Sunday, October 12, 2008


I might have spent a whole day shooting in a graveyard, but I still didn't expect to be buried in Vancouver.

Certainly a few of the eighty three days I spent in British Columbia-

- while making my two latest motion pictures “Red Torrent” (currently undergoing a studio-imposed name change to “Black Rain” – and not to be confused with the Michael Douglas-wearing-age-inappropriate-tight-jeans-Japanese-motorcycle epic of the same name)

- and “Death Among Friends” (which, for one brief and terrifying moment almost became known as “Shadow of A Doubt” -

- until I literally begged my Studio Overlords not to subject me to the mockery which would surely ensue should I have my name attached to a film with the temerity to take the title of Mr. Hitchcock’s classic) were challenging to say the least, but at no time was there even a hint of the scythe-swinging which normally foreshadows the appearance of the Grim Reaper.

So dear reader, I’m sure you can appreciate the surprise I felt when I almost died the day before yesterday.

Goodness knows this should not be taken as a critique of The Century Plaza Hotel, my stay at which has been greatly enhanced not just by the magnificent view of the ocean from my 26th floor suite and the remarkably attentive staff, but also by my proximity to “Celebrities” dance emporium, the city’s largest “gay” cha-cha lounge.

In fact, on a clear evening standing on my balcony I can see the bus and tunnel twinks lining up outside the place for half price drink Tuesday or – as my spiritual advisor Dr. Wong and I call it – “Amateur Night”.

The engineering staff at the hotel even volunteered to string a high-tension line from my room to the front door of the bar so that should I spy some local “talent” of interest, I would be no more than a quick rappel away from a chilled martini and a potential seduction along the lines of “hey-there-you-oughta-be-in-pictures”.

To the untrained eye, I’m sure this would appear to be nothing more than salacious misbehavior. In the film business however it’s known as “casting”.

But I passed on their very kind offer; as you have likely assumed from my most recent missives, my workload on these films has left me precious little time for extracurricular adventures and, truth be told, my heart remains back in my desert paradise, held firmly in the hands of a certain prominent local businessman whose recent profile in our hometown paper has made him even more of a catch than I previously thought.

One does, however, have to eat, and so I found myself wandering the damp streets of that rainforest masquerading as a city over the past few months in search of new and interesting sustenance and, being vegetarian – which is to say, having evolved beyond the primitive cuisine offered on the usual “Beef and Booze” circuit – my choices have been rather limited.

Certainly there is no shortage of “organic” or “earth-friendly” cafes in that most “tree-huggy” of all of Canada’s provinces. Should one ever find one’s self in dire need of a steaming bowl of carrot rind bisque or a cup of pine twig and pebble tea, Vancouver is definitely where it’s at. However one particular outing, during which I was forced to dine on birch bark plates while listening to angry spoken word poetry recited by a pungent young woman in a Bolivian sack dress, was definitely the recyclable straw which broke the free range camel’s back.

The following night, I decided, I was going to eat with the “regular” folks.

One can only imagine what happened next.

Dodging the monsoon-like rainstorm which seems to perpetually hover overhead like a Catholic priest over a Choirboy, I finally chose to take cover in one of the larger “chain” restaurants which dot the Vancouver landscape; it would be indiscreet to name names of course, but it’s an elegant and well-designed space with high ceilings, dark wood and tile walls and remarkably comfortable leather seats, the type of which one normally doesn’t find outside the higher end bordellos.

After enduring the obligatory Canadian “Customer Service” waiting period (for those of you who’ve never been to Canada, this is a traditional ten to thirty minute endurance test, part of the national cultural identity, wherein the Clerk/Waiter/Host in question denies your very existence regardless of the fact that you are less than three feet away from them, ignoring your silent pleas for assistance until you are forced to either a) shout or b) go to another establishment and repeat the procedure), I was escorted to my seat by a sweet-faced but utterly vacuous young woman who couldn’t have delivered her “how are we tonight?” with less enthusiasm if she’d been clinically dead.

I picked up the menu – chock full of “delitefully decadent dipz” and “tummee yummee starterz” and so forth – and began to search in vain for something to eat which didn’t feature animal entrails when I was suddenly aware of the shouting and screaming going on around me. I glanced up and felt my blood chill as I realized just exactly what I had stumbled into…

It was a “sports” restaurant.

When, one wonders, did our collective culture erode to the point where sitting in a dining room festooned with gigantic plasma televisions, all turned to various lower class athletic events, constitutes a legitimate evening out? Granted, one of the screens did feature several admittedly well-muscled young men in lycra shorts writhing on top of each other in some sort of organized faux-wrestling match punctuated with quick and bloody blows to the head -

- but frankly if I wanted to watch gay pornography I would’ve stayed in my hotel room and rented Disney’s “High School Musical”.

Speaking of Disney, it would appear that the Islamic fundamentalist movement has a new target. Apparently the “rodent” is considered a force for evil amongst our Muslim brethren, and therefore even a cartoon character as beloved as Mickey Mouse cannot be tolerated.

A “fatweh” has been issued for all large eared, four fingered mice wearing shorts, which is surely going to stretch the resources of our terrorist pals to the breaking point; given the rat population of the average war zone, it’s entirely possible they’re going to run out of bombs before they finish killing off every child in the Middle East-

- and then they’re going to be forced into the somewhat socially awkward position of having to murder each other at close range.

This, I suspect, is going to have a rather detrimental effect on the death toll in the region; as any Mafioso will tell you, it’s hard enough to pull a gun out of a double breasted suit –

- one can only imagine how tricky it will be when you’re draped in the equivalent of a full set of Martha Stewart sheets.

Under normal circumstances I would’ve fled the place immediately but with the Noah-esque downpour outside, and with my stomach rumbling like a high school senior’s Mustang, I decided to “tough it out” as they say and order some food. But who knew selecting one’s main course would be a martial art?

Now it’s not as if I’m terribly picky; for the last few weeks, during the post-production process of “Death Among Friends”, my editor Tony Michelle Gellar-

- and I have had to make do with everything from room temperature pizza to an order of sushi with the consistency of library paste. We are cutting the film in a rather suspicious facility on the outskirts of town which we are sharing with the rather James Bondian-named “XENON” corporation, a biochemical research firm whose security is so tight it makes Dick Cheney look like a yoga instructor.

(And has anybody else wondered where exactly dear old Dicky has been these past few months? The entire American financial system is imploding, the new Republican VP candidate-

- is a card carrying nitwit in over her head so deeply that Michael Phelps couldn’t help her -

- and as far as we can tell Cheney is sitting at home playing paddycake with his lesbian daughter’s baby…)

It’s a very peculiar establishment. In spite of having worked in the building for the past five weeks, my editor and I still must sign the visitor’s log in the presence of the young woman at the front desk who never seems to remember who we are; her proximity to the unknown chemicals in the atmosphere has apparently resulted in a mild form of short term memory loss, and we literally have to wear security badges just to go to the bathroom.

The rumor is that the company is working on a top secret diet aid, the sort of thing that fat people take instead of putting down the quart of Dreyer’s, getting off their well-upholstered asses and going for a walk.

I would suggest that instead of marketing a new calorie melting pill, Xenon would have more success by simply moving the obese into their offices; the nearest restaurant is a hilly mile and a half away and even if the hike doesn’t take the weight off, dodging the speeding cars driven by the mullet-wearing locals should help even the most elephantine look svelte in time for swimsuit season.

But back to my near-demise.

Given that the least offensive item on the menu was a “field green salad”, the name of which was obviously meant to conjure up images of apple cheeked farmers plucking luscious fronds from the very earth itself, I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised by the pile of rather depressing leaves plopped down unceremoniously in front of me by yet another unsmiling waitress, her “you want anything else?” barely falling from her collagen injected lips before she wheeled around and vanished into the business suited crowd. Frankly, I hadn’t seen such an unpleasant display of plant life since “The Day of the Triffids”-

- but with the Hounds of Hunger upon me, I decided to simply accept the offering of the Restaurant Gods and find something else, somewhere else, later on.

And therein lies my mistake. Instead of first examining the greenery before me, I simply took a forkful and stuffed it into my mouth.

The “cherry tomato”, so named because of its proximity in shape and size to its prefixed fruity cousin, is not generally considered a deadly weapon.

However, should one find oneself inadvertently swallowing one whole, I dare say this most unassuming of nature’s bounty can put up quite a fight. Had it made its way down my trachea, perhaps, I could have simply choked it back up or should there have been a muscular German named Heim nearby I could have availed myself of his “lich’d”.

Unfortunately, the tiny red missile took a path not into my airway but rather into my esophagus and, in taking its sweet time to slowly, painfully, maneuver its rubbery skin down my throat, caused me no small amount of anguish. For the faint of heart amongst you, I will not describe the unimaginable torment involved in trying to stumble toward the washroom and induce vomiting in a futile effort to dislodge the damnable thing; suffice it to say that not since advertently stumbling into a lunch meeting of the Christian Accordion Players of America have I had such an unpleasant midday meal.

There was, however, a bright light at the end of my tunnel; while fading in and out of consciousness on the cool tile floor of the restaurant’s elegant washroom (and what is it with all of these Vancouver dining spots? The toilets invariably have more style and class than the restaurant itself; perhaps they figure that since the locals tend to drink too much in order to take their minds off the constant drizzle, they're going to end up in the bathroom anyway so it might as well be nice?) I had one of those moments which usually only happen to people in the movies just before they die; as their entire lives flash before their eyes, they realize the error of their ways and, in a sudden third act twist, they survive the horrific event and return to the world a changed person. Fade to black. The end.

Naturally, given how my entire life has been lived completely above reproach -

- there was utterly no reason whatsoever for me to review it let alone have any kind of epiphany and so in lieu of a replay of my own flawless existence there unspooled before me the entire year of 1981 in the life of veteran character actor Rip Torn.

This is known by some of his intimates as the time of “The Beastmaster”-

- a rather better-remembered-than-seen motion picture of the “B” variety wherein Mr. Torn wore a rather unfortunate rubber nose and tossed a baby into a firepit.

I’m not sure what the memory of this film means to him, but given my current experiences making my own B pictures it gave me more than a slight sting of “déjà vu”; has my career devolved into similar territory?

But then I remembered a rather touching moment on set, during the last day of shooting. One of my assistant directors, a young woman who had worked silently and diligently throughout one of the more difficult days, approached me and told me, with tears in her eyes, that she had been planning to quit the film business - until she had worked on my set.

The experience, she said with a catch in her voice, had reminded her of why she wanted to work in the movies in the first place and she wanted me to know that the sense of fun and creativity I fostered in those around me had given her faith in directors once again.

I'd like to say I responded with something pithy and clever, perhaps a brilliant bon mot which would have defused the emotional moment for both of us; the truth is, I just stood there and said "uh...thank you..." and hugged her. Frankly, dear reader I didn't know what else to do...

But it certainly made me feel a little less like I was making "The Beastmaster" and a little more like the filmmaker I aspire to be. And that feeling has stayed with me while I'm writing this as I await my early morning flight back home to my desert paradise, safely ensconced in the Alaska First Class lounge, downing a pleasantly composed Bloody Mary and watching the hoi polloi make their way through the mile long Customs and Immigration line.

(I must admit to experiencing a certain cruel delight in seeing these first time travelers frantically dig through their bags in search of their missing passports/return tickets/visitor visas, arguments and tears breaking out in equal measure; that's what you GET for wearing your "comfy" track suit or baggy shorts and t shirt on the airplane...)

And while it might seem a trifle dissolute to be tossing back the vodka so early in the day, I would hasten to remind the judgmental among you that I am doing this strictly in the interest of self-preservation.

After all, given my recent encounters with solid foods, I think I’d best stick to the liquids for the time being.


Blogger johnsmith said...

I avoided this when it came out in 1989 having seen Coming Home (1978) and not wanting to revisit the theme of paraplegic sexual dysfunction and frustration. I also didn't want to reprise the bloody horror of our involvement in the war in Vietnam that I knew Oliver Stone was going to serve up. And Tom Cruise as Ron Kovic? I just didn't think it would work



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2:11 AM  
Blogger hot-lunch said...

Ron, when you're in Vancouver, and you are in need of some good vegetarian, check out The Foundation on Main St and 7th, or the newly opened "Grub" up on Main near 28th,which I just slammed on my blog, but I did notice they had a vegan/vegetarian menu (if 3 dishes a menu makes). I'm not a vegetarian but I do enjoy going to The Foundation for some good food at decent prices in a funky neighbourhood. Okay so they had a Hepatitis breakout a few years back, but who's counting.

2:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!

3:50 AM  

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