The main character in the halfway house film named Steve wears a long sleeve winter jacket in a hot Los Angeles.
His arm atrophied, hidden from view. When Steve sheds his jacket and shirt he crosses a dangerous psychological line. A line many if not all of us cross. I’ll get to this later.
The halfway house was a generic two-story 1960s apartment building with sparse white walled units surrounding a small swimming pool. In the late 1960s and early 1970s it was not uncommon to find board and care facilities occupying urban apartment buildings or failed roadside motels. A point made in a most impressive 1967 short document called The Dilemma of Mental Commitments in California a preliminary report summarizing the work of a sub-committee of the California Legislature that was headed by Rep. Jerome Waldie. Probably the most important reading I did in preparation for Hurry Tomorrow. I still remember a phrase from the booklet that characterizes a shift toward compassion, civil rights and self-determination: Madness like beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
When a resident of the halfway house where we filmed sauntered up Robertson Boulevard for a donut and cup of coffee he or she made other pedestrians nervous because of that medication induced zombie like stiffness and shuffling gait.
Steve refused medications. For some reason no one seemed to care. The reason might have been that no relatives checked-up on him. Or he was a redneck who resembled James Dean. Or his disabilities were also physical thus diminishing his status on the chancy ladder to either personal or therapeutic success.
Even without Thorazine Steve walked differently than most. He rocked and swayed for balance. Intermittently he spoke in rhyme and always with an exaggerated drawl. This was his fate from the moment as a child when he was run over by a garbage truck. I learned from Steve’s mother that he had lived for months in a “hopeless coma”.
Sometime after finishing the halfway house film I tracked down Steve. He was locked up again at Camarillo State Hospital (today the institution is a state college proving that swords do become ploughshares). A gorgeous expansive campus located in the then smog free countryside north of Los Angeles. Steve was confined most of the time to a wretched ward that smelled of a stale residue from poorly mopped up urine and crap. Originally I envisioned Hurry Tomorrow as an epic story centering on him. Before that idea could be executed I violated my own first rule of documentary filmmaking conduct: Don’t get involved with people in the film.