This story is part of the Griffin filmmaker series (untitled so far) but is out of order. The first 3 stories are The Thirst, Raging Life, and Negative. This story is part 13, taking place 16 years after the third story. I’m envisioning this series having 25 stories total. So, why the jump from 3 to 13? Well, I hit a creative stumbling block writing story 4, so I decided to hit fast forward to rejuvenate myself.
It was the time when weird phone calls began. Griffin answered the phone; on the other end, a static crunch, and an antique sounding multi-level click. Somehow, he told his assistant, whoever’s calling is making it sound like they’re using some sort of phone technology from 50 years ago. Like they’re calling me from the past. Do they say anything, the assistant asked. No, he said. This person calls, stays on for about five seconds, and hangs up. In his studio he lit a cigarette. An on-again, off-again relationship that was once again in motion. Sunlight the color of faded newspaper filtered through the window. A puff of smoke drifted away, went from circle to rounded triangle to nothing. He stared at the phone on his desk, waited for it to do something.
Griffin’s thirteenth film, Super 16, was shot, as its name suggests, using 16 mm film. The goal, Griffin indicated, was to create the grainy view of indie filmmaking similar to his early short films. The locations move from desert to city to traveling carnival. The hero flees—from mistakes he’s made, from his father’s homicidal ancestry that’s made him a pariah. Griffin spent weeks upon weeks tracking down appropriate cameras, all of them vintage, and stores of film. Members of his crew sighed, blustered, shook their heads. All this technology and here we are. He gave lectures on film perforation, aspect ratio, and camera aperture. During a break, Griffin overheard someone mumble, I hadn’t realized I’d signed up for film school again. Film school, Griffin whispered, then chuckled.
One afternoon Richard was brought home by a police officer. The lobby buzzer, a stern male voice, distorted, way too close to the intercom. He and his friends were rooting through dumpsters behind an electronics store. While the officer was there, Richard kept his eyes frozen downward. Griffin listened to the officer. The boy gets a warning this time; I leave it to you, sir, to discipline him; I don’t want to see him again. Silence after the officer left, then, Dad, I’m sorry, we were just looking for old stuff. They junk old and broken music players. Amplifiers, speakers, even turntables. It’s trash to them, Dad, why should they care. Griffin nodded his head, placed his right hand on the boy’s shoulder, knew it was wrong to sympathize with his plight.
Griffin came home from filming one day, saw Helena sitting on the couch wearing his antique pocket stereoscope. She looked up, her face like that of a Terry Gilliam film scientist. This is fascinating, she said, holding up the stack of cards with side-by-side images. Various city skylines in black and white, the series of long-gone carousels, human male and female anatomical sketches revealing muscles, nervous system, internal organs. This one, she said, holding a card in the air, is just creepy. He sat next to Helena, put on the stereoscope and looked at the images until they became one. It was the card of a dead guy in a coffin, dressed in top hat and tails, hands clasped together and pennies on his eyes, his face dusty and lips broken and riddled with lines. This is how we all end, he remembered thinking the first time he saw it. Helena’s hand touched his arm. He looked up, his eyes blurry for two seconds until regaining focus.
Griffin jumped out of bed, sleep interrupted by a ringing phone, and stumbled to the living room. He picked up the phone—crackling, what he thought was someone inhaling, then the phone clicking in silence. He bit his lower lip, gently placed the phone on its cradle. He dreamt he was in western ghost town, hot air laden with crunchy dust, and walked into an abandoned saloon that had a billiards table. In the living room, he turned, saw his son Richard sitting on the couch in the dark, which made him jump. Why does someone call like that, Richard asked. Griffin, his heart racing, sat down on the couch. He heard a floorboard creak, knew Helena was behind them, sleepy, head leaning against the wall.
The common thread of Super 16 reviews was that the film was a throwback to earlier Griffin, reflecting the art house sensibility of The Thirst and Raging Life, with the expert cinematographic hand of Negative, and a contrast to more recent fast-paced bombs-and-guns fare such as Black Thursday and Jokerman. In an interview, he said that, yes, with this film, he intended to get back to basics, live in the past to rediscover the old fun. He joked he told everyone to think old thoughts, put on your vintage underwear, and tell tales by candlelight to your friends and family. You’re smoking again, someone pointed out. Yes, he said, inspecting a lit cigarette at arm’s length. It’s all part of the experience.
About six months after Super 16’s release, Helena went to the doctor because of pelvic pain. I’m worried, she told Griffin the night before, I have a grandmother and an aunt who… It’ll be fine, he told her, rubbing her shoulders from behind, though she sat slumped in her chair. Let me cheer us up, Griffin said, disappearing into a closet. Here, let’s film home movies! He held up a Arriflex 16SR camera, leftover artifact from Super 16, its bulky body like car parts, the front a square abyss. She laughed, put her hands up. This is Helena, he said, the woman I love, mother of my son, still lovely after all these years, and she needs to lighten up. Say something for posterity, he said, holding the camera insistent. She lowered her hands, looked straight into the camera holding back laughter, said, turn the damn thing off. Which he did. The next day he was at home while she was gone. Writing but not really. He looked at the phone. Ring, why don’t you? Then it did.