“Habib, you need to see this film. We have to start thinking about the posters. I’ll be in New York with a DVD–THE ONLY DVD–next week.” We met over sushi. I was instructed to watch and destroy the little piece of plexiglass within 24 hours. 24 hours later, armed with tin-snips and a nihilistic grin I clicked the hook of my speakerphone in the presence of a witness, destroyed the disc, discussed its contents and began thinking about the posters for Vincent Gallo’s new project, ‘Promises Written In Water’. This was late September of 2009.
Having seen, months before anyone, what was mutually agreed would become the most vilified project screened on the 2010 festival circuit was an honor. Having been asked to reflect its unflinching refusal to assume the role of anything remotely resembling what plot-device-dependent critics or attention deficient audiences consider ‘a movie’ was a privilege. ‘Promises’ isn’t a movie. I refer to it very intentionally as ‘a project’ because that’s what it is. It’s a psychological experiment. It’s the painting of a still-life rendered in extreme chiaroscuro that draws you in at a museum–the one you sit contemplating for 75 minutes while re-inventing the moment that inspired a painter to meditate upon a single frame of life for days, weeks or months before that meditation was considered a finished canvas.
Directors dream of the interactive film. They agonize over the technology to bring them there–acquiescing along the way to the lazy novelty of gimmickery like 3-D as a means to con some simulacra of ‘reality’ from the hackneyed concepts and overwrought exposition absent from a ‘real’ life rich in natural dimension and spontaneity. The efforts of Hollywood’s lo-com-denom-thinkers are for nought. The interactive film exists. It’s ‘Promises Written In Water’. Gallo’s already made it. Stop searching. Shut the server-farms DOWN.
The beauty of ‘Promises’ lies in its coarse simplicity. It’s simple because, with two exceptions, the anchors that make movies movies have been removed. It’s not that they never existed. They existed. They were consciously *removed*. The project wants nothing to do with digestiblity. It wants to be the fiber to wring the putrified celluloid waste from the creases of your mind and frankly, it doesn’t care if you can’t be bothered to see how psyllium makes that trash you consume just a little bit better for you. It doesn’t care precisely because it *IS* interrogative. It asks you to lend it your vulnerability–to use it as a mirror by which its constant and active retrieval and reconstruction of memory can become your own. It demands that you reflect with it upon the most absurd corner love has ever backed you into and that you impossibly throw that moment on the table, not as a memory, but as an object–EXACTLY as it existed as time–or how your stuttering mind wishes it ought to have happened. If the project fails to resonate with a viewer, half of that failure is rooted in the viewer’s own narcissistic inability to empathize. The other half of that failure is rooted in the viewer’s never having submitted to the wild winds of senseless, unconventional love. Primal interactivity. The viral film.
The documents branding ‘Promises Written In Water’, like the project itself, refuse to be movie posters. Each print is hand-burnished letterpress on unreasonably-fragile proof-weight newsprint. The letterpress blocks are roughly jigsaw cut from cheap, warped poplar and etched in such a way that only imperfect registration is assured. After rolling a soy-based ink atop the nearly 4′ x 2′ wood-block collage and rubbing the prints out one-by-one, they’re hung on a clothesline to dry for at least 3 days and then individually trimmed to size. The prints rip, dimple and dent with even the most precious of handling. Gallo calls them ‘paper-collectibles.’ I’m making exactly as many as we need–of these one-sheets and of the much-larger, more-complicated 2-sheets.