I am excited to announce the completion of a short film, a personal project I tackled in my spare time.
Fragments of the Living is an experimental work composed of public domain home movie clips. The piece is a celebration of the American family, a nostalgic salute to the past and a meditation on the fleeting nature of life.
In researching stock footage libraries for a work project last year, I discovered several home movie files on the website Archive.org; most of the clips were dated from the 1940s to the 1960s. I became fascinated with the videos—the cinematic vestiges that originated from reels of old film stuffed in boxes and stored in dusty attics or garages.
I have always been enamored with the past, and the lure of nostalgia remains strong for me, with two examples being my love of Frank Sinatra songs and classic film noir movies. And I realized these Super 8 movies were the forerunners of today’s selfies and YouTube videos.
It’s worth noting I had no connection with the people seen on screen; the films were not my family’s home movies. As a result, I observed the images from an objective viewpoint.
I enjoyed watching the subjects’ reactions when they noticed the camera capturing their movements. Some of the people smiled and waved, while others acted coy and some girls even ran away from the lens.
One stretch of the film takes place on a street in the late 1930s or early 1940s. I’m not sure where the black and white scenes were recorded, but the place reminded me of a small town in Nebraska or Colorado, the type of community that could serve as the setting for a Kent Haruf novel.
And I wondered: were the people smiling in the frame really happy or were they just acting that way for the camera? Were they trying to present an image of a happy family because that’s what was expected of them? I wish I could have been there to see what happened when the camera turned away from them.
I also understood that many of the men and women on screen were now either dead or very old. Yet in the clips they are alive and joyous as they celebrate holidays, vacations and special occasions with their families and friends.
I wondered if the subjects realized at the time that they were experiencing the prime of their lives, that the events captured by the camera marked their happiest moments.
I wondered if it all went downhill from there? Did they watch their loved ones grow old, become sick and die? Did they suffer economic misfortune? No doubt some of the couples later divorced. Did the children in the videos grow up and leave their parents, severing family ties?
The snippets of film revealed the ephemeral nature of life. In editing the piece, I limited each clip to only a few seconds. So we see a bob of the head, a smile, a wave, a blink of the eye and then we cut to something else. And I guess that “cut to” serves as a reminder to me that time is slipping away for all of us living here in the present.