living color -
I spent most of yesterday with my extended family, half of them deceased, revisiting old haunts and reliving the events recorded on 8mm film by various relatives over the years. My grandmother had the bulk of the family home movies transferred to video before she died and for some reason I am the guardian of this historical record.
Gone from the movie-watching experience is the clattering of the projector. To recall that sound now evokes memories of summer nights when we'd all be crammed into the longest room to watch the latest reels. The films were made without audio, of course, but the company that made the transfer to video laid on a soundtrack of elevator music, one long loop of royalty-free orchestral classics. Watching them now is almost surreal as the visual sequences have nothing to do with the music being played, and occasionally a musical phrase or a mood evoked by the score will take what you're seeing to some other level of absurdity. I'm not sure what it is, but seeing a bullfight played out to Brahms does something weird down around the medulla oblongata.
A lot of the footage copied was dirty and scratched, and once I got past the vertigo-inducing pans that were so popular with the photographers, I came away with a powerful affection for the human endeavor called Family. It happens every time. Nothing yanks on the heartstrings more than old film of folks you knew, now long gone, returning for a ghostly cameo appearance. This is memory viewed through the patina of 1950's Kodacolor at 24 frames a second. Videotape can never match the emotional impact of film, the digital re-creation is too precise, too contemporary, but celluloid and memory burn with equal intensity, fuzzy at the edges with colors impossibly rich.
As I watched I was torn between seeing the icons of my youth -- the big huge infallible adults, the aunts and uncles and grandparents great and otherwise, being themselves just as I remember -- and seeing them almost as strangers, just plain normal-sized folks flawed and fearful, brave and willing, living in an age that is now almost fictitious.
The result of having watched these movies is that I feel more connected, and yet I keep my hesitancies close as if I still could be tricked by dead relatives into making a fool of myself in full view of the family. We were a rousing uproarious group back then, with a jukebox in grandma's garage and laughs you could hear for probably a mile down the railroad tracks on a hot night. I have a strong sense of a romantic past because of that demeanor -- the hard-drinkin' tamale-eatin' mariachi-dancin' times are the foundation that says family to me. It comes at a price, of course.
Much as I'd like to somehow remove myself from a lot of the circumstances and conditions that soak my clan to the bone, running the home movies reminds me that extraction is absolutely out of the question. An uncle's gesture, a cousin's grin, they dwell in me somewhere, and in my daughter now too. There is a living line snaking through us all, an unbroken physical thread, double-helixed, and we are the loud, anguished, joyful vessels of that odd destiny.
I called Amy in to watch some of the footage with me, to see the array of distant relatives and the places they lived. In the flickering light I saw some kind of fusion going on, an incorporation, the family beast extending one loving tentacle, embracing her, and bringing her a little closer to who she is.
One of the family traits I may have inherited is weak ankles. This morning, on my usual run through a branch of the Santa Monica Mountains, my left foot landed wrong. I heard the little crunching-tearing sounds and felt the pain at the same time. Not good.
So this afternoon I'm doing a lot of laying around, putting my feet up, taking ibuprofen, and watching TV. Since it's about 100 degrees outside, this is completely doable in a guilt-free fashion. I feel crummy about the ankle though. Just when I'd settled into a good exercise routine, blang, injury, thar she blows. All indications are this is a minor setback, however.
I'll hit the trail again on Monday for a test run.
"Seguro Que Hell Yes" -- Flaco Jimenez -- FLACO JIMENEZ
"Every man finds room in his face for all his ancestors."
- Ralph Waldo Emerson