Scenes from the Films of Konkowsky



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Konkowsky believed that an image is emptied of its meaning each time it is
interpreted, that as an image lives out its life, it becomes emptier and emptier, until
it is only what one makes of it, until it is an empty image.

The image is a seashell and the interpreter a hermit crab. While he inhabits
the image, there is room for only one interpretation, for him alone, and he jealously
protects the image, his image, from other interpreters. When he dies, or is evicted by a more forceful interpretation, or turns his interpretive interest elsewhere — it is all the same to the image — another interpreter moves in; and each successive occupant puts his name on the mailbox, paints his colors on the wainscoting, hangs his curtains in the window, runs his banner up the flagpole.

The fate of Rembrandt’s Night Watch is the fate of all images.

The master labored over this enormous canvas for two years. Indignities were
heaped on it almost from the beginning. In 1715 a third of the painting was shorn away. Generation upon generation of protective varnish was slathered onto it. The Night Watch embarked upon a night that would not be marked in hours but in centuries.

In 1946 a thorough cleaning revealed that these “watchmen” were actually
soldiers getting ready for battle. The painting known for three hundred years as The Night Watch was not a night scene at all — it took place in broad daylight. So its name was changed to The Company of Frans Banning Cocq Preparing to March Out. And fifty years later, everyone still calls it The Night Watch.

Konkowsky was a painter, not a critic; a creator, not an interpreter; a pigeon,
not a zoologist. He sharpened the distinction at a press conference during the making of The Making of the Illusion of Gravity. Amidst the freak blizzard that swept
Los Angeles two Christmases ago, Konkowsky held his press conference as he filmed his film — outdoors.

In a Russian black fur hat that outlandishly exaggerates the huge head perched neckless on that stocky torso, Konkowsky seats himself behind a table and the customary growth of microphones. It is twilight. The tabletop is covered with snow. So are the tops of the microphones, as if they’ve gone gray waiting for Konkowsky

“OK,” he says, clapping his hands, “Zoom zoom!” (His English vocabulary
consisted almost wholly of film jargon.)

“Mr. Konkowsky,” says a critic in the second row, “you must have many
commitments elsewhere. Why did you drop them all to come here?”

Konkowsky stretches his arms upward and tilts back that great head, large clumped-together snowflakes nestling in the black fur of his hat, in his unpruned saltand- pepper Rasputin’s beard, lingering there, individual flakes landing on the ruddy exposed patches of his cheeks, melting so instantly and leaving traces so infinitesimal they seem simply to disappear.

“The snow!” says the critic from Cahiers du Cinema. “The snow!” she says, the ember of her cigarette sketching circumflex accents in the air. “Unlike rain, unlike heat, unlike fog, unlike tears, unlike art, snow transforms reality — yes, blankets reality with a new layer of reality, a new layer that not only changes the color of all things, the texture of all things, even the temperature of all things, but unifies them under one color, one texture, one temperature — and then, as completely, as drastically as it came across our eyes — a veil, a curtain, a hand of God wiping it all clean, subtracting everything from everything, offering our senses a preview of death or the prelude to life — as totally as it came over reality, it is gone, it returns to us our world and returns us to our world, the world we knew or thought we knew, the world from which the world was subtracted only to be added back once again — and this, then, all this, is what you find in snow?”



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