As I watched Martin Scorsese receive his Golden Globe for directing "Hugo," I was reminded of the time when his mentor compared me to the legendary filmmaker. Let me explain.
After two fun-filled years attending American University in Washington DC, which was at the time one of the country's leading party schools, I got a case of the guilts realizing that I was wasting my parent's money majoring in sleeping and the art of rolling joints. So for my junior year I transferred to New York University, specifically the Tisch School the Arts.
I enrolled in "Sight & Sound" the class, which is considered by the film school as the first step to superstardom in cinema. We met on the sixth floor of an old building right off of Washington Square Park. (I found out years later that the building was the same one where the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, one of the worst catastrophes in American history, took place.)
Haig Manoogian, the crusty legend of the film school, taught the course. Scorsese was so indebted to Haig, that he dedicated "Raging Bull" to him. In turn, Haig would constantly bring up his prized pupil at the drop of a hat. There was no book learning in "Sight & Sound." Instead the class was broken up into teams of four, given an old 16-millimeter Filmo camera and told to go out and produce a five-minute movie. (Each member of the group would get their turn at the helm while the others worked as the crew.)
After hours of editing and synching the sound, the films would then be shown to the entire class. Haig, always with a cigarette in his mouth would yell "Lights!" the room went dark and the black and white masterpieces would unspool. After the film ended, Haig would call out "Lights!" turning on the florescent overheads, walk slowly to the front of the room, take a long drag on his cigarette and say "Comments?"
With that, the rest of the class would tear the filmmaker a new a**hole. I particularly remember one student from Czechoslovakia who had nothing but contempt for the soft Americans in the class and the drivel they produced. (When it came time to screen his film, all we saw was five minutes of the tile design of the Bobst Library shot from above, a complete waste of time.) I'm pretty sure he's back home in the Czech Republic railing at films showing at his neighborhood cinema annoying the people sitting near him when he's not working his day job as a truck driver.
When it came my turn to direct, I decided to do a silly skit about a runaway bagel and a guy chasing it around Greenwich Village. Nothing earth shattering, just some fun stuff. No political message, just goofy. That's me.
We were all very protective of our work, especially in editing where others working on their films would try to get a peak at everyone else's work. There was one jerk off who begged to see my work in progress. "It's not done yet." I told him a thousand times but he finally wore me down by offering me a sneak peak at his classic. So I sat him down next to my movieola and showed him the bagel short. As soon as the last frame flickered through the viewfinder he stood and declared, "It stinks." I really wanted to punch is lights out. We went over to his editing bay and watched his work in progress. It was titled "Daddy." Not only did the little twerp write and direct it, he starred in it too. A real triple threat on a par with Carrot Top.
Shot in Central Park it was about this nebbish going up to strangers and asking "Are you my Daddy?" The people would brush him off and the film ended with him sitting on a park bench crying for about sixty seconds. Trust me, it made my bagel movie look like "Lawrence Of Arabia." Not having the heart to tell him what I really thought, I just said "Interesting" while biting my tongue in order not to laugh out loud in his face.
Premier day arrives. I hand in my film to the projectionist and take a seat near the back of the room. Haig enters, fires up a butt, yells "Lights!" and we're off. First comes "Daddy." I thought this was a good omen having this piece of dreck go first. The crowd was hushed as Wimpy searched for his Daddy in the park. I did steal a glance around the room. It looked just like the scene in "The Producers" at the "Springtime For Hitler" premier as the camera pans the frozen, shocked faces of the audience.
"Lights!" They come back on and Mr. Cinema from Czechoslovakia goes into a scathing critique of the film. "What was he really looking for?" the bearded idiot demands in his heavy eastern European accent. "What kind of ending was that? Have you no shame?!" he demanded as the little twerp stared down at his shoes absorbing the criticism like body blows from Muhammad Ali. The rest of the class was just as unforgiving and soon it was time for the next film.
Now I have to describe this one in detail, because it's hard to believe that the filmmaker actually turned it in to be screened. It started with a very attractive young woman (The director who also starred in her film) doing household chores, washing the sink and vacuuming the carpet. A glass of champagne suddenly appears. She takes a sip. Suddenly all her clothes disappear and she continues her chores in the nude. (The sound of the muffled suppression of thirty film students doing their best to hold in the laughter fills the room. I didn't have that luxury because the very attractive naked woman on the screen was sitting right next to me.)
Back to the movie. She puts down the vacuum, walks toward the camera and starts doing breast massages in close-up. Now people in the class are laughing out loud. I turned to look at her and she was starting to cry. I told her I liked it and then turned back to the screen and watched her hands stroke her naked breasts in extreme close-up on the large screen. Then she takes another sip of the magic champagne and suddenly she's outside in Columbus Circle, still nude, astride the statue of Columbus on a horse, humping it. The end.
"Lights!" yells Haig. By now everyone in the room including Haig are laughing out loud. He could barely get out "Comments" without breaking up. My seatmate grabbed my hand for support. Actually she didn't need any because no one could stop laughing long enough to say anything pretentious and pithy.
There was nothing for Haig to do but yell "Lights!" again and up came my bagel movie. There were some laughs but nowhere near the breast film's reaction. It ended, the lights came on and Haig barked "Comments?" Mr. Czech was beside himself. He stood up and turned to me, pointing an accusing finger "This is what you waste precious film and emulsion on? A rolling piece of bread?" "It's a bagel" I corrected him, which enraged him even further.
"Film is sacred! Film is life! It is meant to move people! To make a statement! You mock me with this garbage!" "Oh lighten up will you?" I said in my defense. "Lighten up? You film silly and you want me to lighten up?" His head turned purple as he continued his tirade: "In my country people would kill to get the opportunity to create cinema! And I should lighten up? How dare you!!" Things were staring to get a bit tense in the room. One of my crewmembers came to my defense, defusing the moment with "So, pistols at dawn?" Ivan The Untalented let out a string of dismissive Czech curses and finally took his seat. After a few seconds of silence, Haig looked at me, shook his head and then uttered the words that would haunt me for the next five minutes: "Kreisman, you're no Marty Scorsese."
It was over. We were onto the next film. I had gone through the famous NYU Film school gauntlet basically unscathed. I did find that anything I learned there meant absolutely nothing in the real world of film and television. However I did get the last laugh on everyone in the class as I ended up dating the gorgeous nude filmmaker for a few months. We did once go to dinner at a restaurant on Central Park West, but unfortunately she made sure to steer clear of Columbus Circle.
RE: Film, Sex and Scorsese
This movie was very boring.