The Videographer's Apprentice
or, the Tale of Blondie Wiggle
Dreamed 1994/7/29 by Chris Wayan
THE FIRST SHOOT
I'm leaning on a brick wall in the Haight-Ashbury, by the Red Vic theater, waiting for the rest of the video crew. A delicate blonde walks by, no taller than my nipple. Like a Tussaud miniature: "The 1969 Hippie Chick." Bare stomach, wiggling her short-skirt butt... and ignoring everyone. Just parading in the Haight--her nature preserve.
I study my copy of the outline. God forbid we should have an actual script before shooting!
Here she comes again... Hey, look at me! Nope. She's on stage and I'm a shadowed face on the back balcony. Sigh!
Oh, here they come. Video time. Lance the brains, Zooop and Dawn the effects artists, Tim the musician, and Crush the videographer. All of them actors. And me...
We start in Golden Gate Park, where guys sidle up and ask "wanna buy pot?" as the group argues how to start and what to film. Uh-oh, I thought they knew.
Crush runs along sidewalks with camera waist-high, until he goes up to Dawn, who's reading Castaneda on the sidewalk. The camera goes inside her head... The book's not a prop--Dawn's reading "The Art of Dreaming" and loves it. Wants to meet shamans. I promise to introduce her to Mark and Dee.
Similar shots, with each actor but me, the crazy one who sees the camera for what it is. An alien parasite.
Which is sociologically true, here in the Haight. A neighborhood eaten by media exposure--the flood of refugees in the sixties, and tourist cameras today.
Get a stomach ache as my scene comes up--by far the hardest. I play a street crazy who isn't crazy, who recognizes the camera as an alien that flits from mind to mind. I accuse it hysterically, in front of the giant tiled mural near Buena Vista Park.
The crew keeps thinking of key phrases for me--after the fact--and repeating the take with revisions. But each time I go into the character, I forget their demands and just go crazy. Five takes, all over-the-top intense... while they argue over what they want. By take five, real street people and tourists gather, curious. I'm acting fine, but having a script would help! And the writers still disagree. Unbelievable.
Postmortem in a pizzeria. I'm high, happy, from catching such an intense character. Dawn asks "What'd it feel like?"
Home. Watch the footage. My scenes are usable, but the others... jerky, wild, full of cars and tourists, not Haight Street flavor. Zooop and Crush snipe, start dueling. It's clear now they never agreed, or even got it clear that they disagreed, about what to aim for, what the intro scene was. Miscommunication, and it's not improving. Zooop switches basic premises or never forms them, builds entirely from patterns seen in the material after the fact. She's a solitary artist--that kind of revision works in a painting or a novel, but not in a group project. Trouble ahead!
The tape runs out. I turn off the blank TV so the scanning noise won't make my head ache. They can't hear it--few Americans can. At least when I explain, they believe me that it exists! Didn't expect them to... Oh, wait, that's just my character--the only street crazy who isn't.
THE NEXT SHOOT
Back to Haight Street. Five MORE takes of me as a street crazy who's the only one to see the horrible truth. I have to shout and rasp, so my voice is shot by take nine. And real street people are getting curious, watching, starting to intrude on the soundtrack. Zooop still wants a perfect take. Ain't gonna happen, not in this setting. Fortunately Crush on camera also thinks the last takes were good enough (and his arm's sore and he was staggering); he says "Get the other shots while we're all here, we don't have much time till the sun's gone."
Page Forrest, a dancer I know, yells "Hi, Chris!" and I wave to her with a tinge of sadness. I wanted her so much, but she just wanted a friend--and a star dancer for her film. Another project I never even got a tape of. Danced for her instead of dated her, sigh! Art sublimates life. Oh well, maybe I could be her platonic friend now... but I doubt it. Once I HAVE a girlfriend, I don't think I'll react so strongly to Page...
Down the street, segment by segment... I keep running into that little Sixties blonde again, with her bright colors and happy aura. So cute! I don't want an acting career, I just want her. Can't I just forget filming and talk to her?
Filming's stuck anyway. Zooop objects to each shot, arguing with Crush. Lance is simmering, about to boil over. "We agreed on all this, let's just do it."
Lance and I discuss the team's problems while we chase Crush on his last shot, up to the great mosaic. Zooop and Dawn and Tim disappear while we talk. Go back look. Nowhere! Walk the whole length of the Haight. All three vanished! Come back the whole length, peering in stores this time. Not there. Crush is disgusted. My urge is to try and smooth it all over, but I abstain for once. Search again. Nowhere! By now it's nearly the time Dawn and Tim had to leave anyway, but where the hell is Zooop? She was mad, but... mad enough to just walk away? I wonder if she drove off, stranding the whole crew here. Three of us should easily spot a woman in a magenta jacket on Upper Haight--if she wants to be found.
Crush and I sit in New York Pizza, while Lance searches the length of the street, a fourth and final time. I'm upset because it's a pattern I've seen all along--my dreams warned me. When this group agrees on something, Zooop throws in a new twist. Did it in the class where I met her, does it in her art. But tweaking audience expectations is one thing. Tweaking co-workers is infuriating. We feel sabotaged, and I don't think she even gets it--just chugging alone solo.
We all go out one last time on way to the car. There's Zooop. "Where WERE you?" she says. Denies hiding or leaving. "I was looking for you, I was in plain sight. Why'd you disappear?" she asks. She and Lance start arguing. I practice walling it out. Lance wants me to tell Zooop to her face what I said in the pizzeria--that she hates closure, and that paralyzes group process. Tired, with sore throat and headache, I say "I don't want to get any deeper into this now. We're all exhausted." They can't deny that. We all go home.
Good footage on the tape, but man, what an emotional cost! I have to ask my dreams, was all that effort for nothing--is this project dying?
It's my turn in the game. My opponents watch silently off-camera, as my next challenge is set up. It's a strange one. My friend Blondie Wiggle agreed to play the part of the mad broom from "the sorcerer's Apprentice," to my Mickey Mouse. Only Blondie won't bring me water, but video! Will I be able to keep up with a flood of data, spot the key bit, and win the prize?
Blondie staggers in, lugging one TV at a time. She's too small for heavy lifting, really, but she was willing--and she's cuter than Vanna White! Maybe she'll win us some audience votes. She kneels and places each screen next to the last, slowly building an arc, until she seals the circle, and I'm sitting in a ring of TV. Now I can't watch them all at once. Spin on my butt to scan for the secret...
Wiggle starts stacking the screens into a wall of glare, higher and higher. My ears ring, I'm getting a headache from the ultrasonic scanning squeal. Most people can't hear it, but I have dog ears, and it hurts. I still haven't seen what I need to...
So many screens now I feel their heat and smell the hot plastic of all those circuitboards. I start getting dizzy. Shit! This isn't just the ultrasonics, I'm allergic to their outgassing. I hadn't calculated on that!
The wall of TV around me is so high now I can't climb out. The TVs glow fierce as sunlight and their myriad channels roar. I'm going to die here, not just of chemical poisoning from circuit-board vapor, but from radiation--sheer heat and light.
I'm allowed to reprogram Blondie Wiggle and make her stop, but now she's hidden behind the still-growing wall, and anyway, I can't remember how--the allergic reaction has destroyed my ability to plan. I try to climb the wall, but can't... and I fade to gray static and shrink to a white dot--a black field. Off.
Death by video!
From the afterlife, I call a foul. The game is to judge my ability to plan, program, and think on the fly, but when I'm poisoned like that, I can't think! That game measured my allergies, not me.
NOTES NEXT MORNING
Blondie Wiggle was of course the girl I kept running into on Haight Street and wished I could talk to--insead of to a camera. Why's it easier for me to act or dance in a video than come on to girls I like?
But I'm afraid Blondie was also my friend Zooop, demanding just one more take, one more change, on and on, till we're all hoarse and staggering with fatigue... slow death by video.
ACTION: don't clear a place for your video prize! This project is spiraling out of control. Limit your commitment to acting--if they ever agree on a script for you to work from.
A NOTE YEARS LATER
The dream's warning was accurate. Frustration and dissension grew till the video project died, the group broke up, and all our work was wasted.
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