Filming a Ghost

filming a ghost footprints snowFILMMAKING | B.R. Yeager

Read the story first @ Unbroken (view the journal via ISSUU; the piece is on page 21)

⇒ Today’s featured piece comes from a cool journal of short-form creative prose–prose poetry, flash, what have you–called Unbroken. I like this journal and the several pieces I’ve read therein because of its celebration of the many possibilities of the sentence (and even the humble prose block, for that matter), and because it challenges our/my assumptions about where and what the line is separating flash from prose poetry.

Today I want to briefly look at a piece called “Filmmaking” by B.R. Yeager, which takes a standard vignette/slice-of-life style flash fiction and gives it that “Poetic” feel. I think when people talk about a piece being “Poetic” they’re speaking about its level of abstraction, privileging of image over plot, and use of multiple layers of meaning. I don’t want to do a line-by-line breakdown of this piece, since that’s maybe something that would take away from the reader’s personal interaction with the story, but I do want to point out a few salient lines and talk about what they do.

Consider the piece’s confounding opening:

It was five years and two weeks when we filmed.

This is a really intriguing phrasing, since the pronoun “it” goes undefined. The reader is left to make certain independent leaps. Was it five years and two weeks AGO that the characters filmed? Did they film FOR five years and two weeks? Already, we’re in an ambiguous place in terms of time. Past and present, like the filming and the resulting film described herein, are not clearly separated. Past haunts present through the camera’s lens.

Or consider this beautiful, ominous passage:

The aperture shifts and it’s behind my shoulders and I mock tears over her body. Later, I’ll make her spirit rise with opacity adjustments and overlays.

There’s stage blood on the woman’s forehead, she’s fallen and died, and the speaker (playing her husband, also the filmmaker) grieves. I can’t help but think that the use of the past-tense voice at the opening of the piece (it then switches to present tense, then future), introduces to the story an overarching sense of grief, one that colors this narrative and its memory- and film-based images. The ghost effect in the movie further reinforces the idea of grief/loss–this piece’s narrator is attempting to reconnect with a past relationship.

Everything preserved I see, in milky BBC high-def.

That’s a really beautiful line, again with some curious grammar.

Here’s what makes this such a compelling read, in my opinion: the story blends film and memory, actions and acting, in such a way that the narrative presents as both fact and fiction. It’s super postmodern, this piece, and it calls into question the accuracy of either memory or the artifice used to substitute/supplant human memory.

The larger context for this sequence of movements goes largely undefined: why were they filming an amateur movie about a woman who dies? why did her “ghost” get up and go out in the snow? What did the filmmaker/narrator hope to show through this action, and what is this meant to tell us about the relationship between the guy and the woman?

This piece is minimalist in terms of concrete character/plot details, but rich with emotional significance. I bet every reader’s interpretation is going to be wildly different in terms of what’s going on here, and that’s okay: the story’s emotional subtext(s) create a fully realized story, if only in the reader’s mind.

Finally, consider this:

She will move through her kitchen… and hesitate over a picture of her and her husband (a photo of us–the real us–from a year ago, holding half-sour pickles at the Brimfield flea market)

Now here we have another tier of memory built into the story’s temporal structure: a photograph adds yet another dimension to this story and the speaker’s relationship with the woman. Memory is both complex and fluid, this piece demonstrates, and the use of artificial conduits for memories (film, photographs) makes things even less stable. All in all, this piece seems to be a portrait of the instability of memory, the malleability of its truths.

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