The Reincarnation of an Ornithologist.
I had to show you this. Usually I like to refrain from consecutive blog posts, spacing them with time, at least a few days, sometimes weeks, it has been known to be months. The desire for such a gap is acting upon my fingers as I type, no, give it a few days, let your ideas settle... Then again I have been known to do that as well; let them settle, get all dusty, covered in hair and tiny fragments of skin until I think, I cannot be bothered cleaning that one up... So this is a little 'half baked', but I had to share it with you. It couldn't wait.
A Walk Through H is a a short 1978 film by Peter Greenaway. I finished watching it about an hour ago. I am urging you to watch it too (although you probably already have, in which case watch it again). Firstly I was dumbfounded at the apparent similarities between this film and a short fiction that I wrote a few months back, one that I have been hung up on ever since. Common themes include cartography, migrating birds, obscurity, and an obsessive air. So naturally I felt a little riled that this idea has been done so much better already. But I kept watching. Becoming more and more tense and feeling a little obsessed by the unconventional maps and the directions in which our narrator took their intent. And the more I watched, the less I knew, about the story - the less it drew parallels with my own story of a migrating bird - the less I knew about the narrator, of the elusive Tulse Luper, of the maps themselves.
It plays with the memory; the narrator's memory, and journeys, journeys you yourself may have also ventured. It's plot is buried within a landscape - a landscape drawn out through cartography, so abstracted you can't help but then freely associate any cognition; which I began to associate more and more with the styling of (some) sketches within Tom Phillips' The Humument (later delighted to discover a colloboration between the two - I am yet to watch). And you reach the end of this journey, 92 maps 1,418 miles and 41 minutes and you realise, as you look back over your life, so far, that, no, I can't remember it all.
I can't remember how that scar appeared on the cap of my right knee, why it so neatly matches the one on my left. No I can't remember which of these books were gifts and which were acquired and which I sought. But I do recall which ones fell into my lap as if fate herself had placed them there, (I'm looking at you A Lover's Discourse, and you Nausea, and you Hangover Square.) And of all these papers scattered before me, I have no idea which one I will run with, which ones will materialise into some... thing, which ones will find their way to the bin, which ones I will keep with me. I do remember who I lifted the term 'half baked' from, that it desperately offended me at the time, then made me laugh a few weeks later - but no recollection of the journey connecting the offense to the chuckle, just a vague sketchy line. And I do remember the one path that so definitely crossed with another, then I must have strayed because I can't recall having left it, but bizarrely, when I turn back, all there is is a sort of cross, or a blank signpost, or a skeleton of a windmill which blocks my entry. Crossroads, very strange occurrences!
And just when I'm through appropriating this very mis-structured journey, this birds eye view seen through the abstracted gaze of the narrator, (the man always keeping something just out of view,) we are handed a surreal twist. As if Tulse himself was always the key to this puzzle. As if it was Tulse's journey, or perhaps it was his decoy. After all that we have been through! But you'll have to watch it to see what I mean.
"I've always been fascinated by maps and cartography. A map tells you where you've been, where you are, and where you're going - in a sense it's three tenses in one... My father had recently died, and the subtitle of the film was 'The Reincarnation of an Ornithologist' - my father was one. Through his life he had amassed an extraordinary amount of information about bird study, and I was very aware that with his death - as indeed with any death - a vast amount of very personalized information had gone missing, was totally irrecoverable. The film is on the journey a soul takes at the moment of death, to whatever other place it ends up - H being either Heaven or Hell. I devised 92 maps to help this particular character get there. The whole film was divided into five sections that represented movement from a very urban landscape to a wilderness landscape, and there were references and cross-references to all sorts of systems."
Greenaway added the subtitle as a memoir to his father, perhaps this walk through H is inability to understand all his father's 'stuff' - one has a tendency to loot for memories once someone important has died, perhaps sentiment is displaced only in death. This film is a tribute then, a memoir to something of which he has no direct memory. A something. A possibility. A reincarnation.
A very engaging, surreal, and wonderful account of a journey that was worth the voyage. It's such a shame that you cannot engage with these maps in reality. They seem well structured and thought through - all 92 of them, baring resemblances, carrying with them meanings, associations. Crammed (lovingly) into 41minutes of film, doomed to be lost in the landscape of my memory as I desperately attempt to recall it, to retell it to you. I suppose I failed: I just ended up talking a heap about myself... Well it is my blog. All is not lost, you can still watch it. Here's the link: