Hobart and William Smith Colleges

She Said He Wrote

by Jeff Porter

Jeff Porter

For a while I have been haunted by a French film, a madly lyrical film. Though not well known, the movie is viewed by cinephiles as a masterpiece. It has no plot, though, nor do its images jump out at you. With the morbid exception of a giraffe, no one is murdered and there is no sex, no explosions - worse it's digressive and rambling, a movie that never seems to find its way. But the film does have a voice, and that voice has found its way into my brain. Released in 1983, Chris Marker's Sans Soleil consists largely of musings in the form of imaginary letters attributed to a fictional cameraman that are voiced by a nameless woman. In catalogs, Sans Soleil is described as a meditation on time and memory - the kind of film that waits in movie queues forever. The English voice of this film, recorded by the Montreal-born, Paris-based actress Alexandra Stewart, resides in my brain like a ghost writer. When I hear Ms. Stewart in my head, I behave as though possessed and can only write Chris Marker–like sentences, brooding lines that look down on the sadness of this world with an untiring melancholy. My words want to be spoken by this narrator in her calm, self-possessed, limpid style. Antonin Artaud said that the mind believes what it hears and hears what it believes. That is the secret of fascination.

The voice for "She Said, He Wrote" was provided by the talented actress Kate Udall. Special thanks to my colleague Meredith Alexander, who pointed me in the right direction. This is the first essay in a trilogy of sound-alikes.

Jeff Porter is the author of Oppenheimer Is Watching Me and Understanding the Essay (with Patricia Foster). His essays and sound works have appeared in Antioch Review, Isotope, Northwest Review, Shenandoah, Missouri Review, Hotel Amerika, Wilson Quarterly, Contemporary Literature, Blackbird and other journals. He is an associate professor of English at the University of Iowa, where he teaches in the MFA Program in Nonfiction.