Surface Intervals (iii)

We only ever see through the cracks. I learned that on the way home sitting on bus. We were peering through the spaces between our fingers trying to guess the make of the automobiles as they hummed by the frosted windows. Timber laden truck. I only remember that the windows were streaked with the heavy drops of whatever was left of the rain that left us stranded at the bus stop, which then led us (as if by necessity) onto a bus. And as the tired grey blocks gave way to tired trees weighted down by raindrops stopping for a moment on their way down through to the soilbeds, one of the cars underneath cracked open its window and a child’s face peered out over (under?) its tinted veneer. It wasn’t just that cracks let light in, that cracks were prerequisite for illumination or ventilation but that cracks were necessary to be let out. That you can’t breathe out if you don’t breathe in and that cracking is not so much a spilling in of light but a letting a facade be broken so.

For some reason this morning, I thought of the film FRANKENSTEIN (1931). It’s a film from another time: black and white celluloid, brooding, silent. It comes to mind perhaps because I taught it some time last year to a class of design students who only saw the lumbering, blunt nature of such films. Not their fault, mind you. Young’uns be looking back at Bayhem in 10 years with the same slack-jawed befuddlement at how their forebears (check spelling) would consider it a significant part of pop-culture. I had to teach them how the film was an artifact of its time.

But there was this scene that stuck. A group of my students were giving a short presentation on the film itself — relating it to what I cannot remember) — and they were screening clips of the film they gathered from YouTube (speaking of artifacts, I wonder what we’ll be using in 2025). They began screening the scene where Dr. Frankenstein’s monster (henceforth referred to here as The Frankenstein, because what’s-in-the-name) throws the little girl in the water, and I begin to tear up. It wasn’t my first viewing of the film, nor was it my closest viewing. But it was just then that it hit me that beyond all the posturing of FRANKENSTEIN as a monster film of its time, beyond the obtuse rendering of The Frankenstein as contrary to Shelley’s intentions, there was a scene of absolute tenderness. The little girl presents him with flowers, and throws them into the lake to show them that they can float. In their little world, there is only him, her, and the flowers. Flowers float. Frankenstein throws her into the lake not just because he is unable to grasp the concept of density, nor just because he has to portray the inherent creature savagery that is incompatible with the gentle innocence of a human child. He throws her into the lake because he could only make one significant association — that she was like a flower.