Caricature of B. Lovely
by Ethan Birch
I point my camera towards B. Lovely and she is sitting on the curb.
I am ~2 metres away. The camera is on a tripod.
Horse Jumper of Love is playing through a small bluetooth speaker that sits on the ground beside her. It’s plugged into a small blue portable charger.
Behind me there is a dim restaurant where people in suits and dresses are eating fish and a solo performer is playing flamenco guitar; in front of me a couple walks past the camera and they move quickly and are singing and laughing and they walk very closely together and are wearing things with glimmering sequins; somewhere there is house music playing and the pulse of a dance beat can be felt up through the street.
B. Lovely is blurred as the background remains in focus — I have not yet adjusted the 85mm lens — and you can see this unplaceable sadness as her amorphous suggestion fluctuates over it.
She is, in this blurred state, like the hint of a person.
The shadow of the building across the street shrouds her in darkness while this background — the wall and permanently-closed doors of a record store, graffitied over and with wooden boards in place of long-smashed-apart windows — remains in a red-orange bath of dying light.
Anything metallic is saffron.
In the sliver where the wall meets the sidewalk there is a clump of weeds that have pushed through and are a gasping brown colour.
A chain-link fence is rattling quietly a few metres out of the shot; traffic murmurs on the highway bridge that is a block from here; there is a barely audible wind that plays with the suggestion of B.’s hair in frame.
I will get rid of none of this.
Earlier, I got B-roll of a man lying on a traffic island with a sign next to him that said don’t even bother in black marker; he had an unlit cigarette placed firmly between his gap-tooth and it stood there like a mast without sail.
Earlier, I got B-roll of a flock of seagulls clustering piously around a gingham fry carton.
I’ll insert the title of this footage over the shot of the birds.
A: What song are you listening to?
B: I Love You Very Much Forever.
A: Who’s it by?
B: Horse Jumper of Love.
A: How does it make you feel?
She smiles and laughs in a despondent way.
B: What do you think? I mean listen to it right. Listen to these guys. They sound like they’re about to unplug their instruments and walk into the ocean.
A: So it makes you feel sad?
B: Yeah sort of. Maybe like I’m being heard or something. Being listened to by someone else. Empathy [she does finger quotations around Empathy] right. Or being empathized with. Like they’re in my speaker. Playing this song for me. The music makes me feel like the musicians are listening to me.
She nods along with the last part of her answer; it looks like she’s bobbing her head more than nodding.
Her eyes don’t focus on me or the camera for more than a few seconds at a time.
Her eyes keep drifting to the area right of my shoulder.
I don’t know if I want to adjust the lens or to leave her in this diffused state.
A: What do you think about the artists?
She responds nonverbally with a weird glance.
A: Horse Jumper.
B: I thought you meant like in general. The Artists. Like why you coming to me with these general life questions man, that’s some weird shit. No but I like to think about them in some kind of egotistical sense, right.
A: Could you expand on that?
B: Like, I feel like [She moves her hands circularly, as if trying to conjure understanding] I attribute a lot of my own integrity for artists or musicians to the like projection of my own desires onto their sounds, right. Like I think, Man that’s some funk, and like, they’re cool, so I think they probably believe the same things that I believe, or you know, that they believe in putting a lot of thought into their lyrics and shit.
A: Like poetry?
B: Sort of, but a lot of that stuff is removed from reality. Poetry is, I mean. Doesn’t exist here on Planet Earth.
She laughs once as a period to the sentence.
You wouldn’t be able to tell by how the camera is adjusted but B. Lovely has a lot of small scars on the dorsal skin of her hands. She’s wearing a baggy purple sweater and she keeps pulling the sleeves over each of them. It isn’t for me to say if it’s because of self-consciousness or habit, this act of sleeve-pulling. If I adjusted the lens you’d see the drawstrings of her sweater are chewed and worn-out.
I ask her if it would be okay for me to get a shot of her hands.
B: Yeah absolutely.
She nods and holds them out for me and they minutely shake. This is the tensity of hands that belong to a body that has never known what complete stillness is. I adjust the lens and zoom until you can see the pores on the backside of their dusk canvas.
A: Do you believe in palm readings?
She scoffs and laughs again. A husky stoner laugh.
B: You don’t need to read my palms to know where my head is at. I eat the fuck out of my nails man. You can see that I’m maladjusted. These things go through shit, you can see it. I go through shit. None of that shows on my palm, I keep that part soft. [She extends her hands out to me, palm-up] You want to feel them?
A: You didn’t answer the question though.
B: I don’t think I’m spiritual enough to assert anything.
I walk over and briefly my back appears in frame. The dorsal skin of my hand is unscarred but it is over-lined around the knuckles and looks older than I suppose it should. She grabs my hand. My palms are comparably drier than hers, and her hands are very warm. She encloses my hand in hers — her first digit rests between the knuckle of my middle- and ring-finger while the other four clasp to the palmar side. The pads of her fingers are cold.
B: You’ve got nice hands.
A: Thank you, so do you.
B: There’s a line in the song Dallas Beltway that goes something like, ‘You wanna see what ordinary hands can do to something fragile?’ I think about that line almost every day. It seems so powerful and simple you know. It’s so real, right. Like it’s as if there’s some sort of latent evil inside of everyone and all it takes is to be put in a position where you have power over something else. To be the usurper, the decimator.
I wait for her to finish collecting her thoughts. Her eyes are tracing my palm.
B: Hands mean a lot to me.
I wait again before asking my next question.
A: What do you think about films?
We unclasp and I go back behind the camera. I’ve refocused the lens on the background as by now the last gleams of evening are leaving their kiss on the tops of metallic door frames. I unzoom and neglect focus and she is again a blur. I want to get her answers to these questions when she is like this. When she is a transitional subject. When she is separate.
B: It’s funny because I feel the opposite way about films from music. When I listen to music it’s like I’m applying my own wants and desires on the song, right. But when I’m watching films, it’s like I’m having those impressions and desires shown to me and applied to me by the movie. Perspectivism; critiques of a subject through another’s eyes. All the stupid shit that that invites, right.
A: So the directors are trying to make you feel whereas the musicians aren’t?
B: Nah, it’s more like … like that these directors give you their perspectives in a mixed-media form of expression, and musicians have this, I don’t know … limitation? Where they can only communicate two-dimensionally. Laterally, right. Like through language, and sounds. Movies are three-dimensional whereas music is two-. So I apply a lot of my own perspective to music. Because like, to a musician, I’m the third dimension, right. Movies don’t have that same limitation; they rotate triaxially. They’re more … [She tries to make the shape of an invisible globe with her hands] … I don’t know. Does that make sense? Does any of what I said make sense?
A: I think you have given very good answers to my questions so far.
B. laughs again and says that I’m funny. At this time, I’ve adjusted the lens again so that her face is now in frame and in focus. She looks into the camera with daunting eyes and thickly dark eyebrows. She wiggles her nose and touches at it constantly, like as if it itches or she wants to take it off and be rid of it. Her eyes are brown.
There is a difference between looking at the camera and looking into it; this happens in films when the actor acknowledges or breaks the fourth wall. B. is looking into the camera with acknowledgement and you can see through her eyes much the same way that she can see through the lens. This is now intimate — B.’s gaze is a teleological blip that challenges the viewer’s expectation of purpose.
B: What are you trying to say with your film? [She motions with her chin at the lens] Are you doing this for school or something? [I shake my head] Am I like, tragic? Are you trying to do like a journalism thing on this side of the city? On tragic people?
A: You’re not tragic. You’re purple and good at speaking.
She smiles with her lips and her eyes.
B: You give my answers too much credit man. Anyone can speak.
A: You’re the one speaking.
B: But really, what are you filming for?
A: I’m not altogether sure. I like cameras. I like making things. I like hearing people respond to my questions and framing the answers.
B: You’re immortalizing me.
A: I’m capturing the fragments of you you wanted to show the camera.
B: Like my hands.
In film theory, the Rashomon effect1A technique in cinema where different and conflicting perspectives are provided about a subject or conflict. Named after the 1950 film Rashomon by Akira Kurosawa. I’ve never seen this film. is a funny thing to consider since it is in fact closer to the truth of what reality is than how we normally conceive of it. When you sit in front of a film, you are forced into a dialogue; the movie presents itself to you as you present yourself to it; it is forced in the sense that even if you are unwilling to be autonomous in front of ideas, your perspective is still how you consider the world. There is a saying somewhere that every dogmatist is uniquely imprisoned. There is also a saying somewhere that there is no such thing as territory, there are only maps. Personally, I do not find films very distinct from music, but I can see where B. is coming from. Again, we are at odds in our perspectives, and that is what causes us to reason and actualize ourselves against or through a subject. Conflict, the crux of epistemology; the consequence of our circumscribed and misunderstood autonomy being that which creates and distinguishes the self.
I adjust the lens. There is no more electric glimmer on metal things; evening light has begun to fade into plum-black; the graffiti is now a suggestion on the darkly wooden surfaces behind B.; the noise of the restaurant has faded into a lethargic haze without the guitar player; the dance beat has changed into a Latin rhythm; cars will never cease their guttural noise.
A: How do you feel about your identity?
B: Like to myself? Or in relation to others around me?
A: The second-half of your response was framed like a question.
B: Is it an answer?
A: That’s up to you.
B: Can you give me a minute to think?
B. has a thoughtful look on her face that twists her lips to the left; her eyes are searching the air; both of her hands have retracted inside of her sweater sleeves permanently, and her arms have folded over her lap; in the silence after conversation, the world seems loud and foregrounded. Cold begins.
It’s an interesting conundrum, identity. It is something that is unspeakable; tabooed. The question I posed was not mean but it was unfair.
In thinking, I can see B.’s eyes moving in some unknowable and unreachable space.
I read an essay by Michael Eigen in which he talks about how, in the West, we are primarily concerned with appetite as the raw material or determinant of personality. This is a conundrum in relation to schools of thought outside of the West. In some Eastern practices, breathing exercises are used as an important determinant which sit outside the appetitive paradigm of Western phenomenological2This is a term that means the study of how we experience things or the study of the relation b/t our internal and external experience(s). understanding. Identity in general is legitimated through different forms of movement and wills — our will seems to be defined by satiation or consumption (which are purposefully separate terms). But this does not mean that we are not defined through breath, but rather, that we are surprised by it and are unfamiliar with its ability to determine.
I see B. breathing slowly and carefully. She is measuring out her thoughts with her lungs. She chuckles before speaking.
B: My connection with myself was, like, severed. It’s weird. It’s a long story and it’s tragic and I won’t re-tell it but in short I had an illness that nearly killed me and I actually ended up accepting my own death. Like, do you know how it feels to surpass the date that you were supposed to die? Not many people know that feeling man. And I wasn’t psyched about it either, I was still sick right. Think of it like I was waiting on the platform for a train, and then when the train came, it just kept going. I missed it. And it was strange because my illness felt like that. Like I missed a train. And so that’s where I disconnected me from myself. I left myself on the platform where I was sat and waiting. Who am I isn’t what I ask anymore. I knew a sick girl once. That’s what I’ll say.
I pause to frame a question. I adjust the lens before speaking.
A: What does disconnection mean for you?
B: Disconnection means the removal of my past self entirely. I didn’t view myself as myself and to an extent I still don’t. I breathe, I’m purple, [she points to her sweater and smiles] and I talk to people and tell them my name is B. Lovely. I didn’t want to be the sick girl I knew when I was younger because that girl was tragic and the world closed in around her body. So I left that body, or disassociated from it. That sick girl is still hanging around there, somewhere, just waiting and waiting. And I knew her, once, too. But there’s nothing more to that statement except the importance of the past participle, right.
A: Do you view that identity as dead?
B: No, not really. Nothing ever really dies. She’s there, untethered in the past, and I want her to remain there. Would you ever want to become the kid you once were? Or the person you were five years ago?
A: No, but I wouldn’t detach that part of myself, I consider it a part of my development. I don’t mean to say that you shouldn’t, but it’s just that I don’t.
B: Well think of B. Lovely like a lake and I’m the cloud that rains into it.
A: Are you a fan of Prince?
B. laughs again and this time she actually slaps her hand down on her knee.
There is a strange melancholic timbre to her laugh; like the true joy of it is forced up through a crowd; you can hear the manifold accents in the way that her laugh fights through the air toward the camera.
In the camera, she is blurred. The darkness has fully enclosed us; no longer is she wearing purple but a thunderous shade. In a moment I will stop recording, but right now I want to capture the breathing that comes after laughter — the readjustment to normalcy; the apologetic shaking of the head; the lip movements which remove the smile.
Right now, B. Lovely is in frame.
Right now, B. Lovely is looking past the lens and at me.
A: Do you love the idea of B. Lovely?
B: I think so, yeah.