I like tall buildings. I like tall buildings with rotating restaurants, observation decks, and those silvery view finders that make the user look like she’s manning a spotlight on a battlement instead of spotting some monument on the horizon.
This jones of mine for impossible perspectives demands to be met when I travel. (Ask Kathy—she’s got the itch too: we’re forever looking for rotating restaurants when we head out to an AWP. Any tips for Denver? Anyone?)
I love it too when this desire for impossible perspectives shows up in literature—think Gatsby’s green breast; think De Certeau’s vertiginous homage to Manhattan from atop the World Trade Center; think Joseph O’Neill’s recent novel Netherland, which culminates with a healing vision of London from atop the London Eye. His hero and his hero’s 9/11-traumatized family are reunited in one of the po-mo Ferris wheel’s pods, contained, secure, and simultaneously hoisted in a see-through bubble above the city.
So, on my recent visit to London, I made sure to hit the Eye too. My boyfriend and I (hi Jonathan!) had days and days of sunshine, odd for London, and now we’re convinced the Thames is always glittering: we missed the fog, but we could see for miles from the Eye.
Picture it: we’re in one of those plexi-glass capsules, slowly ascending the 443 foot Ferris wheel structure (it’s also called The Millennium Wheel and the whole structure a carnivalesque lark above the skyline). All my spidey-senses tingling, feeling all that god’s-eye-hubris such views inspire.
And I started to think about the way movies teach us to see. Here’s the panoramic establishing shot: ‘Ello London. Vast grey horizon glittering into the distance. (Does an establishing shot work like deductive reasoning? Is this the move that movies make from the general to the specific?)
Now cut to this: less than an hour after we’d spun over the skyline, we were on the Tube to Hampstead Heath. The Heath is a huge hunk of public park land (story goes that here Keats heard his nightingale). From its highest point you can look back and see the city skyline in the distance. So we tumble out of the station, hoof it up the hill, look at one of those “You Are Here” maps, then make our way into the bramble. The trees have not yet bloomed, so the woods feel stark, a hovering quiet shot through with blue sky and a sinking afternoon sun.
(Hang on. If the establishing shot moves the viewer from the general to the specific; does the inductive move of the specific to the general mean that a close up is a kind of inductive cinematic rhetoric?)
Now picture this, in close up. We spot a man sitting down with his back against a trash bin. I can see he’s bobble-headed, can hear he’s singing to himself—so I think, OK, a drunk in the park.
What I don’t see right away is that his pants are around his ankles. What I don’t see, until it’s too late, is that he’s got his pecker out, holds a Stella in his other hand, and greets us with a grin and, wait for it, “‘Elloooo!!!!”