The 19th century German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Freidrich Hegel once said that the owl of Minerva “spreads it wings only with the falling of the dusk”. He meant that truth could only be seen backwards, at nightfall, once the events of the day had been put to rest. Perhaps Hegel meant that the truth is best seen in the dark, at the movies.
Or maybe Hegel was just looking for a reason to believe.
Here is the truth then. My reason to believe.
An old man and a little boy. We begin with the gaze. They are gazing at the same vision on the screen. We linger on their faces. We see their eyes, their mouths, their noses, their cheeks, then we see their eyes again. Close-up. They both possess the faces of dreamers: one face lined with a lifetime of dreaming, the other reflecting no worldly experience at all. These are faces longing for a reason to believe.
It is January 1969 in North London. The old man and the little boy are sitting upright, big shoulder to little shoulder, on a threadbare settee in the dark living room of a modest house. In front of them glows a color television set. The set itself is made by Zenith, a market leader in the revolutionary technology of color television (in England, the first regular showing of color broadcasts was by BBC 2 in July 1967). The set is mounted in a walnut enclosure and it sits on four square pointy wooden legs. The television is switched on. It is playing Vertigo, a 1958 motion picture made by Alfred Hitchcock and set in the San Francisco Bay Area.
At first, all we can see is the old man and the little boy. But as we stand back, the rest of the rectangular living room is revealed. It is early evening, so the curtains are drawn, making the room seem self-enclosed, like a place apart from the world. It is a room of broken and unfulfilled dreams. Color is absent from the room’s bare furnishings. There is no art on the walls. The room’s furniture, its dining table and its chairs, is old and worn. The settee on which the old man and the little boy sit is grey. This North London room is enclosed by a series of wooden bookcases with row upon row of hardback books. These books possess black spines and authors with foreign names: Bukharin, Zinoviev, Luxemburg, Gramsci, Engels. One long row on the bookcase is dedicated to the collected works of Karl Marx, another to those of Vladimir Illich Lenin.
The old man and the little boy gaze at the screen. Their eyes are attached to a blonde called Madeleine Elster (played by Kim Novak) as she drives her green Jaguar motorcar aimlessly, up and down the streets of San Francisco. Both the little boy and the old man want to be in that car with her. But that isn’t possible. Madeleine Elster doesn’t really exist. She is just a great seduction.
And still they look for a reason to believe.