10/40/70 - Old Joy
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 once more! Although this is a Thursday.
Craigen Z Oster
Old Joy (Kelly Reichardt, 2006)
Much like Reichardt’s film as a whole, this shot is insidiously complex. The image itself is flat and boring on the surface, containing little color, lighting, or action of note. What immediately strikes me is the asymmetry of the 20+ frames within this frame. The frames are mostly empty ones, voids. Only two of them contain images. The first is the driver’s side window framing Mark, isolating him as he looks off from Kurt and the rest of the world around him. The audience isn’t privy to what he’s looking at, as the shot holds his position, leaving them wondering what he could be thinking about at this moment. He isn’t too different from the voids of off-white/minty color contained within the red door frames to the left. He is a gap, containing something that the viewer must engage with using their own experience. I see in Mark the same void I see within myself. Striving to do good in the world while also trying to live an independent life, yet not recognizing that those two things may be incongruous.
The second filled frame in the upper right contains a slightly distorted view of what he could be looking at; warped powerlines, a slanted building, and the possibility of nature. The combination of that slightly skewed reality and the curiously bright red of the doors feels political, especially given that this film was made and released during the start of George W. Bush’s second term in office. Taking this further, if the upper frame filled with a reflection is seen as an approximation of Mark’s view, then his perspective has been altered by his unwillingness to confront the situation in which he finds himself head-on, much like liberal America as a whole during this time. Mark’s situation on a personal level is that him and Kurt clearly have a wedge between them, an invisible gulf of nothing that is keeping them from truly bonding like they used to.
Another banal frame. Two dudes ordering food. But again, neither of our leads are looking at one another. Much like Mark in the first frame, they are looking at something mostly unseen by the viewer. We get part of the waitress’ body in the frame, but not enough to indicate much of anything about this person, so we’re left to interrogate the relationship between these two men in the image. The image is flat, with pretty much everything in focus. The viewer can clearly see these two men and their flat, stilted relationship, but neither of them will acknowledge it. They’re left to go about the motions, ordering food and making plans, but not really getting at why they’re currently together. In male-male relationships I've experience there can often be this same sort of stiltedness. It distracts you from the world around you and the problems that exist on the peripheries. It makes you obsessed with self-image and what it means to be a man.
This is the last that will be seen of Mark in the film. Head down, still isolated, no progress. Him and Kurt will continue to drift apart and he heads forward with uncertainty into the pressures of imminent fatherhood. Here the liberal talk radio plays, just as it does in the car throughout the movie. This frame feels predictive of the state that this country and its people have found themselves in since 9/11, Bush, and the Recession in 2008: full of frustration over the way things are and a desire to change them, but an inability to properly diagnose the issue and take action. Mark and Kurt can’t fill the void between them, and neither can the rest of the country.
I feel strange discussing this film on such a political level myself. Am I a part of the problem? Is it a waste of my time to write about this void and disconnect between people’s ideals and their actions in relation to a widely unseen movie, while I myself am a person that claims frustration over the current state of America? I don’t know the answer to these questions. I don’t think Reichardt’s incredible film provides any either. But what it does do, at least seemingly so after my reflection on these three frames, is create an emptiness in which the viewer, if they give themselves up to the movie, can look inward at their own failings, both at the micro and macro levels.