THE FAMILY ALBUM
SELECTED JOURNAL ENTRIES
May 2, 1985 2:10 AM
It feels good to finally begin this film again.
A gargantuan task.
Each day I will attempt to get a little bit closer - will absorb a little bit more. The key to memory is to break things up (or is it down) into manageable bits. Unfold a little bit every day. A bird building its nest twig/dust by twig/dust.
I got a very short haircut today...something to grow into.
May 3, 1985 2:25 AM
I also like using the headphones when I work. It makes the process of listening that much more insular and personal. It stimulates a better field for concentration, making me much more of a "consciousness as filter" than a mere motivated listener. The sounds -- the reverberations of the sounds -- don't escape into the air, don't go into the ether. They stay with me. The mind's ear like a vacuum.
May 4, 1985 2:30 AM
I'm going to use the small red notebook given to me by Anya to notate the many, many bits of ideas, inklings, gleanings, mutterings, and connections that occur to/in me as I work. Just tonight, I have 5 or 6 scratch pads screaming with barely legible fragments of today's "noticings."
Editing is the consequence of noticing. Everything gets written down - every spark of thought (even bad ideas) -- so that nothing, no matter how ephemeral escapes future consideration.
May 7, 1985 3:30 AM
The inevitable is happening. As I stay up and work later and later each night, I am shifting irrevocably into a nocturnal being. I'm not really tired now - fatigued and slightly disoriented but not sleepy tired. I presume that as I continue to work, my tolerance for staying awake and working later and later into the morning will increase. Is there a point of no return? Who cares. There'll be time for proper rest and normal sleep some other time.
Today I listened to Alice's telephone answering machine recordings. They are mostly unusable with 2 exceptions: a call from her sister stating that she has just come home from the doctor and learned that she's pregnant; and a call from her father telling her that her sister is in the hospital. It would be extremely unorthodox for me to use this type of (more modern) recording in the film, but I have pulled these two from the roll and will keep them around for a while.
I then finished the evening by listening to the tape of an anonymous Long Island family at a holiday gathering with family and friends. This tape, like many others that I have assembled, I bought for spare change at a garage sale. There are some very intriguing sections. Much of the language of the men is very crude, full of cursing and drunken ribald. The section that thrills me tonight is when a man, in an apparent attempt to do a "sound check," continues to blow air into the microphone in such a way as to create the sound effect of a plane crossing the sky - or perhaps a motor boat zooming past. I'd like to use it somehow.
May 9, 1985 3:00 AM
Sometimes it's all running away from me.
Sometimes I'm right on top of it.
Today was day 1 of phase 2. I opened up the film, inserting and removing pieces of image and sound, gingerly looking to do nothing more than put like things with like things - searching out and listening for zones of affinity. The structure of the film is still a loose web.
I took Joshua G. out to a Japanese dinner this evening. He was impressed he said, by the stability, the calm, and the order of my editing room.
June 25, 1985 3:17 AM
A list of titles to consider:
FAMILIAR FACES FAMILY FICTIONS A FAMILY TRADITION THE FAMILY CIRCLE THE DINNER TABLE THE FAMILY TREE THE FAMILY QUILT KEEP IT IN THE FAMILY THE FAMILY FORTUNE DISTANT RELATIVES THE OLD FASHIONED WAY DISTANT COUSINS GOD BLESS THIS HOME THICKER THAN WATER
July 3, 1985 3:01AM
THE SAME OLD STORY A FAMILY RESEMBLANCE THE FAMILY CHRONICLES THE HUMAN FAMILY THE NUCLEAR FAMILY ARCHETYPES AND CLICHES THE HUMAN BLUEPRINT PRIVATE CEREMONIES THE COMMON TOUCH ORDINARY RELICS ORDINARY CEREMONIES FOR OUR CHILDREN'S CHILDREN THE FAMILY PEDIGREE AS A MATTER OF FACT LEARNED BEHAVIOR REUNION PICTURE WINDOWS INHERITAGE
July 7, 1985 2:27 AM
Slowly the work becomes something based on what it excludes -
what it cannot be - what the editing process cannot absorb.
Quotations from TIME FRAMES: The Meaning of Family Pictures By Michael Lesy
"...Pictures like frozen dreams whose manifest content may be understood at a glance but whose latent content is enmeshed in unconscious associations, cultural norms, art historical cliches, and transcendental motifs. Pictures that are both cliches and archetypes, vulgar and miraculous, fact and fiction."
"...when a camera is raised to the eye of a friend, a lover, or a parent, it becomes the symbol of a judgement, attention, and insight even more intense and scrutinizing than that which ordinarily characterizes such intimate relationships. Its presence transforms the people it beholds into actors, standing in sets, posing with symbolic props, the whole scene a private allegory of love, defined by the edge of an imaginary proscenium stage. Often the snapshot is a picture puzzle in which everything manifest is only a fraction of what is revealed."
"Years after such puzzles have been made, they inevitably fall into the hands of children, whose pasts are made accessible to them by images, which provoke questions never before asked or never before answered. Once the puzzles have been worked, they reveal to children that they have been standing in a place - until now invisible - where four rivers of time converge: their own, private, secret time ("Who is that baby? Is that me?"); their family's time ("Is that when we live in St. Louis?"); their country's time ("Is that when Daddy was in the army?"); and mythic time, the common poetry of the human family ("Is that when you and Daddy were in love? I mean, before you got married and had babies?").
July 12, 1985 1:00 AM
I showed a very, very, very (that's three verys) rough draft of the film to Bernie Stone tonight. His response to the work was rather subdued - it certainly didn't knock him out. His advice was that I be "ruthless", his way of telling me that the film is too long and obviously not working. I not only need to make some re-visions, I need to do some re-thinking.
July 15, 1985 2:22 AM
The title search continues:
TIME AND TIME AGAIN LIKE MY FATHER BEFORE ME THE COUSINS CLUB OUT OF THE ORDINARY TIME HONORED TRADITIONS COMPOSITE FAMILY BITS AND PIECES KINDRED SPIRITS IN THEIR PARENT'S FOOTSTEPS AS IS CUSTOMARY CRADLE TO THE GRAVE RITES OF PASSAGE KINDRED TIES THE IMMEDIATE FAMILY ANCIENT LOGIC FAMILY FRAGMENTS
Q: Why is it so hard to find a title for this film? A: Because everyone says I'll know it when I hear it.
July 17, 1985 3:11 AM
Quotes from THE MOUNTAIN OF NAMES, A History of the Human Family by Alex Shoumatoff
...The family is still the crucible. It still provides the most intense, intimate, and permanent relationships most of us will ever have; and this is not likely to change...
The proportion of your genes that you share with a given ancestor (beside those that are common to everybody) is, on average, one half squared by the number of generations that separate you. Thus only 0.5/7 or 1/128 of the genes of an ancestor seven generations back will reach you.
Great-grandparent: 1/8 (of their genetic legacy will reach you)
Life expectancy in 1900: 47.3 years
Life expectancy in 1980: 73.6 years
Mean family size in 1790: 5.7
Mean family size in 1981: 2.7
According to the Census Bureau, the average American marriage today lasts twenty three years - seven years less than it lasted between 1948 and 1960 - and in 1980, the median duration of marriages that ended in divorce was 6.8 years... men marry today at an average age of 25.2, women at 22.5 - later than they have been doing since 1890...
"The human species is young, perhaps not more than 10,000 generations old, and the major geographical races diverged from each other about fifteen hundred generations ago, at most," the population geneticist Richard Lewontin has written in HUMAN DIVERSITY. Most geneticists are in agreement, as the science writer Guy Murchie explains, "no human can be less closely related to any other human than approximately fiftieth cousin, and most of us are a lot closer... (that, in other words) the family trees of all of us, of whatever origin or trait, must meet and merge into one genetic tree of all humanity by the time they have spread into our ancestors for about fifty generations...
The extent of our multiple inter-relatedness even more dramatically demonstrated by traditional vertical genealogy. "It is virtually certain... that you are a direct descendant of Muhammad and every fertile predecessor of his, including Krishna, Confucius, Abraham, Buddha, Caesar, Ishmael and Judas Iscariot," Murchie writes. Of course you must also be descended from millions who have lived since Muhammad, inevitably including kings and criminals, but the earlier they lived the more surely you are their descendants."
The most common names worldwide are John and Mary....Four to seven percent of all the people who have ever lived are alive today. Roughly ninety percent of all the people who ever existed slipped into complete oblivion, without leaving even their names behind.
July 27, 1985 2:10 AM
Q: Is it possible to make an organically fluid and precise work out of entirely random pieces? A: It's called evolution and/but it takes time.
KEEPERS OF THE FAITH FUTURE SHOCK STAND STILL AND LOOK NATURAL LIFE'S SMALL PLEASURES A WAY OF LIFE HAND ME DOWN TIME-WORN TRADITION EYEWITNESS LIVING MEMORY HOMESICK LOCAL HISTORY BREAD AND BUTTER HOME-COOKING GROWING PAINS HOUSE CLEANING WITHERING VOICES OCCASIONS LIKE THIS
July 31, 1985 3:37 AM
THE GOOD OLD DAYS DAY BY DAY OLD FASHIONED VANISHING IMPRINT WORD OF MOUTH ALL OF US
August 2, 1985 6:00 PM
1. The soundtrack provides the anarchy to the film, both in the way it comes and goes, voice to voice, texture to texture, content to content and the way its relationship/perspective to the image continually shifts. 23. Should I continue music under "Black Baseball?" I am reluctant to introduce traditional documentary convention -- music under (the voice over). 29. Did you know that someone name Berliner invented the first grammaphone?
August 7, 1985 2:08 AM
THE HEART OF THE MATTER HEROIC LIVES SHADOWS OF ANONYMITY GLORY DAYS ONE OF A KIND TIME GONE BY BIRTHRIGHT INTIMATE PANORAMA THE GAMUT INSIDE OUT LANDMARKS CAPTIONS PERSONAL HISTORY CRIES AND TEARS FAMILY DETAILS LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT MOSTLY PEOPLE HOMECOMING A PRIVATE LIFE COMING OF AGE
August 15, 1985 2:47 AM
ONE BIG HAPPY FAMILY IN A FAMILY WAY A FAMILY WAY ONCE UPON A TIME MAKE YOURSELF AT HOME BUBBLE, BUBBLE TOIL AND TROUBLE UP A FAMILY TREE SIMPLE PLEASURES 283 FABER TERRACE OUTSIDE LOOKING IN THE GOOD LIFE HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS FAMILY MATTERS FROM THIS DAY FORWARD THE FACTS OF LIFE A FAMILY OF FOUR EACH OF US CENTER OF GRAVITY ANCIENT REPLICA EVER SINCE AS LONG AS I CAN REMEMBER PEOPLE WE KNOW YESTERYEAR HUMAN NATURE FOREVER AND A DAY GREETINGS FROM HOME THE SIMPLE SOCIETY BORN TO LAUGH MY HOUSE IS YOUR HOUSE PHOTOGRAPHIC MEMORY SIMPLE PEOPLE AMATEUR HOUR
Q. Are you aware that I picked up the book SYNCHRONICITY (Carl Jung) from my bookshelf today? A. Yes, and that a young man with sunglasses sat beside me on the subway today reading the I CHING, close enough and long enough for me to read various passages.
DAY IN DAY OUT YEARS OF PLENTY TIME FLIES OLD HABITS DIE HARD TOMORROW IS ANOTHER DAY NO PLACE LIKE HOME TIME AND TIDE THE SPICE OF LIFE THE LONG WAY HOME LIVE AND LEARN PRETTY AS A PICTURE THE LOOK OF LIFE DAYS BEFORE TOMORROW HOMEWARD BOUND THE WE OF ME THE ABUNDANT LIFE ON BEST BEHAVIOR THE SACRED CIRCLE LIFE SIZE PORTRAITS HOME SWEET HOME NEWS OF HOME UNDER ONE ROOF THE AGE OF MIRACLES RIGHT NEXT DOOR THE NEW WORLD MEASURED TIME SPLITTING IMAGE A MONTH OF SUNDAYS LIVE AND LET LIVE NEXT DOOR NEIGHBORS
August 21, 1985 3:15 AM
Feel the blunt edge of this hammer.
Why must all of this take so goddamn long? Why must outside forces, unmanageable time pressures and the peculiarities of technical process control me?
Am I in charge here?
Was I ever?
Am I afraid to finish?
Do I dare doubt?
Am I amidst hexagram "Youthful Folly," showing inexperience in handling both the rigors and disciplines of this painful fun? I have let the process of making this film flow through and intertwine with my life process -- both daily and long term. I have allowed the working procedure to humanize itself, no rigor for its own sake, no musts, allow for distraction, let the sails flap and glide with the whims of my daily breath. I have, for all my meticulous note-making and note-taking, yet to attempt any sort of schedule, any completion date. Recognizing that there would be stages, levels of refinement, I savored them as "plateaus", - I never thought about or imagined how many such plateaus would be visited.
I was extremely anxious today. My evolving headache was sign and signal. This morning I began to putter with the film, moving this here, this there, that here, that there... and attained a grand incoherence; a physical metaphor for my frustrated psychic knot. Acting nervously and indeed impulsively, I actually made a terrible mess of the film, one that will take considerable effort (and time) to rectify. I suppose this is just another phase along the way.
August 25, 1985 3:18 AM
Q. Is it OK that I've taken 10,000 THINGS (subsequently titled EVERYWHERE AT ONCE) out of mothballs, intent on finishing it during this interval between work on (as yet) UNTITLED? A. Didn't you walk down the rainy street this morning and have a feeling that this was the day to do it?
March 20, 1986 2:38 AM
I can't bare the wait until May 1st when I take off from working at ABC to finish CHILDREN OF ALL AGES, my new provisional title for the film. In the meantime I endure, as if in a self-imposed creative exile - a funk - wondering how I got onto this path or off of that one. There is so much work to be done. There is so much need to do it.
June 21, 1986 2:25 AM
So you see, there have been digressions and distractions. My original intentions were to work for ABC until April 30th, and then slide into pure personal time. How should I justify the delay this time?
Relax, accept that time is an eternal present, that there is no such thing as being late - that ultimately every thing is "on time" and "in time". or Really feel the impatience. Wonder why I don't have the resolve to shut the door on all these outside jobs -- these all consuming, I mean time and energy draining jobs -- and GET DOWN TO WORK. I have promised myself that this will be my final go round. My final work cycle in finishing this film.
June 23, 1986 3:44 AM
Finally. I opened the patient. I touched the film. The first cut I made, one that I have had planted in the back of my mind for months, ever since I saw the shot of the large balloon and three children running in the meadow - was to place this balloon shot immediately after the boy who blows bubbles into the air and then points to the sky. It is a truly graceful (and satisfying) juxtaposition..
June 25, 1986 2:11 AM
Terrible smell coming from the Steenbeck - decided not to risk it any further and shut it off... smells like something burning. Earlier I began putting together the opening montage of babies. I keep hearing Georgia singing "Hush Little Baby" over it. We'll see, or should I say, "hear."
I'm not working with sound just yet. I plan to integrate the new picture footage (new images) into the existing structure - refine, augment, reshape where necessary. This is possibly the worst my handwriting has ever been.
July 2, 1986 2:51 AM
This brings me to the problematic of pursuing the completion of a work stretched over many years. As I recall, as I reconstruct, as I reread my (and I am grateful that they are careful and copious) notes, I see that last summer was an amazing example of engaged creation. I lived the process of making the film - I was that process. Time not actually spent working at the Steenbeck was given to conscious germination and/or unconscious fermentation of ideas -- always around storytelling problems and/or in study of the work. It didn't matter where I was or what I was doing.
Of course I didn't finish the film, and I stand by that decision both intuitively and with the cold clarity of hindsight. With the fortuitously come upon (and EXPENSIVE) additional footage that I have assembled over this past year, I hopefully have a bunch of new images to fill gaps and augment sections needing further development. Already, just the additional baby footage gathered this past year now highlights the paucity of footage that I was relying upon, and furthermore, tells me why I was struggling so much over the opening section of the film.
I cannot attain the creative and psychological landscapes of a year ago. The water feels cold now. I simply have to trust my belief that dedication, enthusiasm, discipline, the fact that I'm a year older, and the distance that time gives -- call it perspective -- will all make it feel like this is (finally) the right time -- THE ONLY TIME -- to finish the film.
July 11, 1986 1:34 AM
Heard a joke: Two babies are born at the same time in the same hospital and find themselves dying there 85 years later. One turns to the other and asks, "Well, what did you think?"
July 12, 1986 12:27 AM
I kept putting off work. It was a mixture of feelings: - overwhelmed by the sheer amount of work - not sure how to solve the problems - not sure how to GO ABOUT solving the problems - and then not even knowing where to begin.
Which brings me to a lesson I have just this evening brought to bear: It is important that when I close shop for the night, that I set up a project, a task (however minor), some small investigation that waits for me the next day. That bit of continuity can be enough to bridge my energy and focus across the divergent rhythms and metabolisms of a long, warm serene night of working that-- SUDDENLY -- wake up to the cooler, more anxious feelings at the start of a new day.
July 13, 1986 2;11 AM
I realize that I am burdened by the accumulation of four years worth of work, of PAPERwork, of tens of thousands of images - some 50 hours or more (or is it 60, or even 70?) -- of sound recordings, not to mention expectations, demands, (both inner and outer) and the fatigue of trying to keep all of the monster within my grasp. I sometimes feel like this is the final leg in a relay race. I've been assigned the task of bringing the baton across the finish line - but I feel so weighted down, carrying all of this "stuff" on my shoulders.
July 14, 1986 3:45 AM
It seems so crazy yet feels so right. The hours from say eleven thirty on into the deep night are very pure for me. Very serene. It's as if I reach a certain level of attention; am able to attain almost magical moments of clarified concentration during the darkness of night into early morning.
The world around me is asleep - and so I sit -- no temptations, no sun, no traffic noise, no telephone calls, no baseball games, no movies, no evening news. No distractions. The only room with a light on (awake) in this entire building right now. Alone in my urban cave.
I wonder how much different I, and consequently the film would be if I were to work in the daytime - to go to an office, a studio -- unable to avoid the interruptions, the annoyances, the pushes and pulls of my quotidian personal universe. What tension and resistance would I feel from them as they preyed on my absolute compulsion to constantly be working. I've always been reluctant to work during the daytime hours. Don't forget that I wake up generally at or past noon anyway so that a good portion of the waking day is already behind me. And by the time I have breakfast, or is it lunch...?
Perhaps I am unwilling to lend/to give the film to my daytime inhabitant - do I find him less trustworthy, a bit lazy... not as sharp? "Why not," I always rationalize to myself, "wait until much later on in the evening, when the real smart guy goes on duty?"
I'm sure it's all bio-rhythms.
August 5, 1986 3:52 AM
It feels like I'm taking many chances, many risks with the film. What is included is almost as poignant as what is excluded - after all, the processes of growth, of maturation, of the cycle of life have as many variants as there are people to live them. That this film sticks close to the "traditional" story line (of socialization) is a finely honed ambivalence rooted in the home movie source material itself. I'm interested in how the pervasive and convenient fictions of our culture (the way we read images) substitute for the pains of real life. Home movies are lies. I want the view from here -- living in what these anonymous home movie people would call "posterity" -- to see their forced smiles.
I listened to 23 rolls of sound today. My ears hurt. I hope that I'm not doing any damage to them. For the latter part of this day I paid special attention to playing the sound much lower that I usually do. I listen so loudly. Gotta watch that.
I still have over 50 reels of sound to listen to. Slowly and/but surely, I will be left with only "select reels" to deal with, a function of closing in, in drawing ever finer and finer circles around the materials. Eliminating the massive input. Of changing the scale, and hopefully creating a psychological environment necessary for the transformation towards closure - satisfying myself that I have thoroughly digested everything that is available to me and not looking back with either uncertainty or regret
August 20, 1986 4:12 AM
I have been trying (if you haven't noticed) to create the necessary psychic mindset to actually attempt to finish the film. It means a direct arrow is imposed upon the process. It means deadlines and priorities. Also, and most importantly... A LETTING GO
... that this film is but one film in a personal history of work. It is as if I must now transpose my aesthetic focus into CALENDAR TIME - coming in, coming home, after wandering for so long amidst the enchanted whims of intuition in PSYCHOLOGICAL TIME...or at least make the two schedules overlap, coincide and form a tension, a dialectic.
August 30, 1986 5:11 AM
I seem very much inside myself these days. I have no grip on my image in the mirror. I am to a very large extent a stranger to myself. I seem to thrive in this self-imposed and glorious solitude. I suffer it too. I long to go to sleep at a human hour on a daily basis. I long to ease myself of the burden of this project, its physical toll, its psychic drain. I am scared to see what level, what degree of imperfection I settle upon; what state I leave the film in before simply saying "that's it." Quite simply put, I am very much out here on the edge. This late night or should I say late morning solitude has me trapped - I am a captive of my nocturnal existence. And yet the sound of this room right now at 5:15 am, the hisssssssssss of silence is soothing and calm amidst my sheets of scribble and raucous brain waves. My only hope is that I am not doing physical harm to myself by living this experiment. I am alone, alienated from, from, from,... everything that isn't this experiment. How I will ever be able to go back to work as before is incomprehensible. And to think that I have generated this much energy, this much push, this much filmic gesture in really what amounts to a little over two months is really mysterious.
September 20, 1986 3:53 AM
I cannot fail to mention that I let the large scale image of the child (I really should call it a baby, and the baby a him, for so it appears) rest atop and alongside an image of an elderly woman's hands winding a ball of yarn, a photograph given to me by Richard K. that has captivated me. The age of her hands, the wrinkled veins, the short brush strokes of her smock and of course, the ball of yarn, the taut, convoluted sphere of time, of life's history, of life's secrets, of appearances, and of the hidden depths of knowledge - layers of time folded, folding from and into an ever winding, ever winding continuum - and the knife - she's at the end of her rope! She's got the whole world in her hands - and that knife - lying, still waiting, dying, done, dead. I even put the child's head (which actually fit quite nicely, inscribed in those old gray hands), over the ball of yarn, hoping for some kind of alchemy, attempting to induce some ... some ... something ... from between and amongst the two poles of my film - the two poles of life - young and old, between the first heart beat and the sputtering threat of heart attack.
CHILDREN OF ALL AGES seems to have faded, its sense of pertinence, its focus and its excitement for me have faded out. I started reading a few titles from my old notes, my inexhaustible lists of buzz words and lexicons, phrases and idioms. Nothing seemed ... simply put ... appropriate. And then I pulled out what I had always felt in my hip (or was it my back) pocket - my roll of actual home movie inter-titles. The second inter-title on this roll and obviously the opening title for some family's film was, THE FAMILY ALBUM with a picture of a baby doll in the background.
And suddenly it occurred to us that this simple understated little familiar phrase embodied all that makes my film so moving. It is simply a matter of looking and responding to pictures; to pictures of family and friends. This is the quality that cuts through all the many levels of critical analysis applicable to the film, from the sociological to the psychological. And so it will be. And I will make use of the homemade title card itself. Imagine that. It was there all along. Did I know it all along and ignore it, suppress it, deny it? OR Is it always a matter of timing, of waiting for the appropriate moment, the meaningful coincidence of search and solution?
September 22, 1986 4:01 AM
It's official. I've got a mix date.
October 9th. Trans Audio with Rick D'or.
Everyday now becomes precious.
Everyday now becomes pressure.
I must not lose focus, lose perspective. I am making my final arduous pass through the select reels of sound. It's like fishing in a pond with little promise of any catch, but one can never be absolutely sure. It is also of course, the final procedural necessity of pulling up my flanks behind me as I move toward my final destination.
Lots of little details to coordinate. I need the benefit of good fortune to allow the urgency and tension of my deadline to feed the impulse toward perfection and not destroy it.
November 12, 1986 2:29 AM
As for the film itself, the experience of locking had a (why does it always seem to) frenzy and haphazard feel. Some minor decisions took too long to make. Some major decisions were made too quickly and under unwelcome pressure. Time and finality and the anxiety of separation all took their toll.
I have this image of the film kind of like a ceramic object -- soft and malleable in the summer heat -- everything -- all materials, all decisions, all elements and choices open and fertile with possibility -- a creative cauldron -- a soup getting tastier every day as I continually add, subtract, and re-proportion or should I say refine the recipe. The contour of the film's locking paralleled the onset of autumn, of a cooler climate -- hardening my hand-built film-thing into permanent shape - the wet and shiny veneer evaporating to a drier, crusty surface.
All the pictures, sounds, the playful factory of daily editing no longer dance before me, no longer tantalize me with horizons of possibility and the lure of discovery - the prospect that I can make the film better each and every day. It's finished and I have to face it. I must let go - there is no more, ultimately, I can do.
I see cracks I never saw before.
I see shots that could be shorter. I hear sounds that could be louder.
I see frames....
There will be other films.