On Memories

June 27, 2021 - 7 min read

Dwelling on the past

I remember my most favourite activity in childhood was going into a forest with friends, getting tired there and returning back home with a sack of full stories, pleasant tiredness and a childish mind jammed with happiness.

I remember we were building bridges over small rivers, cold and fast. We were running away from dogs, jumping over rivers or climbing up on trees. We were making real traps for countless monsters we intended to catch. We were travelling deep into the forest to see fern flowers. We were gathering a birch tree’s juice. We were making bows from juniper and measuring whose arrow flies further or higher. One day we saw a pillar of black smoke like in Lost TV series, we got there and found an abandoned campfire with a big mysterious cow skull.

I remember the computer games I played during the same time. I got my first PC around 2006. It had around 128 megabytes of video memory, 512 megabytes of RAM, one core CPU, 112 gigabytes hard drive. For some of the games, those specs were insufficient but I played them anyway. A game could freeze for a dozen minutes if you push a save button. But I had to wait for it if I wanted to save my progress. I could go outside and back and still see how it was saving. Some games were laggy but I didn't know what FPS was or what should be its right amount. It did not matter.

I remember I didn't have a choice in games before I got the internet. At first, everything I played was either a friend's CD or a gift. Playing a new game was a major event similar to the last day of the school year, birthday or New Year. Every game had an interesting story, characters and revolutionary gameplay mechanics I'd never seen before.

What still keeps fascinating me the most is how good the quality of graphics was. The recent progress in CGI seems insignificant. Many new games look worse than what I remember from my childhood. High-res textures, models with billions of polygons, shaders and shadows and endless virtual worlds – all were nearly perfect and still can influx my brain with vivid imagery.

But now this imagery collapses when I accidentally see a game’s screenshots somewhere on the internet or, oh my God, decide to play this game after 10-15 years of not seeing it. After I find a way to run the old game on a modern PC or at least manage to download the game itself, I face the bitter truth. The graphics are not the same anymore. I am not playing a hyper-realistic action about spies or colourful fantasy where I am a brave dragon annihilator, I am not playing what I expected to play. The game is old. The graphic is old. Like people, hardly like fine wine, age rarely makes it better. Similar to when you meet an old pal from school years after the same 10-15 years and realise it is not fun being together anymore. Sadly, nothing is wrong but somehow “the friendship for life” disappeared.

This sad realisation is transient, I still love old games and I would still enjoy playing them for some time because of the memories I have about them. It works in the context of my memory but doesn't work outside of it. If it were an average “old” game, the one I had not played as a kid, it wouldn't have sparked anything, it would have been just a Minecraft with bleak colours.

Visualising nostalgia

One of the reasons I love cinema is its ability to poetically capture a visual image of time, events and ideas. Sometimes you need to pay close attention to a sophisticated sequence of pictures and sounds to get their inner meanings and the premise author had in mind. To my surprise, even such complex and personal things as memories and nostalgia can be visualised and seen on a screen.

Kevin Parker, also known as Jesus with a guitar, a multi-instrumentalist behind Tame Impala, released his fourth album The Slow Rush in 2020. The album combines Tame Impala's psychedelic roots with soft rock, pop and a gentle touch of disco creating a special "timeless mood" like if you were in the 1970s and the 2010s at the same time. And the main theme that weaves through every song is the passage of time, the past events and the future prospects.

One of the tracks, Lost in yesterday is a song about nostalgia and the malleable nature of memories. Kevin Parker discusses how we can dwell on the past, dwell on choices and events and not obsessing with them, embracing what life throws on us, forgetting traumatic events and moving on.

What I love the most about the track is its music video. Directed by Terri Timely, the video is a throwback trance that outlines time's distorting effect on memories.

It presents us with a wedding filmed with a continuous tracking shot. The camera flies through the hall and shows guests, a cake, and Kevin Parker with a band playing on a stage. Once the camera makes a full circle, we face a waiter's back and the tracking shot starts again (and the screen’s aspect ratio changes gradually).

It might sound like Groundhog Day but unlike in the film, every cycle in Lost in Yesterday doesn't show exactly the same events. At first, we see a dull party with basic food and drinks, cheap Tesco cake, passive-aggressive guests and an awkward atmosphere and a pregnant bride. Then with every camera's flight over the hall, we're presented with new and improved flashbacks, literally. It upgrades the memories of the wedding making it more lively, majestic and luxurious and its participants happier and put together. With each cycle, we see nicer and nicer food and drinks, fancier and fancier clothes, more and more people. Now they dance and celebrate. The bride is no longer pregnant and the couple is excited to get a slice of the cake (not Tesco anymore). But in the end, this romantic utopia’s violently awakened as the pregnant bride from the first scene returns, destroys the cake and ruins the party, leaving everyone, including us, shocked. The end.

Kevin Parker and Terri Timely show there that everything is not always how we remember it. What we see is produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation and “eventually terrible memories turn into great ones,” as the first verse of the song says. Details and emotions get distorted by time. We forget about the reality of our past and get "lost in yesterday".

Julian Barnes wrote in his novel The Sense Of Ending, which widely explores the nature of memory, "The memory becomes a thing of shreds and patches. It’s a bit like the black box aeroplanes carry to record what happens in a crash. If nothing goes wrong, the tape erases itself. So if you do crash, it’s obvious why you did; if you don’t, then the log of your journey is much less clear."

The drama in the music video works in a similar way. We see a romantic utopia until a bad memory resurfaces, forcing us to recall a true reality. Often we choose to remember the good things and erase any memory that didn't bring us the same joy.

“So if they call you, embrace them. If they hold you, erase them.”, sings Kevin Parker

The same with old games, childhood friends or other things from the past. Some of them are good and cause warm feelings you can put yourself in like a blanket, grab a cup of hot chocolate and feel safe and cosy. The others are bad. They stall and haunt you dragging further into the woods to see fern flowers to almost get lost, or nudge you to fall from an improvised wooden bridge to cold water and get sick. Or show an image of a dog chases you, you fall, scratch your knees and hands and mess up new clothes in blood and dirt. Or an image when the snow has just melted and you go into muddy spring fields and the earth engulfs you deeper and deeper into the mud until your grandfather pulls you out saving your life.

Regardless of good or bad, the real essence of events gets diluted with time and what is left is a story we tell about our life to ourselves, colourful and poetic, the one we value and love, but merely the story.

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