About Me

"Use every man after his desert, and who should 'scape whipping?"

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Slab boy

I have this obsession. I have a burning need to play a corpse in a film, or better still in a piece of live theatre.

I didn't know about this strange urge until last April, when I spotted an ad on one of the many extras wanted sites I belonged to then. A film student needed an old(er) male corpse for her graduation piece, a short film about a mortuary worker befriending one of his deceased clients, and then spending each shift chatting to this old stiff on a slab.

I thought, well, I am well qualified: I'm not that far off from being a corpse, and I could make a good shot at what I imagine I will look like. It helped that I have been described by good friends as having a distinctly cadaverous appearance.

I applied, and the film student called me in for an interview. I met her in the canteen of the London Film School in Covent Garden - a place I knew well from long ago, as my former landlord was its former director.

She seemed keen - though she also seemed slightly surprised when I asked if any make-up would be used to give my skin the correct deathly pallor. As if she hadn't really thought of this until then. Soon after this I had a call from another student, her friend who would produce the movie - it all seemed to be good. I began practising lying very still and controlling my breathing.

A few days later, hearing nothing, I emailed again. A couple of days later another email confirmed that they had decided to use a dummy instead.

Of course I was sad - and I still haven't sublimated this oh so recently opened desire to play dead. SO.....

Sunday, 22 January 2012

On being part of the "F" in "Fuck"

It was not as cold as Minsk, perhaps, but it was still bloody cold, and who but a mad fool would be lying naked on the Hammersmith Riverside terrace as an icy wind ripped off the Thames and straight up your body? Who? Well, as it happens,
 anyone who had been moved by the story of Belarus Free Theatre.

It happened so fast - the chance glimpse of the post on Time Out blog, the rash email to jagged-edge emily, the damp cycle ride to Hammersmith. And then there I was, naked on the ground, with a dozen other naked men and women.

To explain - I have now added a new skill to my portfolio.

I am now a proud member of the never-to-be-established society of human letter-parts. An anthropo-typographic operative.

Last week for a short time I was part of the letter "F" - the descender, or perpendicular bit, you understand - serif or not I am not sure. That is "F", as in the first letter of "Fuck".

And then, I had the even greater honour of being a "T".
A rather good "T", someone said. The "T" that sits third from last in that potent word, "Realpolitik".

FuckRealpolitik, says Belarus Free Theatre and 20 or so naked volunteers who bared all on one of the coldest days in January 2012
The finished product - a montage, as you can tell, as several people appear more than once. 
Anyway, whether we made good letters or not, we shall see when we see the photographs. If we ever do.

There were 20 of us letter-parts in total - not quite enough to spell out the message required by our hosts, the Belarus Free Theatre. The slogan chosen by the Free Belarus Campaign - "Fuck RealPolitik" - would need around 40 people to form its 15 characters convincingly.

So it was shot in three takes - "Fuck", "Real" and "Politik".

It was quite cold during the prolonged rehearsals, so our delightful supervisors - Emily, Natalia, Nikolai, Fenella - had us run in circles around the Riverside terrace. A chill wind was gusting across the lead-grey River Thames, a few yards to our south.

"Now we jump in and swim!"

It was Natalia who said that - Natalia Koliada, the co-founder of the BFT six years ago in Minsk with her husband Nikolai Khalezin, also here today, pony-tailed, smiling, taking photos, art-directing us all with great charm and gentleness. Natalia, intense, slight, smiling a lot, and yet, and yet, you could tell that she had personal experience of the full horror of this last European dictatorship.

The photos were taken by a leading theatrical photographer, Simon Annand, a quiet and quite posh guy with specs, thinning hair and a moleskin coat. At first I thought he was maybe a critic or a producer.

He was a charmer, and had no trouble persuading us to line up against a whitewashed wall and remove all our clothes, and look straight in front of us. OK, so the shots of vodka also helped.

I kept looking up to the planes as they dropped towards Heathrow. And then I looked at Hammersmith Bridge, and could see the bright yellow jackets of two or three policemen, looking our way.

And then we went, in a sort of mad euphoria of relief at last to be naked in front of each other, to take up our positions on the concrete terrace.

For both "F" and "T" I was lying flat on my back, arms at my sides. I can only imagine that viewers of the photographs will see a rather emaciated and depressed looking naked old man with shrivelled genitals, trying rather hard not to notice some of the beautiful naked people all around him. I sort of worry I will spoil the shot, to be honest.

While being the "F" in Fuck, I spoke to the young woman next to me (without looking, you see) about how cold it seemed. It was 8 degrees C, she politely corrected me, but said in Belarus it had also been a warm winter, that normally it would be minus 20 now. In December 2010, when dozens of citizens protesting at Lukashenko's rigged election victory had been arrested and forced to strip naked in the Minsk winter, and were then tortured and beaten, it had been that cold.

Our self-inflicted ordeal was, almost literally a piece of cake - well, literally it was actually a large paper cup of hot soup, the best possible thing of all, home-made by Fenella of the BFT team - and then another vodka shot.

I think everyone found the experience rewarding. At one point a young guy two letters down from me got a call from a friend, giving him the chance to say: "Yeah, it's great, I'm half of C!"

The lovely Jamie, the bearded Viv Stanishall lookalike who works as a clown in children's wards, summed it all up, really, when he told me why he was there: "Because they asked us to come. They asked us to give them our bodies for a short time. How could we not?".

For much better accounts of this strange January morning in west London, listen to Fiona Mckinnon's audio-blog on BBC Radio London's podcast site, and read Danielle Goldstein's report for Time Out. Then Google the Belarus Free Theatre.

Not surprisingly, nothing ever came of this strange event. There was no exhibition of the photos, nor any publiciation, so far as I can see. Just as well, perhaps - but who knows, we never saw the results.

*UPDATE MAY 2013: Seems I was wrong. An email from BFT informs that there's to be an exhibition of the FuckRealpolitik affair at the Young Vic, starting on 6 June. Same day I have pledged to do a second thing for BFT involving lying down on cold ground - but this time in a body bag. Will report back on both these soon.