Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Gleams of Half-Extinguished Thought


A man and a woman experience the same city and the same places, but always at different times, in The Album Leaf’s “Always For You” video…

directed by Aaron Stewart-Ahn

I visited San Diego a few years back. I walked along some beaches, admired the sunset from a coastal café, and bought this great brown hat in an empty surf shop I stumbled upon while shopping for records. It was a really peaceful weekend.

But upon leaving I found myself feeling rather bland about the entire experience. I never really found the “heart” of the city, what made it tick, and I left wanting more and regretting everything I decided not to see or do that weekend in San Diego.

The same idyllic coastal city in California is the setting for this break-up video, which shows us two seemingly parallel stories that are in fact headed for two distinctly different conclusions. The characters move between the same spaces, interact with the same people, but never together, never at the same time. In a cozy bookshop they both read Haruki Murakimi, but they aren’t on the same page.

There is a hazy glaze over the images that give the video a surreal aesthetic – echoing the thematic concepts of memory and dream. The opening montage of clocks, planes and our characters in different positions establishes the non-sequential timeline of the telling of this tale (the music itself mimics the sounds of ticking clocks). There is a day and night distinction made between the two halves of the split-screen, and though it isn’t exactly Memento, the story is told from two perspectives that are moving in two different directions that converge at some point. When exactly that convergence takes place is a harder question to answer.

The plane in the opening shots flies from the right to the left, in a motion that seems to imply moving backwards. Upon viewing the entire piece it makes sense why it sails over the guy’s head and away from the girl. Whereas the man is only beginning a journey at the start of the video, the woman seems to be reaching the end of one. The former trudges through regretful memories of the places where his lover would have been in order wallow in his pain, but the latter visits reminders of her past in order to release them and give closure to the relationship. The man wakes up on the cold hard reality of the streets, but the woman is awoken in a grassy field.

The scenes are perhaps the lost moments when the two of them could have connected, or maybe they are memories of previous events when they did. In either case there was a lack of communication, and this is further implied by the way in which action will often move between the screens (most brilliantly realized with the jump-roping young girl) – it’s as if they are still in the same room at times, but unable to speak to each other. Yet it often seems that the man is far more downtrodden than the woman in these instances, and thus when she walks away at the end it feels somewhat foreshadowed.

There are further clues to figuring out the exact timeline of the story contained within this video (such as the paper airplane), but much of the beauty rests in the merging and collapsing of time that takes place. At some point memories begin to converge in that way, and depending on your mood and initial reaction to them, you may only remember the good times or the bad times. Yet for two different people, the very same moments can fit into the opposite categories.

I want to go back to San Diego now. I want to reinterpret the same streets and ocean views that I walked in the past, before I forget them completely. Though you can’t turn back time, you can revisit Tintern Abbey, bring to life the beauty of the past, and still live in the moment. But this isn’t a video about aging, or simply wishing for youth; what really stings is the fear of not expressing something until its far too late. One gets the feeling that this guy really loved this girl, but was never able to say it, and it’s an idea that the song amplifies with “it was always for you.”

Yet also like the song, there is the idea that perhaps the girl wasn’t looking hard enough for the writing in the sand, or the paper planes in the sky – the truth that was always in front of her. We all have trouble saying just what we mean, but sometimes we find other ways of showing it, and when those things are ignored, lost or mistaken for something else, it can be more painful than any other form of rejection.

The director has said that the inspiration behind this piece was a relationship in which it was discovered after the fact that he and a lover had frequented the same locations at the same time, multiple times prior to ever speaking to each other. But rather than making a video about “fate” or simple “coincidence,” Stewart-Ahn digs fearlessly into the reality of relationships and finds the ways in which they often live and breathe in places outside of either of the parties involved, leaving indelible marks on the real world. A painful and joyous reminder that relationships are real things, and every single one you ever have matters, and even if it doesn’t seem to leave a mark on you, it’s remnants remain somewhere out there.

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