My first B&W roll in the Holga managed to eat both the sponges, resulting in multiple anomalies. But hey, that's the fun of a Holga. And I do actually like how a lot of these turned out, especially the double-exposures in the second and third shot. The fourth shot looks like it might be a double-exposure, but it's actually a single exposure taken very close to a window. Most of what showed up is a reflection of the scene across the street, but you can also see the gravel ground that was through the window. It would have been a little more successful if I hadn't gotten part of my own reflection in the shot.
"Over the course of about an hour I saw quite a smattering of people comprising various shapes, sizes, ages, ethnicities, social statuses, and fashion sensibilities. There were some who were clearly planted there for the entire evening and others who just hung around a few minutes, but they all stopped to check out the drum circle at least for a time. There was no pretense, no segregation, and no order at all really...just a bunch of people loosely, but genuinely sharing this experience. It struck me as kind of a dynamic collage...a random, constantly changing collection of individuals set to the driving, often chaotic drum beats. And it was one of the most beautiful things I've observed in a long time."
I wrote those words a few years ago about an encounter that I had with a drum circle in the U-City Loop. Although I've experienced drum circles in the Loop many times, that particular day remains one of my favorite St. Louis memories. The combination of what I was dealing with internally, the unrepeatable collection of individuals taking it in, and the visceral power of the drums in my ear created an emotional experience that was wholly unique. To my pleasant surprise, I was carried right back to that memory by the 2008 film, The Visitor.
The Visitor stars Richard Jenkins as Walter Vale, a longtime college professor and widower from Connecticut who leads a closed and mundane life. When Walter goes to New York City to present at a conference, he makes the startling discovery that a young immigrant couple has taken up residence in his rarely-used downtown apartment. Tarek, the young Syrian and his Senegalese companion, Zainab, are equally surprised by Walter's appearance, believing they were legitimately renting the apartment from someone who presumably was capitalizing on Walter's long absence. This awkward personal collision disrupts Walter's self-imposed banality and sets the course for a poignant personal journey.
Character studies like The Visitor are only as good as their lead actor and Richard Jenkins' Oscar-nominated performance really delivers. Prior to his New York trip, Walter is exposed as a solitary, dispassionate man, whose strongest desire is to avoid being inconvenienced. While this might seem like a repellent personality, Jenkins brings a level of sympathy to Walter that keeps us invested in the character. A brief, but effective shot early in the film strikingly summarizes Walter's cold existence: we see him eating lunch in a cafeteria, sitting lifelessly by himself at a round table big enough for six. The overhead camera angle further reinforces the lonely image, placing us in a position of distant, clinical observation.
However, thanks to Zainab and Tarek, we slowly begin to move closer to Walter. Tarek in particular, has a subtle, yet profound effect on Walter as they form an unlikely friendship over the djembe. When Tarek begins to teach Walter how to play the African drum, Walter finds a passion for the rhythm and at the same time, begins to experience the human connection that he'd been avoiding for so long. Midway through the film, Walter participates in a drum circle and we are treated to a shot that directly contrasts with the earlier cafeteria scene: a tight close-up of Walter's hands beating on the djembe with a line of fellow drummers extending into the background. Now we are an intimate participant in Walter's newfound passion, sharing in the rhythmic connection he has found. Walter ultimately discovers meaning in more than just a new musical hobby, but I won't risk spoiling the rest of the story.
The Visitor doesn't jump out and grab you with heavy dramatic tension. Instead, it pulls you steadily into the lives of the characters and leaves you with an emotional response that feels anything but cheap. It is subtly moving, without being trite or overly sentimental. By the end of the film, I was carried right back to my own drum circle scene, not merely by the superficial similarities, but by the deeper connection between Walter's self-discovery and my memorable experience. Walter and I both found the challenging and life-giving beauty of connection that transcends affinity. In that, The Visitor succeeds as a wonderful cinematic expression of genuine community.