Time is impossible. It’s hard to get our heads around it. But I think about time all the time. I want time these days like a person wants another person. I want New York City. The bygone one. The one you only see in old movies now, especially movies from the 70s, where a city was a central character. Full of trash, cars painted primary colors, heat.
Maybe it’s because the 70s is the decade I was born at the tail end of, like a zodiac sign. Brushed up against the edge of it, ships passing in the night. Me and the 70s. I was there and I wasn’t there. Only now I want Los Angeles too, which, as a born New Yorker, never really occurred to me.
Los Angeles was never really real until one day, last November, I saw Thom Andersen’s video essay — “Los Angeles Plays Itself” — and then it was. Los Angeles, like someone I didn’t notice until it was too late.
I want actors before the screen aged them, even though everyone is always aging, screen or no screen. Even me. Hence this thing about time. This thing about screens. Wanting time on and off other people, as well as myself, as though time were a fancy dress to put on, to take off.
Hazelnutcake, “Jane Fonda Describes Growing Up” (2008)
Movies make me cry. Right now, good ones and bad ones. Everything makes me cry right now. People crying makes me cry. People I don’t like, crying, makes me like them. Like when Jean-Claude Van Damme recently started crying in an interview, saying that he had “fucked up his life.” That made me cry.
Everything and everyone and every city and everything and every time. I want to be 7. 10. 18, 19—still my favorite life number. I want love. Sometimes even old loves. I want the loves that came then mysteriously blew out like the tire in Brian De Palma’s “Blow Out.” Then everything turns into noir. You investigate. Rewind. Rescind. Reconstruct. You know something, then you don’t. You have something. Then you don’t.
When the tire blows out in “Blow Out” a nation ruptures, expires, and Jack Terry (John Travolta), a microcosm of that nation, goes careening.
I think my ex thinks—as Donald Berthelme notes in “Me And Miss Mandible”—“I am sorry to be the cause of her disillusionment, but I know that she will recover.” How does he know this? The boyfriends that cause disillusionment are like leap years. A decade. They don’t come every year. It takes a special kind of man to disillusion you.
The 70s were about disillusionment. You see everything break down, then you face it and ask questions. And decide whether you want to go on. Disillusionment in the 70s was the equivalent of mortality.
In “Taxi Driver,” Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro), the disillusioned man par excellence, writes: “Loneliness has followed me my whole life, everywhere: in bars, in cars, sidewalks, stores. Everywhere.” Bickle said this in the 70s.
But what if the stores, the bars, the streets became so new, so perfect, so polished that everything—places, streets—became even lonelier than they were when they were poor, messy, broken, split. Empty. Because empty doesn’t always mean empty. Before the 70s, the city was a set, a fantasy. Fiction. In the 70s, people had jobs and a social class.
I look at everything thinking: I didn’t know it. Thinking: I could have. Thinking: I did. Thinking: I won’t. I feel the way Travis feels, only Travis is psychotic and a man, and I don’t know what I am. But this is a diary too.
If time—a time—has a mood, I am not in the mood for this one. After he made “Velvet Goldmine,” the filmmaker Todd Haynes said that the 70s were the last truly progressive decade. The last decade to show its seams.
Film—the screen—used to feel a lot quieter. Like there were breaths between the frames. Horizon. Digital means no breath. Digital means seamless. Means the image never shows.
There is something about the way the 70s screen did things.
Did bodies. Did people’s faces like they weren’t just something you picked up at the doctor’s office. Even did a shark, still on the cusp of real and unreal. Machine and imagination. When they couldn’t get the fake to run smoothly, they simply used the projected unconscious and conscious dread about what’s underneath the surface of the water, which is real.
In the 70s, Hollywood actors often wore clothes to the Oscars that people wear outside (scarf, jacket; rumpled blouse), in the fall, on their way to the store for milk.
The 70s did dissolution, which the decade admitted to. That falling apart is not glossy and a city doesn’t always look pretty or expensive while you do it.
Trust was an issue in the 70s—we stopped trusting—police, politicians, government, media, consumerism, capitalism. Trust had to be earned, rebuilt and replaced with something else. The 70s were both an end and a beginning. “Is it safe?” the infamous Nazi war criminal Szell asks Dustin Hoffman repeatedly in “Marathon Man” just before he drills into Hoffman’s unanestheticized tooth. “No,” Hoffman finally succumbs (realizes), “It’s not safe.”
And computers weren’t skin. The skin of skin. The skin of an image. The skin of life.
- Masha Tupitsyn