Nov. 20, 2006

Helicopter Shots (for Malene)

by Louise Vale

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Poem: "Helicopter Shots (for Malene)" by Louise Vale. Reprinted with permission of author.

Helicopter Shots (for Malene)

Of course visuals are important. But remember,
you are writing for the British film industry,
and there will be
no budget.
Keep crowd scenes to a minimum.
Avoid overseas locations, make it local, and
no explosions, crashing cars or other specials,
unless you're writing the next Bond—
and you won't be for a while!
Anyway, they've all been done.
But above all, and remember this, no helicopter shots.

                                        I love helicopter shots.
                                        Slooping over early-morning Washington
                                        in a drink-tilt, the Potomac glinting,
                                        then a swing-curve across Arlington,
                                        focusing hard down on the spin-wheel
                                        that is the Pentagon; slow-weaving
                                        through the pin-lit towers of Manhattan
                                        at night; running over the dusty rooftops
                                        of Kabul or, best of all, skimming the sea
                                        low enough to make your own waves,
                                        and get the audience sighing.

Very good effects can be achieved
with a crane camera, rented for the day
from a pop video or advertising campaign.
Use your imagination. Set key scenes
on a cliff-top or, in London, tie a rope between
two lamp-posts and swing the camera over.

                                        I don't want to be British.

                                        I want to shoot the whole film from a helicopter,
                                        with steamy-windowed, frankly dangerous
                                        love scenes between the pilot and co-pilot,
                                        on a food aid mission over Lake Tanganyika,
                                        and flashbacks to their combat in the Falklands War.
                                        It will be sponsored by Westland and Sikorsky,
                                        and climax in the bombing of the Sir Galahad
                                        with extra, particularly convincing explosions—
                                        depth charges, live artillery and straker fire.
                                        (Let's make it early evening, sunset backdrop.)

                                        You will see the shooting-down of at least
                                        ten attack helicopters; watch them fall
                                        in exquisite, slow motion sycamore-spin
                                        and sink into the heaving South Atlantic;
                                        and it will all be filmed impeccably,
                                        and at great expense, from above.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of South African novelist Nadine Gordimer, (books by this author) born in Springs, South Africa (1923). She grew up in a gold mining town where her family was part of the white middle class. One mile from her neighborhood, there was a housing complex of windowless barracks, guarded by police, where the black miners lived. The adults in her town all referred to the miners as "mine boys." She never thought about who they were or what there life was like until she read Upton Sinclair's novel The Jungle, about a meat packing plant, and she began to see the similarities between the meat packers in the book and the miners in her town. She said, "Eventually, I realized that it was not a God-given decision that blacks did menial jobs or that white children had toys and shoes and black children didn't."

For a long time, Gordimer was the only white person she knew who didn't agree with the system of apartheid in South Africa. She moved to Johannesburg and began writing short stories, published in collections such as Face to Face (1949) and The Soft Voice of the Serpent (1952). She also began associating with the radicals and bohemians in the black community. She said, "We thought that by ignoring the color barrier we were destroying it. But ... the moment the black friend or black lover walked into the street, he or she had to carry a pass — and abide by racist laws." Still, most of them were optimistic about the future. They believed that apartheid would soon come to an end.

But in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Gordimer watched as many of her friends were put under surveillance and arrested for treason. Then, there were massacres of unarmed protestors. She was one of the few white novelists of her generation who did not go into exile. Instead, she began to write about the South African political underground of resistance in a series of novels, including The Late Bourgeois World (1966), The Guest of Honor (1970), and The Conservationist (1974), which won the Booker Prize. She was attacked by South Africa's government, and her books were banned for years at time, but she was also attacked by her fellow political radicals, because she refused to use her books as political propaganda.

Then in 1991, a year after Nelson Mandela was released from his 28 years of imprisonment, Gordimer was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.

It's the birthday of the novelist Don DeLillo, (books by this author) born in New York City (1936). He lived in Europe for a while in the early 1980s, and when he got back to the United States he was overwhelmed by how strange America suddenly seemed. He decided to write a novel to try to capture that strangeness and the result was White Noise (1984), which became his first big success. It's the story of Jack Gladney, a college professor who spends much of his free time thinking about TV commercials, tabloid magazines, and supermarkets.

DeLillo wrote, "This is where we wait together, regardless of age, our carts stocked with brightly colored goods. A slowly moving line, satisfying, giving us time to glance at the tabloids in the racks. Everything we need that is not food or love is here in the tabloid racks. The tales of the supernatural and the extraterrestrial. The miracle vitamins, the cures for cancer, the remedies for obesity. The cults of the famous and the dead."

Don DeLillo said, "I've never thought about myself in terms of a career. ... I don't have a career, I have a typewriter."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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