Friday, January 28, 2011
The Last Moving Picture Show
28 Jan 11
Last week, I appeared in a short film, “The Shadow,” at the Columbia Film College. I took the job for reasons all writers should, both to write about the experience, or at least take notes, including every contour of the girl applying my make-up, as I could only stare straight ahead, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. The other reason is the obvious one, to whore myself completely to those producing and directing the film. I know several writers who teach at Columbia, which has multiple campuses in areas both good and dismal. But I thought it was time to make a few contacts who worked in film, and I had the good fortune to talk up my writing to a few guys in the green room, “The Jail Guard,” and “The Tenement Boy.” The waif who put my make-up on was happy to know that two of my books have that evil “e with a hyphen” in front of it, I’d say it made me feel older, but let me just describe how it all came about.
A month ago, I was skimming craigslist for gigs, and I’ve been lucky to find a few focus study groups in the [ETC] section (a few years back, I was paid to give my opinion on Gatorade yogurt, which by the grace of Elvis is not on the shelves at 7-11s everywhere). And there it was: actors, 20 minute film, etc. Send head shot. Well, my resume photo is a shot of me standing in front of Jonny O’s Hot Dogs at 38th & Morgan, near the old Stockyards. Well, it worked. Got the call, a confirmation date, then the sheet with everybody’s name and what they do and who they are in the film. I was “Dapper Old Bald Man Holding Sign.” And with that, I understood how I got the job. Wardrobe gave me period clothes from a hundred years ago, my wool pants had a fly that kept sliding down, the story of my life, really. Then I went to makeup, and had sideburns and a handlebar moustache glued onto my face. Afterwards, the girl about a third of my age put all that powder and non-shiny stuff on my head. Now I know why so many women are so happy: they are stoned on their own makeup. It was like having Kit Kat-flavored smelling salts shoved up my nose. And that stuff had to keep getting applied whenever I was under the lights. All I could eat was croutons because everything else stuck to the moustache glue, so after seven hours of filming and getting my head dusted, I likely had a blood alcohol level that would have my pull my own fly open as soon as I left the building. (Well, I really wasn’t going to do that, we had a minus ten wind chill that day.) And I don’t know how it happened, but I gouged open my fingernail while holding this sign above my head in front of a green screen, and asked if it was going to be a silent film, as I wanted to start crying uncontrollably.
I cut out after that damnable moustache was gone, and shoved as much of the remnants from lunch in my mouth as I could. Salad greens, tinfoil, that seemed to be it. Those jackal film students. It was a stretch back from 16th Street to the Roosevelt el stop, and within blocks State Street goes from industrial to hipster-y lofts where the people walking towards each building have voices that sound as if helium was pumped through their nasal passages. An aside: there is a product sold her for these idiots who live in high-rises and have pets. A chunk of Astroturf and a plastic fire hydrant for the balcony. Yes, I’m serious. After that the neighborhood briefly gets creepy, enough that when I turned onto Roosevelt, I was completely startled by a giant full moon not far above Lake Michigan. I might have shrieked like Nathan Lane, I just don’t know. And I was home ninety minutes later. I had taken some photos in the prop and wardrobe rooms, made some notes of the day as well as working on “A Once-Told Tale,” which will play out as if Shirley Jackson had sneaked into a tea party rally. All good discipline. And I learned that I could get high if I wore women’s makeup. Maybe its weed, maybe its Maybelline.
My January 28th essay for Storytellers Unplugged.