If you donated to the kickstarter campaign for our next film, Only Child, your package is on the way…
Here’s a photo to prove it.
Last week, co-producer Eileen Meyer and I got together to pack up all the goods (perfumes, soaps, scarves, more perfume). I needed a beer. And, after a while, glasses. I guess one of the tests for how well your campaign did is how much your eyes and head hurt after organizing all the shipments for donors. We started mailing the packages today, just as my eyes had started to adjust. But I couldn’t be happier:
The other test, maybe, would be whether or not your movie got made. Thanks to you, ours did. And after we finish getting all these items out, we can move forward with the editing.
Notes on Miriam…
Miriam Hopkins originally studied as a dancer, until a broken ankle sent her in another direction. You can see what kind of dancer she might have become by watching her film performances. The first time I saw her, in Old Acquaintance with Bette Davis, I was struck by how musical she was on screen, how meticulously she choreographed her movements. Davis and Crawford were stylized too, but less physically; with those two the stylization had more to do with voice and expression. Hopkins has a dancer’s neck and poise and she carries herself sometimes like she’s the only dancer left in a scene that started out as a dance number. Check her out in the beginning of Trouble in Paradise, where she flings herself elaborately across a series of chairs like something out of Swan Lake.
She was very popular (cover of Time magazine, Academy Award nomination) but compared to her contemporaries didn’t make many movies – 35 to Crawford’s 80 – partly because she focused on the stage, partly because she was blacklisted during the McCarthy era. She was Ernst Lubitsch’s favorite actress – they shared that strange musicality and built character and narrative arc in similar ways: elliptically, through gesture and juxtaposition. Some of Hopkin’s best work was for Lubitsch (Trouble in Paradise, The Singing Lieutenant, Design for Living). Her carriage and diction feel somewhat old-fashioned now but there’s something about her that seems totally modern.
According to Allan Ellenberger, she was difficult to work with, and not just for fellow actors. Andre Soares of the Alt Film Guide wrote that one of the only times Hopkins seems to get talked about is after one of her films plays on cable, at which point someone comes out of the woodwork to say again that she was a “selfish, self-centered, megalomaniacal, scene-stealing, temperamental, fire-spitting Bitch from Hell who made life difficult for co-stars, directors, producers, writers, cameramen, hairdressers, manicurists, costume designers, studio carpenters, and special effects personnel, among others.” She didn’t hang around film people, so maybe there was no love lost. Her crew included writers, mostly – Faulkner, Dorothy Parker, Tennessee Williams, Dreiser. She was well read. Sexually liberated, too, according to Ellenberger, who has been researching Hopkins for an upcoming biography. Well read and sexually liberated with an aversion to obscenity.
This is one of my favorite photos of Hopkins. Notice the absorption with which she reads about, presumably, her public image. Notice the finger. Connect the dots and you get an idea what she might have thought about what you thought of her. Like a lot of famous actresses, she had a troubled relationship with her mother. She went years without speaking to her father, until she “made it” in Hollywood. She was well read and sexually liberated, had an aversion to obscenity – and was difficult in the way only really famous people can be, estranged from their most ardent admirers, who can become their fiercest enemies. Their parents barely know them but hold fast to the idea they do.
If you’ve heard much about Hopkins it might have been in relation to two time co-star Bette Davis, who famously called her a bitch. A “terribly good actress,” says Bette, using the same knife to butter and cut. In a fantastic scene from The Smiling Lieutenant, Lubitsch has Hopkins and Claudette Colbert fight over the same man. They slap each other, then strike up a friendship. No such bygones for Hopkins and Davis.
Actress Ann Magnuson is often compared to Shirley Maclaine (the short red hair, the dancer’s legs) but she reminds me more of Miriam Hopkins. She looks very much like her, and shares that gift of musicality – the way she modulates her voice, the way she carries her body. I named Magnuson’s character in the Woman’s Picture series (Miriam Masterson) after Miriam Hopkins.
You can catch a lot of Hopkins’ films on youtube: Trouble in Paradise, The Smiling Lieutenant, Becky Sharp, Carrie, Design for Living.
Dream involving a poodle, an iguana, a cobra, chicken wire, a concussion, and the President of the United States…
I was in town visiting you, and you had this massive iguana or something out in a chicken wire pen in the back yard. My dog Jody was with me (black standard poodle) and she’d wandered into the pen, her legs sort of poking through the chicken wire holes. And I didn’t know there was an iguana in there, until you said, Oh look, here’s my new pet, and it came out and was slithering around Jody’s legs, and looked like a cobra, and I was freaking out, and upset, and trying to get Jody’s legs out of the pen. Jody was freaking too.
You felt I was overreacting because you knew it wasn’t a snake and it wouldn’t hurt Jody, so there was tension between us, and I was like, get my dog out of there.
You had this weird thing between the back of your house and the yard. It was like a concrete canal down to the basement – a drop of a full house story – and in order to get to the yard you kind of had to straddle a concrete piling and hop, and because I was freaking out you were rushing to cross it and get over to the pen. You missed and your foot hit air, and you fell forward and hit your head on the concrete piling, forehead first, then dropped all the way down the ground below, on your back.
I was so scared. I rushed to you, and you were dazed. You weren’t injured externally that I could see but you weren’t making sense at all. I rushed you inside, where there were a bunch of other people, and asked them for help. A woman you knew came up and after hearing what happened asked you who the president was. You answered correctly. Then she asked you if you fell and you looked at her like what the hell are you talking about. You had zero short term memory and were saying you were sleepy and groggy and just wanted to lie down.
A vintage gas mask might be just the thing for a dream sequence in an as yet unmade film…
My friend Eileen found this gas mask (pictured above) at an estate sale over the weekend and texted me a picture of it, thinking it might come in handy for a film. At twenty bucks, it’s a pretty affordable special effect.
I did a little research and the kind she got, which has the thick glass eye holes and a screw-in canister at the mouth, came out around 1944. The glass had to be thick – therefore small – to protect the eyes without fear of breakage and injury. From Wikipedia: “It was made of plastic and rubber-like material that greatly reduced the weight and bulk compared to World War One gas masks and fitted the user’s face more snugly and comfortably.”
I wouldn’t associate comfort with rubber, and this mask, though indeed snug, is hardly cozy. It feels on your face the way a bathing cap feels on your scalp and reminds me of wearing panty hose over your head, only the nylon was dipped in quick cement.
Later technology (plastics?) allowed for larger eye holes, which became more like Buick dashboards. I think I prefer the older kind. More insect-like. You can’t see the face – the gas mask becomes the face, and you search it looking for something recognizably human.
I’ve had some pretty creepy dreams, and it’s hard to capture that kind of mood on film. Something like this gas mask is the right kind of visual, elliptical shorthand somehow.
Now if I could just find a gas mask for a horse. And a horse.
How a chair, a broom, a mug, and a vintage car came together for a sequence in ONLY CHILD…
These stills are from the ONLY CHILD shoot, taken by Jamie Harmon on April 16th, 2012.
We were scheduled to shoot interiors at this location, Fuel Cafe over on Madison Ave., Memphis, TN. I’d already worked Bennett Foster into a scene inside but I wanted to do something else with him. The place looked so great on the outside that I wanted to get exterior shots too.
I pulled this chair out the day before to get some distance from things while we were shooting. When I saw it there the next day, I wasn’t looking at it the way it was but the way it might look in a film. The chair, against the wall, had a quality I liked. When I added a broom it looked even better. It felt like some kind of story was going on there.
We’d already used Alice Laskey-Castle’s car, a vintage blue Mercedes. We decided that would be the car driven by Delores, Grace Zabriskie’s character. I saw the chair and the wall and I thought Bennett would look fantastic sitting there, with the car right up against him and a broom leaning nearby. So we got Alice, who did wardrobe on the film, to pull the Mercedes in. And I got a coffee cup I’d seen inside the day before, and set it on the chair to see how that would look.
Delores is in town looking for her estranged daughter, and comes to this diner almost every day. She sits at the same table. Has a tuna melt. Glares at her fellow patrons. She makes friends, cautiously, with her waitress. In the script you always see her at the table, after she’s already entered the place and been sitting there for a while.
I wanted to see her get out of her car and enter the building. What does she look like when she’s not where I’m used to picturing her? Whatever this story was – this broom and the chair and Bennett sitting there – I wanted to see her pass through it. So we set up a scene where Bennett, who works at the diner, was maybe sitting outside, drinking coffee on a break. Maybe he wasn’t supposed to be taking a break. Or it was only a break because there weren’t any diners inside.
We started the scene as if Delores had just parked her car, and we positioned Bennett’s legs where it felt like Delores had practically parked the car on top of him. As Delores gets out of her car, they stare each other down and it makes you wonder what they’re thinking. And Bennet, all seven feet of him, leans clear over in the chair watching Delores scope out the building. And when she enters, he gets up, and puts his coffee down on the chair, and goes inside to wait on her.
Bennett’s outfit matched the wall – white on top, black below. Delores was all in black except for a leopard print scarf around her head. She carried bright orange plastic grocery bags and stopped with them at the hood of her car, staring down Bennett like he might steal her hubcaps if he got the chance.
Flood Pants: Back story on a still of Bennett Foster from the set of the feature film Only Child…
Bennett Foster has been around midtown Memphis for a while now. His father’s pretty well known in the area and Bennett’s been somewhere in the general vicinity since he was a kid I think. I worked at a coffee house briefly with him about ten years ago. He was probably still in high school at the time.
I always thought he looked interesting. He’s very tall, slender, and his scale seems to be off when you put him up against other people. He’s one of maybe four or five people in town I’ve always wanted to put in a film. Generally I’m shy about asking.
Bennett’s a musician so I guess he’s used to performing. He’s in a band called Magic Kids (first album, Memphis, is out on Matador). Before that he was in band called The Barbaras. Both bands are sort of orchestral pop, with harmonies that remind me of Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys, though the Barbaras were a grungier move in that direction.
We were about two weeks from our start date on ONLY CHILD, the latest feature film in the Woman’s Picture series, when I walked into the coffeehouse Bennet and I used to work at. He’s working there again off and on and happened to be in that day. I got a coffee and a bagel to go and he was making the bagel. He had flood pants. I think it’s probably hard to find pants with the right inseam, but he’d pulled them up so high on his waist he wasn’t giving this pair much of a fighting chance. I thought I should just ask him if he wanted to be in the film. Then I decided against it. Then I grabbed my bagel and blurted out something pretty inarticulate.
He said he might be interested as long as the story wasn’t sexist, capitalist, or several other things I can’t remember. I wasn’t really sure the script didn’t fall into any of those categories, so I said I’d send it to him.
I didn’t hear from him for a week or so and thought the film probably wasn’t his idea of a good time. Then I was there again having coffee and he came up to me in those pants and sat down and told me he liked the script. He thought it was really dark and hoped I kept it that way.
He was on set for two days. I asked him to wear those pants or something like them. The set was a diner in midtown, located in an old converted gas station. The tablecloths are black and white plastic gingham. Every table has one of those outdoor citronella candles on it. With his white t-shirt and his high tide pants and his skewed flop of hair, Bennett looked like somebody who’s watched a lot of James Dean and tried to dress like him but got stretched out a little.
Photo by Morgan Fox.