Friday, July 30, 2010

Day 113: Smoke & Mirrors

....following on from yesterday’s thoughts, in which I was banging on about my experiences as mobile disc-jockey Roger King and in particular, the art of handling the wedding reception:

Back to Kev & Donna’s big day.

We had quite a good light show: a couple of T-frame stands rigged up behind me, each holding two banks of lights, a slide show projector or two and a couple of strobes that were to be used sparingly; the last thing that you wanted to bring on was a bout of eplilepsy at the Curzon Rooms.

On this particular Saturday night I was very pleased with myself and the way that the show was going, plus I had a trick up my sleeve. For some time now, my brother and I had been investigating and shopping around to get involved in the dazzling world of pyrotechnics - smoke machines, dry ice and the like - the thought of adding that frissant of indoor fireworks to our armoury could only serve to increase our already-growing marketability.

It was an expensive sector, however, and so we shopped cautiously and shrewdly; studying smoke bombs and mist covered stages wherever we saw them. That Saturday lunchtime before we loaded the records and gear onto the van, my brother, Dave, arrived home from work - his daytime jobwas in the trade department of a giant hardware emporium in the town. “Have a go with this” he said, as he handed me what looked like a slightly bigger version of a sherbert dab. “I found them at work when we were doing the stocktake”. “What is it?” I asked, “Smoke, apparently. It was only a couple of quid, so if it’s good, we can save ourselves a fortune.” “Smoke??!! This is great, we could save a shit-load” And off I went, to pick up the roadies, armed with “smoke”.

Now, I have to make a confession here; it’s cheesy and I’m squirming at the thought of sharing these thoughts, but in the interests of unparalled candor, I will. There was a very thin, blurry line for me between my role as DJ and that of me as Rock God. In my days of being Roger King, Mobile Disc Jockey and Light Show, what travelled through the video recorder of my mind at quiet times were those, stunning moments when I, master of the turntables, would come up with the inspirational choice for the next record, cue it up and unleash it, full blare onto an audience, watching as a couple of hundred people rose as one, trance-like to move to the rhythms I was intoxicating them with. I fltl like I had a power, a control over these people, perched behind the console, working my bewitching chemistry. If only I could envelop myself in smoke, flames and glaring light, my transformation would be complete.

I briefed Foxy (roadie #2) on the smoke. “I’m going to play a couple of ‘heavy’ numbers and I want you to set that thing off, and Dilly (roadie #1), you turn off all of the other lights and just whack the strobes on.” “How do you light this thing?” enquired Foxy. “Use your cigarette lighter.” I think that I was after a kind of Valhalla effect for this part of the wedding reception.

I can’t remember how I introduced the record or whether I said anything at all, but when all of the lights went out and the famous guitar chords blasted out of the two speaker stacks, I swear that glasses on tables trembled and shook. For what happened next I don’t really blame anyone, least of all Foxy who lit the thing, but as those stobes stuttered icily into life, there was barely a whiff of smoke. That in itself was okay as the combination of fractured white light and Deep Purple juxtaposed Kev, Donna and the three-tiered weddingcake rather dramatically, I felt. “Foxy, where’s the fuckin’ smoke?!”

The question was redundant. Before the word “smoke” had left my lips, a thick grey pall was whooshing from the side of the stage straight out at the dancefloor, the surrounding tables, the bar and the top table of guests. What we didn’t know at quarter to eight on that Saturday evening, was that the innocuous enough ‘thing’ that Foxy had lit (under my instruction) was the very same ‘thing’ that developers and builders use to test half-mile long pipes for obstructions when they’d laid them under the ground. They’d light a‘thing’, throw it in at one end and the smoke would surge, bullet-train like until it appeared at the other end to show that the passage was clear. At least ours wasn’t a coloured least not at first.

Within seconds, a dense green acrid smoke had filled every corner and crevice of the room and we couldn’t stop the damn thing. Even dropped in a bucket of water it just kept burning... “...a fire in the sky” sang Deep Purple from a record deck that I could no longer see. Then the smoke alarms went off - fortunately there were no sprinklers - and men holding bar mats and handkerchiefs to their mouths helped open the windows. We were two storeys up and the in-rush of the breeze only served to swirl the acrid pall around, as it kept coming,

The call went out to evacuate the room and abandon the reception. It was a classic, women and children first moment, but chaos never plays out like it does in films. I was more bemused than anything else at the effect and I have to say that in these minutes of wedding-peril, I was weighing up the pro’s and con’s of our smoke weapon and actually wondering if we could get away with using it in future shows? Somewhere through the fog I could see the bride’s mother being asssited from the room, hat on head, hankie over nose. Here we all were in our own version of Towering Inferno and not a Steve McQueen or Paul Newman racing up the stairwell in sight. “Smoke on the water.......a fire burning”

It was a pleasant late Spring evening on the pavement outside the Curzon Rooms and the two hundred of us milled about whilst we waited for the room to clear of noxious gas. Many had the forethought to grab drinks before they left and given that there was no real danger to life or limb, the wedding punters, I believe, enjoyed the excitement that had been added to the evening

“How was the smoke?” asked my brother, as I plonked myself down on the sofa in the front room just after midnight. “Pretty good actually.” “That’s a shame. I went back this afternoon to check if there were any more but they’ve been discontinued.” “Pity.” The thought hung in the air, wisp-like.

Day #113 Tip: Tricks are just that
There’s nothing like a fancy-schmancy trick to jar me out of a film; whether it’s live action suddenly turning to animation, characters talking to the camera (breaking what fourth wall there is in the cinema), flashbacks, flash-forwards and who-knows-what else?

That’s not to say that I’m against any one of those techniques, with the caveat of “as long as there’s a reason for it”.....and by that, I do not mean laziness on the screenwriter’s part. Flat exposition is flat exposition however it’s dressed up. Kooky techniques are just that unless they are mandated by something that takes on the page and cannot be executed another way. Doing “it” just because everyone else is doing “it” isn’t good enough reason; just because Quentin Tarantino jumbled up the story lines in Pulp Fiction, it didn’t mean that verfyone else had to?
And just because Coppola juxtaposed a religious service (baptism) with multiple sluaghter underscored an operatic soundtrack at the end of The Godfather, didn’t eman that we had to see it ad nauseum for the rest of our lives in the cinema. And don’t get me started on Marie Antoniette.

Sorry, but I’m a traditionalist, three-act, Aristotlean kinda guy/screenwriter; when I come across a “trick”in a film, I’m no longer in the story but marvelling at the trick (maybe not always marvelling, but you get the idea).

It’s all smoke and mirrors to distract my attention away from what’s not going on that should be going on in the film.

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