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there is always something (why I shoot film)

There are maybe ten shots left on the roll. Outside the metro, a collection of pigeons sit on minuscule ledges above two old men. They talk as all old men do, with operatic waves of their hands, sour expressions, belly laughs, eventually scratching their chins as they stare off at nothing in particular. I am pretending to take pictures of something near them, then swing across when they are not looking to shoot a few frames. At one point I surrender to the afternoon and move on.

And now, the courtyard that leads to the film lab. A great old building rests here, a school of architecture where students mill around dressed in black sucking on cigarettes with giant portfolios tucked under their arms. A young man approaches me. I am ready to tell him I have no idea what he is saying, but he wants to know where the film lab is. I jut my chin, telling him the door is just beyond a few bushes. He nods his thanks.

There are screens set up in a jagged line, sheathed in filthy white plastic to …

that good tired


6AM on a Sunday, and I am lurching from the bed. The bags are all packed. Camera, lenses, freshly charged batteries and tripod sit in a neat row by the front door. They are waiting patiently for me to eat something, to splash water on my face until things connect. The phone rings, Alexander will be here soon. The baby is sleeping in such a perfect pose. N is curled around her, in the fuzziest pink blanket. I tiptoe back into the room, because I forgot my lucky shirt, the one I wear on flights. It hangs wrinkled and lopsided in the closet, but I put it on all the same.

We are quickly off the main road, and driving in some secret, forgotten corner of Moscow. There are dogs barking, a horse and rider moving slowly, looking back at us just once. The trees look strange here, like they are from Mars. The main road is close, a steady hum of traffic bleeds across so there is no way we can shoot any scenes with sound here, but take that invisible traffic noise away and we could be anywhere - some barren, lost corner of the world. That is one thing I need for Blackbetty - to turn a busy city into an empty one. 

Later, we are driving in an old business district. There are old bricks slathered with a hundred layers of paint. There are no straight lines here, just sagging, curving, bending walls that finger off into the distance. There are trolley cars on metal wheels, still running up and down the tracks that shine along the asphalt. There are filthy windows, reflecting nothing. There are steps to closed doors. A bus stop sits, empty and patient. We try to capture it all, hustling up and down the main road before the sidewalks fill with people, before cars are barreling up and down the roads.

And then we are done. Back at home, the bags are slung across my shoulders, the warm goodbye, the ritual of making a film with the same people often transforming into such an unspoken shorthand, a nod, a moment when you lean your head to one side and you have said everything. 

Upstairs I eat a second breakfast. The baby is smiling at me. She wants to steal my orange cap.  I sit and sigh and feel that good tired, that peaceful exhaustion after you accomplish something. 



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