A Luminous Halo

"Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end." --Virginia Woolf

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Location: Springfield, Massachusetts, United States

Smith ’69, Purdue ’75. Anarchist; agnostic. Writer. Steward of the Pascal Emory house, an 1871 Second-Empire Victorian; of Sylvie, a 1974 Mercedes-Benz 450SL; and of Taz, a purebred Cockador who sets the standard for her breed. Happy enough for the present in Massachusetts, but always looking East.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


Another day on the set of The Box, this time in Milton, Mass. Here's Silvie with all of her 70s-era friends on the lawn at Milton Academy. In the movie, Cameron Diaz plays a teacher at a school in Virginia. Milton Academy is supposed to be that school. No scenes today on the campus, though. After signing in here, we were off to Lantern Lane, a residential street nearby where Cameron's supposed to live.

An old friend of mine from graduate school used to teach at Milton Academy. She lived for a time in a big house on campus, surrounded by a huge lawn, so she said, where her black lab, Lucky, liked to romp. The stately building just out of camera range of this shot would seem to be that house. I can certainly picture my black dog having a hell of a good time running around here. But she'll just have to wait for her own movie.

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In Which We Travel Back in Time

Last week I got an offer from a Boston casting company to work on the new Cameron Diaz movie, The Box. Actually, they wanted my car, but they offered to pay both of us and said they'd find something for me to do on the set as well. Silvie's been a little jealous about all the movie parts I've been taking, and this was her big break, so I said yes for both of us. Today was the first day of shooting.

The Box is adapted from a short story by Richard Matheson called "Button, Button." It was made into an episode of The Twilight Zone in 1986. The story takes place in 1976. A woman receives a mysterious box with a button on it. If she pushes the button, she comes into a lot of money, but someone she doesn't know will die.

Today's scenes were shot in South Boston. A house on the corner of 4th Street had been comandeered for the shoot; the mildly excited and bewildered owners--Mom, Dad, little boy, little dog Buffy, plus a neighbor--were eating breakfast in the holding area, courtesy of the film crew. Just one of the perks of being kicked out of your own house! I parked Silvie on the curb as instructed, and joined them in holding (the social center of a nearby church) for a cup of strong coffee and an English muffin.

For purposes of the movie, it was supposed to be winter in Virginia. Silvie got fake Virginia plates stuck over her real ones. The house was supposed to be a crime scene. In preparation for the first shot, a light blue and white police car was pulled up in front of the house at a crazy angle, engine running, lights flashing. A big van was similarly pulled up opposite. When the director yelled "Action!" the fake cops would jump out of the vehicles and rush into the house. (I guess this was the result of Cameron Diaz pushing the button.)

The director liked my car and decided to feature her in the shot. I was put at the head of a parade of three cars; we lined up out of camera range, and on cue proceeded slowly down the street and around the corner. Then around the rest of the block and back to the mark, ready for the next take. Ten or twelve takes and the director was satisfied.

The next scene was the police car--driven by a stunt car driver--screeching down the cross street and pulling up at the crazy angle. The wardrobe mistress, impressed by my outfit (all of it pieces which had been hanging in my closet since the seventies), requested that I be in the scene. I was paired with two other women, one pushing a baby carriage with a plastic baby in it. We were carefully positioned (our main function was to block the view of some non-vintage vehicles way up the street) and told to chat. Hard work, but somebody has to do it.

That was it for the outdoor scenes. In between was a lot of standing around, sitting in cars, and helping ourselves to catered food at the church. All the extras were car people, more interested in discussing original equipment and m.p.g. than the movie. Nothing against actors, but it was refreshing.

We wrapped around 4:30, none too soon. It was freezing out. I'd forgotten how cold we were in the seventies. Camel hair coat, panty hose, penny loafers, green lambswool sweater, brown skirt, necklace of wooden beads....I don't dress that way anymore. I was getting hives from all the wool. Driving back with Silvie's excellent heater was lovely. Climbing back into all-cotton socks, sweats, and turtleneck at home was even better. It's fun to visit the bad old days, but I'm glad I don't have to live there anymore.

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