Obsessions: January 17th, 2010

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— I think I’ve touched on my deep love of New Orleans before; I’ve had a lot of formative life events happen there. My first trip to the city was in 1991 or thereabouts for spring break. We picked the city as our destination sort of by accident—there were a few other options on the table that nobody was entirely thrilled about driving to, so our driving volunteer closed her eyes, planted her index finger on the map, and the closest city was the winner. Voilà: Po’ boys won by dumb luck.

Since then, I’ve been back well over ten times. Two of my best friends, the ones who introduced me to Su, live there. It was the city where we first met. I know the Marigny/Bywater like the back of my hand, I can walk the Quarter with my eyes closed, I know where to buy the best sausage—the list goes on. It’s one of those towns that just gets in your blood because its experiences are so distinct.

A few weeks ago, Su showed me this short film, Glory at Sea, which is such a dreamy love song to the city. Give yourself about 20 minutes to watch it. If you know the city, you’ll recognize it immediately.

The interesting thing about Glory at Sea as a piece of design is that it never says it’s about New Orleans, and never shows the city—yet I knew from about 30 seconds in what the filmmakers were doing. I wonder if many folks without the same emotional attachment would get all the subtle nuances as clearly as I did. It’s macabre, but also joyous, self-destructive, and yet so very beautifully social and creative.

Here’s another deeply meditative piece, called The Third and the Seventh. It’s an astonishingly beautiful piece of work produced by a single artist, Alex Roman. The Third and the Seventh is much more austere in tone, yet no less lush and immersive than Glory at Sea. The curious thing about this film is also its unspoken messages. It’s a paean to human accomplishment and achievement, but the creators are mysteriously (and, to my eye, frighteningly) absent. There seems to be nobody alive in these libraries and lounges except for the lone man documenting them.

I wonder if there is a way, in any other medium, to tell such a complete story without directly pointing to your subject. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that done in designing another sort of object; maybe it’s something only possible in a narrative format.

Are these films warnings or a celebrations? Hard to say, but the ambiguity leaves a delicious hole for our minds to fill with its own fears or hopes.