Mar 252013

Perfume pops up in movies a lot more than you realize. Usually, you blink and it’s gone. Like in the Busby Berkeley film I watched a few weeks ago, maybe FOOTLIGHT PARADE, where hopefuls are trying out for a revue and one tells – is it James Cagney? – that perfume helps her perform. She’s brought some with her and sniffs from it before her audition, standing there at the microphone. James Cagney or whoever it is rolls his eyes. I’d love to know which perfume she’s holding.

The other night I watched Andy Warhol’s BAD (1977), directed by Jed Johnson, Warhol’s boyfriend at the time and twin brother of Jay, also a Studio 54 era Warhol regular. Perry King plays a grifter who shacks up in Caroll Baker’s boarding house-slash-hair removal salon. Baker moonlights as a contract killer broker, employing various women to perform hits. She doesn’t like Perry much, and doesn’t much try to hide it. She doesn’t like him mostly because he blows her cover. She doesn’t exactly poor mouth but no one realizes just how much she likes the finer things. Perry does – first by sensing it, then by sneaking into her locked room.

The rest of the house verges on squalid. Baker’s room is like something out of one of the sixties films she once starred in, THE CARPETBAGGERS – plush shag, oversized rococo lamps, big fancy headboard. Her closet is a Brinks truck’s worth of luxury items, and among the furs and shoe boxes is quite a collection of expensive perfume. I froze the frame, trying to identify the bottles. She has them all sitting out on the shelves. I think I saw Dior. Perry sees Guerlain, what looks like an ounce of Shalimar parfum extrait. He steals it.

Later, he trysts with one of the contract killers in his bedroom, enlisting the Shalimar as a seduction tool. It doesn’t really seem to do much for his partner, but you get the idea it turns him on more than he hopes it will her. He keeps dabbing the perfume on her. Then his hand leaves the screen, descending below the frame, and she gasps, angry, telling him “it burns.” It’s probably the most explicit use of perfumery in film I’ve seen, and kind of funny too, the way it makes literal the fantasies people slip into with fragrance. Shalimar as sex toy.

Later, Baker discovers the empty bottle (empty! a whole ounce!) and confronts Perry as he’s taking a bath. She throws his pills (which he pilfered from her) down the toilet, and tells him he’ll be buying her another bottle.

 Posted by on March 25, 2013
Mar 082013


This morning I went over to help pick up what might be the last of a deceased friend’s belongings.

It’s been an ongoing thing, this liquidation, and I know it will end eventually, but in some ways I wish it wouldn’t. I’m always disappointed, because I pick up these things (yarn, CDs, DVDs, notebooks) and realize, getting them home, that what I really want is to retrieve her somehow. The belongings remind me of her, which is nice, but they remind me of her absence too, which isn’t so great. They remind me how complex a person is, and how ill equipped mementos alone are to paint the complete picture of their former owners.

Among these objects have been things I once gave her. Today I found a boxed CD set of the Cocteau Twins, a band I was happy to learn at some point we both liked. Her tastes in music varied wildly, but we shared an interest in this kind of jangle pop, which in her case ran the gamut from The Cocteau Twins to The Smiths. I’d forgotten about giving her the box set, and seeing it brought back conversations we’d had. They’d been pocketed away somewhere. Just yesterday I’d been thinking about the fact that I don’t seem to retain as many memories as the people I know. Where do all those events disappear to? How do other people keep them alive and present? Now I realize that I retain them, but lose access to them – until something like this brings them up to the surface. I drove around listening to her CDs for a while, hoping I’d remember more.

I was surprised to find photos in the boxes, mixed in with VHS tapes, cassettes, and DVDs. I’d gone with a friend this morning and we fell silent after finding the pictures. It’s one thing to conjure her presence through the memories embodied by her various things. It’s another to see her face staring back. I’d seen one of the pictures, a snapshot of her as a kid, months ago on her Facebook page. Seeing it in person, holding it in my hand, was more difficult – or just difficult all over again. It doesn’t help that she’s smiling, that she’s young in the photo. A smiling kid evokes the sense that things go on, getting better; the sense that you can look back from some ongoing point in time, marking the trajectory. It doesn’t help that it’s just a picture, probably.

I got back from LA in February, where we were editing ONLY CHILD, the next film in the series I started a few years ago, WOMAN’S PICTURE. The series is a way to work through a lot of my memories about people who are gone now but persist in my outlook. I know Papatya will find her way into the narrative somehow. Ultimately, making movies seems to be about the only way I’m able to deal with loss or grief in any way that feels close to moving forward. I’m happy at the progress we made in LA. As movies go, this one’s getting close to being “locked”. I look at it and feel I accomplished something, that I’m getting better at what I do. At the same time, I feel remorse. Isn’t “progress” kind of a lie? It feels like betrayal in ways I can’t put into words. Papatya left so many things unfinished. Part of me feels that the most honest tribute to her is to refuse resolution. It’s the kind of thought that only makes sense when trying to wrap your head around the bigger paradox of her vanishing act.

Higher point today: My friend Melissa Bridgman, who’s gone through Papatya’s absence with me, gave me one of the ceramic cranes she started working on several months ago. It’s very delicate. You feel like it will break if you blow too hard on it. Not that I have cause to blow on it. I forgot to ask her how many of the intended commemorative thousand she’s made and given away.

 Posted by on March 8, 2013