As a young man I was shy. So it’s odd that I never cared about how much of my body showed through tattered clothes. This contradiction may come out of the year I spent in Children’s Hospital. There time was dislodged from the linear clock by illness. Days became institutional routine largely marked by passages of powerlessness and humiliation. During visiting periods I experienced love from my family. Around those visits hospital volunteers made rounds. One man taught me arithmetic, reading and writing. These regular moments in the hospital helped me find the will to live: Dreams of growing-up and doing something meaningful.
From my hospital bed I became a six-year old fan of Walter Cronkite’s original docudrama style television series You Are There. Following the words of reporters and Walter we stepped into the action of history. A reporter had the courage and power to momentarily interrupt wars and other monumental events. He asked questions in his search for a story. People paused. Reflected and answered.
I have no good or bad memories from that period of hospitalization, just a lot of them. I think there was a mirror attached to the iron lung (a respirator jokingly remembered by me as my first motor home) that I inhabited for months. It framed the visual world. Reflections were real. Perhaps, the isolation I remember experiencing allows me to feel at home alone in an editing room. Memories of growing up with disability served me during the 2001 production of Going to School ~ Ir a la Escuela.
In 1973 a classmate and friend from California Institute of the Arts named Devorah Cutler drove me to a fundraising screening of my student documentary Two Day In a Halfway House for the Emotionally Disturbed at a stage theater in Westwood. The space doubled during the day as a furniture store so it was interesting to wander in through couches, lamps, tables and finally to the chairs and a movie screen. Today the building serves as the David Geffen Theater. Before we arrived Devo’s sensibilities were overloaded by the sight of my elbow poking through a hole in the sleeve. She stopped and bought me a new shirt.
My lack of respect for a dress code worked for and against me. Years later during production of Deadly Force I crossed my right leg while I interviewed Los Angeles District Attorney John Van de Kamp. We were talking about accountability and the killing of a naked man named Ron Burkholder by a policeman. My threadbare corduroy pants split open at the knee. That seemed to disarm the district attorney who had difficulty diverting his eyes from my leg. His release came by questioning me about a black stain ringing the cuff of my beige suede sport jacket, “Ah, where do you get your jacket cleaned? I’m always looking for a good cleaner.”
Though the district attorney had made no decision yet on whether to file criminal charges against the officer who shot Burkholder -- I grabbed an opportunity to interview him. A rather meaningless session ensued since we couldn’t talk specifics about a case still pending. To quote from the essay Heritage Weeds In Latteland by Australian writer Ross Macleay, “In shallow waters any mound is high ground.” After our exchange of words on suede jacket cleaners I needed to find my high ground. I asked the D.A. for a second interview. Something we would film after he determined the case. He agreed. I am most proud of the resulting scene with him in Deadly Force.
When John Van de Kamp ran unsuccessfully for the democratic nomination for a seat in the U.S. Senate (losing to Diane Feinstein) I had a chance to interview him again. He struck me as an honorable man. Unfortunately his ethics probably stunted his political career.
Two Days In a Halfway House... screened that night in Westwood in 1973 to raise funds for what would become Hurry Tomorrow. I think it was Mildred Harris who arranged for one of my childhood idols Steve Allen to host the event. Mildred was a remarkable woman. I met her during my failed search for funds to complete another student documentary I was making on political assassination. She took a liking to me.