canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

Silent Movie

by Philip Quinn

I shut the drapes in my apartment and place the single frame of film in the slide projector. I turn the projector on. Gabriel has moved his head closer for a kiss, and Evangeline is waiting.

I watch them, imagining how alive they could be if I had a complete sequence of images.

The decaying film smells like vinegar. To remove the smell from my hands, I use a raspberry-kiwi solution that I purchased from The Body Shop.


Heads without bodies. A crowd scene smeared into a grey mess. Lovers without a future. The film is in so many bits and pieces. I have trouble keeping the story straight. But I know how my story ends.

He stands by the window. I sit on the unmade bed. He doesn't look at me as he says, "This isn't working out."

I go dead inside, can't think of anything to say, so I say nothing.

He was in Toronto to do research on early films. We met at the Film Institute. Went out. Saw movies together, not films. That was my distinction. Made love. Saw other movies. Spent hours in darkness. I finally told him about Evangeline, the first film ever shot in Canada and how I found a copy of it and kept it for myself. He told me he could find a buyer for it. He thought everything had a price.

Of course, I knew he was married.


The lines from Longfellow's poem "Evangeline" are used as subtitles throughout the silent black and white film. The actors float in the space between the words. I use the poem as a guide to putting the film back together. I know that at some point in the year 1755, Evangeline and Gabriel will attempt to marry but they will become separated during the deportation of the Acadians from Nova Scotia by the British. I know that eventually Evangeline will find Gabriel again, only to have him die in her arms during an epidemic. I know all this but I keep hoping for a different ending.

I know he has returned to his wife in Boston. I could follow become a woman gone bad from the waiting, something rancid and incomplete.

Each night that he's not with me, he's with her. Do I hate myself that much?


Evangeline is shot in Nova Scotia in 1913, one year before the Great War. I wonder how many of the actors and crew will die at places like Ypres, the Somme, their bodies displacing the wet, blood-filled soil?

None of this is known to them but it is the subtext to everything they do. If we knew the future, would we act at all?

My reaction is to stop, become a freeze frame of myself, a dark, silent image. I identify with Laura Lyman who plays Evangeline. We have the same exquisite features, the same hopeful expression. We are both very young, probably too trusting. Our long hair falls to our shoulders.

I project myself back there with her. Cabins and tents in the bush. Mosquitoes everywhere. We pick up and move frequently, traveling in rented trucks from Grand Pré to the Annapolis Valley. Conditions are very rough and primitive. Everywhere I go, I feel watched. I know the older actors are wondering if I will hold up.

Because of their scrutiny, I think through every action. Before peeing in a squatting position over a dirt hole, I ask Marguerite Marquis who plays a Shawnee Indian woman to shield me from the eyes of the others.

At night, I attempt to deal with my overwhelming feelings for Gabriel or the actor who plays Gabriel. They are the same to me now. I confess my love to E.P. Sullivan who plays Father Felican, our village priest.

He shrugs his shoulders, gives me a soulful look. I suspect he is playing to the others. I try to read his lips but I can't. Between us, the subtitle would probably read: Soon the picture will be over and you will resume your real life. What life, I think. My hands are breaking off from touching the wrong things. Of course, John F. Carleton who plays Gabriel is married.

Gabriel should have been an angel, and Evangeline, what sort of name is that? It breaks apart into the words Eve...angel...line.

He laughed when I told him, "I'll miss you." He laughed like it was the wrong line, but the light was right and the ragged pieces of film matched as I handed him a section.


I've taken to hiding out in the silent darkness of my apartment.

I will give my supervisor at the Film Institute what I have. Confess my sins, describe to her how I came across Evangeline in five rusty tin cans that were removed from a barn near Caledon, Ontario. It was with other films but I kept Evangeline for myself.

No need to tell her that I couldn't make it whole. She can see the evidence of my failure. Maybe someone with better technical skills can truly restore this ruined film of tragic love. Or will it always, only be still?

The director, William H. Cavanaugh, tells me to walk towards the camera.

My actions are exaggerated, show a jerkiness. That technology will come. As the words will some day out of my silent mouth. 

I put all my feeling into my eyes and hands, begging Gabriel to stay and if he does go, to make sure he dies. I hold a fragment of his angel wing. A piece of film shot in Nova Scotia in 1913. It is now July 7, 2001. The smell of vinegar. Of chemicals gone bad. Of something really good, gone bad.



Philip Quinn's work has appeared in a diverse range of publications including Inkstone, Rampike, sub-Terrain, Shard, blood+aphorisms, Front & Centre, Quarry, Canadian Fiction magazine, Cabaret Vert, Kiss Machine, Lichen, and Broken Pencil. On-line appearances include: Laura Hird's Showcase, Eli Mae, and The Shore Magazine. Publications are Dis Location: Stories After the Flood and The Double, a novel. He lives in Toronto.







TDR is produced in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. 

All content is copyright of the person who created it and cannot be copied, printed, or downloaded without the consent of that person. 

See the masthead for editorial information. 

All views expressed are those of the writer only. 

TDR is archived with the Library and Archives Canada

ISSN 1494-6114. 


We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts. Nous remercions de son soutien le Conseil des Arts du Canada.