In a 55th Street Playhouse Chantal Akerman is stealing half the ticket sales a night as a cashier at a porn theater. It’s 1972 and I’m not even a thought in my parents’ minds. Yet what Chantal does twenty years before I come screaming into this world would forever change the course of my adult life.
It’s 2016 I’m standing on line outside of Bowery Ballroom waiting to exist sweating and loud. Pushed against people I'll never meet. Singing along to some band I won’t listen to a year from now. A’s standing next to me saying we shouldn’t come to these kinds of shows anymore, the weekly abuse of being tossed around in a crowd of aggressive drunk 20-some things screaming about how some girl broke their heart was getting old. I’m half paying attention half trying to come up with better ways A & I could spend our 20s, when he tells me he’s found a director I would like. Back then A & I were so in tune people said we were starting to look alike, so when he said I’d like something I was fully paying attention, but when Chantal Akerman name breathed through his lips, I would have never guessed what would come next.
At 23 Chantal used the $4,000 she stole from the porn theater on 55th Street to make Jeanne Dielman, 23 Commerce Quay, 1080 Brussels what is considered the of the best films of her career.
At 23 I’m sitting in the passenger seat of G’s car telling her “At 23 Chantal Akerman made the best film of her career & I’m doing nothing with my life.” It’s February 12th & G’s mad that I can’t sleep over, but how could I? It’s February 12th 2016 & it’s the coldest night of the year A’s sweating besides me, he’s rambling on about TV shows we like and where we’ll be in five years. After he falls asleep, I count all the freckles on his left arm and watch his chest rise & fall. We're both certain that in five year's time we'll still be best friends. We're both wrong. It’s February 12th 2019 & I’m telling G I can’t sleepover because I have work in the morning, it’s not a complete lie I just figure if I don’t sleepover tonight then things won’t end badly between us. I'm wrong.
I won't tell you what Jean Dielman is about, you'll just have to find out for yourself. All I'll say is It's 2016 & I’m at Film Forum seated next to A as the ending of Jean Dielman makes my whole body jump. & Just like that I was hooked.
In Jeanne Dielman, 23 Commerce Quay, 1080 Brussels I see something. Something I'd never seen before. Something I can't describe, so I won't. But I'm so inspired I'll paint scenes from this movie over and over throughout my last two years in art school. If I had to guess I'd say over fifty riso-printed postcards, sixty-six zines, at least 20 paintings that directly reference Chantal's movies or in some way could be attributed to her. If I didn't hate the word I might say Chantal is my muse, but I do so I won't.
Jean Dielman wasn’t my first Chantal Akerman film. In my small Ludlow dorm News From Home illuminated my eyes the love between a mother and daughter sending correspondence across an ocean. Chantal’s mother’s words read over stills of New York City. If you’ve never seen one of Chantal’s movies then, you have to, but if I had to describe her films, I would compare them to moving paintings. Each frame is incomparably beautiful, especially in News from Home. One thing Chantal’s mother says that will live forever etched in my own personal history is “I dream about you and I hope you’re happy.” Before I left for Rome C made me a video with all my friends and family wishing me well, on a piece of computer A wrote “I Dream About You & I Hope You’re Happy” in red sharpie. For ten seconds A stood still and silent, Chantal couldn't have framed it any better.
It's 2019 & I'm running to Metrograph in the rain. They're playing a version of News From Home I've never seen before. In 2016, Chantal speaks to me in French with English subtitles. In 2019 Chantal speaks English directly at me. I'm alone. Three years ago, I felt afraid seeing I Don't Belong Anywhere: The Cinema of Chantal Akerman alone at Film Forum. Three years ago A would have been here with me. But now going to movies solo could be considered one of my favorite past times. When Chantal gets to "I dream about you & I hope you're happy" my whole world shifts. Something along the lines of "I've been dreaming about you something something something I hope you are happy" comes out of Metrograph's speakers & I'm stunned. Something so meaningful to me, a sentiment I had briefly considered tattooing on my body was a mistranslation all along. I take the train uptown & wish I was with G. Instead I'm in a CVS wandering through each isle to avoid going home. I stop in front of Krave cereal and send G a picture. I leave with a prayer candle and feel hopeful for the first time in a while.
Out of all Chantal’s D’Est perhaps influenced me the most. Though it could be said Chantal's films and words are present in all my art, my obsession reached new heights as I painted frame by frame of D’Est on baby blue ribbon pausing every second to capture each frame. It’s 2018 I’m buying thirteen feet of baby blue ribbon from the paper store two blocks from my school. After dropping it off at my studio, I take the 1 downtown to the Ingmar Bergman film festival Film Forum is showing Face to Face. Out of the corner of my eye I see A it's been three months since I called him crying. He screamed through my iPhone SE that I was “incurable & belonged somewhere people could look after me.” I took the bus home and watch Tomorrow We Move a movie A and I where going to watch together on Chantal’s birthday but never got around to. I don’t remember what we did instead.
It’s 2018 and I’ve just left my job pouring coffee and discussing the weather to a text from A it's been five months since I saw him at Film Forum. He sends me something he had written that ends with “for everyone that I ever met, but especially Emily, who made me feel like no one else ever has.” This isn’t the first time A has written about me, the first time, or perhaps the first time I knew he was writing about me he wrote “Inherently the same, Chantal and I...” I was Chantal. Three days later, G asked me my name for the first time.
It’s 2019 and G sends me a picture of La Captive on a TV while she’s away with her friends for the weekend. I could feel myself falling for G but something was always off. I always felt like G wasn't paying attention when I talked, G's kind of girl who would say that seeing me was the best part of her day on a Tuesday. By Wednesday morning she'd walking into my job in her Joy Division t-shirt just to make fun of my dad for being dead. All while I finished making her $7 cortado & espresso combo. In 1998, my father's left lung collapsed, his fever rose, and a lung infection took him off a transplant list that would have probably saved his life. I was two. Having to explain to someone how fucked up this was wasn't part of my job description. So I waited till G left to cry my eyes out.
La Captive was my second Chantal Akerman film. Simon, so consumed by jealousy stalks his girlfriend Ariane convinced she is cheating on him with a woman. Simon becomes obsessive, controlling, which ends with Ariana disappearing into the ocean finally free. There is a theory is that Ariana was never real at all just a figment of Simon’s imagination. I was never real to G. Real people have real thoughts & feeling, real people cry when you make fun of their deceased fathers for dying. Despite everything G sending me one of Chantal's films was something so small yet, against all reason it meant something to me. It meant I still wanted G in my life. I loved that text. In that moment I could feel my whole body smile, a week later I would tell her I never want to see her again.
A was the kind of friend I thought was going to be in my life forever someone I loved so completely, so when he asked to see me at the end of 2018 I said yes. We meet at a concert full of sweaty 20-something-year-olds singing along to some song about a girl who broke some guys heart. A’s telling me how he moved into the same neighborhood as my mom and how he drives by her house every night & how she leaves the garage light on for me and not my brother. I’m not really listening because I’m thinking I can’t wait to get home and talk to G. A’s phone background is still of Chantal and I wonder if he thinks of me whenever he sees her but I’m too afraid to ask so I stay quiet. I say goodbye to A for the last time on the uptown 1 & he looks so sad. Seven months later G would say goodbye to me for the last time and she sound so sad. I wouldn’t know why until two weeks later. Both times I had no idea it would be the last time I would see them.
It’s 2020 & I’m a stack of Polaroid photographs in A’s mom’s attic & I’m my Dad’s mocha stained button down still hanging in G’s closet. So this is for three people I loved very much, but especially Chantal Akerman. She is in the way I create & in the ways I love. Throughout my whole life no one has ever inspired me like Chantal her words, her motions, her art, her overall way of being. She is the most brilliant light & she is so deeply embedded in all that I do. Somehow her being has become so completely weaved into my own life & in the way I see the lives around me. A used to say that Chantal & I were alike because we both don't belong anywhere, but I no longer think that's true, Chantal Akerman & I belong everywhere.