Online screening

Margaret Salmon

Study of a man in truck based on the story John told me

4 – 31 March 2021

Notes on Study of a man in truck based on the story John told me (2010)

This film is a study based on a true story, the story that John told me. John’s story could also be called a memory. It is set in Rockland County, NY, during winter.

A local man gets stuck behind the wheel of his pick-up truck and cannot get out. He lives in the driver’s seat of the truck for over a week. He defecates in his pants, urinates in empty bottles, eats drive-through fast food, uses drive-through ATMs and sleeps at night parked in his driveway. One day he almost hits a pump at an attended gas station and police are summoned. He seems ok and drives off, then nearly crashes again. The officers follow him and ask him to get out of the truck. He opens his door and his condition, his situation, is desperate. No one can free him from his seat. Volunteers from a nearby firehouse are called in to cut the man out of the truck using the ‘jaws of life’. The smell is so pungent they wear gas masks. Finally, the paramedics arrive and take the man to hospital.

That’s all John knew. He told me the story during a visit home one winter; he was one of the officers.

Hometowns are nurseries for the imagination. I was born and raised in Rockland County and, admittedly, have a romantic fixation on the place and its people. I also harbour a lonesome, North-Eastern American kind of soul and poetic spirit. For a long while after John told me the story, I kept thinking about the man and what had happened… you could say I was haunted. And I tentatively began writing a screenplay based on John’s story. The film, which I think of as a kind of exploratory ‘study’, was an effort to articulate some of my ideas for the script.

Back in 2010 I was a young mother, thirty-five years old with two daughters, aged six and three. And this was a very low budget, friends and family kind of production. The truck was borrowed from my brother’s friend. Chris, who plays the man, is the son of my mother’s co-worker. The gas station attendant was my brother’s friend. During the shoot I handheld a 16mm clockwork Bolex perched in the front seat of the truck’s small cab while my childhood friend, Carla, operated my digital sound recorder kneeling on the floor of the passenger’s side. Chris, Carla and I jostled about in the front cab, driving and working one whole day into night.

After we finished, I parked the truck in my mother’s driveway, closed the windows and recorded rhythms and sounds with its buttons and controls. Clicks, rumbles, radio on/off, switching, twisting, air blowing. The final score is intuitive, self-reflexive, abrasive, pensive; it has its own logic.

It’s eleven years since I made Study of a man in truck based on the story John told me. When I made it, I was interested in Jean Rouch’s writing and ideas around ethnofiction. I’m not sure how I feel about the term now, but I like the act of specifying a story’s origin, to say… it’s this kind of fiction, not that.

Recently, I’ve thought a lot about the film and Rockland County. Living abroad for most of my adult life has stretched and deepened the lonesome call of that place, it’s complexities and heartbreak, and so this film just flattens me, especially these days in lockdown. Some of the names of the towns we drove through in the film… Montebello, Hillburn, Spring Valley, New City… really get me. Promises are made in the names of American towns. I watch the man, follow his gaze, and wonder.

Margaret Salmon
Glasgow, March 2021

Duration: 9 minutes
Video courtesy of the artist.
Access information: The audio has closed captions.

London, UK