For years I’ve watched a crummy bootleg of this film. How crummy? Let’s just say that you have to sit through long stretches of black while the next reel gets loaded onto an editing table. A year ago, I got my hands on a copy of a French DVD. Tuesday night I was given the chance to see the film projected, with a beautiful new 35mm print. This should have been a life changing experience. Instead, it has sparked a new section of this blog, a section dedicated to apologies.
I’ve only walked out of two films in my entire life. At the end of this post I’ll reveal which two films hold this honor. Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, now enters this pantheon as film number three. Unlike the other two films, I did not leave Chantal Akerman’s masterpiece out of anger. I left out of necessity. At least, that is the excuse use to comfort myself.
Before the film started I was running around like a madman slashing things off my to-do list. I had a midterm to administer. I had to take my wife and daughter home then turn around and head back to campus. I had to help two students re-organize their editing files, only to find out their hard drive was corrupt. I had to try and fix their problem. I had my own editing to do. I had a phone call take because it was automated and would tell me when our new appliances would be delivered. I had to get over to the Union Theatre to see Jeann Dielman.
I got to the theater in time to hear an opening announcement about film. The second reel of the movie literally feel off the truck somewhere between Milwaukee and Cleveland. Tonight’s screening would thus include a 16mm second reel. While not the purists ways to see the film, it was close, and showed some ingenuity on behalf of the theater staff.
Then, right before the film was to start that call came in. I rushed to the lobby to confirm I would be at my house on Wednesday from 4 to 6 PM to received the delivery of our new dishwasher and stove. The humor was not lost on me as I returned to the theater and took my seat just in time to watch Jeanne Dielman ignite her stove.
I sat through the first reel totally enthralled, not with the action so much, but with the beauty of the print. The mundane existence of Jeanne Dielman does have a hypnotic affect, but tonight her daily routines only called attention to my mental to-do list. There were so many things I should be doing, rather than sitting in a dark theater watching someone else work.
Finally, somewhere in the third reel, I did what I never imagined myself doing. I got up and walked out. With a horrible pain in my stomach and a gray cloud over my soul I slunk back to the office. I tired to fix a hard drive. I did some editing. I graded some papers. I performed work.
Was it a productive night? Yes. Did I have a transcendental experience performing this work? No.
While I worked, I had music blaring. Something I noted in Jeanne Dielman was the quietness of her day. Today we often leave a television on or listen to the radio when we work. We fill our space with noise, perhaps to feel less alone. I think that on Tuesday night I was play music simply to block out the two voices in my head. One accusing me of not being a dedicated film lover. The other telling me its more important to get out and do something.
I apologize to Chantal Akerman and I pray the gods of film forgive me.
As promised the other two films I’ve walked out on.