Page Two: Dream Is Destiny
Louis Black finds himself at Sundance – a Jersey kid from Texas, a writer slipped into filmmaker
I. New Jersey and Massachusetts
Growing up, the ever-mounting passions of youth boil up inside, "a head full of ideas" driving one insane, as Bob Dylan put it. There is the façade of physical containment (we are nothing but in our bodies) which acid visions often bled to a more surreal and grotesque Hieronymus Bosch reality where the masks we wear melted in a mad, almost wax-like rush until everywhere was steam and fire.
The only calm I continually found was watching movies.
There the battering smashing twirling ideas inside my head were, if not subdued, at least calmed for the run. As Loudon Wainwright explained, "Movies are a mother to me, there's nothing like a good movie, to mother me back to sanity when I have gone insane."
Living in the suburbs (Teaneck) and a city (Boston), the inner overboiling emotions of adolescence and post- resonated off those artificial landscapes as though a Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon filled full and then punctured tight between two rows of buildings. Constant ongoing explosions that blurred the eyes and hurt the brain.
Moving to Vermont in 1970, I finally found an exterior calm. Long, often mad walks on cold nights through casually drifting down unending snow, punctuated by the rare light. Illuminated more by the moon, highlighted by the few visible stars. Stalking empty roads in the wee hours of the morning, dawn nowhere near, the cold at least slowed down the machine-gun surging wrap of emotions, passions, ideas, and desire ever pulsing forward.
There is no reason for anyone to believe this, but honestly it never crossed my mind that people might find Karen Bernstein's and my documentary Richard Linklater: dream is destiny a profound and moving experience. Actually I really didn't think about the reception of the film at all. Whenever I hear other people say similar things I always think they are lying, that they must have lain in bed at night secretly dreaming the most magic of endings. I did for the Chronicle, imagined visions beyond any hope, most of which we've surpassed. Never with SXSW – it's always lapped me.
This one I just wanted to finish right. Not right for any audience. Not even Rick. The film had to work for me, as well as for the whole extraordinary creative team.
Making a movie, as with most creative endeavors, you focus on what is not working rather than enjoy what is. The process is inherently negative, an ongoing attempt to watch the work in the worst light possible because you are concentrated on finding what can be improved.
Ironically, that makes it increasingly brutal as it is continually improved – as there is less so obviously wrong.
Back to the beginning. About two years ago, Karen Bernstein approached me about pitching American Masters on a documentary about Richard Linklater. Karen boasts an impressive array of producing credits including a run of terrific American Masters – Clint Eastwood, Leonard Bernstein, Lou Reed, and Ella Fitzgerald.
We did the pitch. They agreed. We started making the film. Soon we brought on Arts+Labor.
Executive producing my first film, Margaret Brown's acclaimed Be Here to Love Me: A Film About Townes Van Zandt, I had realized that my role was not to creatively author the film but to facilitate the director. Which did not forbid creative discussions but disallowed any personal emotional investment – the search was for the director's ideas, not one's own.
This time out, that creative content was my greatest responsibility.
Which is why making this film Richard Linklater: dream is destiny has been such an unexpectedly big part of our lives for quite a while now.
We worked on the film. And it got into Sundance. Which I still didn't take seriously. Not that I wasn't thrilled and proud. I was casually sure it was some mistake but thought the film would likely work with a Sundance audience.
III. Park City
The dream I didn't dream happened at Sundance. The film was a hit. Packed houses, enthusiastic audiences. Talk about processing that, I didn't even get that was what was going on until a couple of days after the screening. I mean this, and I only share it because I think it is interesting: I didn't get that people really liked our movie and found it moving even after the wildly applauded premiere.
Which in some addled way proved sweet, although having in no way been even a bit relaxed, I did somehow skip the anxiety of worrying about reception to awaken in the sweet-smelling fields of it. But this also proved more disorienting.
Who and where I am is always one of those fluid underlying tensions. A place of calm rarely found through life's long travels, though always at the movies and once a long time ago in the mountains of Vermont.
Early on, my partner Sandy engineered two parties at our rented condo for the film, an evening cocktail party and an afternoon barbecue and vegetarian feast. The turnout brought together so many friends, old and new. The parties were exhaustively planned and skillfully executed.
Two nights later, our friends John Sayles and Maggie Renzi in town, we threw an impromptu party to feast on leftovers from the previous parties. The room full of people talking, I realized this is what I cherish, community and collaboration, film and creativity.
Wandered outside into a seemingly constant but ever-shifting-in-intensity snow. Walking down a strangely purple, perilous one-lane road in overly affluent Park City, the film festival shimmering in the town below, the world calmed to a tinted black and white. The smell and taste of a snowy night, walking lost and lonely down country roads in Vermont, suddenly came upon me, not a memory but shockingly fresh feelings. Combining to somehow overwhelmingly evoke the aching innocence of one then oh-so-certain that he was not only in no way innocent but actually life-hardened. In these most unlikely of surroundings under even more disrupting ongoing events, this innocence allowed a deep sigh of moral relief. Ironically, this meant there was only the now and the future. Remembrance of such an innocent and tormented past on that cold night somehow severed it. Ghosts floated in the air until the past was no longer a suffocating history but just a reminder of the possibilities ahead.
A mining town inhabited now only by millionaires, a Jersey kid from Texas, a writer slipped into filmmaker. All is contradiction; all tomorrow. At the end of the block I turned around, walked back, and re-entered the warmth of friends gathered at our home.