My name is YJ and I was his cameraman. Diane was his lead. Neither one of us had seen the final cut when Henry, our director, organized its premier, at the First Annual—how optimistic we were!—LICK Filmfest. In the rented basement of a neighborhood social club, our small confederation gathered unprepared and happily, in a cool spring night. We involved ourselves as usual in our circular patterns of smalltalk: viciously gossiping; railing against the president, the environment’s end-days, and the pimps in charge of the art business; one-upping each other’s messianic anecdotes; comparing rents. A half dozen shorts preceded Imetay of the Olfway, culled from various constellations in our galaxy. So we watched our offspring, marveling at their tottering, at their above-average marks, sighing at their poor showing on the ball field. Those movies were just like us! And in between, as Emil set up the projector for each, we sipped from warm beer bottles or paper cups of tea or glass flasks of cheap bourbon, and complained—altogether impotently—about the Supreme Court, the Communist Party, and imperialist war mongering. Good. Old. Days!
I remember being excited and nervous as Emil set up finally for Imetay. For months Henry had been editing in secret. He would show Diane and me snippets, but that night would be the first we’d see it put all together. So it was a wonderful shock to see Imetay of the Olfway thread through the projector and open up the room in light. Gradually it would silent even the quiet murmuring, take us up in its weird magic. A secular rapture, a continuum of frozen dusk peopled by happy Sisyphuses, scorched with ever-mourning yet also deathless, the dead’s dreams, dreams of the dead.
I walked immediately out when it was over. Made sure to catch Henry’s eye and give him a smiling wink, to let him know how I felt. My leave-taking after that would say the rest. He’d understand. I was very much overwhelmed.
Soon after, we did several more small screenings, wherever we could find a space—galleries, record shops, public gardens, basketball courts. Our big break was when Hans Lucas, the film critic for The Gotham Crier, unexpectedly showed up to one of our screenings. Henry had sent him a letter, but no one thought he’d actually show up. Projected on the wall of a friend of a friend’s father’s haberdashery, two dozen or so colleagues and sympathizers sat on folding chairs when Hans wordlessly entered. We knew who he was immediately, all having studied his author photo. The room went silent.
In that creepy quiet Emil threaded the projector as usual, and for ninety minutes we held our breath. Everyone anxiously and regularly stole glances Hans’ way.
After the credits Hans left, as he’d arrived, without uttering a word. But as soon as the door closed, the room broke into a buzz. Speculation was voluble and intense on the nothing that Hans had given as a hint to his opinion. Then we dispersed, like any other night . . . I’d actually forgotten about it, when the following Wednesday, I casually picked up The Crier. As was my habit, I read the political cartoons, scanned my horoscope, and turned finally to Lucas’ column. When, jawdropped, I read the following:
Watcher, take note: a local cine-troupe is peddling their wares, washing across Brooklyn’s shore a brand-new vagueness, putting up ragtag screenings in venues as humble as social clubs, school gymnasiums, and hat shops. The collective calls itself The Long Island City Kinoclub—LICK for short—and their debut film is a stunner.
Evidently shot in the past season on no budget (this not, as per usual, pardon), Imetay of the Olfway is an apocalypse-always autumnscape, a real-honest-to-god extravaganza, directed by LICK leader Henry Yoo and starring local talent, Diane Fearings.
Part disaster film, part Keystone Cops, part nature walk, Imetay of the Olfway’s quadrille consists of a mother (played to perfect pathetic pitch by Ms. Fearings), her teenage son, and a middle aged suburban couple. The motley crue traipses through the woods after an unspecified catastrophe. Their trip—and the movie—is conducted via a series of razzle-dazzle set pieces: dream sequences, ragged vaudeville, a horrifically blasé rape scene that inducts an equally horrifying relationship, theatrical back-and-forths worthy of a Bergman chamber piece, and one non-distracting animated sequence. The hodgepodge is lovingly held together by a cinema personality as integrous and probably as ineffable as Jeremy Blum. In one extended scene, the four travelers hang loose by nooses from a single tree branch, discussing the bombing of Dresden, the Kwangju Massacre, and the siege of St. Petersburg. The scene undulates between bathos and gallows humor via an impressive choreography of actors’ tics and camera angles. Luminous . . .
We read Hans Lucas religiously, each week, for both his bitchy zingers and his spot-on reviews. It was through him that we’d first learned the names of our pantheon, and it was especially through Lucas that we’d followed the career of the filmmaker we most admired, Jeremy Blum. To be name-checked with Blum was a feather in our cap. To have a glowing review from Lucas was glory.
Lucas’ review opened the door to the major festivals and six months later, a small company, Avatar Studios, picked up Imetay for distribution—not coincidentally this was also Blum’s distributor.
This mid-sized fame we achieved that year was a druggy type of satisfaction. It had a similar thrill, a likewise attendant depression, and, more than pleasure, was characterized by its many long-lingering consequences.
Probably the most significant was Henry’s friendship with Jeremy Blum. This was made possible again by Hans Lucas, who liked above all to matchmake, to champion, to gossip—a type without which nothing would ever get done.
Hans held a dinner party one night in his tastefully appointed midtown apartment. His longtime partner, Paul Hicks, was there. So were Jeremy Blum and his wife Sveta. They all looked older and elegant and when Henry and I arrived, I had the distinct feeling of being unimportant. Diane, who gave the group its courage, was sick that night. She was bitter about missing it, but I think I was more bitter about being abandoned by her. I sorely missed her strength, especially when attempting, over dinner, to make conversation with Jeremy and Hans. I tried two or three openings, but each time Hans would wince vividly and Jeremy would merely nod. Finally, as if to say enough is enough, Hans gave me a thin-lipped smile that clearly told me not to speak to him again. I felt like, to them I was, a little boy. I knew however to follow orders and turned to Sveta to ask if I might make myself another Tom Collins. The rest of my evening was taken up with Sveta, Paul and myself exchanging vacation tales.
Meanwhile Henry was having a much more momentous evening. I would periodically cast envious glances across the room where Jeremy, Hans, and Henry had retired after dinner. What in a personality makes one a servant? What in mine I wondered, and have kept wondering, but nonetheless have no answer but fact.
Jeremy Blum from that evening on became a great mentor to Henry. Not so much an influence as far as Henry’s art went but a considerable one in that leftover arena, his life. For a short while he even aped Jeremy’s Brooklynese, his dandyish wardrobe, his taste for sweet wines.
Jeremy was independently wealthy. Though he never specifically disclosed that he “had money,” everyone knew he didn’t work and that he nonetheless lived in high style with his Bosnian wife, Sveta. They maintained a handsome apartment in the West Village and another in Key West. He had made his reputation by a series of short films he had done as a young man. They had various concrete subjects—commuters, trees, restaurant diners, trains, deserts—which he captured with a specially modified animator’s camera and which, through a muscular and virtuosic editing, he abstracted into poetry. After this celebrated work, he had had a great difficulty finding his way. He told Henry later about this period, that he didn’t want to repeat himself, but—felt completely out of ideas. He gradually sunk not entirely out of sight, but into a limbo of mediocre work. His middle age saw a series of lackluster films and miserable marriages.
Everyone had considered him washed up, or, at best a film genius who had done his finest work as a young man. Then, strangely, in his mid sixties when people barely remembered his name, Blum began producing odd pieces of video. Mysterious, self-erasing or self-denying narratives, these videos were often infused with a frantic editing style that eclipsed even his own earlier manic cutting, and one that was made primarily possible by the then brand-new technologies of digital editing. Critics (led by Lucas) announced Blum’s late style as majestic and masterful. They spun a biography of the artist who had survived inferno and infamy, who had in fact been tempered by them, and who now returned with, so to speak, news for the people. So, anyway, went the story, and for the first time in a long while, Blum enjoyed some success.
It was around this time that we met him. As they shared a certain temperament, and as both Henry’s and Jeremy’s respective stars were then on the rise, they found immediately that they had a great deal to talk about.
I know Henry asked Jeremy’s advice on our upcoming shoot. It was a complicated one, LICK’s second feature. We were anxious to see if we could succeed again. As well, Henry insisted we up the ante in terms of both our thematic and technical ambitions. We called it Oodbyegay Agondray Nniay.
The basic plot is as follows:
Ghost haunts, theater creaks, voyeurs watch. Wind blows, cloud obscures, fog hides, rain pours. Then murderer kills, criminal plots, robber steals, adulterer betrays, vampires suck, agent spooks. To relieve, sexkitten vamps and jokester guffaws. Comedian punchlines. But this doesn’t finally distract from communists meeting, artists brooding, governments ruling, brats wailing, ill faltering. In time though, superhero flies, toughguy kicks, detective solves, and nurse aids. To give some context and “humanize” it, sleeper sleeps, sleeper wakes, woken rise, and risen breakfast. Later, diner lunches, worker works, watcher boobtubes, fatigued sups, and lastly, sleeper sleeps. It was hard to figure out how to do it, technically, but eventually we also film: thinker thinks. Also, with carefully chosen film stock to accentuate the action, walker steps, runner sprints, catcher snags, jumper leeeeeaps! Hurler, for the record, hurls. But before the final credits, ghost haunts, criminal escapes, and murderer smiles.
By the time we finished Oodbyegay Agondray Nniay Henry and Jeremy had emerged from a period of infatuation with each other and had settled into one of singular reliance. This reliance would manifest itself in night-long, even week-long conversations, and really this entire period could be described as one long, uninterrupted conversation between the elder and the younger filmmaker. And the purpose of this conversation I would say, was one where the two would, artfully and with various and strategic extended metaphors, praise the other.
From the outside—as indeed I was—it seemed at the time, vapid and indulgent. I would try to discuss it with Diane. (I thought of Diane and myself as, at the time, united, as if we were both wives of cheating husbands.) But Diane’s participation in these sessions was one, in hindsight, of a controlled sympathy. But I was blind to her restraint and would complain—always barely hidden in acrid, humorless jokes—of the language Jeremy and Henry seemed to be inventing, an exclusive one, made entirely for the purpose of fawning over one another.
Diane would remind me that they depended on one another not merely for flattery, but specifically for the other’s criticisms, which more often than not echoed their own, and by the concurrence gave them the strength to clearly face their own deficiencies. But I only continued to complain about my friend and told Diane that such a dependency between two artists could not last.
That my opinion was prescient turned out to be a hollow victory.
For the third LICK film, Henry asked Jeremy to act, to play in fact, himself. A self-reflexive story, the plan was to make a movie about moviemaking. Titled Mairay Epvay, the film is also the story of a couple’s breakup.
The basic plot is as follows:
Anna is a beautiful housewife married to John, a scriptwriter with ambitions in the theater. John has been hired by George, a producer, to help rewrite a contested film-adaptation of Homer’s Odyssey. George soon reveals that he has designs on Anna. The film begins on a studio lot, and in fact the movie’s first shot is of myself, setting up for a long tracking shot. The movie is, in large part, a very self-conscious recreation of the dilemma of making films for the market place. It features not only a cartoon version of the investor-producer as idiot dictator, but also a lionized version of the film director as artist-hero. This latter role, Henry asked Jeremy to fill, which he happily agreed to do. Along side this critique of film economics, there is the theme of the false dichotomy of classicism and modernism, and also the theme of the dying love affair. In fact, concerning this latter, a considerable part of the movie is made up of a long sequence shot in Anna and John’s apartment. There, they argue about various things: about their future, about their mortgage, about John’s participation in George’s film, about their sleeping arrangements. Eventually, at the film’s end, Anna leaves John. She drives away with George in his red Alfa Romeo. However, soon after, in an absurd highway accident, George and Anna are killed. The film’s last scene is of John watching Jeremy (whose character is named “Jeremy Blum”) directing a scene for the now (perhaps only temporarily) producer-less film.
A film about a film, Mairay Epvay, along with further positive reviews, led by Hans’ example, increased our audience by a factor but did not—as both Henry and Hans had predicted—catapult us from “cult” status. In terms of ticket sales, Mairay Epvay was our most successful picture, a disappointing high-water mark for all of us.
Diane was beautiful. But not uncommonly so. You see her type of beauty every two city blocks. A cute bob, athletic legs, an intelligent face with a sly, warm smile. But what is captivating about her is the same thing that makes her a great actress. That is, she is a master of the intimate situation. Or, to be more precise, she is a master of that situation where two to five people are in a room. With objects or numbers or books, she’s not much better or worse than you or I. But in a room with another person—or up to four other people—she is in control, and in fact can achieve almost any effect.
Perhaps my idea is ridiculous and, it is hard to pinpoint the modes and the limits of an artist, but my definition was created over a long period of time, and in addition, is one crafted from close scrutiny.
Diane’s material, so to speak, are the energies of the people around her, are the surrounding personalities. They need not be of a particular type, and I’ve seen her deliver triumphant performances surrounded by the dullest or simplest type of actors. If you watch her films, you’ll see her weakest scenes are those when she is all alone. At these times she seems relatively hollow, mechanical. Of course, even in these scenes, there is the camera and behind that—the rest of us. I have always wondered what Diane is like completely alone, but of course that is a scene I will never be able to see.
In any case, I was present at Diane and Jeremy’s first meeting. Jeremy and Sveta were having Henry, Diane, and myself over for dinner. Diane was—as we’d all been—a long-time admirer of Blum’s work. She could speak particularly knowledgeably on it, and included that night comments on some of his lesser-know middle pieces—a fact which flattered and impressed Blum, I’m sure. This was definitely not Diane’s most subtle performance, but because of my understanding of her talents, it is my opinion that all that came after was somehow her provocation.
The entire night was sprinkled with her questions such as “Mr. Blum, in your film X, how did you . . . ?” or “Jeremy, what did you do to get . . . ?” or “But Jeremy, did you realize what you were doing when . . . ?” Furthermore, all of us were falling into place, that night, falling into character. In the scene, Diane and Jeremy had the leads: the studious actress meets the accomplished older director. If it would have been a film script we would have laughed at its transparency, at its formula. As this however was life, we each felt a strange magnetic pull into our respective cardboard roles, as if the dramatic formulas which we disparaged so much in movies were seeking a final revenge by becoming inevitable in our lives.
Diane began an affair with Jeremy.
At first, they both acted with discretion. Diane was “with” Henry, Jeremy was married to Sveta, and above all Henry was a best friend to them both. Around this time too, Jeremy—without, I believe, the slightest feeling of hypocrisy or maliciousness—hired Henry to be the assistant director on his next film.
Diane surprised me by making me the confidante of her affair. I was surprised not only because Henry was my boss, he too was my best friend, and in fact—the love of my life. I thought of this latter fact as an open secret, something which I thought we all realized but to save face and to continue to deny the painful impossibility of this love, I thought everyone had simply decided, privately and individually, to keep silent about it. Perhaps the “open” secret was less so than I’d thought, but even now I find that hard to believe.
Nonetheless to my shock, a few weeks after the affair had begun, Diane told me about it. (Henry in fact was, at the moment of Diane’s confession to me, having dinner with Jeremy.)
Jeremy had simply called one day and said that they should meet and that she shouldn’t tell Henry about it. “I thought maybe it was for a role,” she says, laughing uncomfortably.
“No, not for a role,” Jeremy had said when they met. And continued, matter-of-factly, “I want to sleep with you. I want us to have dinners together. Take trips. And see movies together. And I want to do this all in secret from Henry and from my wife.”
“I think he’s done it before,” Diane said to me.
During Diane’s confession and afterward, to her, I was a consummate friend, begging the right details, pardoning and commending just enough of her guilty excitement over the affair. But inside, and to myself, I truly felt like giggling. Henry cuckolded!
It was as simple as having the tables finally turned. And furthermore, in a fevered delusion, as a kind of final grasp, I anticipated some kind of breakup. An opening of some kind. Perhaps a return to a former intimacy between Henry and myself. Maybe even . . .
This of course was insane, but I was. And so, within this little drama, I’d figured out at last my own role: Iago.
I waited for the absolute worst moment for Henry and Jeremy, right in the heat of production for Jeremy’s film. During a time I knew when things were going poorly, one night, when Henry I knew would be exhausted from the day’s shoot, I asked him over for dinner. And I colored my invitation with just the lightest urgency.
Henry, my friend, has always exhibited only compassion for me, especially during my life’s various crises, and he caught the note right away, and—agreed to come over.
“I don’t know how to tell you this,” I said. It’s so peculiar how such sentences appear, pre-fabricated in the mind, perfect for the risen occasion. And in fact it isn’t only sentences that appear this way, but entire emotions. Not only are we constantly under the tyranny of received ideas but in fact, it seems to me, many entire lives are simply the enactment of predesigned—and not thoughtfully either!—blueprints. I said, “Jeremy and Diane are having an affair.”
Henry did not move for a moment. He did not become enraged. “Tell me,” he said.
I told him what I knew, all that Diane had told me, and that I’d kept it a secret from him. I asked his forgiveness but pleaded, cunningly I thought, that I had been torn between two loyalties.
He said, “Very well,” and immediately left my apartment. It’s funny, now, to think at that moment I did not fear for Henry’s life.
Before Henry killed himself I remember often having the fear that he would—though there were no unsuccessful attempts, not even talk save that self-euthanasia was always a theme in his work. But this deception of mine took place in the period just prior to that sadder one, and when Henry left my apartment I was almost rubbing my hands together in glee, like a cartoon villain, in anticipation of the drama I had just set in motion.
But I was to be disappointed, mostly.
It’s true that Henry immediately confronted Jeremy, who admitted everything, and that Henry quit his production and that the two never spoke again. But the rupture I was really looking forward to—the one between Diane and Henry—never took place.
To my chagrin the two huddled together even more fiercely, like travelers in a storm. They at first barricaded themselves in their apartment, an impenetrable fortress, which for a week yielded to neither phone call nor visit. Then, the two went off on an impromptu trip to Europe for two months.
I spent that remaining hot summer alone, simmering and disappointed and bereft. And when they did return, when Henry and Diane again appeared, a couple, I was in an instant again there at their side—but only as before, a sidekick, a member of the audience. You will imagine my disappointment, even though bitterly anticipated during those hot months, at discovering myself again and still, on the outside.
Henry suggests Europe to clear the air after an episode of heartbreak, of infidelity. It is an early stage to our relationship, part of the courtship in fact, in which Henry had to—in which I demanded that—Henry compete and conquer and win. Something brutally simple like that. Jeremy was a sad powerful dying king. Who was commanding and graceful while ordering waiters at restaurants. And who sat evenings listening to symphonies, alone on his couch, obliterating his mind with scotch. Who made a handful of beautiful films—films which resonated with a pitch unfelt before or since. Who made love like a bear attacking, lumbering and violent and with unexpected grace. Who, with fingers stained and smelling of tobacco, would circle my clit and caress me, while in a quiet guttural voice thrill himself by whispering violent promises.
After Europe, I never see Jeremy again. The trip—along with the indiscretion and its make-up—couple Henry and I more than ceremony. But, to make sure, we bully a wedding out of a befuddled country priest in Provence. So, when we come back from Europe, we’re married.
Now, I’ve a child-groom who’s also a wunderkind, and a semi-glittery life—costume jewelry on an armpit-haired queen, the type—that I’m thankful for. Also, YJ—his lapdog loyalties, the calming presence of his constant scheming, its undertones, the necessary distraction of him. And the troupe, LICK, and the calendar of productions that we fill to brimming. So as to never die.
Armed thusly, the year passes so momentously and so quickly that I’m breathless. Fallouts are only transitions between events. The cycle a perennial motion of whitewater. Some days I’m unspeakably sad. Just for, I’d hazard to guess, the rush of happinesses—each too fast to pass to digest. And the dismal future guaranteed by peaks.
Meanwhile LICK obeys its self-powered green light to the max of its power and we begin what will turn into three years of almost straight production. The first is an autobiographical tale that Henry, YJ and I spin out over a week of dinners. We think we’ll shoot it quickly, most of it through guided improvisation. It will be a movie about a relationship that falls apart over an infidelity—an old story and also an autobiographical one. Henry and my situation differs from the movie in that we stay together and the couple in the film falls apart, but—the fight scenes are more or less documentary. We name it Arispay, Exastay.
The plot is as follows:
Boy meets girl meets boy meets boy meets boy meets girl meets boy meets girl meets girl meets boy meets boy meets boy meets boy meets boy meets girl meets girl meets girl meets girl meets girl meets boy meets girl meets girl meets boy meets girl meets boy meets girl meets boy meets girl meets boy meets boy meets girl meets boy meets girl meets boy meets girl meets boy.
We show it at what Henry and YJ insist is a film festival but really has turned into our private yearly party. Of making films—the bored waiting, the moment of acting, the release from that moment—I remember mostly only when I see the movie in a theater, maybe the first time with an audience. These filmfests then are particularly momentous for me. At that time, then peculiarly does the scaffolding appear, so I remember the moments before “Rolling!” is called and after “Cut!” All of a sudden the mechanics of the production are conjured in my mind just as, for everyone else: seeming effortlessness.
The audience, our chosen audience, loves it. These fests are in a way guaranteed, a preaching to the choir, which Henry needs to satisfy some boyish longing. And we tolerate it because we love it! How much fun it is! To be a star and to be constantly engaged and thought engaging. There’s a slight pressure but the event’s energy feeds you for a night.
Whereas the time between such showings—reality, so to speak—is not like this, is perfectly inessential. In the end, we prefer reality; we realize that inessentiality is, in fact, truer. But gluttony is momentarily tempting and especially tempting in memory. Nonetheless we are not so stupid; we are fortunate to not (yet) be so stupid.
The time after this production turns into a rare stretch, about three months, where we are not promoting anything, not negotiating anything, not studying anything, not in any sort of step of production. We are merely ourselves. Frankly, at first, without anything to distract us, Henry and I almost break up.
The first month we fight constantly.
And then for one night about Jeremy. And then because he wants to decorate the apartment radically and I want it to be comfortable. And then another night, about Jeremy. And then because we have to have too many dinners with people we don’t enjoy, or with people only one of us enjoys. And then because we never go out. And then because he or I am a petty bourgeois whore who deserves to have his or my head on a stick.
And then we settle down. Change is hard but in this case swift. We luck into a great apartment in Fort Greene and after our domestic battles—squabbles really—over interior design, we adorn with a compromised but tasteful austerity. Now it is us who sit, together, scattered around a sizeable living room like two lonely teeth in a beggar’s mouth, guiltily reading fashion magazines and catching up on the Greek tragedies we missed since we were truants and orphans. I am, despite the tone I’m giving of antiseptic modernity, engulfed each of these nights with a thankful warmth, of a content feeling of inclusion within a long unbroken line of comfortable humanity. I would think of myself as having grown complacent if I was not so grateful for it all. Looking over at Henry I know he feels the same, who taps his foot gently to the music on the radio, a mild and mournful air. We appear dead but are in fact at peace.
Such peace does not last however and a few months later we embark on our next fart in the age of mechanical repo-men. The next LICK film is one that finds us in a meditative mood. It is born out of a stupefaction at our state after three films, all made as if on a lark. Not that we weren’t in some way “serious” but—why were we successful? It was absurd. And that line led us, I think, to more fundamental questions, e.g. Why are we here? (It’s absurd), which probably should have been left unasked, but: we are Americans. Meaning, we’re without style but bluntness and lewdness and minimalism, so must ask, are driven to ask, such culture-less, such gauche questions. YJ says that the film’s content—mysterious, internal, abstract—is so because our placid exteriors, our current life-calmness, is hiding a rising existential dilemma, of which the movie is merely a mild expression and also only a bookmark before an explosive and tragic denouement. “Still waters run deep,” he says.
Called Irrormay, it is shot in video, black and white alternating with lurid drenched colors.
The plot is as follows:
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To me, it’s our finest achievement. Honest and moving and with it, too, I think we’ve finally mastered or articulated our group’s particular inkblot of paranoia, aggression, wit and energy. YJ, too, I think has displayed top form, in fact in some ways a genius equal to Henry’s, framing and coloring something bold and bawdy and real. Of course nobody sees it.
Except for those who do—who hate it.
Hans does his best to like it, but his effort shows. The distributors are polite in their rejection. Indifference is the majority opinion; pity and antipathy are the two minority ones.
Irrormay kerploops directly into the lake of time and we are astonished to watch it sink and turn instantly into void. What we fought for, and what we’d fought for so much more consciously than the previous films, and indeed what we’d thought was finally something—isn’t. Is, we are mindblown to discover, less than shadow.
YJ and I put our heads down, we rest them on the kitchen table for, let’s be honest, months. We are aswirl in thick syrupy self-pity, which only clears for momentary durations, windows of either bitter protest or numbed routine, before resumes the cotton-candy-thick weather of gloom, the El Greco-eyed pathos, and the self-administered vodka.
Henry repeatingly tries to jostle us: “What are you? Assholes? Don’t be jerks! We’ll recoup it in rentals. We’ll hock it on the site. C’mon. Let’s live a little.”
But I’ll have none of it. I lay in bed, a freak of disappointment. I’ve left out the work: how we slaved over—happily slaved over—Irrormay. We killed ourselves. We had hoped. And so sweated young and therefore irreplaceable and stone-wrung blood and tears. I keep the curtains drawn.
YJ is no better a sport. He gets into a habit of scrambling a nice chorizo omelet for breakfast (around noon) and washing it down with a half pint of bourbon.
For months, that’s the cartoon, but—no one’s really laughing. A few months isn’t long if you’re in love. A real downer though when you feel in the shitter. Real news, right? I hate myself. I’m ugly and fat and stupid. And why didn’t anyone like the movie? Is it because I’m a phony and people can tell? It’s because I’m old isn’t it. Well then fuck America, its TV and magazine idiot children. I must be crazy. I thought this thing would be so obviously great and I thought how lucky I was, but in fact it was only crap and I’m not only an idiot but also delusional, one who can’t tell shit from shinola and so how can I possibly live at all? . . . And on and on, for oh say about four or five months.
Luckily Henry can’t sit still for that long. So after trying to coax me back to the land of the living and after going out drinking with YJ for weeks at a time and after making corny jokes and listening and giving innumerable pep talks and after being a truly very nice guy about it all, Henry gives up.
He starts to ignore us and then goes off to work, he says, on a script. He takes off for New Mexico then Kansas then Indiana, staying in cheap motels with only a laptop and good American sunlight. Our savings dwindle, an hourglass we ignore.
YJ starts coming over to our house because he’s lonely. He convinces me to drink. It seems to work for us. Laughing in fits at four in the afternoon because we’re high and the cat farted and the fridge door is still open and because we’re high. The fucking TV and magazine idiot children of America, we say.
“Those pigs,” YJ says.
“Who do you mean?” I say.
“You know,” YJ says.
“You mean the fucking TV and magazine idiot children of America?” I say.
“That’s them,” YJ says.
After awhile we wonder where Henry’s off to and call him to find he’s in a Holiday Inn in Bainville, Montana—and he’s working on a script. “Good, good,” we say. And: “When can we see it?”
“Eh, stay drunk!” Henry says, “You’re both good for nothing!” and hangs up the phone.
But the truth is, at that moment, we all love each other so we say goodbye to Henry unworried at the dead line, and YJ and I order in from Double Happiness with a growing confidence that everything might be turning for the better. But just in case, we decide to get drunk.
A month later, when Henry returns, we jump on him. “Where is it?”
“Don’t give us that! The script! The new script!”
“Oh,” says Henry. “Well this time it’s different. This time . . . ” His voice trails before he finishes with: “I’ve an idea.”
The following month we begin shooting on Amingflay Eaturescray.
For this shoot, Henry seems to be even more the visionary, wrapped up in a private spectacle-making. He commandeers an abandoned rooftop and announces it’s the movie’s only location. He decides to act too, along with me and in fact wants all LICK members to be included in various small to medium roles. But, he promises, the picture won’t be ham nor about us. He tells YJ to rig a simple construction for overhead shots, a kind of poor man’s monkey bars, and says it will be all handheld.
Privately I’m doubtful. But also, privately, I don’t care. One more ride is funtimes enough for me. Maybe it’ll be nothing but a spur. Or even, maybe it’ll be nothing.
This, is what I secretly think. This. is. nothing. Because Henry is a little crazy this time. He takes on even more eccentricities, this time bizarre even for him. He stops talking, or will only speak a flow of inane silly jokes. He cries whenever he sees green so everyone is forbidden to wear it. He shouts and stamps, doing a too convincing imitation of an idiot. He dances and preens. He directs by feeble gesture, dedicated to uncommunicated principles, and we all hold our breath.
So, I expect nothing. And even though I try not to care for outcomes, and even though I love Henry crazy just as much—I think we’re tilting at windmills.
Though there’s a focused holiness in the movie’s zoomed-in debauches, the shooting days are memorably, even torturously dull. Like a dinner party that refuses to end and in which every guest miserably tries a failing joke. Since each day feels this way and since we simply jiggle or twist or speak on command, without any sensical motivations, we are naked in our trust in Henry, even while simultaneously assuming a doomed outing.
How can it be otherwise?
My hubby’s obviously out of reality’s touch—breaking down into tears, screaming, pounding on walls, but mostly delighted—and no one can make sense of what’s happening. One could even say our trust in our director, while sacred and at this point never stronger, is also easily won—as exercises in futility can be, once given over to.
Yet in the end, Amingflay Eaturescray survives production with a rather beautiful and simple story intact.
Its plot is as follows:
Exhausted from weeks of cycling boredom and blindfolded ecstasies, Henry abruptly announces the last day of the shoot. A joyless dumbfounded wrap occurs. We’re wondering what indeed had happened—as we slink back to our meager lives less fortified with wonder than after any other LICK shoot. Instead we return to our days, confused, subsisting on doubt, unhappily matured.
Then, a week later, we get word that Jeremy Blum has killed himself.
I am reasonably devastated but Henry absorbs the seismic death wave so that one barely knew cataclysm had passed, but—he is not unchanged. Though I yell at him it’s the worst thing to not react, he nonetheless puts on a brave face, claiming through my screams that it’s for my sake.
We torture each other for a short while and then let the grief sink into our loam, the volume of our communication doing a parallel tumble.
The next months are gotten through. One day, eventually, feeling the right moment to press for an outcome, I suggest a vacation. We decide on something simple and drive to a coastal town to spend two weeks in a rented beachhouse.
Henry is differently silent during the trip, his silence changing from a shell into a medium. And I begin to take his silence—which extends into our lovemaking—as tender reflection of my own feelings. I begin to envelop myself in it—born in the beachhouse’s must and of the surfsounds.
When we return we begin editing the footage together.
Henry asks me if I’d like to edit with him. Continuing our lately established habit of silence, his question is asked almost wordlessly. Equally quiet I answer. So that this shift too, unprecedented yet natural feeling, is done smoothly, with no jarring transition. Our love, I can only think, is deepening.
Almost immediately, as we begin editing, we discover ourselves in a silent, writhing embrace. Each session starts furtive and we work far far from language, as the sex act is. In a cool black room, deep within and away from the world of our apartment, illuminated only by screen glow, we huddle dog-hunched and bent, quick-nodding and murmuring. Our hands move over the controls precisely, without negotiation or error besides play. It is an erotic event yet cold, mindless yet intelligent. Perhaps, we both think (we both hope) what is born from now will be also powerful, pure, and savage.
And maybe he does, momently, think this way. And momently we both do hope. But he cops out, finally, fades, lets his silence turn into mere quietude. Henry, in that critical moment, retreats. He stops coming into the office, stakes out permanent ground on the couch, sits sleeps and eats there. In other words if editing the film had become a prolonged, teased, excited work of lovemaking—then Henry finishes prematurely.
Or loses interest. Or goes limp despite interest and not finishing. Leaving me revved, intent, near but unorgasmed.
I may love Henry intensely, perhaps even most, within that combination of non-tumescence and heat, but—I need to finish.
Whatever Henry had, what vision he expended or used, I pick up, or, create from it my own fantasy. What is born then is not born of sex, nor onanism, but of spastic spent vestigial mechanisms, of aimless aborted and exhausted acts, purposeless genitalia nonetheless rubbing. It was not fireless and in its opposition to goals, signed a limitless truth.
I finish the picture.