Time Machine: Excerpts from "Time Tells"

Masha Tupitsyn considers the passage of time, Felicity, and stand-up comedy

Time Machine: Excerpts from "Time Tells"




“Pretend it’s 1995.”
Isn’t it Romantic, 2019

Time Machine

The people telling the truth are also the ones telling the jokes. When I finally meet L in person, a gender studies scholar and online friend, at a noisy East Village bar in August 2018 during her last week in New York, she resumes our ongoing conversation about streaming television. The one we’ve been having via email and DM for over a year. “What have you been watching the past few months?” L asks. “Felicity, the late ’90s WB drama.” I tell her. “And stand-up comedy.” L laughs and nods her head. “That’s perfect,” she says. “Of course you are. Comedy has the answers.” By answers, I think she means the future. L tells me Lauren Berlant is now writing about comedy, too. This is supposed to be a good sign, like I’m on to something. When I get home, I Google “Berlant” to see if I can find the essay. It comes up immediately and is called “Comedy Has Issues,” a funny title. Personified, comedy is analysand — a neurotic transgressor with problems. Neurotics, Freud said, are the reason we know anything about the world. Comedians are, too.

Before television went online, days of the week mattered. Felicity premiered on the WB channel on September 29, 1998, and ran for four seasons. First on Tuesdays, then on Sundays. The hour-long college drama, which followed Felicity, and her two love interests Ben and Noel, spent two years in the 20th century and two years in the 21st. It marks an end and a beginning. The past and the future. Noel, a self-proclaimed “computer geek” and graphic designer, is the only character on the show who regularly uses the internet and has a personal website — www.noelcrane.com. In 1998, Noel is in the present, a present beholden to the imminent future, the one that will cancel the past: the new millennium. All the other characters in the series lag behind technologically, forfeiting the digital: cell phones — even landlines — preferring to show up unannounced at each other’s dimly lit, analog houses. Noel talks about Apple computers as early as the first season. But his love is expert. Everyone else uses their laptops strictly as word processors to write term papers. By the fourth season, the characters begin to mention being “online,” but only for research. At the end of season three, during the last episode, post-graduate Noel announces to Felicity that “the internet is dead.” Jobless, the dot.com industry has just crashed, and for a moment the imminent future Noel represents collapses. “Though technically still in the twentieth century, the year 2000 was a good enough marker,” writes Douglas Rushkoff in Present Shock, “to stand in for millennial transformation.” The future quickly becomes an anachronism that might not ever come to end the present.

At the bar, L told me that my now deserted Tumblr has always had an “antique” quality. I press her about what being antique means even though I have my suspicions.

I know it has to do with time. With being out of order, out of date. With me watching Felicity, a 20-year-old show that was cancelled 16 years ago, on my computer at night. Ten months ago, I went off social media, leaving my five-year-old blog frozen in time. This isn’t the first time I — or my romantic views — have been called antique. In 2018, Felicity, a deeply romantic ’90s show, also looks and feels antique. I can see this now, in retrospect. But I also felt it in 1998, when the show aired every Sunday.

Felicity makes us forget about the future. Now and then. What it values is emotional, and stands still. The look on people’s faces, the sound of people’s voices. What it depicts takes time: the slowness of touch, the duration of pain, the long stretch of a look, “the time it takes to get someone else,” as Godard put it to Dick Cavett[1]. The importance of introspection as a way to come back to something, not as a way to forget someone. What Ben refers to as a “time machine” when he tries to think of a way to get back to the time before he sabotaged his relationship with Felicity. “The one moment, the turning point, where I blew it.” The time machine Godard invents to get to someone else is a train. The time machine Ben invents is cinema: a film canister that contains Charlie Chaplin’s 1925 Gold Rush, which he finds a celluloid copy of and hands to Felicity in person. A material object but also a symbolic one. Ben has roamed the city all night and tracked down a print of the film they were meant to watch together the summer before at Bryant Park. They will go back in time, he tells Felicity, by watching the movie they never got to watch. To have the love they never got to have. To feel the things he refused to feel. “That’s the moment I’d take over, if I could,” says Ben, creating an alternate reel. Through camera work and editing, Felicity, steeped in the heartache of time travel, continually reverses time, retrieving and revisiting what has been lost.[2] “At this point many turned back discouraged, whilst others went bravely on,” Gold Rush tells us, charting an emotional journey that purports to be monetary. Throughout the series, Ben and Felicity take turns bending time in order to come back for one another, hovering in the analog ’90s, in the teleportation of silent cinema, in the speed of ethics, while time outside the time machine anticipates the future.

In an interview, Felicity editor Stan Salfas discusses the series’s focus on slowness: “[The scenes] play very long because our sense is that is how you connect with someone. And have a sense of a real and deeper layer of emotion.”

Time is affective.

L doesn’t completely answer my question. I flashback to a letter she wrote in 2018, in which she noted: “This kind of resonance is also what I meant when I said your Tumblr posts feel synchronous.” I can barely hear her over the loud music at the bar, a votive candle is glowing on our table. The young finance crowd that now inhabits the East Village is celebrating for no reason mid-week. It’s only eight o’clock but people are acting like it’s midnight. Wednesday becomes Saturday. Everyone has their phone in their hand while they dance and talk. All the interesting and varied human gestures have been reduced to one single affect: looking at a smartphone. L’s words fuse with song lyrics. I move closer so I can hear better. No place is meant for talking.

By antique, L says she means something about slowness and proximity. “Your writing voice on your blog always sounds like it’s from another time. A voice that isn’t here but somewhere else. And yet, it always feels close, present.” I squirm, crack a joke. I don’t know if she thinks this is a good thing. I will ask her later over text to double check. An antique is something old, discontinued. From another time. But also something that lasts, survives. One etymological derivative, “to see,” is prophetic. A vantage point most don’t have. I think of the scene in Dead Poets Society when John Keating, a high school English teacher, asks his male students to take turns standing on his desk in order to see the world differently. I think of Felicity, my time machine. Watching it then, watching it now. Up late summer nights in 2018 searching for random fragments of the series on YouTube. Not sleeping because the internet makes it impossible to know when to sleep, or when to stop searching. Not sleeping because of the heat. Not sleeping because I can’t let go of the past or because mourning it is the only way I can face the future, which is always now, and which therefore never comes. August. Burning up in bed. The hum of the fan on top of the rattle of the AC. Grainy footage, ecru walls inside my laptop screen. Ben’s dark apartment. Felicity’s dark dorm room. The fake NYU campus, a California studio lot posing as New York. Stock footage of an exterior shot of SoHo’s iconic Dean & DeLuca (closed down in 2019) used over and over.

In the show, Ben and Felicity go back and forth to each other’s apartments at all hours just to tell each other something. She is in Manhattan, he is somewhere in Brooklyn. But distance is never an issue. Emotionally or physically. The city in the show isn’t real, but the feelings are. The series understands that anything real must be done face to face. Which is time consuming. And risky. Ben and Felicity are the same color: two headlights beaming at one another — what Felicity refers to in one episode as “this force between us.” Almost spiritual. Like the famous kissing scene in Pretty in Pink that the cinematographer Tak Fujimoto lit entirely with car headlights. Is this an accident or what people look like when they are designed for each other? Lit for each other. I’m exhausted but want to take the time to look at these faces again, so close together in these slow-motion scenes. The high-stake looks, the choked-up voices. Words that take thought and labor. That take years to feel.

When Ben and Felicity kiss, they always touch each other’s faces, making the kisses longer and slower. Holding each other in place, holding each other still. YouTube uploads, bootleg copies, low resolution, distorted, often inaudible sound. Headphones, no headphones. One day a clip is there, the next day it’s not. Next clip. Autoplay. I reroute. Rephrase the search. Until, like an anagram, I find what I am looking for, what I have suspected all along, using the right combination of words. Mashups, fan videos, user comments — hate and love — aggregating like wildfire, then halting at some point in time for no discernable reason. Why does it stop? Time stamps. Things expiring. The past coded, continuously renewed and uploaded into the constant-present. If this were weather, something we could feel, or see outside, it would be a tempest. Do I have the language for this? Is there a language for this? “I wish I had instead of words and their rhythms a cutting room, equipped with an Avid, a digital editing system on which I could touch a key and collapse the sequence of time, show you simultaneously all the frames of memory that come to me now, let you pick the takes,” writes Joan Didion in The Year of Magical Thinking, yearning for the computer to delete the emotional hard drive of grief.

Everyone tells me that time doesn’t change what the world is like — only everything else? — to think so is nostalgic, inaccurate. So, what is changing it? What has changed it? What changes the world? While visiting Lisbon on holiday in Here Is Where We Meet, John Berger realizes that the Portuguese saudade does not mean nostalgia, but rather “the feeling of fury at having to hear the words too late pronounced too calmly.” It is anger at a too-casual dismissal of the past. For Berger, loss is not the same thing as change and change not the same thing as progress. In Present Shock, Rushkoff[3] notes that “change is changing, too.” “No longer flowing top down, but flowing in every direction at all times,” Mark McDonald of IT research and advisory company Gartner, explains. “Change is accelerating, to the point where it will soon be nearly continuous,” states Dave Gray of the social media consultancy Dachis Group. In the no-time of the computer, what does the saying “timing is everything” mean? There is no longer a clock at the center of the universe, no clock at the center of our lives.

“The point is that time is not neutral. Hours and minutes are not generic, but specific,” Rushkoff writes.

I am not just watching Felicity again. I am remembering time — a specific time — because it is over. The world of the digital mutating, bleeding into everything. The hours, days of the week, out of order. The Wednesday at the bar with L turned into a Saturday. Why does it matter? It matters. No more diegesis. No more mystery. No more behind the scenes. No more that’s fiction and this is real. No more that is in front of the camera and this is behind the camera. No more that was then this is now. No more hands on a clock. No more face to face. No more things you can’t see but know are there. No more beginning, middle, and end. No more remembering. No more counting the days. The years. The place. Time no longer being something you ever have to wait for or miss. Save. Get back. Show up and make a plea for. The way Ben shows up time and time again for Felicity. Time and time again for himself.

The Year of Magical Thinking

In season two of Felicity, creator J. J. Abrams filmed a stand-alone Twilight Zone episode. After Felicity, Abrams went on to explore the science fiction genre explicitly in television shows like Lost, a more extended permutation on time travel and fate, and serial movies like Star Trek and Star Wars. The final season of Felicity was originally scheduled for 17 episodes, with Felicity graduating from college. But when another WB show got canceled, Felicity was “gifted” a five-episode back order. Matt Reeves and Abrams, who was by then making Alias, decided to use the extra five hours to send Felicity back in time, giving her a do-over. The episodes “Time Will Tell,” “The Power of the Ex,” “Spin the Bottle,” “Felicity Interrupted,” and “Back to the Future” are all constructed around magic spells, time travel, and the alternate outcome of Felicity choosing Noel over Ben. “Love can be scary and can make you want to turn back the clock,” writes Emma Fraser. “No matter the timeline, Felicity always ends up with Ben — even when she picks Noel.”[4]

Science fiction is both a genre of failed mourning and magical thinking. In his 1917 essay “Mourning and Melancholia,” Freud writes that time plays a key role in differentiating between the two states. Mourning, like science fiction, requires a “lapse of time.” The “future” is always really the past. In melancholia, the ego is wounded. In science fiction, time is wounded. In Joan Didion’s memoir The Year of Magical Thinking, the momentum and force of grief produces an alternate reality in which the impossible is thought to be possible. Didion calls this magical thinking, which began when her husband, John Gregory Dunne, died suddenly from cardiac arrest in their New York home. In the memoir, it is this thought, this wish, that turns time. That turns mourning into magic. Grief is a time machine.

As a genre of grief, science fiction revolves around the desired return of a lost object.[5] “Bringing [John] back had been through those months my hidden focus, a magic trick,” writes Didion. In the documentary Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold, Tony Dunne, John Dunne’s nephew, recalls that when Didion told him she planned to keep Dunne’s clothes in case he came back from the dead, “it did not seem far-fetched. It seemed plausible.” By way of sorrow, science fiction makes the technological improbability of time travel plausible. Grief is a vehicle that takes us elsewhere.

In 2005, Didion will write two memoirs about death. In them, she will turn back the clock in an effort to bring back the dead.[6] “‘In another world,’ writes Didion, was the phrase that would not leave my mind […] The way you got sideswiped was by going back.” In Magical Thinking, Didion retroactively forms a link between her marriage to Dunne and the figments and trickeries in the lovesick plot of Hitchcock’s Vertigo, a film Chris Marker called science fiction. In her memoir, Didion remembers traversing time zones in 1968. She remembers flying with PSA — the Pacific Southwest intrastate commuter airline in operation between 1949 and 1988 — which Dunne and Didion took frequently in order to see each other. In the future, when Dunne dies, Didion asks herself: “I was trying to work out what time it had been when he died and whether it was that time yet in Los Angeles. (Was there time to go back? Could we have made a different ending on Pacific time).”

Is Vertigo an example of magical thinking?

In The Year of Magical Thinking, Vertigo doubles as Didion’s lost marriage. Didion goes looking for Dunne in the past, which is Vertigo, a movie in which a female double — a time portal — opens up an alternate world for Scottie, a detective. Some of the locations in Vertigo are places Didion frequented with Dunne when they were first married. When Dunne was still alive. The Mission San Juan Bautista, featured in Vertigo, is where Didion and Dunne got married. “We were married at San Juan Bautista. On a January afternoon when the blossoms were showing in the orchards off 101. When there were still orchards off 101.” Ernie’s, a restaurant that Didion says no longer exists, is where “James Stewart first sees Kim Novak,” who plays Madeleine and Judy. Ernie’s is “our place,” Judy tells Scottie. Ernie’s is also her and Dunne’s place, Didion tells us.

In The Year of Magical Thinking, Dunne takes the “Midnight Flyer” from Los Angeles to San Francisco in 1968 to have dinner with Didion, who is working on assignment. Space and time collapse. Vertigo also becomes a way for Didion to return to the early days of her present-day marriage. The film is a doorway in time. In Difference and Repetition, Gilles Deleuze writes that “[a] book of philosophy should be in part a very particular species of detective novel, in part a kind of science fiction.” Vertigo is both.

But why does Didion lay her story (the story of her marriage to Dunne; a love story) beside the story of Vertigo (the story of death, madness, and grief)? Is it because death splits the past in two? Science fiction, a form of magical thinking, permits us to travel to different times as though time were a place. Mourning, Freud writes, involves the long and painful work of detaching from the loved one we have lost. “[I]ts function is to detach the survivors’ memories and hopes from the dead.” Science fiction shows us where we go — where we travel to — when we can’t let go. We call this place the future.

Both Vertigo and Magical Thinking involve time travel and grief. And while Didion doesn’t note this, both narratives span a year.

From the Latin word vertere, vertigo means “to turn, bend.” But what is being turned? Time? And what is turning it? Grief?

An anagram of vertere is verrete, the second-person plural of future tense of venire. What “you make or cause to come.”

You cause it to turn, to bend. You are being turned.

Madeleine is the idealized past, Judy the melancholic future. By moving between the two, both Joan and Scottie get “sideswiped” into “another world.” By looking for her marriage in the movie Vertigo, a detective story, Didion is telling us — perhaps unknowingly — something about its enduring mystery.[7] About its melancholic past. About its unforeseeable future. About what time looks like when you reconstruct it through the lens of grief. Through the lens of a movie. Through a restaurant that no longer exists. The two deaths that come in 2003 and 2005 (her husband, then her daughter) will throw Didion into a parallel universe of grief, one in which it is possible for the dead to come back for their clothes.

In Vertigo, Scottie, real name John, is also obsessed with clothes. With dressing Judy as the dead Madeleine.

“And then I’ll buy you those clothes” Scottie tells Judy. He means the clothes that Madeleine wore.

“And then you started in on the clothes,” Judy tells Scottie. She means the clothes that Madeleine wore.

Is Vertigo a story of failed mourning?

“It is clearly not sane to go on, beyond a certain point, testing the rules to see if they are made of anything (magic, consent, words, divinity, and so on),” writes Adam Phillips in Going Sane. Freud initially gave us two years to successfully mourn. Movies give us two hours. To do what? To go where? Science fiction allows us “to go on, beyond a certain point” while “sanity keeps us in the realm of the already known. Living within our means.”

Comedy Has Issues

In Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, Dave Chappelle tells Jerry Seinfeld: “Everybody thinks the guy on the stage is the fake. But really, it’s the guy off the stage that’s fake. The guy on the stage, that’s the real guy. The guy off the stage is the one who lies to people, who doesn’t say what he actually thinks.” After Chappelle famously refused $50 million to do a third season of his sketch comedy show, Chappelle’s Show, in 2005, Chappelle became one of my favorite funny truth tellers. After he refused the money, he appeared forlorn on talk shows like Oprah; chain smoking on Inside the Actors Studio. Racism, the political conditions of fame, the heartbreak and unsustainability of success returned comedy to its tragic roots. It made comedy something mournful. In Chappelle’s case, it made being funny synonymous with being exploited. To go on being funny about certain things — about blackness — Chappelle realized, was dangerous. To laugh, said Chappelle, to go on laughing the way he had been laughing and making others laugh, was too costly. Chappelle retreated. First to South Africa, then to his farm in Ohio.

Promoting his comedy special at Madison Square Garden in 2014, Chappelle appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman. On the 15-minute segment, an eternity on TV, Letterman repeatedly probed Chappelle about where he had been, about why he had disappeared. “We haven’t seen you in 10 years. You took a hike.” The question was a joke; the joke was the question. The joke was that both Letterman and the audience already knew the answer. Letterman, being “funny,” asked Chappelle to answer the question anyway. But also to discourage a too-serious answer. Whatever answer Chappelle was going to give would have to be humorous. That was his job as a comedian. That was his reason for being on the show. That was the price he had to pay for being given a second chance to be funny onstage. Chappelle had already failed to make light of tragedy when he left his show on Comedy Central, when he declined $50 million. Chappelle blamed time for his absence. “I’m just seven years late to work,” he joked. Everyone in the audience exploded into laughter.[8] “Boy, are you going to be in trouble when you go back,” Letterman warned, referring to a place that is really the present time. In Vanity Fair, Joanna Robinson describes the interaction: “David Letterman tried to get Chappelle to open up about it, and though Chappelle deflected at first — ‘I’m just seven years late to work’ — he went on to address the question in a slightly more serious way. Slightly.”[9]

After I told L I was deactivating all my social media accounts in November 2017, she wrote:

“It’s almost like to preserve what is good in oneself one must possess a reticence toward visibility that in practice looks like oscillation between exposure and withdrawal.”

L’s email reminded me of Chappelle and Lauren Berlant’s essay, “Comedy Has Issues.” The one L had told me to read when we met in August. It made me think about my own retreats. My own resistance to exposure, my own use of humor to transgress and deflect, the way I had deactivated my social media accounts in an effort to withdraw. On Letterman, Chappelle’s famous seven-year oscillation between exposure and withdrawal becomes the butt of the joke precisely because it wasn’t a joke. It was serious. Yet the time to make light of it — to turn it into comedy — had come. “You could see this joke as an escape from the feelings that normally accompany bereavement, a sort of truancy,” John Carey writes in his introduction to Freud’s The Joke and Its Relation to the Unconscious.

The comedian is allowed to have issues onstage — in their act.[10] To have issues offstage, in one’s life — to have them with comedy — as Chappelle did, is a problem. To have issues onstage, where one tells the truth, Chappelle says, as opposed to offstage, where one is supposed to lie, is part of the criteria of being funny. Comedy is a window of time allotted for airing out grievances. It is also the structure for airing out grievances.[11]

On Letterman, Chappelle admits to not being able to find a way to be funny onstage for seven years. Is this part of what he means when he tells Seinfeld that the guy offstage is the liar? Was he lying to Letterman by sidestepping his sorrow, reducing it to a half-hearted joke? In an act, would this bereavement take a more rebellious form? Shortly before he died, the comedian Garry Shandling also appeared on Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. At an L.A. diner, Shandling tells Seinfeld, “When I say [comedy] is a fucking minefield, they go, ‘Shandling’s complaining.’ When I listen to the blues, it’s the exact same words I say. [Both laugh.] But people go, ‘This is fantastic.’ But when I say, ‘My baby left me,’ they go, ‘Stop complaining.’ [Laughs.]”

Everyone hates a complainer. To complain in a song is different from complaining in real life. The song makes complaint acceptable. Funny. True. Through song, complaining ceases to be complaining. Is this what Chappelle means when he blames time for his retreat from comedy? Time turning turmoil into song. Into joke. Time itself becoming a joke. It took him seven years to “escape from the feelings that normally accompany bereavement.” For seven years, he couldn’t convert sorrow into a joke. This return from truancy — a comeback — is supposed to be a good thing. But is it a good thing?

While 19th-century scholarship notes the double-phenomenon[12] as a technique in comedy, Shandling’s anecdote reveals an additional layer to Chappelle’s theory of the onstage/offstage scheme. Here we see that the demarcation lies not simply with where a person tells the truth and where a person lies. It is where one is allowed to tell the truth. Where one is compelled to tell it. How the lie is socially instated; how the truth is theatrically oriented. “Tellingly, stage presence,” writes Jon Foley Sherman in A Strange Proximity:
Stage Presence, Failure, and the Ethics of Attention, "is something the actor has, not the character. Actors may be born with it, they may study to acquire more of it, but actors are the ones who have it and “it” is “of” the actors. Which is also to say that in some way it relates to them as persons; ‘their’ stage presence is a function of their specific being placed in front of other beings."

For Foley, this placement is phenomenological, not simply situational or locational. However, placement onstage trumps presence, as we are always in front of other beings but not always onstage, and not always telling the truth.

Comedy legitimizes complaint. The song legitimizes heartbreak. The stage legitimizes presence. It magnifies “a unique truth about the performer,” writes Sherman. It is the stage which the actor and comedian use, and which allows us to see — to tolerate seeing — what being truthful might sound like. But the meaning of stage presence can be inverted: no longer about what one — the actor — (uniquely) has, it is where one is allowed to have what one has. To be what one is. To say what one thinks. Stage presence is dangerous precisely because it is about the actor, not the character, as Foley writes. When “the stage is yours” it becomes both the space of ethics and the failure of


Truth and complaint can exist in song, in comedy, in acting. The rest of the time we are expected to lie. The rest of the time we pretend we don’t know what the truth is. On Letterman in 2014, Chappelle, like Shandling, is trapped in a gray zone: he cannot lie but he also cannot tell the entire truth. He cannot be entirely funny and he cannot be entirely sad. He turns a serious, unprecedented refusal into a joke. He is onstage, but he is also offstage. He is playing a comedian but he is also playing himself. He is funny, but he is not doing a standup act. He is black. The man joshing him for being “late” is white. He blames time. “The way you got sideswiped was by going back,” Joan Didion writes more than once in The Year of Magical Thinking. When Chappelle states that he is seven years late to work (for whom?); that it took him seven years to get back, making him “late” (to what?), he is telling us something about what it means to lose time. To receive a blow; to not know how to use the joke to escape or transport bereavement. To disappear, to come back, to time travel. But is the return worth it? Has it been worth it in Chappelle’s case? “If the dead were truly to come back, what would they come back knowing? Could we face them?” Didion asks.

Is the place Chappelle has come back to better than the place he has come from? To be onstage, where, as Chappelle tells us, one tells the truth, is a question of ethics, not strictly a province of fiction. It is, as Adam Phillips puts it, where “something false is true.” The point, Chappelle tells Seinfeld, is about the time and place of fiction. The point is where we go for truth. And to whom. The actor is the person we celebrate for having “it” (“it,” in this case, is also all the things an actor has that we don’t) in the same way that the onstage comedian is the person we are willing to go to for the truth. Actors use acting to pay attention the way comedians use comedy to tell the truth. Is this why there is more comedy than ever? Is this why there are more and more award shows for the actor?[13]


[1]  The Dick Cavett Show, 1980. In the interview, Godard discusses his 1980 film Slow Motion using the metaphor of the train and the train station in relation to cinema, waiting, and love. Godard: “I use an image to go from one station to another one. You need a train. I think movies are the train, not the station. I feel myself as being more of a train than a station, and that’s an explanation for why I am less anguished. Because I’m not waiting for the train anymore. Space is the time you need to get to someone else.”

[2]  “In speed there is a forgotten tenderness.” John Berger, Here Is Where We Meet, Pantheon Books, 2005.

[3]  Rushkoff cites both McDonald and Gray in his chapter “Digiphrenia.”

[4]  Emma Fraser, “When Dawson’s Creek and Felicity Turned Genre,” SYFY WIRE, May 16, 2018.

[5]  Some of the best examples of science fiction as mourning are: Vertigo, La Jetée, Solaris, Starman, The Terminator, Peggy Sue Got Married, Flatliners, Waking the Dead, A.I., Donnie Darko, Minority Report, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, 2046, Inception, Moon, Looper, the end of Before Midnight, which even features a speech about a time machine in the final scene, Gravity, and Annihilation. As Claire Denis put it in a Film Comment talk about her own sci-fi venture, High Life, “In space, time is so important.”

[6]  Fittingly, Vertigo is based on the 1954 novel D’entre les morts (From Among the Dead)

[7]   In the 2018 Netflix series The Haunting of Hill House, one character describes a ghost as a wish.

[8]  In his novel Women in a River Landscape, Heinrich Böll refers to a laughter that sounded like “the swish of the guillotine.”

[9] “Dave Chappelle Finally Breaks His Silence About Abruptly Leaving Chappelle’s Show,Vanity Fair, Joanna Robinson, June 11, 2014. https://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2014/06/dave-chappelle-why-he-left-chappelle-show

[10]  According to the creators and cast of Seinfeld, Larry David inverted the onstage paradigm of comedy. A failed stand-up in the 1980s, the famous curmudgeon reportedly often lost his temper onstage, turning against his unreceptive audience when they didn’t find him funny. The attacks were apparently not part of the act. Jerry Seinfeld claims that David lost his temper onstage but never with friends. Given the comedy rules that Chappelle outlines for Seinfeld on Comedian in Cars Getting Coffee, it is unclear why David’s stand-up routine was not successful. Although he was telling the “truth,” and doing so through the filter of comedy, David’s beefs proved to be too much for his audience, who didn’t want to hear his “truth” even onstage. In David’s case, additional filtration was required. In order for his comedy to work, he needed the mild comedic persona of Seinfeld to mitigate and mediate the comedy of his comedy. Along with a third filter, the character of George Costanza, who played David’s alter ego on Seinfeld, and the final personification of television. David says that people often ask him why he didn’t play George himself. “Didn’t you want to play George?” “They never would have approved of me as an actor,” explains David.

[11]   George Carlin even called his 2001 stand-up special “Grievances and Complaints,” employing the title as both form and material.

[12]  “It is noteworthy that some typical motifs of the double-phenomenon,” writes Otto Rank in The Double: A Psychoanalytic Study, “seem here to be raised from their unconscious tragedy into the cognitive sphere of humor.” Mistaken identity is the “immortal subject of comedy.”

[13]   In an interview, the writer Gary Indiana states: “What always catches my attention is who gets to be somebody and who doesn’t. [Awards] are so punitive to everybody else. You can be excellent without getting an award for it.” Stranger Things actor David Harbour calls actors the “elected officials.”


Masha Tupitsyn is a writer, critic, and multi-media artist. She is the author of the books Love DogLACONIA: 1,200 Tweets on FilmLike Someone in Love: An Addendum to Love Dog, Beauty Talk & Monsters, and most recently, Picture Cycle. Her book Time Tells: On the Ethics of Presence and Attention, is forthcoming.

LARB Contributor

Masha Tupitsyn is a writer, critic, and multi-media artist. She is the author of the books Love DogLACONIA: 1,200 Tweets on FilmLike Someone in Love: An Addendum to Love Dog, and Beauty Talk & Monsters, as well as the films Love Sounds and the ongoing film series, DECADES. Her new book, Picture Cycle, was published in 2019 by Semiotexte/MIT. She teaches film and gender studies at The New School. Her book Time Tells: On the Ethics of Presence and Attention, is forthcoming.


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