"Themey" postscript to that post just below.
Rick Danko, here at the twilight of his life, beautiful thing number fifty-eight.
Richard Manuel, Rick Danko and The Band.
When I was a little kid I became enamoured with the camera tracking shot – that particular kind that moves along over the landscape or cityscape, as when the lens is pointed through a car or train window. My earliest recollection of noticing a shot like that was seeing what was probably a National Film Board flick in some grade school classroom. I don’t remember anything else about the movie, just that continuous image of a roadside unfolding out the side of a moving car. And many times over my lifetime I’ve looked out a car or train window and imagined my eyes were a camera like that, recording a ribbon of land, every now and then settling on some random image before it moves off out of range.
Maybe it’s what that kind shot was meant to achieve that captured my imagination – along with whatever road trip, running away or rambling was going on in the movie, there was also the implication of thinking; some kind of mental moving forward, moving away or moving on. And it was like a character could suspend him or herself outside everything and pause to contemplate there, while the world rolled on beyond the window. There is a restfulness in such a shot – but also the suggestion that a character is wrestling with something internally – that there is change happening beneath the surface.
That amateur theory would make sense applied to one of my favourite movies from the 1970s, The Last Waltz, which was filmed during a time when these kinds of shots were in vogue, and by a director who made a number of really famous tracking shots, Martin Scorsese. The movie opens with the camera following the sidewalk around the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco, along which stands a long line people quietly waiting to see the final performance of The Band. With the rambly moving image of a beat up part of town, Scorsese creates a melancholy setup for the film. Sounds from the final moments of the concert and The Band coming on for a final encore build up as the camera meanders along.
The movie would go on to show members of The Band telling stories of ‘life on the road’ and their reasons for wanting to end it. And thus the opening shot conveys the contemplation of an “ending” – but also an “unfolding” of new directions. The shot gets the viewer thinking about where this band has been and what’s next, and asks the same questions about popular music in general.
Of course I didn’t think about anything like that when I was a kid and sat there watching that scene in the NFB film. It just appealed to a thoughtful, sometimes dreamy kid who even then took a lot of pleasure in observing the world around her.
This morning I looked out the window during an above-ground leg of my train journey and once again imagined my eyes were recording that rambling tracking shot of the city outside. And it occurred to me that maybe this long moving scene of a world is something my subconscious has been connecting to all along – finding the images and events that provoke thought and understanding. And it’s always been the random ones that seemingly come out of nowhere that I’ve loved best.
Today I catch the streetcar and I’m standing in the back of the car looking over the seated peoples’ heads out the window. As we go underground into the dark tunnel toward Union Station I see my reflection in the window. Then I see the arms of the woman next to me. Then her neck. And her anorexic shoulders. As always I’m shocked when I see an emaciated body like hers. And my heart aches for her and other women who are somehow compelled to do this to themselves. She looks like she belongs in a hospital bed under a doctor's care, not standing in a crowded streetcar. Looking at our reflections in the mirror, I think about my everlasting extra 10 pounds. And I think about my friends and family for whom those ten pounds mean nothing. They would love me if I carried a placard on my forehead that read: Extra Pounds and She Forgets to Call and She Should Vacuum More.
I’m filled with gratitude as I look at my cleavage and my curves in my reflection. And I'm grateful for the kinds of men whose heads I still manage to turn now and then, and the ones I know who appreciate me and desire me, lumps and all. I think about my relationship with food in that it sustains me, it provides nourishment to my body and well being, and it accompanies pretty much every joyful gathering in my life. The woman walks away from me and up into the station and I wondered how those limbs can support her, I can practically hear her bones clattering. As she wobbles off I wish her luck. I wish all of us luck. Someday I hope us gals will cut ourselves a break.
A fella trips onto the subway with a bike and a bag stuffed with what looks like garbage. He messes around with the bike and keeps trying to lay it down, which is awkward in the midst of all the commuters. One lady finds herself on the wrong end of the back tire so she steps away from the man and his bike, and he loses hold of it and drops it to the floor. “DON’T MOVE STUPID ASS!” he hollers at her as she moves away. Over the next two stops they steal glances at one another, she wondering if she heard what she did and he wondering what stupid ass wouldn’t stand there and let his bike tire rest against her clean work clothes. He manages to get his bike and torn bag of garbage off at St. Clair station and most of us breathe easier. The lady gets off at the same stop, still stealing glances at the person who called her a stupid ass. I hoped the incident didn’t spoil her morning, but I’m thinking it probably did.
Someone, relatively new to Canada, showed me his arm that had a welt from some sort of insect bite he got when he took his kids to the park. I ventured that it might be a spider bite, and suggested antihistamine would relieve the itching and inflammation. His eyes got a little wider and he spoke of the deadly black widow spider he heard of once, and how they can kill with their venom. I thought, “hoo boy, girl you should have kept your mouth shut.” I wondered how long the poor guy imagined he would keel over and die from a deadly Canadian Black Widow spider bite.
Song encounter #1: Out of the blue I hear one of my favourite songs, “Up on Cripple Creek.” Instantly, the morning of the food starved body, the insulting words hurled at a stranger and the irrational freakout about black widow spiders evaporate.
Tonight, out for a walk, I witness some of the barricade building in the downtown core in preparation for the G-20 Summit. I’m annoyed with the summit being held here, right in the core of the downtown. I’m annoyed with the media, which tends to ignore the hundreds of thousands of peaceful protesters in favour of the more juicy window breakers. And I’m annoyed with the feds who encouraged Toronto to “show off” our city, then dropped the ball in terms of support for the losers in this event, like the business owners who have to close up shop and the homeowners who are S.O.L. if something happens to their property. And I get really annoyed by the “us and them” thinking that got us to this standoff in the first place. I remember the creepy policing during a similar event in Windsor some years ago, and I think, either I’m going to take me and my camera down into the brouhaha, or avoid it altogether. Which will be hard because guess where I live now?
Song encounter #2: I hear Coldplay’s Viva la Vida and I’m brought back to a moment a few days ago, when I’m on the shuttle bus going to work. That song comes on in the vehicle carrying the heavy, tired, morning resignation of the riders, and then someone starts to hum. Then another person does. Then I do. When I hear that song today everything about it is changed. Now, because of that moment, I love that song. I can’t hear it enough.
I catch a few minutes of this race on TV. I’d not normally stay tuned to such a race because stunt flying creeps me out. But before long I realise – hey – I know that river! Seeing the shots of this river, the riverside park I once walked every night, and those two cities fills me with pleasure and makes me a little homesick. In a good way.