First Person / Hanging out with movie people
March 31, 2012 12:00 am
By Rudolph H. Weingartner
Have Tux; Did Travel
The plan was for me to spend my 85th birthday in Los Angeles with son Mark, who works in that city's No. 1 industry, the "moo'n' pitchers," as pronounced in Brooklyn, where I went to high school.
After the plan was in place, Mark, a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, received an invitation to the annual bash of the American Society of Cinematographers, who had the nerve to do their thing on my (and Lincoln's) birthday.
"But ... but ... " sputtered Mark, "that's my dad's birthday and he's flying out here for the occasion."
"No problem," was the response, "I will invite your father as well."
"OK by me" was my reaction, to continue in the same Brooklyn argot, followed by a quick inspection that showed tux and shirt -- last worn singing Beethoven's Ninth in the Mendelssohn choir -- were still in usable shape, ready to be packed.
The venue was a mega-sized room in a complex called Hollywood & Highland, after the intersection where it stands. The room sported a stage and four large screens that enabled all 1,200 people, arrayed around tables for 10, to follow the goings-on. Drinks were served outdoors on a patio in front of the hall's entrances, with enough time allotted before the festivities to network, however dubiously that noun parades as a verb.
With some exceptions, we males were in de rigueur penguin garb, with many, if minor, stylistic variations, while the women -- who were in a distinct minority -- were dressed at various levels of fanciness, with the depth of decolletage roughly inversely proportional to the wearer's age.
A final sartorial observation: I was truly impressed not just by the variety of the men's hair styles, but by the care -- and, presumably, expense -- with which they were fashioned. For me, that tonsorial splendor was the most convincing evidence that I was not in Pittsburgh, but in the land of showbiz.
For a while we ate; it was surf and turf, accompanied by wine and quiet table conversation. But with dessert, the 26th Annual ASC Award ceremony began.
The proceedings were managed smoothly and seriously; no Billy Crystal equivalent. An effort obviously had been made to maximize the number of participants, in that a different person introduced each of the presenters of award nominees, who were divided into nine categories -- such as Half-Hour Series/Pilot, Television Motion Picture/Miniseries and Theatrical Release -- plus several awards for distinction and achievement.
Two traits of the goings-on were noteworthy. First, the ASC, like the Masons, is a masculine society. All 22 officers and other board members are men and so were all 25 nominees for awards. Women seem not to have made much headway in the craft.
Second, the group takes great pride in the vital contribution cinematographers make to the production of films. The handsome book that all of us found on our chairs features numerous pictures of crews setting up difficult shots and wielding complex equipment. Throughout the evening, it was clear, without it having been said in so many words, that cinematographers are the essential right arms of directors.
Directors rely on cinematographers to select cameras and lenses and ancillary equipment -- of which there is a great variety, conventional and esoteric. Cinematographers bring to the table the know-how and ingenuity to set up and use all that gear for shots under water, out of moving vehicles and in tricky terrain of every kind, to photograph moving objects and still, so as finally to create a movie that is pleasing to look at or interesting or both.
From category to category, clips of the nominees' work were shown and the winners introduced and given the opportunity to say a few words. Some did just that, others went on a bit long. All conveyed the flavor of their craft.
Near the end of the evening came the society's Board of Governors Award and the audience was treated to the presence of Harrison Ford, at nearly 70 erect and distinguished looking, who made an eloquent little speech in praise of the cinematographers he had worked with through the years.
The bar outside the hall had been dismantled. But that was just as well, since it was getting late. So, after a bit more conversation, most of us wended our way homeward.
For me, it had been an enlightening glimpse into another world, a world of serious, high-powered professionals who work behind the scenes to entertain us.
Rudolph H. Weingartner is professor emeritus of philosophy and a former provost of the University of Pittsburgh (firstname.lastname@example.org). The second edition of his "Fitting Form to Function: A Primer on the Organization of Academic Institutions" was recently published.
* * * * * * *I have barely begun to write a fairly ambitious piece--it's not even thought through as yet--on the lugubrious subject of dying and death. While I am working on that essay, readers of this blog will be entertained (I hope) by oldies such as the one above or by short pieces that might occur to me.