Myanmar Diary – Part 14

18 November 15  – Wednesday – DAY TWELVE

Back to school! Apparently our presence here is a bit troublesome. The school has been very gracious with us so far, and we’re back for a second helping. They tolerate us rather well, though, and if we’re a big inconvenience they do not let us see that.

We are ready to go like a crack Marine troop. I’ve got the stereo recorder placed again, and I’m not about to wire the headmistress up. We’ve already got her from the first day, plus the loudspeaker sounds so much better in the echoey plaza of the school.

Gavin and Sean apparently have a plan, but I can already see it’s vastly different from the plan we all settled on last night. That plan was to have one camera stationary on a wide shot of the entire assembly and one roving camera dedicated to various shots of Tinmar Aung. But what I’m seeing them do is very different from that. I stay back and get yet another perspective on the assembly with the boom – I’ve got Tinmar Aung wired and she’s coming through fine.

I do notice that no matter what time, place or culture, some jerks always have to leap in front of the camera and wave into it.

This guy is gonna ruin your sound recording

The stereo recording goes well – it’s one of the rare moments when I’d use a limiter. And feelings are running high. We break for a moment before recess, when we’ll get the kids one last time. If we can only stop them from looking in the lens, that is. So we wait while Gavin and Sean reconfigure the camera.

Gavin has a second camera here today, and a second Shogun. He insisted on buying this second unit before we left. Why, yes, of course we all thought him mad. At this very moment I’m happy that he seems happy. Letting him operate a “B” camera through the proceedings does at least mean that he will only have himself to blame. He and Sean have got a secondary “stealth mode,” they call it, which is a stripped down version of the operating configuration for extra tight spaces and for not standing out in crowds. Although we stand out in crowds no matter what.

So on this break Sean changes lenses and goes back to the original configuration (which is more comfortable to operate) and Gavin reviews the footage. He is largely silent. I’m still sick, so I begin napping…

You know, when you think about it, everything in Myanmar has been done with a handshake and a stack of kyet. Release forms are an oddity and people worry about anything that could be considered a “contract.” We’ve been getting key players to sign release forms just in case any future distribution needs to see such things. But no one knows if anyone will care about release forms. We’re doing our due diligence, hoping that nothing will possibly hang us up later on when we want to show this thing.

The nature of law, beast that it is, is that the lawyers may just say screw it – no laws apply to this film – that’s Burma, not here. Who knows with these litigious types. They are not even human, so it’s useless to second guess them.

The release form we have written up is so thoroughly scary when translated into Burmese that few people want to sign it. All that usual American legal jazz – releasing rights in this or any known universe – makes the Burmese think we’re trying to own their souls or something.

School is fun and crazy because of how many kids clamor about us, wanting to see what were up to. This is a continual pain for us trying to make the movie, but the kids are so innocent and fun it’s hard not to like them. Also, these Burmese playground antics remind me of how I grew up – I watch kids try to climb a slippery hill, or walk on an edge without falling, or kick up dirt. No fancy playground equipment here.

Playing in the dirt

Elsewhere the alpha boys kick a soccer ball around and girls look at beads smuggled in their backpacks for exactly this moment; the few fleeting minutes they get at recess to show off their treasures. We do long takes – 15 minutes, 30 minutes, 40 minutes… There will be a lot of problems with these. The autumn smell of burning leaves drifts over as Gavin views the footage. We wait again – for the kids to break for lunch, I suppose.

Gavin wants the national anthem at the end of the day, too. The kids sing it in their classrooms just before the teachers let them go for the day. – we wonder if we shouldn’t just duck out and get some B-roll until such time. Or maybe stay here. I’m not sure a second day at the school was the best idea, but we’ll see.

As we wait it’s incumbent that we now consider toilets in Myanmar. I’ve written before about running water and showers, and how one often ends up with a dipper in a vat of cold water instead of a nice steamy hot stream. and how the municipal water systems cannot really be trusted very much, and how the grey water trickles out of houses in open trench sewers.

Toilets require a bit of adjustment here as well. Oh, there are certainly regular “Western” toilet facilities in our hotel. The British were certainly here long enough to establish all that. Just as in Japan, there are more than enough opportunities to use a toilet that I’m familiar with. But the traditional squat toilet is more common in the hinterlands, such as where we are now.

The outhouses are set apart from the main school building, so one must go out to them. Not many are lit, so far as I can tell, so lots of things end up being done in the dark, I would imagine. One squats, eliminates, and then, because there is no flushing mechanism, dumps a dipper full of water after one’s product to ease things on their way. Though there is no flushing it does seem as though many of these toilets have a trickle of water from the ubiquitous blue PVC pipe emptying into a kind of long cistern at the side of the stall. Unless I have misunderstood things entirely and previous patrons have simply neglected to shut off a valve I could not see (there is no light in there, usually) the trickle is left to run, overflowing the cistern and draining through the toilet.

The whole thing seems incredibly wasteful of water. Coming from drought-ridden Southern California I cannot imagine letting anything trickle out all day like that. But, as I’ve said, perhaps I’m misunderstanding. Both the toilets at the orphanage and at the school seemed to operate like this, but maybe children are bad everywhere and let things run.

On the break Thiha points to the wall of the bamboo schoolhouse and says “You know how to make this?” I look at the woven walls, imagine slipping bamboo strips in and out from each other, lashing them to poles… “Sure,” I reply, “I guess I could make something like this.”

“No,”  he says, “you know how to cut the bamboo?” Oh, heavens, no, I don’t, and what’s more, this is going to be one of those great weird Thiha stories where he gives me all these crazy details. And proceed he does, explaining with a variety of gestures how one takes the bamboo stalks, cuts long thin strips to dry, and weaves them in and out to create walls. It’s real “Robinson Crusoe” stuff, or even “Gilligan’s Island.” But it’s interesting in the way that so much of Myanmar is full of people who are just plain capable. They can actually do and make things for themselves. Young people here can build a house out of bamboo. Young people in the US can tell you how to get past that tricky fourth stage in “Mario Kart.”

I look at my reflection in the van window today and I saw a sad old man. Tired, bags under my eyes – and who cares if I shaved? How I must look to these people. Hold old I’m getting, how broken down. What an odd thing for me to be doing in my 50th year, hauling a boom around in Myanmar.

But now Gavin is despondent. Looking at the footage he’s convinced we still do not have an opening. There’s no consoling him, so I don’t bother trying. I’m quite sure there is an opening for this film, but maybe not the opening he had planned. Give me half an hour with the footage I can put something together. I don’t know what he wants out of it, nor does anyone else.

Certainly not this mean ass cat

I’m also fairly sure that the set of people who do not know what he wants out of the footage also includes him, so there’s obviously a systemic problem here. All I can do is wait until he calls “roll sound.” After all, I seem to be doing fine with the recording. I’ve been happy as a clam with the various stereo recordings on classrooms, general ambiences, the assembly… all in addition to lav recordings of our star wherever she happens to be and boom recordings of what’s on camera.  It’s all full of motorbikes, but I can;t do anything about that.

Now the talk is about whether or not the school would let us back a third time. It’s a bit much. Especially since none of us knows what Gavin’s not getting out of this footage. Gavin will only say “we don’t have enough shots.” Of course, that reminds me of the character of the King in Milos Forman’s “Amadeus” saying that Mozart’s music has “too many notes.” There are, as Mozart points out, exactly as many notes as are necessary. We, also, have exactly as many shots as we took. When you think about it, no crew will never have enough shots because there is only one camera, and not 10 of them placed everywhere. And when the editor cuts there will always be a shot he or she will need that was never taken. So why the long faces, I cannot understand. We have what we have and we will work with it.

At this juncture even more literary allusions are dancing about in my head. I cannot tell if a Captain Ahab is going after his white whale or if Don Quixote is fighting his windmills. Do we have a reasonable if somewhat destructive pursuit of the ineffable and excellent? Or just a fool’s errand?

Lunch improves everyone’s mood, and Cecilia’s no-nonsense attitude about the opening (“Just cut it together! That’s what editing is for!”) has a cold but comforting logic. It brings Gavin back to earth for the rest of the day. We will get what we will get, and the film will be whatever it will be.

Man, this ginger candy tastes good. We brought it with us because Cecilia worried about getting nausea on the twisty mountain roads and ginger is supposed to help with that. But it’s just nice.

At lunch we give leftover food to one of the school dogs who’s been hanging around for just such an occasion as this. Dogs in Myanmar continue to crack me up. They live just in the margins of society, but are ever-present, like a parallel civilization of observers. Like benign social parasites.

One wonders if the usual story of man taming the wild beasts isn’t totally wrong with respect to dogs. These dogs seem to have a catlike relationship to human beings. They live with them and among them, but voluntarily. They are standoffish. School dogs live here because they like the food – namely garbage. Neighborhood dogs roam certain neighborhoods. One wonders if dogs also didn’t allow themselves to be domesticated rather than having been trained and shaped by humans. The dogs in Myanmar sure seem to have this relationship to their human hosts. It would’ve been relatively easy for early man to grab some cute puppies who were already living within and among human habitats rather than go steal wolf cubs and work on them for generations.

We saw some dogs engaged in coitus yesterday – an aggro male came up and tried to scare off the rival, but the two engaged dogs were stuck together. Seemed pretty painful watching them hobble around connected, his penis stretched far beyond what could possibly be considered comfortable. The attacker would bark and both female and attached male would leap back or try to run with the other one in tandem.

Later on in the day we saw the same dog licking his privates. Oh, sweet relief!

School goes relatively well to the end. Which is to say spirits are high and we work hard and work well. I’m still not sure if Gavin is getting what he wants. But he has certainly thrown himself into the latter part of the day with some sense of optimism. He grabbed the B camera (in stripped-down “stealth mode”) and he seems to feel better getting the shots on his own.

Scenic overlook on the way home

We pack up and are back at Hone Hone’s for the Ghost Tinmar Aung scene. At some point she and Gilbert trade places. Where he was once a ghost visiting the living 10 year old, they will eventually swap and she will be a ghost of the girl not yet born visiting her own father ten years before. It will be a bit of a mystery how she plays a ghost. She seems in a good mood – we’ll see how it goes. But we’re losing light again and Gavin’s precious dusk is dwindling. I think he’s forgetting about the dwindling light and concentrating on getting the night scene set so we can get something accomplished before we have to take Tinmar Aung home.

While waiting for a setup I give Tinmar Aung my phone so she can take pictures. Of course they are all weird and great, even the out of focus shots, which seem to be even better in a weird way. But then a well-meaning adult (Thiha!) shows her how to delete. Perfidy! She starts to remove all the most out of focus and the strangest shots! I take the phone away and now she’s mad. Weird. I’m only trying to save all her stuff because I like it!

Later, after a few shots, it’s clear that she is still mad and is now punishing me. Giving me the cold shoulder and refusing to respond to me. Not even the return of the phone can please her. Oh, women. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t bother me, but at least she’s not really upset, or unable to do the scene. I figure I’ll just lay low. She may forget about it tomorrow. It takes a lot of energy to keep this up, and it is a game at some point.

It’s a pivotal scene, this one with Ghost Tinmar Aung. The translation is awkward and difficult, and is taking Gavin some time to work it out. The scene may involve crying, depending on what is actually said. But there are some tense issues with the Burmese language, and some conceptual leaps as well. It does not seem like it would be incompatible. Buddhists believe in reincarnation, so the “ghost” of someone will eventually reincarnate – unless that person breaks the karmic cycle, but then if they had, they probably would not be a ghost. Anyway, this is tying them up in knots.

Cecilia is trying to help out, but it may be too many cooks here – I’m going to sit this one out and brood over the sulking 10-year-old.

But none of it lasts long. They finally crack the language barrier and the scene goes along well. Gilbert does not cry, although it probably would have been good if he had – it would bring some emotion to this film. And Tinmar Aung’s sulking does not last long, either. I show Cecilia the pictures she took and – along with obvious signs of praise – this wins her over again. Now I bestow the camera on her for as long as the battery holds out. By the end of the evening she was doing panning shots of traffic at night – keeping motorcycles and vans in frame as they sped past the sewing shop door.

Though the evening wears on, and the crew takes bets on whether or not we’ll be in bed by 11 or midnight, we end at the usual somewhere-around-nine time and go back to watch dailies. Gavin will not look at the school footage again, so the session is short. We try to console him, but he’s really taking it hard. None of us can tell why he’s so angry about it. We briefly discuss what went wrong. Though we had all planned the day out the night before, Gavin and Sean had some kind of further or last-minute discussions that Cecilia and I were not party to. Not that we needed to be. But it was there that the plan changed.

More confusing, the plan seemed to have changed in every way that would prevent Gavin from getting what he stated he wanted. In some ways he and Sean have a massive communication problem, and in others they act like chummy siblings. It’s a bit odd to say the least.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.