I am convinced that every one of us is, at heart, a frustrated movie actor.
Personally, I have never watched Johnny Weismuller swinging through the air on a jungle vine, or Lon Chaney Junior in his role of The Mummy abducting some sweet young thing, without secretly wishing that it was me doing the swinging or the abducting.
"Bah," we tell ourselves, "Metro Goldwin Mayer would never sign me up." That is probably true. However, did it ever occur to you that you can become a movie star (in a modest sort of way) without ever going near California? For with a few items of equipment and some federal reserve notes, you too can see your face leering back at you from the silver screen.
To prove this, five New Jersey science-fiction fans and ex-fans recently filmed an amateur fantasy movie. Here's how it all started.
During Christmas week of 1949, George Fox and Lloyd Alpaugh and yours truly were sitting in my house, gabbing about films we'd seen. There was a lull in the conversation. Then Fox abruptly said --
"Let's make a movie."
"Okay," I acquiesced.
A couple days went by. I thought nothing more about it. Consequently my jaw sagged in surprise when I glanced out the window on New Year's Day. Parked outside was Alpaugh's weatherbeaten sedan. Several guys got out and began unloading a camera, floodlights, and tripods.
In marched Alpaugh, Fox, Willie Pierce, and Ron Maddox.
"Lights! camera! action!" said somebody brightly.
We were fortunate in getting equipment. Fox had recently won an 8mm movie camera from a television give-away program. Pierce, who works in a photography store, was able to borrow a mess of tripods and floodlights when his boss was looking the other way.
"What kind of movie are we going to make?" someone piped up. "Now, how about a film version of Stapledon's Last and First Men --"
He was promptly decapitated.
After much discussion it was decided that we would produce a surrealistic film, because: (1) this would be easiest, since we wouldn't have to think up a plot, (2) this would permit the use of plenty of screwball humor.
If you have ever seen Dreams That Money Can Buy or Lot In Sodom or Jean Cocteau's Blood of a Poet, you know what I mean. In New York's Greenwich Village there are several "ahht and cultchah" movie houses which love to show this kind of stuff. This is the sort of movie in which the heroine, with a bloody battle-axe protruding from her belly-button, walks in on the scene holding a pineapple; and the audience wracks its brains (if any) to figure out the meaning in back of this subtle symbolism.
With Pierce as cameraman, the shooting started. There were minor difficulties. Our camera, it seems, was one of the kind which you have to rewind every thirty seconds. The room was a maze of wires, and several members of the cast, stumbling, nearly flattened their snoots. But production forged onward.
Guys meandered onto the scene, holding signs reading SPECTATOR PRODUCTIONS PRESENT --- and BLOOD OF A SPECTATOR, the title chosen for the epic.
Among my Christmas presents was a toy lizard made of rubber. Alpaugh, stripped to the waist, grimaced in terror as the lizard slowly wriggled across his epidermis.
In another scene, Fox sprawled on his back on the dining-room table, holding an orange in his mouth. The other actors seated themselves, tucked napkins under their collars, sprinkled salt upon the recumbent Fox, brandished knives and forks, and made like cannibals.
What is so rare as a surrealistic movie which doesn't have some trick photography? With foolhardy courage, we tried some. Even with a home movie camera it is easy to make things and people seem to appear or disappear bafflingly. Just mount the camera on a tripod so it remains fixed and steady. Then, for example, take a picture of an empty chair. Stop the camera. Have somebody sit down in the chair. Start the camera again, and -- presto! It seems as tho the guy has popped out of the empty air.
For another sequence, we made it appear as tho Pierce were lying on the ceiling. We rolled back the rug, he lay down on the floor, and we turned the camera upside down.
Then we ventured into the great outdoors.
My home town boasts a geographical curiosity. About a half-mile from my house, there is a miniature mountain of gray stone, perhaps 60 feet high and five hundred yards long. It marks the site of a defunct iron refinery. After the iron had been melted out of the ore, the workers just dumped the molten stone that was left over. The kept dumping it until this huge heap was formed. If there weren't a couple of smokestacks sticking up over the skyline, you'd swear you were standing among the craters of the moon.
This made a wonderful background for some movie shots, as we leaped from crag to crag like would-be mountain goats.
Toward the tail end of the film, we ran out of ideas. Guys marched around waving placards reading SOUTH GATE IN '58. Maddox sprawled on the floor and played dead while others trampled lightly over his carcass. For the grand finale, instead of having a sign proclaiming THE END, one of the cast merely saluted the camera with his posterior.
When the afternoon drew to a close, we had used up three 50-foot rolls of film. The cost was slightly under $8, for Pierce, through his camera-store connections, snared the film at a discount.
Two weeks later I was invited to attend the world premier at Willie's house. With all the time required to think up stunts and arrange props, the movie had taken four hours to film. When all the splicing was done, it took about eight minutes to show. As you might expect, Blood of a Spectator will not win any academy awards, nor will it give Things to Come or One Million B. C. much competition. Nonetheless, we nearly had hysterics guffawing over the thing.
"Let's show this movie at the next fan convention," I suggested to Alpaugh.
"What?" he shot back. "And kill fandom completely?"
Text versions and page scans Judy Bemis
Data entry by Judy Bemis
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