Thursday, October 7, 2010

Day 182: Prophet or Profit?

On April 5, 1999, American illusionist and endurance artist, David Blaine was entombed in an underground plastic box underneath a 3 ton water-filled tank for seven days, eating nothing and drinking only 2-3 tablespoons of water per day. 75,000 people visited his “Buried Alive” stunt.

On November 27, 2000, Blaine stood encased in a massive block of ice in Times Square (NYC), supplied with water and air by a tube, for 63 hours and 42 minutes; “Frozen in Time”.

May 22, 2002, sees David Blaine perform “Vertigo”; lifted by crane onto the top of a 100ft pillar, (22 inches wide) in Bryant Park (NYC), where, unharnessed, he stood for 35 hours.

On September 5, 2003, David Blaine began his first major stunt outside of the USA, sealed inside a transparent, Plexiglass case, suspended 30ft in the air (by Tower Bridge, London), surviving on just 4.5 litres of water for 44 days. I was there.

I dig David Blaine, but that wasn’t always the case. At the time I was in London, working on a script of mine, The Comedians, when he began the “Above the Below” stunt and for a second or two there, I was as full of derision as much of the UK’s population were at the time. Two things begged me keep an open mind: one, was my favourite newspaper, The Guardian, saying “Blaine has created one of the most eloquent and telling visual images of our time” and the other, was a close female friend, also over from Australia at the time suggesting that I might be growing a tad more cynical than I usually was.

Knowing that “contempt prior to investigation” is a favourite pastime of mine - I’ll often give you a damning review of a film I’ve never seen - I boarded a train on the Underground’s District Line and headed for Tower Hill station one fine Sunday morning. Alighting at said Tube station, I found myself part of a throng, following the hastily-prepared signs that pointed to David Blaine’s stunt. Suddenly there was hubbub, others were obviously thinking like me too, and we crossed the Thames over Tower Bridge, craning our necks for the first glimpse of this latter-day Harry Houdini, hoisted up in the air over Potters Field Park, alongside City Hall, on the South Bank.

What a crowd, what a veritable circus there was beneath him and I, excited, joined that crowd to stand underneath his transparent box calling up to him “David, David!!”. He looked my way, or was he responding to the hundreds doing the same thing all around me? So many in the UK scoffed for the seven weeks and more of his stunt: there were those who hit golf balls at him, threw paint balls, food and beer cans, but most of all it was abuse of the kind that said something like “there are people starving in Ethiopia whilst you’re.....”. Even (Sir) Paul McCartney went down there and mocked him....but then what do you expect from the guy that by now, was musically obsolete, having written Mull of Kintyre, Silly Love Songs and the excruciatingly awful Ebony & Ivory?

The event was broadcast on tv station Sky One in the UK, with a “special” made out of his "going in", and famously - almost stopping the nation - on his ‘coming out’. Prior to the climax of David Blaine’s London outing, I visited him again, this time accompanied by the friend who had encouraged me to make the quantum shift away from the position I had initially taken; I was keen to show off my new friend, David. And, by this time, the tide had turned throughout London too, somehow now, we were all joined together on this countdown to David Blaine’s liberation from his self-imposed ordeal.

David Blaine has gone on to perform “Drowned Alive” (submerged in a sphere of water for 7 days and 7 nights) , “Revolution” (shackled to a rotating gyroscope for 52 hours) and the “Dive of Death” (hanging upside down, without a safety net for 60 hours in Central Park).

What’s the point....who knows, who cares? I love the fact that David Blaine picked his target well, with us the English, who are often happier scoffing and carping; we’re not always like that, it’s the righteous indignant right-wing middle class in us that is stirred up and agitated by the tabloid media, and the media that pretends it’s not tabloid but is. There’s something fun and optimistic about David Blaine that is within me, but needed the provocation of others to force it out.

I could have mocked with the rest, expending hot air, getting all huffed-up about things, sitting in judgement from afar, but instead I went down there and waived to David, not throwing eggs at him, but egging him on.

Day #182 Tip: On the same page
What I recollect, most interestingly about the 44 days and nights of the David Blaine London experiment, was that as the stunt gathered momentum and public opinion shifted a little towards him, we all were on the same page, all caught up in following the same event; we shared a common bond.

I’ve felt this before, often sadly - Diana’s death, 9/11 - and occasionally with joyous spirit, like when the Sydney Olympics came to town in 2000. There’s something about unity, about being kindred spirits and it’s flip side, so eloquently put by John Donne : “...And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.”

Yes, “we are the world, we are the people” and it’s heartening when we all move in step, drawn together, pulled by a force that gives us a common talking point to focus on; it’s as though our collective energy is being directed in one powerful uniting way, before the event that binds us together ends and we go back to our individual hidey-holes.

Film is like that, it’s collaborative and, we the writers, are often the David Blaine’s who come up with the stunt that galvanises everyone. Doesn’t mean that our work has to be happy stuff or sad stuff, it can be whatever stuff we like, but, with the caveat that it inspire, move and touch; firstly those we are going to work with and then those who we will share the story with.

Where are you David Blaine, reveal yourself, we need you!

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