Posted on

Reflections on Film & Memory

“In a certain sense the past is far more real, or at any rate more stable, more resilient than the present.
The present slips and vanishes like sand between the fingers, acquiring material weight, only in its recollection.”

– Russian film-maker, Andrei Tarkovsky

 

Earlier this year I went to the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, Queens and spent some time there trying to imagine what it was like to live in a time before the invention of film, or during a time while it was still evolving (as it still is).

It turns out that’s as difficult a trick as trying to remember what one’s experience was before acquiring language.

A zoetrope.

As I walked through the many exhibitions at the museum, I reflected on how the ubiquitous nature of film in modern culture has us forget how remarkable a trick film actually is:

When watching a film, our memory and connecting of individual images (proceeding rapidly before us) creates a perception (or illusion) of a coherent visual narrative and reality.

Mutoscopes still delighting today… at least for a handful of seconds.

When the child was a child,
it didn’t know that it was a child,
everything was soulful,
and all souls were one.

When the child was a child,
it had no opinion about anything,
had no habits,
it often sat cross-legged,
took off running,
had a cowlick in its hair,
and made no faces when photographed.

– from Song of Childhood by Peter Handke

Memories of our past are similar to film in that they allow for an illusion to be created as well. This is the illusion of coherence and meaning, when in reality our memories of the past are subjectively stitched together by our consciousness according to the fears, desires, biases, worldviews, beliefs, and such. accumulated in one’s lifetime.

Memories are given what meaning we assign them, which is then firmed up into our own unique and personal story… for better or for worse.

This is true for all of us, except for those rare individuals who cannot create or recall memories. Their experience is closer to a film-goer who is only able to remember the most recent ten seconds of the film.

 

Individual frames… images… stitched together become a film.

Individual moments… experiences… stitched together become a life.

 

This is the remarkable trick of human consciousness.

A song Bono wrote about after first seeing his then-deceased mother in an early home movie.