His wife left him for another writer. One that sells life insurance.

January 30, 2012


MAKING MOVIES. Believe it or not. This book was passed around for film options. I couldn’t see it myself. First of all it was written as a television documentary. A satire on those BBC documentaries. Filled with self-importance. But as I started to write it, a lot of the satire evaporated. Into scotch. I started to like the book. As fun. The first review of the book was in the national newspaper of Canada, The Globe and Mail. And they hammered it. The reviewer said that movies weren’t made in the way I represented them. It wasn’t a manual. It was a book of fiction. The reviewer died several years later. Maybe someone reviewed his column.

You don’t have to bother reading the blurb below. Its something the publisher drums up. It doesn’t sell the book but it makes the publisher sleep better at night. I think Making Movies was the best book published the year it was born. Not that I read all the other books. I’m sure some other worthy author ran off with all the awards. But no one except him and his surviving children will remember that.

[The magic of film is recreated, taken apart, examined and lovingly satirized in an unusual work of fiction. David Halliday imagines a BBC documentary about ‘the well known Canadian film maker Samuel Bremmer’. We see moments of the films themselves; we hear the words of the actors, the designers and the commentary of the director, Samuel Bremmer. The illusion of film, and how it is created against a backdrop of money problems, personality clashes, jealousies, ambitions, love and vanity. Originally published by Press Porcepic.]

………………………………………………

The Gunfight

 

1.

Around a table four men playing poker

one is a squat man close to the earth

a farmer curly red hair invisible eyebrows divided by a scar

shirt sleeves rolled up

two buttons of his shirt undone

suspenders and trousers a suit jacket hung

limply over his chair

 

to his right a small thin man spider wearing spectacles

bank teller holds his cards close

close to his eyes to make sure they aren’t counterfeit

 

to his right the gambler dressed to win

three piece suit white silk shirt shoe string tie black curly hair

a smile hidden in a wrinkled mouth

 

the fourth is a blacksmith shirt stained sweat arms burned

from the elbows down hands awkwardly large

 

anyone care for breakfast kitty the owner of the saloon smiles

behind a deep purple dress with flat mirror buttons

 

i’d rather refill my pocket the blacksmith good naturedly grins

 

how about a couple of eggs with eyes bacon with sides

coffee with cream the gambler smiles

 

what have you got the gambler asks

 

pair of aces the bank clerk greedily grins

 

beats me the farmer replies

 

ménage a trios the gambler grins while strangling his tie

 

don’t you ever lose the farmer complains

no one can be so  lucky and not own the stars

 

calm down bill the blacksmith says

restraining a yawn swallowing his eyes

 

dealing out a new round the gambler places  the deck on the table

teller and smith nibble at their cards

the farmer rises pointing at the gambler

with a gun

 

sitting calmly the gambler holds his cards with five fingers

another finger beneath the table

fondling the trigger of his gun

two bullets splinter the table and the farmer’s brain

 

the farmer’s eyes are open round in surprise

hand drops gun fires into the floor

falls back into his chair

blood spits out of his head onto his shirt

it’s a new shirt

the farmer gasps and dies.

 

SET DESIGNER: All the indoor scenes, the saloon, the house, the farm, were shot in a warehouse in Toronto. I think the place had been used to store furs or something animal… you could still smell whatever it was. Sam had to live there while we were shooting. He had to; it was his furniture that we were using as props. I don’t know how he stood the smell. He told us that at night he could hear creatures scurrying across the rafters. He wasn’t sure whether they were mice or ghosts….

 

SAMUEL BREMMER: To save money we decided to make a western. Everyone wore old clothes they’d found in attics or picked up in the ‘Sally Ann’. They were close to the clothes that people wore in the 1800’s. Fashions for the poor don’t change much over time. And the men, except for Anthony, didn’t shave. We shot many of the outdoor scenes in an old abandoned farm near Pembroke, built, I think, about the time the story is supposed to have taken place. We used some of the locals and the crew as extras. And of course with horses you don’t have to worry about the date of the model…

 

MUSIC DIRECTOR: We had some trouble with the background noise. We didn’t notice it until we started to edit, but all the indoor scenes sounded dead, hollow. Solving this was more difficult than it might seem. I had to go out and record outdoor scenes. I went into the middle of the woods. I used some very sensitive recording equipment and discovered to my dismay that it picked up the sound of my breathing. So i had to re-record by leaving the machine by itself for a few hours. And then later i discovered that part of it was ruined by the sound of an airplane. So i had to do it all over again. The third time i was again frustrated. The recorder picked up the sound of a tree falling in the woods…

 

SCREENWRITER: In the original script there was much more dialogue… which Sam managed to eliminate in many ways… either by eliminating it all together or by making it almost inaudible behind the breathing of horses, or the sound of running water or by having more than one person speak at the same time. Sam explained these changes to me by saying that we were not putting on a play. Film is visual, he said. I asked him why he didn’t do the whole thing in pantomine. He didn’t like that. Maybe that’s why we haven’t worked together since….

 

SAMUEL BREMMER: I am nothing but a bag of voices… if they leave then I am…

 

SAMUEL BREMMER: I was very pleased with the farmer’s death. I played the part of the farmer myself, not only to save money but also I think because i liked the fantasy of being killed. And then of course surviving one’s own death….

 

2.

rain falls down

a river pouring out of a cloud

 

a man on a horse approaches a farm house and dismounts

knocks at the door a woman in grey opens

the door light flows out into the rain

 

through the kitchen window is seen the rider holding his hat

the woman turning away face in her hands

veil of darkness rain and silence rain and silence

 

out the back door the rider leaves heading toward the barn

rain pours down ditches swell rain barrel overflows

 

SAMUEL BREMMER: There was no rain in the original screenplay. We shot all the indoor scenes first in Toronto while keeping an eye on the weather conditions in Pembroke. Then it occurred to me that the rain could be a fundamental part of the picture. This meant of course that we had to re-write and re-shoot some scenes. And then we had to rush up to Pembroke and hope it wouldn’t stop raining. I sent one of the crew ahead of us just to shoot the rain falling. Luckily for us, because shortly after we began to shoot the scenes on the farm the rain stopped. Looking back i think the rain shaped the film. As if the gods were smiling down upon us…

 

LESJA BROWN: I saw the woman in two lights. Both in grief and joy. Grief because suddenly she has lost something in her life. I didn’t see her grieving for her husband but for herself and her son and a future that was threatening… but also with a kind of joy that she had to repress. Her husband was a drunk and she was probably glad to be rid of him. Although she could not admit this feeling publicly or perhaps even to herself. That is shy she feels a third sensation. Guilt. How many times had she wished, dreamed of him dead… ?

 

3.

inside the barn firing a harness a young boy

lifts a hammer kissing metal

the boy dressed in overalls

a piece of straw growing out of his teeth

a lantern lit hangs from a beam

the rider enters the boy looks up

 

sheriff the boy says

billy the sheriff replies

think this rain will ever end the boy laughs

come about your pa

drunk again billy grins shaking his head

dead  the sheriff says

staring into the fire

 

SAMUEL BREMMER: I couldn’t see Sir John as a Wyatt Earp or Gary Cooper in High Noon. So I had him play the sheriff as a school crossing guard, a man fearful of violence, knowing that he could do nothing to limit or restrain it….

 

4.

graveyard funeral in pouring rain billy

stands silent his mother weeps growing smaller

blacksmith is there

the sheriff

the minister reads from a book

a couple of buckboards wait at the border with a buggy

the horses are nervous

the hole in the ground filled

with water pine box lowered floats

then sinks the woman cries

remembering that her husband couldn’t swim

 

LESJA BROWN: Almost caught my death filming this scene. It was a cold September day as I recall and I remember complaining to Sam, who just smiled and said it was all in my head. I caught a bad cold and was laid up in bed for a couple of weeks. Sam was very sweet. Sent me flowers and candies. Came to see me about every other day. He was very concerned. Sam is quite superstitious. I think that because we were shooting a funeral, he was afraid we had somehow unleashed death…

 

5.

billy and his mother returning home rain pours down

not a word spoken rain pours down

not a word spoken water rushes down sides of the road

eats the earth roots of trees lakes from ponds rivers – paths

billy wears a straw hat now bent over his ears

his mother wears a shawl around her neck

the horse wears blinkers

so it won’t panic

 

ROBERT DRAYTON: Mr. Bremmer was no help to me at all. I asked him several times what my motivation was supposed to be. How was I supposed to play this farm boy. I had never acted before and felt quite in the dark. It worried me. I couldn’t sleep and I looked it. But when I asked him anything, Mr. Bremmer would just bark at me. I’m busy, he’d say, don’t bother me now. Several times I was ready to quit. After we finished the film, Mr. Bremmer came up to me, a big grin on his face and slapped me on the

shoulder. Bobby, he said,  you were beautiful – awkward, nervous, uncomfortable – young.

 

6.

inside the farm house Billy stares into the  fire bleeding flames

his mother at the window staring into the rain

shaking

won’t it ever end

 

7.

days passed rain pours on night and day are one

 

SAMUEL BREMMER: One day we left a camera for about an hour shooting rain falling into mud, then by editing, we condensed the whole hour down to a couple of minutes….

 

8.

Billy’s mother sits at the kitchen table rubbing her hands

he came again last night came again and stood there stood there

at the end of the bed and swore I’d never sleep again never again

until his vengeance was bedded

 

SAMUEL BREMMER: The only real close-up of the picture, a close-up of Lesja’s eyes through her reflection in the window. And the rain running down the glass and her voice mixed with the sound of the rain beating. I was trying to create a mood of forlornness, of people outside the stream (excuse the pun) of history, of important events. This was the worst hardship of these people, these pioneers, the feeling that they didn’t matter… it hardened some, destroyed others….

 

9.

in the saloon the gambler sits eating his breakfast

Kitty stands looking out the saloon window

finally stopped raining she mumbles

scratching the flesh above her wrist

sit down you’re giving me indigestion the gambler barks

 

Kitty sits down

her red dress flowing over the chair

a small silver hair smothered between her breasts

 

ANTHONY WHALE: I had to lose quite a bit of weight to play the gambler, which isn’t easy when your wife is Italian. Sam’s idea. He saw the gambler as an evil character and evil, he said, must always look hungry. I thought that this was too facile. I was determined to make a gambler into a real person. My dialogue didn’t allow this so I decided I’d have to do it through gestures. I’d make the gambler appealing. Practiced my smile. Watched a lot of old Clark Gable films. Practiced grinning in the mirror each morning. Used to break up my wife. She’d laugh and laugh. Sam didn’t like the smile. In the end we compromised. I’d be able to smile if I lost thirty pounds. I lost the weight. Unfortunately my grin changed with the loss of weight on my face. My charming grin began to look wicked. Sam was very pleased with himself….

 

10.

Kitty sits

playing solitaire

read my fortune the gambler yawns

Kitty looks at the cards remains silent

the gambler grabs her wrist and bends it unnaturally

to one side

you’re hurting me Kitty cries

read the cards read the cards the gambler demands

tell me how I shall die

 

Kitty bites her lip turns over a seven

you will die a rich man

turns over a queen

choking to death

the gambler laughs so I’m to hang

they’ll have to bury a bullet in me first

 

BARBARA HARRIS: I had to learn to shuffle cards. Bought several decks. Practiced between takes. Before I was served dinner n restaurants, during a bath, first thing in the morning. Maurice gave me some tips. He seems to know something about everything. A very talented man….SAMUEL BREMMER: Our budget ran out about this time I didn’t tell anyone. Told them I had to take a few days off. A small operation, doctor’s orders. I was not specific. Everyone, to my surprise, was quite concerned. I spent the next week haranguing, begging, pleading with friends and relatives. If the film had been a flop I knew I’d end up a sales clerk, or insurance agent somewhere spending years to pay off my debts. Fortunately for me when we finished the picture and I was able (through many frustrating weeks) to get the picture distributed we broke even. Which for a Canadian film at the time was considered a tremendous success. Since then the film to my surprise and delight, has become something of an underground classic in Europe…

 

11.

sheriff enters the bar

walks over to the table where the gambler

and Kitty are playing with a cat

the farmer’s boy is outside the sheriff begins

he’s come armed

I don’t want you to draw on him.

the gambler laughs

looks down at the sheriff’s muddy boots and flips him a nickel

sheriff why don’t you go and get your boots polished.

 

SIR JOHN BIRD: There was a tremendous fight about how the picture should end. In the original screenplay, Kitty talks the gambler into not shooting the farmer’s boy because of the gambler’s love for her. We all agreed that this was not satisfactory… Little Barbara thought that somehow Kitty should be killed at the end. This isn’t television, Sammy screamed. Then Maurice suggested that the sheriff save the young boy by shooting the gambler in the back. Sammy liked the idea but he was overruled by the rest of us. It just wouldn’t sell we all argued, it’s too out of character. The sheriff is inept, impotent. All of us agreed (all of us except Sammy and Barbara) that the gambler had to die. It was poetic justice…

 

12.

a boy’s voice cries

out from the street

mr gambler I come to kill you

 

the gambler stands up checks his gun heads for the door

Kitty jumps up grabs his arm

he’s just a kid she pleads

his gun ain’t the gambler replies

 

13.

the gambler stands on the wooden sidewalk

high above the street filled with water

a sea of mud

Billy stands in the middle of the road

reaches for his gun too late

the gambler’s gun is drawn

and fixed on the boy’s heart Billy faints

into the mud the gambler’s head falls

back and laughs

 

Kitty rushes up from behind and pushes the gambler

fire his gun two bullets graze Billy’s hat

the gambler falls into the street

face first in the mud motionless

Billy remains

for a moment in the mud

am I alive he asks

14.

Kitty kneels weeping over the gambler

the sheriff lifts Billy to his feet

did I kill him the boy asks

no one killed him the sheriff responds

he was just a man who struggled to rise

finally successful he reached his level.

 

THE END

 

SAMUEL BREMMER: I’m still not satisfied with the ending. But to tell you the truth I wasn’t sure how the thing should end. I wanted an ending that showed that violence was unpredictable. It was like an explosion where everyone is its victim. My intuition told me that the gambler should kill the farm boy. This was consistent with reality. But then film is not reality. No artistic form reflects reality. And of course everyone wanted the gambler to die. So the ending was decided through democratic means…. So much for artistic integrity..

 

 

2 Responses to “His wife left him for another writer. One that sells life insurance.”

  1. Did you ever see Synechdoche, NY (I spelled it wrong)? Charlie Kaufman. Painfully good. In my last novel, one of the characters is making a movie. I’m sure I got it all wrong but that’s not the point, is it?

  2. I think the reviewer in my case read the title and assumed… after that I got great reviews. Went on a television and radio tour across Canada. But that one review killed the book. Not that I’m against negative reviews. You have to learn to take your lumps but in Canada the publishing industry is a very small village and one reviewer can skewer a book.

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