Sad Songs Say So Much

Prosthetics and Process: A Shooting Journal

To give an idea of how daunting is Isabella's legend, even our stills photographer (a veteran of some 40 Hollywood superstars during a half-decade of snapping in Vancouver) refused to face off against the ghosts of Herb Ritts, Mapplethorpe, et al., and Jody had to hire a courtroom sketch artist to take her place. So what if I have no publicity stills? Every director has those, but what charming souvenirs these drawings shall be!

DAY FOUR Jody says we have to suck it up and film Isabella ourselves, just like other film crews do. I know I'll thank him for this edict someday, but I sure didn't like his bossy tone this morning. Eventually, we warmed to the day's work, mostly because we were wondering how to amputate Isabella's legs on film. Eschewing digital effects as grotesque artifacts of the present, we had all sorts of Méliès-era tricks up our sleeves, but no one knew how they would turn out. Eventually, in a way I cannot under my producer's gag order reveal, we removed her gams and replaced them with beer-filled, glass prosthetics, as per the script. Remembering that her famous father, Roberto, used to direct inexperienced actors by tying string to their toes and tugging whenever it was their turn to speak, I had Larry and Speedy tie a little fishing line to Isabella's glass toe. I felt this filament somehow tethered me across time and through his daughter to the father of neorealism. I was instantly pebbled with goose bumps. I delighted in pulling at this thing to make her kick at me over and over while Luc filmed. I guess I did it too much, though, because soon the beer in the long glass legs started churning up and spilled up a yeasty froth over her garters and into her lap. Speedy daubed away at the extraneous head, according to him one of the worst cases he'd ever seen. Why does directing make me despair so much!!!

I am a camera: Saddest Music star Isabella Rossellini with beer-filled prosthetics.
photo: Jody Shapiro and Isabella Rosselini
I am a camera: Saddest Music star Isabella Rossellini with beer-filled prosthetics.

For years, I've been meaning to put into practice my Anatomy of Melancholy approach to directing. And now I finally get to! Having already copied out on index cards various descriptions of depression gleaned from Burton's ancient tomes, as well as some 40 synonyms for sadness culled from a thesaurus, I now start each day by dealing out all 52 cards, face down, on the breakfast table full of actors who are to work that day. Each performer has a different, sometimes fuzzy idea of a word's meaning—for instance, lugubrious or throboxyc, which is sadder? Actors love restrictions, and why not restrict them in the only fair way possible: with a lottery windfall of commands drawn randomly from a reference book?

The results have been sensational. The trite and the clichéd don't stand a chance under such an acting system. Dialogue clunks from one line to the next with a fragile-X clumsiness, scenes unfold with a Ritalin-thirsty zing! Most importantly, the work done is in the same tenor as my planned super-primitive rip-and-paste editing style. I want to unlearn how to watch movies; I want to flip dyslexically the images of my film to jangle their readability for the viewers; I want to re-create the thrill I felt as a boy when I finally recognized three words in a row!

DAY FIVE Today I paid a scenic painter $2,000 not to sleep with the Polish soprano who's been singing in the lunchroom the last three days. I have absolutely no desire to sleep with her myself; I think I'm going crazy!

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