085: The Conversation

When the filmmaker sent me the film for examination, it took me a few moments of orientation to the subjects of the work and to the surroundings in which I was meant to find, at the filmmaker’s request, what had been lost.

“I don’t know what happened,” he said over the phone. “I was filming it and then it just disappeared.”

“Just disappeared?” I asked him. I really wanted to ask him where he’d been all these years and how had he been able to grasp the subjects in such an intimate moment, wherein, in their closeness, he’d captured their ability to communicate without speaking but rather through writing and yet was still able to record the phenomenon of human speech.

“Yes,” he said. “It’s gone. It vanished. I was editing the film, playing it back, and suddenly, it was gone.”

By “it” I assumed he meant the speaking subjects.

He said, “Of course the speaking subjects. Notice their mouths. What I’ve sent you is a mere few seconds of two hours of conversation, with much of the context of that conversation somehow gone out of sync or simply lost.”

“I remember such a conversation between us,” I told the filmmaker.

“How do you mean?” he said.

“Several years ago,” I said. “We were at the cafe downtown, you and I, and perhaps another friend, Ezmarelda, Lucy, someone I can’t remember at the moment, and we were talking about that amazing wall of elephants you filmed, how they rushed passed the white and red canopies and throwing up clouds of dust with their movement.”

“Yes,” the filmmaker said. “And it turned out to be a heard of goats. Greatly disappointing.”

“Elephants or goats,” I went on. “More important was that as you told the story or as we discussed the shoot, the filming, and the subject, I observed you seated, reading a newspaper, and with your feet up. You were reading the newspaper, relaxing, perhaps with a glass of white wine, yet all the while I heard you telling me about how out of the clouds of dust and the amazing rumbles of those passing beasts, you saw trunks, flapping ears, undignified rumps, eyeballs flexed in alarm. After the herd had passed, however, reports came back saying that all the goats had disappeared and no elephants had ever been seen in the region. But through the conversation, all I remember seeing was a relaxing man with a glass of wine, reading the newspaper or tapping on the keys of his computer.”

At that moment, my wife entered the room, having overheard my words on the phone, and said, “It was a train, not elephants.”

Amazed, I relayed this information to the filmmaker, because it made perfect sense. He said, “Yes, I remember now. It was a train and the windstorm had been tremendous, the dust rivaling the passage of elephants or a massive passage of goats. What we’d thought was the trampling of the sands by elephants was the grinding of steel wheels. Rather than the trumpeting of elephants, I’d caught with my microphone the calling of the train’s whistle, which is perhaps why in your memory you remember my relaxed image in relation to mistaken story about the elephants or the goats or the train. It’s all making sense now,” he said. I could hear the elation rise into his voice as understanding came. He sad, “I’ve been mistaken about the film I sent you. The subject did not disappear, I’ve merely misinterpreted the whole and its parts.”

“How do you mean?” I asked. “It seems plain to me: two people speaking to each other on their technologies.”

“Incorrect,” he said. “Don’t you see. In that film I sent you, the one that pricked this conversation, there are elephants, goats, and a train–all three. I remember now: that conversation is a combining of several conversations, every word–yes, I remember now–is a word from a multitude of conversations, either repeated or unique, captured over time and made plain as a running narrative over a scene wherein two people are reflecting about the clouds, interesting birds, love, children, flight, and perhaps travel and then what to do there–hours before the passage of the train or hours before the mad scramble of the animals. But they are not the subject at all. Don’t you see?”

“I believe I understand,” I said. “But I’ll need to review the footage several times, as I believe that those two people who are silent on the screen but loquacious in their several pasts have appeared in other films and those guitars and other fixtures of the space are also a montage of past occurrences of image and are indeed the manufacture of a sencored montage. And so, I must not view for the phenomenon of speech alone but I must study the subtle occurrence of gesture, movement, stillness, and arrangement of artifacts as they are evidence of . . . ”

The filmmaker interrupted me. But, strangely enough, my wife also interrupted me. They said at the same time, one from the phone, the other from the kitchen: “Elephants, goats, trains, and, a few seconds into the future, explosions of laughter.”

“This has been one of the strangest conversations I’ve ever had,” I said but the filmmaker had already hung up and my wife had withdrawn elsewhere into the house.

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