When I was growing up running a
marathon was considered the ultimate in endurance achievements. Tony commentators on the
Wide World of Sports would spout knowingly about the wrenching effects running 26 miles
and 385 yards had on the human body.
Under the stress of running the race the body would
essentially shut itself down. Muscles would spasm or stop working altogether, joints would
become wobbly or even fail, the brain would become confused. Although my hero was Marty
Liquori, a miler, the man I admired above all the others was Frank Shorter. What he did
seemed to be a miracle.
As we know, a lot has happened since then. The body's
limits have been tested and pushed well past what was once thought possible. Women and men
in their 80s run marathons, as do others with all kinds of physical conditions that would
seem to make it impossible, but in fact just make it more difficult. The marathon isn't
easy, I gather (since I've never even entertained the idea of running one), but it isn't
the horribly destructive event we were once told it was.
Remember the expression "Hitting the Wall?" These
days, maybe in Mile 80 of a 100 miler. Maybe.
On the morning of the pre-shoot production meeting, back in
early January, I ran into Jon in the street outside the
Producer's Club, where the meeting was to take place.
"Well, here we go," he said to me in a way that
evinced optimism while acknowledging that this wasn't going to be easy.
"From here on out," I counseled, "it's a
sprint. Just full tilt to the end."
Jon didn't react as if that gave solace.
Now, a month and a few days later, I'm realizing that I
misspoke. What I intended to imply, then, was that from this point out the process would
be like taking a test. No matter how things would go, their effects would be finite and
kind of controllable. And at least, there was a set moment when it would be over, so you
could go "full tilt to the end."
Because that was all that mattered. In such a way a sprint
is like taking a test.
And in some way that's right, this is a race to a defined
endpoint that, at least in the abstract, everyone can see. Anyone can point to the
calendar and find March 10th, and say, "That's it. It's all over then."
But what I'd overlooked, just because like everyone else I
was full of enthusiasm, was the fact that the endline is very far away. Making a movie is
hard work, both mentally and physically. Always. And these days are long. The weather is
tough even when, like today, it is too beautiful to be believed. At times it must feel
like the day you get your midterm paper back and you've gotten a C- and it doesn't feel as
if there is any way to recover.
Which explains, perhaps, why the first rehearsal of Scene
99 today was dreadfully flat.
The scene takes place out front of a church, and while
there are plot twists and nuances that we are better off not discussing here, the fact is
that in general the people so gathered are happy. Or supposed to be. It won't hurt
anything to say that this isn't a funeral. But the atmosphere on the set at this
particular moment was far more funereal than festive, and the grinding workaday attitude
was taking hold of the actors.
The shot involved a big ol' crane, which is the dickens to
set up. And with all the principals and then some having to get made up and hair dressed
and dressed in their formal wear, there was both a lot of sitting around and a great
urgency to get the shot done, all at once.
Did I mention that even though it was 50 degrees out, a
sinfully fabulous day, the actors were dressed as if it were spring. In the shot there
could be no coats or sweaters for the ladies, just the lovely, diaphanous Yumi Katsura
gowns that did little to hold in the heat.
PAs stood nearby with down coats and blankets, but the
temptation, always, was to step over to the big torpedo heaters inside the church
door. But everyone had to stay on their marks, they were told. No time for moving about,
except on one's spot.
Did I mention that the sun was fading fast?
On the next rehearsal there was a noticed improvement, but
the performances still felt tame and unenthusiastic. One of the actors said, "The
sooner we get this done, the sooner we can go inside." There were murmurs of muted
Meanwhile, the crane needed to be reset, hair and wardrobe
fixed, lights adjusted. The whole process was a race, against the sun, and very much a
sprint rather than a marathon. But herein is where my "sprint" metaphor falls
apart totally. It was here, on the step of the church in a dying light, with a hefty crane
and twenty actors poised to do their jobs, that the concept of "kick" comes in.
Kick, Jim McKay or some other commentator would say, is
that moment when you--and everyone else you are running against--feels dead. You doubt
whether you'll be able to take another step, much less reach the finish line, but then,
when you reach down for whatever special extra bit of reserve you have, you find something
you doubted you had. And you sprint, he would say, as best you can to the finish.
Well, on this evening the kick came from Shalom. On the
next rehearsal, as Jon called action, Shalom bellowed "Energy up, Everybody!" It
was a clarion call, loud and ringing, a challenge that echoed down the block. Laurel and
Caleb and a few others joined in on the shout, but all the actors were invigorated. They
all perked up.
Going back to that metaphor. Another thing I forgot is that
modern training and conditioning is such that world class marathoners no longer approach
the race as a distance race. Or rather, they don't succumb to the thought that they are
wearing down as the race goes on. The modern approach is to sprint, and if you get tired
sprint some more.
Which is the way it is making a movie, too.
quotation of Terry's epitaph, as written and recited by Janna, our friend Dennis Kay, a noted scholar of Shakespeare,
and a screenwriter, weighed in by email with a bit of lit history ephemera that happens, I
think, to reflect something of the charms of Cherry.
And it made me laugh.
Do you know Sir John Suckling's little epigram from the 1630's?
It seems to me as profound today as when it was first penned -
Love is the fart
Of ev'ry heart.
It pains a man
When 'tis kept close,
And others doth offend
When 'tis let loose.
Doesn't work with the Latin word (flatulate).