August 7, 2011

Flew to Munich for a Retrospective of my films at the end of June.

I was not sorry to leave that world behind for a few days. The Munich Film Festival put us up at the Bayerischer Hof, an elegant old-world hotel where Michael Jackson had stayed once. We fatefully arrived on the anniversary of his death. A cluster of his Munich fans gathered in a park outside the hotel. For several hours the mourners held hands and moved in a slow circle murmuring the words to Billie Jean.

One woman carried a small wooden box which was treated with sincere reverence by all. It was only after snapping this photo that I realized the weighty portent of its contents:

I must confess that macabre and disturbing spectacle left me quite shaken. I couldn't help wondering if the entire experience ahead of me would now be colored, tainted so to speak, by this melancholy whiff of the tomb.

I managed to put it out of my mind in time for the walk over to the festival headquarters where my Retrospective was about to begin. A televised photo display inside the hall was impressive and encouraging.

But, when I was asked to perform the ceremonial "Signing of The Large Poster" ritual I grew uneasy again. Yes, it was an honor to be there with Andreas Stroehl, the celebrated head of the Munich Film Festival. And, perhaps it was the jetlag but somehow I just couldn't appreciate the joke.

Someone had drawn a mustache and goatee on my poster. Sure, I was smiling but inside I was a mass of rage and hurt feelings. I couldn't believe they'd let someone come in and deface my Large Poster. And on the first day of my Retrospective!

Nevertheless, I signed it; thinking so much about catching that sneaky graffiti bastard and kicking his fucking ass that I barely noticed the mustache had changed. I decided instead to roll with it, to go with the flow. Munich was known to be an edgy, free-spirited festival and maybe I was making too much of it. But, once again I couldn't help but feel the spell of Michael Jackson's orphaned nose settling down upon me.

More was yet to come. Later that night as my wife, Jane and I were walking back to the Hof, I saw a guy selling vintage photographs on the sidewalk. They were shots of Elvis, Marilyn, James Dean and the King of Pop himself with his sequined glove; all in elaborate, glittering hand painted frames. Laid out on the sidewalk they looked like a gaudy, kitsch graveyard. I was about to take a picture when a guy ran up to me blurting, "No photo! No photo!"

It kind of pissed me off because clearly these weren't his photos. Most likely he'd downloaded them from the internet, come up with the glittery frame idea and was now cashing in on them.

So, in the mood I was in I felt completely justified in ignoring him. I raised my camera and pressed the shutter. This is the shot I took.

Yes. Another nose. This guy's left a smudge on my lens I still can't get off.

The next few days were blessedly free from occult trauma. I went to the screenings of my films and engaged in lively discussions with the audiences. I like talking directly to people just after they've seen a film and I try to be as honest with them as I can. After a screening of The Real Blonde a question arose about the meaning of the title. I said it referred specifically to a woman whose "collar matched her cuffs."

A large blonde woman in the front row exclaimed, "Yes, her pubics hairs matches her head hairs. I am such a woman!"

She offered proof but I politely declined, not out of squeamishness but because I'd forgotten my glasses.

After Box Of Moonlight a guy scowled at me and said, "When you walked out to speak I looked at you with your long hairs and I said here is just another Hollywood uberkaese (super cheese?) and I was prepared to sneer at your words. But when you spoke I realized my judgment was premature."

"Oh. OK, thanks," I said, fiercely restraining the urge to slap him. "Should I cut my hair? Is that what you're saying?"

"No," the guy said, scrutinizing me intently. "But perhaps a mustache or goatee would help."

My pulse exploded. Was this the guy? The graffiti freak? The whole rest of of the discussion I was rattled because I kept looking at his hands to see if he was clutching a magic marker in one of them.

Over the next few days I did some interviews and talked for a while in the Black Box; not a torture chamber but a press room set up by the festival. Anyone wishing to take a break from watching paint dry can venture here here and here.

John Malkovitch was also being honored at the festival. It was great to see him and I was happy he was getting more attention than me but it did kind of piss me off that somehow, someone had made sure no one had defaced his Large Poster.

We hung out for a while one night. He seemed nice enough and I liked him; even though he'd never seen any of my movies. But, hey; he's a busy guy. A lot going on. He's into photography like me. He's got a good eye. He saw three women with identical cleavage and took their picture.

I took a picture of him taking the picture just to show there was no hard feelings. We all had a good laugh. It was good times. It shows how film festivals aren't just tons of hard work and raging egos and can really be a lot of fun if there is drinking and women in lowcut dresses.

On our last day I was dragged reluctantly on a raft trip down the Isar River. This was a special event chosen by festival director Andreas Stroehl. I was not looking forward to sitting on a raft for 5 hours with only German pilsner for sustenance but as this was Stroehl's last festival I agreed so as not to hurt his feelings.

We were bussed up into the Bavarian foothills and deposited on a floating platform made of logs. It was an bright, clear day and the July sun was hot and dry. The raft had about 50 people on it; filmmakers from all over the world. The moment we set off I felt something shift in me. Here you can see just how reluctant I was.

About an hour in the raft eased into a deep, wide section of the river and the "captain" informed us this would be a good place to swim. Only a few people had brought bathing suits. Three women jumped in in their dresses. I stripped down to my underwear and dove off the side.

I was completely unprepared for the cold shock. Then I remembered Andreas mentioning the river was fed completely by snow melt. I came up gasping and numb and almost shot right back on the raft.

But then I realized that even though I was floating next to the raft the current was pulling us both down river at a fantastic speed. All I had to do was tread water and let the river pull me along.

About 15 people jumped in. I looked around and saw them gathered in small groups, talking, their bobbing heads ahead of me, behind me. The cold eased off. Our bodies lighter than the heavy raft, we were soon pulled ahead of it by the flow of the river. The people on the receding raft waved and yelled to us. Green, verdant banks rushed past. I felt a sense of peace and joy quite strange and unfamiliar to me. It was almost overpowering.

I forgave the Graffiti Guy and even briefly considered growing a goatee. And then, so quietly and easily I almost didn't notice it, the Curse of Michael Jackson's Nose lifted and blew away.

Suddenly, as corny as it sounds,  I realized I was finally...Going with the Flow.

And it made me think about the intense rush of the last six days. The festival had shown all 7 of my films, twice. The audiences weren't huge but they were eager, engaged and refreshingly appreciative. They gave an amazing gift to me; their interest--and I will never forget it.

It was enlightening watching all the movies together. I couldn't believe how many people had worked on them. As the names drifted past in the credits they brought back all the intensity of shooting; all the intricate relationships that had formed, all the people I'd interacted with so intimately and then moved on.

It was surprising to see which films held up. I was astonished at the strong reaction to Double Whammy, a film that I'd almost turned my back on due to it's agonizing non-release here in the US. Seeing it again, almost 10 years later I was relieved to see the sharpness still in the humor, the edge of absurdity still flickering in it.

These are my first 7 films. Each one is totally different. Each one has its strengths and weaknesses; its flaws and moments of joy. None of them would ever have gotten made if I hadn't fought for them as if my life depended on it. But, each was a labor of love.

How unbelievably lucky and grateful I would be to make another.

Hi Tom, I hope you will make another movie! Cheers!
It was Harvey who defaced your poster! Seems like you’re doing fantastic to me!
Tom, you´re very gifted at embellishing reality!:)
Great to read from you again.
Hey Renata,
Sometimes embellished reality is the best kind. Kind of keeps people on their toes. My feeling is that people take things much too literally; especially stuff that even a new born monkey could see was boolshit.
This was so funny, the way you worded things and the things you saw/did. If I’d had been there I’d have defaced John’s poster just to make you feel better, haha. I love him though. I wish I could have been there. One of my favorite movies of all time is Box of Moonlight. I saw it when I was determined to watch every movie Sam Rockwell had ever been in, but then I realized, “hey! That’s who did The Doors documentary!!” I don’t know if you remember me, but I was one of the commenters on all of your posts about the Doors doc you did. I asked you, too, about going to college for film and you gave me good advice about it. I’m going to the University of North Alabama for a film and digital media degree right now and every time I think back I just remember what you said about going for it. Anyway, I haven’t kept up with your blog, unfortunately since I quit commenting because of school and work, but hopefully I’ll get to keep checking it out because I love reading it! And I think you did the right thing by taking the picture anyway even if you only got a picture of his nose. I did the same thing in a Tim Burton exhibit in Moma in NYC once. haha.
Hello again Brittney,
Yes, I remember you. How great that you are studying film. That is really wonderful and I am most pleased by the fact that you seem so psyched about it. Good for you.
I too love Sam Rockwell and would work with him again in a second. He’s really a total original. I cast him in Box of Moonlight years before I had the money. I even had to deal with secret offers from his agent at the time to make the film with another actor. But I didn’t. I knew he was Bucky.
Good luck in school
If I ever get to make a film I would just about offer anything for Sam to be in my movie. I just think he’s one of our best right now.
I agree with you Brittney. Sam has a character and style that is completely his own. This makes him special and rare, especially today when most actors are so bland and interchangeable.
Thank you, Tom.
You trip report is a lovely break from my drudgery! I sense a film in this tale…somewhere. Hope things are well and that you get a well deserved retrospective for the rest of your films, preferably in a place without Michael’s nose which I believe is in Beverly Hills somewhere 😉 Take care, Salli :).
Hey Salli,
Good to hear from you. I had a great time in Munich and came back with a solid sense of accomplishment. No matter what, I’ve made the films I wanted to. I take complete responsibility for them and feel enormously grateful I don’t have to apologize for anything. I know what works in them and what doesn’t. At least I didn’t have to make a movie where all the decisions were made for me by a consortium of chimpanzees in casual office wear.
Stuart Henderson
Tom, How about you do a video blog?!! i’m sure SEEING what you get up to what you describe would be hilarious!!.
Please Hook me up with these 3 hot chicks in that photo PLEASE!!!
Hey Stuart,
That is not a bad idea but I just don’t have the time for it. I’d be happy to hook you up with these three chicks but one of them is my wife.
Hey Tom, that mustache really suits you, you look like Iñigo Montoya… 😉
Funny post!
My sincerly compliments to you, a deserved homage!
Thanks David, I actually had a mustache like that for about a month. But it drove me so crazy I finally shaved it off with a vegetable peeler. Thanks for the good wishes. I hope you are well.
I´never take anything you say seriously again!
Just kidding, very entertaining post, loved reading it, even if I´m a huge MJ-fan.
Can´t wait for your next 7 films! Yeah, I really love how your movies are all different. Maybe you are right about Tarantino in that regard. You are like the guitar player that never plays the same riff twice. Or maybe like Keith Richards who never even plays the same riff once…
No, you shouldn’t take me seriously, Sam. Me or anyone else. I’m just having some fun with people’s expectations/expectorations with reality. See, something happened to my brain after so many “ckrittics” misobserved Morrison’s own film in When You’re Strange as a “re-enactment.” It made me see that really, nothing anybody says means anything. And I mean that in a good way.
Great blog post Tom!
Hmmm…so the belligerent photo dealer was real. I figured that part was made up. Did you really go into the water or stay on the raft? Regardless of which one, I did like your “go with the flow” moment. Ah, I must watch “Delirious” again.
And yes, I very much hope you can do at least 7 more films.
Hey Elaine,
Sorry this one seems like a chinese puzzle. Yes, the raft and river and in the water were all real. The only reality-bent events were the nose box and the graffiti on the poster.
Rai Mechem
Hey Tom,
Jeez, I know you too well now. I immediately knew it was you who had “defaced” your own poster. And inconsistently at that.
And if ANYONE ever gives you shit about your hair, send them my way. I’ll give ’em what for, believe you me.
Your pal,
Hey Rai,
I just couldn’t resist. I tried writing the post seriously and instantly fell asleep. Something made me put a box in the MJ shrine and I had to decide what would be in it. I could think of nothing sadder. And in fact, I’ve often wondered what did happen to Jacko’s original nose.
The graffiti thing was just to take some of the self-importance out of the signing photos. But, it made me realize I should have drawn my own mustache and goatee on while I was signing it. Next time.
The belligerent photodealer was real though, as was the river trip. I’ll keep that in mind if someone gets too whacky about my “hairs”.
Wayne Byrne
Hey Tom,
Brilliant new post! It would have made for a nice little documentary; I especially would have found it funny had Malkovich turned out to be the graffiti artist 🙂
As for the rude person in the theatre who slammed your hair by relating it to Hollywood, that’s the kind of guy to whom being “indie” means being socially inept, being barely audible in interviews, being reluctant to talk about their work, being ironic or cynical and perhaps looking pasty and destitute to top it off. I remember reading a piece before where the journalist mentioned that your coat you wore was a product of wealth and that you gave off the appearance of a wealthy Hollywood type; once again, what image do these guys have in their head of what an independent director should look like? Roger Corman is an independent filmmaker yet immensely wealthy but nobody seems to comment on that about him. It seems because you are willing to discuss your work with your public and carry it with humour and charisma that some people consider it ruining the mystique of indie film.
It’s hard to please everyone, especially those who have drank the wrong Pilsner! 🙂
Hey Wayne, much of this post is tongue in cheek. The rude guy wasn’t that rude. He was actually trying to be complimentary. My hair has elicited much more assaultive responses from balding distribution executives.
Here are some clues for anyone looking to see where the tale spins into absurdity:
The lettering on the wooden box in the photo of the Michael Jackson shrine. “His Original Nose.” If such a sad and ludicrous item really existed wouldn’t the lettering be in German?
The mustache on the Large Poster changes from one photo to the next. So something is whacky somewhere.
But, thanks for the comment. I’m glad you liked the post. The trip was like a film journey.

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Independent Filmmaker & Musician