Unreal Nature

May 5, 2016

Half-old, Half-young

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:58 am

… “I like kids that age. They want to learn so bad.”

This is from The Garden in the Machine: A Field Guide to Independent Films about Place by Scott MacDonald (2001):

Wayne Franklin distinguishes between the discovery narrative and the exploratory narrative both on the basis of what is noticed by discoverer or explorer — what is there versus what is happening — and on the basis of the organization used in communicating the different visions: “much as the explorer bequeathed his sense of timeless awe, and his innocent eye, to those who followed him” so the “pattern of narrative” is the “explorer’s central gift to national language”: “In exploratory texts … experience is filtered through the grid of initial design.

… As the discoverer attempts to control the given world of American space by describing an ideal passage through it, the explorer tries to organize the New World experience — whether actual or in prospect — by subordinating possibly corrosive events to the ideal pattern of plot.”

[ … ]

… The last person Benning describes to us on his travels [in his film North on Evers] is a woman in the bar of a motel in central Utah: “She was well into her seventies. She wore tight red pants and black high heels. She looked as if she had been fused together at the waist with a twenty year old.” She asks Benning to dance; he stays at the bar until closing. The woman — half-old, half-young — is the muse of North on Evers. She energizes Benning and counters the film’s motifs of industrial decay and continued social compromise (in the struggles of Native Americans, of African-Americans, of women …) with two equally pervasive motifs: the energy of young people and of artists bent on transforming frustration, anxiety, and limitation into art.

North on Evers is full of children, and in virtually every instance — and regardless of the struggles these children are dealing with — Benning is struck with the child’s energy and by his own feeling of connection with this energy. In Albuquerque, when Benning leaves the New Age chapel where his old friend is a member, the friend’s daughter follows him out: “We talked for an hour. I felt closer to this young runaway than to her father.”

[line break added] In San Antonio, he is struck by his friends’ four-year-old daughter: “I like kids that age. They want to learn so bad.” This theme of the energy of the young culminates when Benning visits his own daughter, Sadie, who is “seventeen and full of life”: “We drove in the rain. I said I was glad we weren’t on my motorcycle. I told her that rain really hurts. She rolled the window down and stuck her head out and said it felt just like getting a tattoo.” … North on Evers opens as a Val Verde school bus picks up children and closes when the bus leaves them off at the end of the day.

My most recent previous post from MacDonald’s book is here.

-Julie

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