Review by Sarah Keller
Harrison Wade’s videographic essay “Uncertain Presence” ruminates on why Ingrid Bergman’s character, Katherine Joyce, looks away at a critical moment in Roberto Rossellini’s Viaggio in Italia/Journey to Italy (1954). He connects the turning away with the desire for something absent, a nostalgic “conversation with some object” that his video essay also takes up in its own way. Katherine’s tour of Naples, tracing the absence of her lost poet friend Charles as well as something unnamable she has lost in herself, takes the film’s audience on a tour of the irrevocable losses of time that inspire nostalgia and emblematize a kind of cinephilic gesture. It is an attempt to possess the elusive, effervescent images of which cinema is by necessity comprised—images which, in time, decay.
Contemplating the desire to hold something that cannot be held finds a counterpart in Wade’s wonderfully process-oriented work, which productively decouples the immersive narrative qualities of Katherine’s journey from its more disruptive sub- and intertexts. A film’s spectators over time might contribute different investments in it that also shape it. One such investment Wade points to, the professional restoration of Journey to Italy, offers an almost painfully sharp image as a kind of compensation, perhaps, for the losses the film itself alludes to on both the narrative level and on the level of its existence as a media object. The restoration points to the material losses of film in a digital age even while it tries to cover those losses. Wade rightly suggests that whatever promises digital technology may make to the history of film, something is unrecoverable (but worth pursuing all the same). Even the “fixing” of the blemishes in the print to make a pristine copy will not do it.
“Fixing” the blemishes of objects of media history in a wholly other sense—attempting to put a pin in them and holding them still while time hurries forward—is the creative act of Wade’s videographic essay. Compiling and laying bare the conversation he is having with several works in real time, typing on the screen, comparing and making multiple copies of clips and still images, showing the compilation and editing of the images, and even uttering a throwaway line about not being able to go to his office to show the real postcards he gives us copies of in the video—an allusion to the pandemic, I assume, and a fixing of his own work in a real time that one hopes too shall pass—tells us a good deal about the useful creative and critical interventions cinephilic nostalgia might provoke.