There will be emus in the zone

Written on April 18, 2015

Dear Sam,

My Norwegian phone ran out of minutes almost as soon as I got here and the cash card I bought on my weekly trip into town expired in 2014. My American phone is finally completely useless – the screen shattered on the kitchen floor and all it does now is vibrate every so often, staring at me with all its vicious void. When it lies flat, as it is doing now across the table from me, it’s the blackest thing I’ve ever seen. At other angles, it still works well as a stealthy compact. 

Not that I have anyone here to check my lipstick for. In front of me are fjord Suldal and several large mountains on each side. They look like the tops of fossilized whales. Specks of snow are still sprinkled on the hills, and the mountain in the middle of the horizon, from my view anyways, is almost completely white. It’s swallowed in the fog for most hours of the day. But when the sun hits, the waxen peak looks like a dream. 

To my left and right are neighboring farmhouses, about a five-minute walk from me. No one seems to be there. Normally I can’t be bothered with strangers, as you know, and this solitude is a blessing, but I’ve run out of sweets and could use some chocolate. 

Behind me is the rest of the mountain – the farmhouse I’m staying in is about a half-hour hike up from its foot – and it goes on for days, I hear. I’ve made it 2 hours up but I always get such a bad case of vertigo whenever I head down. Speaking of vertigo, I watched North by Northwest on my first night here and it made me feel at home. I watched it on a projection screen in the living room. 

That’s the thing – the little green-roofed shack I thought I would be living in is actually a shed. I’m living in a much larger house behind it. It has four beautiful bedrooms, but I’ve been sleeping on the kitchen floor wrapped in 7 blankets because it’s the warmest room in the house and upstairs is like a cemetery of frozen flies. 

Anyways, I’m not here to write about insects or that verbose, nocturnal fridge, or even Hitchcock for that matter, but about Chris Marker’s La Jetée and Sans Soleil. They’re both in one of the 5 DVDs I brought with me. The others are: Stardust Memories, Labyrinth, 24-hour Party People, and Wild Strawberries. It was the best I could do at Reckless Records in Chicago, one of my secret detour stops before Norway. 

I first watched La Jetée in New Orleans after driving from Miami with virtually no sleep. A black cat named Jazz Hands was staring at me, or through me, I should say – I really shouldn’t be so self-absorbed – and I must have been either too exhausted and delirious, or too swept up to realize that 12 Monkeys is not simply La Jetée but it’s Vertigo. I’m not sure how I could have missed it – the hair (except in Marker’s, the swirl is tousled and French), the sequoia tree (“Here I was born. Here I die.”), the music! 

The plot is simple: it’s post-apocalyptic Paris and the protagonist is used as a guinea pig to go back in time to bring supplies to the present. He, of course, falls in love with a woman in the past. It’s a story of chasing an impossible memory, an insane memory. 

When I first watched it, before realizing the correlation, the originality and the simplicity was intimidating for little old me, the future of anything I would attempt to make. But in reality, it’s all just a re-enactment, isn’t it? La Jetée is Marker’s take on Hitchcock’s Vertigo from 3 years before. It’s all in a conversation, a nod to history, as they say, rather than plagiarism, which is, I guess, along with originality, becoming an archaic concept now. A memory of a memory – everything in the present perpetually composes the past. 

I wonder who Marker’s Madeline was, or perhaps still is. I refuse to believe the group of scholars who pontificate about Marker being so obsessed with Madeline, the fictional character, that he created La Jetée as some sort of cinematic portal of communication to reach her. 

No, I do not believe Marker was that much of a cinematic extremist. He must have been infatuated with someone real but understood the madness of not loving her or him per se – since no one can really love intrinsically or even know another being entirely – as it was, and always is, a shadow of a memory, an impression, that we pursue after, like fools. 

“It’s better to have had sex than to have it.” I read that yesterday, and would have to disagree. It’s in Nausea by Sartre, which is possibly the least soothing book to be reading when alone on a mountain. 

Now Sans Soleil – I watched that as soon as you compared one of my films to its introduction, but it was past 2 in my dungeon of a room back in New York, and I was drifting into a deep sleep. In Norway, I’ve watched it 4 times already in my 9 days here. 

Immediately, I wanted to write Sophie and demand to know: “Why didn’t we film everything in Korea? The Chinese tourists that kept getting in our way; the weird mining museum; that long line for the strange spider ride we waited in behind the controlling father and his spoiled kids; the flood of drunk students in Hongdae; the casual advertisements for plastic surgery in subway stations; the school girls who couldn’t be more than 16 with fake eyes and new jaws; the pitiful faces of the boys sitting next to them; the crowd of fanatics who gathered to see the black guy speaking Korean – we somehow got on the stage at one point, do you remember?” 

After my indignation subsided, I took back my immobile message to Sophie, remembering that we weren’t aware we would be making a documentary. We went to Korea to film Noonday Demon and the documentary just came up from circumstance, mainly because of my mom. But either way, I have to go back to Korea as soon as I can, to stand in corners of subway stations for 2 weeks or so. Sophie might be starting a masters program or still traveling – who really knows at this point – so I might have to do it alone, which I don't mind, but somehow you feel a lot less like a creep filming strangers when you have someone else with you. 

Obviously, it goes without saying, that I revere what Marker did with Sans Soleil, enough to make me start planning the entire trip to Korea in detail, involving full days with people who don’t yet know that I’ll be sleeping on their floors very soon. 

But there is an undeniable wall in Sans Soleil, a foreign barrier masked by countless (beautiful) views of the poignant banalities of everyday life in Tokyo. They’re stunningly varied and wonderful to watch – I feel like I’ve walked the streets of Tokyo for days after seeing his film – but they are all only exterior shots, facades. The narration, read in monotonous English by a French woman (in my Criterion version), feels abstract, yes, but still waves a pleased air of all knowing. She guides you like a docent through the eccentricities of life in Tokyo, whose residents walk silently like ants, muffled by Michel Krasna’s experimental score that artfully uplifts the poetics of Sans Soleil to an incredible cadence. 

The footage that Sophie and I have from Korea is essentially all interviews with farmers and religious militants in their homes. Everyone is a relative, an old friend of a friend. The conversations are much more intimate compared to the narration-over-visuals in Sans Soleil, but to a fault. As it stands, the footage we have is insulated, self-indulgent, and tedious in its own way. 

I don’t know how to end this letter. They don’t sell liquor in this municipality, and I’ve just been drinking coffee constantly so I’m not sleepy at all – ever. All I seem to have is time here. Time to write, to cook, photograph, take walks, watch films, to think. In the mornings, I wake up to very particular memories, all of dear friends and lovers from my past who I don’t speak to anymore. They’re not accompanied by a painful longing, as one would imagine. It’s more of a fondness. 

The sun sets at 10pm here and sometimes I mistake the sound of the waterfall for static. 

Because I know that time is always time
And place is always and only place
And what is actual is actual only for one time
And only for one place

 - T.S. Eliot 

Until I find Wi-Fi,






Soojin Chang