I am watching a man, what seems a private moment. Though this is a film he appears to be actual, not a fiction. He splashes water on his face. I don’t know much more.
I am in Pittsburgh when I watch the film about the man, the last leisurely night of a work trip. The friend I’m staying with pulls out an old Super 8 projector to show home movies against her white living room wall, old film canisters she’d picked up for fun. The antique store sold each reel for a few cents each. These are not her memories but someone’s, anonymous and random, fished out of a vintage bowl.
The movie we watch is shot in color, a woodsy setting with a mountain, a river and a truck camper in the background. This looks to be the 1970s, and the man has wavy reddish hair grown out to the nape of his neck and jeans hanging loose at his hips. As he takes off his shirt and walks toward the river he flexes his lean copper muscles.
My friend and I lean in close. Was this a gay porno? Who is this man and what will happen here? We lean closer, hold our breaths, but all the guy does is walk down to the river and splash water on his face. Then this little movie comes to an end, the flipflipflip of the film coming loose from the reel.
We will never know more. We can only change our questions. His mystery was what we leaned into then. Since, I’ve lost interest in story. Stories change. Desire changes too, but also sustains. Who held the camera? Who followed him down to the river? What did the watcher want of the redheaded man in this ruddy sunlight, in the cold sting of the river against his skin? His body? His fidelity? His attention held forever?
What do any of us want when we watch? Here is another home movie, three-and-half-minutes by another anonymous watcher, that I fished out of the big bowl of the internet.
One desire expressed six times, or maybe six desires, contained by ground, reach and dahlias. The man’s muscles are copper. The bridge to the city is burnished purple. The road curves against green fields. What did the watcher want of this watching? A respite? A new place? A dog who lives forever? What do I want, aside from another past, already gone?
—Barrie Jean Borich/ barriejeanborich.com/ March 11, 2013
I think of two lines first: 1) “To have seen what I have seen, see what I see!” -OPHELIA, Hamlet, Act III, Scene 1
2) “I wuz here” – anon., oak tree, pocket knife, circa 1981
There should be a word for the heady exuberance and fear of anonymity one gets watching such clips–or seeing old familyless photographs. Like vertigo, in that you may not be able to stop yourself from casting off all the markers of your individuality. Scratching I into essays then tearing the bylines off. Probably that’s the best thing to be done with desire–squander it, spread it, give it away.