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Gregory Crewdson: Art Review April 2005 Volume LVI

There are some storms brewing in Gregory Crewdson's dark and enigmatic photographs of American suburbia. A.M. Homes thinks they answer our need for cinematic drama.

Did anyone say they were expecting rain?

Did you happen to notice the delicious and blessed melancholia that is twilight? The hundreds of shades of blue that it takes to drop into night: Samonsonite sky blue, Ma Bell powder blue, Maybelline midnight blue?
There are atmospheric conditions: beautiful, tender and numb—anaesthetized. There are the super-saturated colours of 3D ViewMaster reels, echoes from a childhood that never was. Reflections in a looking glass. There is a view out the window into another room. It is always about being seen.
On a rain-slicked street in a small town, a fiery red plastic taillight glows, like a rocket engine taking off, peeling away and then slamming on the brakes, turning around and heading for home. You can't get out of here that easily. 
Did they say when the weather would let up? We are having weather; there is even weather inside the house—the outside is always coming in. And there is drama, the thing about to happen, the thing that just happened, in front of your eyes, behind your back, while you were staring straight at it. 
He called from the office. 'Don't worry about dinner, working late again.' As much as there is light, there is sorrow: 'Sorry. I don't know what's gotten into me, ever since I've been lost.'
It is all a set-up. The mother and son sit alone at the dining-room table. They are together but alone. Behind them there is a Fifties kitchen filled with warmth, hope, possibility. Is it their kitchen, is it the kitchen of another generation, the kitchen of our imagination, our desire? They, mother and son, are in the foreground, pensive, distracted—disconnected. Something is wrong; some secret has been breached, something private made public. The boy is looking down in shame, the mother is holding herself in judgement mode; for years she tried so hard and this is what she gets. This is her reward. 
Did you happen to notice when things took a turn? 'There are things Mother never told me. I found out later on my own.' Failed relations. Blood-red roses, petals, fragrance, thorns. Fertile territory. 
The woman is alone in her bedroom, sitting before her vanity. Wearing her silky gown—satin, a fabric not from nature—she is a modern woman, fallen behind the times. What is she thinking—her husband no longer loves her? Perhaps he never did. Her life has been a series of not decisions, but events. She is everywhere, repeating, fractures, refractions of herself. She is at the vanity, standing in the doorway, framed from the window. She is clothed, she is nude, she is revealed, turning the other cheek. Her pale breasts and belly are an almost opalescent reflective surface. She is hunched, bent with the weight of her humanity, the force of gravity. She is reminding us of our apish qualities—welcome to the monkey house. 
She is reminding us that we cannot escape the corporeal, the skin and bones and dark hairs and flesh, secret, scented flesh. She wanted more. She had high hopes. When they bought this place they were on the road to success. 
Did they take a wrong turn, make a false move? 
The colour is luscious. There is a hint of what might once have been described as opulence, class. The detail is almost excruciating. It all adds up. 
Behind her is another room and then a walk-in closet, leading into her bedroom. There are mirrors, reflections everywhere. In her closet there are boxes, suitcases, her hamper holding dirty laundry, and there are things left on the floor, spilt puddles of clothing. Her mother would not approve, she would not have let things slip out of control. 
This girl, woman, mother, wife, has made a mess of things. 'You might not want to go in there,' she says, when he finally comes home. 
The rooms are compressed, walls repositioned. This is not how they are, how they were, but how they felt. It is about a new psychological reality, visual representation of emotional experience. 
'You might not want to go in there,' he says later, to the men who come when they are called. 
This is Hopper and Carver and Pinter and something that we have never seen before. 
It is a series of images, a story compressed into a single photograph. It is layers of narrative pressed into one. A photographic diorama—a scene. Like a hologram, it changes as you look at it, as you move in and around it. Or is it you that changes? This is the cinematic, the fictive; a challenge to a reality culture that pretends to feed on facts, pretends that we are comforted by what we are told is truth, but in reality we need more.
This is an old-fashioned American romance, the America of Good and Plenty. This is the America of the dream.
We are somnambulists, stirring.
The events are staged, plotted mysteries. Everything is adjusted, calibrated, considered.
If it could have happened, it might have looked like this. An altered experience. Nothing is quite right; an acknowledgement that the notion of normal is a fallacy; the loss of the ideal stirs incalculable grief. And yet we are resilient, alive beneath the roses. 
The narrow white beam of a flashlight's glow blooms like midnight tulips, in this surrealist's Garden of Eden. There is darkness and shadow and always there is a glow, always there is light, sleeping in, light coming up from under, light lifting, a flood of light. 
A man holds his hand out to touch the rain. 
The splash of water wakes him, brings him to his senses, the smelling salts of the earth. He has been driving for a very long time. He pulls into the woods, opens the trunk, takes out his shovel and begins to dig. The headlights are on. There are boxes, bags holding secrets, things he has carried with him, things that have been in the family for a very long time. He has to put it all back where it came from, it has to go underground, it has to be somewhere where it can't rise up, where it will never be found. If no one finds it, no one will ever know what happened and then maybe he can go back, maybe they can begin again.

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