Scenes from the Films of Konkowsky



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Konkowsky was not the first artist whose work went up in flames — Gogol
burned his unpublished volume two of Dead Souls; Kafka instructed his executor to burn all his novel manuscripts — but Konkowsky was the first to go up in flames along with his work. Rare indeed is the successful artist who controls every extant edition of his work; rare indeed the man who has the power to wipe out every trace of his existence.

No art, no art critic: so if the critic finds his subject in ashes, he must try to
rebuild the ashes back into his subject. He must try to regenerate a phoenix from the ashes of a chicken.

What a film critic does for a living is write in the dark. During years of
Konkowsky’s screenings I filled hundreds of pages — but nothing I wrote brings me any closer to reconstructing these movies. I never tried to replicate Konkowsky’s work on paper: why, when the films themselves existed in the flesh? Film retains all it sees and all it hears. Film — like paper, like videotape, like wet concrete, like silicon chips, like brain tissue — is a medium of memory.

Film is memory. Memorizing a memory is a redundancy. Besides, even if I had copied down a shot-by-shot synopsis of any film by Konkowsky, I could no more transform that synopsis into the film itself than I could transform a telephone
directory of a city into the city itself. Data, facts, details are never enough. Feed a
trillion facts into a computer: it cannot fabricate a single cockroach.

And so I find myself at a loss. Film is memory; what does one remember of a
film? Worse, what can one possibly remember of Konkowsky’s films, which made no sense unless one made them make sense? Still, as a student of Konkowsky’s — at first his only student, his John the Baptist — later, as perhaps his foremost critic, and finally now as the executor of Konkowsky’s estate, I must try.

Watching Konkowsky’s images I feel I am getting somewhere, but whether it is up or down I cannot tell. The images that face me on the screen are like passengers on the other escalator — the one going down if I am going up, up if I am going down. Though I see each image only for an instant, I know it will continue to exist, to live once it is out of my sight, just as it existed before I saw it, just as I lived and will continue to live outside the moment when the image and I found ourselves face to face.

Konkowsky has not created or even captured the image but intercepted it; and just as he cannot control the life of the image, he cannot select the moment when it chooses to pass before his lens. Each of Konkowsky’s images appears almost casually — not necessarily at a pivotal or even a definitive juncture in its existence.

Sometimes you want to immerse yourself in an image, to bathe in it, to drown in it, to inhale it deeply into your lungs and hold your breath, to eat of it until you are stuffed, to lie down and roll in it, to grab hold of it and draw it loosely round you, to pull it tightly over your head, to mask yourself in it and pass among the living, to cloak yourself in it and pass among the dead, and to dream it and to live in it.

Konkowsky’s images, like the people on the other escalator, don’t hold still long enough for any of that. What color was his hair — gone! Her coat? Gone! How old? Gone! Male? Female? Student? Soldier? Priest? Gone, all gone, quite gone, each gone back into a separate life, toward a meal, a job, a home, each toward its own private mystery. You haven’t enough left over in your memory, even now, to sketch out a decent likeness of any of them.

Instead you’ll get a composite: Y’s forehead with Q’s hair, R’s mustache on N’s lip — and perhaps your own eyes because you’re so used to looking at them that you’ve come to think all eyes resemble your own. You are recombining, collaging, reanimating, sewing it all together. You are forcing jigsaw pieces into spaces that do not fit, because you lack — can never have — the original solution to the puzzle. You are re-acting, re-shooting, re-editing, re-releasing the film. You are making a new movie.



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