Thursday, September 20, 2012

the curious case of jeffrey gustafson

Heavenly Father seems to have the same affinity for non-linear storytelling that i do.

in the days of film print projection, movies were shipped to the theater in reels. each reel would be about twenty minutes in length--my best estimate, anyway--and an average movie would be made up of six to eight reels. before the movie can be shown, the projectionist will spool the reels sequentially one by one onto the giant platter. done correctly, it's simply a matter of being able to count single digits. in most theaters, the projectionist will watch the movie before it opens to the public, to ensure that each reel is in its proper order. in a free-to-the-public theater such as the international cinema where i worked for two years, we couldn't afford such a luxury and occasionally a splice would be done incorrectly and yadda yadda yadda i was luckily able to talk them into rehiring me.

having been "building" films for a year or so, i appreciated the humor of the situation when a friend told me about the time he built pulp fiction when he worked as a projectionist. the movie is told non-linearly, with the storylines happening out of chronological sequence and the movie ending on the same scene it opened. after putting it together, he watched the film and was sure he'd screwed up. to make matters worse, he said, some of the story breaks happened at reel changes, making it very easily seem like they had simply been spliced together incorrectly. only a phone call to his boss who was familiar with the film's structure reassured him that he hadn't gotten it wrong.
strangely, i don't think the film would have nearly the same the impact if it were told in chronological order, although i can't necessarily define why.

i can't help but wonder sometimes if the same thing hasn't happened in my life; if a couple of reels have been spliced together out of order. i kind of started suspecting this last fall, looking at things around me and really feeling like they were lessons that would've been much more helpful a few years earlier.
as of this point, i'm still perplexed. it feels like i'm going in reverse through my life; like being on jeopardy, where i'm getting the answers first and then the questions.

and so i'm just waiting for the moment when tim roth raises his hand to say "garcon! coffee!" and suddenly all of the wrong turns and stumbles and falls make sense and i see in amazement where it's going and what's going to happen. until that point, though, i'll be honest: i'm a little confused at times.
but, yeah, that's part of the excitement of storytelling.

some people were born to sit by a river. some get struck by lightning. some have an ear for music. some are artists. some swim. some know buttons. some know shakespeare. some are mothers...


kwistin said...


i like this a lot.

i'm gonna start thinking of my whole life as a story now, rather than just a bunch of stories and see where it's spliced. i'll probably realize that there are some sequences that seem like they're out of order.

but you're right; that's part of the excitement of storytelling. i think joseph campbell is onto something, but i'm pretty sure our journeys are much more exciting, even at the "boring" parts, because they're not scripted; they're real. at least, not scripted by us.


(also, the robot word was logiron, but i got it wrong so it gave me a new one...#datingirony) ;)

The Former 786 said...

I really like this analogy. And I can't imagine how stressful it would be to have to spool reels of film like that.
What International Cinema film did you unintentionally make ”extra avant guarde”?

--jeff * said...

i once built up "children of paradise" and was later informed that i'd messed up the reels in some way by whomever was first showing the movie. (i've still never seen it, despite it being a staple of world film.)

i also botched mel gibson's "hamlet." i was actually down in the theater, sitting in my usual seat in the back, when a reel change happened and suddenly there was no sound because the image was reversed and the soundtrack was now visible on the right side of the screen.
i bolted upstairs as fast as i could and tried my best to fix it with a theater of people down below watching me and wondering how hard is it to run a piece of film through a projector.
i think that's the one that got me fired.

there was also the occasional beat up old russian print that would jam in the machine and catch on fire, but that's a different analogy. ; )