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Not me, her

In 1987, I found myself trying to write about a high school girlfriend that had been molested by her father when she was a child. I was 19 years old, struggling to find my way through a screenwriting assignment about delivering character. The idea was to describe messy young love between two Sid and Nancy want-to-be's. But that failed, as I could not stomach oversimplifying her complicated past, events that shaped her life as a 16 year old with a mohawk, a smart mouth, a lingering stare. I understood that I had to start at the very beginning.

No one wanted to hear the story. When it was my turn to read in class, it even came to be that some of the other students asked to stand in the hallway before they heard another description of what happened in that lonely little house in the middle of nowhere. I was trying, and failing, and trying again to get things right, to explain how this happened, how it could happen to this girl, how this man found his way to acts of selfishness and d…

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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