noir. First, film noir often incorporates elements of bleak urban settings into the story and Journey to the End of the Night is no exception. The best example of this is with the movie’s opening and ending credits. The opening credits give the viewer and aerial view of the city of Sao Paulo, Brazil as night is falling. There is a certain distance, both physically and emotionally in the scene. We can feel the loneliness of the city’s inhabitants and the bleak lives this movie’s characters lead. The ending credits show a similar aerial view of the city as the sun is rising in the distance. Although it may be a new day the same feelings of loneliness and a bleak future linger. Another element common to film noir that can be found in Journey to the End of the Night is the use of grain and contrast. The entire movie is shot with a subtle use of grain and contrast that adds a layer of visual subtext that reinforces feelings of fatalism common to film noir. The characters may try their best to escape the lives they lead but are often victims of fate. This use of grain and contrast also enhances the morally ambiguous lives these characters lead. These people leave gritty lives and the film grain shows this.
I spent fourteen hours one way on my recent road trip. Even though I knew what the destination held for me I made certain to take the time to enjoy the trip there. The same can be said for many movies. Even though the plot may be predictable that doesn’t mean you still can’t enjoy the visual experience of watching it. Journey to the End of the Night utilizes a few visual elements of film noir that make it worth the trip.
Journey to the End of the Night with Brendan Fraser, Yaslin Bey, and Scott Glenn. Directed by Eric Eason.
I’ve wasted too many nights worrying about what happened that day.
Some of the Strangeness of working 12:00 to 8:00.
Working midnights is its own kind of strange. I’ve worked mostly days in my near thirty years of various jobs, with quite a few evenings and second shifts thrown in. So my midnights experience is limited to a little over a year out of those thirty (but it was one long and strange year). One of the strangest things I noticed working midnights was how my life began to run sort of parallel to those who work days. Here are a few strange and parallel things I noticed working midnights.
One of the first things I noticed was the commute to and from work (check out the 4.19.19 post if you want to see what my nightly commute was like). The lack of traffic on the way to work and the traffic seemingly going in the opposite direction during the drive home reinforced the idea that my life was in some way the parallel of most of the working world. It felt odd eating any sort of breakfast food before I went to work during midnights (I usually don’t eat eggs and bacon after dark unless alcohol is involved). Drinking my first cup of coffee at 11:15 at night was also something that I never quite got used to. The actual work I performed didn’t feel any different considering I also worked days at the same job, but it did feel as if everything just moved at a slower pace. Maybe it was the nighttime or some sort of internal clock but I always felt like I put in a couple more hours when I worked midnights. The strangest difference was when I got off work. It just always felt odd grabbing a beer after work when after work at 8:15 in the morning, and I never got over the odd feeling of cracking my second beer at 9 o’clock on the morning.
Working midnights was an odd experience. Maybe I already worked days for too many years to fully adjust, but that odd feeling of being out of sorts never went away during my time working midnights. I will say that my admiration for those who do work midnights is much greater now. For those of you who do work the graveyard, what are you stories?
A Black Cat, Evil Doings, and Neil Gaiman
I’ve always been fascinated with feral cats. I spent a good portion of my childhood on a cattle farm watching a varied collection of Tom and Molly cats prowling about. To be clear these were not indoor cats we put out at night, and they didn’t have proper names (some did acquire nicknames if they hung around long enough). These felines were wild animals. They may not have been lions on the African planes, but they were feral hunters and that is what fascinated me. I used to wonder what kind of lives these wild and free animals led. That question brings us to Neil Gaiman’s “The Price,” eight pages of well crafted, evenly paced fantasy.
The first person narrator of “The Price” is an author who relays a series of events that occur over a period of a few weeks after his family takes in and cares for feral cat known simply as Black Cat. During the brief time Black Cat stays with the narrator’s family it receives several wounds from fighting with some unknown animal. The narrator is determined to capture this animal in an attempt to protect Black Cat from any further harm. It is during the climactic moment of the story that we learn what the unknown animal is and the importance of this Black Cat to the narrator and his family. Gaiman’s resolution is a punch in the gut, which is what makes it great short story. But a closer look at a couple of points of this story shows Gaiman inverting some common conventions of fantasy literature and folklore.
The first convention Gaiman inverts is that of the black cat as a familiar of witches and others disposed to evil at night. Black Cat is described as, “patch of night.” This a common description of the witch’s familiar, but in this story Black Cat is portrayed as protector, willing to stand against a stronger foe to defend others it doesn’t know. The other convention is that of the black cat as an omen of bad luck and ill tidings. Quite the opposite plays out in this story. Black Cat not only defends this family but it appears to somehow carry the burdens of the family which may explain why it is, “surprisingly heavy.” Black Cat’s presence is a stroke of luck for this family. Gaiman’s inversions of these common conventions help establish depth for both the story as a whole and the Black Cat in particular.
Gaiman’s story “The Price” took me back to a time when I would wonder what the feral Tom and Molly cats were doing when I wasn’t watching. Of course there was no Black Cat on the farm, and I never did see anything like what the narrator of this story sees. But maybe that’s what makes the story all the better. Just because I didn’t see doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.
“The Price” by Neil Gaiman from Smoke and Mirrors (1998).
“I buried my head under the darkness of the pillow and pretended it was night.”
The Bell Jar
Or Carrying a Camera in the Middle of the Night
Do you check to see if you have your camera before you have your keys when leaving the house? I’ve been carrying a camera of some sort for the better part of three decades now (I don’t consider my phone a camera, but I won’t judge those who do). Some people have a favorite subject or location when it comes to taking photographs. Other photographers long for the golden hour. I’ve always been a fan of nighttime, not just for photography, but also for reflection.
I’ve never been much of a sound sleeper. Wandering through the neighborhood at night is both a way of passing time (trying to chase down some sleeps as my Pops would say) and as a perfect time to find some good shots. Night is a time to reflect, to think, and to shoot (not necessarily in that order).
Time moves slower at night. There is more time to set up shots. I don’t feel so much like a tourist or a lookie loo if I linger at night (of course I have found myself being accosted by the local police on an occasion or few). But the night provides a quiet and a stillness that I’ve never found in the day. Shots taken during the day may freeze time, but shots taken at night preserve time. Daytime photographs capture a moment, but nighttime photographs embrace that moment.
If you are the type of person that carries a camera everywhere you go, then the next time you find yourself out after dark take a few moments to look around. Enjoy the time to reflect, think, and take a few shots.
Cowboy Junkies, Money, and Murder in a Trailer Park
Songs make for interesting story telling devices. The best songs tell great stories, and great stories always deserve a closer look. These closer looks (criticisms if you want to sound literary) can serve to inform, to entertain, and to persuade. “Murder, Tonight, in the Trailer Park” by the Cowboy Junkies is one such great story. There are multiple approaches and interpretations of this song, but I want to focus on how money plays a role in the lives of the characters in this song.
The central plot of “Murder, Tonight, in the Trailer Park” is the murder of Mrs. Annabelle Evans. She is murdered some time after sunset. Annabelle’s body is identified by a neighbor, Peg. Nearby an unidentified character is prompting someone by the name of Ann Marie to pack her bags and leave with him. Meanwhile, across town, George Evans is at a bar getting drunk, buying rounds for the regulars, and bragging about how he won big at a game of craps. Later this same night, we see a “faceless man” in a hotel room counting out crumpled bills and waiting for the sports results on TV to see if his wagers have come in. These four scenes occur on the same night, and it is money that connects them.
The apparent motive for Mrs. Annabelle Evans’ murder is robbery. She is killed for what amounts to not much more than pocket-money. The central action of this scene revolves around money, and money plays an important role in each subsequent scene. We aren’t made fully aware of the motive for the unidentified character’s desire to move and to what extent Annabelle Evans’ death may have in that decision, but this character has “been saving pennies” in preparation for the move. He tells Ann Marie that they will head west and make a new start (and money is always needed for new starts). George Evans, who we can presume is Annabelle’s husband, is getting drunk at a local bar and is oblivious to the fact that his wife has been murdered. One can’t help but wonder how things may be different if George had gone home instead of spending his winnings at a local bar. Finally, there is the “faceless man” in a hotel room. Annabelle Evans’ murder has made the late night news. This “faceless man” turns down the sound on the TV and waits for the sports. He isn’t as concerned with the murder of Annabelle Evans as he is with whether or not he has won his wagers. These scenes show that money is more valuable to these characters than the life of Annabelle Evans.
Songs are just one of many ways to tell a great story, and great stories are worth criticizing. “Murder, Tonight, in the Trailer Park” by the Cowboy Junkies tells the story of a murder after dark, and how money is more important than a human life.
“Murder, Tonight, in the Trailer Park” from Black Eyed Man by Cowboy Junkies