However its algorithms work, I need to thank YouTube’s sidebar links for bringing filmmaker Rob Tregenza’s Talking to Strangers back into my life. Shot mostly in southwest Baltimore during the winter of 1987, the film is told in a series of nine roughly 10 minute scenes shot in continuous, uninterrupted single shots. I accidentally saw it at the Baltimore Museum of Art during the first year I moved to Baltimore for college in 1988—I think the Baltimore Film Forum did screenings in the BMA, which was right next to my college campus. At the time I’m not sure I completely comprehended the ambition I was watching onscreen, I only knew I hadn’t seen anything quite like it. Still haven’t. (It’s one of those austere kinds of films that Richard Brody sincerely praises.)
Today, Tregenza appears to be the program director of Virginia Commonwealth University’s cinema program. If you’re curious, seek out an October 27, 1987, Baltimore Sun profile of Tregenza by Henry Scarupa; it talks about Strangers’ production and Tregenza’s Baltimore Film Factory, a commercial film production company he started with his wife. Strangers follows an aspiring writer, named Jesse, who works other jobs to support himself, over a few months. In that Sun profile, Tregenza said:
“Jesse is on a quest to depart the ordinary,” he elaborates. “His concept of himself is that of an artist in search of characters. But the character he reveals in successive actions, as events randomly gather about him, is at odds with his original self-concept. The question of identity is important. I wouldn’t say this is what the film is about, but these things have guided the way I’ve put it together.”
In addition to being a patiently subdued character study, Strangers captures a bit of late-’80s Baltimore, especially in the mesmerizing opening shot. The link to the film is below, for however long it’s going to stay there.
Since I’m always late to the party, the Los Angeles Review of Books‘ July #OccupyGaddis posts only recently sent me rooting through some of the few old reading notebooks I still own from the early 1990s. I was looking for a specific passage from JR I recalled copying down that always tickled me for some reason when I came across the attached flier, which I believe was passed to me by my friend Vince, who remains a constant source of good conversation about all things music&books&films&life&ideas. In light of, well, nearly weekly events, only the low photocopy resolution gives away its 20-year-old age.
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