Blab March 2003
Published Mar 01, 2003Tuesday, October 22. I'm driving around with Jurgen, my producer, and his assistant, Klaus, to check out more locations for my latest film The Raspberry Reich in a white van they've rented for the duration of the production. Somehow appropriately, it looks like it could have been the very one they used to transport the members of the RAF to Stammheim prison: rock hard seats with high stiff backs like in a police van, and very cramped, bringing to mind a cheap airline. We find a small Vietnamese grocery store and case the joint as a possible location for the shoplifting scene, the script calling for a family-owned establishment that the aspiring terrorists rip off (despite their politically correct posturing) in an attempt to evade the high tech surveillance devices of large chain stores. The woman behind the counter eyes us nervously, probably because we look like thieves, which most filmmakers looking for locations usually do, and on low budgets like mine, often are. When we actually ask about the possibility of shooting there, the owners are strangely over-accommodating, offering to do whatever they can to help us even though we're offering to pay them next to nothing. I can only imagine that it's their cute way of trying to fit into chilly German society.
Next stop is a nearby shooting range in the former East Berlin where Gudrun and Andreas will try to perfect their terrorist craft. I had imagined a wide open, slick space like you might find in Hollywood movies, but of course in my movie it will have to be a virtual bunker buried beneath a soccer field, dank and cramped with swinging bare bulbs and long square tunnels like bowling lanes featuring targets instead of bowling pins in the distance. An elderly man of 71 gives us the tour, enthusiastically showing as a variety of guns: an old Smith and Wesson revolver, an automatic handgun and a pump-action rifle. He seems almost too eager to have us shoot the weapons. Jurgen is a sissy and a pacifist, so he won't go near them. I am too, but I decide to check it out, strictly for anthropological reasons. Klaus is also game, so we slip on the ear goggles and have at it. I haven't shot a gun since I was a kid, hunting with my father, and now I remember why. It gives me a kind of out of control feeling, like I could accidentally kill somebody or myself just by dropping it or making a slight error in judgement. I miss the target a couple of times, then start hitting it. I can almost imagine the bullet ripping through someone's flesh. Someone I hate. Wow, no wonder we have gun control. I guess I'm a little on edge because at this point they haven't caught the Beltway Sniper and it's all over the news every day, even here in Germany. Some people think it's Al Qaeda, but I think it's home-grown.
The old man who owns the shooting range is a chatterbox. Between rounds he's telling us the whole history of the business, how his wife wants him to retire but then he'd be here shooting all the time anyway. Memo to myself: put him in the movie. It's strange to discover that anyone like us alleged filmmakers can just walk in here off the street without any background checks or identification or anything and just start shootin'. I take another shot and look over and smile at Jurgen, who jumps about a foot whenever one of us pulls the trigger. He's being very "nay," very "denied," very Jurgen Anger. Sometimes I wonder why he puts up with me. I give him nothing but grief.
Wednesday, October 23. They caught the Beltway Sniper today. Turns out he's a black American Gulf War veteran named Mohammed who had recently converted to Islam, so I guess both conspiracist camps are happy. It's only the second day of pre-production and already I'm fighting off a chest cold and sore throat. Fortunately my cinematographer, James Carman, or Jesus Christ as I like to call him, who has shot my last two movies, arrives today from New York. He always has a lot of pills, potions and lotions with him, both literal and metaphoric, to patch me up.
Tonight I meet the male "actors" that I've cast via the internet over the past several months. (My female lead, who is touring Poland with a play, will not arrive until after we've started shooting.) As opposed to the big, beefy guys that I cast in my last porn movie, Skin Flick brooding neo-Nazi types with shaved heads and tattoos this time I was looking for more normal-looking guys with average, unshaved bodies and longer hair. Jurgen has had to conduct a surprisingly wide search for such porn products, importing them from as far away as London, Stockholm, and Athens, as well as closer locales like Leipzig. In fact, he's outdone himself, having come up with a skinny runty bunch of boys, a couple of whom can barely speak English. I'm sure that most of them can't act either, but hey, that never stopped, well, half of Hollywood.
Actually, the casting is a bit of a catastrophe. I've envisaged them, physically and personality-wise, as particular characters, but we also have to factor in sexual chemistry and compatibility, which runs contrary to my casting logic. Case in point, Dino, the Greek, who has been living in London, an extremely sexy young man with big black limpid pools for eyes, with whom everyone wants to be cast in a sex scene. But he's mostly a bottom, so that means he has to be cast in a role I wouldn't have necessarily seen him in. Another guy is nice-looking and versatile, but somewhat effeminate, so of course no one wants to do a sex scene with him. Jurgen and I shuffle the boys in and out of his bedroom one at a time, trying to be diplomatic and sensitive to their feelings as we discuss the permutations, which is the European way of making porn movies. After all, porn stars are people too.
I also meet the wardrobe queen, another Nervous Nelly that Jurgen has dug up somewhere who doesn't have a lick of experience doing costumes for movies, a very complicated enterprise. I did want to get the amazing Arianne Phillips, Madonna's chief stylist, whom I'd met recently in L.A., for the picture. She said she'd love to work with me, and money isn't an issue, but unfortunately she's booked up for about the next 100 years. Oh well. Maybe next life.
After hours of agonising, casting is finally finished, even though it seems like the roles of Patrick and Clyde, the kidnapped son of a wealthy industrialist and the youngest member of the terrorist group, respectively, are a tad miscast, but what can I do? The boys who are chosen for Helmut and Horst, who eventually become lovers in the script, are also a couple in real life, but they seem like such meek, mild-mannered mensches that I don't quite now whether they'll even register on screen. I've definitely got my work cut out for me.
I'm nervous about meeting the East German actress who will play Gudrun, Suzanne Mathelson, even though she's worked with the Berlin Theatre Ensemble and with the likes of Fassbinder alumnus Volker Spengler. It's a tough role, full of complex revolutionary rhetoric that would be difficult even for someone whose first language was English. We almost cast as Gudrun a famous actress described to me as "the German Susan Sarandon," but I'm not sure how well she would have done fucking naked in a public elevator. Although in Germany, you never know.