Monday, November 19, 2007

from no distance at all

Today while stopping at a crosswalk uptown waiting for the light to change, I spent a while soaking up the poster for the new Will Smith movie I Am Legend, printed on the side of a city bus. Hilariously, the picture features Will Smith standing somewhere under the FDR downtown in Manhattan looking across a post-apocalyptic East River of broken bridges towards DUMBO with my apartment building framed gloriously in the near distance. It's wonderful in a way, seeing my building so stately and picturesque and sepia-toned, surviving armageddon--and seeing it approach me so randomly in my commute around the city. I remember once while I was on a vacation in Canada, driving as faraway as I could possibly drive from New York, turning on the television in the city of Prince Rupert (just south of the Alaska border in British Columbia) and watching a ridiculous cop movie starring Jim Belushi as a dirty cop making drug deals around the corner from my house. Perhaps it comes with the territory of living in a New York that has fully transitioned to internationally beloved simulacrum (with all the attendant traffic problems) but the Will Smith poster sent my thoughts in an alternative direction, thinking about futures of the past and pasts of the future.


In the poster (the movie's filming kept Farrah and me up nights during shooting with klieg lights under the Brooklyn Bridge blowing out refugee-flee-manhattan-extravaganza shots and inadvertantly scorching my bedroom with film noir shadows), a huge photoshopped sun frying Will Smith in a halo of light neatly blots out the new, inappropriate skyscrapers that have cropped up in DUMBO over the last few years--as I understand it the result of bait-and-switch tactics from developers taking advantage of architecture-buff neighborhood boards in 2002 but then stinting on the architecture. Perhaps this is merely the result of the I Am Legend being photographed some months in the past, before the buildings were completed. Or perhaps they did not fit the vision of the art director looking for the post-apocalyptic mood to befit a disaster-horror movie. But what occurs then appears to be a vision of a future New York that either demands a selective tearing down of recent changes (a conservative future as return to the past) or an understanding that the future is already defunct, that we're already there, and past. In a way, I prefer the second possibility, which certainly feels accurate to the wonder of watching old movies with young people captured and now no longer young. (In many ways all my poetry writing these days feels leveraged on this disjuncture, the writing moment receding into funnier and funnier miscues, distortions, changes.) It all reminds me of the historical epics of the sixties, say, in which everyone seems to have sixties hair. I wonder, did they know that they were creating a vision of Ancient Rome, or medieval England, or Renaissance Italy so utterly dated? And what will happen when shaggy sixties hair comes back into style unironically and without distance; will we watch these movies and think how utterly accurate they seem as pure history?

The Will Smith movies calls itself I am Legend and is its own bait-and-switch if it's anything like the pretty good novel, a post-apocalyptic disaster story that turns out to be a by-the-book vampire-vs-van helsing throwback, very doomed machismo. The legend is presumably Dracula, Transylvania, et al and the crux of the book is that if its protagonist is living in legend (vant to suck your blood etc.) and is A legend (a lone hero standing against the monsters) there's no one left to remember him. Will Smith (like Charlton "The Omega Man" Heston before him) is made of Legends lacking people to possess them. But isn't this the problem of the sci fi film which is always a historical drama, the future as it could have turned out but didn't, the story that didn't procreate, no one remembers what didn't happen, dogs not barking, etc.? Trees falling on each other in the woods. Or suspension bridges with the snapping cables magically missing my vulnerable windows... My sister has been studying for the GRE and, relating the fortune cookie essay question topics to me, she mentioned one that asserts that we can't learn from history because we're living in it. A lot of the questions have this weird parallax of essaying pessimism from a vantage point of freed up energy, such as decrying competition while competing for trails of a grad school bell curve or eschewing study in order to embark on the most intensive study of one's life. Here is the past of me, now how about some future?.What happens next.

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