Requiem for an Unmade Film

Requiem for an Unmade Film

Short Fiction

David King

 

 

 

You get a preview of what’s to come.

If you were alone, you’d be sitting in a tiny little Housing Commission flat in the Park Street Towers South Melbourne looking down over the street with some race caller gunning for vocal orgasm as an old dreck in an ex-Army greatcoat staggers down the street toward the traffic lights, and just as the caller hits the climax and some horse goes past the finish line and it’s all over again until next time folks, the old dreck reaches the lights and keels over.

Slow-ly.

And the traffic just keeps on going up and down the street with the old dreck lying there and the race caller gasping out words like he’s had the biggest orgasm of his life.

Well, the old dreck could be you. Nobody would give a shit. The film you wanted to make, that you always thought was so simple and clever could be all about you.

Nobody gives a fart about the old dreck. He just lies there at the traffic lights with cars going up and down, to and fro and nobody stops and gets out to see what’s wrong or if they can help. And you sit there at the cracked kitchen table in that dingy little Housing Commission flat looking down at the scene thinking wouldn’t this make a great little film as the exhausted, spent, worn out race caller is replaced at last by a commercial for an auto electrics company.

The sum total of your life: to imagine some bleak existentialist shit that never happened. Like in the days when you rode a rattling train carriage to the city, staring out grimy windows at grey refinery tanks sliding against grey sky, imagining science fiction scenarios you could film only you never did. Just another fantasy sliding by in the sideshow of your life.

The world changed, moved on, turned around and you were still where it left you. Last turn before second upgrade. Technoshit rules. If you don’t Tweet or Twitter you don’t exist.

The old dreck in the ex-Army greatcoat (which was probably his own from the war—yes, World War II, what else?) is a relic from an era nobody remembers but everybody glorifies. Actually, the original idea had him as a veteran of Flanders, 1916—a survivor of a mustard gas attack—which put the film probably in the early Sixties a few years after Alain Resnais made Last Year at Marienbad.

But you were only ten then, going into town on the bus with your Mum to buy meat for the week. No idea about film or anything else for that matter. Major misplaced hope in life to become a fighter pilot in the Air Force. Tally ho, chaps! Ratta-tat-tat-tat!

The old dreck just lies there, ignored by all the world. If he ever had a chance, he sure doesn’t now. Poor bugger. To end like that after surviving a war. Bombs, bullets, gas, cold, starvation. Marching for miles bone-weary, weighed down by useless gear. Saluting idiots because they had bars on their shoulders. Obeying instructions that put you in mortal danger. Daily fear that had you crapping your pants, something you on welfare in your Housing Commission flat will never know.

But you were never even there. In the war or the flat. It’s all just an idea. No old dreck ever walked down Park Street and collapsed at the lights while some jerk in the towers above sat listening to a race caller having a verbal orgasm. Never happened.  Just an idea for a film that never got made because you didn’t know anyone in the towers.

You could have gone up, knocked on a door said hi I’m D— I’m a filmmaker I’d like to shoot a scene out the window of your flat would that be okay? And they probably would have said yeah why not when do you wanna do it? And you could have got a Bolex 16mm and a couple of rolls of Agfa Gevaert film. It wouldn’t have cost much.

But who was to play the old dreck? What if the Housing Commission found out and kicked the lovely people out of their flat because they didn’t have permission to allow a filmmaker to shoot anything not approved by the Commission? After all, everyone would know where it was shot when they saw it. If anyone saw it.

And what if, when the old dreck collapsed at the lights, everybody stopped and jumped out of their cars to help and discovered it was just an actor? The idea of cars streaming past an old guy lying prone on the pavement might be just you hating the world and accusing it of not caring. What if it did? Does? Always will?

If it was you on the footpath by the lights, would you want people to come and help? Take you to hospital? Or would you rather they just left you there and drove on by? Because if you’re walking along this street shortly after midday having just come from—what? Lunch put on by some charity group? Soup and stale bread roll? Or is that just your idea of charity? Maybe a three-course meal that’s about to give you a heart attack because you’ve gotten unused to so much food. You exist on the odd sandwich, piece of toast and jam, cup of soup. After all, who cares? You don’t any more. Haven’t for a long time.

If only they knew back at the hall, they could have said stay here and rest a while maybe asked if you had any family to come and pick you up but you didn’t have any family there was nobody so you walked off into the early afternoon light going…where?

And over in Caulfield maybe Flemington, the fillies were running. And you could remember being on top of the grandstand aiming a camera at them for thirty-five dollars an afternoon as they ran around the track. Seen one race, seen ’em all. Either this horse wins or that one does. But race after race looks exactly the same through the 12 – 120mm Angieux lens of a Beaulieu 6008S.

Boredom incorporated. Your first taste of reality.

Why didn’t you use the Beaulieu to shoot the idea of the old dreck collapsing at the lights with the race caller having a verbal orgasm over the tranny in the tower above? It was all possible.

Lost opportunities haunt those who survive. Why were you here when you should have been there? Why did you make this film instead of that one? Write this story instead of that? Follow that path instead of the other?

No script to follow in life so you stopped writing scripts. The whole idea of a script is wish fulfilment. If only we could plot everything…like the path of that old dreck to the traffic lights. Like the cars that stream heedlessly by while he lies on the footpath. Like the race caller having his verbal orgasm at that particular moment and the whole episode being seen and heard from the tower above.

To make that film is to discover the truth. Do people care? Will they stop and help? Will they be angry when they discover it’s only an actor pretending? Will they then drive by a person who has genuinely collapsed on the footpath and needs help? Will that person die because you made a film which made people stop believing what they saw was real?

You can write anything but will life follow the script? What if a jogger chances by pulls out his mobile phone calls an ambulance? What if an ambulance happens to be driving by does a U-turn pulls up at the kerb and they discover it’s only an actor pretending? What do you do then? Cower in the tower as your actor in the street below tries to explain the situation?

You could have got that guy from the Filmmakers’ Co-op to play the old bloke. What was his name? Nah, never knew his name but you know the one always hanging around Lygon Street used to come up and say “You makin’ a film? Eh? You makin’ a film? I’ll help. You wanna grip? I’ll be grip. You want an actor? I’ll act.” He’d do anything for anyone at the Co-op. We were demi gods. Sure he was maybe only 35 not old but put him in an ex-Army greatcoat, a beanie pulled down over his head, get him to shamble along toward the lights on the corner of Park and Cecil. He’d have been believable. Coulda been his greatest role, the thing he’d always be remembered for. Come to think of it, he always seemed to wear an ex-Army greatcoat (or was it just a duffel coat?), beanie pulled down. Way back before beanies were cool.

But he never got the role. Because you never spoke to him about it. You never spoke to anybody about it. The idea just went drifting off into a fog of obscurity.

                                                                            

* * *

 

The Age almost didn’t run it. It was only because they found themselves with a few blank column centimetres in the news brief at the top of page five, Wednesday evening, that it got in at all.

It wasn’t done by a filmmaker. It wasn’t shot from Park Towers. It didn’t have a race caller rising to verbal orgasm on one of those eventless Saturday afternoons in the mid-Seventies.

It was recorded by traffic intersection cameras. The mid-thirties guy supposed to be watching the monitors in the control room was texting his girlfriend who he thought was seeing another guy on the side. When he glanced up from his mobile phone, the body was already on the ground just short of the lights. A car had pulled up and a young woman in tights and anorak was running to the fallen figure.

The figure on the ground wasn’t wearing an ex-Army greatcoat or a beanie but an old leather jacket and the kind of flat tweed cap favoured by country gentlemen in England. He was a trim seventy-two, grey beard and mustache. A battered leather attaché case lay on the ground beside him.

When the ambulance arrived, the paramedics found him already dead. Stroke, so they said.  A massive one. The young woman who tried to help was distraught. The paramedics referred her to Lifeline and took the body and attaché case to hospital. When they opened the case, they found a few crumpled pages of typescript. It began like this:

            You get a preview of what’s to come.

 

 

Bio: David King is an international award-winning experimental filmmaker and video artist. His works have screened at many festivals and in galleries and museums including the Museum of Experimental Art in Mexico City.

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