Sunday, April 5

Saddened Movements of Home Movies

EACH VIDEO BEGAN with a short shot my father had edited in, post-production, of a child’s blackboard scrawled with the title of what was to proceed. The blackboard – which I have no recollection of – was stood up against the short wall that ran around the patio in my childhood home (1987-2000).
It was Good Friday and, upon my festive visit to my parents’, we were all in the living room, inexplicably led to an inconsecutive trawl through old home movies; an activity best saved for darker hours, not the mid-afternoon as we so found ourselves on the third.
I was of sound mood, sitting in a grand chair with a beer and enjoying my niece, who becomes more & more endearing with each encounter (though I still have not held her – what if I drop her! – but she is forming a human skull and those wicked features that smite even the hardest of hearts, her big eyes shining up at me from her colourful mat where she gnaws gummily on everything; I kiss her affectionately, sniffing her as I do and think of the clean cotton sheets she sleeps in).
The home movie crackled. Stripped distortions wiggled down the screen.
We watched one of an old family holiday (1999) in the Florida Keys. I sort of recognised the young man in the pictures because he looked like me; already the cracks that marked my deterioration of happy child into somewhat morose adolescent were formed. The movie did not stir me particularly as I hold no nostalgia for my school years.
O, so I was sitting there, of sound mood, sitting in a grand chair and enjoying my niece, and my father was skipping around the cinematic kidnappings of our lives, when an unfamiliar event was drawn up:
MUM’S SURPRISE SEVENTIETH BIRTHDAY PARTY was scratched on the chalkboard, referring to my grandmother.
It opened to a garden I did not at first recognise but which turned out to be my aunt & uncle’s (1982-1998). Family members stood around talking by the green pond. The operator – my mother – was capturing these conversations as they, under the camera eye, became more animated and comical. The camera, unentertained, spun on its heels and there was my grandfather. It is always so strange to see him in motion in these home movies, removed from the memories I have of him, functioning and floating across the mise-en-scène. He was kicking his feet on the grass, away from the other adults, and he was talking to me. I was talking to him, too, but neither of us was looking at the other, suggesting, I believe, an air of familiarity and understanding that does not require the ballast of eye contact.
And then the camera turned away.
I loved that old house (1982-1998) of my cousin’s; it smelled constantly of varnished pine and jam doughnuts; in my mouth it has the texture of breakfast cereal (coco pops); the state tree is weeping willow.
Trembling at the sight of my grandfather, my eyes stung. The date in the bottom-right hand corner indicated that it was May 1995, just under two years and three months before he would die. I did not know it would be that soon before he died. People go, tears come.
Jolting, the camera was back inside, awaiting the arrival of my grandmother. It scanned around the room at the guests.
Finally my grandmother arrived, surprised – as hoped, though not approving of the fuss – and, smiling, went around saying hello to all of her old friends and family. The camera was aimed down from over the banister as the stairs ascended in the corner of the living room. She did not notice the camera, nor did her shimmying flora print dress.
Watching her able to walk around and to see her, with her skin a little less wrinkled, that much more alive, affected me terribly! And that she was there on the film, breathing, making up her life as she went along, miles away from the death she slid into as though it was what her body had always wanted.
I folded myself on the chair, put my chin into my hand, held my fingers up over my face to cover the contortions, the tickle of tears in my beard.
Home movies are wretched, I have always thought so. I was there and have never wished to relive any part of my life again, as it was either good enough the first time round or repellent to my memory. I cannot stand to see me then and know me now and not find glee between to be joyful.
The session ended with Christmas (1987) and during a final camera sweep of my parents’ living room crammed to the rafters with family, I spotted myself, aged two-and-a-half, on the knee of my nan as she, her arms wrapped around me, clapped my hands in time to the group’s singalong.

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