Don't Look Up At The Fan

(Originally posted to the Transient Memories Discussion Board August 23, 2007)

It doesn't seem like something I should remember, or something anyone would ever remember, but I remember it all the same. It sticks with me, follows me around and every so often it gets to the forefront of my priorities and I plan on setting aside an entire day and going through all the search engines, using keywords to find it- I never do, though. Part of what bothers me about it is how fragile my weak human memory is, the fact that I'll probably never be able to get the full picture, the full context, before I die. How many other lost memories are stored away up here? It's impossible to tell for sure, and that's what's really the worst. Memory is pliable and palpable, you can manipulate and distort it, you can have a dream and confuse it with something that actually happened, or have a dream influenced by actual memories. I am relatively sure, though, that this wasn't a dream, and that's what makes it stick. The confidence of knowing that I actually saw it.

This was around the time video rental was big, I got it from a video shop that's since closed down. I know for a fact it wasn't on DVD, this was before DVD got very popular. That transitional period when it was technically available but very expensive. At the same time, I think this was shot using a digital camera or at the very least some high-budget equipment. It was not an amateur creation, it was crafted with intention and direction, and the people involved- whoever they are- are laughing to their graves.

It opens on what looks to be the Vegas skyline. Whether it was Vegas or a similar desert city I can't say, only that it was vaguely of the American Southwest and had the captivating allure of a bright collection of jewels late at night. You know how it looks. A vast plain of nothing, and then there smack dab in the middle you see a collection of civilization, a herd of buildings ablaze as it were, and you take comfort in this. Somehow the skyline was not comforting. In the distance were the ambient noises- trucks getting refueled, casino chatter. The camera pans down from the sky to the buildings, slowly, and as it does we get closer to the lights, until the physical presence of the city becomes overwhelming, it is front and center and rushes at you in a grueling wide shot.

Finally the camera settles on a roadside motel, not necessarily located near the city limits but close enough so as to feel remote, distant. And you watch this motel through time and distance, and its neon lights are in full fury. Outside there are a few cars. One pulls out, leaving a vacant spot. The camera pulls in yet again until we see the entirety of the motel's exterior. The sign is flashy yet tactful, maintaining a healthy balance between the overt and the blunt. While it was built decades ago, it has seen the changing tides and recessions, known that it is one of a dying breed yet refuses to call it quits. It is a humble, unassuming establishment and makes no claims to the contrary.

We cut to the interior of one of the rooms. It is decorated in the typical garb of the period- state-of-the-art television display with satellite hookup, stocked fridge and thoroughly washed linens. The room is structurally low, its ceiling is oppressive and present. You could reach up and feel the ceiling. There is only one floor to the motel.

In the center of the room, sitting on the edge of the bed with her knees crossed, is a young woman in her early 20s, although by her demeanor you know she's been through a lifetime of issues and regret. Regret for what, you can't say, but she is tired of life on the move. She's been to dozens of cities although not hundreds, her hair contains stress and fray, and her dress is modest. She is holding either a small beverage or a cigarette. probably not a cigarette, but the room is filled with smoke and an aura of times gone by. This is not her destination but it may as well be. Despite her demeanor, she seems relatively calm, collected, relaxed and accustomed to her environs. She also seems to carry with her an integral scrap of intent- that is to say, she has things to do, places to go and people to see.

It is now that the nocturnal ambience of the exterior fades out, and our focus is drawn to the lighting of the room itself. There is perhaps one lightbulb with one of those old-fashioned beaded pull cords directly above her bed. It frames her in such a way that she appears isolated from the further corners of the room- the entrance to the bathroom and the window behind her. Like a spotlight, the naked bulb makes her stand out in sharp contrast to the inhuman and industrial things shown until the present moment. She is a human presence, beside her is her suitcase, opened, with a modest amount of luggage. She came from somewhere to here. She is a living, breathing organism in an otherwise dead and faceless world, a tangible entity.

As with the cityscape, however, there is no comfort or solace in the scene. Because above her is a rotating ceiling fan, operated, I assume, by a similar pull-cord, and it cuts the light from the bulb into thin ribbons which drift hypnotically over her face. Shreds the clarity into confusion, tosses the scene into a perceived conflict.

The fan is only a fan, nothing more, nothing less. Made from cheap plastic, born in a sterile processing plant, it will one day end up in a landfill. Today, however, it is an antagonist. It is not haunted, has no spirits or demons inside, nor is the motel itself haunted by necessity. The framing of the fan- the creative decisions taken to present the fan as a whirring vortex of destruction- are all that turns it from a mere appliance into a presence seen and felt, something raw and alive with animal energy. It pulses. This is another factor that grows as the distant lights of the city outside diminish- the noise of the fan, powered by fuses and generators, transitioning in and out from a growl to a purr. A hum, one could call it. Ambient only without the magnitude levied its way. With the steps taken, it becomes more than a fan. It becomes a demon from the pits of Hell, a mystery never solved, a question without an answer. Its physical form gives way to something much less surface-level, more innate, obscured behind the fan's unassuming demeanor.

She finishes the cigarette, or perhaps takes the last swig of her drink, and her attention, like ours, is raised to the fan. Her eyes are magnetized and then lock onto it like those of a hawk, her limbs become rigid. She props herself up to get a better look at it. It continues to spin, all while the room becomes darker and the slashing of the light turns into a pseudo-spiral. She remains steadfast and looks up as the blades turn, one after the other, rounding the corner in a derby of kinetic prowess. chup-chup-chup.

The camera now focuses exclusively on two things- her face and the blades of the fan. As the film turns the fan into a monster, it too makes versatile use of the conditions of the scene to create variety. No two shots of her face are precisely the same- each in sequence reveavls a new facet of who she is and what the fan is. We know that the fan is not a fan, it is a Magritte-esque dilemma between what our eyes take in and what our instincts are telling us is so. At the same time, it never outsteps its boundaries, never does anything a fan could not do given the technical limitations of such a device. And therein lies the dilemma. We will never know what the fan is. It's probably only a fan, but can you in all honesty be sure of that- if you repeat that to yourself over and over again, will that assertion come to fruition?

She looks up at the fan, and it stares back at her, and its pulse grows louder, and her gaze is ever more intent, and they are locked in a carnal death-battle in which only one can win. The fan continues its infinite circuit and she, with her laterally sectioned visage, keeps her eyes in one spot and does not move them. Does not presume to move them.

Her eyes remain locked. The fan continues to spin.

The tape ends.