How do you define perception? Is it the same as the rest of us as we base it on what we see? Do you do what I do and calculate in factors to perception such as environment, identity and influence? I’m willing to bet that you do the same as I do and if not, you will now. But then there are some folk that I don’t question what they see, I slowly take it in and ask questions later.
Artemus Jenkins knows my soul, lawd. He knows that if he wants me to see something, he has to actively reach out to me and send a text message. Sometimes, social media isn’t the best way to get people like me to see what you’ve made. From August to June, I teach. I lose touch with what my friends are doing and miss when they do something really awesome. But not Artemus. He’s going to get in touch with me to show what he has made and I really appreciate him for it.
It took me seven whole days to catch up with his text and I finally got a chance to pay attention on an off day. No students, no family members. I could lay in bed with no worries if only for a little while. I took advantage of the free time and dived straight into the art. One thing that was different was this flick wasn’t a documentary. It was a short film. He was the cinematographer.
(Yes, bruh, you were more than a photographer with this one.)
Perception was shot in his favorite style, black and white. Black and white is so fucking romantic. Period. Even when the content is strong and explicit, it’s still romantic, classy and smooth. It provides a bit of poetic justice to viewers in that you really see subject matter for what it is versus being stuck in the bliss inducing aesthetics of color. A range of moods and emotions bloom across faces and performing body parts. Skin tones look phenomenally different in that they become strikingly beautiful across ages. Buildings and landscapes come alive as if they were characters written into a script. Actors remind me of descriptive paragraphs in my favorite books.
Just about ten minutes into the film, I didn’t realize that ten minutes had even passed in the first place. I didn’t realize true scripted dialogue had not been exchanged between the opening characters because I was transported to a place in a busy city where strangers come and go. Kind of like being a fly on the wall watching them from the outside in. Listening to their inner thoughts as informed by watching their behavior. I felt for the young man sitting in the coffee shop checking out the women walking through the door. Is he daydreaming about these relationships with these women? Were they actually real? I don’t know but this is great. I had to quiet my mind of questions and just keep watching.
Then she appeared looking like every nerdy, artsy black girl’s #WCW fantasy. The main character, Cali Tweed, caught my eye. Everything revolved around her and her cute short cropped hair, the people and places she inhabits and her relationships with men. The man she chose to be with versus the man who quietly crushed her from a distanced. Her infectious presence at a party. A haterrific woman that considered her to be a lame. Her mysterious and questionable trip to a medical center. Her lonely but beautiful cupcake with one blazing candle.
(One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do…)
Here’s what I’ve learned. I already knew that Christmas in July 1982 is the production brainchild of Artemus and KarynRose Bruyning. Together, they have examined the complexity of human relationships and storytelling with their web-series, Smoke and Mirrors. Perception is in a similar vain but more independent, loose and art-house. Some of the dreamy scenes in Perception took me back to the dreamy scenes in If You Know The Words, Feel Free, another collaboration between the duo that I saw to be more like a mock-umentary than documentary. Mix in a few influential nods from French New Wave. Add the character of a jazz soundtrack like Spike Lee and a 21st century version of Nola Darling unfolds onto the screen minus the extremely graphic content of She’s Gotta Have It. If you’re going to have a conversation with a friend or two about the film, then I would start with these previous references.
“I was more locked into how I wanted people to feel and what I wanted them to see than honoring references. I knew I didn’t want my New York to look like everybody else’s… I am honestly trying to come up with my own way of doing things and connecting the dots. I don’t study enough to say I’m doing anything different but I do know there are existing techniques used in film and art black people aren’t exposed to a lot or aren’t aware they’re being exposed to. I just try to look at what I think works best with the way we [Bruyning & Jenkins] engage the film.” — Artemus Jenkins on the making of Perception
I must say that I am a fan and that I agree with this quote. I was locked into the movie so much that I began to feel for characters and relate to them. Specifically Cali and her photographer admirer. Even though they were two different people, they represented a few emotions that I know all too well. Pain, lust and admiration. Viewing the film pushed me into a place to think about my own unresolved complex emotions and relationships including with myself.
I guess Perception really is everything. How about you watch it and tell me what you think.
Better yet… what you see.