Jump directly to the page contents

60 min. English.

David sends a postcard to his roommate Todd from Milan, saying Madeline is already settled in. Upon his return to the US, he visits his parents, is handed a cheque, reunites with Todd in Brooklyn, schedules job interviews. Then a shot of a side street, between tall buildings, without cars, David walks into frame, opera surges on the soundtrack, he walks further into the image until he’s no longer there. Todd and Madeline search for him across the city, between literary events, exhibition openings, one-night stands, coffee shop chat. Even before David disappeared, the paper trail he left behind kept flashing up on screen, the cheque, the boarding pass, diary entries, but other documents are now needed, identification photos, missing persons forms, the postcard from Milan; nothing helps. Before David disappeared, he was cataloguing the holdings of contentious dead philosopher Steven Taubes, who left behind traces of his own: videos of far-flung cities, recordings that talk of the death of politics, critical reassessments, rumours that a movement is growing. Dossiers should provide certainty, but they no longer do, how unnerving it is to realise that life is now the gaps. (James Lattimer)

Ricky D’Ambrose was born in Livingston, New Jersey, United States in 1987. He was raised on Long Island and studied English Literature and Cinema Studies at New York University. In 2012, he received a master’s degree in Film Studies from Columbia University in New York. Since 2013, he has shot and edited a series of video-recorded directors’ talks – featuring Chantal Akerman, Bruno Dumont, and Matías Piñeiro, among others – for the online film magazine MUBI Notebook. Ricky D’Ambrose has written film reviews and essays for The Nation, Film Quarterly, the Times Literary Supplement, and The White Review. Following four short films, Notes on an Appearance is his first full-length feature film.

Ahistorical reflections

The earliest draft of NOTES ON AN APPEARANCE was written more than eight years ago, during a sharply defined period in my life. Between 2008 and 2012, on the tails of my education, I worked piecemeal in New York, typically with empty pockets, beset with low spirits, a disillusioned former recruit to the dubious world picture that marked most of my childhood: the Nineties world, of continuous plenty and aplomb, in which History had ended. (They said the world – this new world – was too big to fail.)
What began with sprawl – as a clunky ensemble vehicle about a handful of young people collectively living out the consequences of a discredited worldview – is now much more compressed, even miniaturised. The result is a scrapbook movie: newspaper inserts, handwritten journal entries, city maps, postcards from overseas, typewritten manuscript pages, snatches of chatter, and glimpses of action are hoarded to convey, at least obliquely, something of the unspoken circumstances surrounding a disappearance.
This means minimising, even eliminating, some of the usual expository techniques of narrative filmmaking – psychological portraiture, for instance, or descriptive ‘backstory’, which motivates and lends plausibility to a character’s statements and acts, typically in the name of verisimilitude. And in their place? A surface of objects (photographs, notebooks, coffee cups, train tickets) and sounds (street rallies, dense clusters of footsteps, overheard chatter, doors continuously opened and closed) without any corresponding symbolic value or charge. I like this surface-oriented, uninflected, ahistorical treatment of people and things, especially for a film that has more than a passing resemblance to a detective story, in which the search for a missing person is supersaturated with arbitrary signals and small, provisional clues.
Like the paper journal left behind by the vanished David – a neatly inscribed list of daily expenses, filled with travel tickets, drawings, receipts, and postcard reproductions of paintings – NOTES ON AN APPEARANCE isn’t confessional. Instead, I hoped to make something akin to a silent talkie: a movie that dispatches information selectively, in bald snippets, and that draws from a rich fund of recurring narrative silences, detours, and elisions.
This film wasn’t made to be timely. But a film about loss, set in a dim, sickly period of extremism and emergency – and in which the reasons for a character’s disappearance are either hidden from view or else totally incomprehensible – is, I fear, especially relevant now. On a more intimate level, though, it’s a film that synthesises so much of what I’ve been thinking and feeling these past few years. (Ricky D’Ambrose)

Production Graham Swon. Production company Graham Swon (New York, USA). Written and directed by Ricky D’Ambrose. Director of photography Barton Cortright. Editing Ricky D’Ambrose. Sound design Kevin T. Allen. Sound Sean Dunn. Production design Ricky D’Ambrose. With Keith Poulson (Todd), Tallie Medel (Madeleine), Bingham Bryant (David), Madeleine James (Karin), Daryl Jade Williams (Brandon), Stephen Gurewitz (Cousin), James N. Kienitz Wilkins (Ethan), Kathryn Danielle (Mother), A. S. Hamrah (Father), Jessica Pinfield (Valerie).

World sales Partisan Films


2011: The Stranger (31 min.). 2012: Pilgrims (13 min.). 2015: Six Cents in the Pocket (14 min., Berlinale Shorts 2016). 2016: Spiral Jetty (15 min.). 2018: Notes on an Appearance.

Funded by:

  • Logo Minister of State for Culture and the Media
  • Logo des Programms NeuStart Kultur