On my last visit to Austin, I combed the archives at the Harry Ransomed Center and came upon this surprise–one of the only short works by Coetzee. Watching the video first (below) is recommended.
Once there was a man on a boat. He had incredible arms and more incredible black braids. He knew a woman who liked to hold up slides and wear pants with polka-dots.
But there was also a painter–with unbelievable black braids. On a beach, one of the braided men walked with the woman.
The man on the boat liked to sing with an orange tint suffusing him and–oh, he’s the one walking on the beach with the woman. While the painter painted, the man on the boat remembered in black and white how he laughed with the polka-dot wearing woman. Meanwhile, the painter showed the slide-liking woman some slides, but he was turned down by her, and a little angry about it. (No, wait, he has a show later in the video, so she must like it, yes? But the actors are not…acting…or acting like anything is happening?) Did I mention he is also singing? Did I mention I don’t really know what past is the actual past? Let me change tenses about as much as the color changes in these memories. He’s gonna miss that girl too, but has he had a past with her? Why is he upset? How can I be watching the painter jerk his head at 1:34-5 like a howling coyote as he says, “Yooouuu,” and keep a straight face?
Hi! I am a woman in a big hat. I grab hold of hat in color. I take it off in black and white. Black and white, black and white, hmmmmm. I like the painter now and I am NOT like a goddamned honey bee. I can make any painter stop painting if I want to, it says so in the script the producer gave me.
I miss you! says boat man, eyes drawn down as his boat is not moving anymore, moored as the Moor, and he remembers how the woman had no belly, but he still had to push the black braids out of his eyes, but he pushed them warmly, happy to be armed with a no belly woman, happy to have memories of the flames of their fling.
I’m the painter and I’m fucking mad. I am now remembering something I can’t even understand because I don’t think it happened. Boat man is walking on the beach with my lady, in color! Does color mean it is not a memory? Does color mean I should not worry? Why am I painting in black and white when I paint in color?
Willkommen to my mess. I’m the German video director and I don’t have to explain to you why I used the same insert shot at 2:40 of the polka-dot princess as I did in the beginning. If you want a reason why–it’s called money. And I told him not to splay his hand so wide while crooning–Klaus Kinski can overact because he can act, Ich sagte zu him, but you can’t act–or sing. Still, kiss my German heart because you are so beautiful and I love the braids.
The woman goes back with the boat man after a dozen roses winningly wins her winsome smile for him who had lost her. Yet the painter has been painting a portrait of her. But polka-dot woman does not like paintings of her–everybody is upset and nobody wins, yet nobody knows the stakes, because when the dream is over we must raise sail, we must rise out of the fire of the confused heart–those poor, confused hearts who we let litter our beaches with burning paintings of blondes.