James Schamus

James Schamus

A weeklong electronic journal.
Sept. 26 1997 3:30 AM

James Schamus

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As I'm in Berlin for just
         one night, I try desperately
to stay on New York time. This morning
         I read Proust to sleep--and isn't
all of Combray at heart a paean
         to sleep?--and midafternoon I arise
to scoop up all the messages
         shoved under the door. There's one
from Nancy, who must have called
         at 5 in the morning, her time.
"I was writing notes to send out
         with the bound galleys." At 5 o'clock?
"I was anxious."
         For the next hour, Sig runs calls for me
from the office. CAA, UTA, ICM--
         I check in with everyone's agents.
Sig: "It's two thumbs up--congrats."
         How high up? And up what?
Tonight is Sig's guest appearance
         on Law and Order. I ask Anne to order
him flowers, and grab an hour
         for a glorious walk through
Berlin's mundane streets, circling
         vaguely in the direction of
Ka De We. The bright sunlight clarifies
         next to nothing. There are buildings going
up and down everywhere; workers,
         on their breaks, sprawl out on the sidewalks
by the various imbiss (imbisses? imbissi?),
         talking on their cell phones. At
the department store, I ride up
         to the children's floor, but first,
on impulse, I buy a lipstick ("True Red")
         for Nancy, and, for the first time
I can remember, a bottle
         of eau de cologne (Kenzo Pour Homme) pour moi.
What was I thinking? I never use
         the stuff, but had a vague sense that
I should smell like something
         for the festival on Friday. It's probably a sign
of middle age. Or an homage to
         cologne-obsessed James Schuyler,
whose poetry I try to imitate.
         I call Kutlug at the production office.
Eurimages has turned down the film for
         financing. "Let's discuss
the depressing stuff when we meet tomorrow."
         At the Akademie, before the screening,
Martin impassively relays the news of
         today's disaster from the film he is shooting
in Hamburg. It seems that the lead actor
         has a second career as the head of a major
drug-smuggling ring, and in the middle of
         the second week of shooting, a dozen police
swept onto the set and hauled him off.
         "They don't have insurance for that."
Martin is sending lawyers to his arraignment
         tomorrow to beg the court for six days
to shoot him out. Otherwise the film might
         get junked. And I'm worried
about party tickets? I catch the first half-hour
         of the film, then go upstairs to Ulrike's office
to make calls. It's a rotary phone, and the
         dialing, dialing, dialing is oddly calming.
Click click click click click. There's a fax from
         Stanley Kwan on her desk. He must
have finished shooting by now. I wonder how
         he's taking the first chilly whispers
of Chinese rule in Hong Kong, free spirit
         that he is. Back in the deserted cafe,
there's still a half-hour before the screening ends.
         I eat some kind of empanada, which,
the waitress tells me, has "fleisch and vegetarians
         in it." I cautiously probe it with a fork,
only to look up and see Maria Schrader
         running toward me. We made a movie together
seven years ago, and now she's a wonderfully
         big star in Germany. "They just
told me you were here." I would have called
         but Arndt told me you were all in
Düsseldorf. "I am, except for tonight." It turns out
         a film she's in will screen right after
the Ice Storm reception. "But you don't have to
         sit through it." By way of a lucky accident,
the print they're screening is subtitled in
         English, so I stay. It's a love triangle,
and Maria gets more than one tour-de-forcey type
         scene. For all the emotions, it's
pleasantly restrained, modest--though those
         Germans sure do go for male frontal nudity
at the drop, so to speak, of a hat. Is all the showering
         some kind of national obsession,
a residual echo from all those health films
         from the '30s? Afterward, my driver
and I wander around the Tiergarten looking for where he
         parked the car. Happily, he doesn't seem
embarrassed, as I wanted a walk anyways.
         The bed is turned down--there's a chocolate
on my pillow. I suppose I've earned it.

James Schamus runs the independent film-production company Good Machine with his partner, Ted Hope. He is an associate professor at Columbia University's School of the Arts, and has collaborated on all Ang Lee's films, including The Ice Storm, which opens the New York Film Festival this Friday. Schamus also wrote the screenplay for the film, which won an award for best script at Cannes last spring.