by Philip Quinn
I shut the drapes in my apartment and place the single
frame of film in
the slide projector. I turn the projector on. Gabriel
has moved his head closer
for a kiss, and Evangeline is waiting.
I watch them, imagining how alive they could be if I
had a complete
sequence of images.
The decaying film smells like vinegar. To remove the
smell from my hands, I
use a raspberry-kiwi solution that I purchased from The
Heads without bodies. A crowd scene smeared into a grey
without a future. The film is in so many bits and
pieces. I have trouble
keeping the story straight. But I know how my story
He stands by the window. I sit on the unmade bed. He
doesn't look at
me as he says, "This isn't working out."
I go dead inside, can't think of anything to say, so I
He was in Toronto to do research on
early films. We met at the Film Institute.
Went out. Saw movies
together, not films. That was my distinction. Made
love. Saw other movies. Spent
hours in darkness. I finally told him about Evangeline,
film ever shot in Canada and how I found a copy of it
and kept it for
myself. He told me he could find a buyer for it. He
thought everything had
Of course, I knew he was married.
The lines from Longfellow's poem "Evangeline" are used as
throughout the silent black and white film. The actors
float in the space
between the words. I use the poem as a guide to putting
the film back together.
I know that at some point in the year 1755, Evangeline
and Gabriel will attempt
to marry but they will become separated during the
deportation of the Acadians
from Nova Scotia by the British. I know that eventually
Evangeline will find
Gabriel again, only to have him die in her arms during
an epidemic. I know all
this but I keep hoping for a different ending.
I know he has returned to his wife in Boston. I could
follow become a woman
gone bad from the waiting, something rancid and
Each night that he's not with me, he's with her. Do I
hate myself that
Evangeline is shot in Nova Scotia in 1913, one year
before the Great
War. I wonder how many of the actors and crew will die
at places like Ypres, the
Somme, their bodies displacing the wet, blood-filled
None of this is known to them but it is the subtext to
they do. If we knew the future, would we act at all?
My reaction is to stop, become a freeze frame of
myself, a dark,
silent image. I identify with Laura Lyman who plays
Evangeline. We have
the same exquisite features, the same hopeful
expression. We are both very
young, probably too trusting. Our long hair falls to
I project myself back there with her. Cabins and tents
bush. Mosquitoes everywhere. We pick up and move
frequently, traveling in
rented trucks from Grand Pré to the Annapolis Valley.
Conditions are very rough
and primitive. Everywhere I go, I feel watched. I know
the older actors are
wondering if I will hold up.
Because of their scrutiny, I think through every
action. Before peeing in a
squatting position over a dirt hole, I ask Marguerite
Marquis who plays a
Shawnee Indian woman to shield me from the eyes of the
At night, I attempt to deal with my overwhelming
feelings for Gabriel
or the actor who plays Gabriel. They are the same to me
now. I confess my love
to E.P. Sullivan who plays Father Felican, our village
He shrugs his shoulders, gives me a soulful look. I
suspect he is playing
to the others. I try to read his lips but I can't.
Between us, the subtitle
would probably read: Soon the picture will be over and
you will resume your
real life. What life, I think. My hands are breaking
touching the wrong things. Of course, John F. Carleton
who plays Gabriel
Gabriel should have been an angel, and Evangeline, what
sort of name is
that? It breaks apart into the words
He laughed when I told him, "I'll miss you." He laughed
like it was the
wrong line, but the light was right and the ragged
pieces of film matched as I
handed him a section.
I've taken to hiding out in the silent darkness of my
I will give my supervisor at the Film Institute what I
my sins, describe to her how I came across Evangeline
in five rusty tin cans
that were removed from a barn near Caledon, Ontario.
It was with other
films but I kept Evangeline for myself.
No need to tell her that I couldn't make it whole. She
can see the
evidence of my failure. Maybe someone with better
technical skills can truly
restore this ruined film of tragic love. Or will it
always, only be
The director, William H. Cavanaugh, tells me to walk
My actions are exaggerated, show a jerkiness. That
technology will come. As
the words will some day out of my silent
I put all my feeling
into my eyes and hands, begging Gabriel to stay and if
he does go, to make sure
he dies. I hold a fragment of his angel wing. A piece
of film shot in Nova
Scotia in 1913. It is now July 7, 2001. The smell of
vinegar. Of chemicals gone
bad. Of something really good, gone bad.
Philip Quinn's work has appeared in a diverse range of publications
including Inkstone, Rampike, sub-Terrain, Shard,
blood+aphorisms, Front & Centre, Quarry, Canadian Fiction
magazine, Cabaret Vert, Kiss Machine, Lichen, and
Broken Pencil. On-line appearances include: Laura Hird's Showcase,
Eli Mae, and The Shore Magazine.
Publications are Dis Location: Stories After the Flood and The Double, a
novel. He lives in Toronto.