Sunday, June 1, 2008

The Cone Caper

My brother moved last month, and was going through closets of material that hadn't been looked at in over 15 years. He found old car keys, letters never sent, and my old 8mm movies from jr. high school.

My dad had an 8mm camera when we were kids, and took home movies of us playing in the park. When I hit about 12 years old I got bit by the the cinema bug (it was a combination of Charlie Chaplin and Dean Jones) and borrowed it to make films. I used my brothers and sister as actors, and took the 3-minute reels to the Fotomat booth up in the Grants parking lot to develop. I'd edit the shots together into short comedy opuses on a Fedmart hand-crank film editor.

Editing film on a computer wasn't around yet, and so I did everything by hand. Edited with cement, by eye. Each edit was a commitment. There were no second chances, unless I wanted to undo a splice and redo it one frame in. Making it shorter.

It was just a hobby – nothing serious. Only later would I fancy myself a filmmaker and write scripts, try to get an agent, and even produce an independent film for the film festival circuit. The point was to have the means of production within my hands, and figuring out how a close-up cuts together with a medium shot. Or if crossing the 180 really mattered – if people really noticed. (They really didn't.)

In “Waterworks,” the 2nd of what would be a trilogy of movies filmed with my brothers, after they had wreaked havoc with the car they had been issued to wash, the grumpy homeowner, a part played by my father, exits the house proceeded by a garbage bag.

The crowd in my high school class tittered in anticipation.

Cut to a reverse of my two brothers, standing on the car, spraying each other and throwing sponges.

And back to my dad, who does a take that can only be described as broad - as he straightens, pops his eyes out and drops the bag.

The crowd went wild.

And as he begins to runs after my brothers, who scurry off and up the sidewalk, the film rolls out. And the power of editing, image cut to image, storytelling shot by shot, has been indelibly etched into my artisan brain.

This document has been found, and the splices are intact. It was filmed in front of our Alcazar house, with the yard before it was landscaped. A unique historical document, captured on film (not to mention showing the White Ford we had back in '74).

There's my brothers, young and overly willing to follow my orders (I must have been yelling behind the camera at them, even then, like I did on the playground). My dad took us to Balboa Park in San Diego every so often when we were kids - he took the film camera, and filmed us at play, at these parks or on the beach.

These home movies are lost now. They show us playing in the grassy field surrounding General Dynamics, the aerospace company where my dad worked, where they designed and built the first satellites shot into space. The building's gone now, along with the sculpture garden with actual airplanes.

Yet there it was on the films. You can see the skyline of the mountains past Clairmont in the background, which are now covered with houses. And the open spaces surrounding 163 interchange, also completely changed. There's a film of us in the old entrance to the San Diego Zoo as well, eating lunch (that area is gone too).

Maybe the films aren't lost for good. Maybe they're only misplaced.

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