The summer I recall being sixteen.
The magic that poured out of my eyes and into my soul. I knew it only by one name at the time: Inspiration with a capital “I." Inspiration as in the air that fills you up for no apparent reason except for maybe the way the sun flickers through your bedroom on a Sunday afternoon. Or how the hot, hot heat of summer leaves beads across your forehead and upper lip. the wind pushes the grass on your front lawn and fire ants take shelter in the damp, moistened soil. But it all happens in such a way that you and your 16-year-old girly-ness feel feelings of awe. Waves of something and anything. You truck through the days feeling like your life is a light backlit by the sunshine and a 70's track by Led Zeppelin. Days feel like daisies and a dream. Days drag out like long trips through a marijuana haze. You find comfort in everything because everything, even the grey speckled pavement, inspires you that summer.
But summer takes a turn for the life-changing one day when you’re holed up in your bedroom for all of 13 hours. Bored and bingeing on food, and fun, and films. I like the old ones or ones that were made in the 90's but still feel old. I don’t know why I’m such a nostalgist, but as I’ve grown older, I find it’s one of the qualities I like best about myself.
You settle on a film because it looks cool. You see the comments on Youtube: some raving about its greatest, some tearing it to bits. Its name: Somewhere, written and directed by a woman named Sofia. Apparently, the daughter of some big time film director, Francis Ford Coppola. The dude who made that film about the Apocalypse…or something. I’m fascinated by the vagueness of the film title. Somewhere can be anywhere. At 16, sometimes I wish I too was somewhere and anywhere. Sometimes I wish I were both places at once.
My body at 16. Man, my body at 16 was killer. I wish I knew it then. All the boys knew it though. They were way ahead of the game on that front. I feel like all boys are born skirt-chasers. They see a girl they like and they go after her. At 16, boys didn’t like me though. They liked my body more. They preferred whatever magic was between my legs rather than the smile on my lips. My magic was their inspiration. It’s what got them up…literally. My foolish teenage cravings for love led me to mistake a boy thinking I’m pretty and wanting my body, for him actually liking me and wanting me whole.
Falling in love is the feeling I chased most vehemently when I was 16. I’m not sure why, looking back. Maybe I saw how romanticized it was in films and thought there was something very charming about how easy and attainable loved seemed to be, through a screen. I laugh at my girlish naiveté now.
Love is beautiful, and it’s magic, like inspiration. But being 16 and filled with awe and wonder contributed to feeding this decadent, illusory fantasy of love that I had super glued to my foreground. Like inspiration, I looked for love in everything and everyone. I would live vicariously through the characters on screen, lost and willingly entrapped in a reverie of my own partial making. These unique feelings were intertwined with my cliched adolescent angst and teenage desperation. But it was anguish through angst that led me to Sofia Coppola.
I was the epitome of what every adult failed to understand: How a 16-year-old girl could possibly be so sad yet riddled with sides of happiness and tenderness whenever the sun came up and the air was warm. I escaped into the ethereal depths of Sofia Coppola's films because I found myself residing in every one of her characters. I saw the boys I’d had crushes on since the sixth grade, acted out by a young Josh Hartnett; tired and stoned, unconcerned and unapologetic. I was Lux from The Virgin Suicides; still a virgin and giving myself away too soon to a boy who was immediately uninterested in me once my allure wore off. At sixteen, I embodied the fluctuating moods and emotions of Johnny Marco and the quiet, careful wonder of Cleo, from Somewhere.
Sofia Coppola films are love and inspiration and teen melancholy bottled up into a cinematographic dream sequence. Her films are the stillness at dusk. The silence between night and day. The angst that resides in the underbelly of a beguiled, gullible teen. Her films incarnate the coming and going of youth and the lonely, lollygagging, lackadaisical nature of being a teenage girl. ✉
piece by: nneka nnagbo
visual by: sofia coppola