Friday, October 26, 2007

The Big Red

Over the course of the past year, Blood Car has vacationed us in some fine areas of the continental United States, from red states to blue states and back again. Our most recent trip was to Denison University in Granville, Ohio, a highly selective liberal arts school of about 2400 students and nestled in what was once called 'the frontier of America.' The spirit of generosity and grit that once cradled these uncharted lands still rules, as does the danger of being attacked by vengeful Native Americans whose lands we usurped.* Adam and I were flown up courtesy of student Brian Crush and the Denison Film Society. We met him during our Burroughsian trip to the Jacksonville Film Festival this past May and he contacted Alex shortly afterward wanting to program Blood Car for one of their weekly film screenings. Since Alex was indisposed, we traveled in his stead. I had such great fun, both annoying Adam with bad joke/good joke ratio of 4 to 1 and visiting with our gracious hosts, who you'll meet shortly.

In the Atlanta airport's main atrium on our way to security, we were confronted by some janusian portraits by a photographer whose name I cannot remember. If you can tell me who the photographer is, I'll buy you lunch. These were displayed all across the atrium and were incredibly compelling. You cannot really see it here, but the split between the two faces is purposefully jagged and most of the photos were incredibly dramatic, funereal, beautiful and sorrowful. I chose to shoot one of the few of that had a smiling subject. I was in a good mood. This might make a good Xmas present for someone, but it also might make one sob uncontrollably. If you can't tell, one half of the face is just an older version of the younger half.

Chautauqua Airlines ferried us to St. Louis and then on to Columbus, OH in two very tiny, embracing planes that I could not stand up straight in. We were greeted by our benefactor Brian C. and a fellow film student named Taylor, who was working on a variation of the popular acronym WTF -- WTFuck. Go ahead. Say it...funny, right? I think it has potential. A scenic, thirty minute drive to the university allowed us to interrogate Brian C. and Taylor about their film program at Denison. Surprisingly, students are still mandated to shoot projects on 16mm. It's refreshing to hear that since our alma mater phased out 'film' just after we graduated and is now exclusively digital, at least for the undergrads. I also believe it imparts to students an understanding and appreciation of celluloid that is disappearing, much like the arctic glaciers. Yes, you heard me right, digital is the global warming of movies. HAHA.

On arrival, we assembled with our other gracious hosts, Cassie, Denison Film Society President, and Charlie, another film student, and dined at a bar that only served beer. I had some trouble finding a drink here since I do not drink beer or anything that tastes like beer. So I asked our waitress, "Are there any beers that do not taste like beer?" She either rolled her eyes or humored me and brought back two tasters' glasses, one that tasted like beer and one that tasted like a green apple jolly rancher cider. I had two glasses of the latter. It is a Belgian, unmanly, fruit flavored beer. During dinner, this cinematic quartet regaled us with the storied history of the DFS projection room, where several films have met with untimely fates, including Grindhouse and The Passenger. Taylor showed us one terrifying picture on his cell phone that encapsulated The Passenger debacle. Somehow, the reels became tangled up so intricately in the projector that they had to make over a dozen surgical cuts to free it from the jaws of the machine. The picture was of a student who looked like he dipped his hands in a bin of 35mm and the spools dripped off of him like water. His hands were held up proudly like a surgeon who had just emerged from a patient's chest cavity, bloodied up to his elbows. I covered my eyes. They assured us that they have dozens more stories of films that made it to the final reel, but those aren't very interesting. Ah, the essence of narrative and drama. Only when bad things happen is it worth committing to paper or celluloid or binary code. Can't argue with that.

We screened on DVD in a large lecture hall outfitted as a theater with full 16mm and 35mm projection facilities. A selection of snacks and soda were served for the attendees. Adam and I introduced the film, watched the first few minutes and then walked back into town for a drink while the film played. What also hearkened back to the frontier epoch was the price of the alcohol there; brawny quantities at 1850s prices. When we returned we happily answered questions, gave out a few t-shirts and some posters. In lieu of his presence, Alex drafted a short message to the students that I read before the talkback. It went as follows:

Dear Denison University,

Thanks for coming to the screening. I hope you laughed or were at least offended enough to tell someone about it. I'll take either. Atlanta is getting colder and I am getting some kind of sickness. It sucks. (I added as a joke, "I may not make it to spring.") How's the weather there? Well enough chit chat, let's get down to business. When I was in film school some professors, and especially people working in the film industry, treated doing their own projects as some kind of a pipe dream a younger version of them had. Well I just want to tell you that those people suck and you ca do whatever you want if it is important to you. Make the kind of films that you would like to see and there will be an audience somewhere for them. If you want to be a filmmaker, learn about it by doing. There is information everywhere about all aspects of filmmaking so devour it all. Read everything, volunteer, meet people, write, watch movies,
take pictures- learn all you can. Mark Twain said it best- "Don't let schooling interfere with you education." ok, wish I could be there alex

I don't think Denison alums Michael Eisner, Jennifer Garner, Hal Holbrook or Steve Carell could have said it better. Carell might have been funnier. Holbrook would have had a few more Twain quotes up his sleeve. Garner would have been richer. Eisner would have been prettier. Actually, reverse those last two. Someday, these film students will be imparting similar wisdoms to the next generation of filmmakers and filmgoers. (Pictured from left to right; Cassie, Taylor, Charlie, and Brian C.)

For such a short trip, we produced a great deal of memories and inside jokes. From The Denisonian weekly, I learned that microwave popcorn fumes can cause "deadly, irreversible lung disease." I vanquished a couple of complete strangers in pocket billiards. We stayed at the Buxton Inn, which is supposedly haunted by former owners and a ghost cat. Some Denison students use roast beef sandwiches as bookmarks. Okay, just one of them.

*Not true.