Experimental and early film
By the time I was ready to go to college I knew that I wanted to be a filmmaker. I had thought to go to film school at U.C.L.A. or N.Y.U. but for reasons that aren’t important here, that did not come to pass. My high-school project had been about film and I worked on film throughout college and even worked it into my major, after a fashion, but college did not prove to be a platform from which I moved into professional involvement in film. I still have ideas about how to turn that around but we will have to explore that elsewhere.
My first film was a remake of King Kong made on a playskool play camera- I couldn’t have been more than 7 at the time. This film was very hard to share(being that it was purely imaginary) but the experience was invaluable. To a lesser degree this was true of every other film that I made until the current era. If you were there at the exact right time, in the exact right place, as with my “King Kong”, you got to see it. Then, if the film even existed, on tape or reels of super-8 or vhs tape, the tape, or the deck or the film or the projector might break or get lost or stolen, temporarily or permanently made unavailable for viewing, except by the most patient or lucky people. Even when the possibility of a calm and balanced lifestyle, with reasonably operating equipment entered the picture, experiencing films that I made was a rare event, as the relative calmness of my life had relegated such matters to a drawer, shelf, or box in the attic. If I succeeded screening anything, it was to myself at midnight, or to a dozen people in a coffeeshop with one or two of my friends in attendance. Was I actually a filmmaker then? Where was the proof? Well, like I said, when I was on, I was on, and for the few friends who helped me shoot and for people in the glory days of Annapolis youth culture, I was a committed filmmaker. Beyond those key experiences, myself and others had serious doubts about my status.
I remember talking from Maryland on the phone to a friend from Philadelphia back in the ’90’s. I was describing something that I wanted to film, which was a scene in a kitchen including a close-up of flatware in a drawer, especially the reflective area of the spoons, both the concave and convex reflections. She suggested that the character grab all the knives and have them be bloody in his or her hands. There was something else about a Birthday cake and “Thanks Mom” either spoken by the character or written on the cake in her telling. I was still lost imagining a kettle and steam and other possibilities for reflective surfaces. Her ideas were intriguing, enthralling and to the point, whereas mine were about light and smoke and shadows- both of our visions were valid endeavours, I believe, but I think there was something more she was telling me. By citing violence and family dynamics I think she was trying to shock me out of the solipsistic world I had ventured in to, where I had possibly even become lost. She quickly tired of playing along with me, and of hearing my aspirations for a film I was never to make. She snapped, “Yeah that’s fine, but you would have to really do it”- as if I had never actually produced anything, and it was all talk. Had I ever done anything? I had! What about my 16mm epic with the minotaur and the demon telephone that I had produced in Chicago? What about my film “5 Minutes that Shook the World” with my family pets cast as Russian Tsars, generals and Peasants”? What about the footage I shot of my girlfriend, naked under a Maryland flag that I projected over my brothers band at a gig at a farm shed outside of town, the time before the State Troopers shut us down, until the lewd comments got so out of hand that I stuck my hand over the projector lens until we had giant spiders from the movie Them! spooled up and ready to attack? What about all that? Well how was she to know? I hadn’t produced a resume with these events chronologically entered into it, nor was I able to re-stage any of this in any way for her. It had all happened already, but in a larger sense she was right of course, and could see that more or less fifteen years later I would have little more than 3 minutes of footage of the aftermath of an ice-storm to show for my dreamy filmic investigation of the countryside. But what I do have is precious. Maybe too precious perhaps(?) but so what, it is what it is and I am thankful for it.
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