An Inappropriate Life

Memoir by Stan Gotlieb

CRO Goes to the Movies

The word spread through the farm: they are making a movie in Eugene, and they need extras. Lots of extras. It's a basketball movie, and they are doing crowd scenes next week in the University of Oregon field house. Jack Nicholson is directing.

As soon as he heard that, CJ, who was raised in Hollywood by a film-industry-service mother, and who was a Nicholson fan, began to organize the troops. By the time the film company was ready to shoot, we had thirty members waiting at the doorway of the field house.

After we had filled out our time cards, we filed in along with about a hundred other people. To our surprise and disappointment, there were no actors or basketball players present. Crowd scenes, we learned, are filmed separately and added later.

Aside from the cameras, lights, sound equipment, and the personnel to run them, there were few people on the floor. We were told to focus our attention on this one guy who wore a whistle. He was anorexic, sweating, shaky, and a little surly. He said he was the second assistant director, and he was going to be telling us what to do. Nicholson was there, but he did not speak. Not to us, and not to anyone else except “Mr. Nervous”, as we named him. Occasionally, wearing dark glasses, and keeping his gaze on the floor, Jack would sidle out from his perch under the basket on our right, and whisper something in Mr. Nervous' ear. Each time, Mr. Nervous would visibly shrink. His whistle and his voice would get louder. We took bets on when he would start to cry.

The day ground on. Take after take was taken. After the first couple of takes, we broke out the twelve one gallon jugs of cheap red wine we had brought along, and started passing them around. They were soon gone, but the day looked to be a long one, so a couple of our folks began to solicit funds from the other folks in the stands for a wine run. By the end of the day there had been two more wine runs. There was no objection from the movie folks, because the more well oiled we all got, the more enthusiastic our cheering – for a non-existent game – became. By the end of the day, Mr. Nervous could hardly get us to stop shouting and stamping our feet.

CJ, who was a jokester of the first order, had been heckling Mr. Nervous from time to time, and Jack's stone face cracked a little smile now and then, so CJ began to heckle Jack. Mr. Nervous wasn't sure what he should do about that, until Jack laughed. After that, Mr. Nervous' only concern was to make sure he himself never laughed at any of CJ's jibes at Jack.

CJ invited Jack to come out to CRO and visit us, but he never showed. Probably, CJ mused as we all rolled out of the field house plastered, along with our new-found drinking buddies, he was afraid to, us being just a bunch of savage drunks and all.

The movie was named “Drive, He Said”. For a basketball movie, it was pretty good. Later on, a bunch of CRO farmers went to the coast, to be extras in “Sometimes A Great Notion”, the filming of Ken Kesey's second great book. Ken himself, a neighbor of sorts (his farm was on the other side of Eugene), was nowhere to be seen. It was well known he had hated what they had done to his first big novel, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest”, so no-one was surprised. The ones who had been in “Drive…” were in general agreement that “Sometimes…” hadn't been nearly as much fun: mostly outside, on the Oregon coast, which meant cold; and, since there were fewer of them, it was too difficult raising money for a wine run, and the movie folks didn't seem much inclined to share their after-filming drugs.

Years later, I worked on “Purple Rain”, the movie by The Man Who Was Then Called Prince, which was filmed on location in and around Minneapolis. It was no fun at all. Because I was a Professional Driver (I drove taxi for a living), I got the Most Important Driving Job (honest, they talked in capitals): piloting a van containing His Highness' custom-painted motorcycle, and two more just like it (for the stunt doubles). I was expected to attend the “dailies” (the nightly screening of the day's filming), without overtime pay. I, being a good union man at the time, refused. Then I was told that joking, especially about what I saw going on around me, was forbidden. I'm afraid I laughed.

[There is a scene in the film “Operation Abolition”, where the head of Students for A Democratic Society at San Francisco State University told young people about to attend their first hearing of the House Unamerican Activities Committee that first and foremost, they should always laugh out loud if anyone said anything absurd.]

As a result of my lack of respect, I was fired. Clearly, my subversive behavior undermined discipline and constituted an insidious threat to the good of the movie.

Thus I bade adieu to my peripatetic movie career. With the exception of a surreptitious surveillance tape shot by the Drug Enforcement Administration many years later, I have never looked back.

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All materials copyrighted, 1994-2004 by Stan Gotlieb, , and Realoaxaca.com