Thursday, December 14, 2006

DAY FOUR

The weekend feels like it was about twenty eight minutes long as the alarm goes off and I get up to start the fourth day of the shoot. The hot water decided not to participate in my morning shower – does anything in this stupid apartment work properly? My throat’s been sore for a few days and I’m sure having my body temperature drop twelve degrees won’t help. But it’s too late to shower at the gym; another of our ridiculously early call times (I think my First AD is trying to kill me with these!) has me already on the road by the time the YMCA opens for business, so I grit my teeth and bare it. Five minutes into the icy shower and parts of my anatomy have shrunk so deeply up into my abdominal cavity I look like I'm trying out for the road company of La Cage Aux Folles.

It started snowing today. We had been told over and over that “it never snows in Montreal until after Christmas” which is, of course, a bloody lie! Kind of like the one they tell you in Vancouver – “oh, this is strange weather, it never usually rains this much this time of year” which as anybody who’s ever lived in a rainforest before can tell you is just ANOTHER BLOODY LIE.

In our “movie time” it’s too early for snow, so we decide to move out of the ghastly winter weather and into a neighborhood house to do some interior scenes. The homeowner, a lovely woman with very good taste in furnishings and décor – a rarity in these parts I’m finding -- had graciously made us coffee on our first visit last month to scout the place out. I’ll bet she wouldn’t have been so gracious had she been able to see our crew lugging equipment, set pieces and even my monstrosity of a director’s chair into her dining room. Imagine a hundred rhinoceri in a room full of antique crystal. Then multiply by five.

We shot a scene in the living room where The Mitchell’s friends and neighbors have gathered for the annual Secret Santa draw. Unfortunately I stupidly left my casting director/Third Assistant Director – he of the Fingerless Fireman persuasion –- in charge of finding me a guy to play FRIENDLY NEIGHBOR #1, who has a line about how it hasn’t snowed in the town on Christmas in thirty years. A simple enough request I thought, asking for a nice, friendly guy without a too-thick French accent.

Unfortunately, the fellow who was selected, while a perfectly lovely man, bore a rather watery resemblance to one of the lesser Sopranos. And since the scene in question was about passing an empty hat around the room, I was afraid it would look to the audience as if he was waiting for the other guests to drop their wallets and jewelry inside. I shot the scene quickly and will probably cut his line out.

I’m not sure what the obsession is in my casting department with bringing me creepy looking people? I walk down the streets of this beautiful city day and night, and the absolutely gorgeous human specimens passing me by are enough to make one believe in Intelligent Design. So why on earth can’t I get any of these ravishing creatures into my movie? Are they too busy sipping cappuccinos and laughing about Sartre to bother becoming professional actor/model/waiters? What’s wrong with them?? Don’t they know there’s big money to be made in the field of Professional Rejection?

We go back outside again later at night where the wind chill is something like minus 850 degrees Celsius. This may be a slight exaggeration, but I did see a dog frozen to a fire hydrant. Like an idiot I still haven't gotten around to buying boots, instead wearing thermal socks inside my running shoes. That works for about an eighth of a second before I can feel the soles of my feet beginning to freeze to the pavement. I get even crankier than usual and stand closer to the cheap electric heaters our production manager placed on set to keep us warm. They're useless, putting out about the same amount of warmth as a television screen, and you practically have to put your hands ON the burners to thaw out your fingertips.

Just when I think it can't get ANY COLDER, the heaters flicker and shut down. It seems the overpriced generator we've been forced to rent from The Godfather isn't strong enough to support the heaters AND the puny lights we could barely afford to illuminate the street at night. An odd choice - heat or light? It's like shooting in a Third World Country. No, I take that back - I filmed in the middle of the South African Veldt once and we didn't have these problems. Frankly, if filmmaking here were any more primitive, we'd be doing this movie as a Cave Painting.

By wrap time, the whole crew is sharing a cold. This is not unusual given the French habit of saying hello by kissing one another on both cheeks at the drop of a hat. It’s usually done in the morning on set, and seems rather an extravagant way to greet someone you’ve just say goodbye to not twelve hours earlier. But given the temperatures around here, I suppose just surviving another night in this subzero hell is worth at least a peck or two.

Still, an observation is in order. In France, where the “kiss kiss” tradition probably originated, the custom is charming and somewhat romantic, in Quebec, where it has been imported, it seems like an easy way to spread disease. That’s because even in the deepest winter, Parisians don’t have to slog through fifteen feet of ice and slush just to get to their cars, so the odds of them catching double pneumonia and passing it to the next bit of flesh they slobber on is rather slim.

But in the overall scheme of the world, Quebec is to France as Mexico is to Spain, so perhaps they’d better let go of this whole “heritage” thing and just find a more sanitary way of salutation.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

NO BUSINESS LIKE SHOW BUSINESS

Maybe I shouldn’t have had that third martini at dinner. Then I wouldn’t have ended up at that strip club.

Let me state one thing right off the bat. I loathe live theater.

I know that sounds scandalous coming from a director – let alone one who used to make a living as a night club magician -- but there, I’ve said it. I’m not interested in watching waiters spending their time between shifts lurching around a stage pretending to be bitter salesmen, French bread thieves on the lam or, even worse, acting the parts of waiters spending their time between shifts trying to get a job in a show SINGING about being waiters between shifts.

And don’t get me started about CATS. I spent one of the worst New Year’s eves of my life seeing that stupid show. First of all, they’re not even REAL CATS!

So my interest in live performance is rather limited – I like puppet shows and strippers. Once I was in Barcelona and I happened into a cabaret where a puppet show was performed BY a naked man. It was as if I’d died and gone to heaven.

But for the sake of art, I have tried to attend some theater here in Montreal. Unfortunately, it all seems to be French-Canadian and political, a redundancy at best since every thing in Quebec seems to BE political – my god! these people will hold a vote on anything – so I’ve tried to avoid it as we have quite enough foolish “my opinion must be heard” politics on our film set, thank you very much.

(Hello? Do these people think I'm running a democracy around here? It's a BEST a benevolent dictatorship, but one more bit of nonsense on this production and I'm going to turn it into a fifedom!)

Still I feel I would be remiss if I didn’t absorb some kind of French Canadian culture while I’m here, so I’ve become a habitué of the local “exotic interpretive dance” scene.

There are three kinds of gay strip bars in Montreal: CAMPUS, the old standby, where steroid-swollen behemoths sway out of time to the music, take off their clothes and reveal whatever is left of their genitals; STOCK BAR, featuring pendulously well-built young men working their way through law school one sweaty tourist at a time; and, my favorite, TABOO - a bar which, if it didn’t serve alcohol, would basically be a bus station filled with post-adolescent runaways and their “admirers”.

I adore Taboo. In fact, my per diem is currently putting several of its dancers through college.

Once you get past the desperate gaze of the customers, the performers themselves are delightful, but probably not in the way they think. Imagine a low rent “SHOWGIRLS”, except the entertainers are lithe young men, completely naked and – for one of their “numbers” must be fully, uh, “interested” in the job at hand. They’re an athletic bunch to be sure, and some of them really put their “all” into it, swinging on that brass pole in the middle of the stage as if they were in some kind of alternate, nude version of Cirque De Soleil where even the clowns have shaved crotches.

But it’s the stories they tell that make the place so fascinating. Every one of them seems to be either from “a small town in northern Quebec” or “Mexico City”; some have girlfriends and children, others have been dumped by their boyfriends and need some fast money, still others are just trying to pay the rent. One young man of my acquaintance is a well-known host on the local Spanish television station, but given that the demand for Mexican TV stars in this pseudo-French culture is roughly the same as the need for a moyle in Lebanon, he has to make some extra money and so he gets naked in front of a room full of strangers four nights out of the week.

What I really like about Taboo is the feeling one gets of being in a small, neighborhood bar where everybody knows your name; it’s like “Cheers” with naked boys. I showed up one evening for a cocktail after an elegant dinner out, dressed in suit and tie, and I felt like Auntie Mame arriving at “21”. One of the regular dancers ran his hand along my sleeve with an admiring grin and told me he liked to dress up too, but if he wore nice clothes to the bar the customers wouldn’t tip him so much – it would seem people prefer their strippers draped in desperation instead of Prada.

Anyway, on my last visit to Taboo, I had been asked by one of the dancers, a charming young man who – in spite of my protestations – refuses to take so much as a dime from me, to turn the tables, as it were, and dance for him. Well as a gentleman of a vintage – 1960 in fact – I certainly would never be caught doing anything as vulgar as taking my clothes off in the back room “private booth” of a sleazy strip club –

Without several martinis in me.

I shan’t go into the sordid details – frankly, I don’t remember all of them -- but the small crowd that gathered certainly applauded enthusiastically and suffice it to say that I ended the evening ahead of the game; I made back the money I spent on dinner AND drinks, as well as a little extra “pocket” money – at least, it would have been pocket money had I had any pockets left when I was done.

I don’t think of it as stripping. I think of it as my return to the stage. Except without the rabbit in a hat.

As it were.

HOMESICK

I woke up at 5 15 am this morning, ready to go to work, and jumped out of bed to prepare my morning “toilette” before realizing – ugh – it was a day off. Collapsing back down on the cheap poly/cotton sheets of the ghastly apartment rented for me by the production, I tried to get back to sleep but sadly the arms of Morpheus refused to embrace me.

Perhaps it was the sound of the toilet in the bathroom down the hall which has been constantly running now for going on seven weeks? The owner/manager of the suite burst in quite early a few days ago to fix it, glaring at me as if I had no right to be in bed past six o clock in the morning on my day off, and yammered at me in a strange mix of French, English and what may have been either Portugese or asthma. Taking my cue from the locals, I just smiled and nodded until he finally left, only to return a few hours later with a rather grim looking plumber and a stolen shopping cart full of tools. After much hammering and wrenching, they left but not before aforementioned owner/manager declared "fixed!" and stared at me with a look of accusation as if i was responsible for ruining his toilet AND his day.

The thing still isn't working right but I've decided not to bother complaining about it. I'm afraid next time he comes over he'll just drop some decorative stones in the toilet bowl and charge us extra for a "water feature".

Anyway, with that lovely gurgling in the background, I gazed around me at the walls decorated in a style which can only be described as late eighties Russian Prostitute chic, and wondered exactly how I was going to spend my precious hours of leisure time in Montreal.

Was it too early to go watch strippers?

The problem with being on location is the old “idle hands” phenomenon. You’ve got per diem (for the uninitiated, “per diem” is a Latin term meaning “free money to be spent as if you’re a sailor on leave”) burning a hole in your pocket AND you’re several time zones away from anybody who cares what manner of illicit behaviors you’re up to. It’s a recipe for moral disaster. Normally, I keep myself out of trouble by shopping, but with time I’ve discovered I have a natural propensity toward buying CRAP while I’m on the road. I can’t remember how many dreadful sweaters, horrendous suits, truly awful shoes and scandalously inappropriate shirts I’ve purchased in nameless malls and stores over the years.

Then there are the DVD’s, the video equivalent of the paperback novel. In a desperate attempt to fend off boredom, I’ve bought so many ridiculously bad movies to watch in my hotel room I could probably open my own Blockbuster. Did I really need the director’s cut extended version of Legally Blonde 2?

What time do those strippers start?

The gym helps. Normally I work out every morning before going to the studio, but our production has had call times so obscenely early that I arrive on set with sheets of my skin still falling off from the exfoliation of the night before. On this day off, I spend two whole hours just trying to whip my muscles back into shape from the past three entropy-inducing days. I consider going to see a movie, but the idea of watching something made for about five hundred times the budget of our current picture fills me with a combination of envy and nausea, so I take a pass.

Dining alone is an interesting activity. On one hand, it seems like the most solitary past time imaginable, just sitting there by yourself at a table, chewing your food and staring at the other diners, laughing, talking, enjoying their normal, regular lives and getting to spend time with their friends and family. And truthfully, one does feel a bit like some kind of phantom, observing but not participating, a vague sense of disconnection flavoring even the most remarkable meal (and there have been several – Montreal has some extraordinarily good restaurants) with the metallic taste of sadness.

But as I have spent most of my adult life living in hotels around the world, I have become accustomed to eating alone in restaurants. And I must tell you, dear reader, if one keeps one’s ears open, there is very good sport to be had.

On this night, I watched in awe as a husband and wife argued to the point where she stood up, pulled her ring off, threw it on the table where it bounced to the floor and then stormed out. I really felt for the poor fellow as, with every eye in the place on him, he bent down and rescued his “three months salary” (as the jewelers of America brainwash straight people into believing they must spend on their wedding manacles) while awaiting his bill.

It’s the kind of thing if I wrote it into a movie I’d be accused of being melodramatic. But life IS melodrama, except without the soundtrack.