Friday, April 9, 2010

8: Eight by Eight

This story is the 8th part of the Griffin filmmaker series. It follows Overshadow.

In his eighth film Eight by Eight Griffin thought he could play with the number, have a little fun, go tongue in cheek. Eight guys on a caper, told in eight vignettes, the number eight keeps appearing in the film. For lack of better wording, the critics ate him alive. Griffin generally knew when he had a stinker and was caught off guard with this film, thinking it would be well received. He got halfway through the reviews he had in front of him and stopped reading. No good words. Say something nice to me, he asked his wife, breaking an evening’s silence. She lifted her head, said, you’re brilliant, an amazing husband and father.

He calls the paper looking for the critic and keeps getting the run around. This is Griffin, he tells the person on the phone, the director of Overshadow. I just want to ask him a question, is all. No, I’m not mad at him. Well, I’d have preferred a four star review, not two and a half, sure—look, he used a particular phrase, and I’m just curious to know what he meant. Is that a new policy, not taking questions, I mean, come on, this is a paper, he’s a member of the press, he skewers my film for all the world—okay, skewers, that’s a bit too much, sounds bitter. Well, to be honest, I think he missed the point of what I was doing, maybe he was having a rough day or something. Hello? Sure, you can transfer me to voice mail.

He didn’t sit still. He stared off into space. He moped. Helena watched him all day, suspicious of his moods, knew he was holding something back, but didn’t say anything. At night, they climbed into bed, he slipping between the covers like he’s afraid of disturbing the world, and she said, okay, what the hell’s wrong? What do you mean? All day, you’re sulking, you’re contemplating, you can’t mask it. He closed his eyes, sat upright, exhaled deeply. Do you think Forever East glorifies cult leaders? That’s what this guy said. I tried to play it evenhanded, be dispassionate if you will— You’re walking around like you’re in mourning, she said, laughing, and you’re worried about what someone thinks of your movie. Well, yeah— You’ve been doing this long enough, she said, toughen up, for crying out loud. She switched off her nightstand light.

In Revolution/Illusion, Griffin puts his political chops on the line, the article reads, and he decidedly shows himself as a rank amateur, not even a convincing illusionist like the main character in his work. Sitting in his office, windows open, hears the sounds of the city: car alarms, slamming doors, roaring engines, unintelligible chirping of people talking. He drops the article on the desk in front of him. His eyes closed, he hears his wife’s voice: don’t listen, they’re envious, they don’t understand. He opens his eyes. Outside, the city still, tall buildings drawn against bluest sky, swirls of white cloud that twist, disintegrate.

Helena, tired and body feeling broken, rested on the couch, her form a curved line. On the table before her were newspapers, clippings, magazines holding opinions on Sodium Pentothal. Her husband down the hall, the baby cries growing softer as he hushes, as the creaking wood of the rocker provides a music. At first she held the materials, intent on weeding out the bad reviews. I can protect, she thought, I can ease. But the accumulation of words became too much. The thoughts not so black and white, good and bad. She placed them down, closed her eyes, felt the firm pull of sleep.

There’s a moment he knew he used to feel just before opening the pages, just before eyes hit letters of text. A tingle on skin, heart rate increasing, stomach floating like helium balloon. That moment before the thoughts were real, just before he’d been elevated or dropped, a nonexistent pause in white space. Did he lose it after Negative, Richard’s birth? The title will show his name, the film, perhaps a quick description. It’s the possibility, the anything. Then the words, the flood of judgment.

Griffin clipped this passage from a review: “In Raging Life, Griffin’s second film, the director adds to the promise revealed in his debut two years previous. Cinematographic virtuosity meets a compelling, straightforward tale that is timeless in its existential nature. A mixture of arthouse sentiments and the best of Hollywood heart-tugging sentimentality—Griffin is clearly on his way to defining his own chapter in cinema.” He framed it, hung it near the front door of his apartment. The first time Helena came to his apartment, she stopped to look at it. This is affirming, he said, standing to her left, this is what lifts my head during difficult times. She nodded, smiled.

He’s at the festival the morning his first film, The Thirst, debuts. Head light, body achy from impending illness. Swirls of people move like blown shrapnel. Booths selling programs and t-shirts. The smells of grilling meats. Competing background music from speakers and live instruments. Why am I here, he thinks, this is a mistake. He thinks about the film’s opening sequence. A glass of water, the ripples disturbing the liquid, shot in black and white. They’re going to kill me. He looks in front of him, sees that, in the flow of people, a temporary empty space has emerged around him. He stops, looks around, then closes his eyes. I’m here, he thinks, I’m here, just before the space is obliterated.


  1. Intriguing, looking at it backwards. The struggle to produce art despite the arrows flung at your head.

    Loved this line - Swirls of people move like blown shrapnel -

  2. Your phrasology makes for a rich, textured read, and I really enjoy how you play with structure in these pieces. Laura picked out one of my favourite phrases.

  3. The "rise and fall" in reverse. I feel the anxiety in each segment... very clever piece.

  4. I read this forwards, then backwards, then glanced up and down, admiring the way you did it, and lingering on #6.

  5. I'm here just before the space is obliterated.

    Ends the first, but ends all eight.

    Christian, you move me.

  6. What an interesting way to tell the story. Great job.

  7. I had to come and read this, Christian, after Laura Eno posted such a rave review. And I am not disappointed.
    Human and real.

  8. Thanks, all, for reading and commenting on this story!