(Un)changing History: Bleeding Through and the Illusory Barrier Between Past and Present

Norman Klein’s Bleeding Through: Layers of Los Angeles (1920-1986) functions as a complex concatenation of database narrative, docu-game, i-doc, and digital archive charting the web of intersecting histories (both real and imagined) existent in Los Angeles from the 1920s to the year of the game’s release in 2003. The story itself recounts the history of Molly, a woman navigating the vicissitudinal moments circulating and colliding in a dense and ever-changing Los Angeles. Molly’s story, told in seven “chapters,” details her experiences in Los Angeles as a means of uncovering her possible involvement in the murder of her second husband. The narrative, however, functions less as the primary mode of engagement for the viewser, and more as a mode of what can be understood as affective dispersal. Specifically, the loose, almost improvisational style of storytelling enacted by Klein encourages a distracted navigation of the database in which disconnected media (historically, narratalogically, and materially speaking) dialectically converge and resist effectively leading to a complex form of emotional engagement in which story becomes one small piece of a larger affective map. Photos, sound, video, topographical maps, newspaper clippings, advertisements, and film randomly intersect in the disjointed “timelines” of each chapter inviting a mixture of nostalgia, mystery and intrigue while Molly’s story fluctuates between that of a necessary glue and simultaneously an extraneous distraction.

The disjunctive and discursive nature of the work is articulated not simply through the random intersection of modes of address (documentary, archive, narrative fiction, etc.) and media (photos, videos, maps, etc.) but additionally through the hypermediacy and interactivity of the platform itself. Klein’s recounting of Molly’s story is scaled down to a small box in the upper right hand corner while the rest of the content scrolls across a relatively small window in the center of the screen. Both Klein’s recounting of Molly’s story and the scrolling and randomized timelines of each chapter can be manipulated. Norman Klein’s narration (the story), for example, can be closed altogether leading to a wholly different mode of engagement with the material within the timeline—no longer tethered to the story, the viewser can engage the material as pure archive. Additionally, the windowed timeline allows for spatiotemporal shifts backward and forward to different locations and moments in time through clicking but more complexly, it also allows one to carefully navigate up/down/left/right within particular images themselves. This functionality approximates the physical navigation of the cityscape (objects on the visual periphery, looking up at tall buildings, etc.) and points to one of Bleeding Through’s most powerful components, particularly the multiplicity of temporalities present within the work and the way each of these “bleeds through” the material itself. The permitted navigation within discrete frames encourages the viewser to locate fragments of Molly’s unfolding fictional story within seemingly fixed and frozen archival images thus collapsing the distance between an unchanging past and a constantly evolving present. Through this recombinatory process—positioning and repurposing these historical fragments within a personalized fictional narrative—an immobile, distant, and anonymous history becomes a living document offering insight into Molly’s world and the events leading up to and surrounding the murder.


Just as these historical fragments are reconfigured and given new meaning based on their confrontation with the present, so too does Klein illustrate the ways in which the present is inherently bound in the past. Through the use of a slider bar, viewsers are able to manipulate the opacity of particular layered photos essentially toggling between past and present images of the same Los Angeles’ landscapes “disappearing” and transforming the bodies featured within the images. This functionality creates the uncanny effect of both regrounding the present in the past geographically speaking and pointing out the myriad occluded potentialities and histories simultaneously embedded in and lost to the present.

In “A Cinema in the Gallery, A Cinema in Ruins” Erika Balsom discusses the ways in which ruins (and film as a physical medium) effectively function as a sort of Bergsonian notion of the virtual image. Reaching both backwards toward a closed reality while simultaneously projecting a pantomimic and nostalgic string toward the future, or what could have been. These “nonsynchronous temporalities” reflecting an “admixture of hope and dread” (Balsom 422) play a primary role in Klein’s piece. Molly’s story, in conjunction with the opacity slider’s ability to make the past “disappear” into the present, forcefully reminds us of the vast pool of histories and lived experiences buried among the “ruins” of time. Molly’s narrative is merely one of many in this complex web of streets and spaces known as Los Angeles. Klein foregrounds this concept in the Tier 3 (Excavation: Digging Behind the Story) chapter titled “What Molly Barely Noticed or Managed to Forget” in which the “unpleasant” realities of Los Angeles’ past are portrayed via video, photo, and audio fragments reminding us of the intricate complex of subjugated knowledge and repressed histories always threatening to bleed through the layers of a seemingly fixed past forever altering the present and future.


 Works Cited

Balsom, Erika. “A Cinema in the Gallery, a Cinema in Ruins.” Screen 50.4. 2009.

Klein, Norman. Bleeding Through: Layers of Los Angeles, 1920-1986. DVD-ROM. 2002.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s