TIGERS IN LAVENDER: 2
Continuing the story of the making of a student film in Indiana in 1964, begun in the previous post:
The Bolex camera that the photography department had – and which Lance Bird and I hogged for the remaining year and more of college – was a sleek little machine, about the size of a thick paperback. It had (at least this one had) a single fixed-focus lens. That was a drawback, but the most difficult thing about it was that it was spring-driven. You actually wound it up with a lever attached to the side, and then it would run till it ran down – a minute or two, as I remember. This meant that all of our shots were about the same length. We then went about imagining a complicated and heavily populated film story, despite the fact that the Bolex had no capacity to record sound. When and if (big if) it were ever finished, it would have to stand as a silent film, or have dialogue dubbed. That these limitations meant that we would likely not make a film at all did not inhibit our imaginations.
The story we conceived – I think I did most of the conceiving, but we talked out every aspect together – had a peculiar premise for the time (that is, its time had passed, or hadn’t yet arrived again.) A number of young anarchists, members of the International Anarchist Conspiracy of worldwide bomb-throwers and assassins, have grown weary of the old premises, and the failure of anarchism to make progress in bringing down the World State. What they decide to do is to shift focus from mass mayhem to small random actes gratuits such as the Dadaists were fond of. Their headquarters were imagined to be in Sandusky, Ohio (only because I found that name, Sandusky, strangely evocative) and their activities included blowing up trash-cans (destroying the discarded) and peacefully counter-marching political marches. This all had resemblances to college wise-ass pranks, but the aesthetics of it were more interesting than that. I can’t remember when the project gained a title, but I can remember reading that tigers react to lavender (the plant) in exactly the way house-cats respond to catnip: roll in it ecstatically, drunkenly; care for nothing else while they have it, eyes crossing and mouths open and harmless. So the title of our nonexistent and never-to-exist film became Tigers in Lavender. The several neat aspects of this, including its mystery, need no elucidation.
So we had, not a screenplay exactly, but a scenario, as the plan for silent pictures was often named, and a number of notions. Like all art-film makers of those years we were entranced by empty and decaying industrial buildings, the great rusted doors, the mysterious stenciled markings, the overgrown rail-cars, and there was one in Bloomington (not a particularly industrial town) that met the criteria. It became the gang’s hideout. I was cast as the leader; I wore a WWII leather flying jacket and black T-shirt. Another member of the cast (I remember few names now) was based, pictorially anyway, on the great Polish actor Zbigniew Cybulski as he appeared in Wajda’s Ashes and Diamonds (1958), shown recently at the Bloomington art theater: the actor was blonde like Cybulski, and we dressed him in army surplus and rimless glasses like Cybulski’s in the movie. (That’s who’s in the picture above.)
Lance, however, had larger ambitions for the film’s cast and mise-en-scene. He enlisted a strikingly beautiful woman student, blonde, fine-featured (she’d later show up in New York as Lance and I also did, working as a model) and a good-looking and appropriately weary guy to do a sort of cross between Eddie Constantine and Alain Delon (raincoat, cigarette). For them to appear in Lance discovered and borrowed from someone (I can’t now imagine how, or how he inflated our film’s stature and importance to make the case) an exquisite French sports car. (Lance himself owned a British-green Jaguar sports car, but he insisted on the Lola.) What exactly this nouvelle vague couple were to do or be in the film was never clear to me, but they looked great, though the lender’s restrictions and our limited capacities meant we never saw them under way. As a further enhancement Lance brought to campus the Luger that his father had brought home from Germany after the war, and bullets too, at least one of which would eventually be fired. But our greatest (if compromised) triumph in casting came later in the summer.