the woman who says no by Christine Shan Shan Hou

Editor’s Note

This past year, no film filled me with more longing than Arnaud Desplechin’s My Sex Life… Or How I Got Into An Argument (1996): the characters flit from aquaintances’ apartments to bars, to dinner parties, to a friend’s home in the country. It’s not a revelation, but it reflected my desire to retrieve the texture and beats of social life; spontaneity, boredom, excitement, disappointment.

Instead, we were forced to sit in parks around a spread, maybe feeling like a Manet, but looking hunched and un-painterly in the photos people put on the internet to shame us. It’s more proof that becoming an image is treacherous work! I noticed that even my social media posts were getting deadly boring and I found myself putting up stills from films or details from paintings. It makes sense that when the production of new art paused, we might turn to our dizzying history of beautiful images. We could be more purposeful in our watches because we had lost the impetus to keep up. 

Some things we revisited took on greater significance, like Tsai Ming-liang apartment-bound figures; some characters reminded us of the friends we were missing; some films, like Orlando (1992), made us reflect on the time we have left. Orlando was the unofficial theme of the 2020 Met Gala that was cancelled, all of a sudden we were freed from having to have a take on the parade of costumes, a tiring exercise in definition, taxonomy, style and art as pass/ fail.

Some pandemic postponements were a relief (imagine a year with no new Marvel movies). Orlando, bestowed with eternal life, has the unique position to live through centuries, to see the candles go out and the electric lights go on in London, to hear hooves on cobblestones fade into the rattling of streetcars, to see, we can imagine, the first films in a cinematograph. We may feel like Orlando too, as things seem to change so much in our own lifetimes, and because we have unheard-of access to humanity’s back catalogue of art, beauty, innovation, and toil. As things change, we should try to match Orlando’s bemused curiosity. Try not to despair that films are getting worse and try not to sell your soul to the latest Netflix original.

We have the long gaze of time, we have the wide arms of the internet, and if we can live in the present, we have all the time in the world. As Margeaux Labat instructs in her piece on Orlando, you should: “…free yourself from the mentally exhausting clenches of the endless possibilities of your destiny, and relish in the now.” Orlando doesn’t have to contribute or have a take, but, like Benjamin’s angel of history, watches time unfurl behind her. There are Orlandos all over: like Mildred Ratched, looking back through the history of psychiatric institutions, or the boys reflecting on 58 years of a man that doesn’t age (even when he shows his age).

There are very few 2020 movies in our first issue, it seems like we all had a bit of Orlando syndrome and retreated to the untidy mass of the moving image’s past. Our sister site, the In the Mood Recommendation Generator, was our way to cut through the clutter and hand-picked films based not on genre, era, or auteur, but on the mood you’re currently in. This is perhaps the most up-to-date we got: what are you feeling now, and what way can history attend to indulge, soothe, or excite. 

We zoom forward into the past, like the time travellers in Tenet (2020), pausing to note a moment of time: a trend in menswear, an unsettling encounter, a time (half-remembered) you were unkind, or the last gasp of an era.

At the end of the novel, Orlando’s sense of time collapses, the eras she’s lived through swirl around her, like debris carried along with a vortex. But this is because she is passing into a new age “the cold breeze of the present brushed her face with its little breath of fear.” It’s now well into 2021, hopefully, by the next issue, we will catch up with our own singular present.

Gabrielle Marceau

Editor-in-Chief, In The Mood Magazine