“News From Home” And The 500 Mile Run

In the midst of the school year, and the ever-changing nature of college, Staff Writer Matthew Pham explores the ways in which art can comfort us going forward through the 1976 film “News From Home”
News From Home And The 500 Mile Run

On Feb. 29, one of America’s most enduring icons, Superman, turned 86. Clark Kent’s adventures alongside Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen have been exceedingly beloved for years, and yet, his vibrance never enamored an adolescent Matthew; the perils of Peter Parker or the moodiness that drowned Bruce Wayne were far more resonant. But as the terrible twenties chug onwards, I find myself continually chasing Clark, striving to emulate the person that he is: the hope, the humanity, and the love he gives. In particular, I think about the alienation that seeps through as he transitions into adulthood, a period of flux, where he steps out into a bright new and frightening world: Metropolis. 

Clark’s ventures into Metropolis represent an anticipation of independence but also the anxiety of being a self-made man. You can stand on the brink of adulthood, but can you stay afloat? It is in that terrible excitement and joy that Chantal Akerman’s 1976 film, “News From Home,” delicately captures what it means to roam about that grand ocean, to be 500 miles away from home and still right there in your heart. 

Akerman (of “Jeanne Dielman” fame) spent a year and a half in New York, from 1971 to 1972, working odd jobs and immersing herself within the artistic landscape of America’s heart. “News From Home” recollects that specific period of her life, with long takes capturing the vast and dense architecture of the Big Apple, continually traced by Akerman’s rapid and monotonous recitations of her mother’s letters to her. The film builds in rhythm, from dusk to day, from ghastly streets to bustling subways. It is a film that progressively gets noisier and noisier until even the whispers and tethers of love become background noise. It is a film of observance, one where we stare out from taxis onto little mom-and-pop shops, where we witness kids playing basketball in the streets and running onto sidewalks to avoid cars, where we watch neon lights blur as endless traffic flutters through. To observe the fashion sensibilities, to witness how grungy and dirty yet full of life a city can be, in these small remembrances, the candid documentary nature of it all feels spontaneous and truly transportive. To live in an urban area is expansive and disorienting, but its soul never renders it boring.

And still, despite the bustling crowds, though we are never left alone, we are perennially left to be lonely. The idiosyncratic nature of Akerman’s perspective is not omnipotent, or explicitly broadening (as per the nature of many documentaries), it is rather extremely intimate — receiving love and unconditional support but never revealing oneself or the disappointment they have brought upon themselves. No people to attach to — just faces in the wind. Our narrator wanders about these specters of New York, unable to do anything except to observe and to be lost. Eventually, the luster of a brand new city begins to wear off, and those very sparks of excitement become terrifying; the skyscrapers no longer represent how high we can reach but how tightly we become suppressed to the order of life, should we do nothing to assuage these cycles. Cinematographer Babette Mangolte (who teaches as a professor in the Visual Arts Department at UC San Diego) and her camera gaze for long stretches, and in those patient spaces of time, we are given room to reflect: on our futures, on our families, on our loves, on ourselves, and where we go from here, all while on the train ride home. 

In these frightening times, we long to be reunited with the people we love, but if we give into that so soon, perhaps it will continue to hinder us from becoming who we are truly meant to be. If New York or Metropolis were so frightening that we raced back to Smallville instantly, how would we become the people of tomorrow? These twilight spaces of change are where we must learn to be happy with ourselves, discover what we want, and seek out where we truly belong in our little corner of this life. Then, to be courageous is not a virtue, but a necessity of life; we all need to grow up and stand proud at some point, and so we all must be brave too. Our loved ones will be there in our hearts; it’s just a matter of time before we grow into people we can be proud of. “Don’t worry — we’ll both find out, just not together.” 

And thus starts our five hundred miles. See you soon, my friend. 

“News From Home” was recently screened at Triton TV’s Film Studio (with introduction by Babette Mangolte) as part of their weekly FilmStock Program, highlighting obscure arthouse films. “News From Home” can also be streamed on MAX, and is available on DVD and Blu-Ray courtesy of The Criterion Collection.

Image courtesy of Film Daze

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About the Contributor
Matthew Pham, Staff Writer
Matthew Pham is a 3rd year Mathematics-CS Major with a minor in Literature/Writing. He is an avid collector of blu-rays and DVDs, enjoys Yeule’s music, and adores the stars and skies.
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