Sorting Facts; or, Nineteen Ways of Looking at Marker
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Sorting Facts; or, Nineteen Ways of Looking at Marker
  • the FACTORY OF FACTS.

  • Filming facts. Sorting facts. Disseminating facts. Agitating with facts. Propaganda with Facts. Fists made of facts.

  • Lightning flashes of facts.

  • Mountains of facts.

  • Hurricanes of facts.

  • And individual little factlets.

  • Against film-sorcery.

  • Against film-mystification.

  • For the genuine cinematification of the worker-peasant. USSR.

—Dziga Vertov, 1926

I was asked to contribute to this collection of essays because of a book I once wrote about Emily Dickinson's poetry. Although this seemed a strange reason to assume I could write about nonfiction film, I was drawn to the project because of the fact of my husband's death and my wish to find a way to document his life and work.

David von Schlegell was a second-generation American with a German name. He was born in St. Louis in 1920. His German name embarrassed him, especially the "von," but he didn't change it, maybe because he was an only child. The family moved east shortly after his birth when his father got a job teaching painting at the Art Students League in New York City. His mother's first name was Alice, but people called her Bae (pronounced Bay). She also drew and painted. The three of them loved the Atlantic Ocean, especially the Maine coast at Ogunquit where [End Page 380] they spent each summer. As a boy, David designed sailboats. When he was in his teens he built his own and called it Stormy. He hoped to become a yacht designer or an architect, but he was young and healthy enough to be cannon fodder, so from 1943 to 1945 he served as a bomber pilot and armament-systems officer in the Eighth Air Force. Until he died and was cremated he had a large scar on his left arm from where he was shot while piloting a B-17 in the fiery skies over Emden in Germany. The bullet shattered his wrist, but he managed to bring the bomber back to home base in England. Three other crew members were wounded also. It could be said this wound just above his left hand saved his life, because he was hospitalized for several months and then honorably discharged. But the war wounded him in ways he could never recover. After the war he studied painting with his father at the Art Students League. He painted for many years, then switched suddenly to sculpture. He was a shy person. His art was influenced by Russian Constructivism and various American boat designers. He worked in wood, steel, and aluminum, and usually built his own pieces. His best-known sculptures were designed in the 1960s and early 1970s. I didn't meet him until 1965 when he was forty-five and I already loved his sculpture. We lived together for twenty-seven years, most of them by Long Island Sound. Toward the end of his life he had to stop sailing because of severe arthritis in his knees, but he could still row. I liked to watch how he feathered the oars to glide back. Little whirlpools formed where the oar blades tipped under: their entry clean as their exit. These are only some facts. He had a stroke and died three days later on Monday, October 5, 1992, at 5 a.m. Those last days in the hospital were a horror. He was fully conscious, but words failed. He couldn't speak or write. He tried to communicate by gestures. We couldn't interpret them. He kept making the gesture of pointing. In physical space we couldn't see what he saw. He couldn't guide a pencil or form a coherent signal. François Truffaut says that for a filmmaker the basic problem is how to express oneself by purely visual means. The same could be said for a sculptor, except that for two days and three nights in the hospital I don't think David saw what "visual means" meant. Without words what are facts? His eyes seemed to know. His hand squeezed mine. What did he mean? In my writing, I have often explored ideas of what constitutes...