Janet Jiahui Wu
He Wrote To Me About an Avant-Garde Swedish Film
It was a terrible picture. There was no story. I had heard everything in it many times before but perhaps more well put. There was no action. There was no rising and falling and sweeping across like armies. There was no reflection or methods of concoction. It was not a movie. It was a slow crawl into a funnel and then into a black bottle and it was empty inside. There was nothing in it.
One should not have to crawl out or into a movie. One should have towers before one and a burning Notre-Dame. There should be bees in the turrets and gargoyles on the eaves. There should be swallows and there should be trees in the square outside. There should be workers there but they are well paid and do not always have their heads hanging down. They should sit on benches and read books of letters. There should be sidewalks with mosaic fountains around every corner. There should be night gowns falling off the hooks. One should not have to growl at it and feel nothing but a disgust, as though one could make a movie ten thousand times better.
It is elementary to talk of movies as though they must have action in them. Sure, it could have been worse. The man riding the bicycle talking about God and meaning and Nietzsche should have said instead, 'My mother died, my father raped her and killed her, now I am destitute, because my lawyer took off with all my money with my wife. I could have killed her, too, if only I could have her current address!' Look at the difference. And instead of a lecturer and a critic, one could have a priest and a sick one. The priest will plant a tree with the child and talk about very few things. The things he will say will be something like this, 'Come closer. It is only natural we bathe together. I clean you more thoroughly with dirt. I teach you many things. For one, you must always throw a woman off the bridge if you have the chance. I missed my opportunity to throw my mother off and now she will not get off my back for being a celibate holy worker. What a fool. She ought to have been drowned when the big flood came. But God forbid, what do I speak? What do I speak? I must tally my sins in my book of confessions. It will contain everything I have done wrong and I will become famous after I die. You, even you, my little man, will go down in history, as a boy I molested out of a desire to convince my own conscience, that the commandants themselves are inadequate! Look! Even a priest is not sufficiently well taught and well disciplined! Nothing is good enough! What they need is God Himself!' The difference between my version and what was there in the movie is plain to see. Mine has opening and closing. Theirs has a monotone symphony. I favor mine because after all it is only a semi-opaque sequence and semi-open address.
Some movie it was. I felt like I was sitting through the funeral of a prime minister. I felt like a celibate with no desire whatsoever. I felt like a village where the entire population disappeared overnight. I felt like the woods after agent orange. What a movie should be is like agent orange, is like the force that made the entire dinosaur population of the world disappear. What a movie should be is a mine full of gems. They may be buried next to coal and dirt, but in this terrible movie, I ask you, where are the gems? I dug and dug and found nothing. The hole got deeper. In the end I buried myself. I put a sign up: Please stone me to death. The passers-by stay away. They think I am a madman. This is the kind of life we live now. This is the kind of life we find it difficult to escape from.
The end involved the postman committing suicide. He was sick of his own questions about meaning and existence. He simply dug a hole and buried himself. He starved himself to death on a headland somewhere in Sweden. He froze and turned into the earth. The critic did not have to bury him, for he was already buried. The little boy was talking but said only foolish things. Something like, 'Should we take him to the cemetery?' The critic froze at the question. He thought, 'Yes, we ought to have dug him up and put him somewhere proper, or they will think I murdered him.' There was no ending. It went on and on. When it finished, I made the story continue in my mind for a long time. The boy grew up and resented his father. The boy was so tired of criticism and literary theories he threw himself over the bridge. His father buried him and asked himself more questions. He grew old alone on the headland and lived for a very long time. It was a terrible movie, but it affected me.
My son is growing up too quickly. I am alone with him all the time. I am tired but I cannot live without him. One day he will leave me. I will ask the same questions as the critic and the postman. But I will not make it known to the world and make a two-hours-and-forty-five-minutes feature film about it. I will perhaps explain it to you in a letter, but you don't need me to explain. You understand it every time you come to see us. You are glad we didn't marry. You are glad I suffer alone and you suffer alone. We all asked those questions, but I do not want to watch it in a film. Should a movie take one away from reality? They can get drunk on that, the critics. I am not a critic. I am no one. I am sick of this work but I still have two more years of study. I sometimes wish we went to Europe together. I sometimes imagine you by my side. But most of the time I am so tired all I can think about is work. I even do work in my dreams. In the morning, I take my son to school. I go to work. It is another day. There is much ultramarine in my office. When I see paint, I think of you. You stopped sending me your works. I don't mind. Sometimes I wish we could live together and just watch movies together. We can hire a maid to do all the housework. All you have to do is watch movies with us, and read books to us. In your free time when I am at work and he is at school, you can paint.
I am sorry. It's a dream you gave up a while back. I talk about it out of spite. The movie was not worth watching. But maybe it was. I was so tired I fell asleep halfway and didn't actually finish it.
Janet Jiahui Wu is a Hong-Kongese-Chinese-Australian visual artist and writer of poetry and fiction. She has published in various Australian literary magazines such as Voiceworks, Cordite Poetry Review, Mascara Literary Review, Rabbit Poetry, Plumwood Mountain Poetry, foam:e, Tipton Poetry Journal, Yes! and so on. She currently lives in Paris.