Monday, 18 November 2013

At the Razkavian Trickfilm Festival

Preamble: In lieu of science-fiction I present instead a travel diary.

All of the particulars have been smeared, because that way I'm free to explore events without worrying too much about pissing people off. Details are randomized, nouns are juggled, geography is fractal, history is alternative.

(The travelogue accumulates beneath the fold.)


AT THE RAZKAVIAN TRICKFILM FESTIVAL
by Cheeseburger Brown


Monday

Ah, Razkavia!

I had only been to Razkavia once before, years ago. I'd stepped off the train to sample the small, picturesque capital while backpacking the continent as a yob, intent on seeing the birthplace of a favourite composer while drunk. But I'd never visited Glottenburg until now.

I'm here for the Glottenburg Festival of Animated Films. I'm here all expenses paid. I bought gum at the airport so my total cost will be a buck and a half for the week. The executive producer of the animated short film I'm here to represent has picked up the tab.

The airport shuttle driver squints at his list. "How do you spell Cheeseburger?" he asks.

"In Razkavian or Canadian?"

"I don't have you on my list."

"Oh dear."

"But I have a seat free, so it's no problem. Here, I'll take your bag."

"Let me shake your hand. You're the nicest Razkavian I've met on my whole trip."

"My name is Felix."

"Now I like you twice as much. Say, Felix, do you enjoy science-fiction?"

Felix drives me into town. I ride with a contingent of Hollywoodland boys who will be speaking at the nerd conference that runs in parallel with the festival. We discuss the evolution of the traveling matte, and who actually framed Roger Rabbit. What a friendly, chatty bunch!

After leaving me at the wrong hotel Felix drives off. I smile and wave, then check my telephone, then sprint over the cobblestones waving both arms over my head to get his attention before he turns the corner. "This isn't my hotel!" I pant when I catch up to the car.

"Scheiss," frowns Felix. "Get in."

If it dawns on Felix he's too polite to say but it dawns on me that I'm in the shuttle for the nerd conference and not the shuttle for the animation festival at all. That's why the instance of my hotel isn't the same instance of the brand on Felix's list. The animation people are at an altogether different EuroCoffin One! It turns out there are two of them.

I text my people. I'm met in the lobby by the executive producer, Humphrey Bogart, and the editrix, James A. Garfield. "You and James A. should grab some food so you're not drinking on an empty stomach when you meet me at the one o'clock press event in the central plaza café," says the executive producer, shoving a festival package and a wad of Euros at me before running off.

"Didn't he just come straight off a flight from Cathay?" I ask. "Shouldn't he be tired or something? Goodness knows I am."

"Me too," says James A. Garfield, yawning as she brushes her long hair. "But Humphrey's crazy. What do you want to eat?"

"Well, we're in Razkavia..." I say, then shrug.

We eat Aztec. The guacamole is very fresh. I drink a Coca-cola. World cuisine.

James A. Garfield is a Canadian girl named after an assassinated American president. She stabs at her telephone trying to get in contact with a local Razkavian student she'd enlisted from Craigslist to prance around Glottenburg in a kangaroo costume to promote our film. "Shit," she says. "If I can't get a hold of this girl I'm going to have to wear the damn kangaroo head myself."

I'm chewing chicken flautas. "It's supposed to be hot on Thursday. You'll sweat like a Finn."

James A. rubs her temples and grimaces. "I know, I know, I know!"

She works for Humphrey Bogart. That sounds impressive until you realize it couldn't be for the dead one. It's just some schmuck with the same famous name. Humphrey doesn't shout but he pushes and wheedles and squeezes, and James A. doesn't dare disappoint him. Back in Canada he's the one who signs her bi-weekly paycheque.

I was just a whore for hire on this film. My loyalties don't come flat rate.

When the production ran out of money they wanted to know what it would take to get me to donate ten more days of my time to put a bit more polish on the damn thing now that it had been accepted into half a dozen important festivals. I said, "I'd like to go with the film to Glottenburg."

Somehow it was arranged. How do you arrange things like that when you have no more money in the budget? Beats me. I have the luxury of not caring. Humphrey makes things happen.

For the ceremony marking the official opening of the festival we triangulate his position by telephone. We meet in the jam-packed lobby of the festival's principal theatre. "This way," says Humphrey, dashing into the crevices between clusters of chatters up the stairs and into an auditorium...

"There, those reserved seats," he says, pointing over my shoulder as I end up in front of him. Dutifully I squeeze through the milling crowd to reach our seats as Humphrey warns me that if I'm not fast enough somebody else may grab them.

"But aren't they reserved?"

"Well, sure," he says, "but not for us."

James A. Garfield, Humphrey Bogart, Cheeseburger Brown, seated in the first rows between the mayor of Glottenburg and one of the Warner brothers. Now there's standing room only in the auditorium. A spotlight hits the emcee and he introduces the mayor. We're obliged to suck in so he can scootch by.

"Velcome to zhe Vestifal!" he enthuses once onstage.

Later, after the opening ceremony, we are photographed with the mayor on the red carpet. I stick a kangaroo puppet on his shoulder and he claps me on the back genially. We grin. "Käse!" Flash, flash, flash.

There's an after-party. "Are you ready to rock or do you need a vodka/Red Bull first?"

"Humphrey, I've been awake for thirty hours straight."

"Okay so a vodka/Red Bull it is. James A. Garfield?"

"I feel dizzy."

"Right. Two vodka/Red Bulls. Awesome. I'll take care of it."

Humphrey Bogart doesn't take no for an answer. This is how he gets his films made. He just keeps talking until things happen. We drink our vodka/Red Bulls. Electric yellow ice cream. Great Scott! Suddenly we're in a dance club with Razkavian industrial music thumping at us from all sides. Humphrey Bogart honky-tonks happily through the scrum while I find that I am bouncing. I sail past James A. Garfield who is obediently bopping and seemingly oblivious to the fact that she's being physically insinuated upon by none other than Tintin.

I'm zealous. Everything is so very European. I feel like my brain has been tampered with by Baz Luhrmann.

We're in some sort of triangular square. There are pierced punks with pierced dogs everywhere, but all beasts seem to be in genial, generous moods. I have a lot of friendly chats with random people. Some source of post-last call alcohol keeps filling my glass. We're being stalked by Tintin! A police van warbles near and half the crowd runs into the alleys. I'm clutching an empty glass to my heart when I stumble upon Humphrey Bogart in a mediaeval alcove.

"Where's the hotel?" I ask. "Are we far away?"

"I don't know. Let's grab a cab."

"Where's James A. Garfield?"

"She's chatting it up with motion-capture Tintin. You know, from the Spielberg film."

"He looks so nearly realistic. It's kind of creepy. Is she alright?"

"James A. Garfield's a big girl."

"Oh, okay."

The cab veers and vrooms. We support each other as we stumble across the lobby. I lose him in the elevator. The best thing about having a hotel room the size of a coffin is it's hard to miss the bed. Cut to black.

Tuesday

The hotel's early morning breakfast buffet is very civilized: I have baguette, gouda, yogurt, apple, tea and orange juice. Upon finishing I come to recognize that further activity will not be possible from me until I've had an urgent nap, so I return to my room and go back to bed.

I get up again at noon. I wander out.

We are in the heart of the old city, which is an approximation of how the centre of Glottenburg might've looked if had been blown up less during the last century's anti-fascist wars. A wide north-west swath is dedicated to pedestrian traffic, intersected by an east-west swath of palatial gardens and ancient vineyards. Where they meet is a large public square bordered by castles and banks, the old guard and the new.

In this square is a very large television, and it is bright even in the harsh spring sun. Raskavian cartoons are playing, with zany cartoon voices echoing off the stone facades. The square is full of children and parents and hungover filmmakers and bleary tourists. Everybody laughs at the jokes.

At intervals around the square are Kultur columns papered with municipally sanctioned events. Yet somehow between a poster for an upcoming performance at the state ballet and the current dadaist show at the state art gallery is a poster for our movie, The Kangaroo Mines.

I blink. Across the square, at regular intervals over each ornate stained-glass window, a centuries-old cathedral sports more glossy posters for the animated short. Quoth the exuberantly repeated copy: 'A STEREOSCOPIC WORLD PREMIERE.'

Humphrey makes things happen.

I take a passage into the theatre complex and the café at the heart of them. It's standing room only. Humphrey has a table with James A. Garfield and some strangers. He waves me over and introduces me to a woman with guacamole-green hair who runs another prominent festival in Europe; to her composer husband complete with lank silver composer hair and a very-composerish black jacket; and to their friend, a fairly famous American personality from Hollywoodland. Apparently distressed by the influx of new introductions, however, the famous American takes refuge inside a large musical instrument and proceeds to play polkas for the crowd rather than engage.

I shake the hand of the green-haired lady. "I'm Mary," she says, "and this is Mick. Won't you be good enough, young Cheeseburger, to sally over there and beg me a cigarette?"

"Oh, goody -- Europe! I forgot we can smoke. I completely want to trick myself into wanting one of those on this morning of all mornings."

"It's afternoon, dearie."

"All the more to the point, Mary."

"Well if it's two cigarettes we're after I'd better put on my lemur hat. Nobody can resist an old lady in a lemur hat. It's scientific fact. Just you watch."

"I guarantee you I'm watching."

Mary and her outlandish lemur hat return with a whole pack of European smokes. "Now we're set for life," she says, dropping back into her chair with a flourish. "I think I'm going to keep the lemur hat on, though. Two heads are better than one. I'm green this month so it's like he's sitting in a salad. Are you having anything?"

"I might get a cup of tea."

"Don't be an idiot. Fräulein, fräulein! Bring another bottle of that riesling! This poor hungover man from Canada is sober!"

In little shifting globs or two or three we talk about the movies we saw yesterday. That's what everybody's talking about. Humphrey Bogart has the ear of the fairly famous American, and James A. Garfield is talking with a bashful Nipponese who wears a large knapsack even when he's sitting down. There aren't enough tables or chairs in the restaurant so our companions keep shuffling. Mary knows every single filmmaker at the festival by sight. She's been doing the circuit for decades. She tells me a little something about everyone. She is a first-hand anecdote presentation machine powered by riesling and cigarettes instead of nickels.

When I find myself shifted next to Humphrey he asks me, "Have you seen the posters?"

"Are you kidding?"

"Which ones did you see?"

"I saw the cathedral and the square. You mean there's more?"

He winks.

We file into the cinemas to watch more animation. Brilliant and bizarre contributions flash on from Latveria and Frobnia, Freedonia and Balkistan. Sad stories of refugee struggles from Nigerundi and Togo and Upper Lower West Congo, and dark tales of suppression and the disappearance of loved ones from the loving fist of Cathay...

Toward the end of the screening my eyes are rolling up in the back of my head from exhaustion. So that's why I happen to notice the two stuffed toy evil kangaroos perched on either side of the proscensium. How the hell did Humphrey even climb up there? Or did he make James A. Garfield do it?

We go to a meet-the-filmmakers event and then another bloc of films. We take dinner at the café between the theatres so we can stay in the middle of it all. Any time anyone within earshot comments on one of the kangaroo toys jammed into the rafters or evil kangaroo postcards perched seemingly everywhere we do as Humphrey has instructed: sidle up behind them and say, as if to someone else, "Oh yes, I hear that kangaroo film is fantastic! Is it Thursday that it plays? Kino 3?"

After dinner a third bloc of screenings. I stumble out of the dark to hit the washroom and find myself pissing on the image of an evil kangaroo. There is one in every urinal. "Holy shit Humphrey," I mutter to myself, shaking my head. "Kangaroo blitzkrieg."

A fellow a few urinals down chuckles. "I ham pissing the kangaroo also," he says.

I waggle off and zip up. "I hear that movie's really good."

Now the central café is closed for a private party. Humphrey forces an open window wider and slings his leg in over the sill. "No problem," he says, grunting as he hefts himself inside. I follow him and then hang back to help James A. Garfield through. "This isn't easy in heels!" she hisses.

"Get a glass of pink champagne in your hand as soon as possible," Humphrey advises. "Once you've got a glass of pink champagne you're golden."

We stand there tsk-tsking with our bubbling flutes as some wannabe crashers are escorted outside by the bouncer. Humphrey disappears pressing the flesh while I find myself chatting with a squat, smiling Polgarian who doesn't animate but considers himself a connoisseur of the form. Our only language in common is Veneto, so the conversation is largely gestural and involves pulling faces.

His name is Penko. Everybody recognizes him from the daily happy-snaps video played before the eleven o'clock bloc, so people are continually clapping him on the back and waving to him. The videographers love him because he laughs big. We discuss the day's films as best we can, fetching each other pink champagne in turns.

When the café kicks everyone out we spill into the square and find ourselves accosted by two Tintins. I eye them warily. "Which one is yours?" I whisper to James A.

She shudders and makes a disgusted noise. "Um, so neither of them. Let's bail."

"No, these Tintins are local. They might know where there's more parties," says Humphrey. "We can't stop now. You know the rule: the most valuable networking happens in the last ten percent of the night."

"It's four o'clock in the morning, man."

"Hey, hey -- Tintin! Where's the action? Sprechen Sie Kanada?"

James A. Garfield looks like she wants to curl up and die. I burp woefully and lean into Humphrey's shoulder. He snaps his head around to stare at us, his finger wagging back and forth between us interrogatively, "Vodka/Red Bull, vodka/Red Bull?"

Wednesday

Baguette, gouda, apple, yogurt, tea.

Humphrey only has one pass for the expensive nerd conference so we take turns with it. Today it's my turn. I attend a workshop with a Hollywoodland effects wizard on creative development and work hard to keep my eyes open the whole time. I chew the inside my cheek for spikes of pain. Don't get me wrong: it's a fascinating workshop. It's just that I'm running on drained batteries. While watching the screen behind the speaker I start to dream while awake...

I don't make friends. I have no socializing to give. I'm tapped.

I buy a bratwurst and a Coca-cola and wander the streets. I wander in a daze through the state art gallery, unleashing my brat-breath in quiet belches within inches of masters' strokes. It's quiet and cool in here. Classical music and benches.

In the afternoon I attend a workshop on match-move and solving virtual camera geometry problems in stereoscopic applications. It's in French, which makes phrasing technical questions a challenge for me. In its quest to stand firm against American borrow-words Canadian French can sometimes have some rather hysterical alternatives to common industry terms.

My mood is lightened when I notice the evil kangaroo hanging from a noose above the speaker's head.

Come tea time I wake myself with a nice run through the palace gardens. The weather is positively summery. Teens, tourists and vagabonds are spread out on the grass around a large pond. Ducks waddle along with impunity. I huff and I puff and I manage to get in a few quick clicks before succumbing to the need to sit under a tree and tarry.

I've miscalculated the distance of my route and lack the vim to run the way back. I amble instead, and get another brat from the castle square. I have a blonde beer to wash it down, making the perfect end to a pretty half-assed workout.

Pigeons debate over my crumbs.

After a shower I meet Humphrey and James A. at the central café for dinner. We sit with a contingent of Slopovenian animators who speak some special brand of broken French. They ask us about the melting Arctic and seal clubbing.

The evening bloc of films. Humphrey's head is thrown back and he's snoring at the ceiling, waking only to applaud mechanically between filmmaker Q&A sessions. James A. has bloodshot eyes. She sips a bottle of water with a fixed expression and takes deep breaths.

I feel a lot of things.

Of course, that's the point of the films. These aren't cartoons about cuddly animal creatures or manga adaptations. They're each an oeuvre a few minutes long that some poor beautiful fool has poured years of their life into. Many are painstakingly drawn or painted or sculpted by hand, frame by frame by frame. Many are produced in brief fits of funding, the director begging, borrowing and stealing as needed to keep the production going one small step at a time. Each of these is a little story about a feeling or an idea or event, a ragged bit of some human being's dream or their nightmare rendered out tangible and set to a score...often at great personal and financial expense.

When I was a kid making stop-motion films in my bed room I thought it was what I wanted to do forever. But I haven't made a film of my own for a decade, and the films I did make were awful. I gave up, busy earning a living and getting my thrills from cheap old pulp science-fiction, a dime a dozen habit with no crew to support.

Watching some of the best work in the world gives me mixed feelings about that.

At this point in my career I'm gussying up other people's films and glossing over other people's mistakes, I guess because I've become too scared to make my own. I'm a peripheral part of something maybe I'd rather be central to. Would I really rather that? Do I believe in films the way I used to? Maybe not.

Feelings are stupid.

Penko the wide-mouthed Polgarian is featured grinning in the daily happy snaps video again. Acting on anti-sober and über-exhausted impulse I surge to my feet and cheer, "Penko!" Penko stands up and waves. Scattered salutes of "Penko!" erupt raggedly from different corners of the auditorium and very sleepy people giggle at themselves. Penko takes a bow.

We schlump back to the hotel in the small hours, passing posters for The Kangaroo Mines showcased in the windows of a big department store. James A. Garfield's brow furrows as her jaw drops. "How --?"

Humphrey gets things done.

Thursday

This is the big day. Our film is going to be screened. If you haven't yet read it on a poster or heard it whispered behind your back or peed on it, you should know it's the worldwide stereoscopic premiere. Because of the untried nature of the DCP files that comprise the short, James A. Garfield is anxiously anticipating stepping through everything at a 1 PM technical rehearsal.

"What time is it?"

"Quarter past one."

"Fuck it. We can't wait for her. Roll picture!"

I'm anxious, too. I don't actually own a 3D television, so I haven't looked at the final pass of my work in true stereo. If I've goofed something in my polishing efforts this could be the first time I'm clearly able to see it: on a silver screen twenty metres wide.

The lights go dark. Ominous mining noises. Ventilators and clanking. Grim lettering drifts along the zed axis. Humphrey's name, James A.'s name, Humphrey's name again, and then...

The projectionist applauds when the lights come up. Humphrey Bogart pumps my hand enthusiastically. "It's all there!" he croons. "It's all up there, man! And it looks great! And it sounds great! Doesn't it sound great?"

"I like the sound work. It's great."

"That was awesome. We've got to celebrate. Let's get a beer." He wags his finger between himself and myself. "Beer, beer?"

"Sure."

"You grab a table at the café. I'll grab us good company."

"Er, right. Okay. See you there."

The café is a zoo. But I'm spared having to stalk a table by Mary. She waves me over, her lemur hat bouncing. "Oo-oo, Frankfurter Brown! Oo-oo! Be a dearie and tell me you have a lighter."

"I have hotel matches, Mary."

"Sit down. Mick doesn't need his seat. He has to play clarinet with that fairly famous American, don't you, Mick? Go on now, give the young man your chair. It's dog eat dog for a chair in here today! Kisses."

I take the composer's seat. It's warm from his skinny but evidently warm composer bum. I order a pair of tall white beers for Humphrey and myself. While Mary anecdotalizes the person to her left I send a text to James A. to make sure she's still alive. No reply.

Humphrey arrives and air kisses Mary while diddling his telephone. "Still haven't heard from James A. Garfield. Think her phone is dead?"

"I think she's probably asleep."

"It's two thirty in the afternoon!"

"She was pretty tired, Humphrey."

"What a lightweight! I've been in Cathay for a week and I'm keeping up. I could do this standing on my head. I could go a month like this, Cheeseburger."

"I believe you. I think you are an ex-experimental super-soldier the government created through exposure to Higgs rays. Please don't kill me for guessing your secret."

"So now I have to kill you. Ha, ha."

"You said that too late."

Together with Mary's entourage we walk to a cinema up the street to see a retrospective of one of the distinguished veteran animators on the festival jury, Sir Eldon W. C. Mercy, from Northumberlandshireforth in the United Kingdom of Britain and Friends. Sir Eldon himself is here to introduce each of his films.

I recognize him from being a chatty guest around the table with Mary and Mick. He hadn't introduced himself as "sir" as the time, which is why I hadn't made the connection. I suppose I'd never given enough thought to what knights call themselves socially. Turns out it's "Eldon."

Eldon's oldest movie is stored on spools of 35mm chemical film tape. A ghostly cone of volumetric light flickers over our heads -- it's some kind of monocular twentieth-century talkie!

Through the scratches and dust is the fading image of some of most brilliant puppet work I've ever seen.

Eldon gets a big applause but he's slow to resume the microphone when the lights come up again. He continues staring at the screen. He says something too quiet to hear before remembering about the microphone. "Oh," he says, "well it's really started to deteriorate quite a bit now, hasn't it? that one."

It gets worse. Most of the films are in better shape than the first but all are subject to a greater or lesser extent to mouldering media. One of the man's most brilliant films is exhumed from its archive on M2 magnetic tape, the resulting picture blurry and the sound warbling.

"That hurts just a bit because it's all about music," says Eldon. His mouth sounds dry. "The music was really something once. Well. Well now. What's up next then?"

We go back to the hotel and knock on James A. Garfield's door. She doesn't open the door but she texts Humphrey Bogart: "Hole shit I just wake up know."

"We're doing dinner early, because of our premiere," he calls through the door. "Venetian fine dining. Dress swank. I'll text you the address. Five thirty."

I'm sent to secure the table. Before long I'm joined by Mary and Mick with a fresh entourage of filmmakers in tow. Tonight's special guests include a strong French contingent and a strong non-French contingent and so we naturally sort ourselves across the two outdoor tables; as a Canadian I sit on the inside edge, at the American-speaking table but with an ear toward the Europeans. Just like in real life.

When James A. Garfield arrives Humphrey Bogart chides her for sleeping like a sophomore. "You just need to drink more coffee," he advises.

"I'll have a coffee now," she agrees.

"Forget about it, I've already ordered some bottles of wine. Vino? Vino?" Humphrey snaps his fingers and points to James A.'s empty glass.

Cannelloni with ricotta and spinach. Divine. Bottomless riesling.

I accept a cigarette from Mary's massive purse. She tells me about how they live in a centuries-old stone schoolhouse in the countryside. "Sounds nice," I tell her. She wants to know what I do when I'm not working on films. "I decorate award shows," I admit. And when that's all said and done? "I write pulp science-fiction."

She wrestles Mick's attention away from something French. "Mick, Mick -- this young man writes pulp science-fiction!"

"Oh!" says Mick. With a flip of his lank silver composer hair and a flip of one crossed leg to the other he rotates himself toward me. "Tell me about that."

"Mick just loves science-fiction," explains Mary as she lights a new cigarette with her old one and waves for more wine. "He's got a thing for robots, don't you Mick?"

Mick does. So we chat robots and music and sound in space until Humphrey calls for the bill. The perennially late producer doesn't want us to be late for our own premiere. He covers it for everyone, working to cover the expression his face tries to pull when he lays his eyes on the numbers. He doesn't miss a beat, though. Humphrey pockets his credit card and whips out an alternative one. "What percentage is normal for the tip in Razkavia?" he asks, looking up with a winning smile.

We rush to the main theatre. In my head I rehearse one response. If I am asked more than one question I will be screwed, but if I am asked one question I will be perfectly prepared. I don't dare mince my thoughts by trying to memorize a second stanza.

Active-shutter 3D glasses are handed out at the door in addition to the familiar real-time translation headsets, so the shuffling queue to get in is even longer than usual. I banter about keyframing with a Slovak-Czech who has horrible breath.

Humphrey Bogart's mad campaign of guerrilla promotions has paid off. There are 450 seats in the auditorium but people are spilling out into the aisles, standing against the wall and sitting crosslegged on the floor. The mass of chatter thrums the air.

I lean over to Humphrey. "When they call for the onstage comments, do you want James A. and I to come with you or are you doing a solo act?"

"Let's just keep it solo," he says. "Simpler that way."

"Sure thing, Humphrey. I just wanted to be clear, so we don't bumble over it."

"Perfect."

The house lights dim. A spotlight frames the evening's host. "We have six films to view in this bloc," she says, "and I understand we have some of the filmmakers here with us this evening. Why don't you come up here please, the makers of The Kangaroo Mines? Yes, please give warm applauding for Humphrey Bogart, James A. Garfield, and Cheeseburger Brown!"

"Stand up and wave," says Humphrey as he stands and smooths down his suit, shuffling sideways out of the row.

James A. Garfield stands up and waves and sit down again.

"No, no, come up here all of you, please. All of the makers. James A. Garfield and Cheeseburger Brown?"

I stand up. "I don't know what to do," squeaks James A. I gently take her elbow and escort her out of the row. We jog up onstage beside Humphrey Bogart and the emcee. It's hard to see the house from us there due to the lights, but this is a blessing I think.

The emcee recites highlights from our respective bios and then lets Humphrey have free with the microphone, freeform jazzing on his usual cocktail of promotions, keywords and name-dropping. He makes it look easy.

I remember to clear my throat before the microphone comes to me. I recite my joke deadpan to the sparkly fog I understand the audience to occupy. I'm so relieved to get a good laugh, but even more relieved when the microphone doesn't come back to me. We're being thanked. We're free to flee back into the dark now!

Roll picture.

When the crowd spills out into the alley afterward it compresses under a small awning because of the rain. We're accosted by a very tall man from Hollmark. He speaks with a British accent to his American, and as he explains his role in the stereoscopic world I realize that he is none other than Humphrey Bogart's European counterpart, Henrick Zeeman. I shake his hand. "The Henrick Zeeman who runs that massive DinkedIn professional group? You must recognize my name then. I subscribed."

He roars when he laughs. "I'm doing a stereoscopic technology workshop tomorrow, and what I want to know is whether I can show your film as an example."

Humphrey smiles. "A good example or a bad example?"

Henrick roars again. "A good example, a good one of course! And you and your colleagues here will take Q&A with me?"

The stereoscopic mavins shake hands on it. Done deal. So now we've got a crossover screening at the nerd conference. Another few hundred people will see it the movie.

The after-party is at our hotel this time. All of Humphrey's favourite special guests show up to congratulate us and avail themselves of free drinks. Mary's there with Mick and their pet American celebrity, as well as Sir Eldon and an esoteric Prussian artist called Kristjan Jaanus, who talks about visiting the high Arctic in a tank to find unheard of folk stories to put into his films. "Penko!" I cry when Penko comes in, and his name is taken up across the lobby as a kind of rallying cry for drunken self-promotion and fun. Steins clink in salute. "Penko, Penko!" Penko grins.

James A. Garfield spends the evening continuously circulating, keeping a room full of people between her and a pack of predatory Tintins.

Mary never stops. Humphrey never stops. At four o'clock in the morning I bow to the remaining company and make my exit, the noise of their babble ringing in my ears as I pad down the corridor and into my coffin-room.

"Meet you for breakfast at nine!" calls Humphrey, waving goodnight.

Friday

Humphrey Bogart doesn't make it to breakfast. James A. Garfield and I eat with Henrick Zeeman, who discusses American hysteria over European debt issues and whether or not Western civilization is doomed. Baguette, apple, gouda, yogurt, orange juice, tea.

Humphrey Bogart doesn't answer our texts, or respond when I knock on the door of his hotel room. Henrick and James A. and I watch the morning screenings, yawning.

At tea time Humphrey finally comes bustling in at the last moment to the auditorium for Henrick's workshop, carrying a coffee and his shirt misbuttoned. "Holy shit I slept for ten hours!" he confesses, squeezing into a seat beside me. "I haven't done that since I was a teenager. What the hell, eh?"

James A. Garfield smiles like a salamander. "So," she says, "we've finally learned how to break you. A week in Cathay, right into a week-long alcoholic binge in Europe, all of it without sleep. And you snap like a kitten." She snaps her fingers.

I laugh. Humphrey doesn't.

At the conclusion of the workshop Henrick shows our movie to decent response. Questions, answers, handshakes, business card exchanges, a blur of pleasantries. Next we're jamming ourselves into the central café for dinner, pressed in cheek by jowl with jolly strangers. I chat in French with a Razkavian business man in town to appease his film-loving wife over pizza, discussing among other things his business, the Razkavian economy, and what chips should and shouldn't ever be dipped into.

At evening comes the nerd conference nerds are gravitating toward the attractor of their conference's closing night party at a local dance club. Humphrey tags along with Henrick and inserts us into the crowd milling at the entrance. James A. Garfield objects, "But Humphrey, we've only got one nerd pass between us!"

"Don't worry about it," he says, passing the pass to her. "You take it. Cheeseburger and I'll bluff our way in. Piece of cake."

The current of the throng pushes us closer to the wall of meaty-looking bouncers. I gulp.

Humphrey whispers something to tall Henrick, who stands on his tiptoes to see something. He whispers something back. Humphrey taps me on the shoulder. "I'm hitting the one on the left. You take the one of the right. Same story simultaneous. Rain washed away our stamp." He pulls out a marker and puts smudges on the back of both our hands. "Demand a new stamp."

The bouncer isn't happy about it but I guess I look sufficiently guileless that he buys my story. He stamps my other hand -- way too hard -- and grunts at me to move.

Inside is the usual old thumping phantasmagoria of light and sound and sweat and motion. Henrick and Humphrey look at each other in disappointment as they survey the scene. "It's a bit of a sausage-fest," declares Humphrey. "Let's try the next level up. There's the stairs. Come on."

Upstairs is worse. We dance a bit but James A. is increasingly uncomfortable being the only woman in the establishment. "I'm getting some unwanted attention," she whispers to us urgently.

Humphrey isn't listening. "Awesome," he says. "Vodka/Red Bull?"

James A. and I push through an emergency exit and stumble out into a light rain. It's very refreshing after the oppressive atmosphere inside the club. A moment later the door bangs open and closed again. We stand cornered by a clutch of perspiring Tintins.

"James A. Garfield! Cheeseburger Brown! We found you!"

"Hi," says James A. awkwardly.

We shake hands all around. The Tintins lean in to kiss James A. but she shakes their hands instead. "It's really weird how you guys all look like Tintin," I mention. I wonder if, like recognizing you're dreaming, saying this aloud will pop the bubble of hallucination.

"Ja, we know," nods a Tintin. "People are always saying this, but it's only because we are blonds."

I narrow my eyes at him. "I really think it's more than just that, Tintin. It's the shape of your head, too. And your sweater. And that little white dog."

He chuckles offhandedly. "That's not my dog. I don't know whose dog that is."

"It just follows us," explains a second Tintin.

James A. tilts her head, curiosity overcoming her trepidation. "Are you guys brothers, or cousins or something?"

They answer in uncanny chorus: "Nein."

James A. Garfield wants a latte so the Tintins lead us down a metal fire escape and we are free from the club. We go to a small streetside café to order a latte and beers. They are plush evil foxes woven into the ironwork separating the seating area from the sidewalk. The Tintins compete for James A.‘s attention. We are rescued when Penko wanders by and the Tintins start cheering his name. Surprised but delighted Penko tarries with them and attempts to explain the essence of film criticism to them in Veneto. James A. and I slip away.

"Do you think we should try to find Humphrey?" she asks.

"Humphrey's a big boy," I tell her.

Saturday

James A. Garfield and I take the train to Beethovensburg, an orbital suburb boasting a fancy castle. This is advice provided by a Tintin. I try not to ask much about the Tintins since James A. seems eager to avoid the subject. I guess what happens in Glottenburg stays in Glottenburg.

The castle is a seventeenth century job, more Versailles than Harry Potter. We walk around a bit and then venture into the gardens. On the grounds are the ruins of an older castle. We make our way to a single stone turret poking out of the greenery.

"It looks like Rapunzel's tower," observes James A. "Oh, there's an inscription. What does it say?"

I read aloud from the Razkavian: "Rufe laut: Rapunzel, lass deinen Zopf herunter!"

"What does that mean?"

"I can guess. Look up."

She looks up. A blonde braid hangs from the tower's top. "You mean it really is Rapunzel's tower? This is the real thing, here in Razkavia?"

I shrug. "Let's go inside."

We enter the tower. A spiral staircase of stone winds downward. It's dark that way but there's no velvet rope to bar us. I turn on the LED flash on my telephone and hold it over my shoulder as I begin the descent...

Daylight fades. There's only the slipping shadows drying up ahead of my feeble light. I can hear James A. a few steps behind me, her feet hissing on the stone. She asks me questions but I have nothing to report. Suddenly I hold up a hand. "Hold on, quiet. I think I hear something."

A baritone voice croaks from the shadows.

"Is somebody down there?" prompts James A.

"I don't know."

I continue along the steps, twisting and descending. The air turns damp. I pull my jacket tighter. The stairway seems to have no end. James A. is slowing behind me. "Maybe we should go back," she says. "It goes really deep, eh?"

But a new bluish glow is visible now. Finally I reach the end of the stairs and find myself in an archway into a forest, confronted by a fat, elderly gnome. He issues a dire warning in Razkavian, repeated at intervals, holding up one palm. "Achtung!"

James A. blindly plows into me from behind then gasps, startled. "What is that?"

"Animatronic, I reckon."

We sidle past the thing, emerging from beneath a stone bridge into some kind of enchanted wood. Motion activated animals bay or low or mumble in Razkavian as we wind down the path. At last we come to a cottage with gingerbread-brown walls and candy-cane gutters. "We'll be safe in here," I say, reaching for the front door.

It's dark inside. The door shuts after us. Then a light blinks on beneath the witch, her long chin waggling as she cackles. She points at us, her unmoving lips giving voice to what sounds like a vicious Razkavian upbraiding.

We can't go out we way we came. We've got to walk closer to the witch to open the exit door. It's the creepiest thing I've ever seen. The floorboards must be salted with the tears of Razkavian innocents!

After braving a few more animatronic horrors we find our way back out to the castle gardens. A police car warbles by. It's still raining in reality.

Back in Glottenburg we're strategize our entry into the fairly famous American's talk in Kine 2. Seeing the lobby-busting lineup we elect to go the long way up to Kine 3, then descend from there to Kine 2 while bypassing the velvet rope barrier altogether. This puts us first to get in as the mob from down below is still working its way up the stairs. The auditorium quickly fills beyond capacity, brimming over with even more people than our fanatically hyped screening.

The week has been full of amazing speakers, mind-breaking workshops, and round-table discussions with some of the most creative and tenacious people in the business -- but this is what threatens to get theatre management in trouble with the fire department -- this. We've collectively seen hundreds of achingly beautiful works paid for with dearest blood this week and had opportunities to pick the minds of their courageous inventors, but the one thing we all apparently refuse to miss, the most important event of them all, is this. There's a giant projection of Fred Flintstone on the screen.

In walks in the fairly famous American to mad applause. "Yes," he says with a half-grin, "you may have heard of me. You may have heard of a little show that's dear to my heart. It only happens to the longest running animated sitcom in history. It's a little show called...The Flintstones."

People scream themselves hoarse. They wave and stomp their feet. The famous American calls Mick and his clarinet out of the first row. Together on stage they play a reasonably tight two-instrument interpretation of the famous Flintstones opening theme song. People light lighters as if it were a rock anthem.

"Yabba-dabba-do!"

Mick sits down. The famous American basks, nodding to himself in a sea of clapping as he diddles around with his portable Macman. "I want to show you guys something," he says as he browses the filesystem, his progress writ large on the giant screen. "But you have to promise it's not going to turn up on the Internet. I want you to raise your right hand and promise me right now. Promise me this won't end up on the Internet."

A few hundred people raise the right hands. "We promise this won't end up on the Internet," mumbles the room dutifully while fumbling for their telephones left-handedly.

We watch an as-yet-unbroadcast new episode of The Flintstones. It's an episode in progress with temporary audio, no sound effects and some evidence of After Effects placeholders where art is still being developed. I haven't seen the show in a few years since I quit TV. It's funnier than I remember. Alan Reed's still got it, man. What a ham! And Mel Blanc's a master of voice.

But it's easily the most vapid thing I've sat through all week -- and I'm including in that the experimental Austro-Hungarian thing with all the wavy lines in 3D you could still see with your eyes closed. (What the fuck was that, anyway?)

The fairly famous American then shows his favourite clips from the long run of the show, stepping frame by frame and explaining what he thinks is hilarious about each squash and stretch gag. This is the most interesting bit of the evening, because we get some sense of the man's funny. When too much of the audience starts yawning he hauls Mick back onstage and they play another song.

He retells some behind the scenes anecdotes I recently saw on MyTube being delivered by another one of the show's pioneers. I guess there are only so many hilarious production anecdotes available, and they all have dibs on them.

He runs an hour over time. Then an hour and a half. Nobody leaves. It's as if he's riveting.

"Let's watch some more clips, shall we?" he says, queuing up another playlist.

Everyone needs a stiff drink after that. The entire audience exeunts to the central café. Mick and the American defend themselves with musical instruments from a corner, a pulsing spam of humanity pressed in around them from all sides. It's too hot in here and it smells like men.

Like a Cheshire bat-signal I follow the smile of Penko the Polgarian. He's hand-rolling a cigarette on the stoop outside the café. "Cheesabooger!"

"Penko!"

Penko makes me a smoke. Tintin wanders by and lights it for me. He asks after James A. Garfield. I shrug toward the café. He moves on. I can see Mary cackling in the window, her lemur hat hanging from a ribbon around her neck. I glimpse Humphrey Bogart, deep in the thick of it. He's shaking hands and grinning and running at the mouth. Bless.

Penko slaps his knees. "So, okay, yes," he says. "Quale è il film preferito di oggi? What ist your preferable film of today?"

I yawn. I laugh. I can no longer distinguish between the films I've seen and the dreams I've had. Saturation.

Sunday

The Razkavian youth at the door begs me to be quiet as I slip late into Sir Eldon W. C. Mercy's special personal presentation, "Two Hours with a Nude Filmmaker."

Eldon is wearing a white robe, like a life-drawing model. I raise a brow. I'd assumed we'd be treated to his metaphorical wiener only. I find a seat -- the last seat! -- between a pretty girl and an odious man. Once I've smelled the odious man I come to appreciate in fullness why the empty seat is where it is. To cap things off he has a short attention span and likes to shift around a lot. I hate him within the first five minutes.

At the front of the room Eldon is having a hard time, too. He's confessing that seeing his life's work flutter by leaves him melancholy. Partly because he'll probably never get funded to make the films he's always dreamed of making, and partly because what contributions he has made to the form are rapidly deteriorating into chemical stains and random squelches. He has reached the end of a career wondering whether he's pissed his life away in a medium that's taken seriously by so few. His exploration of this subject is quite raw.

Poor Eldon!

Here I am in one trip transported by the wonders of dazzlingly cool animation and also swept into sympathy for a man broken by a life-time of rolling that boulder up the mountain. The audience surges to a standing ovation when it seems like the old fellow's finally going to cry.

Thankfully he doesn't open the robe.

We take our last Razkavian dinner in a giant glass tetrahedron. It's me, Humphrey Bogart, James A. Garfield, and Sir Eldon. We're talking to him about what it might take to get his early films restored and preserved. He seems reflexively grouchy about the idea of a social media-fed Buttkicker campaign but cheered up by all the splendid pictures in the desserts menu. "Ooh, that's got an appointment with me," he says with a pursed smile and a pat on his belly.

He doesn't drink. We drink on his behalf. We try to talk about our film but he's not really that interested. Eldon wants to talk art but Humphrey's most comfortable talking commerce. James A. smiles and nods and laughs when cued.

The food is served in tiny portions. It is delicious. I love being able to eat the whole portion at a restaurant!

Eldon thanks us kindly then bustles off to join the jury's deliberations. Humphrey and James A. want to rush to the press event before the awards ceremony. "I'm going back to the hotel to pack," I tell them, shaking my head. "We've got eleven hours of traveling tomorrow and then I'm right back into action, so I can't afford to feel like colonic detritus. You two go ahead."

"Yeah, maybe we should call it a night, Humphrey," agrees James A. Garfield.

He starts wagging his finger. "Vodka/Red Bull?"

I give his shoulder a squeeze. "I'd like to say again how much I appreciate your making all this possible, Mr. Bogart. I've had a really excellent time. I've been inspired by amazing films, depressed by amazing people, and been drunk throughout. You're the host with the most." I hold out my hand for a shake.

He has to shake my hand. What else can he do? He shakes it. "You know, Brown, the most valuable networking happens in the last ten percent of the night."

I smile. "For me," I say, "the last ten percent of the night is right now. Good night James A. Garfield; good night Humphrey Bogart."

He invites me to bump fists with him, so I do.

And then they're inserting themselves into the scrum among the camera flashes and tripods and I'm ducking a twenty-foot-tall illuminated puppet to stride along the pedestrian mall that will take me back to the hotel and a good night's sleep. It's sunset in Europe, and the textures are so realistic.

I whistle while I walk.

Monday

I don't see Humphrey again. His flight isn't until later on in the day so he's still asleep. But he's left a note for me at the front desk. In the last ten percent of the night he talked a woman into arranging a theatrical run for our little movie, opening for a stereoscopic feature booked for eight weeks in cinemas. She'd heard all the buzz at the festival and been convinced by audience response that our stereoscopic short would be a good fit.

Bogart got us a fucking theatrical run. Whiskey! Tango! Foxtrot! The world makes no sense.

Humphrey makes things happen.

James A. Garfield makes a brief appearance in the lobby but declares herself car-sick in the lobby and has to excuse herself to the washroom. She'll take a taxi to the airport. The shuttle won't wait.

"You're not on my list," says Felix.

"I know. But I like your car better. Do you have room?"

"You can sit up front with me. Here, I'll take your bag."

"Right on, Felix."

The airport shuttle winds up the road between the hills, Glottenburg expanding into a green-tufted vista behind us. Those trees I saw in the way in that I thought were dead are finally starting to bloom. They just needed a little rain.

I give Felix a coupon for a free copy of 'Felix and the Frontier' and bid him farewell at the airport. He tells me which way to go, and then when I go the wrong way he runs into the terminal and redirects me with a gentle steer of the shoulders. Nice fellow.

On Lufthansa they serve hot dogs for lunch.


The End.

3 comments:

Unknown said...

As one of your loyal followers, I would go see a movie produced by you, to help support you--why not do some actual self-promotion?

Cheeseburger Brown said...

Dear Unknown,

I will let you know the second I produce something that doesn't stink.

As a matter of fact attending the Razkavian festival made me determined to produce something wholly my own, which I haven't done for a decade due to life/babies/mortgage.

This new film has been storied in broad strokes, but there are three short scenes with actual dialogue and I haven't scripted those lines yet. Once I do the next step is to record the voices and lay out the timing. Then I will set to filling in picture as time permits, and leaning on my brother to compose a score.

There is no schedule for these steps, as there is no schedule for most of my life right now. People keep flying me places and making me live in hotel rooms while I work all hours of the day and night. I'm not sure when it's going to let up.

Yours,
Cheeseburger Brown

Sheik Yerbouti said...

Holy cow. I got sensory overload just from reading this.

How overwhelming and heartwarming at the same time.