Jake Marmer: Nigun Poems & Poetics - [Originally published in Current Musicology's recent issue on “experimental writing about music.”] Preface This set of poems grew out of my experiences ...
Sunday, July 18, 2010
The Trinity test, thunderstorms and our first day of shooting
July 16, 1945, the day scheduled for the first test of the atomic bomb at the base camp south of Los Alamos, was predicted to experience thunderstorms and indeed it stormed all night. There was every chance the Trinity test would be cancelled, but in the end there was a break in the weather - and then a crack in the universe when the split atom bomb successfully detonated, fusing the desert floor around it into green glass.
We scored Stefene Russell's poem about the bomb, Go South for Animal Index, and are now preparing to make a silent movie to the score. Stefene's poem ranges wide in scope, geography and timeline, from Congolese uranium miners to European pioneers in nucleaur chemistry to Nevada fallout victims of the bomb testing that continued in the U.S. long after the immolation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
There is enough archival footage out there to make a "see it, say it" style movie that illustrates the lines in the poem line by line as they unscroll in the poetry score, but that approach is not for me. In writing a silent movie scenario for Poetry Scores, I like to take the core themes of the poem and come up with a parallel story that we can cast and shoot as a fable using local actors and St. Louis locations.
I decided to end our movie with the Trinity test, stopping before the real death and suffering - those torched Japanese cities and the Downwinders - with one of history's most dramatic moments: evidence of the weaponized split atom dawning over the American desert. And I thought we should start shooting on July 16 (2010), beginning to shoot our action on the same calendar date on which our action will end on screen.
Good idea. Except I was returning from two weeks in Paris on July 13. Despite a heroic effort in my absence by V "Elly" Smith to assemble some props needed for one of our storylines, I could only pull together one day of scenes for our opening weekend of shooting. On July 16, rather than starting to shoot, we were still slogging through location scouting, which we did as a group, with a little moonshine to pour into the Earth in two holy places where we will be doing some of our work.
Then Saturday, July 17: a full day of location scouting and roadside shooting, in lieu of locations, costumes and actors in place to shoot anything else. This was a bizarre day, tinged by the supernatural, which will get its own separate development on this blog.
That brings us to today, Sunday, July 18, when shooting with actors was to begin. We were to spend half of the afternoon in the woods, and half of the afternoon at a lake.
The characters for these scenes are Coyote, Badger and Wife of Badger. Coyote and Badger are primal culture heroes for the Navajo, and Stefene wove into her poem many of the cultural patterns of the Navajos who mined much of the uranium that, enriched, went into American bombs.
Our Coyote is a tramp, played by Kyla Webb - the eternal trickster living off his wits, and his whiskey still, in the woods. Our Badger is a tribal scamp, played by Roland Frank, styled after the palm wine drinkard of African folklore (and reality). In a storyline intended as comic relief, an earthy counterpoint to the nuclear experiments of Lost Almost, Badger steals fish from the tribe, sneaks into the woods, and trades it to the Coyote for gourds of moonshine.
Coyote is making his moonshine from corn mash. He also is stealing his corn from the tribe. Out at the lake this evening, we had plans to shoot Wife of Badger (played by Charlois Lumpkin) farming corn, Coyote stealing it and getting caught, Wife of Badger chasing Coyote, and Coyote escaping into the woods. I have in mind a mixture of tribal folklore and silent film comedy that could be unique - and should help break up the arduous task of getting silent drama out of nuclear physics.
But alas, the thunderstorms that did not squelch the Trinity test in 1945 have rained out our first day of live action shooting for our movie itoday. So I just ate some of Badger's prop fish, some tasty smoked mackarel roundscad, and wrote up this. Maybe I'll move onto the prop moonshine next ...