33 thoughts on “Experimental Film by Gemma Files



    “Because stories lie hidden inside other stories,…”

    And reviews inside other reviews.
    Slow motion, yet a fast-framed opening building naturally the facts from the vulnerably writerish woman character who wants to write this book, Googling the man so as to meet him and for him to tell her of the circumstances and possible witnesses of the mysterious vanishment of Mrs Whitcomb early in the 20th century on a train between Ontario and Toronto, and then, as real-time reader, I learn what this writer already knew more than she found out about Mrs Whitcomb, and I now know more than those who use Google about Mrs W’s possibly making-films etc. In her backstory and about the writer writing about her, but not as much as what’s already in the official Files, I guess.
    Don’t expect this slow motion ‘review’ to tell the story about this story — this story about its writer written by herself (a Ms despite the wedding ring) about wanting to write the story of spooky sounding Mrs Whitcomb — but just to tell my own flickering reactions to both stories inside each other via the projector of my mind.
    So far, I am captivated.
    Edgar Cayce and all.

    • This being today’s note, it is addressed to everyone except the book’s author. The Dreamcatcher slow-motion book review below is, as ever, in fusion or symbiosis with a hyper-imaginative fiction. A NO SPOILER POLICY OPERATED THROUGHOUT. But on rare occasions real-time reviews can accidentally reveal too much and you may wish to read both this review and the book itself alongside me or read the book first.

  2. 2.

    “in Quebec, it’s genuinely considered cool to want to see films that reflect your reality, because nothing else coming in from the world around you does. And in English-speaking Canada . . . it’s the exact opposite.”

    I love it when I start a book that I had an instinct, before starting it, that I will love it and it then turns out, quite early on, that I love it EVEN more that I anticipated. This is one. The narrator’s name, let’s get that out now: Lois Cairns is already a character full-fledged in my mind, with the delineation of her chequered career in teaching and making films and the quite brilliant echolalia-jazz speech-ThomasTheTankEngine depiction of her son, a boy with many difficultly loveable facets that many parents have to grapple with as I once did many years ago when such facets didn’t even have a name.

    “The problem with thinking you’re the centre of the world is always wondering why, if that’s so, do you palpably not control a single goddamn thing?”

  3. 3.

    Assuming I, as reader, probably don’t know what constitutes an experimental film, I am asked to suck the eggs of Dali and Bunuel, fascinatingly for some, if not me, because I call Experimental Avant Garde and vice versa (see the world’s first blank story mentioned HERE among the credentials of my own avant-gardening, as it were), but all this from Files serves to drag me screaming and dreaming with delight into concepts of dream within dream, waking dream, experimental film as the nearest one can get to someone else’s dream (or Dreamcatching?) and the linear gravity to which we all tend should we not fight against the non-linear as a paradoxical part of that very Avant Garde sensibility. This is beautifully tied in with the Mrs Whitcomb phenomenon being investigated by Lois non-linearly in real-time as well as backstory, it seems, and the whole gamut of the experimental film ethos and community in the area where she lives and works.

    • A quote from 3. above…
      “I still have the text in question today, bookmarked between pages 112 and 113,” – leading to the extract about Lady Midday.
      Cf: “Ah! There was something firmly held between pages 112 and 113 – probably a bookmarking…” – in the story ‘Only Connect’ from my book collection of collaborations with my father Gordon published in 1998 under the overall title ONLY CONNECT.

  4. 4.

    “One way or the other, I knew I’d read “Lady Midday” before. Had to have. Why else would I have kept the book? How else could I have connected the dots?”

    Mythocentric Lois – riding the geeking geekiness of her son and husband – spots Lady Midday in a film Untitled 13, as a film within a film, like that story within a story, review within a film, and she interviews the director, but only connect Mrs Whitcomb, only connect Lady Midday text?
    Full of conspiracies of found footage, a bit like walking the staircase by Duchamp? A piecemeal rite of passage by found Google?
    Everything is impressionistic like her recurrent migraines.
    If I tell you this story line by line, this review would be found text to match the found footage, reflecting my memories of having already read it when I haven’t. A waking dream.
    Suffice to say it is amazingly involving. And, if this were not a slow motion review, I would have already finished reading it.

  5. 5. (up to “…start talking about magic.”)

    “Could you really call it “working,” though, if nobody was actually paying you to do it?”

    I often ask that question, especially when I always buy the books I review as a normal reader. Even as an abnormal reader!
    Meanwhile, I am becoming EVEN more entranced by this work, as we learn more about Lois and her mother and her special needs son and migraines and ‘drama queens’ from her skilfully adumbrated backstory. As well as the found coincidences and synchronicities (that are, I hope, the no-spoiler lifeblood of my still evolving preternatural reviewing style), such phenomena being concerned, here, with the found footage on Nitrate films in turn found in ‘hell holes’ in a random moment of becoming lost in a wood, part of her investigations and Burke’s Law interviews and found googling, activities she conducts as a well known figure in the Canadian experimental film community.

    And film theories that seem now felicitously and fortuitously to hark back to my earlier reference to Duchamp and staircases? So, osmosis, too, as well as coincidence?

    “Instead, they’re supposed to somehow pick up, via osmosis, that if they wander up a flight of stairs…”

  6. 5. (Rest of)

    “Oh, absolutely, but people do switch disciplines; sometimes they move out of their comfort zones, play around for a while, then stop and move back again,…”

    The fathoming continues of the Whitcomb / Lady Midday syndrome as [W]robbed or, at best, enhanced (arguably) into a filmic theme and variations upon Danielewski’s bookic attics, passages and backrooms in the HOUSE of found Leaves.
    Meanwhile, we learn to empathise with Lois’s guilt hang-ups at the interface between this almost self-indulgent career and her role as mother…as I read it.
    “…a fire and two floods put paid to half their back-files, according to the woman who runs it.”

  7. 6. (Up to “I have faith.”)

    “Yeah, they do—and you know what? I actually want him to pick up how there’s more people in the world than just him, and sometimes things don’t go the way you want them to,…”

    ….which sort of echoes something I quoted earlier, as Lois’ backstory within a backstory takes on a new gestalt, including the circumstances of the pre- and post-natal of her son’s actual birth – a sort of aberrantly astrological epoch in parallel with the presumably dislocated chronology of dates regarding the theory of the Whitcomb / Midday connection, a dislocation that an old book publication tends to prove…despite with whatever ‘fiction filter’ she tries to layer it like a palimpsest. (Natal charts are usually set at Midday when the actual time of birth is not known.) Ironic that this dislocation in the chronology within Lois’s research (for which she is seeking finance) seems to be confirmed by a gift of that old book from her husband during a marital ‘date’ enabled by her Mum’s babysitting. The boy’s pet name for his Grandma is Nay-Nay. There is something inchoately organic going on here, I sense, where things are taking shape just as I try to make them take shape, and without such attempts at Dreamcatching they would diverge and dissipate? Astrology, for me, is concerned with synchronicities not cause-and-effect. My attempt at pinning down an astrological angle is an act of faith, an angle that is possibly not intended by the author at all. But it is an unstated thread I have sensed going on beneath the text. An experiment within an experiment.

  8. 6. (Rest of)

    “…suddenly inside my silhouette, some bad idea made manifest.”

    ….being a blink or click ratcheted into synchronisation by the angles of mirror or of natal chart, or a crystallising effect of the migraine, or the point where this text aspires towards a ghost story, a frisson of someone in a chair where someone should not be. That blink or click also paradoxically or ironically accompanies the point where Lois’s theories about Mrs W have been returned by the robber, as it were, become a potential gestalt, become her meal ticket antidote for her pride, her son and her work….
    This novel has not only become my experiment but also its own, too, and the fact that it is ABOUT an experimental film does not prevent it becoming, almost autonomously, an even bigger experiment that uses a linear grammatical syntactical language that disguises what’s beneath its surface nitrate. As reader, you are induced to walk before the author, before the guard, not walking behind, as you prepare to enter the rest of the book…



    “….where Australian Aboriginal star charts described an ’emu in the sky’ between the Southern Cross and Scorpius, its half-lifted head formed by the Coalsack Nebula. . . .
    And on very bad nights, the angels would come.”

    Lois’s backstory of Planetarium visiting (a “pocket universe”) seems highly appropriate bearing in mind my earlier speculations, as well as reference to the Star of Bethlehem, the speed of light reaching us from the stars…
    And this claustrophobically cosmic feel then fits in with the introduction of a new character, Safie Hewsen, her Armenian backstory, Lois’s student from the old days, beautifully honed as a believable woman coming off the page, a collaborator on the distaff project of Mrs W as an early Canadian filmmaker. Safie’s backstory includes the Armenian myths and a God that controls both good and evil….
    And Safie’s “Interactive art installations” (serendipitously to match the story I reviewed about an hour or so ago HERE for the other book to which I earlier referred above) – one such installation being, for Lois, a virtual womb-like directionless abyss or something, I infer, sucking down upon her like the power of dark stars – to match her migraines?
    Meanwhile the mechanics of the actual plot, that I try not to spoil, continue to compel.

    “…the instant realization that somebody else just gets it; that you’re not alone in your dislocation.”

  10. 8.

    “Other people’s obsessions can be fascinating, but there’s also an element of pull. A current.”

    …like a current, perhaps, from this section’s mention of “unfamiliar Australian stars” during a past example of Lois’s night terrors, obsessively adumbrated by her, as a phenomenon, for our benefit. Today, I infer L’s pain and insomnia as well as the onset of migraines, as she tussles with guilt stemming from her son’s “autism spectrum”, from her husband’s needs and her mother’s anxieties about L’s forthcoming collaborative Mrs. W-orientated research trip, collaborative with whom? Someone safe enough as Safie?
    L’s latest adumbrated night terror is terror indeed in this context. As powerful as the parallel plot itself.

    “I’d never quite bought into the idea that being someone’s parent or child automatically guaranteed their love or yours.”

  11. 9. (up to “I found myself in complete sympathy.”)

    “—it’d be noon soon, it occurred to me. Lady Midday’s time.”

    The road trip of Safie and Lois, their conversation seeking the myth of Mrs W, while Lois questioning the Armenian myth-system of Safie …… Safie’s belief for belief’s sake or belief as some intrinsic truth? (That belief/truth question has evolved from the concurrent Darlington review, too.)

    “; I had no idea how much of this might prove useful, but I’d never been able to resist a new myth, creation or otherwise.”

    “human beings are flawed because we were made flawed, intentionally; we need to be guided by sublime beings,”

    Lois thus finds herself actually trying for the first time to establish the nature of Mrs W as a person. The road trip itself, outside of such conversations, is the current spine or audit trail of a plot that continues to compel.

  12. 9. (Rest of)

    “Maybe everything’s linked, like atoms; all the component parts of some unknown universe, laid parallel beside our own. Maybe it was fate, always: inexplicable, inescapable.”

    …thus a fiction for the first time truly to be dreamcaught, a text running alongside rather than being actually read…almost using such fate as a way for our narrator Lois to loosen the reins of her story, withdraw responsibility for it, for there is a name I think I spot, unannounced in this section, to compare with an earlier similar name, seeking my own clues and discoveries amid an inchoate panoply of myths, Angels, Christian tropes feeding on other tropes, history, and what you do when the one who comes at midday comes, often mixed with whatever Safie’s tropes of religion are or once were. In fact, I sense Lois abdicates, at least for a time, her narration to Safie’s, but at which point? Which of them tells us of other alias names and documents about or by Mrs W…?
    As reader-participant, I feel I am not so much confused as partially clouded with facts and suppositions, clouded in the modern electronic sense.

  13. 10.
    “It’s sad, but it’s true . . . what bleeds, leads. So this leads.”

    Vinegar House
    Smells and murals… a filial parallel.
    The earlier PoV abdication now becomes a most effective Cairns Whit Project style of filming through words, filming by rewatching, via exhumed kirlian images, or combing through the gaps between memories of something you once experienced…along the autonomous spectrum.

    “If her earlier work was mainly Impressionist and only tentatively Symbolist, the Mural Room friezes seem to transcend these influences—to take them and wring them out, boiling them down to bare essentials, pure, weird, and stark.”

    “You can see a lot of crossover, true enough,”
    …between self and projected self?

    Some amazing real-time review passages here in this section of text to which no subsequent real-time review as a gestalt (even an experimental one like this one) can do justice.
    (Meanwhile, I intend to research the use of vinegar in medical astrology.)

  14. 11.

    “Didn’t have the least idea where I was, until I recognized the smell—astringent, metal-and-antiseptic—”

    Trip and seizure aftermath, hospital…debriefing.
    A page-turning narration, PoV resumption but still with blind spots, ordinary stuff, with extraordinary stuff underlying, queries to Mom and her husband, dealing with son, and seeping paranoia that people knew where she had been.
    Incantatory “phone bleed” – chilling.

    “Sometimes you can tell the truth in advance—lie that you’ve done something, then make it so. I’ve done it most of my life, and I don’t feel guilty.”
    …except I never use that method when real-time reviewing.
    Things seem to be speeding up on my side of the page.

  15. 12.

    “I saw,” she told me, often enough. “I shall never un-see, nor be un-seen, so what I know must be told somehow, by any means. I must remove it from my head; translate it to the heads of others. Perhaps then, the debt will be paid.”

    This is gripping primary source material from the past that Lois reads as written by Mrs Iris Whitcomb’s husband – or it is something she has conveniently written herself to further the narrative drive or subtly fill in the gaps of the plot’s audit trail?

    “If he’d lived during the Internet age, old Arthur M. would’ve probably ended up being labelled an unrepentant fanboy, prone to tweet or re-blog a million shots a day of whatever Iris happened to be working on, along with selfies of him mooning over her, and her blocking her face with anything handy.”

    “it is sometimes easier to beg forgiveness after the fact than to ask permission before.”
    …hence my real-time note written today and posted, also today, at the beginning of this review above in bold.

  16. 13.

    “the story’s inherent pull turning her big eyes starry.”

    I feel this could be a very frightening story dealing with something I myself, as a self-confessed pareidoliac, am cursed with: “pareidolia” – a word often used before in my real-time reviews over the years and now used in this book as reported on or concocted at various levels of concoction separately and severally by Gemma Files or by Lois Cairns or by Safie Hewsen or, written for real as a primary source or via GF, LC or SH, by Iris Dunlopp Whitcomb – and dependent on the answer as to which in that list (or even someone else like Mr Whitcomb as a sort of Branwell Brontë?) as the perpetrator of this book, it would surely represent today’s April Fool’s joke.
    If not a joke but rather a multi-collusive fiction, it is an even more frightening and preternatural book than I have heretofore given it credit for.

    As well as pareidolia –
    Illusion masquerading as the truth,
    “Narrative unreliability”, “due diligence”,
    the special needs of parallel lives,
    sublimation of sound and vision.

    “So . . . which file did you take this part from?”

  17. 14.

    “If this be the connivance of a charlatan, therefore, in my opinion it is ineffective, to say the least.”
    L’s Dream
    “Yes, but other stuff too, sentences popping out at me like automatic writing in constant revision, shaping and re-shaping themselves before my eyes.”

    And this seems a slant on the art of fiction itself:
    ” —that reflex instinct to distract yourself from your own pain by trying to console someone else—”

    There now transpire skilfully adumbrated scenes, turning into a filial seizure, another filial-maternal one to reflect her own at Vinegar House, between Lois and her son, and a feisty interface with her own Mom at the hospital. Out of character Lois towards a career appointment regarding the Iris Whitcomb project, while her son lies in limbo.

    And, after all, an iris is part of a lens is it not? Iris is also the name of my own mother, and iritis is a serious eye condition I have intermittently suffered all my life.

    Every angle leads to a terrible corner.
    It is as if names are factored into this text deliberately to give it even more pent-up preternaturality as earlier the text had –
    “Augustans and Romantics, maybe; Pope’s “The Rape of the Lock,” Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience, Byron and Shelley and Keats…”

    Then a pending cliffhanger before the Third Act starts – And I shall leave this unknown turning-point pent up till I resume reading this wonderful book… Not that I am likely to reveal the results of the cliffhanger here.

    “Every angel is terrible, as Rilke says,”

    • A new day, and I have been wondering about the author dealing with this book as itself a difficultly loveable child.
      But this is also a book about a mother with difficultly loveable children as real child and a book of the film wherein her own mother appears in double vision as Mom and Iris. An experimental child, a film as veneer or first file, now fleshing out…
      Or a gem already in existence that simply needs to be found embedded in that flesh, just as a sculptor discovers a ready-made already in place within the material being sculpted?

      • Ready-made – cf my reference to Duchamp earlier.
        Hyatt and Clark as double vision of the difficultly loveable or loveably difficult child?
        Or is Lois herself that child – a Cairns under “unfamiliar Australian stars”…?
        As it says, elsewhere in this book – it is always Midday somewhere in the world…or words to that effect.

        ps: my own mother’s name being Iris and my suffering from chronic iritis are corroborated in this 2012 real-time review (pages 97-102) and elsewhere on-line over the years.



    “If my life was a movie, this is the exact moment—”

    Events come to a critical point, a cusp of planetary-transits, a turn-around, something that I shall merely call what the book calls “the vinegar stage”….and the text then retreads what has already happened up to that point.

    And ostensible narrator Lois, as perhaps I predicted above, acts the difficultly childish…

    “‘When did you figure out you hated yourself, Lois?’ I wondered yet again. ‘Or better still, and far more relevantly, in context . . . when was it you started thinking you were essentially unlovable,…'”

    …while she tests the marital breaking point, debating the logic or illogic of magic as metaphor made real, the danger their son is in, iPads et al…
    (I am writing this review and reading this text on an iPad.)

  19. 16.

    Cf Mrs W’s non-linear methods in her ground-breaking films and the mechanics of this collusive text we are both reading at the moment…
    “…none of it in service of making things explicit, making things easy. More like . . . the exact opposite.”
    But that, I contend, makes it more powerfully explicit – eventually – as it’s beginning to do now.
    The visit to the only person living who once knew Mrs W in real-time. A blind man with visionary scrying powers that once were tested. Remarkable scene. Remarkable description of him.
    Also, I feel that the nature of nitrates as a form of alchemy is significant, because alchemy has long been linked with astrology, and relates to what I said much earlier above about the cathartic point of noonday natal charts when the actual real-time of birth is unknown.
    This event is an attempted catharsis, too, in this crucial section. A child-like, if not childish, insistence upon catharsis for the book as well as for Lois and for whoever created her or has read about her.
    And, now, we have Lord Tennyson, too.

  20. 17.

    “But doors open both ways, by nature.”
    L’s dream
    And doors do indeed open both ways, by nature.
    I wonder sometimes who the ‘Her’ is that impends upon us each noonday?

    An achronological mix of L’s dream and then (perhaps retrocausal?) memory of the events of the catharsis and their effect upon the old blind psychic with the nitrate film.
    And then a family regrouping…. relatively happier despite police involvement and L’s own hopefully temporary “hysterical blindness”, pre-figured for us, I suppose, by her own reports of earlier migraines or ‘megrims’.

    “I could feel his grin, though;”

    (On a personal note, iritis can turn to blindness if left untreated.)

  21. 18.
    “a seasick Hitchcock focus pull.” …at start of this section.
    John Cage music at its end (cf my mention of a blank story somewhere above, one that happens to have the same title as a Cage musical composition.)
    A section that is L’s clinching “fugue” – Lois and, me, Lewis?
    “First, a sort of light seed in the darkness, just beginning to bloom—the very start of an old-fashioned iris shot, unfurling outwards.”
    What shall from now on be known as a ‘memory-movie’ – a wonderful sense of being in an old-fashioned train, with Mrs W…
    And facing what needs to be faced. You will need to read it to face it for yourself.
    “And bright, so bright, but . . . slanted, somehow. Not lit so much by the still-noontime sun above, burning stationary at its centremost point—the time between the minute and the hour,” … Just as a mere taster.

    “Because when one mind touches another, even through the medium of a third mind, things happen at absolute top speed;”
    …as they have been happening – alongside a sort of autonomous spectrum of literary intake – with my reading of this book yesterday and today.

  22. 19.
    A rationale of “Self-protection” as “shitty liar”…?
    The preternatural rationale as preferable to a supernatural one.

    L’s eyes finally refocus in tune with wishful-thinking ratcheting into a perfect noonday point of existence, foreseeing or dreaming her son grown up and whole…but that surely is too easy, “…because pain gives life a point, and without it life isn’t even death, just . . . nothingness.”

    “an iris shrinking inward”
    19. Is a perfect section to end this perfectly imperfect book about our transcendable and never-to-be transcended projections of self.
    “a matter of misfiling,”

    A remarkable book that will stay in my mind.



      I take it that the text proper ends with (19.)
      And I leave you to interpret the ‘Intentional Fallacy’ of ‘Credits’ and ‘Sting’ that follow as codas. (‘Intentional Fallacy’ is a literary theory that you may want to Google, a ‘found’ theory of authorial, as well as narrative, unreliability in which I have been interested since 1966 when I first studied it). We do see the villain of the piece have his wrongs sort of righted, with the link between his present and ancient name still unannounced but here shown contiguously to make it obvious. Too obvious.

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