2018, HD video, 14 minutes
A fantastical journey from the filmmaker’s childhood re-enactment of The Fall of Pompeii through decades and decline into the Sibyl’s Cave wherein she discovers Vesuvius' symbiosis with cinema, memory, and Giambattista Vico’s spiral of time.
Christin Turner’s Vesuvius at Home (2018) is an experimental travelogue film about Pompeii more than two decades in the making. Part psychogeography, part memoir, it combines fragments from home movies shot on both Super 8 and video. The former was recorded during recent pilgrimages to the heavily-touristed archaeological site of Pompeii, and to the long-dormant shooting location of a “sword & sandal” epic in the California desert. This footage is then punctuated with grainy clips of handheld video documenting a performance by Turner’s third-grade elementary school class, where she and her classmates re-enact scenes from the ancient Roman city that was buried under volcanic ash in 79 A.D. Thus, as Turner films her rambles through the picturesque ruins of Pompeii and its Hollywood simulacrum, she is belatedly fulfilling a childhood fantasy shot through with both morbid fascination and cinematic imaginings.
Frozen in time by volcanic fallout, Pompeii consists of ruins and traces; it represents the aftermath of an event more than an actual, living place. As a site dedicated to preserving the moment of its own catastrophic destruction, Pompeii’s existence is a paradox, one that Vesuvius at Home links to the contradictions of cinematic experience itself. In this, Turner draws inspiration from a foundational analogy within film studies, wherein lens-based indexical media are likened to archaeological artifacts, each shot or frame functioning like a relic, fossil or shard; in the famous words of film critic and theorist André Bazin, the photographic image is “change mummified.”(1) By excavating, re-assembling, and glitching fragments of old media—whether vintage VHS or recently-shot Super 8—Turner stitches antiquity into her home movies, a genre in which fragmentation and glitch offer signals of authenticity rather than failure. And yet, as a home movie about a city in ruins, Vesuvius at Home is not simply a compilation of old and new media, it is a rumination on what it means to feel estranged from home, and by extension, what it means to make oneself at home in, and through, cinema.
What does it mean to feel “at home”? Feminist theorist Sara Ahmed writes: “home is not simply about fantasies of belonging—where do I originate from—[…] it is sentimentalized as a space of belonging (‘home is where the heart is’). The question of home and being at home can only be addressed by considering the question of affect: being at home is here a matter of how one feels or how one might fail to feel.”(2) If the sentimental ideal of home is a “question of affect” rather than culture or geography, then alongside its typical associations with belonging, family, intimacy, and plenitude, “home” entails conflicting associations with estrangement, displacement, loss, and failure; it is not simply a matter of feeling, but a matter of how one might fail to feel.
In Turner’s film, home figures as more than just a feeling and its inevitable failures, it is matter of montage. Her home movie makes itself “at home” amongst ruins of the past, both her own and Pompeii’s, through a homely assemblage of old and new, autobiography and history, memory and its mediation. Thinking of home beyond its intimate significance as a sentimental ideal, and more as a euphemism for national borders, citizenship, territorial sovereignty, and private property, what, then, does it mean to feel “at home” in an age of global migrancy and mass displacement, climate crisis and impending ecological collapse? As the future of planetary habitability remains an open question, who, if anyone, will have the right to call a place “home”? A cinematic reflection on home, history, and extinction, Vesuvius gestures to these existential questions that linger expectantly before us, like a cloud of volcanic ash on the horizon.
(1) André Bazin, “The Ontology of the Photographic Image,” trans. Hugh Gray, Film Quarterly, Vol. 13, No. 4 (Summer 1960), 8. Jeffrey Skoller revives and adapts this archaeo-cinematic metaphor in Shadows, Spectres, Shards: Making History in Avant-Garde Film (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005).
(2) Sara Ahmed, “Home and Away: Narratives of Migration and Estrangement,” International Journal of Cultural Studies, Vol. 2, No. 3 (1999), 341.
Directed, Filmed, Edited by Christin TurnerProducer: Tommaso CennamoAdditional Cinematography: Ciro BertoliniAssistant Editor: John RomanoSpecial Effects: Kevin T. MillerSound Design: Christin Turner
Cast:Rich Lady: Christin TurnerSoldier: John Romano & Vincent MingarelliTeacher: Mrs. Lucille LoomisStudents: The third grade class of Morehead City Elementary 1993, North Carolina, USA
Filmed on location in Lucerne Valley, California and Campania, Italy
Funded in part by a grant from the Virgil Grillo Memorial Fund in Film Production of the University of Colorado-Boulder Film Studies Program
In memory of Giandomenico Acampora