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Program of the 1978 Venice Festival at the Fox Venice Theater

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Tale of the Fox
(from Free Venice Beachhead)

1981 Resistance Celebration Schedule

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The Venice Walk

JJ for President

 

 

Showbiz Comes to Venice

By John P. Marsh
from Free Venice Beachhead June 1980

The best part of the day was the ribs. Lunch came at about 1:45 p.m. and lasted about 40 minutes. The rest of the day we made sure that we stayed within the camera’s field of vision as it was repositioned for each shot in a scene from The Jazz Singer starring Neil Diamond. We were what you call the “deep background milieu.” Little dots on the beach. Beach balls and imperceptible activity. Probably out of focus when it came right down to it. They probably would have liked to use cardboard or rubber mannequins as stand-ins for us but they would have had to hire union people to move the rubber ones around all the time to always be seen over Neil Diamond’s shoulder and when it came right down to it we’re cheaper.

I consumed 3 orders of ribs, a chili dog without the bun, 2 orders of fries, a salad, a milk, another milk, fudge cake, coffee, a Cheddar Cheese Burger De-lux and two cobbettes. After that I was supposed to go back down on the Venice beach and play another 3-½ hours of volleyball and throw the Frisbee: “Be sure and pick up your old places when we left off,” they yelled through a bullhorn. The horn wasn’t working too good and so you could hear the person yelling into the horn more than the noise from the horn - which sounded sort of tinny trebley. From where I was way out on the beach I could see a woman, who worked the huge arc lamp for the shoot, hitting the lamp with either a hammer or a wrench and someone saying something about the connections not working or something.

A wino who was drinking a lot of Ripple fell off the bench right below where the woman was whamming the lamp. He fell onto the ground right in front of the old motel-grocery that was being used as Neil Diamond’s mother’s apartment in the film. Why the hell they are shooting The Jazz Singer at all - much less at Venice Beach - I’ll never understand. Rumors swarm the shoot. Everybody knows that the “shoot” (that’s what it is called in the biz) is way over schedule. Everybody “knows” that Lucy Arnaz replaced Debra Raffin and that the previous director was also fired and that the film is way over budget. The big rumor floating today was that B. Streisand turned the flick down ‘cause it was such a bad script - “even though Neil and her are friends.”

The wino, who wasn’t being paid, just might have been in better focus than the rest of us since he was about 400 yards closer to the camera than any of us. He’d been sitting around very atmospherically selling magazines off of his bench. He had the magazines all laid out around his feet and he would cajole passersby to buy them He’d picked them up somewhere like a laundromat or a garbage can. Old copies of Vogue, a couple of Watchtowers, a Life with no cover and a few Readers Digests. Later he seemed to latch onto a bottle of Ripple so he must have made a sale.

The pages of the magazines flapped in the wind and some tore off and flap-flopped along the roller-route of Venice Beach. After the wino fell off the bench he too sort of flap-flopped about in his drunken state. He sort of lay there for a long long time and then every once in a while the arms, legs, and magazine covers all rustled in the wind. I knew this ‘cause I didn’t have anything to do but lie on the beach and be a prop for this bad movie they seemed to be making.

It turned real cold about 3 p.m. Real cold. And the A.D. came out and told us to move into the “last shot of the day” and “look like happy beachcombers.” He laughed like hell but hardly anybody could hear him because he’d stopped trying to use the bullhorn and besides the wind was kicking up nicely. While we had been “assigned” certain areas of the beach to locate into - by 3 p.m. people had reorganized themselves into special interest groups.

The “Vietnam Vet” and “Ms Football” were way down the beach together snuggling and an “older women’s group” were immediately identifiable. There was also a jock contingent from USC who kept leaving the beach to buy beer and a “regulars group” of about 8 people who had been on the shoot for over a week. The gay contingent had put three umbrellas together to shield themselves really nicely from the wind. We were the “deep extras” - living backdrop on a big budget feature.

The political highlight of the day consisted of this one upheaval centered around this one guy - who to my surprise - everyone hated. He got called off the cold beach to stand in for Neil Diamond cause he was 6’ tall. He was disliked because he had replaced this other guy - one of the “regulars” - who stood 6’2” and he would receive the extra 50 dollars you get if you do this kind of work. He’s hustled in quickly off the beach to take over for the guy that was to tall. When this occurred, the regular types and the older woman contingent stood around on the volleyball court and talked about how they “never liked that guy from the beginning.” The big gripe against him was that he was always off drinking beer instead of freezing on the beach. He’s arranged his coat, hat and book bag next to an umbrella to look like a stand-in for his body. In long, shot, and out of focus, he probably looked like a person without even being there. I mean, there were people who didn’t go off for beer that didn’t look any better because they were asleep for ¾ of the day.

It didn’t matter. We all hated the dude cause it was cold and we’d all been sucker enough to spend the whole day on the cold windy beach for 25 dollars and lunch. A good lunch it was but it didn’t justify the existentially vacant, bankrupt experience we’d put ourselves through. Out of focus, unseen extras in a bad Neil Diamond movie who would probably be ending up on the cutting room floor anyway, the way the picture was going.

Some real smart people wrote and knit and spent their time in some personally productive activity. They did stuff that they probably had scheduled for themselves at home anyway and so they were the lucky ones who didn’t have to suffer any emotional backlash from the total experience.

The award for the “best work” of the day went to a great volleyball exchange which occurred during a filming break. People moved and grooved but later were unable to reproduce “on camera.” Actually we never knew when we were “on camera” or off. For all we knew they might have never had the camera rolling the entire day.

At about 5:00 p.m. the A.D. (wearing one of those silver “space jackets”) came out on the beach and told us “good work.” He added that he wouldn’t do “your kind of work for nothing.” (He didn’t know that we got 25 dollars?) He said that we looked “real nice, like a beach set.” “Great work, kids.” We all lined up to sign for our checks and they announced that if we called back Tuesday night after 9 p.m. we could probably get work seeing Neil Diamond sing in some concert portion of the movie. Somebody asked if they would be serving dinner and then we all went home.

 

© 2004 - 2012 Pat Hartman
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