Wednesday, March 10, 2010

"Where Did It Come From?"

An actor named Peter Riegert was playing a scene in an episode I had conceived for Lateline, a comedy series created by John Markus and (now Senator) Al Franken. Peter Riegert is a fine actor who, among other skillful portrayals, starred in Local Hero, one of my favorite movies of all time.

(In Local Hero, a big oil company sends representative Riegert to buy up an entire idyllic coastal town in northern Scotland, as a future site for a new refinery. The twist is the townspeople can’t wait to sell out, but pretend they don’t want to, so they can jack up the price. Local Hero is a gem.)

The Lateline scene, which takes place on a “movie set”, is being played inside a Dressing Room trailer. Because of space limitations, only the actors and the cameraman are in there. The rest of us are outside, listening in on headphones.

Briefly, the set-up for the scene is that Rob Reiner’s directing a blockbuster “disaster movie” called The Seventh Plague, about an infestation of locusts, and Al’s character, Al Freundlich, a Lateline investigative reporter, originally hired for one scene but kept on as a consultant, has caused the movie to go hideously over-budget by insisting that every element in the production be scrupulously accurate.

Riegert plays the head of the studio, who’s come to the “location” to find out what’s going on. In this scene, Reiner is explaining how Freundlich’s interference has caused multiple delays, sending the movie’s budget skyrocketing out of control.

The scene is played impeccably. Two pros at the top of their game. I am absolutely thrilled. It couldn’t have been better.

When the shooting’s over, Riegert emerges from the trailer. I walk straight up to him. I have never met the man before, but I want him to know how I felt about his performance. I shake his hand, and I tell him this:

“When I see my work come alive, through an actor who understands exactly what I had in mind, I am reminded of all the times when it didn’t.”

There was a big thunderclap of laughter. A truth had just been spoken, and everyone seemed to realize it. I stood there, amazed. Not because I was the center of attention – that’s always enjoyable – but by the experience itself.

Something magical had taken place.

I had made no decision to go up to the man. I simply went. I had not prepared what I was going to say. I hadn’t intended to say anything.

Not knowing what I was going to say, I could not have predicted the reaction, but the big laugh was a confirmation. It told me, “You got it right.”

The experience felt deliriously bizarre. It was almost trance-like. I opened my mouth, and the words came tumbling out. I heard myself starting a sentence, with no idea of where it was going.

The perfect words, in the precisely right number, in exactly the right order. I could never duplicate that kind of clarity in my writing. In fact, what I wrote up there, it’s a “to the best of my recollection” approximation, not exactly what I said. What I said was substantially better.

I don’t remember what I said. In writing, you can only get close. Even when you’re recalling your own words.

What I remember is standing there, a witness to my own talking, as much an audience as everyone else. I was only the medium. The words simply passed on through.

The question – for the questioning mind – is: Where did those words come from?

Who formulated that exquisite compliment? Not me. I’m not that articulate. Or that timely. When I say a wise thing, it’s almost never in the moment. It’s in the car on the way home.

“Where did those words come from?” And while we’re at it, since that’s just the stand-in for the deeper, more serious question:

Where did we come from?

Is it possible it’s the same place? And, if so,

What place is that?

I find myself pussyfooting around the religious arena, because, you know, who wants to offend people? Especially concerning religion’s most fundamental issue – the existence of God. To be honest, I’ve been wanting to tackle the “existence of God” issue for some time.

Doesn’t every blog talk about that?

Maybe I’ll take a crack at it tomorrow.

If “de Lawd” spares me till then.


JED said...

From "How was I able to say something so profound?" to "Does God exist" in just a few sentences. Earl, you are a great writer and I LOVE this blog.

Paul said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
growingupartists said...

Don't stop while you're ahead, Earl. Oldest friend I have.