Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Time Travel

One of my repeating fantasies is that of returning to the past, where I can see and interact as the person I am now, with the people I was fond of then, most of them family. On Sunday, though, I got a taste of the experience, and it was strange.

I must be one of the few people in America today whose family never shot videotape of each other. Still photos, sure, but nothing that moved. So we don’t have those embarrassing videos of relatives and friends with bushy sideburns and strange hair, doing odd things. And we don’t have the precious ones of children we love, moving and talking as they did. (Oh, I’d give a lot for that to be otherwise.)

Well, on Sunday we went to the Menil Collection, where they're showing a film shot in 1973 by Francois de Menil, and edited more recently by his son, John. It documents the preparations for a major exhibition of the de Menils' collection of works by Max Ernst. For an hour we watched Dominique de Menil "hang" the show and get ready for the opening. The camera was in the style of just lurking around, focusing on the faces a great deal, as you’d do if you were there. That made it easy to pass through the plane of the screen into the scene.

So, in that fashion, we accompanied her and the artist to the pre-opening party and then to the opening of the exhibition, and all along we heard Dominique or Ernst making little comments, or arts patrons trying to converse, some of them a bit awkwardly, with this iconic master of 20th century art. Of course, on the periphery, the camera inadvertently captured glimpses of Houstonians I once knew, most of them--sad to say—now dead.

During the time of the film, I was pregnant with my son and married to a museum curator. So I knew a few of these patrons of what passed in Houston then as the artistic avant garde. And it was distinctly odd to have them appear suddenly, briefly, before me, the nuance of their faces displayed as it cannot be in memory.

Even more peculiar, though, is the way it feels today—as though on Sunday I actually spent time inside the large white room at Rice where the exhibition was held, a room I remember as much for its chalky emptiness, as for the art.

It seems as though I was there, as Maisie Marshall attempted to put Herr Ernst at ease, with a little graceful inclination of the head that I instantly recognized, but had forgotten. There were a number of others, too: Daphne Murray, looking surprisingly sad as the camera caught her behind Dominique; Elsa and Bob Kaim; David Adickes—the only one of the people I knew in the group who is still alive. And Dominique, herself, lovely in an elegant strapless gown (at sixty-seven) speaking to friends who milled about as people do at openings, and finally exiting the building, with her escort, Miles Glaser—an old friend of mine, as well—strolling diffidently in her wake.

As the images linger, fading slowly, it feels more like a dream I had than a documentary.

(This is the formerly full moon going to bed on Monday morning.)


Cher said...

This is one of those fascinating posts where even though you don't know the people, you can't stop reading. You must have watched the film with a distinct sense of déjà vu.

The Texas Woman

The Weaver of Grass said...

Thinking about it, I suppose that moving shots of old friends, long gone, are somehow much more real than photographs. How I would love to see some of my old relations and friends - to jog my memnory about their mannerisms etc. Loved the way you picked up on a particular mannerism of someone that you had forgotten. Lovely post.

PJ's talking2.... said...

I agree with Cher. You brought the people to life for me. I think I'll stick to photographs. Somehow I'd find that sad.

Bdogs said...

Thanks so much for the comments, everyone. Yes, it is a bit sad to have lost those aspects of people we knew and loved. Maybe that accounts for the rush to videotape all around us.

sizzie said...

Thank you for taking me along as you scanned the room. The tall, white walls echoing with voices. Surreal. And, could any one have guessed that day, that you could peak in from the future.

Anonymous said...

A wonderful post! You made me want to be there with you remembering those from the past.