Between the Devil and the Salvation Army

Outside the AA meeting

Currently shooting Illusion Travels by Boxcar

Most films are better planned than this one. I feel that this whole shoot has been catch-as-catch-can, and I have got to wrest it from this downward spiral of talking heads and walking tours. More to the point, I need to quit pretending this is an experiential doc now and loosely script it. I would have to do that in the editing anyway, so why not start now?

I’m trying to get to Alabama next week so we can see Darrel, Patty’s son, and his girlfriend. A friend suggested I use the working title “Chasing Patty.” Sometimes I feel as if my agenda is warping Patty’s experience beyond the point where people will see it as a documentary.

The essential problem is that if I leave Patty to the Fates, she’ll have to stay at the Salvation Army, a location that doesn’t allow filming, and she’ll have to be in by 7:30 p.m. In the morning, they kick the homeless out at 6:00 a.m. Now, if I were bending to that reality, I would stop letting her stay in our motel room. Since I’m a late riser, I like having Patty up at night, and I would have to turn my own schedule around. It’s something that Darrell complained about to me in Mississippi. He said that by the time the crew and I were ready to film, he’d already been up for seven hours.

All this has affected the content of the movie, since my strategy has been to sample as much of the reality of her story via “experiential cinema,” as the Maysles put it, and the experience is—more and more—shaped by me. Therefore, perhaps I’m better off not following in the Maysles Bros.’ path by adhering to a barren aesthetic of pure experience, but making Illusion Travels by Boxcar a documentary novel instead. It’s the most succinct term that I’ve come up with so far and one that signals what people can expect: artificiality in style, but not in content. In other words, I see the possibility of crafting a more mediated experience from the raw material. I have never had a desire to make an informational doc about alcoholism anyway, nor have I pretended to present an unalloyed peek at a subculture. Documentary novel is the catchphrase I’m going with tonight. It’s probably been used before. Enough.

Today, Patty got her hair cut. Sister Barbara wired her $50 in my name, and Patty immediately got rid of the locks that were making her feel smothered around her neck.

Frank Bollinger and I travelled over the freeways thinking we were going to catch the noon AA meeting that Patty’s daughter Dee Ann goes to. He put the mark on the map for North 81st street. Unfortunately, we ended up in the middle of the countryside in the exact opposite direction of the meeting because it was South 81st street we actually needed to be on.

I went back to the same meeting location for a candlelight meeting at nine o’clock Saturday night. Patty’s estranged daughter (a regular at that meeting) was not there. I shared the details and thoughts about this project, but no one came up to me after the meeting and offered the opinion that my subject (Patty) sounded like the mother of one of the AA regulars. I imagined that her daughter’s story about a disowned alcoholic mother might be known to all at the meeting. Apparently not.

Intelligent design argument, anyone?

Posted at 2am on 05/08/2005 |

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