It is astonishing how quickly he fills up a room with all those past selves. When he‘s been restless, you would believe the Terracotta army had crossed the sea, stomping along its quiet floor, just to surround him. His wife frequently had to free him from prisons formed from his wake, which, within the past year, had begun to manifest as fully functioning, but lifeless, reproductions, frozen in the position of his last movement: fleshy mannequins in his own image. To save time, and unnecessary worry and terror (which belonged to whom it is difficult to say), Jackson and his wife have predetermined exact patterns through their home so that he can move around without creating a dead end. He walks close to the walls of each room, taking narrow tacks into the centre if he needs to get something, say on a table. Yellow strips of tape mark Jackson‘s optimum paths through their house. I‘ve noticed my assistants have started to follow these without thinking. Even I, on occasion, have felt a relief in following that tape, as if deciding where to place my feet was a burden generously lifted by those yellow Kinseological lines. I also have a piece, this one blue, attached to my elbow by Jackson‘s wife, a physiotherapist, to hold my tendons in such a way as to relieve me of pain when I hold the camera.
I never realised how randomly we walk, how inexact and clumsy our primary method of transportation can be. Children and the suspicious know and fight this, but even the most contained of adults will throw their legs forward without a thought beyond a final destination. For a segment of the film—I may use it as an introduction depending on its impact—I replicated Jackson‘s difficulties by tying a red string to my waist before strolling through a forest. (An assistant ties the other end to the car and holds it taut. Another films me from a distance.) Within minutes my possible routes are narrowed by lines of string looped around the trees. After half an hour I have painted the forest red and stand near the centre in a small clearing: about three paces squared. I had previously forbidden my assistants to rescue me until an hour had passed, so I waited, surrounded by my self-imposed, arbitrary, restrictions. The footage really makes you think, which is difficult.
Jackson tends to forget his assigned paths when angry or upset. It‘s fascinating how each mood corresponds to a different pattern of walking. In anger he moves in jagged zig zags, in sadness and rumination his steps take him in ever decreasing circles until he becomes stuck in his centre. Sometimes, and this seems to be dependent on the subject of his ruminations and the speed of his steps, he creates wheels within wheels—jangly spoked bicycle wheels. In happiness he creates great looping patterns that can end anywhere. I took him out to a field where we had a camera placed on a crane. We caught marvellous images of his anger. From high enough, all those dead copies become little dark blotches—you can really understand the pattern of his mind. There are aspects of cubism there, the geometricity, the distortion—he could be an outsider modernist. I could make him that. With this strange man and his forever shedding selves as my paint, I could do that.
When he traps himself, after pacing and pacing, usually in the kitchen, until he has no way out, he has to be calm in the midst of them. I don‘t like their glassy stares that follow you, in that way inanimate things do so eerily, those fresh mannequins with real hair and teeth, so I have my assistants remove him. That‘s probably why the wife allowed us to film. She used to have to do it. I have allocated someone to take care of all that now, allowing her to return to work. I did it once. When I got through, I wasn‘t sure which one was him. It was like finding yourself in a room built of mirrors reflecting somebody else. It was horrible to be crowded by all those things. Jackson had to keep still at that moment. It was imperative he not move so that no more selves formed. I had to touch each one to find him. Their skins felt like hardened wax. I found him, warm and pliable, and edged the trolley under his heels, and he shuffled very slowly on to it, and I wheeled him out through his dead past, pushing them aside. It always unnerves me how light they are. They tumble if you hit them from the right angle, especially the unbalanced ones, one foot above the other in the frozen momentum of Jackson‘s own walk.
It really is a fantastic opportunity to capture movement in all its solid physicality. When we move there is no evidence. If someone was watching you as you stood still, then closed their eyes as you took two steps forward, in the absence of CSI-like instruments they would have only their memory to determine that you hadn‘t already been standing in your new position; that a movement through space in time had occurred. The observer must trust in their memory. Jackson could never deceive anyone about his movements. His every step is documented by his old flesh. To watch him run is to see an extending diagram of a man running, each position recorded by an exact copy, with him alive at the very end of a line made of his immediate and decaying past. Old or poor recording equipment creates a blur if your subject moves too fast for the shutter. Jackson‘s selves make that blur physical and real. They make that reality true and make us question what we previously believed—the meaning of truth opened up like an ancient beetle, like an empty shell or flower that is more beautiful to us at night.
Their shelf date is about two days, after that… philosophy is dragged from the drawing room out to the wilderness. What is death if a man can do it so often and shuffle free each time? Death as a biological imperative, the necessity of which we have yet to discover. He dies to live. I have my assistants truck the dead selves away to the dump after a day, just to be sure. The landfill looks like the aftermath of something despicable. Note: it might make a good last scene, an aerial tracking shot revealing mountains and valleys peopled by his rotting selves: the end at the end, this is the end, death‘s dream kingdom etc.
We accompany him on his weekly visit to his psychiatrist. The woman is odd and, in my view, completely inefficient as a professional and, very likely, as a human. She propositioned me once, when Jackson and his wife were settling up with the secretary. She called me back and said she had always seen herself as a bohemian but her parents had made her quit painting at a young age. Then she tried to kiss me. I let her, but up close she had a sour body odour undisguised by soap or perfume. I pulled away and said I had to go. I said it quietly, looking deep into her eyes, the way you relay significant news to someone you care for, and left her wondering. I didn‘t mean it to, but the way I said it left me wondering a little too. Never trust a psychiatrist. She almost always presents a new pill for Jackson when we sit in her office. They are side-effect factories housed in pretty antibacterial cases. None have had any effect on his condition. They change his moods, cause gastrointestinal issues, one even coloured his skin a deep shade of orange. Seeing him walk down the road was like watching a tangerine peel itself in a slow-motion kamikaze. It might make for a humorous part of the documentary if things get a bit heavy. Note: tone.
Jackson conducted orchestras. He obviously cannot do this in his current condition—it would be illogical to have more conductors than members of the orchestra, even if those conductors are impassive lumps of flesh with only one movement—hence his fevered visits to specialists of every kind in search of treatment. I tried to get him to conduct on camera—the visual impact would be striking—something dramatic and romantic like Tchaikovsky, even the psychiatrist agreed with me on that. She is trying more and more to get me to like her since I refused her—in post-production I will enhance her efforts. Jackson has become too cowed by events to do anything like that. He mumbles, something I am told is a new characteristic of his. He says it would be a nightmare to have his orchestra see him so out of control. I have watched videos of his performances. Even with the sound down you can hear the music in his gestures, his dripping sweat and ecstasy. He is like a corpse now, apart from the eyes: all that whirlwind trapped inside those eyes. The psychiatrist believes conducting may even have a restorative effect, but he is steadfast; he is made of countless battalions.
He is cursed with an optimism redolent of an earlier age and so he doesn‘t allude to it, but he must be tired of so many failed explanations. It seems everyone has had a go, from specialists in physiology to readers of the future, to plain medical doctors. I‘ve interviewed each one and will enjoy editing their nonsense and bravado. One of the more unusual—and slightly more plausible—theories came from a friend of his at the university, an assistant professor of quantum physics with hair like Medusa, if her snakes were old and tired of mythology. She suggested that every time he moved, he was in fact travelling through the multiverse, almost simultaneously inhabiting each of his infinite selves. She theorised he was the most forceful of his selves and so they grabbed on to him and landed in this dimension when he stopped moving. They cannot survive here, possibly due to the slightly altered content of our air, which may be toxic to them. They coalesce into the singular and it appears as if he is shedding a self.
I don‘t agree with her. Neither does Jackson‘s wife. She looks like an older Monica Belluci and she has a yen for continental philosophy. If Jackson dies of whatever it is that afflicts him—and we all hope he doesn‘t—I promise I will look after her every need. Veronica, that‘s his wife, thinks his problem is existential. It‘s to do with a lack of meaning, she says—in his search for a meaning, he is beginning to disintegrate. If he doesn‘t find his meaning soon, he will die a death of fragmentation. This was the first time we had a proper conversation sans cameras, assistants, Jackson. At first her words tumbled over those red velvet cushioned lips like inflexible gymnasts, but soon they stretched and then flipped into the accepting silence I had created: From the perspective of the man in the street Jackson looks like a perfect specimen, she said. I used to think he was, especially when I first played cello in his orchestra. I fell in love with that man. Now that I know him, I see that persona was about as perfectly put together as his evening wear. Beneath it he was a collection of shattered mirrors, a broken and poor imitation of a person. A mirror is not a mirror until it reflects something, otherwise it is just a piece of glass. (I‘m not sure I understand this, but at the time I was swept along.) You remember when men used to only change their shirt collars and cuffs? she said, that is Jackson inside. She quoted Kierkegaard at this point (did I mention how much in love I am?):
‘As it says in novels, he has now been happily married for several years, a forceful and enterprising man, father, and citizen, even perhaps an important man. At home in his house his servants refer to him as ‘himself‘. In the city he is one of the worthies. In his conduct he is a respecter of persons, or of personal appearances, and he is to all appearances a person. In Christendom he is a Christian (in exactly the same sense that in paganism he would be a pagan and in Holland a Hollander), one of the cultured Christians. The question of immortality has frequently engaged him, and on more than one occasion he has asked the priest if there is such a thing, whether one would really recognise oneself again; which for him must be a particularly pressing matter seeing that he has no self.‘
She said it was only natural for a man of Jackson‘s immense physicality to present his sickness as a physical thing. He is dying a slow death, she said, and you are recording it for posterity. I interrupted here to assert my innocence, but she waved my words away as if she took it for granted that I was observing without helping, that that was okay. She continued: if he does not find his meaning he will die. I asked her if she believed in immortality and she said she did believe but it was of no consequence to the already-living; the self continues, but Jackson needs to find his so that he can tune into his immortal wavelength.
I could see she wouldn‘t be swayed from the plight of her strange husband so I let her talk some more. Then I filmed her walking through an empty playground holding an impenetrable book of philosophy. European, she said.
Note: Instead of one documentary, I could create a series, formally it would be fitting for a man with so many selves. Financially, it would be beautiful. Even if they decide to end our arrangement before I am ready, I am sure I have enough footage. My assistants film his every moment. They are closer to him as a result (Jackson has not yet spoken to me) and they report that he enjoys living on camera, that if this thing—he never names it—kills him, at least he will live on through the hours of recorded footage, previously unseen by anyone but my camera-man. I‘ve told my assistants to encourage these thoughts of his, at least for now, for if we cannot control the end of Jackson we can control the terms of his continuation. He has recorded messages for Veronica: treatises on music, refutations of her theories, and deeply private communications that made me want to stop watching. Common to each of these is the silence that frequently envelops him. Even in the middle of sentences the words will fall away and Jackson will stare unmoving into the camera for hours at a time, like a man suddenly aware of his existence and all it entails. Then he promptly resumes his monologue—as if someone has pressed play on a video.
I‘m thinking of titles: The man who carries in him a population. Jackson‘s search for meaning. Jackson‘s end. Jackson and his Dead. I like that one, it reminds me of Johnny and the Dead, which now that I try to remember I realise I cannot remember what it is about. Note: have assistants look up Johnny and the Dead before using Jackson and his Dead as a title.