Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Alan Berliner, filmmaker and media artist
My interview today with Alan Berliner was different from any other that came before. Alan Berliner is the filmmaker who two years ago invited me to join an NYU class on film archiving that was visiting his lower Manhattan studio. The specific purpose of my visit was to discuss a possible solution for the preservation of my old family photos. During the class discussion, Alan suggested I post the photos to the internet where they would be saved and available to any viewers who might discover the site. And shortly thereafter my memoir in a blog, marjorie-pentimentos, began. Today, Alan called my visit to the class an "intervention."
Many months ago when I began marjorie-digest, I asked Alan if he would be interviewed by me for this blog. He thought it would be worthwhile if I again joined another class from NYU and talked about my experience of two years ago and how the process was suggested in a concept during the first visit. Alan requested that I arrive early and that would give us a chance to talk. I was excited and I looked forward to today. I had no idea that the interview that I had intended to be about Alan would somehow morph into an interview about me!
We began and I told Alan that on Sunday many of the descendants of my great-grandparents, Abraham Levine and Goldie Benjamin, gathered at a restaurant in Manhattan for a family reunion. I told Alan that I expecially loved watching the family home movies from around 1952 that were brought by my cousin, Allen. As I talked about Sunday, I slowly began a stream-of-consciousness about so many different topics I felt somehow as if I was going to places that should never have left the imaginative confines of my own head.
And Alan sat there taking notes. He asked just the right questions to bring me to these personal places that were bittersweet and emotional. I talked and talked... about reincarnation, and quantum physics, and consciousness, and past lives, and memories. When I talked about time travel, I think my mind was on that train longing for "Willoughby" where I could enjoy the comforts of the past.
I talked about my life in retirement and my life... and I even spoke about my OCD. I just kept talking and talking... and dialogue flowed (probably from my subconscious) about personal feelings, old family photos, and home movies. I told Alan I love home movies because they are the closest thing to time travel we will ever get. The conversation was layered at times with fantasy, and imagination, and wishful thinking. And Alan kept writing.
He was able to somehow make me want to become nostalgic and share thoughts on so many things... when I was there to be the listener and learn more about him! I was embarrassed and I apologized to Alan that the interview became about me. He waved his hand and seemed to not care and said something like "Maybe I wanted to do that."
And this must be why he is a phenomenal filmmaker. He has this uncanny and kind ability to inspire people to be real and in a defenseless and in a very unguarded way to discover meaningful feelings.
Well, I had to temporarily shut-up because the class arrived and Alan played some very interesting and engaging sound effects for them and then they sat in a circle while I was asked to speak about the birth of my blog. And I did.
Alan inspires me to want to be a better "keeper of the memories." If after I contacted him two years ago Alan had not graciously invited me to meet with him, all my "stuff" probably would have one day been lost forever in a Staten Island landfill. That makes me sad. It makes me sad because one of my personal treasures is a letter that was written by my grandmother to my mother in about 1929. It appears in my memoir in this entry with a poem I wrote in 1992 which developed from some of my feelings about that letter... maybe sentimental memorabilia is in a sense a "madeleine."
In "Synecdoche, New York," the writer Charlie Kaufman ends the film with a monologue: "Now, it is waiting, and nobody cares. And when your wait is over, this room will still exist, and it will continue to hold shoes, and dresses, and boxes. And maybe someday, another waiting person. And maybe not. The room doesn't care either..."
Alan cares and I am on Alan's wave-length. And maybe there is a large group of total strangers who share these thoughts about time and the passing of time and the importance of, as Alan said, "saving pieces of individual lives" even in small scale ways.
At his website Alan has a link to his articles, essays, and journals. Please read his essay, "Gathering Stones." Alan showed me the way to help my own "orphaned photos" find a home.
And in his journal piece "Nobody's Business," Alan writes: "But yes, it is me who returns to visit -- not any of their children, their grandchildren, or any (other) of their great-grandchildren. Just me."
And so I realize that I had forgotten to tell Alan that on infrequent down days when I have little to do, I ride to the still-standing buildings in Brooklyn where I once lived. It seems to be always gloomy and raining on those days. But even on bright sunny days, I think about the homes and the times inside those homes. My mind wanders and I can still hear my mother calling me, at 5:30 PM, for "supper." Sometimes, when I arrive at one house... I park my car slightly down the street, and look at the outside of the window in the room where I once lay in bed at night, so long ago, listening to the sounds of whooshing cars as they passed while I watched their shadows dancing on my bedroom wall. And I still visit my grandmother's house in Bensonhurst.
Alan Berliner is a creative award-winning filmmaker. You can learn more about him and his work by clicking on the links below.
The Sweetest Sound
The Family Album
POV - The Sweetest Sound
San Francisco Film Festival: Wide Awake