The 70s


by Nicholas Rombes

In Roberto Bolaño’s novel Antwerp, there is a mysterious passage:

Look at these pictures, said the sergeant. The man who was sitting at the
desk flipped through them indifferently. Do you think there’s something
here? The sergeant blinked with Shakespearean vigor. They were taken a
long time ago, he started to say, probably with an old Soviet Zenith. Don’t you
see anything strange about them? The lieutenant closed his eyes, then lit a
cigarette. I don’t know what you’re talking about. Look, said the voice . . . “A
vacant lot at dusk” . . . “Long blurry beach” . . . “A cement box by the side of
the road” . . . Restaurant windows, out of focus . . .”

Images that are heavy and loaded with menace and meaning, but what sort of menace, and what nature of meaning? Joyce Carol Oates once said that “the formal artist is the one who arranges his dream into a shape that can be understood by other people.” But what if that arrangement is hidden, or secretly coded?

As we move deeper into the twenty-first century our world seems evermore bifurcated between the known and the hidden, and this visible divide characterizes our own psychotic state. On the one hand, as the Snowden documents show, we are all of us watched by groups whose names we don’t even know, for purposes that remain obscure. And yet we also still live in the last shadows of postmodernity whose defining feature was a habit of relentless deconstruction and demystification, extending deep into film itself, which is now so overloaded with extras, remainders, making-ofs, that a film’s aura–if there ever was one–has completely evaporated.

It is our responsibility, more than ever before, to search for the mystery, the illusion in film. Like one of the photographs in Bolaño’s novel, their very ordinariness disguises their strangeness. It is a decidedly romantic endeavor, and thus a dangerous one.

And so, let’s assume there are secrets in the common images of film, or more precisely, in the individual frames (if frames is even what we can call them in this digital era) and that the method of discovery must be based on constrained disorder. Constrained, because the 70-minute mark is our entry point, no matter what. Disordered, because what will appear at 70 minutes is not something that we are intentionally searching for, so that we are left open to surprise, which is something I hoped to capture in 10/40/70, forthcoming from Zer0 books in March.


1. Select a film.

2. Pause the film at the 70-minute mark, and take a screen grab.

3. Between now and February 17, e-mail the image to me and the name of the film: nrombesudm [at] gmail [dot] com

4. If you’d like, you can also send a commentary about the frame.

5. At the end of the project, I will put all the submitted images/commentary together in one document, which will be published at Berfrois near the end of February.

If all goes well, the end result might be a “new” film made from the frames, or a secret history of how films speak to each other at the 70-minute mark.

About the Author:

Nicholas Rombes is author of the novel The Absolution of Roberto Acestes Laing, forthcoming from Two Dollar Radio in 2014, as well as the 33 1/3 volume on the Ramones (Bloomsbury). He wrote the screenplay for The Removals, to be directed by Grace Krilanovich and released by the film production wing of Two Dollar Radio in 2015. He is a professor of English in Detroit, Michigan.