Friday, January 15, 2010

3: Negative

The first review Griffin read of his third film Negative described the film as turgid, obtuse, a depressing departure from the refreshing if tentative artistic optimism demonstrated in director Griffin’s first two films. It was an early summer morning and Griffin was sitting by the window in his apartment kitchen, the sky outside blue, the sun already bleaching the world, a neat effect that resembled the kind he’d used in the film. Helena, in the bedroom, sound asleep, spent from her morning of sickness, her new daily routine. The film’s lush cinematography of tropic then arctic landscapes, the review continued, is wasted in a whisper-thin wrapping of a story. Ignore these things, he remembered Helena saying even as his heart sank, they’re jealous when they say bad things. He loved her, deeply and significantly he told friends, but he had a moment when he couldn’t remember what her face looked like. His mind scrambled, piecing together image fragments in his head, producing unknown composite faces. A plane flew overhead, rattling the windows, shaking him from guilt. She’s two now, he thought. We’ll soon be three. He folded the newspaper, tossed it to the floor, then lifted himself from the chair, walked into the bedroom and stood by her side, watching her breathe.

The last day of edits, Griffin was in the studio, late at night, alone. An electric crackle, and there went the power. He looked outside and the entire neighborhood was in darkness. A new silence, punctured by dogs barking, the frustrated yelling one-word obscenities, the sliding of windows opening to let in fresh air. He imagined it being intentional, someone preventing him from finishing his film. Then he pondered it being more than that. An act of violence, terror. The soundless moments were waiting to be filled by anything: explosions, gunfire, screams of victims. At his desk his hands touched a pad of paper. The idea: he captured it with words, tore the sheet from the pad. It would be filed with others, undeveloped photos waiting for infusions of color. After ten minutes the power returned, life blasting back to comfortable hum. The scene he was working on, the two lovers stranded in tundra, left to exposure, numbing death. The schemes of whites fresh, blinding. He called Helena. After a handful of rings she answered. He stumbled, said, are you there. She laughed, the line crackling with static.

He talked to his actress, said, consider you’re freezing to death, this is the endgame of torrid forbidden love. Her hair frosted with fake snow, skin painted pale with hints of blue, her lips purplish-blue tones hinting at hypothermia. Your lover will stop you from paradoxical undressing, he said, and hold your hands together as if being bound. She was young, talented, never killed on film before. She had lived in Mexico, Louisiana, southern California. Remember, the affair starts in tropical conditions, he said, the pinks and sea foams of some island-like paradise. Everything declines from there. Warmness slips to cold. Colors drained from life. The film wore her down, a chisel re-sculpting her soul. Every day he watched her retreat to her trailer. More a ghost each time. How much of you had been erased? She stepped into his dreams during filming. Luminescent, frozen, lost.

About three weeks after filming began, he married Helena. They had planned it four months before, after being together less than one year. She organized the hurried details—the officiant, the church, the reception. He worked on his film—casting, funding, locations. An ice sculpture, he said, would be fitting. So they got two dolphins entwined, locked in embrace and shooting from water. He paid one of his cameramen to film everything in documentary style. Her dress was shimmering blue, a flowing gown that looked like cascading water, her feet obscured, looking as if she were floating on air. At one point, he lifted a glass, toasted her, this woman he’d finally found. Here the cameraman went for a close-up, as Griffin’s words filled the soundtrack. She bit her bottom lip, her face frozen waiting on each word. The woman writing my dreams, he said. My all, my reason. Her eyes blinked more with each phrase, an intensifying beat the cameraman caught in extreme close-up, the moment jarring as her eyes shifted to look straight into the lens.

The day before filming began, Griffin was sick in bed. A night of fever, vomiting, sweating. Horrible dreams. One where Helena was nonexistent—he searched for her, walked the streets showing people her photograph, met by shrugs and headshakes. She’s gone, he recalled feeling. At one point the photograph burned in his hand. Her features went black. Her skeleton showed. He dropped the photo. In the distance he thought he saw a flash of red, her turning a corner. He ran across a road of crunching glass and jagged brick. But there was no one. An alley stretched infinite, an effect like mirror on mirror. Later that morning, he was lying in bed, shivering, his vision grainy. Helena was standing by his bed, her figure in silhouette. Are you there, he said, and she grabbed his hand, held onto it, life slowly returning to the world.


  1. This was truly magnificent, and quite possibly one of the best I've read during my stay in #Fridayflashland.

    I hung onto every word, afraid to read the next one because it was flash, and all flash must end so abruptly. I was not disappointed.

    Well, well done. Thank you for this beauty.

  2. There was nothing turgid, obtuse, or depressing about this wonderfully written work of art.

    Two thumbs up!

  3. I loved this. The mood it evokes, the story it tells, the window into the solitary-but-yearning-for-company mind of this artist... It's all wonderful. Excellent work.

  4. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. The insight into the artist, the imagery was incredible. I enjoyed this thoroughly. Thank you for posting.


  5. I don't know if this was intentional... but I like that when you scroll up and down that the story is almost shaped like a film negative.

    I also enjoyed the "Memento"-ish chronological order. I had no problem following what was going on... yet when I got to the end I just HAD to go back and read the first one again.

  6. Elegantly written throughout, a joy to read.

  7. This weblog is being featured on Five Star Friday -

  8. Beautiful imagery and an intriguing narrative. I also had to go back and read again to realize the chronology. Well-done ending.

  9. Wonderfully written, the form embodying the content. Bravo!

  10. Interesting design fitting nicely to the style. The layout of the block paragraphs supports the content.
    -David G Shrock

  11. My god. Stunning, lush, luminous prose. Intensely visual. This line spoke of existential fear (particularly for a director who has so much tied up in visuals): "...but he had a moment when he couldn't remember what her face looked like."

    Beautifully crafted. I like this very much.

  12. That was simply beautiful! The imagery and feeling, everything! Bravo!

  13. Extraordinarily well written... but... quite unsatisfactory for me. I'm a Neanderthal so probably my fault but I thought it was a bit too much style and not enough substance.

    I've probably missed the point so if any of the above commenters could fill me in I'll be in their debt.

    I got the impression of a movie maker that was burned out and at the end of his sanity. I hope that was it, because I liked the way that read.

    Scott King said "I don't know if this was intentional... but I like that when you scroll up and down that the story is almost shaped like a film negative."

    I loved this once Scott pointed it out. Tight.

  14. Loved the circularity of this, of wondering what's real, what's not... astonishing piece.

    edit: word ver = mates. how fitting...

  15. I enjoyed how the "temperature" for his life and for the film's life go at opposite directions. As one cools down, the other heats up.
    If the first paragraph is the present where his personal life has warmed up (summer, pending baby) his film is going ice cold (horrid reviews).

  16. Elegant and visual. A brilliant piece of writing.

  17. Thanks to all who read and commented!