Marie Buck and Matthew Walker
My first summer after high school I work the buy counter at CD Source in Dallas, scamming customers with terrible deals on DVDs and then turning around and buying those DVDs for myself at the outrageously low sale prices I sticker onto the covers. I hide this stash of DVDs in my personal plastic bin at the back of the store—each employee has their own bin—so that I can purchase them later. Terry Gilliam’s Brazil. Coppola’s The Godfather trilogy.
Someone mistakenly puts a DVD of Breathless in my plastic bin, intending it instead for a lover or crush’s box. Thinking a secret admirer has placed it there for me, I take it home that night and watch it.
At CD Source my coworker Rick is stiff competition for laying claim to all the Criterion that comes through the store. In front of both Rick and me, our manager Larry picks up the Criterion edition of My Man Godfrey as it comes across the buy counter, feigning interest in buying it himself, seemingly just to anger us, knowing we both want it very badly.
The shop has a seedy feeling, full of items that previously collected dirt and dust in the corners of people’s homes. And of all the places in the store, the buy counter feels the most illicit.
A fair amount of used porn comes across the counter: piles of DVD cases show up in black plastic bags, disconcertingly warm from baking in glove compartments in the Texas summer heat. Employees handle the smut as quickly as possible, briefly glancing at the bottoms of the discs to ensure there aren’t an egregious number of scratches before hiding the DVDs away in a white cabinet marked with a trio of Xs.
One day Eli tells me about going through an entire box of condoms during a weekend hotel stay with a former girlfriend.
Another day Josh, sitting right next to me, blurts out that he has “a chubby.”
Amy tells me one day that she snorts heroin to help her fall asleep.
And Lauren tells me that, the prior summer, a beloved CD Source coworker killed himself. An odd, tense half-grin forms on her face as she says that it was “really awful.”
Rachel tells me about how she lost her virginity to a stranger at a party, then asks if I think she’s a slut. Later, she tells me she has a crush on me, the words casually dropping from her mouth as she keeps her eyes down, using a price gun to sticker labels onto a stack of Prince CDs. Later we go to the movies to watch Saved with Jena Malone and Macaulay Culkin, and afterwards, I go back to her place and try on her high school cheerleading outfit, my legs feeling sexy as the pleated skirt rides up past my thighs.
One day Rick has a breakdown combing through a cardboard box of Sinatra and Julie London discs. He excuses himself and takes a break on the bench behind the shop, murmuring to himself while smoking a cigarette well past the filter, burning his fingers and seeming not to notice. Later, Rick gets fired for what he describes to me as a “shady buy.”
I like movies that have no faith in anything.
You reveal that as a middle schooler, you did a research paper on JFK’s assassination and got to go do archival research by yourself at the Sixth Floor museum.
The night after we watch The Eternal Frame, I watch the Zapruder footage because I realize I never have.
And what’s shocking is that no one seems to know the basics of what happened even in the moment. I read that investigations afterward were about how many shots bystanders heard, with 80% of people reporting three shots, but the other 20% mostly saying two. Everything isn’t mediated yet in the 60s, so there is not a lot of actual record, hence the importance of the Zapruder footage.
In the footage Kennedy seems to do something for a second, then his head is blown off, and it seems like that first doing something for a second must be him getting hit in the arm or something. And it turns out no one knows: everyone just watches this same footage, or examines the body, and speculates. The truth of it lost to history and known by no one.
Jackie Kennedy seems to attend to her husband for a second, after that first moment, and then, when his head is blown off, she starts to climb out over the trunk of the car. I register this first as escape: as a gesture of pure fear—she flees her partner as he dies, a kind of base animal reaction.
But it’s obviously not a good way to escape—she’s actually more exposed. Apparently she later has no recollection of climbing onto the back of the car. The secret service member who, at that same moment, runs from behind to try to jump into the car and shield the president, but doesn’t make it in time, says that the First Lady seemed to be trying to grab something, possibly part of Kennedy’s skull that had been blown to the trunk of the car.
She’s not abandoning Kennedy; she’s trying to save bits of his brain.
Both Morgan’s Cake and Slacker have these striking scenes with things marked off as camera footage: in Morgan’s Cake, the characters meet a guy on the beach who is shooting the ocean, and then he gives them his camera.
In Slacker, the last conspiracy-type guy we see drives around and spews vitriol from a speaker attached to the roof of his car. Then, a bunch of kids drive by him holding hand-held cameras and we switch to their view; the coloring of the film changes, and we’re one of these many handheld cameras and we go off romping on a mountain vista to upbeat music, until we see one of the kids throw a camera off the mountain and the perspective shifts and then we, the viewers, become the camera, tumbling through the air.
Likewise in Morgan’s Cake, the footage of the ocean waves, which we see played repeatedly, is where utopia lies.
It’s hard, in looking at the world, to not shift into irony, but we regain our footing when we hold the camera. A sense of hope lost in the moment—Jackie O. chases a piece of skull to put it back on our lover’s head, but later we won’t remember. And it’s better to make the footage again, to create distance, than to chase it down to look for truth; better to throw the camera down the mountain and film it happening.
Marie Buck is the author of Unsolved Mysteries (Roof Books, 2020), Goodnight, Marie, May God Have Mercy on Your Soul (Roof Books, 2017), and Portrait of Doom (Krupskaya, 2015). They are the managing and web literary editor at Social Text and live in Brooklyn.
Matthew Walker is the executive director of Primary Information, a nonprofit publisher of artists' books, and one half of Ex-Official, an imprint and production house for electronic music occupying a liminal space between hard boundaries.