Show me one who loves; he knows what I mean. – St. Augustine
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I’m sharing my favorite places with her outside my alma mater: bald, rolling fields tufted with trees that go on as far as the eye can range. She takes the lead, and I’m laughing so hard sometimes my feet leave the ground till I can see both of us, running. Finally I lose her and go tearing through rich, wood-paneled lecture halls and dormitories trying to find the door back to our path. I burst out one door into the raining dark and call her name in a voice I can still feel shearing my throat, to the halo of gray light over the horizon of trees. “Oh, my dearest” I cry and repeat her name, but that’s it.
There’s no more dream.
Not surprisingly, maybe, Portrait of Jennie keeps coming back into my life. I don’t know when I first saw the 1949 movie, but I remember reading Robert Nathan’s source novel as a high school sophomore and falling in love with his romantic prose and high-flown ideas on art and nature and romance itself – a particularly chivalric form, I later learned. Rereading it recently, I give my teenage self allowances for sentimentality and lack of erudition, but really – that writing. (“everything between earth and sky is part of the one great, general secret which young hearts whisper to one another.”) Maybe I’m too cynical. Nathan was my revered prose prof Milton White’s favorite author; Milton was an old softie, but he knew his stuff, too. Certainly I wasn’t feeling schmoopy the last I remember seeing the film producer David O. Selznick made of it. I had no patience for its self-important Ben Hecht-scripted narration, overt artistic touches like the gauzy canvas filter over key images, and equally filtered purity of fem lead Jennifer Jones, the received piety of her and other characters’ dialogue, piquant ethnic characterizations, much less the Hollywood magic by which thirty-year-old Jones “aged” from twelve to twenty-two over its course. I still resented all these things on recent re-viewing, when curiosity led me back to it across a decades-long gulf. So why did I sit sobbing like a grandmother the whole way through?
On the surface, it’s a story about a struggling artist in 1930s New York visited by a girl in Central Park who appears older every time he meets her. They fall in love and the more he discovers about her the more mysterious she becomes, especially when he realizes there’s no way she should be in this place and time. No matter, anyway; it’s real for both of them, and neither wishes to jeopardize what they have by doubting. A final rendezvous in a tempest confirms the fatefulness of their attraction and leaves the artist, Eben Adams, broken yet finally noted and fulfilled in his vision. The novel is floridly romantic, the movie obsession in black and white. At this stage, obsession is the more compelling vein for me.
The park is such a central character in the movie it deserves a paragraph upfront. It resonates. Stoic Eben’s narration begins over a shot of the skyline through one of those filters, noting how “New York is a cold place in the winter,” so you get the idea this Portrait is as much of the city as it is one of its denizens. This natural preserve in the middle of the metropolis stands in for Eben’s frozen heart. There are ghosts here. Jennie’s references to Hammerstein’s Victoria, the long-gone music hall where her parents performed, call up simpler times even in ’30s America, her conjurings like the reminiscences of any immigrant for an equally mythical homeland. At the same time, director of photography Joseph August’s enchanted camerawork (guided by director William Dieterle’s architectural eye) shares Columbia-schooled Selznick’s sense of the place as a collegiate halcyon where magical things could still happen.
Though you’d hardly know it from the text, Nathan wrote his novel as America was coming out of the Depression and war was threatening overseas. Art was the last thing on its mind. Eben’s lament that his “courage had all run out” is a sentiment any jobless laborer would have empathized with, his eventual change in fortunes the nation’s, too. Selznick mounted his production shortly after the war and as personal financial jeopardy thanks to gambling debts on top of business missteps dogged him to his own bouts of depression, with divorce looming and a long-running affair with his actress upping the ante. Part of the irony inherent in the setup is that if love is a redemptive force, its identity is bound up in trauma; if not a single other character in Nathan’s story experiences this gift, it must be because they’re not desperate enough. How different is Adams’ passion from mania, anyway, and is it worth the cost? No matter the certainty of the lovers and the purity of their bond, there’s a conflagration in their future, and it’s fated to take everything with it. Nathan and Selznick would have you believe anything is worth the gamble in the pursuit of great art, but for Portrait of Jennie? Ask me again after I’ve dried my eyes.
As Eben comes to understand, Jennie died without knowing love and has returned to fulfill that longing, so he is elected to love her even as she’s been summoned to give his life and art meaning. That he has her instant, unearned affection on one level says she’s here for his self-aggrandization; it also implies that their attraction is a priori, a given. Each fills a need in the other. Every time he sees her she’s matured from the last, meaning that as her visits inspire him to greater artistic realization, like a series of sketches building toward a masterwork, she’s dependent on him to bring her forward chronologically and developmentally. His benefit is clear and plays out fairly mundanely. It’s Jennie’s need that intrigues.
Her dialogue each time she encounters Eben is like a report filling him in on the details of her life, from her changing friends and parents’ fortunes to the hopeful future. It’s necessary for him to know these things; he’s her amanuensis, his portrait her (auto)biography. Her full name is Jennie Appleton, shades of Johnny Appleseed, so her mission is to sow fruit-bearing life. As Eben meets her she’s building a snowman – showing him to himself at the same time he imagines her into being, inspired by an icy encounter just before with art dealers Matthews and Spinney. The latter plants the seed of purpose when she lectures him on Browning’s “Andrea del Sarto,” on a technical artist who never found his muse. When Jennie asks to see his work, she’s disturbed by such details as the small windows he’s drawn in a church, implying the narrowness of his spiritual vision, which we expect she’ll expand through the course of their friendship. (Convent-bred Jones was to serve a similar function for unobservant Jew Selznick, smitten by her transfiguring Catholicism.) The black waters surrounding what should be a lighthouse tells us he also sees inside her troubled soul. (Jones would in future attempt suicide at least twice, her only child with Selznick later succeeding.)
Jennie’s parents were acrobats; meaning she was born of precarious circumstances, her life ruled by chance. This too was something Depression readers would understand and identify with, so in some ways she is Nathan’s audience. The date on the newspaper she leaves behind on first meeting Eben, 1910 (his first inkling there’s something off about her), suggests a golden era for the author, who would have been 16 at the time, though it coincides with the bank panic and minor economic depression of that year, too, as her parents’ fall off the high wire roughly does the Crash of ’29. So while Jennie and her visits represent such cyclical phenomena as the seasons and bouts of artistic fruitfulness, she also embodies the eternal verity of uncertainty and the emotional toll it exacts; the nature she exalts in talks with Eben includes the battering storm and tidal wave that take her life on their final assignation. Even as she seems unable to control the timing of her returns, it’s by force of will she’s here at all, so her story is an allegory of what happens when accident meets free will. Her inexhaustible optimism cures Eben of his early-onset fogeyism, but it’s a red flag, too, to the forces she needs her faith to protect against. (Sephardic Nathan would not yet have been aware of the extent of the atrocities against his people taking place overseas at time of publication.) She knows what’s coming at that lighthouse, and that she’ll need him to help get her through it.
It’s hard to miss the symbolism of the location, a prescience of sexuality in the girl who promises to show the structure to Eben. Nor is it possible to overlook the discomfort in the attraction of a middle-aged man for a child of unspecified age (the filmmakers saw her as twelve, eighteen, and twenty-two at various stages of their encounters; Nathan timed it so Jennie would finally hook up with twenty-year-old Eben at about his age). Both Selznick and actor Joseph Cotten were in their forties at time of filming, as was Nathan when writing; Jones, again, was thirty. All are coming from a place of transition. The older men were, apparently, looking to restore something youthful in themselves, while older-than-her-years Jennie (and for all we know Jennifer) yearns for maturity; better yet, an appreciation of the maturity that’s already hers. A lot is made of the fact that Eben “waits” for her, and it’s true he never shows an interest in another woman; neither does his attraction for her present itself in physical terms before it’s appropriate. There’s nothing of the erotic in his descriptions of or yearning for her; hardly even romantic, in the libidinal sense. Still: it’s a lighthouse. And the fact that the climactic conflagration takes place there lends force and focus to the sense that though Jennie has come back to experience love, she already has that with Eben. What she’s really after is something more immediate, convulsive, tactile – carnal. She’s here to take them both over a threshold there’ll be no turning back from. (Picture this through married Selznick’s eyes.)
The fem equivalent of the lighthouse is the scarf Eben discovers on meeting her, which he finds wrapped in the newspaper she’s left on a park bench. (Both items function as totems from a dream proving it true, like the flower the Time Traveler brings back from the future in H. G. Wells’ The Time Machine.) When she asks him on their second encounter to keep it for her, she’s pledging him her virginity. The symbol gets conflated with the artist’s materials later when she curtains it in front of her face, both magnifying her enigma and suggesting an effect similar to the movie’s canvas filter. She does this on her way out from finally sitting for Eben after he’s devoted months to drawing her from memory (a double entendre if ever there was one), the capper to a day she’s promised would extend, suggestively, “till morning, and a little more” (causing novel-Eben to reflect, “What did that mean – a little more? I cut myself twice, shaving”). More than a hymen, it suggests a membrane in the self – between times, perception, and genders all at once – that has to be breached before transcendence can take place.
It’s also a reference to taking the veil, a ceremony Eben and Jennie watch from a distance when he visits her at the convent she’s been shipped off to with her best friend Emily after her parents’ fall, though she doesn’t participate in the rite. (Does this mean she’s already given hers up?) It’s a tricky sequence. If she isn’t corporeal, then he’s either imagining the whole thing or walking around a girls’ school unaccompanied. No such event takes place in the Nathan; instead, the promise of the “little more” is thwarted by the intrusion of prurient widowed landlady Mrs. Jekes, whose action directly precipitates, and gives meaning to, the situation at the lighthouse, where innocent Jennie meets her end at the foot of Phallos.
The night Eben and Jennie spend together results in the completion of the portrait, a combined creative act she believes will draw people from around the world, promoting a universal healing that would unite the war-torn hemispheres the way ceremonial sex was thought to invigorate nature and the gods. When she asks him to sign his name to the picture, it’s his final association with not just her but Her and a commitment to the gestative forces of faith and nature and love and sublimity and whatever else he’s shown himself to see in her, now through her. On her way out she finds the scarf she’d long forgotten, the virginity he’d saved for her to bestow on her again after their night of artmaking. It’s the last he’s to see of her before their consummation.
To hear Nathan tell it, all that remains for Eben after this is to go on retreat at the Truro arts community with his avant-garde friend Arne for a form of artistic cleansing. Selznick, equal parts showman (as David Thomson’s biography titles him) and shaman, keeps him rooted to the mainstream by pairing him instead with Irish-stereotype cabbie Gus before sending him to see Jennie’s spiritual mentor, Sister Mary of Mercy, a figure as likely informed by Jones’s convent teacher, Sister Ursula, as by Selznick’s faithful ex-wife Irene and her many humanitarian occupations. (Both the Sister and Spinney are portrayed as groomers of talent, like the producer, for whom they may both stand in for his therapist, May Romm.) Jennie was beloved of Sister Mary though she wasn’t of their faith, meaning she’s outside – beyond – organized religion, like that other pagan redemptress Jones was to play in Michael Powell’s Gone to Earth soon after.
In another departure from the text, Eben finds out from the Sister that Jennie is long dead, having been caught in a tidal wave on one of her sojourns to the abandoned lighthouse. (Nathan’s not going this far leaves a possibly more intriguing notion open, of a haunting by someone still alive.) Their conversation parallels the tête-à-têtes between him and the similarly spinsterly Spinney, particularly the one where he divulges his own history of loss and deprivation. Jennie’s overwhelming by grief, scrupulously skirted in her talks with Eben, becomes a mythical retelling of his own repressed mourning, enshrined in this isolated and abjected cloister. He sees himself not just through her but in her now, rending the veil of time and difference between them.
Like Jennie, both texts exist in two time frames, the novel in the era it depicts and ten years hence when Eben signs his manuscript, the film in its period setting and when it was produced. Jennie spans the continuum; her premonitions are memories in future tense. Though she first appears to Eben around age twelve, she’s already lived to maturity, so she contains elements of innocence and experience both. Her ambiguous nature also means she’s not real, exactly (no one else in the film sees her); she’s a metaphor, fleshing out some aspect requiring embodiment at this place and time. Nathan turns his 1939 publication into a piece of speculative fiction when he closes with the dateline “Truro, 1949,” like a letter from tomorrow to Eben’s struggling self assuring all will be okay. When Selznick postscripts his picture with Spinney addressing a gaggle of young women gushing about Eben and Jennie in a museum sometime after the bulk of the story, it serves the same purpose, to console the filmmaker that his troubled and financially unsuccessful spectacle, which had encountered numerous retakes and re-releases after its premiere, would one day be appreciated.
Eben spends most of his story in a daze, flummoxed by his infatuation with so young a girl at first, then, as he comes to sort out her past, by the implausibility of what he’s experiencing: These things don’t happen. Mostly he’s in a tizzy because he’s seeing the world through her eyes – hopeful, trusting, and optimistic where all he’d known was misery, cynicism, and self-pity. He’s in her reality now, in the realm of love.
That love, in this context, is cognate with another aspect, the sublime. Some artists see what they paint; others, as the saying goes, paint what they see. For some it’s an addiction, an affliction: we can’t be satisfied with plain, critical, base normality, not because we’re spoiled or deluded (though there’s that, too), but because we’re programmed to evolve. The unbelieving Jennie viewer may wonder why she spouts so much talk of God and faith in a story purporting to be about art, but the truth is she’s at the nexus of all these – nature, art, religion, desire – a conduit to the ecstatic, inarguable as the geomagnetic field connecting us to both the sun beyond and earth’s core within. Without it our upper atmosphere would be shorn by the solar wind, driving us insane, but when those poles reverse, as they have every 100,000 years or so, it brings about tectonic shifts.
Aware of it or not, postwar men were undergoing such a shift, a process of self-examination not betrayed by their speech or actions but inescapable in the art they produced. Film at the time saw a remarkable concentration on portraiture, starting around 1944 with Laura and Edgar G. Ulmer’s Bluebeard, and quickly followed by Scarlet Street and Albert Lewin’s Picture of Dorian Gray as well as his contribution to the same magical-realist romance genre Jennie belongs to, Pandora and the Flying Dutchman – similarly climaxing in a tempest; Humphrey Bogart plays a painter in The Two Mrs. Carrolls, and The Big Clock of 1948 also turns on a piece of art. Their predominantly male artists were modeling something, the subjects rendered almost entirely women. The old way of masculinity was no longer working, as the escalating horrors of war were making clear, and justifications for women’s and minorities’ repression becoming increasingly indefensible. Eben’s drawing Jennie out of the past was an extraction from a lost or abandoned part of his psyche (Jennie’s time in the convent a cooping-up inside, to keep her whole and holy) to heal and help him model the next phase for his gender – a “kinder, gentler” (feminized) phase, as realized when he turns away from the mural of Irish freedom fighter Michael Collins he’s been painting for free meals to find Jennie back at his apartment for the first time, literally meeting him where he lives. When the two finally come together, it’s an annihilation of the man he used to be as well as the woman she was to become – though, given her capacity for reincarnation, we needn’t take this as the end for her.
Eben’s lighting out for the Cape, where he began his career, is as to an ancestral home, populated by the same kind of colorful codgers he met on his earlier journey into Jennie’s past, related by a series of types whose ethnicity suggest the story as a fairy tale of melting-pot America itself. The men pose a contrast to the women inhabiting his New York world (his final boat out provided by the Charon-like Eke, an echo of Jekes, like philosophical cabman Gus a wise facilitator of travel to counter the landlady’s scornful, gossipy custodian of stasis), suggesting a leaving behind of womankind in order to meet the essence of womanhood. Eke describes the Great Wave of ten years previous and due for a repeat performance in biblical terms indicative of a spiritual holocaust that will be all men’s atom-cloud reckoning.
Lightning strikes the screen from black and white to green like a silent-movie tint, suggesting Selznick returning film to its primal roots to either reinvent itself or crash and founder on the rocks. (It would be the last picture he was to make in Hollywood.) It’s also a release of passion for the cautious, reserved artist (if Central Park was Eben’s Eden, this is Adams’s apocalypse); suddenly Eben is in it, experiencing the tempest of unfulfilled feminine desires, which will both elevate him and erase him from the phenomenal world. When his boat hits the rocks, it’s his resistance giving way; when he comes to on those same rocks, he’s at the mercy of the elements, having shed his ties to old foundations and left himself vulnerable to the forces of re-evolution. He makes his way to the lighthouse, a projection of consciousness amid the maelstrom, its spiral staircase an eye within an eye within an eye and the birth canal inside the phallus, where he can gain a point of view. When he sees her boat amid the waves, it’s a conjuring from out of chaos, a world re-forming, and when he runs back out to embrace her, time restarting. Her talk of having eternity together is vampire-speak, layering the gothic context of the setting and reminding us that our obsessions drain us as much as they vivify, while still being massively romantic. “Time made an error,” she insists, the lighthouse now a symbol of vertical time piercing the veil of continuity and making their finding each other possible. The whipping winds and driving rains pit their attraction as a battle between nature and order itself (or are they Eben’s programmed mind short-circuiting from all this passionate optimism?), “but you waited for me and so we found our love” a triumph fated to short life; they’re making a go at it, but we know where this is headed. “There’s no life till you’ve been loved,” and where love translates as validation, her confirmation that “now I’ve been loved” means her feminine value has been acknowledged “and now there is no death.” Man has been given a second chance through the agency of their new Christ, the sharing of agency itself between man and woman. What more could there be but the orgasmic Wave of transformation (the opening snow resolving into liquid), leaving them clutching by hand in a new Sistine spark of life, followed by the final Tidal, his “here it comes” her exultation, her “Goodbye my darling” an affirmation that a new something has been forged here, as much conception as consummation, a communion of male and female un/consciousness.
Nathan closes his story only paragraphs after the cataclysm; he doesn’t belabor Jennie or the effect she’s had on Eben’s life but for a single short sentence earlier noting the presence of their portrait in the Met. Selznick, never content to let a thing be, sketches in Eben’s fortunes beyond, allowing at least enough negative space for the viewer to fill in him- or herself. After some descending action as he convalesces in a captain’s quarters – a scene that may not convince you he isn’t dying (we never see him again after) – a monograph on The Paintings of Eben Adams recaps his undistinguished career pre-Jennie and inspired work post-. None of these warrant showcasing beyond this signature work, though, which the teens gush over in the museum, and the thought occurs that maybe that’s what all three artists were going for in fashioning their Portraits in the first place: the adulation of impressionable young women. Though it’s romance the girls are taken with, it’s the focused power of womanhood they’re really assimilating, as verified by the appearance of businesswoman Spinney to tell them its history in reasoned, mature tones. They’re the rejuvenated form of the three older women in Eben’s life: Spinney, Jekes, and Clara Morgan (one of the oracles who connects him to Jennie’s past); the art dealer’s taking over the story he’d begun means she truly has gained control of the narrative. That none of the young women could match the fecundating power of the Original is the bitter pill Jennie’s men will spend the rest of their lives contemplating, though it should be of no consequence to the girls who will grow up to be her.
When it comes to restraint, I’m in the Selznick camp. I have these … appetites. I too feel the need to fuss on what life could have been like for Eben after Jennie. I mean, think of it: a supernatural force invades your world and toys with you for six months solid before luring you into a maelstrom where you could chastely consummate your attraction, resulting in one of your deaths. And then what? Eben had his heart broken irreparably, only to live another twenty years, maybe, without her, knowing what they shared could never be recreated. How long was he able to run on the fumes from this encounter? Selznick’s coda tells us all his work from then on was informed by her, yet nothing could sustain the level of concentration of the thing itself. What must it have been like to have to regard that portrait for the rest of his life, knowing this? (John Huston is quoted as saying Selznick “never did anything worth a damn after he married Jennifer.”) Certainly other women came his way, likely even sought him out – one of the producer’s closing admirers, say. When they spoke to him, did he listen, or would he stare off into some unfixed point where she came from and where she returned, hearing conversations he’d had with her or would have with her, wondering why nothing on earth sufficed anymore? Like an astronaut who walked on the moon, how could this mundane plane have any more to offer him? What was he to do when, on rainy nights, she came to him, and he woke to find himself inside again, alone? Did he turn to drink or some other disordering vice to recreate the sensation of being with her? Hearing her voice, seeing her eyes and wide smile, knowing her heart, feeling her physical presence? How many times did she reassure him, give him counsel, straighten his path when he veered from the course she set for him? Or was remembering enough? Had she so reordered his priorities that he didn’t need physical Jennie anymore? What was the point, then, of even having her in life? He could live out his days imagining he’d see her again in death, but then he’d be dead. Is that what she was, after all – a middle-ager’s fantasy of erotic afterlife? Or did he reassure himself that she’d conquered death once already, what was to keep her from doing it again? After each visit he must have worried that there was no guarantee of a next one. Did that fear dissipate after a while? How long was Eben content knowing she was with him even in her absence, or is there some point at which we all say enough and demand that one, just one Jennie remain here, where faith and love are living things? I don’t wish to palliate myself; I expect physical Jennie – the ecstasy of the real. Having tasted the eternal, I want to lie with her all the time now – and who wouldn’t?
I can’t be bothered writing letters anymore, partly because I’ve been corrupted by social media, but mostly because any writing that doesn’t take me to another place is not the kind of writing I want to spend any amount of time on. Once you’ve pierced that veil, there’s no returning to everyday life. If you’re reading this, I’m not trying to share her or to bring her to you or even to help you find her in yourself, but to put us both in that place where She is.
There’s a distinction between Jennie and what you might call Eben’s muse; she isn’t anyone’s muse. As her name implies, she’s the genius artists really strive to embody in their works, the highest selves we try to achieve in both creating and falling in love. Cognate with genie, as Barbara G. Walker tells us, she was a guardian angel or familiar attending everyone struck by her presence. James Hinton defined her as “the woman in man.” Knowing this throws me back to that time when I was learning what I loved, when I walked the halls of study and wrote my heart out in fanciful, undisciplined, something-short-of-literary exercises cocksure that I was all the effort I needed. It was there, one day, Milton took me aback by calling me out to his longtime partner: “That’s Steve Johnson. He’s a genius.” I’ve spent the better part of my life alternating trying to figure out what he intended (was he mocking me? He did that to his students, though never mean-spiritedly. I certainly wasn’t turning out portraits of Jennie for him at the time) and part of my life living up to it. Possibly he meant I was a jennie, which is easy to believe; he was a rascal, and I always had more of the feminine in me than most of my peers, but it also makes me wonder what he loved in his life. In fixing to write this I finally moved myself to do what I should have done decades ago and sought out one of his novels, a pulpy melodrama pulpily and melodramatically titled Cry Down the Lonely Night, to see what kind of mind, after all, saw me that way. I’m not writer enough yet to judge my teachers, so I can’t tell you if it was any good, but here’s what I can say about it. True to its title, it was about loneliness, of the type Eben experienced before and possibly even after his breakthrough, and that emptiness and heartbreak is something every artist knows, no matter their level of critical or popular success. There’s reassurance in the breakout, but the hunger never goes away for the ones who are lit inside. Milton didn’t publish a lot, but he was beloved as a teacher, and maybe that’s where his genius lay. Better to have a real-life, day-to-day influence, to draw the jennie out of others rather than fuss about your own. Even so, what must it have been like, to recognize her in another? Cry’s Nora was a young actress in an ethnic section of ’50s New York; the furtiveness of her nightly ventures out after love could not have been lost on thoughtful readers of the time. She was waiting for her jennie (in its feminine form, juno) to appear and deliver her from the noise and concrete of an inarticulate city into the creative embrace of an interactive community. Did Milton find that at University? My return there in my dream tells me there’s something in that, though I want to take it further. “Alma mater” implies a spirit mother, and it’s my guess that’s what I was drawn back to and wanted to share with my dream lover, but was interrupted in the process, thrown out of my nature and left to scramble the halls of an order that only entrapped me, while outside lay the tempest that lost Eben his Jennie at their point of consummation but for me signified her absence, the fact that we never resolved our attraction. My mistake was in looking outside for her, when I lost sight of her because she was inside already, borne up by ecstatic winds – the narrow distinction between elation and elevation.
Which leads to the question, What does Portrait of Jennie demand of me? Obviously, something inside it needs to burrow its way out too, and it may as well be through my hand. But do I want it out? Why aren’t I content to leave it and her inside, where they can remain a part of me? Because it feels so good to commune with that pure force again when putting pen to paper, the kiss that is a conversation like those that opened such appealing worlds before, that flattered me just to feel in the company of such an antic mind, a passionate heart, an affirmative power that maybe reminds me of who I once was but more likely what I most want to be. But when it’s all finished I’m left with, what, a story? Part of the reason I do it, it’s starting to seem, is to astonish myself to find no matter how often I work Jennie out she’s never left; she’s always ready to reappear in another form for me to fall in love with again and again. Because the thing about Jennie is not that she exited this world, but that she kept coming back. Having done this long and often enough, I know I’m not writing to work her out; I’m writing to keep her in. Which is where she only ever wanted to be, anyway. She knew she wasn’t of this world, that’s why she wanted it to come to her. Not to be someplace that couldn’t see her, but to be ensconced in her museum where she could repose and just be. That’s the only sense I can make of her appearances and disappearances in my life. She is the creative imperative that comes from someplace inchoate, archetypal, like the typhoon Jennie emerges from in the film’s climax and hungers out of us all on reaching critical mass. It’s chemical, and as long as that persists she’ll exist – an expanding universe of potential we realize one solar system at a time. Part of the reason artists can be so erratic in life is this addiction to the high she produces, the sensation of recreating the otherworldly in this world that can come with art, romance, alcohol, outrage, or whatever substance is at hand, and it’s a beautiful thing, to be driven by desire. It can be a destructive force at the same time, and there’s something beautiful in that, too, to see a world crashing at your feet. I’m melodramatizing, but at its best that’s how it feels and that’s why I’ll always run to her whenever she finds a lacuna; meaning I’ll lose her again, too. Even so, nothing beats the feeling of displacement from the world after an hour in her company, the sense that no matter how good things are they’re better with her around. Whenever I feel I’ve hit it, Jennie is with me and it’s Central Park 1934, winter is at its most beautiful, it’s the magic hour, the conflict is far away, and even the most unlikely seems inevitable. I need only sleep to dream, read to learn, and watch a movie to glimpse her now and again; to fill my head with possibility, and wait for her return.
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All images are screenshots from the DVD.