It snowed today in Xining, China. I didn't notice until Amily told me when she arrived at 0800. I was surprised as yesterday we cycled up to Nan Shan Park, and it was Spring like. But, I should have known, as their was a strong wind from the East ('Dong Feng' they call it here in China). Out our 'sun porch' window the roofs and parking lot below were covered with a couple of inches of fresh snow.
I'll bet you know the Chinese words, 'Feng Shui?' 'Wind and Water,' in English. This is the Chinese art or practice of creating harmonious surroundings that enhance the balance of yin and yang, as in arranging furniture or determining the location of a building. Also, what direction you sleep is important.
But, where was I...? 'Back to the Future,' Louisiana, circa. 1973.
We all arrived at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at different times, as some flew, others drove in automobiles from as far away as New York City and Pittsburgh. But, somehow we all ended up in the four-bedroom guesthouse inside the prison! This courtesy of C. Murray Henderson, the Warden, who wanted this film to be made (or it never would have happened). He wanted to expose the horrible conditions that existed (1973). There were still whipping posts (with chains) where inmates were beaten. The notorious 'Redhat,' building was still in operation where they kept the 'trouble makers.' Redhat was also they executed many. Jack called the electric chair, 'Ole Sparky!'
'Angola,' in 1973, was a nether world, escapees hunted down by Bobby Oliveaux and his pack of hounds, and usually killed 'resisting capture!' The prison was difficult to escape, as it was surrounded by the Mississippi River on three sides, and Tunica HIlls the other (east). You either had to be a good swimmer, or able to negotiate thick woods, wild animals and swamps to get to any 'civilization.' The locals didn't help either, all happy to collect a reward for your capture (demise).
Of the 'Angola Seven,' me and Leroy were the oldest in terms of age; Leroy the only professional filmmaker. Michael was the only other with any experience producing programming for television. The other four, were younger, and totally inexperienced.
Additionally, being in a prison, and especially this prison, was a 'mind-boggling' experience for all of us. On the other hand, Michael and I, fresh from our experience at KDKA/2 in Pittsburgh were bursting with confidence! It didn't matter we'd never 'shot' film like we were about to...
We'd rented all the best 16MM gear possible, a Eclair with 10-120MM zoom lens, and Arriflex S, with multiple lens. We had a Nagra recorder and several different microphones. We had lights for interiors, the reason I was happy Leroy was with us. He'd 'lit' Hollywood features, so this was a vacation to him.
Thus, Leroy soon became frustrated and bored as he had little do. He was used to a highly organized production with 'call sheets,' breaks, and professionals who knew what they were doing. For us, it was the first time out and we filmed by 'the seat of our pants!' We didn't really know how to organize a production. Nobody was getting paid so we weren't in any hurry (as long as the money lasted). I, being the 'leader,' was 'laissez faire' about what we did. I'd just come from a highly structured Network TV environment (where they told you when you could go to the bathroom) and I wanted something different! I wanted to give everyone a chance to participate in the creative process. Leroy didn't understand this at all.
Every morning, we'd have a meeting and discuss what to do. Of course, this ended up not being a good idea!
Labels: My life in Xining, Qinghai Province, China