(This is a version of the last letter of a series that started during the first lockdowns, a collaboration between Jugend ohne film and La vida útil.)

Dear Patrick,

I am waiting for a letter from the (Spanish) State that will make me able to live in the world. As I wait, time on my hands again, we are allowed to go outside but the chances of making life choices decreases every day. People can move through some countries (not me, not my country either), we are in a vital limbo. If everything goes back to normal, but even more devalued, we will never leave the limbo.

As I wait for the letter, time on my hands again, I stumble upon a few things. Don’t you find it funny that, in all of Lucia Berlin’s collection of stories, A Manual for Cleaning Women, which is very clearly rooted in personal experience of people, jobs and places, there are only two or three stories that mention a life around literature? This is a woman who wrote a lot and must have had to encounter the “ceremonial” part of the life of every artist (the social-financial), still, none of her characters are writers. It all comes from the other corners of life. For us, it would be the corners that are not shot/reverse shot as you say. Maybe freedom is to be able to actively, mindfully, sensuously access all the corners. In Berlin’s case, there is also freedom in all the ways she seems to know how to handle everything in life, from not being able to stop drinking to checking on a newborn child. It’s an uncomfortable freedom. Makes me think of the exact opposite: Buster Keaton being driven across the street to his sweetheart’s house, starving because he doesn’t know how to boil eggs in The Navigator.

As I wait for the letter, the online life of film goes on. Don’t you find it funny that online activity around film culture has freed the community from a mask or two? As no one has to pretend that the centre of it is in the films, but in the “institutions that keep them alive”, no specifics at all necessary, all condensed in the idea of (again) “belonging” (to a room with no corners). Anne Carson: I do not want to be a windowless monad. I see a film and the intertitle goes: “Little boys should be seen and not heard”, which makes me think in the institutional chatter, maybe nothing happens, no one talks because nothing is of interest. There is no more to say, things close and close, less films have their chances, less people have work. In the film where this intertitle appears, Long Pants, Harry Langdon is trying to be noticed by two girls. Minutes later, he falls in love with a cocaine smuggler and runs away behind her. I wonder what the cocaine smuggler of film culture would be.

As I wait for the letter, time on my hands, I spend time with some internet friends. There is a secret movie club organised by David Phelps, Club Crisis, in which anyone with the link can enter and discuss movies. It works through Slack and there are weekly series, Thursday to Sunday, sometimes based on already existing programs, and some done between us. This week is my and Christopher Small’s turn to pick the films, and we are organising a two-week series on Frank Capra. We have spent the last weeks watching his earlier films, especially the silent ones and the ‘30s ones, and in each one of them a clue for the financial crisis to come appears. American Madness is the beginning of the liberal language of an economy that we will save all together (especially, we will save the banks). In It’s a Wonderful Life the nightmare is the romance of precarity. This is the first time that I watch so many films that I find fascinating especially for how disagreeable their politics are. It is the ultimate figure of the worthy enemy.

As I wait for the letter, time on my hands, the conversation on Capra flourishes. We have all been taken by General Yen, the aristocrat gangsters in Lady for a Day, the level of violence Clark Gable’s character has in It Happened One Night (he looks like a demon). There are around 80 people, not everyone participates, but a lot of them are watching, I can see that on Letterboxd. As Capra started in Max Sennett’s studios, especially with Harry Langdon, we asked our Langdon expert, Noah Teichner, to help us pick some Langdon shorts. If internet cinephiles, the pirates and the subtitlers are the cocaine smugglers of film culture, Noah had the greatest product. He sent shorts and features directed by Capra starring Langdon. My favourites are Long Pants (a perverse fable about marriage and family) and Saturday Afternoon (a road movie around the corner). Noah is doing a film called Navigators, about the boat in Buster Keaton’s movie. It appears that this boat was the same one used by the US in 1919 to deport many anarchists, including Emma Goldman. One of the things that I am afraid of is for this film never to see daylight (or screen light), but every day I see on the internet new documents of it, done with the technology of the times: intertitles made with an optical printer, the sound recorded in wax cylinders.

As I wait for the letter, time on my hands, I think of Emma Goldman, her magnificent public existence, and how that crashed with her inclination to solitude. Recently I saw Gertrud for the first time and both characters look alike a bit. Both women lived for freedom and in that freedom they found the basis of their loneliness. Good and bad. They both belonged partially. Gertrud leaves everything for a life devoted to love, invent her lovers. This may mean that love is not in the object, or that love and the shapes it can take are two separate things. She sets love free, then goes after it. At a point in the film where she encounters an old lover, she seems to become a presence materialised in a mirror, in a life, by her choices. In the end, old and approaching the end of her life, she finds a poem written by her at 16. It says: Look at me / Do I live? / No, but I have loved. How do we prevent the present of taking this as a death sentence? Of an ending, I mean. Of waiting. Of nothingness.

As I wait for the letter, time on my hands, I return to cinephilia, which for a long time seemed to turn into what many believed it to be but never was: a lonely activity. It is a commitment and therefore is not devoid of loneliness. But films grow in conversation. I do not want to be a windowless monad (or to live in a room without corners). As everyone else, I though this health/economic/total crisis was going to be the moment for action. That idea grew old quickly, everyone is trying to handle their 101 problems. I think Club Crisis was a minuscule revolution. Actions (voluntary, pleasurable) had effects. Films were watched and spoken of. Time moved forward. I mean: we thought. The film world inflation (what you once called a garden full of weeds) was defeated in an alternative space, very far from the market. It has to do with the fact that objects (films or ideas) circulated freely. Everyone brough what they could and with it they brought their maps. Every cinephile has their own map of film history. Some of them are general references, some topographic, some are political maps, some are climate maps. None of these are done in solitude. In a moment in which time seemed to move only by force of catastrophe (with everything else completely still), we crafted a new one. Someone could call this a little utopia, but it was real. It is happening right now. Yesterday, for example, we saw Where Lights Are Low at the online platform of the Pordenone film festival, a film that had been lost and recently found in Zagreb. It is as if José Celestino Campusano’s Fantasmas de la ruta was made in 1921, and its roads were the Pacific Ocean (that road that goes from China to the US).

A big hug,


About The Author

Lucía Salas is a critic, programmer, filmmaker and editor of La vida útil. She was born in Argentina and currently lives in Spain.

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