Jonesing for a 21th Century Joseph Mitchell

Here, allow me to share a cautionary tale so that others might learn from my mistakes.

Some time back I agreed to video tape a dance piece. It was performed over three days. Excellent, I thought. Each performance I’ll set up at a different part of the theater. Up high for the wide master shot. And low to the ground, one night, stage left, the other, stage right. I’d done similar multiple camera shoots for live performances. But they had always been done with more than one camera during just one performance.

I hadn’t thought this out. It’s a modern dance piece with certain phrases seemingly open to the dancers’ interpretive expressions. But even in the most rigorous of pieces, there can be expected portions which are not identical from night to night. Add to the fact that the lighting wasn’t programed (some venues in town are certainly set up for this). This is turning into a much more stressful operation than I was expecting. True, the music is rock-steady from one night to another. The selections had been been burned to a CD, allowing for consistent run-times all three nights. This is what I thought was going to cover my ass. I also expected that the wide master-shot would provide my ass with a second covering. But, like an idiot, that final night when I took the wide shot, well, apparently I had used my camera earlier in the day and reset my frame rate. Very embarrassing. Very frustrating. I can use the footage, but it’s yet another level of technological hassle (also, it does look a bit different).

Below is a screen grab. I did get some beautiful images. There’s no doubt about that. It was a wonderful performance.

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A long weekend. I also have to put my Texas Filmmaker’s Production Fund grant proposal together.

Most likely I’ll get turned down again (though about one of ten submissions get some sort of funding, and I like those odds). But the fact is, you have to keep putting yourself out there. As someone said in the Creative Capital alum session last night, “You can never overestimate just how infrequently people are thinking about you.” And certainly the Prince of the Proactive I am not. It’s work, man. Exhausts me just thinking about it.

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Banner day for the Josiah Youth Media Festival. Actually, it was last night. Russ Ansley dropped off twelve submissions from his animation students over at Harlandale. Harlandale Animation is shortened to HA! The exclamation point is, I believe, mandatory. The judging doesn’t begin until June, but I wanted George and Catherine to see what great work the HA! kids are doing, so I selected one I had already seen during a campus visit earlier in the month. It’s a funny piece (intentionally so, I might add) — they were impressed and quite amused. Expect a lot of animation this year at Josiah.

I also received an email from from an instructor with an international school in Taiwan keen to submit some of her students’ work. I wrote back and said that a postmark deadline knows no time zone — it just might take a bit longer to hit our mailbox. How exciting. Last year we had an animator in Iran who emailed a video file. Strong work, but she was two years too old to be qualified for our festival.

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What a weekend. Between this damn video project; my TFPF application; putting in some volunteer hours at C4 (they open the doors Monday!); a Creative Capital party Saturday night; and “The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?” Sunday afternoon at the Attic Rep (final performance), I’m wondering if I’ll have time to write my little four page story for Monday night’s free writer’s workshop at Gemini Ink.

It’s based on a real story where a cab driver and a well-known San Antonio artist find themselves sharing studio space in a west side warehouse which had previously been used as a lavishly decorated love nest by a nationally famous and recently deceased Chicano activist (well, recently deceased at the time of the story).

I loved these stories of the seedy underbellies of our cities. It’s really important history and should be written down and preserved, even if it’s locked in a time capsule and not to be opened for a hundred years. I don’t know if anyone here in San Antonio has been doing anything like this. Maybe in the past? In Dallas, where I grew up, it was the journalists. Sometimes they’d put these stories in essays or works of fiction, slightly changing the names. Sometimes these newspapermen would just share these stories in the bars amongst their friends. I grew up with these stories from my father, who was very enamored of local writers such as Gary Cartwright, Dan Jenkins, and Bud Shrake. These were our north Texas Damon Runyons and Joseph Mitchells — writers who cut their teeth hammering out obits, high school football stories, and Saturday night knifings. Let these guys write about these subjects (or anything they care to write about) in an essay or short story length, instead of two column inches, and they will blow you away. I was never too keen on Dan Jenkins (too much sports fascination there). But Cartwright (his great essays) and Shrake (his impeccable novels) were as much my youthful heroes as Bill Burroughs and Hunter Thompson. Still are. And it saddened me to learn of Edwin “Bud” Shrake’s passing earlier in the month.

If you’re a Texan, or if you love Texas, or if you hate Texas; please visit your local library, bookstore, or wi-fi access-point from where you can order from Amazon … and, dammit, get your hands on a copy of Shrake’s “Strange Peaches.” If you love Larry McMurtry’s “All My Friends are Going to be Strangers” (my favorite novel of his), but wished it had more dope smoking, violence, and political conspiracy, this book is for you. If you wonder why there aren’t more Texas writers like Terry Southern, this book is for you. If you want a taste of the true weirdness of Dallas in the mid ’60s by someone who was there — read this book, because this book is for you.

I would like to teach a college lit course on Texas novels of the early seventies. Sure, they’re all old white guys, but what are you going to do…? I know. American Lit 347; Texas Novels of the Early 1970s by Old White Guys. We’d read: Terry Southern’s “Blue Movie” (1970), Edwin Shrake’s “Strange Peaches” (1970), Larry McMurtry’s “All My Friends Are Going to be Strangers” (1972), and David “Sunset” Carson’s, Lament” (1973).

North Texas was a strange place in the early ’70s. I lived through it, but I was too young to understand just how freaky it all was.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying there was widespread cannibalism. Crop circles weren’t appearing in the field behind the Longhorn Ballroom. As a kid I never saw a cross-burning and I only knew a couple of people with Geiger counters. The weirdness was all underground. And this underground was everywhere. Dammit, it’s time we get out there and collect these great stories before all these hippy and beatnik folks die off.

Everyone, this summer, grab you video cameras, and interview the blackest sheep in your family. If not you, who? (Or is that whom?)

Just do it!

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