I spend a lot of my very limited brain capacity wondering why Hollywood directors don’t run around with small cameras making their own little movies for YouTube. Scarlett Johansson has made an excellent short film called These Vagabond Shoes which puts on display her obvious interest in and love for true cinema. The person who has uploaded it to YouTube has somehow squeezed the image from widescreen to standard, but the film shines nevertheless. I’m not sure why there’s a Russian overdub either, but just ignore it. I think Ms. Johansson should upload the film herself properly and if she does, I’ll change the video link. She has made a film that I’m certain is exactly what she wanted to make. It’s her personal expression of a fleeting and elusive subject. The film’s about being alone and damn well liking it. Kevin Bacon plays the film’s main character who gets dressed at just past 4:00 pm to leave his apartment and take a trip to a nearly empty Coney Island. The film contains only small incidental sounds and very minimal dialog. Its beauty lies in the attention to tiny details of behavior. The multiple clocks in Mr. Bacon’s tiny apartment, all precisely set. His careful re-tying of his shoe. His placement of a hat upon his head and his hesitation when locking his door behind him. These are the details of the lone person who sets out upon a small but important voyage through the terrifying public space. Mr. Bacon’s character puts on the armor of his attire with a resolute dread that I can remember from my own time alone. Ms. Johansson knows exactly what she’s doing. Her character’s trip to Coney Island where he will purchase a hot dog and sit on a bench by the sea is a seeking out of the pleasure of being alone with one’s very own self and the not knowing what will come of that. The uncertainty and the wide open strangeness of possibility when one is all alone in a very busy and enormous world is too much for most people to face.
Most people want to be constantly occupied and to be near others. They flit from one person to the next with a desperation that tends to leave out their own real self. This film brings back a personal memory from the early 1990s when I went out one night to walk half the length of Manhattan with no other goal than to reach the Battery at the southern tip of the island and sit with my legs dangling over the water in the dark. A sailboat with a light glowing from its mast came by very silently, emerging from fog, then slid back out of view. The moment was serene, silent, lonely and beautiful. If I had been near another person, it would not have been what it was. Being alone and not seeking out company for months or years is a very difficult thing for many people to do. I cannot imagine Ms. Johansson ever being alone, but somehow she has captured the essence of it in her film. Perhaps she moves around in disguise, alone and loving it and no one will ever know. I hope so. I hope she gets herself a small camera and goes out into the city to make her own films all by herself. She could upload her films to YouTube and I’d watch every single one.
I understand that this film was supposed to be included in some sort of feature film compilation of shorts about New York, but that the producers dropped it. That just makes me want to beat them up. I’m not going to see that feature, but I’ll watch all of Ms. Johansson’s short films if she makes them.
I also think that Kevin Bacon did a wonderful job in his role. He is getting better with age. He conveys everything with an effortless precision and so little apparent effort. He must be a wonderful guy to do a film for his friend like this. The six degree thing about him seems true to me. Back in the late 1980s one of my only close friends in New York was the brother of Mr. Bacon’s wife. I used to hear from him what a great guy Kevin Bacon was all the time but I never got to meet him. I’m not entirely sure my friend from so many years ago would ever even speak to me again because at one point, when we were both feeling rather idle, I hatched a scheme for us to try being bicycle messengers in Manhattan for a week. We both signed up with a scrappy messenger service and began our daily rounds. After one week, I crashed into an old woman’s grocery cart in front of the main Post Office and quit instantly. My friend, however, kept at it for another couple of weeks, at which point he got his pant leg caught in a taxi’s bumper and was dragged half a block, ending up in a body cast for months. Oh well. It is quite possible that he has told that story to his sister and Mr. Kevin Bacon and I am to blame for the whole thing!
At any rate, this film of Scarlett Johansson’s is wonderful and stands up well after repeat viewings. I think she is a natural filmmaker and could just as easily do this work as act.
Update: Here is the film with English subtitles.