“The legs move, and the mind wanders.” — Trina-Marie Baird
Filmmaker, sleepy Manitoban, film instructor at Harvard.
Of all modes of advancing through space — I drive my car a lot, have cycled for years, flown and travelled by train — walking takes my mind farthest afield, most consistently casts my thoughts back into the past or into new, uncanny territories. By the end of a long, exhausting stroll I invariably feel I’ve fixed my bearings in Time’s great melancholic flow. I often walk my troubles away too; through the sheer hypnotic repetition of steps I set my brain adrift across its own dreamy landscapes, where, if I’m lucky, it liberates itself from its quotidian jackpots and returns refreshed, ready for sleep and tomorrow. Walking is also part of my process: I work while I walk, I see the world anew, one stride at a time, discover unexpected moments, nooks and details — being on foot makes me feel like a poet, though I am not.
Cutting on the Road
The Sometimes Perilous Work of Walking
At the height of my mania for making collage I made a collage cart, a kind of table with bike wheels, an inkwell skill-sawed into its top to hold X-acto blades, scissors and glue sticks, and hefty wicker baskets underneath to hold my old books and porn magazines, the stuff from which I hoped to fashion all my snippy and sticky dreams.
I actually make a lot of collage while yoked to my collage cart!
I was inspired by my favourite collage artist, Mimmo Rotella, who, as I had it figured, while out on long walks in Rome peeled old oversized movie posters from the city’s broken post-war walls, then repurposed the shreds into startling new work.
A selection of Rotella's collages
What I didn’t know was that Rotella’s work was merely an appropriation, the result of his approaching billboard-makers and requesting from them the big sheets of paper used to warm up their printing machines. The abused and artifacted reams he received bore hot and inky shreds of multiple advertisements layered and juxtaposed in random tatters. Rotella merely cropped this waste material to taste and framed! No walking required.
But I had no idea Rotella was so sedentary, and since I loved walking and collage making so much I decided to try both at once. I made a nice big batch while strolling around rural Manitoba. Often I would tire of collage making before I was home, so I'd flip the cart behind me, harness myself into its shoulder straps and manhaul the rig home like some doomed member of Captain Scott’s Antarctic expedition.
Scott's expedition at the South Pole, January 18, 1912
They set out to manhaul their heavy sledges some 800 miles on their way back from the pole in 1912. Famously, they didn’t make it.
In Scott’s journal, his expedition’s terrible march toward death is set down in numbing detail. The most unforgettable stroller in Scott’s party is Captain Lawrence Oates, whose toes had become so horribly frostbitten he felt he was holding the others back. He voluntarily left the tent and walked out to his death in the Antarctic void. Oates's last words: "I am just going outside and may be some time."
Fischinger takes his camera on a stroll from Munich to Berlin in 1927, and along the way squeezes off extremely brief records of his journey, all edited in camera and strung along on a single roll of film, so that the ground covered and memories collected may fly past all the faster when reviewed after that film is processed.
If you're reading this, I'd like to issue a challenge: make your own walking film. Just pick your own Points A and B and cover the distance with your eye! I know in these digital days editing in camera is not so easy, but see what you can do. Please email submissions to email@example.com.
A still from walking from sals to tims by clint enns
Walking leads to sexual detours, marches and initiation
Another pleasure of walking is encountering the unexpected. One short film that takes that idea to unexpected places is Bimbo's Initiation, a 1931 cartoon starring the eponymous Bimbo and featuring Betty Boop, still sporting vestigial dog ears from her little-known early days as a sexy canine.
An underground secret society seeks to drive poor Bimbo mad while demanding an answer to the question "Do you want to be a member?" The machinations of the world where this story takes place are nightmarish, but the tone is pure slapstick. And it all starts with Bimbo taking a stroll, or "trotting along," as in Frank O'Hara's brilliant 'Poem ["Lana Turner has Collapsed"]'.
Webcam views are like the illustrations in the books by that greatest of all 20th Century walker-writers, W.G. Sebald.
They're like a Sebald peek at Manitoba, as good as if the man were still walking, and walking in St. Agathe, St. Anne's or Oakville, MB.
It’s breaking Sebald’s rules to identify an image, but the one above is the webcam view of Oakville. From my home in Cambridge I pine over these live feeds. The sometimes unspeakably dull views connect me heart-to-throbbing-heart with those I love back home.
A still from the Bee Hive Cam
The walker’s countryside and webcam come together in an unexpected way for me in the Bee Hive Cam, located in Waal, Bavaria. Its dim monochrome views of a hive interior, especially during the wintertime of bee sleep, combined with the avant-garde camera movements of Michael Snow’s masterpiece La Region Centrale (1971) make for German installation art of the highest order. I can watch for hours, and return from the spell as if from a longest, most-satisfying walk.
And if you slide your cursor into the upper left-hand corner of the screen you will be told how many other humans in the world are watching. You are usually the only one. Somehow that’s a terrifying thought.
I've never felt more frightened than when beholding the interior of this German hive, whose corridors are constructed by endlessly chewing mandibles for the endless perambulations of workers. Horror!
Eadweard Muybridge's Nude Male Walking
Often, during post-schlepp dreams, I find myself walking naked in public. This puts me in mind of the great Eadweard Muybridge, who shot many a nude in ambulatory transition against a fantastic and stark gridwork hung behind his subjects to help the photographer make scientific sense of our anatomies. Long have I wished to stroll the Manitoba countryside as Muybridge’s men and women do!
But this puts me in mind of another artist, Mariam Eqbal, who uses, or abuses, her scanner to stretch and mutate Muybridge’s walkers!
From Bruce's "Flowers" series
And this in turn puts me back on course as a walker, because Mariam Eqbal reminds me of scanner master Bruce Checefsky, who makes floral still lives by dragging his scanner out into his garden, or onto the country byways where the wild flowers can be found, and where I might most plausibly take myself of an afternoon.
I’ve never met Bruce on one of my tramps, but I swear I’ve seen his flowers blowing in my midst.
And I don’t want to mention this in my meandering reverie about walking, but I feel a brief mention of the pub crawl, a different kind of trek away from one's worries, noble in its way I suppose, is worthy of mention if only by way of contrast.
Etching by 19th century engraver/illustrator Howard Pyle
I don’t even want to think about the sadistic punishment of walking the plank, meted out by heinous souls and made popular recently by Keira Knightly in those pirate movies of hers.
I can’t think of anything more antithetical to everything touched upon here already!
There are the William Basinski Disintegration Loops, where the artist takes magnetic audio tape and plays it over and over until the act of playing it peels all the data from the tape, leaving the listener as exhausted as after a long meditative and melancholy walk, a trudge even.
When you're finished walking, spend some time with this...
We believe a powerful film or work of art — or, uh, email newsletter — should generate a reaction. That's why we're thrilled when readers of this humble publication choose to reach out and tell us what they thought. If you've got something to say, please SEND US A LETTER.
RE: ISSUE 08 Film Within a Film
I loved it [the James Franco-curated Issue 08]. Great opening scene to a fascinating movie within a movie. Exactly like the old film they are watching. But where does it go from here? It seems as if Vikar is lonely and lost in dreaming of either becoming a famous actor or creating famous films but maybe stuck. That's where the Burglar comes in and it's amazing how much he knows about film. So do they go on to become friends and share ideas of their dreams together and go on into creating exactly what the film they were watching was trying to create? Here we have a half-ass burglar who has no real violent desire to burglarize, who obviously shares the same dreams as Vikar. Please tell me he spends the night and Vikar wakes up realizing this guy is heaven sent with something special.
— MaryAnn Jessica
Vikar is a strange soul who has devoted himself to film as if it were a religion. He is so engrossed in movies that eventually he has a hard time distinguishing between film and life. He becomes a film editor and falls in love with a B-actress named Soledad, played by Megan Fox. The Burglar, played by Craig Robinson, is a film angel who visits Vikar once on his journey into the heart of 1970s Hollywood. But don't worry, there are plenty of other characters who join Vikar on his journey into the bright lights and dark places.
— James Franco
RE: ISSUE 08 William Holden It Down
No matter how much I love Montgomery Clift, I still think William Holden was the right choice here. Monty's sensitivity shone through like a beacon, and the tough side that Holden played so well would not have translated (in my humble opinion).
This was such a wonderful opportunity for Swanson to shine again. And she does, in buckets!
Everything about this film is on target but that's why it has endured. Great Review, James. Can't wait for Zeroville! — Ste^e
I agree, William Holden killed it. It worked out well.
— James Franco
RE: ISSUE 08 Metaphysics & James
Nice of you to title Issue 08 "James Franco." It gave me a brief flutter in my ever-still heart to imagine that I was receiving a personal message from him.
As for The Review, good job with making it not seem like one, by highlighting a portion of dialogue instead. It was a metaphysical experience, artfully coinciding with the context.
— Marcelle M
I love reading interviews, and I'm an actor, I'm used to reading dialogue, so whenever I can I put things in dialogue form.