Rapp and Howell chat

Actually, we're next door.Perhaps the one thing I enjoy more than attempting to make wee cinematic marvels is talking about them, especially when that’s with cohort and occasional collaborator Jerry Rapp. Having partnered on a number of projects since the turn of the century (take that Méliès), Rapp and I share a peculiar perspective on both the worlds of independent and studio filmmaking — particularly where those worlds collide.

Tonight, Rapp and I share our insights with the brilliant Film Independent League of Marin (FILM) at 7:30 p.m., at the Aroma Café, 1122 Fourth Street, San Rafael, CA, next to the Rafael Film Center.

Rain Water Martini

If the rain comes, I run and hide my head. I might as well be Daed.In Martin Scorcese’s “Taxi Driver,” the titular character famously snarls “Someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets.” Albeit, Travis Bickle was traveling the streets of New York City in the 1970s, which, to my understanding, was a veritable petri dish where scum was meant to proliferate. A hard rain came down upon Sonoma Saturday night and the only scum that was washed off our local streets was likely my cronies and I, who had just collectively emptied our wallets at the bars of a number of local bistros. We’re not scum in the usual sense – our sleaze factor would rate rather low when compared to the scum of a larger burg like, say, dread Petaluma – but we’re the kind of would-be uptown trash that drinks too much and wallows in the rain as if it were some specialty cocktail made just for us. For that matter, I don’t know when I graduated to $10 cocktails, but my bank statement tells me I’ve done it whole hog and my throbbing noggin tells me I must have enjoyed it. The irony, of course, is that I feel like scum today, but worse – I feel like Fitzgeraldian scum of the Great Gadfly variety. And even that’s an aspiration. Oh, to put the “dense” in decadence.

Nomaville: Mime in Time

Mime time.When last we spoke, I was being schlepped onto the Cork Theater’s stage to do a star turn in “Rapture in Suede,” a production with which I’d only become familiar moments earlier when I read my name on the playbill. Permit me to recall the last time something like this happened to me, when I was about to be lynched by a few hundred angry Bulgarians.

Now, I’m the kind of self-styled chap who is necessarily inured to the spotlight – as an accredited member of the media I’ve often moonlighted as the toastmaster type, gladly cutting ribbons, judging martinis, giving talks, leading presentations and generally being a self-inflated fish to any small pond in need. A panicked event coordinator will call, desperate for a last-minute replacement, and I’ll be there, especially if there’s booze, a buffet and an envelope with my name on it – though I’ve been known to waive my customary fee and just take the booze.

Such was the case when I was asked to introduce Krassimir the mime, beloved in his native Bulgaria, where, ironically, the young gallant was equally known as a “popera” singer who crooned operatic pop numbers to throngs enthralled. In an attempt to knit this schism in his career, he moved to Hollywood, where poly-hyphenate performers take to the fishbowl like mimes to glass boxes. I met him between pitch meetings while stringing for the L.A. Downtown News and wrote a feature about the “language of mime,” which inspired his then-handlers to ask me to introduce him at a live gig at the El Dorado in North Hollywood. I happily accepted (no envelope this time) and eventually found myself onstage in the midst of a glowing, spoken rehash of my article.

When I was about to bring out Krassimir, I caught his publicist’s eye in the wings. “Do more,” she yelped sotto voce. Seeing as I done my prepared bit, I obliged and riffed a little on Krassimir’s contribution to the craft of not only pantomime, but also “popera, a burgeoning new musical genre sweeping Eastern Europe.” The audience, it slowly dawned on me, was comprised of mostly Bulgarian nationals, who had about 60 words of English among them. I turned again to the publicist, who hissed, “He can’t find parking. Do five more minutes.”

Now, I can riff and by the loosest of definitions, it can be said that I can even improvise. But five minutes is an eon in stage-time. Moreover, my professional patter and persona is almost entirely dependent on my facility with the language, which was useless to the Bulgarians. Then, in a flash, it occurred to me – the people of Bulgaria and I did share a vocabulary – the universal language of mime. I had done the research, I knew Krassimir’s schtick – I’d just vamp until he relieved me. This glorious misstep would have been forgivable had I not positioned it as a parody of Krassimir himself by pointing at myself and uttering “Me, Krassimir” after pretending to be walking against a stiff wind and playing with an imaginary dog. Once the chorus of shouts and boos snapped me out of my stupor, I realized that I was not only offending a living Bulgarian national treasure, but that a mob of guys in back row had decided to kill me. I froze – just long enough for Krassimir himself, clad in a striped shirt and beret, to appear like an angel of mercy. He made like he had just pulled up in a fancy car, opened my hand and drop his actual keys in my palm as if I were the valet. I drove his pantomime car offstage and out the door.

Nomaville: Cork Theater

Entrance not for everyone.Not one for confessional writing (at least not since that psychology researcher claimed to be using my work to recalibrate their “diagnostic model”), permit me instead to attempt a new genre: the alibi.

This much I remember: we had an impromptu Press Club meeting at Meritage – the cast included Diva Donna, Spitzy and the Dame, J.M. Berry, our ace shooter Flash, your humble narrator and enough vodka and vermouth to earn our table the nickname Martini de Sade. Dinner at the fig followed, then Steiner’s, by which point our group had pared down to the Contessa and Diva Donna, but we acquired Cavemen front man David Hinkley on the way out as he helped me dodge the usual sidewalk scrapes erupting around us. We proceeded to cavort in the Plaza like teenagers.

This is where the film school jump cut occurs: the next thing I know I’m playing cards with two dudes in a van. A brief conversation still echoed in my ears regarding my attempted scaling of a chain link fence, which was discouraged by the taller of the van dudes (Brett from my regular café, I later realized). I remember explaining that it was a shortcut (to where, I have no idea) but he pointed out that it would likely be a shortcut to the emergency room. Or at least the tailor. He then invited me to play a card game with him and his crony, who offered me a can of warm beer.

The name of the game, its objective and my subsequent losing streak are beyond the scope of what remains of the night’s memory. Suffice it to say, it was only by sheer chance (or a perverse turn in destiny) that the last hand I was dealt resulted in my winning the better two thirds of a torn $10 bill and a ticket to a show at the Cork Theater. As I collected my winnings, it was pointed out to me that the ticket was only good for another 15 minutes.

The Cork Theater, by all accounts, doesn’t exist except when it does. That’s how it was explained to me, and when I asked Brett to clarify without all the Zen, he merely smiled and said that he’d take me there. If I weren’t face down grappling to keep my guts from coming up and ruining the van’s sheepskin seat covers, I might be able to recount which of his swerving turns went where and hazard an approximate street address, but for now “side of the road” will have to suffice.
The theater itself is an unassuming building. It lacked a marquee or even a meager sandwich board. It seemed all but desolate – one of any number of vacant buildings that dot the valley. A sinking feeling began to grow in my belly, which alas wasn’t a martini attempting to repeat itself.
Printed on the ticket beneath “The Cork Theater” was what I presumed was the show’s title: “Rapture in Suede.” I protested to the thug manning the theater’s door that I was not a fan of suede and asked if I may return the ticket for cab fare back to reality. He shook his head, then spat inches from my shoes. I considered scalping the ticket, but there was no one there but the doorman and I. And he didn’t want it. Trust me, I tried. A sudden chill rose in the air and with nowhere else to go, I stoked up my courage to face the suede.

Inside, the Cork was much more posh than I had expected, especially given the building’s exterior which recalled an auto garage but without the charm. An usher donned in a brimless cap and epaulettes took me by the arm and pressed me into a velveteen seat – the only one left in the house. I found myself asking the usher “Who are all these people?” only to be shushed by the program he shoved in my face. I unfolded it to read: “Rapture in Suede – starring Daedalus Howell.”

To be continued…