ISSUE 3 - 2019 (2)

The wreck and not the story of the wreck

Fernando Baños-Fidalgo (Centro Universitario de Artes TAI – URJC)




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Adrienne Rich’s poem Diving into the Wreck was first published in 1973. Written in first person, the poem’s narrator plunges into the depths of the ocean in search of a shipwreck. Moving from the ordinariness of reality on the surface to a breathtaking reality in the dark waters of the deep ocean, the narrator encounters the wreck of a ship that stares at its own distorted image, up on the surface, in the schooner that brought the narrator to this very place. The poem has a double symbolic meaning: the individual one, likely related to “a failed relationship, the loss of a loved one, or a childhood trauma”, and the collective one, a journey through a past full of obsolete myths in order to discover the reasons why women, oppressed by patriarchal society, have always been seen as “weak, submissive, unintelligent, and vulnerable” and the reality underlying these myths.

It was also in 1973 that a woman named Mary and her husband boarded the cruise ship “Spirit of London” on a ten-day trip from Los Angeles (USA) to Puerto Vallarta (Mexico). Four decades later, a Super 8 home movie of the trip was discovered in a Bangkok market. The home movie takes on greater meaning when that very cruise ship is later abandoned a couple of miles off the coast of Thailand, near Bangkok. Lack of maintenance and general decay caused the ship to capsize and sink halfway into the water two years later. This surprising circumstance turns Mary, the main figure of the film, into a focus of epistemic curiosity, as a woman impossible to place in time, imagined at the end of her life, neglected and half-submerged into her own death, like all things that are abandoned and about to vanish. It is the story of a double wreckage that is necessary to shed light on a dispossessed film-object.

“The wreck and not the story of the wreck”, a verse from Diving into the Wreck, serves as both the conceptual seed and anchor to discuss such stranded films and the inevitable contradiction that emerges when their stories are imagined in order to reclaim their value as objects. In contrast to the events on which the major consensus narratives are built, the salvaging of insignificant occurrences and forgotten objects of the past becomes a means to construct narratives that offer new ways to view and think about a past that needs redemption.  

The title of this audiovisual essay, “The Wreck and Not the Story of the Wreck”, aims to privilege things over their stories – “the thing itself and not the myth.” And yet this purpose enfolds a paradox: the reclaiming of an object through a story which is cancelled out when the object itself is showcased.