10/40/70 - Nights and Weekends
In the book 10/40/70, author Nicholas Rombes recognizes the necessity of constraint as a means of liberating film criticism in the digital era. In this section of my reviews, I will be deploying the same techniques utilized by Rombes; analyzing the contents of the frames a film contains at the 10 minute, 40 minute, and 70 minute marks. These reviews will be posted every Wednesday.
Craigen Z Oster
Nights and Weekends (Joe Swanberg & Greta Gerwig, 2008)
An run-down apartment corridor. A couple. A barely visible bag of 99 cent potato chips. Another sign to myself to pursue the meaning imbued in food on film. James, the Chicago half of the long-distance relationship at the heart of the film, picks up the trash of their finished hallway meal as Mattie, in town from New York, stares down at it.
Up until this moment in the film, it is difficult to grasp what the dynamic of the two is and just how these people feel about one another. This moment opens their relationship wide open. This cheap, easy to dispose of meal probably pieced together from a combination of convenience stores and fast food joints is a staple of people in their 20's who still don't quite have all their shit together. This type of meal is instantly gratifying, filled with salt and sugar while making little to no mess, as everything can be neatly smashed back into the bag and immediately disposed of, out of sight and out of mind.
Mattie looks off into nothing as she answers a call on her flip phone. There's an intense warmth to this shot, but not only because of the color temperature of the frame, but the expression frozen onto Mattie's face. There is so much hope and excitement in the open-mouthed smile and vacant eyes as she answers a call she could not wait to receive from James. Her vacant eyes seem to be looking out at nothing, as she is so wrapped up within her own head with getting to speak with James.
What makes this film so effective is moments like this, where Greta Gerwig is able to emote in such a deeply personal, yet relatable way that anyone who has answered a call like that immediately recognizes. But as real as this moment feels, the more I gaze into it the more I'm reminded of its construction. The green wall behind her can't help but look false, as sections of the frame contain obvious pixelation due to it being captured on a digital video camera.
A still image of people looking at a still image. We see two versions of Mattie and James here. The first version, the viewers, seem disconnected and dispassionate. They are close physically but staring into a screen. The second version, the viewed, appears to be the exact opposite. They're pulling each other in, connected at multiple points physically, and seem to be very much in love.
Swanberg's films always feel so damn poignant to the experience sex, love, and relationships in the digital age. They seem to always be 15 minutes ahead of their time. In an era where Instagram didn't yet exist, he had a couple scrolling through photos of themselves, putting on airs as to what their relationship was to the rest of the world, while existing as something wholly opposite inside. Swanberg maybe have unlocked something that displayed how false the digital image was. Because everyone can shoot, edit, and share their photos in mere seconds, everyone also has the ability to manipulate the appearance of what their life is. This is not a new take.
BUT, this was something that filmmakers had already been doing for years. I think of Woody Allen, someone known for making super autobiographic work. Yet Woody never existed in a world where what people were really thinking appeared in yellow subtitles for everyone else to see. Yet people still felt as though Woody Allen was displaying his life as it truly was in films like Annie Hall, despite this impossibility. With the spread of iphones and cheap mirrorless cameras, everyone can now be Woody Allen. Swanberg may have been the bridge between these two eras. Someone struggling for something honest, still restricted somewhat by the size of the equipment and low quality from making it truly appear as though he was "capturing real life."