Imitations of Life script
part 1: In the Future
voice-over: Last night I had a dream that the movies I’d seen, even in the womb, were a prophecy. They were my future.
In the future
will be photographed
our bodies will grow transparent
we will enter each other
like walking through a door
until at last
we come to the end
of the picture world
where we are also pictures.
Our movies and photographs
will they help us understand
our last place
how to die.
part 2: Jack
1. The future had only recently begun to disappear, washed away in the white light of the present. In Angola, in Sudan, in Algeria there is civil war. Committees of the disappeared continue their work in Lebanon, Baghdad and Rio. Every fourteen seconds someone contracts the AIDS virus. In India, in the wake of a festival honouring the god of good fortune, thousands die in earthquakes. In his mid-career retrospective Mike Kelly writes, ‘I am useless to the culture but God loves me.’ 100,000 German men visit Thailand on sex tours, Israel agrees to a Palestinian state and Michael Jordan quits basketball. This is not the end of the world, it is 1993. Seventy percent of Americans believe in angels, Schindler’s List wins the Academy Award for best picture and my sister gives birth to a boy she names Jack. Jack Daniels Fuller.
(Schindler’s List scene here)
I made no pictures of Jack that year, and was surprised to learn that my sister took no interest in our national past time—the endless picture taking of every moment, no matter how small or banal. In the past only kings and queens could have their pictures made, and discontent with the world expressed itself as a longing for another, kinder place. Today, everyone’s portrait can be made, and discontent shows itself not in a longing for another world but in a desire to reproduce this one. The urge to have experiences is translated into the urge to make pictures. Like Hollywood, they provide experience in a crisis proof form.
2. Six months after his long voyage into this world, Jack takes his place in the high chair. While reproduction is his birthright, he is puzzled by a strange creature with glass eyes, with a motor in place of a heart. For months there was only sound and now there are only pictures. He appears not with a silver spoon but one of stainless steel. Like him it is weapon and aid, a companion to miracles. Here he uses it to exercise one of his great talents—everything he sees, he sees for the first time. Wait, at the window he spies something, but when I look there is nothing there. What he is seeing is a future that belongs to him alone. That only he is capable of imagining.
3. The night before Christmas I head east to see him remembering something Courtney Love said: it wasn’t God she missed, but Santa Claus. Jack’s face is a playground of meanings. Not yet the stern mask of personality, he happily washes away one self after another. He hasn’t learned yet that the face is the first line of protection, the border guard of the soul, which must be sheltered from the eyes of strangers or from anyone who dares speak to him of love. Lacan spoke of the mirror phase as trauma and catastrophe—it was the moment in which the child’s collection of primal memories and electrical impulses sees itself for the first time as one body, one person. But Jack is indifferent to the lure of French psychology, his mirror stage is itself mirrored. He is a child of reflection and reproduction. At each moment, each instant, he appears as someone else. He is a Noah’s Ark of personality. A living zoo, a dictionary.
4. All afternoon Jack humours us by playing inside our imaginary future. He takes his new wife out for a spin, goes horseback riding, understanding all the while that each of these activities appear inside enclosures. There are fences round everything here, and as he stops to refresh, he ponders how many will have to be broken before these old dreams make way for the future as it will really appear: terrifying and unknowable.
5. At the carnival his horses have turned to wood and metal, and he rehearses a scene which will be played out many times in his life, with many different people, though he practices it here first: the separation from his mother.
6. In the spring he appears in a wash of light, his helmet ready to guard him against the unspeakable dangers which only he can master. As part of his exercise in awareness, each street crossing becomes an adventure, though he is uncertain whether these lessons, carefully planned, are being absorbed as he hoped. He rides on, knowing better than any of us that we are what we forget, that the reason we like to be out in nature is because it has no opinion of us, and that there is a road to hell, even from the gates of heaven. Along with the rest of the family, he has brought his dog, Max. Like Max, Jack is teaching the rest of us how to look after him, and by using their example, to look after ourselves. He shows us that it is only in play that we can escape the disciplines of the body. He baptizes his dog in the name of the revolution, studies the animal gestures which are the origin of our own, before showing us how to run from our roles as consumers and producers, how to evade the extortion of the body’s forces. At the end of the day, when the last smile has descended from his face, he turns to me and whispers, “It isn’t easy being three.”
7. At the window Jack shows me the veil that separates my world, the world of the routine and commonplace, from his world of dreams. In the bible, the veil appears often in the Book of Revelations, it is the curtain which guards the final mystery, and once it has been torn away, the blinding light of the apocalypse ensues, the world ends, because the small understandings that make our world possible have been dissolved in light. Jack has no fear of the apocalypse, still too young to have a stake in things as they are. The end of the world is his playground and he invites me to join him. And while he has not read the bible, he has seen the Wizard of Oz, once every week for the last year.
from Wizard of Oz:
Wizard: The Great Oz has spoken! Oh. Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain. The Greatest Oz has spoken.
Dorothy: Who are you?
Wizard: I am the great and powerful… wizard of Oz.
8. In the museum he orders dinosaur eggs, and eats them with his eyes closed, refusing the present as others around him have refused the past. He knows that memory is not yet a crime, that everything around him is disappearing, forgetting itself. Later, he leads me to an ice cream stand, and looking into the camera wonders if I’m able to remember anything without it. Finishing his cone he asks if politics could ever be an expression of love.
9. A month before his fifth birthday, Jack takes me out to sea. Pointing at the constellation of lights he shows me how the face of the night sky has been reproduced here, that heaven is not so far after all. Inside the boat, he reminds me of the old Persian fairy tale where a man who has never left his village, stops to drink from the well. But on this particular day, he loses his footing and falls in. As rescue attempts fail, he resigns himself to his new life, and learns to see his village in a new way, through the narrow aperture of the well. As Jack stands by the window I understand that we are that man, surrounded by infinity, only able to see through the small hole of our personality.
The roller coaster returns him to a world without gravity but he leaves quickly, as serious in his pursuit of pleasure as others are about their jobs. While some are called to manage money or people, he has made happiness his profession and while he expected this road to be full of fellow travelers he often finds himself alone here, and resigns himself to his status as example. How long will it take the others, the giants on two legs, the adults, to understand that technology is the knack of arranging the world so we don’t have to experience it? That the change we call progress is just another obstacle to joy, and that stories have no point if they can’t absorb our terror. Jack tells me: life swarms with innocent monsters.
part 3: Last Thoughts
part 4: Portrait
voice-over text: In 1904 the French scientist Henri LeBlanc began a project to archive the faces of the world. It was to be a democracy of pictures, each exactly alike, each face appearing for the same amount of time onscreen, joined on a single length of film. And it was important to him, imperative even, that he should photograph everyone, that no one be left out.
He would begin by photographing people who came to the cinema, already understanding that once the miracle of movement had passed, the audience would come only to see themselves, each imagining a home in the eternity of the image.
The stars of cinema had not yet been invented, and placards announced that with the addition of colour and sound, death would be no longer final.
He was soon a familiar sight on the streets of Paris, photographing incessantly, always sure to attend any event where people might gather, though after news of his project spread, crowds soon followed him everywhere he went.
He traveled all over the world, but outside his native Paris many regarded his camera as an instance of terror, a new kind of weapon, or worse, a new kind of God.
After leaving home, he had to find new ways to attract his subjects, to bring them in front of his camera. Here his wife is seen feeding a group of schoolchildren from Senegal. It was the last roll of film he would ever expose. When he saw it, he knew right away that his project would never be finished, that while he had traveled to the ends of the earth, he had managed only to make a portrait of himself.
part 5: Secret
Image: cartoon head, then fetus shots
Voice-over: “Last night I had this dream that there were only fifteen faces left in the whole world. There were still many different kinds of personalities but the DNA which made new faces possible had been all used up. In my dream, I’m walking down hallways which exist inside my mother and I am taken to a small room where I have to sit before I am born. In that room, already waiting for me, are the faces that would accompany me for the rest of my life.”
Image: series of people in CU head shots pronounce their names
“Hi my name is Ari.”
“Hello my name is Jackson Evans.”
“Hi name is Jenny Gidenyk.”
“Hi my name is Mathew Calish.”
“Hello my name is Katie.”
“Hello my name is Adam Hark.”
“Hi my name is Daniel.”
“Hi my name is Kevin.”
“Hello my name is Benjamin Wesley.”
“Hi my name is Penny.”
“Hello my name is Bradley Levine.”
“Hi my name is Cheryl.”
“Hello my name is Rodrigo Paivio Masilbama.”
“Hi my name is Adam.”
image: waterfront, baby trolleys pass, iris into water to black
voice over: “When I woke up I knew right away the meaning of my dream. The world was no longer infinite. It no longer stretched forever in every direction. And I was the keeper of this secret.”
part 6: In My Car
image: montage of church, kids watch TV interior, kids drive cars
titles appear onscreen:
My family was Catholic
the church lived in us
like a rumour
so even though my parents
I had seven brothers and sisters.
When I was six
lacking all geography
my father asked me to live
in the family car.
my eyes became the mirror
my feet pedals
my mouth the steering wheel.
This arranged marriage
was not unusual
my friends had become
fridges and lawn mowers
TVs and telephones.
in the McDonald’s drive-thru
I met the devil
He dared me to race
to the end of midnight.
The devil sped away
to an early lead
feeding on my fear
every emotion I had
made him stronger
until I recalled my eldest brother
dead in a four car pile-up
and switched gears to mourning.
I soon overtook him
and from that day
we collected our tears
to keep the devil
from our door
though a friend insisted
the devil’s death
was a tragedy for the imagination.
part 7: The Game
1. opening montage: fade in LS landscape, water and rocks, broken truck, abandoned house, unused boats, house, house and car
2. people asleep: LS campground, MS campground, CU water tap, girl in bathroom, guy and truck, girl and bike, grocery store, people on stairs, road
3. beachhouse: pan to house over landscape with dark shadow
4. girl/boy eyeflash montage
v/o: When I was five or six, my sister and I used to pretend we were rays of light. We would make things visible just by looking at them.
v/o: We would pass through stuff like glass, or skin and the way those materials bent the light we named as personality.
Image: woman silhouette moves to window
Image: 3 shots woman at door
Image: big sky timelapse, slo-mo rain on flower, rain on green plant, raindrop on dirt, raindrop on dirt, raindrop on bee
v/o: Mother never liked us playing this game. She said the smallest thought travels until it can root in someone’s imagination and become real.
Image: woman spins threads
v/o: She said this is how culture is made.
Image: big white globe
Image: 2 men and models, man places big tower, man puts building down, man puts boats in river on either side of bridge, LS model city, aerial shot real city
v/o: Mother said we had to be careful about what we thought, because that would become the world we would grow up in.
Image: 2 boys struggle with guns (loops),boy on bike chased by boy with gun, teen couple in diner, they dance (loops)
v/o: My sister and I were afraid to play games after that, worried every gesture might last forever.
Image: kids cheer, airplane takes off, airplane in sky, aerial shots of ground, aerial shot of classroom, aerial shot of cinema
Image: car accident montage
Image: feet walk on glass Image: people wake up fade from b/w to colour
v/o: We knew we were as responsible for everything we did as everything we saw.
Image: CU clock, pan to switch and hand, hand moves clock, close brief case full of dynamite
v/o: We held the future inside us like a bomb.
Image: boy in bed plays with airplanes, objects fall from shelves, boy hand in front of face
v/o: We knew that everything we hoped for, took a little bit of the past away.
Image: home movie plays
v/o: Erased a little more of what we saw around us.
Image: 2 policemen close fence, building flashes at night, girl drags gasoline container across street, CU face boy staring into explosion,
explosion in lab room. People in white suits run out, glass doors close, curtains close run in slow motion
v/o: And we knew we weren’t alone in this. We were the future.
part 8: Scaling
image: man paints wall while same man, mirror-imaged, unpaints wall.
Because we never wanted any more.
Because we thought, well, that’s all there is.
Because it didn’t seem to hurt anyone and it was easier then telling the truth.
Because we didn’t have a name for it.
Because it always started like that, and then it was too late.
Because you think you’ve seen everything so you stop looking.
Because we thought happiness could be saved up-like soup or rice.
Because you give in a little each day, so you don’t notice at first it’s not yours anymore.
Because they told us to go and we went.
Because you don’t worry about that kind of thing, not where I come from.
Because there wasn’t time for something else.
Because another future never occurred to us.
Because there were so few of us.
Because it began with words-rumours and suspicions-and we thought that words had no power to hurt us.
Because we stopped caring exactly.
Because we mistook our prejudices for character.
Because we saw their lives as a warning, not as model.
Because we did as we were told.
Because the past is a foreign country never visited.
Because our lives are a full time occupation.
Because there was no way for us to tell, not in the beginning.
Because it always looked like that.
Because we were too busy to notice at first, and after awhile it was like it had always been that way.
Because it seemed inevitable
Because it had a force all its own-like gravity, or love.
Because it just seemed easier to forget.
Because our opposition fell out of fashion as quickly as our clothes.
Because you just don’t talk about that kind of thing. Not where I come from.
Because we didn’t think it would get any worse.
Because we thought justice for the weak would follow justice for the strong.
Because we thought it wasn’t a question of love.
Because age gradually makes a desert of it all.
Because we thought happiness was the absence of pain.
part 9: Imitation of Life
opening: Prophecy of the Unborn
images of birth, sperm, egg, fetus
long dissolve to: women pushing baby carriages
cut to pregnant woman exposed belly
superimpose: young girl in sync: “You do not imagine the future you forget the past. You have no ecology of time. Your memory is our forgetting. The unborn children will walk on your graves as if you had never lived. And when you leave this place there will be no one left to grieve you.”
SCENE 1: Shadow
blinking red light, becomes blue circle over curtain, parts to become moon.
Woman sync window silhouette: “When I was just five or six, I imagined my shadow lived a life all its own. While everyone assured me it was a faithful mirror of the present, I would catch it changing out of the corner of my eye, always the reluctant slave, forced to move in a cruel pantomime of an uninspired life. Worried it might abandon me, I tried to live in a more interesting way, to keep it entertained, but the truth is, I lacked the imagination, and soon fell into the same routines as before. It was only at the end of the day, away from the sun’s unrelenting glare, that my shadow could breathe, freed at last to join a world just like itself. It was then, in the moments after twilight, it could find a solidarity with everything that surrounded it. Celebrate the communion of night. This is where my real personality was being made, while I lay asleep, and as I grew older it was difficult to shake the feeling that I was the one doing the following, my shadow’s shadow, made to feel as I moved through the world some kind of connection between things which seemed so distant. The ancients had a word for it, this dark feeling of unity. They called it… (last word obscured)”
Scene 2: Photo Booth
Scene 3: Children of Fritz Lang and Bill Gates
LS woman walk along water
Woman voice-over: “One night we lay asleep and realized when we woke in the morning that we could no longer dream in pictures.”
High contrast colour: three shots woman walking
v/o continued: “From that night on…”
LS water and coast
v/o: “we would dream only in words…”
v/o: “or the binary codes of our computers.”
LS woman’s face lies by water, the dazzling highlights of the water appearing just beyond her head
v/o: “the zeros and ones we exchanged in place of information.”
MS woman climbs tower, camera tilts up. Sun flares in restoring a semblance of “normal” colour to this scene, then it falls behind a cloud, darkening the scene again, making everything blue.
v/o: “We were the children of Fritz Lang and Microsoft. From Bill Gates we learned that the global village has only one mayor.”
MS woman squats in midst of shadows which rake across her body, then lies down in these shadows
v/o: “And from Fritz Lang we learned that the pictures of our dreams could be seen only when we were awake and that they would be sent to us from
the city of nets…”
CU sad face
v/o: “the dream factory, the place they call Hollywood.”
Scene 4: Science Friction
title: Our pictures are like zoos.
title: We have divided them
title: into genres
title: species of pictures.
title: There is one species of picture
title: we have reserved
title: to show us the future.
title: We call it science fiction.
title: Whenever we imagine
title: the world after this one
title: the future
title: it appears as catastrophe
title: haunted by science
title: obsessed with death
title: in other words
title: it looks just like today.
Scene 5 Birth
LS three windows. John slowly dissolves into frame standing in front of one of them. He looks for a few moments, then leaves frame.
Image: Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. Scientist creates a human being. We see him surrounded by test tubes and machines in a laboratory. Pulling levers and checking dials.
Sound: Son voice-over:
“Last night I had a dream about my father. He was very old with sad dark eyes that seemed haunted by the truth he was about to discover. He’d turned our basement into a crazy kind of science lab with test tubes and machines everywhere, designed to make new human beings. He was muttering to himself that the body has openings to admit the world, the ears for hearing, the eyes for sight, but he was making a body whose entire surface would be an opening. He was making a body that couldn’t keep the outside outside, a body that said yes to everything.”
Image: CU John face. He is holding the camera at a fixed distance from his face while he spins around, turning the background into a blur while his face remains constant. He is smiling, happy, vertiginous.
Image: CU naked baby holding himself up, looks up into camera
baby is lifted into bathtub
v/o: “And then I saw who he was making, and realized I was watching for the first time the circumstances of my own birth.”
Scene 6: Cinema stills
Cinema stills with woman voice-over
Image montage: a series of photographs from
1. Rebel without a Cause
2. On the Waterfront
3. The Misfits
4. cinema spectators wearing 3D glasses
5. director giving thumbs up to camera crew
6. spectators’ hands reach out towards Elizabeth Taylor
7. fans hosed down at a concert
8. clapper board production shot from “Underground”
9. man looking into enormous camera
10. Klaus Kinski sucking his thumb lying on another naked man
11. Hollywood star surrounded by camera, make-up crew and gesturing director
12. production shot from Jesus Christ superstar showing Christ on cross surrounded by lights and cameras and technicians
13. man looks into large camera buried in sand
14. woman walks across desert
15. Elizabeth Taylor looking anguished
16. Jerzy Kosinski looks at his own face in hand-held mirror.
Norma Jean v/o: “The future had only recently disappeared. The movie palaces were full with people starved for pictures—no matter how many we viewed we longed for more, as if our eyes were a rectum capable only of ejecting movies, instead of a door for welcoming them. Now that we could no longer dream in our own worlds, the faces of Hollywood were more important than ever. The stories of these films no longer concerned us—they were the old stories, the ones which had circulated since the beginning of time—of sex and illness and power, of how the world was made and we along with it, and of how we would return at the end of our days to a moment of light glimpsed by strangers in the night sky, a brief incandescent flash illuminating the void of space.”
Scene 7: Touch
image: canon fire
sound: de-constructed sound of pop tune “touch”
Scene 8: Conclusions
fade in title: Here in the future
title: is the same war
title: the same lonely detectives
title: the same deadly women
title: each moment of our bodies
title: become an instrument of death.
title: Your new world
title: will begin like ours
title: as pictures
title: pictures we long to see
title: and finally become.
title: We are already pillaging
title: our world of pictures
title: incapable of invention
title: we revive dead fashions
title: turn the past
title: into a history of styles.
title: Here at the end of history
title: will you find the pictures
title: to make war impossible
title: the Auschwitz we carry inside
title: the torturer within us?
title: Find a balm
title: for our endless cruelty
title: endless delight in suffering?
title: Will your new world
title: include pictures
title: of ours
title: or can the future
title: be understood
title: only as an absolute danger
title: as all that cannot be thought
title: Our movies mark the passage of time
title: they are time machines
title: machines built for mourning
title: and in some moments
title: they are all that stand
title: between us and our desire to destroy everything
title: to wipe the slate clean
title: to begin again.
title: There are two kinds of terror here
title: the terror of annihilation
title: and the terror of remembering.
title: Which will we find more painful
title: more seductive?
title: How will you
title: invent the future?
part 10: Rain
Image: boys running in slow motion backwards.
v/o: In the first half of my life I moved towards all that gave me pleasure. But after the accident, the accident of growing older, I became cautious, preferring the same roads to work, a familiar breakfast, marriage. Because my memory is a limited resource, like gold or uranium, I go back over my life slowly, running fingers over the moments until I can taste them again. Remembering is like running backwards, an art I practiced with a friend from childhood, Oscar, who says there are just two tragedies in life. Not getting what you want. And getting it.
title: fifteen years earlier
LS cityscape with clouds passing over it
first image – no v/o
second image: woman at window “No, not at first.”
third image – no v/o
fourth image: CU woman face: “The way my father moved like he was trying to get away from something—from me, the children.”
man with birds: “Once I had a dream too, but when Marcia got pregnant I stopped having my life because I had theirs, the twins.
man feeding birds
street person lying down: “Everything slowed down, until each moment seemed to last a lifetime.”
man flips coin
woman at window: “At first I liked being alone, but after awhile even that wasn’t enough because there was still the voice inside, pushing and pulling at me.”
boy (bat and ball): I never saw my father after I was ten, but in a way I didn’t have to. I could still hear him inside saying, ‘You’re not normal, you’re slow, an idiot, and everything you touch you break.’
man in rain
woman at window: “Conscience is a flood which never ends.”
man at window: “Maybe today it’ll be different. I want to love them, my mother and father, without saying the word ‘but.'”
man and rain: “Yes.”
boy and rain: “I’m alone.”
man: “and it’s OK.”
man interior: “It’s love isn’t it?”
woman: (pause) “It’s starting again.”
boy: “But this time.”
man: “This time I’m going through it.”
woman flips hair: “I’m going through.”
Dennis Day, editor: in the future, in my car, the game
Robert Kennedy, editor: portrait, secret, imitations of life
Ross Turnbull, editor: the game, credits
Music and Sound Design for In the Future and Last Thoughts: Earle Peach
Voices: Janieta Eyre , Andrew Scorer, Mario Tenorio, Liza Agrba
Thanks to Charles Street Video and the Liaison of Independent Filmmakers of Toronto
Thanks to the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council
Porky pig Th-th-th-that’s all folks stutter loop