Come fly with me……..
[Seat 29E, Talha Aversa, 2009, (country of origin unknown), 4mins]
So carrying on with short films, we come to those which remove themselves still further from the conventions and styles of mainstream cinema.
Browsing through the various short films on offer on i-Tunes I happened upon Seat 29E. At a mere 4mins long, the only information available was “A true story about a very dissatisfied Continental Airline passenger sitting in the now infamous Seat 29E.”
For all its ‘infamy’ I had not once heard of this infamous seat and so I headed (naturally) to The Internet Movie Database –
which knew nothing of it. So instead I looked for the director, Talha Aversa –
– again: nothing.
This was the first time ever that the IMDB had failed to give me anything on a film.
So, straying away from safe waters I put the name into a Google search. The first result to come up was not a review or article from a well-known source (there wasn’t even an article on Wikipedia [!]) but a link to ‘Scribd.’ – A document sharing website. I was beginning to reconsider the concept of ‘infamy’, but nevertheless I had a lead.
And so I was presented with the genesis of this film; the site has a scan of ‘an actual Continental Airlines complaint form.’ Apparently some chap had booked a flight with the airline and was less than impressed with his seat allocation and so decided to write a letter of complaint to the airline, which had been picked up and circulated around the web for all to enjoy its ‘hilarity’.
Turning to ‘snopes.com’ (again – not renowned for its watertight reliability) there was a PDF of this complaint form/letter for all to read. (http://msgboard.snopes.com/travel/graphics/seat29e.pdf if you’re interested)
Sure enough, in scruffy handwriting, there was the 7-page letter, complete with illustrations, about the passengers experience of sitting in Seat 29E, complete with a stamp confirming it had been received by customer care (snopes.com assures that this was the customer care of Continental Airlines) dated April 13, 2005.
And what a letter. It begins
“Dear Continental Airlines,
I am disgusted as I write this note to you about the miserable experience I am having sitting in Seat 29E on one of your aircrafts.
As you may know, this seat is situated directly across from the lavatory, so close that I can reach out my left arm and touch the door”
It goes on to describe the impracticality and the indignity which the passenger felt throughout the flight due to the seat’s proximity to this lavatory.
And so on to the film;
The film opens with the following text: “On 21 December 2004, a Continental Airlines passenger aboard Flight 888 wrote the following complaint letter”
The voice-over narration of the letter being read then starts and follows a very simple style of rather static animation, the images taking the form of ‘moving pictures’ rather than frame-for-frame fluidity, seeming somehow roughly-hewn. Sketched simplistically and squared, a little like the sketches in the original letter. The protagonist looks as though he is cut from paper, two-dimensional and impressionistic.
As the letter ends the film ends, again with a short caption: “Continental Airlines Customer Care received the letter on 13 April 2005. They apologized to the passenger but did not remove Seat 29E from their aircrafts,”
So now for some analyses – and as a result of all of the other Google search results simply being sites such as i-am-bored.com which highlight the letter, or the occasional link to the film itself (which can be seen in whole (albeit with Spanish subtitles) on YouTube at; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sf56jW6ocsA ), this means that the viewer is free to extrapolate almost any possible interpretation of the film he/she desires without any outside interference or didacticism from external reviews – a very rare opportunity to be presented with, with film of today.
One element which is critical to the text’s conversion into film is that it gives the narrator a tone. Whilst simply reading the letter, it is difficult to ascertain quite what the intended expression and emphasis of the writing is supposed to be. Is this a knowingly tongue-in-cheek rant from a passenger who, perhaps through boredom, decided to jot down some humorous observations? Is it a completely serious letter-of-complaint, written with the express intent to vent a passenger’s genuine frustrations? Lastly, could it be something far more complex – a metaphor of our commercialised lifestyle – of some kind of regressive evolution being at play with men and women being herded together like cattle, “human cargo,” whilst flying thousands of feet high in the sky?
Is it really about air-travel at all?
The tagline from the poster of the film is one of the first lines of the letter:
“All my senses are being tortured simultaneously”
How is the viewer to understand this? In the film this line is accompanied by a slowly twisting CU of the passengers face with an expression remarkably reminiscent of Edvard Munch’s infamous painting The Scream. The tone of the narration is indeed tortured; desperate and exhausted and the viewer is left to contemplate what this line, what this film as a whole really defines.
It could be making a comment on air-travel today in general – the absence of any trace of glamour, the actual mechanics of man’s requiring amenities as he is crammed uncomfortably in a seat along with several hundred people; all the brain-child of “a board-room full of executives giving props to the young promising engineer that [designed the layout]” It s not at all dissimilar in this sense to Edward Norton’s narration of his constant commercial flights in Fight Club – “Everywhere I travel; tiny life – single-serving sugar, single-serving cream, single pat of butter, the microwave Cordon Bleu hobby kit, shampoo-conditioner combos, sample-packaged mouthwash, tiny bars of soap. The people I meet on each flight? They’re single-serving friends.” Commercial flights have become such an everyday occurrence for some demographics of the Western world that all sense of the engineering feat has been long forgotten – the plane is simply a mode of transport – almost always an unfulfilling one. Whilst mentioning ‘the Western world’, it is interesting to consider some of the passenger’s comments as an individual clearly wealthy enough to be able to pay “over $400 dollars for the honour of this seat.”
The complaint centred on his proximity to “the stench of sanitation fluid” for instance, is particularly interesting to consider at a time such as this during the recent catastrophic flooding in India through lack of the most simple of sociological, practical conveniences such as proper drainage.
In my opinion, the narration and animation is too considered, too dry and cynical, to be a mere ‘reproduction’ of a letter of complaint – it points towards someone contemplating the quality of their position, not within a plane, but in life in general – a metaphorical analysis of their place in the world and in society.
To me, it’s the narrator who is 29E – stuck in a position in life where he shouldn’t be, doesn’t want to be, lamenting what he experiences and wishing that he could move to another place. Yet at the same time he ignores the ultimate futility of his experience, of his position in general – this being just one amongst millions, his small record of it on a complaints form being passed amongst internet forums merely as ‘hilarious’ for bemoaning something so insignificant.
Perhaps the passenger would do well to consider Thomas Carlyle’s affirmation that “We were wise indeed, could we discern truly the signs of our own time; and by knowledge of its wants and advantages, wisely adjust our own position in it. Let us, instead of gazing idly into the obscure distance, look calmly around us, for a little, on the perplexed scene where we stand. Perhaps, on a more serious inspection, something of its perplexity will disappear, some of its distinctive characters and deeper tendencies more clearly reveal themselves; whereby […] our own true aims and endeavours in it, may also become clearer.”
(Although I don’t think Thomas Carlyle ever flew on Continental Airlines so it’s just an idea.)
A truly fascinating film.