Film

The Darkness of Day

The Darkness of Day puts together any number of paradoxes, juxtaposing found footage and voiceovers, not to parse them as much as to help you see them.

The Darkness of Day

Director: Jay Rosenblatt
Rated: NR
Studio: HBO Documentary Films
Year: 2009
US date: 2011-03-30 (HBO2)
Website
It’s hard for me to know how the film will affect everyone, but my sense is that although it’s about this very heavy subject, the treatment of it mitigates that a little. I don’t think it’s depressing to see the film -- there’s some hope and beauty to it.

-- Jay Rosenblatt

A man holds his face in his hand. A car heads into a tunnel, your view framed through the windshield. A gas stove burner lights. A faucet drips... and drips. A man's hand loads bullets into a revolver. Another man's hand strops a straight razor, back and forth, back and forth.

Seen separately, each of these images seems abstract, perhaps unmotivated. Taken together, assembled in The Darkness of Day, they tell a story, poetic and odd and poignant. Premiering 30 March on HBO2 and subtitled A Film About Suicide, Jay Rosenblatt's short documentary is comprised of "found" 16mm images, footage that has been discarded. As such, it resonates with the subject matter, a meditation on sadness and also -- on a sort of wonder at that sadness. "Strangely," begins a journal entry dated December 18, 1983 and read over a scene of firemen retrieving the body of someone who's jumped off a building, "I can recognize things as beautiful, but I do not feel moved by and of them or by anything else. I have ceased to care."

Two points: One, the act of writing, of expressing such profound sadness, seems a paradox here, as it suggests caring even in the ceasing. Two, the film puts together any number of such paradoxes, juxtaposing images and voiceovers (a man and a woman read from journals, recall famous suicides like Ernest Hemingway and Primo Levy, pose unanswerable questions), not to parse them as much as to help you see them.

It is, of course, unspeakably sad to see the aftermath of a suicide, the body in the hands of officials, and also to think about how someone may have come to this point. A narrator notes the questions that typically follow a suicide: "We ask ourselves, 'Why did it happen?', 'Why didn’t I see it coming?', 'If only I had done this or that.'" The very familiarity of these questions make them painful, as they suggest that something might have been "done," that a chance for intervention has been missed. And yet, The Darkness of Day insists, motives for suicide aren't always visible or comprehensible, even to the individual thinking about it. Putting pieces together after the fact, finding possible causes, can sometimes help survivors. While some suicides might be prevented -- and so those at risk might be approached or "treated" -- some are also essentially illegible.

A narrator quotes Albert Camus: "An act like this is prepared in the great silence of the heart, as is a great work of art. The man himself is ignorant of it. One evening, he pulls the trigger or jumps." As you wonder about this, the relation of art to suicide, you see photographers gathered on the street below a potential jumper, ready to see what happens, to record it. A crowd waits. Flashbulbs pop. The utterly private becomes perversely sensational.

Most suicides, you know, are committed alone, but the location and means can reshape the act, can make it public, if still unknowable. This film recovers footage of the building of the Golden Gate Bridge, famous "suicide destination" (and the subject of Eric Steel's 2006 documentary, The Bridge). Three months after the bridge opened, you hear, Harold Wobber, "a 49-year-old veteran of World War I, took a bus to the bridge, turned to a stranger, and said, 'This is as far as I go.' He then climbed over the railing and jumped." You see the bridge and surrounding mist, you hear wind.

And as you can't fathom how Wobber, the first of more than 2000 jumpers, made his choice, the film transitions from boats on the choppy water to what may lie beneath, dolphin. Found footage shows a dolphin caught up in a net and hauled on board a boat, as the narrator repeats the story told by Ric O'Barry in The Cove, concerning the suicide of Cathy, one of the dolphins he trained to play Flipper on the TV series. "It was deliberate," the narrator recalls, "He said every breath is a conscious effort for a dolphin and she just stopped breathing."

The film underscores the ambiguous and peculiar connections between these stories, as well as between the stories and vaguely corresponding images. The Darkness of Day invites you to put them together, to participate in processes of making sense. In fact, there are multiple process in Rosenblatt's work, always bringing together pieces of pasts, reflecting on how filmmakers -- amateur and professional -- present ideas or express themselves. As Leo Goldsmith says of found footage -- or "orphan film" -- it reveals the "auratic value of celluloid itself," in its imperfections, its uncertainties, its potentials. It relies on viewers for contexts, for meanings.

That's not to say Rosenblatt's assemblies are random, of course. The Darkness of Day, he says, "is not just about depression -- suicide’s not just about depression. I didn’t want to have any moralistic judgments about suicide in the film, and I also wanted each story to highlight a different aspect of suicide." These "aspects" are at once affecting and elusive. "Let it be recorded here," asserts another journal entry, "that if I should meet an early and voluntary death, the reader of these pages will know the reason." But such "knowing," the film insists, can only ever be assembled as pieces.

9

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

This week on our games podcast, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

This week, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

Keep reading... Show less

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

Keep reading... Show less
3

Gabin's Maigret lets everyone else emote, sometimes hysterically, until he vents his own anger in the final revelations.

France's most celebrated home-grown detective character is Georges Simenon's Inspector Jules Maigret, an aging Paris homicide detective who, phlegmatically and unflappably, tracks down murderers to their lairs at the center of the human heart. He's invariably icon-ified as a shadowy figure smoking an eternal pipe, less fancy than Sherlock Holmes' curvy calabash but getting the job done in its laconic, unpretentious, middle-class manner.

Keep reading... Show less
5
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image