Syncopation - Youth, Age, Poverty and Death in a Society of Extortion

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Starring Jodi (Marcos) Saenger and Rick Clemente

Old before her time, a homeless woman wakes up in a laundromat, decides that she's had enough and wants to die. Her playful young soul is reluctant to go with her, but has no choice. The destitute woman wants a flower for her own burial at the beach. She takes the doll that she's had since childhood to a florist who figures it's worth something, and exchanges it for an artificial flower. At the burial site, she gives her life's savings, a dollar, to a ticket-seller who lets her in. Then her last possession... prayer beads... go to the grave digger so that he'll cover her with sand in the shallow grave. Her soul must follow.

Forty years ago, I was in a film class at Art Center College of Design in L.A. The scandal of the week was about extortionist sales methods by some in the funeral business. This film expressed what I felt about it.

I shot the film with a borrowed wind-up Beaulieu 16mm camera on two 50' rolls of Tri-X film, almost entirely in sequence, on two afternoons. Editing was with scissors, tape, pocket-size splicing block, one single-edge razor blade, Agfa loupe contact sheet magnifier, sound reader and friend Dave Guerra's home-made rewinds... and lots of coffee and Rick Clemente's cigarettes... and Jodi and Rick's ENORMOUS patience, talent and good will.

The college bought the film from me, which barely covered the cost of film stock, processing lab expenses and splicing tape. That was the last I had seen of it until recently. While digging through a box of old photo gear parts, I came across this copy of a copy of a non-timed, "A"-roll-only (visible splices) work print.

Watch for the dog at the beach who moved perfectly in time with Jodi crossing the screen, and Rick saved the scene with his improv reaction. We couldn't stop because there was no film left for a re-take. In fact, the film ran off the core at the end of the last scene with zero unexposed footage.

Ahhh, those were the days!

Ken Schuster, November 2009

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