An Excerpt from “Art of Life”: Intermission

Posted by on Sep 2, 2014 in Twenty Years On

An excerpt from the book Art of Life written by Jennifer New.  

Between May and July of 1992, Dan lacked a clear path. As usual, he filled the void with a host of schemes. Some of the crew members from the film had encouraged him to apply to UCLA’s film program and had promised him letters of recommendation. He wanted to establish a photography studio in Nairobi and to do more photojournalism.

His unsettled state was heightened by being in the midst of a house full of guests. Unlike those from his childhood, most of these visitors were his own rather than his parents’. A photography friend, Guillaume Bonn, was in and out of the Eldon Hilton that summer. Jeffrey Gettleman and Roko Belic, two of Dan’s STA friends, also crashed there, halfway through their year-long trip around the world. Aside from their scruffy appearance and rather ripe odor – they’d seemingly failed to bathe since leaving the U.S. – Dan was happy to have them around. They had a video camera with them and Roko, a film student, was making a documentary of their trip. The threesome spent one afternoon making a silly spoof of the recent Oliver Stone film JFK and the Kennedy assassination. In the Nairobi wersion, Dan switched accents, playing both a British secret agent and a Texas Ranger involved in a highly sensitive mission to solve “the disappearance of Jeffrey Gettleman.” The spoof ended with him dropping his pants and wading out into a stream in his boxer shorts to fish out Deziree’s front grill, which had fallen off the night before.

eldon_book20_088_1As part of his film project, Leila, Dan took Roko down to River Road one morning to set up a video camera. Roko was apprehensive about having the expensive equipment in the somewhat downtrodden area. It would have been easy for a street kid to have grabbed the camera and run off. Dan kept telling him not to worry, that the situation was fine. They spent about a half hour filming, with Roko becoming more confident and relaxed. Just when Roko had put any potential danger out of his mind, Dan suddenly yelled at him, “Let’s get the hell out of here!” They took off down the street in a near run. Roko made a final glance over his shoulder to see a group of kids and young men forming where they’d been working; it was hard to decipher, but asked how Dan had sensed the slight but crucial shift in the mood of the crowd, and Dan explained what he called his theory of kinetic energy: “It’s like a balloon that keeps filling with air and expanding. Eventually, there is no more room for the air in the balloon and POP! You can get yourself out of a lot of tough spots if you understand this.”

On another day when Dan was filming alone on River Road, he focused his viewfinder on two policemen who were far off down the street. He kept filming as they approached, catching the moment when they realized they were part of his video, their faces becoming pinched with anger. Just before they could reprimand him, Dan sighed and made an annoyed gesture to the camera.

“Get out of the way, would you? Can’t you see I’m filming here?” he said, shooing them as though they were troublesome children. The men’s anger quickly turned into apologies and they moved along, leaving Dan with the footage he wanted.

All of the street scenes were for Leila. Jeff and Roko had high hopes for Dan’s work; they nearly worshiped him, having been inspired by both his creative streak and his wanderlust. But sitting in the Eldon living room, they watched the video in silent horror. It wasn’t merely “youthful”; it was a simplistic, amateur job that failed to exhibit its maker’s wild imagination of the skill of his photography. Seeing that Dan was proud of his work, they hid their disappointment.