Chapter no 2

House of Leaves

The labours of men of genius, however erroneously directed, scarcely ever fail in ultimately turning to the solid advantage of mankind.

  • Mary Shelley The Navidson Record actually contains two films: the one Navidson made, which everyone remembers, and the one he set out to make, which very few people ever detect. While easily overshadowed by the finished film, the filmmaker’s original intentions provide an early context in which to view the peculiar properties of the house later on. In many ways, the opening of The Navidson Record, shot back in April of 1990, remains one of the more disturbing sequences because it so effectively denies itself even the slightest premonition about what will soon take place on Ash Tree Lane. Not once during those initial minutes does Navidson indicate he knows anything about the impending nightmare he and his entire family are about to face. He is wholly innocent, and the nature of the house, at least for a little while, lies beyond his imagination let alone his suspicions. Of course not everyone remains in accordance with this assessment. Dr. Isaiah Rosen believes, “Navidson’s a fraud from frame one and his early posturing puts the entire work at risk.” [10-Isaiah Rosen. Ph.D.. Flawed Performances: A Consideration of the Actors in the Navidson Opus (Baltimore: Eddie Hapax Press, 1995), p. 73.] Rosen assumes the beginning is just a case of “bad acting” performed by a man who has already envisioned the rest of the film. Consequently Rosen seriously undervalues the importance of Navidson’s initial intentions. All too often major discoveries are the unintended outcome of experiments or explorations aimed at achieving entirely different results. In Navidson’s case, it is impossible to disregard his primary goal, especially since it served as progenitor or at the very least the “near origin” to all that followed. Rosen’s presumptions [11-Not the first and definitely not the last time Zampanô implies that The Navidson Record exists.] lead him to dismiss the cause for the result, thereby losing sight of the complex and rewarding relationship which exists between the two. “It’s funny,” Navidson tells us at the outset. “I just want to create a record of how Karen and I bought a small house in the country and moved into it with our children. Sort of see how everything turns out. No gunfire, famine, or flies. Just lots of toothpaste, gardening and people stuff. Which is how I got the Guggenheim Fellowship and the NEA Media Arts Grant. Maybe because of my past they’re expecting something different, but I just thought it would be nice to see how people move into a place and start to inhabit it. Settle in, maybe put down roots, interact, hopefully understand each other a little better. Personally, I just want to create a cozy little outpost for me and my family. A place to drink lemonade on the porch and watch the sun set.” Which is almost literally how The Navidson Record begins, with Will Navidson relaxing on the porch of his small, old-style heritage house, enjoying a glass of lemonade, watching the sun turn the first few minutes of daytime into gold. Despite Rosen’s claim, nothing about him seems particularly devious or false. Nor does he appear to be acting. In fact he is a disarmingly pleasant man, lean, attractive, slowly edging through his 40s,

[12-In his article “Years of Those” in The New Republic, v. 213, November 20, 1995, p. 33-39, Helmut Kereincrazch puts Navidson’s age at forty-eight.] determined once and for all to stay in and explore the quieter side of life.

At least initially he succeeds, providing us with pristine glimpses of the Virginia countryside, the rural neighborhood, purple hills born on the fringe of night, before moving past these establishing shots and focusing more closely on the process of moving into the house itself, unrolling pale blue oriental rugs, arranging and rearranging furniture, unpacking crates, replacing light bulbs and hanging pictures, including one of his own prizewinning photographs. In this way, Navidson not only reveals how each room is occupied, but how everyone has helped apply his or her own personal texture.

At one point, Navidson takes a break to interview his two children. These shots are also impeccably composed. Son and daughter bathed in sunlight. Their warmly lit faces framed against a cool backdrop of green lawn and trees.

His five year old daughter Daisy approves of their new house. “It’ s nice here,” she giggles shyly, though she is not too shy to point out the absence of stores like “Bloomydales.”

Chad who is three years older than Daisy is a little more self- conscious, even serious. Too often his response has been misread by those aware of the film’s ending. It is important to realize, however, that at this point in time Chad has no sense what the future holds. He is merely expressing anxieties natural for a boy his age who has just been uprooted from his home in the city and deposited in a vastly different environment.

As he tells his father, what he misses most is the sound of traffic. It seems the noise made by trucks and taxi cabs created for him a kind of evening lullaby. Now he finds it difficult to fall asleep in the quiet.

“What about the sound of crickets?” Navidson asks.

Chad shakes his head.

“It’s not the same. I dunno. Sometimes it’s just silent… No sound at all.”

“Does that scare you?” Chad nods.

“Why?” asks his father.

“It’s like something’s waiting.”


Chad shrugs. “I dunno Daddy. I just like the sound of traffic.” [l3-The question of lengthy narrative descriptions In what is purportedly a critical exegesis is addressed in Chapter 5: footnote 67. – Ed.]

Of course, Navidson’s pastoral take on his family’s move hardly reflects the far more complicated and significant impetus behind his project- namely his foundering relationship with longtime companion Karen Green. While both have been perfectly content not to many, Navidson’s constant assignments abroad have led to increased alienation and untold personal difficulties. After nearly eleven years of constant departures and brief returns, Karen has made it clear that Navidson must either give up his professional habits or lose his family. Ultimately unable to make this choice, he compromises by turning reconciliation into a subject for documentation.

None of this, however, is immediately apparent. In fact it requires some willful amnesia of the more compelling sequences ahead, if we are to detect the subtle valences operating between Will and Karen; or as Donna York phrased it, “the way they talk to each other, the way they look after each other, and of course the way they don’t.” [14-Donna York’s “In Twain” in Redbook, v. 186, January 1996, p. 50.]

Navidson, we learn, began his project by mounting a number of Hi 8s around the house and equipping them with motion detectors to turn them on and off whenever someone enters or leaves the room. With the exception of the three bathrooms, there are cameras in every corner of the house. Navidson also keeps on hand two 16mm Arriflexes and his usual battery of 35mm cameras.

Nevertheless, as everyone knows, Navidson’s project is pretty crude. Nothing, for instance, like the constant eye of CCTV systems routinely installed in local banks or the lavish equipment and multiple camera operators required on MTV’s Real World. The whole effort would seem very home movie-ish at best were it not for the fact that Navidson is an exceptionally gifted photographer who understands how one sixtieth of a second can yield an image worth more than twenty-four hours of continuous footage. He is not interested in showing all the coverage or attempting to capture some kind of catholic or otherwise mythical view. Instead he hunts for moments, pearls of the particular, an unexpected phone call, a burst of laughter, or some snippet of conversation which might elicit from us an emotional spark and perhaps even a bit of human understanding.

More often than not, the near wordless fragments Navidson selects reveal what explication could only approximate. Two such instances seem especially sublime, and because they are so short and easy to miss, it is worth reiterating their content here.

In the first one, we see Navidson climbing to the top of the stairs with a crate full of Karen’s things. Their bedroom is still cluttered with lamps in bubble wrap and assorted unpacked suitcases and garbage bags full of clothes. Nothing hangs on the walls. Their bed is not made. Navidson finds some room on top of a bureau to set down his load. He is about to leave when some invisible impulse stops him. He takes Karen’s jewelry box out of the crate, lifts the hand-carved horn lid, and removes the inner tray.

Unfortunately, whatever he sees inside is invisible to the camera.

When Karen walks in carrying a basket stuffed with bedsheets and pillow cases, Navidson has already turned his attention to an old hairbrush lying next to some perfume bottles.

“What are you doing?” she immediately asks.

“This is nice,” he says, removing a big clump of her blonde hair from the tines and tossing it into the wastebasket.

“Give me that,” Karen demands. “Just you watch, one day I’ll go bald, then won’t you be sorry you threw that away.” “No,” Navidson replies with a grin.

It is unnecessary to dwell here on the multiple ways in which these few seconds demonstrate how much Navidson values Karen, [15-See “The Heart’s Device” by Frances Leiderstahi in Science, v. 265 August 5, 1994,

p. 741; Joel Watkin’s “Jewelry Box, Perfume, and Hair” in Mademoiselle, v.

101 May, 1995, p. 178-181; as well as Hardy Taintic’s more ironic piece

“Adult Letters and Family Jewels” The American Scholar, v. 65 spring 1996, p. 219-241] except to highlight how despite his sarcasm and apparent disregard for her things the scene itself represents the exact opposite. Using image and exquisitely controlled edits, Navidson has in effect preserved her hair, called into question his own behavior and perhaps in some ways contradicted his own closing remark, which as Samuel T. Glade has pointed out could refer to either “watch,” “bald,” or “sorry” or all three. [16- Samuel T. Glade’s “Omens & Signs” in Notes From Tomorrow ed. Lisbeth

Bailey (Delaware: Tma Essay Publications, 1996).] Even better, Navidson has permitted the action and subtlety of the composition to represent the profound sentiments at work without the molestations of some ill-conceived voice-over or manipulative soundtrack.

In keeping with this approach, the second moment also does without explanations or disingenuous musical cues. Navidson simply concentrates on Karen Green. Once a model with the Ford Agency in New York, she has since put behind her the life of Milan fashion shoots and Venetian Masques in order to raise her two children. Considering how beautiful she appears on the dreadful Hi 8 tapes, it is hardly surprising editors frequently relied on slides of her pouty lips, high cheek bones, and hazel eyes to sell their magazines.

Early on, Navidson gave Karen a Hi 8 which he asked her to treat like a journal. Her video entries-which Navidson promised to view only after the film was shot and then only if she agreed-reveal a thirty-seven year old woman who worries about leaving the city, growing old, keeping trim, and staying happy. Nevertheless, despite their purely confessional content, it is not a journal entry but rather an unguarded moment captured on one of the house Hi 8s that demonstrates Karen’s almost bewildering dependence on Navidson.

Karen Sits with Chad and Daisy in the living room. The children are in the midst of a candle-making project which involves several empty egg cartons, a dozen long lengths of wick, a bucket of plaster of Paris and a jar full of crystal wax. Using a pair of red handled scissors, Daisy cuts the wicks down to three inch pieces and then presses them down into an egg cup which Chad in turn fills with a layer of plaster followed by a layer of the tiny wax beads. The result is some kind of candle with plenty of goop to go around, most of it ending up on the children’s hands. Karen helps brush the hair out of her daughter’s eyes lest she try to do it herself and end up smearing plaster all over her face. And yet even though Karen keeps Chad from overfilling the molds or Daisy from hurting herself with the scissors, she still cannot resist looking out the window every couple of minutes. The sound of a passing truck causes her to glance away. Even if there is no sound, the weight of a hundred seconds always turns her head.

Though clearly a matter of opinion, Karen’s gaze seems just as lost as it is “surfeit with love and longing.” [17-Max C. Garten’s “100 Looks” in Vogue, v. 185, October 1995, p. 248.] The reasons are in part answered when at last Navidson’s car pulls into the driveway. Karen hardly attempts to contain her relief. She instantly leaps up from the mini candle factory and dashes from the room. Seconds later-no doubt thinking better of herself- she returns.

“Daisy, hold off using the scissors until I get back.” “Mommy!” Daisy shrills.

“You heard what I said. Chad keep an eye on your sister.” “Mommy!” Daisy squealing even louder.

“Daisy, mommy also wants you to look after your brother.”

This seems to appease the little girl, and she actually settles down, smugly eyeing Chad even as she continues to snip wicks.

Strangely enough, by the time Karen reaches Navidson in the foyer, she has quite effectively masked all her eagerness to see him. Her indifference is highly instructive. In that peculiar contradiction that serves as connective tissue in so many relationships, it is possible to see that she loves Navidson almost as much as she has no room for him.

“Hey, the water heater’s on the fritz,” she manages to say.

“When did that happen?”

She accepts his brief kiss.

“I guess last night.”

[18-I got up this morning to take a shower and guess what? No fucking hot water. A pretty evil discovery especially when you’re depending on that watery wake-up call, me being massively dehydrated from a long night drunk my road-dog Lude and I winged our way onto last night. As I’m remembering it now, we somehow ended up at this joint on Pico, and soon thereafter found ourselves in conversation with some girls wearing black cowboy hats, supposedly lost in their own private-blend of brain- hatching euphoria-Thank you Herbal Ecstasy-prompting us to put a little Verbal Ecstasy on them which would, as it turned out, ultimately lead them giggling into the night.

I’ve forgotten now what we did exactly to get the whole thing rolling. I think Lude started giving one of them a trim, whipping out his scissors which he always has on hand, like old gunslingers I guess always had on hand their Colts-there he goes, snipping locks & bangs, doing a great fucking job too, but hey he’s a pro, and all of it in the dark too, on a barstool, surrounded by dozens of who knows who, fingers & steel clicking away, tiny bits of hair spitting off into the surrounding turmoil, the girls all nervous until they see he really is the shit and then they’re immediately chirping “me, next” & “do me” which is too easy to remark upon, so instead Lude & I remark upon something else which this time round is all about some insane adventure I supposedly had when I was a Pit Boxer. Mind you I’d never heard that term before nor had Lude. Lude just made it up and I went with it.

“Aw come on, they don’t want to hear about that,” I said with about as much reluctance as I could reasonably feign.

“No Hoes, you’re wrong,” Lude insisted. “You must.”

“Very well,” I said, starting then to recall for everyone how at the lonely age of nineteen I had climbed off a barge in Galveston.

“Actually I escaped,” I improvised. “See, I still owed my crazy Russian Captain a thousand dollars for a wager I’d lost in Singapore.

He wanted to murder me so I practically had to run the whole way to


“Don’t forget to tell them about the birds,” Lude winked. He was just throwing shit at me, something he loved doing, keeping me on my toes.

“Sure,” I mumbled, stretching for an explanation. “This barge I’d been on was loaded with dates and pounds of hash and an incredible number of exotic birds, all of it, of course, illegal to transport, but what did I know? It didn’t exactly affect me. And anyway, I wasn’t sticking around. So I reach Houston and the first thing that happens, some twerp comes up and tries to rob me.”

Lude frowned. He clearly wasn’t pleased with what I’d just done to his birds.

I ignored him and continued.

“This guy just walked straight over and told me to give him all my money. I didn’t have a dime on me but it wasn’t like this weasely sonofabitch had a weapon or anything. So I slugged him. Down he went. But not for long. A second later he pops up again and you know what? he’s smiling, and then this other guy joins him, much bigger, and he was smiling too and shaking my hand, congratulating me. They’d been searching all day for a Pit Boxer, pay was two hundred dollars a night and apparently I’d just made the grade. This weasely sonofabitch was the head interviewer. His partner referred to him as Punching Bag.”

By now the girls were crowding around me & Lude, sucking down more drinks and all in all falling into the rhythm of the story. Carefully, I led them through that first night, describing the ring with its dirt floor surrounded by hordes of folk come to bet a few dollars and watch guys hurt -hurt themselves, hurt someone else. Gloves were not an option in this kind of fighting. Miraculously, I made it through alive. I actually won my first two fights. A couple of bruises, a cut cheek, but I walked with two hundred bucks and Punching Bag forked for ribs and beer and even let me crash on his couch. Not bad. So I continued. In fact, for a whole month I did this twice a week.

“See the scar on his eyebrow there-” Lude pointed, giving the girls one of those all knowing completely over-the-top nods.

“Is that how you broke your front tooth too?” a girl with a ruby pin in her cowboy hat blurted out, though as soon as she said it, I could see she felt bad about mentioning my busted incisor.

“I’m getting to that,” I said with a smile.

Why not work the tooth into it too?, I thought.

After three-four weeks, I continued, I had enough dough to pay back the Captain and even keep a bit for myself. I was pretty tired of the whole thing anyway.

The fights were bad enough. “And incidentally I’d won every one,” I added. Lude scoffed. “But having to be wary all the time around the likes of Punching Bag & his partner, that was by far the worst aspect. Also, as it turned out, the place I was staying in was a whorehouse, full of these sad girls, who between their own senseless rounds would talk about the simplest, most inconsequential things. I liked it better on the barge, even with the Captain and his murderous moods.

“Well my last night, the twerp pulls me aside and suggests I bet my dough on myself. I tell him I don’t want to because I could lose. ‘You stupid fucking kid,’ he spits at me. ‘You’ve won every fight so far.’ ‘Yeah,’ I say. ‘So?’ ‘Well figure it out. It’s not because you’re any good. They’ve all been fixed. I find some lump, pay him fifty bucks to swing and dive. We make a killing on the bets. You won last week, you won the week before, you’ll win tonight. I’m just trying to help you out here.’

“So being the stupid kid I was I bet all the money I had and walked into the ring. Who do you think was there waiting from me?”

I gave everyone a chance to come up with their own answer while I drained my glass of beer, but no one had a clue who I was about to fight. Even Lude was a step behind. Of course, that depends on how you look at it: he was also fondling the ass of a girl with a tourmaline in her cowboy hat while she in turn, or so it appeared to me, was caressing the inside of his thigh.

“In the middle of all those Houston losers, all of ’em screaming odds, screaming money, licking their gums for blood, stood Punching Bag, fists all taped up and not even the flicker of a smile or the slightest bit of recognition in his eye. Boy, let me tell you, he turned out to be a meanspirited remorseless S.O.B. That first round he knocked me down twice.

The second round I almost didn’t get up.

“All month long, he and his partner had been boosting the numbers on me so that when Punching Bag-and at this point he was the long shot- slaughtered me, they’d walk with a small fortune. Or run. Me though, a dumb nineteen year old who’d wandered into Galveston after three months at sea, I was going to lose my money and wind up in a hospital. Maybe worse. Since the fights were just three rounds long, I only had one more left to do something. His partner threw a bucket of ice water in my face and told me to crawl out there and get it over with.

“As I wobbled to my feet, I shook my head, and saying it loud enough so he could hear me, but not so loud so he’d think I was selling something, I said that it was all too bad because I’d been planning to use my money to buy a shipment of some stuff worth at least a thousand percent on the street.

“Well, the next round, the last round I should say, Punching Bag broke my tooth. I was out. They’d both originally planned to ditch me but my little gambit had worked. After what the partner had heard me say, which I’m sure he shared as soon as he could with Punching Bag, they dragged me along, dumped some whiskey into me in their truck and then started grilling me about that stuff I’d been babbling about, trying to find out what was worth a thousand percent.

“Now I was in a bad way, more than a little afraid that they’d do something really evil if they found out I’d been bullshitting them. Still, if I stayed in Houston I’d probably be lynched by the bettors who by now had figured out something was sour which could only mean one thing to them (all explanations to the grave): Punching Bag & his partner and me were to blame. I had to think fast and besides, I still wanted my money back, so-“

By now even Lude was hooked. They all were. The girls all engrossed and smiling and still shimmying closer, as if maybe by touching me they could find out for sure if I was for real. Lude knew it was pure crap but he had no clue where I was heading. To tell you the truth neither did I. So I took my best shot.

“I pointed them to the barge. I hadn’t figured out what I’d do once we got there but I knew the ship was leaving with the tide early next morning so we had to hurry. Luckily we arrived in time and I immediately went off to find the Captain who as soon as he saw me grabbed me by the throat. Somehow between gasps, I succeeded in telling him about Punching Bag & his partner and their money-all their money which included my money most of which was in essence the Captain’s money. That got the bastard listening. A few minutes later, he sauntered over to the duo, poured them coffee mugs full of vodka, and in his incomprehensible accent, began going on and on about pure New Guinea value.

“Punching Bag had no idea what this idiot was talking about, neither did I for that matter, but an hour and two bottles of vodka later, he came to the conclusion that the Captain must be talking about drugs. After all the Captain kept mentioning euphoria, Spanish explorers and paradise, even though he refused to show Punching Bag the tiniest bit of anything tangible, vaguely referring to custom officials and the constant threat of confiscation and jail.

“Now here was the clincher. While he’s babbling on, this van drives up and a guy no one has ever seen before or ever will see again gets out, gives the Captain a thousand dollars, takes one crate and then drives off. Just like that, and boy does that do it. Without even examining what he’s buying, Punching Bag hands over five g’s. The Captain, keeping his word, immediately loads five crates into the back of Punching Bag’s truck.

“I’m sure the twerp would of inspected them right on the spot, except suddenly in the distance we all start hearing police sirens or harbor patrol sirens or some such shit. They weren’t after us, but Punching Bag & his partner still got spooked and took off as fast as they could.

“Even after we got out to sea, the Captain was still laughing. I wasn’t though. The bastard wouldn’t give me any of my money. By his way of thinking-and him explaining this to me in that incomprehensible accent of his-I owed him for saving my life, not to mention transporting my sorry ass all the way to Florida, where I finally did end up going, nearly dying in a cold water place called the Devil’s Ear which is an altogether different story.

“Still it wasn’t so bad, especially when I think now and then about Punching Bag & his partner. I mean I wonder what they did, what they said, when they finally tore open all those crates and discovered all those fucking birds. Over fifty Birds of Paradise.

“A few months later I did read somewhere how Houston Police busted two known felons trying to unload a bunch of exotic birds at a zoo.”

Which was pretty much how that story ended or at least the story I told last night. Maybe not verbatim but close.

Unfortunately nothing happened with the girls. They just ran off giggling into the night. No digits, no dates, not even their names, leaving me feeling dumb and sad, a bit like a broken thermos-fine on the outside, but on the inside nothing but busted glass. And why I’m going on about any of this right now is beyond me. I’ve never even seen a Bird of Paradise. And I sure as hell have never boxed or been on a barge. In fact just looking at this story makes me feel a little queasy all of a sudden. I mean how fake it is. Just sorta doesn’t sit right with me. It’s like there’s something else, something beyond it all, a greater story still looming in the twilight, which for some reason I’m unable to see.

Anyway I didn’t mean to wander into all this. I was telling you about the shower. That’s what I wanted to deal with. As you probably know, finding out there’s no warm water is a particularly unpleasant discovery simply because it’s not something you figure out immediately. You have to let the water run awhile and even though it remains icy, part of you still refuses to believe it won’t change, especially if you wait a little longer or open up the valve a little more. So you wait but no matter how many minutes run by, you still see no steam, you still feel no heat.

Maybe a cold shower would of been good for me. The thought crossed my mind but I was already too freezing to try for even a quick one. I don’t even know why I was freezing. It was pretty warm in my place. Even warmer outside. Not even my big brown corduroy coat helped.

Later I spotted some workers in back tackling the water heater.

One of them, snorting on a dirty handkerchief, covered in tatts, Manson crucified on his back, told me it would be fixed by evening. It’s not.

Now I’m sure you’re wondering something. Is it just coincidence that this cold water predicament of mine also appears in this chapter?

Not at all. Zampanô only wrote “heater.” The word “water” back there -I added that.

Now there’s an admission, eh?

Hey, not fair, you cry.

Hey, hey, fuck you, I say.

Wow, am I mad right now. Clearly a nerve’s been hit somewhere but I don’t how, why or by what. I sure don’t believe it’s because of some crummy made-up story or a lousy (water) heater.

Can’t follow the feeling.

If only any of it were true. I mean we’d all be so lucky to wind up a punching bag and still find our crates full of Birds of Paradise.

No such luck with this crate.

Let the cold water run.

It’s gotta warm up eventually.


What both these moments reveal is how much Will and Karen need each other and yet how difficult they find handling and communicating those feelings.

Unfortunately, critics have been less than sympathetic. Following the release of The Navidson Record, neither Karen nor Navidson’s reputation escaped unscathed. Karen, in particular, was decimated by a vituperative stream of accusations from the tabloids, reputable reviewers, and even an estranged sister. Leslie Buckman blows high the roof beams when she calls “Karen Green a cold bitch, plain and simple. A high-fashion model, not much smarter than a radiator, who grew up thinking life revolved around club owners, cocaine and credit card limits. Watching her burble on about her weight, her children, or how much she needs Navidson made me want to retch. How can she say she loves a man when she’s incapable of anything even remotely resembling commitment? Did I say she was a cold bitch? She’s also a slut.” [19″Lie Lexicon and Feminine Wiles” by Leslie Buckman published in All In The Name Of Feminism: A Collection Of

Essays ed. Nadine Muestopher (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Shtrön Press, 1995), p. 344.]

Buckman is not alone in her opinion. Dale Corrdigan has also pointed out that Karen was anything but a lovely housewife: “Karen hardly gave up the promiscuous behavior that marked her 20s. She only became more discreet.” [20-Dale Corrdigan, “Blurbs,” Glamour, v. 94, April 1996, p.


In retrospect, the rabid speculation over Karen’s infidelities seems driven by a principally sexist culture, especially since so little attention was paid to Navidson’s role in their relationship. As David Liddel once exclaimed: “If he has horns, who’s to say he doesn’t have hooves?” [21-

“A Horny Duo” by David Liddel, Utne Reader, July/August 1993, p. 78.] Fortunately unlike the biased treatment offered by the media, Navidson does not hesitate to constantly include in his film evidence of his own failings. In fact as of late, many have called into question the accuracy of this self- portrait, observing that Navidson may have gone too far out of his way to cast himself in a less than favorable light. [22-Ascencion Gerson’s

“The Vanity of Self-Loathing” in Collected Essays on Self-Portraiture ed.

Haldor Nervene (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1995), p. 58.]

Not only does Navidson reveal through Karen, Chad, and Daisy how he spent the last decade perfecting a career in distance, where taking off on a moment’s notice to shoot Alaskan fishing boats was something his family had to just accept, even if that three day trip slowly evolved into weeks and even months, he also, by way of the film, admits to carrying around his own alienating and intensely private obsessions.

As it turns out though, the first hint concerning these dark broodings does not come from him but from Karen. Navidson’s early Hi 8 journal entries are so easy and mild they rarely, if ever, allude to deeper troubles.

Only Karen, staring straight into that little lens, brings up the problem.

“He mentioned Delial again,” she says in an extremely clipped tone. “I’ve warned him if he’s not going to tell me who she is he better damn not bring her up. Part of this move south was supposed to be about putting the past and all that behind us. He’s been pretty good but I guess he can’t control his dreams. Last night, I wasn’t sleeping very well. I was cold. It’s the middle of May but I felt like I was lying in a freezer. I got up to get a blanket and when I came back he was talking in his sleep: ‘Delial.’ Just like that. Out of the blue. And I’m certain because he said her name twice.

Almost shouted it.”

As it turns out, Karen was not the only one who was kept in the dark about Delial. Even friends and fellow photojournalists who had heard Navidson use the name before never received any sort of explanation. No one had any idea who she was or why it was she haunted his thoughts and conversation like some albatross. [23-Since the revelation, there has been a proliferation of material on the subject. Chapter XIX deals exclusively with the subject. See also Chris Ho’s “What’s in a name?” Afterimage, v. 31, December, 1993; Dennis Stake’s Delia! (Indianapolis:

Bedeutungswandel Press, 1995); Jennifer Caps’ Delia!, Beatrice, and

Dulcinea (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Thumos Inc., 1996); Lester Breman’s

“Tis but a Name” in Ebony, no. 6, May 1994, p. 76; and Tab Fulrest’s

Ancient Devotions (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995).]

That said, while the first sequence certainly hints at a number of underlying tensions in the Navidson/Green family, all brought into relief by this chapter, it is crucial not to lose sight of the prevailing sense of bliss still evoked in those opening minutes. After a couple of nights, Chad no longer has trouble sleeping. After a couple of days, Daisy’s nipped finger heals. The heater is easily repaired. Even both parents enjoy a private moment where their hands can playfully unlock and interlock, Will finally putting his arm around Karen as she, letting out a heart-stirring sigh, rests her head on his shoulder.

In fact it is rare to behold such radiant optimism in anything these days, let alone in films, each frame so replete with promise and hope. Navidson clearly cherishes these bucolic, near idyllic impressions of a new world. Of course, nostalgia’s role in shaping the final cut must not be forgotten, especially since within a year these pieces were all Navidson had left- Karen and the children a mere blur racing down the staircase, the pointillism of their pets’ paw prints caught on the dew covered lawn, or the house itself, an indefinite shimmer, sitting quietly on the corner of Succoth and Ash Tree Lane, bathed in afternoon light.

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