So I recently finished Patti Smith’s wonderful memoir, “Just Kids,” and realized all the amazing paths people walk to become the artists they are truly meant to be. Her descriptions of living in New York with Robert Maplethorpe as he discovered his gift for photography, and she her talent as a poet and musician, reminded me of all the people I came of age with at film school.
True, Westwood was nothing like the gritty Chelsea Hotel or Coney Island, but UCLA had it’s own culture of struggle and striving and seeking to make connections.
After closing Smith’s book, which ends up being a tribute to Maplethorpe, her lover and friend who died from AIDS in 1989, I started thinking about three people I went to film school with who have since passed.
I met Andre on the first day of orientation, and was immediately attracted to him—oh my God. Who was that beautiful man? I later found out he was smart too (went to Harvard) and incredibly talented. We became close friends, helped each other with our films, and later shared an office in Hollywood. One night, towards the end of film school, when we were desperately trying to finish our movies and were so far out on the edge of exhaustion that we could barely walk, he looked at me and said in a horrified voice, “PV, you look like you’re thirty five.”
I started crying.
Right before he succumbed to AIDS related liver failure and was in the hospital, another friend from UCLA called to say she was coming over and was there anything she could bring him.
He looked at me across the bed sheets, raised his eyebrows and said, “I know it’s in bad taste, but I really want some pate.”
I love you Andre.
I also think a lot about Peter Hutcheson, “Hutch,” who pimped out his ‘production vehicle’ (crappy 20 year old van) to other production students. It was manual transmission and you had to start it in compression (going down a hill) but other than that, it was fabulous. I also met Hutch on the first day of orientation. He had hair down past his ass and was wearing a kilt. He assured me he was going full commando.
Hutch was a total Magyver. He could make a flyable airplane from gaffer’s tape. A working engine from a pipe cleaner. A Michael Bay film from a flip camera.
Hutch would drag me away from my editing machine and force me to notice that it was spring, or winter, or raining, or whatever. He was my connection to the planet earth.
Gone in a drowning accident.
And finally, Nietzschka. It took me five years to learn to spell her name. I was afraid of her for the first two that I knew her. She had wild red hair, and a fierce but otherworldly face. She looked like someone out of an Emily Bronte novel who’d been running around the moors for a really long time. She supervised the sound mixing department, as well as being a grad student, and did not suffer fools. She drank tea all day long and sometimes would leave a single bag in her cup until the porcelain interior turned black.
She taught me about the insane coolness of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. About the way you could throw a crow sound effect in a scene and make it really funny. She loved true crime stories as much as I did, and we both had a crush on Belle Gunness, a woman who lived in the early 1900’s and killed 23 men for their money.
So, reading Patti Smith’s memoir, I was reminded of the people I met when I was young who helped me find my path. None of us became famous, but the hero’s journey is not just about the mighty and the powerful. It is, in fact, about everyday people who have dreams and goals and who must face obstacles and monsters to achieve them. Along the way they may meet shapeshifters and threshold guardians who try to steer them off the road…
But they will also meet mentors.
So thanks Andre, for teaching me the power of flying my freak flag. And thanks to you, Hutch, for always forcing me to be in the moment. And to you Nietzchka, for revealing the beauty in a chilling detail.
You are my heroes.