October 30, 2013 —
Emily and I are on the chairlift heading towards the Great Wall of China. It’s beautifully quiet, with nothing to hear save for the whirr of the lift and the occasional bird chirp. Eventually, the trees part and the wall appears over the horizon. It is breathtaking and stretches as far as the eye can see. Suddenly, the camera shakes and the image freezes. Rewinds. The trees part and the wall appears over the horizon again and this time the image FREEZES before the camera shakes.
Suddenly I’m climbing the wall; my breath is audible as I conquer each of the steep and narrow steps. There’s Emily in front of me. She turns and smiles. FREEZE.
Woosh. I am weaving my way back down the mountain on a tiny bobsled. One hand on the camera, the other on the small brake below. Back and forth. FREEZE.
I’m editing a piece for a friend out of footage I shot during a trip to China for his wedding last year. The trip spanned from Hong Kong to Beijing over two weeks. As I wander through the footage, gradually pulling clips down onto the timeline, mixing and cutting them up, it’s almost as though I fall through the screen and into the computer, suddenly transported back to late last year as each memory floods over me.
I’m entering the subway in Hong Kong. I tap the Octopus card against the turnstile; it beeps and I walk through. It’s crowded. I pass a large display from CNN. Obama vs. Romney. FREEZE. Emotionally I’m back in that place. Remember, it’s October 2012, and the election is in full swing, I can smell the train, feel the nerves about being in a foreign country, the uncertainty about the upcoming election.
Emily and I are in our hotel room looking out over the jaggedy and intricate skyline. Images from Hurricane Sandy flash on the flat-screen TV in the corner of the room. We wonder about our apartment and friends back in New York.
The formal Tea Ceremony. The wedding couple in traditional Chinese formal red. They bow to all the elder family members. Photographers snap photos. I follow the dog around with a low wide-angle lense. Some moments are candid, some touristy, some completely and utterly bland.
There’s also a lot not in the footage. Missing is the feeling of censorship that was palpable in Beijing, the moment of me asking our tour guide what she knew of Tiananmen Square and her dodging the question isn’t filmed since the camera battery had died. Also I didn’t film myself trying to check my e-mail or attempting to visit any news sites on the Internet.
There is none of the comical bartering for cheap knockoff watches in a mall. They don’t let you film anything. There isn’t even anything of me eating bugs. It was a fancy restaurant, and I remember not wanting to be the guy whipping out a camera. (Now I question those decisions and will certainly be investing in more batteries and gumption in the future.)
As I work my way through, the chronology of the events gets muddier. Things get ordered and reordered now by theme or similarity in content instead of how they actually happened. Emily is walking in the airport. CUT. She’s walking in the street. CUT. Riding down an escalator. Time is crunched and stretched.
The end result will not sum up the experience; it will be nowhere near as rich and complete as the memories I have of being there. It will, however, be a time capsule of a completely unique series of moments, moments impossible to live or capture again.
I think that’s why I like making movies.