Editor’s note: Writer-director Ricky D’Ambrose’s feature debut “Notes on an Appearance” was a discovery at the 2018 Berlin International Film Festival, and it went on to screen at New Directors/New Films. The movie revolves around a small group of young characters in New York City impacted by one man’s disappearance, and the trail he leaves with a series of objects. The filmmaker’s deadpan, observational style relies heavily on voiceover narration and other devices that he developed in earlier short films. He shared two of them with IndieWire here, in addition to some insight into each.
Here are two shorts, made three years apart, the first and the third in a series of nested trial-runs of my first feature, “Notes on an Appearance,” a film I started thinking about and writing, in some form, as early as 2007. (“Notes on an Appearance” will screen alongside “Six Cents in the Pocket,” the second short in this series, beginning August 17 at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, in New York.) They were finished under straitened circumstances, obsessive and repetitive, relying as they do on an interlocking system of diaries, maps, letters, and newspaper clippings. Less stories than impersonal reports of personal histories, some more damming than others.
“Pilgrims” (2013) functions primarily as a thwarted diary-film in which the quality of the protagonist’s handwriting is given a leading role. Fourteen years ago, as a sixteen-year-old, I turned “The Catcher in the Rye” into a 50-minute two-room chamber movie with a cast of three entering and exiting a boxy living-room space lit by a far wall of six-foot-tall windows (Wavelength in the suburbs). Although I didn’t—and couldn’t—recognize it at the time, “Pilgrims” is, perversely, a recapitulation of this much earlier effort. My reluctance toward the film now has something to do with this, I think.
For “Spiral Jetty” (2016), I’ll return to something I mentioned in an interview: “[Robert] Smithson wrote an essay 50 years ago, a part-anthropological, part-autobiographical cut-up cultural history that came out of a bus trip he took across the Hudson River to Passaic, New Jersey. He called what he found—like the town’s used car lot and its unfinished highway—’ruins in reverse,’ which he related to the suburbs’ special ahistorical character. Smithson called them ‘monuments,’ too, but monuments for the future, not the past. I like this idea; maybe some of it comes through in the film, since Daniel and Cynthia are legacy-builders in their own way … The film has less to do with Smithson than with being unwittingly caught in a spiral of incriminating information and distortions. (Another possible title was “Whirlpool,” like the Otto Preminger film.)”