Who’s calling the shots?

•March 22, 2012 • 16 Comments

Skipper and I headed out early Monday morning to the NASA facility at Wallops Island on the outer banks of Virginia. During the two hour drive from Richmond, he mostly lectured me about my errant use of one of the company’s 16 mm Arriflex cameras, used without permission ,to shoot a scene for my film. The night before he caught me returning the gear to the studio after I finished. Reverend Al Stewart owned the camera, and used it mostly for his Religious films. The Reverend would have been furious if he knew I had taken it without permission. Al was the type of guy if something went wrong on one of his shoots, he would stamp his feet and then cry.

Did you ever do something for art that just ain’t right? I’d been using the bell- tower of the city hall as a vantage point to take progress still shots of the new post office being built across the street. It was part of my job. The clock works inside the tower was a glorious array of dusty large cogs, gears and wheels with a spiral metal staircase leading to the pinnacle where the silent bells hung dormant . I put an actress in the Victor Hugo world and achieved an erie atmosphere on film.

You had to love Skipper. He had seen action in WWII at Pearl Harbor and became head of the US Navy Signal corp photograph unit. He’d seen a lot, so an over enthusiastic employee with filmmaking aspirations was not too outrageous. After all it was a motion picture company.

Our job for the day was to film test of the US weather plane taking off and landing. A new concept in runway grooving was being tested for hydroplaning and has since been adapted for highway use. There was a NASA fire battalion standing by to hose down the test strip of runway. The massive weather plane sat quietly in position at the end of the strip and the Bell Helicopter used as the camera platform for filming was off to the side of the runway.

Skipper introduced me to the head honcho and headed off to the Officers Club to schmooze with his buddies, make deals and drink the day away.

Weather Plane

Weather Plane

I was shown the intricacies of using the Tyler camera mount from the ground flight crew and learned how not to fall out of the open portal of the helicopter. My legs were outside of the copter, using the landing struts as foot braces, I positioned myself  in the seat of the floating pod equipped with a pylon for the cantilever boom arm for the camera. After checking the zoom and focus controls – I strapped in and was ready to go.

” Tiger, tiger ready for take-off,” the Pilot answered the flight crew chief’s call.

“You set back there?” The  chopper pilot asked me over the headset.

“Roger that, standing by.”

Bell Helicopter

Bell Helicopter

With deafening, screaming jet engines the big plane started to move, we were flying parallel. close to the ground; the turbulence was incredible. I was rolling film close-up of the wheels of the monster plane as it gathered speed and lifted off the tarmac. Our copter set down amidst the kicked up sand and debris from the rotors – as the  giant fixed wing plane banked  out over the Atlantic. Jack, the copter pilot, and I cooled our heals as the ground crew wetted-down the runway again with fire hoses.

A hundred mile loop and half an hour later, the four engine jet was on an approach course for the landing. Jack and I got going and met her about a mile out over the ocean. The ride was smooth, and the blue sky made a great background for the plane as I started rolling just before she landed and carefully zoomed into a close-up of the wheels as they touched down and sliced through the water on the grooved test area of the runway. Beautiful!

The behemoth giant rolled to a stop and the copter set down.

“How was that for you?”  Jack called over the headset.

“Affirmative, good for me.” Resisting any wise-cracks about the alternate times when that phrase is used.

“You want to do it again?”


LR-1967 photo by J Dongieux

LR 1967 photo by J Donjieux

It was at that moment that I realized the power of motion pictures. They (the pilot, Jet and ground crew) were waiting for my report to see if they would repeat the procedure. After the hour it took to turn around the operation for a second take, we were ready again to repeat the performance for a second time.

This time, when Jack asked for a camera report, I said:

“I had a focus problem on that one,. Can we do it again?” I lied.

The third time was the charm and after I confirmed that the take was good we broke for lunch. Jack said we could grab some sandwiches from the cafeteria and shoot over to  Assateague Island and have lunch with the wild ponies. I could get used to this.

The giant Dragonfly scared the wild horses off some distance; it was great

Wild horses of Assateague Island

Wild horses of Assateague Island

watching them galloping as we landed. Jack was a gent. He didn’t seem to mind I couldn’t talk fishing with him like  the other guys who worked at Wallops. It was the main topic of most of the discussions with the guys there. I did offer some levity for Jacks behalf: “You ever see a one armed fisherman?” He shook his head and I put one arm behind me a stretched out my other like a trophy boast. “He caught a fish this big!” Jack rolled laughing. He said he couldn’t wait to lay it on the other guys when we got back.

The afternoon tests were with an iced down runway – the preparations were substantial. Dump trucks full of the stuff lined up for their turn to deposit their load, as the ground crew spread the crushed ice with rakes. The pavement was warm from the May sun and the crews worked swiftly before too much of the product could melt. The first test went smoothly as the huge tires shot ice out like Tiddlywinks. Now that I knew the drill I called for another take as a safety and the different departments went to work to  make it happen. I had already decided, as we jockeyed for the return landing, not to ask for a third take because it was just too much work for everyone.

As we set down after the final landing, the “wash” from the egg beater rotors was fierce. I could feel my already tattered pants legs unraveling up to my knees. Then it happened – the extreme turbulence  blew the cover of the magazine off, exposing all the footage from the day’s shooting. Jack was the first I told of the mishap and in his professional nonplused way he said, “We’ll just have to do it again tomorrow.”

I saw Skipper coming towards me from his car and he was miffed: “Why did you do so many takes? Do you know how much it cost each time that plane takes off?” I didn’t, but I was more concerned with telling him the bad news. He seemed to take that in stride more than the $4,000 cost of each take off. I felt like a politician cavalierly spending taxpayers money.

The next day’s test went unblemished and I curbed my enthusiasm and didn’t ask for more than one take each of  the two test.

As we finished up, Skipper said, “You “can-out” the exposed footage and I’ll put the camera away.” I was sitting in the open door of the back of his car with the changing bag on my lap, down-loading the exposed footage, when Skipper, taking the zoom lens off the camera dropped it on the concrete. An award silence – and then he looked slowly up from the shattered glass to me and said, “You see, that could have happened to you over the weekend.”

We only do it for the stories we can tell.

•April 8, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Life in a Film Can - proof #2

Ask any professional: doctor, musician, plumber, undertaker or filmmaker the best, worst, funniest, or saddest experience they have had in their career and they are sure to come up with some interesting or even outrageous stories.

Human nature supplies an abundance of anecdotal material experienced during interaction with others in any field of endeavor. As a filmmaker some of the people I have dealt with are well-known personalities, others are not at all in the public eye, but they all supply a wealth of material that is the foundation for my book Life in a Film Can, the second in a three-part series.


Book one, Wham Bam $$ Ba-Da Boom!, involves stories from the Seventies, Mafia influence in the X rated, illegal cash based business; which fostered criminal activity much as the Volstead Act (Prohibition) served as a catalyst for the rise of organized crime. With the legalization of adult material, albeit at the discretion on a local level, legitimate businesses enter into the world of titillation, exploitation and purveyors of heretofore illicit material.

LVR shooting NY skyline C. 1985

The reader follows the pyridine shift away from the traditional movie houses to the newly evolving cable and VHS markets of the mid Eighties. Bigger budgets, better talent for independent films, typified the movies made for the new burgeoning markets. Life in a Film Can tracks the incremental changes on the sets of pivotal films and why, how and what for the pictures were made. Behind the scene accounts of the people involved, in a first hand narrative, the reader experience the climate in an era when not only adult films went through a transition but the movie industry as a whole changed expediently to what we are familiar with today.

LVR W: MM look alike CV' Hollywood Hot Tubes. 1985

Both books are for sale in print or e-book at Amazon.com. 


All other electronic formats can be purchased at Smashwords.com.


Bessie Coleman (painting #1 of 13) “Influential Women”

•December 13, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Film Fables

Bessy Coleman

Bessie Coleman
1892 – 1926

“Don’t take no for an answer.”

Tragedy stuck Bessie Coleman down at the young age of 34, but not before she left her indelible mark as the first black aviatrix in the world.

Born on a cotton farm in Atlanta, Texas, Bessie was part of the great migration north with her family – settling in Chicago in 1915. Motivated not to suffer the menial jobs available to Negroes in those days, she set her sights on higher goals, just what the goals were, she did not know at first. She had seen movie footage of airplanes soaring through the sky and fantasized about being the captain of such a craft. Her brother, John, returning from World War I, spoke of the “superiority of French women” who were learning to fly. The kernel of possibilities was planted and sparked the imagination of Bessie to become a…

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Camille Claudel (Painting #13 of 13) “Influential Women”

•July 13, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Camille Claudel 1864 - 1943

Camille Claudel

1864 – 1943

“A revolt against nature: a woman genius”

It would be a mistake to assume that Camille Claudel’s reputation has survived simply because of her once notorious association with the sculptor Auguste Rodin. Her early work is similar to Rodin’s in spirit, but shows an imagination and lyricism quite her own, particularly in the famous Bronze Waltz (1893). The Mature Age (1900) whilst interpreted by her brother, poet and diplomat Paul Claudel, was a powerful allegory of her break with Rodin. One figure, The Implorer, was produced as an edition of its own, and has also been interpreted as not purely autobiographical, but as a more powerful representation of change and purpose in the human condition.

In the early years of 1900, Claudel had patrons, dealers, and some commercial success.

After 1905 Claudel appeared to be mentally ill. She destroyed many of her statues, disappeared for long periods of time, and exhibited signs of paranoia – subsequently diagnosed as schizophrenia. She accused Rodin of stealing her ideas and of leading a conspiracy to kill her. She  had an unwanted abortion of his child, demanded by her mother, who did not approve of her career in the arts, or her relationship with Rodin, who was in a 20 year marriage. In 1906, after the wedding of her brother, who had supported her until then, he returned to his diplomatic duties in China, and Camille lived a secluded life in her studio.

Her father, who approved of her career choice, tried to help her and supported her financially. When he died in 1913, Camille was not informed of his death. On March 10, 1913 at the initiative of her brother, she was admitted to the psychiatric ward. The form read that she had been “voluntarily” committed, although her admission was not signed by her, only a doctor and her brother. There are records to show that while she did have emotional outbursts, she was clear-headed while working on her art. Doctors tried to convince the family that she need not be in the institution, but still she was kept there.

Camille Claudell died on 19 October 1943, after having lived 30 years in the asylum at Montfavet. Camille was never visited by her mother and only once by her sister. In September 1943 her brother Paul, who did visit his sister, albeit infrequently, was informed of his sister’s terminal illness and with some difficulty crossed Occupied France to see her. He was neither present at her death nor her funeral. Her mother died on 20 June 1929 and her sister did not make the journey to Montfavet to Camille’s funeral. Camille’s remains were buried in a communal grave at the asylum.

(painting photo: Mark Serman)

© Laurence Revene, 2014

Minny Temple (Painting #12 of 13) “Influential Women”

•July 12, 2014 • 2 Comments

Minny Temple #2

Minny Temple
1845 – 1870

“I am not a candidate for adoption. I am very fond of my liberty.”

As Edward Wagenknecht, creator of Eve and Henry James, says, “Isabel had at least one important nonliterary source in Jame’s cousin Minny Temple.” James loved Minny’s “precociousness, brashness and independence of sprit.” More than a love of a cousin, James was passionate about Minny. But just as the character in James’ The Portrait of a Lady, Ralph Touchett, could never marry Isabel Archer due to close blood ties, so was Henry James thwarted in his unrequited love of Minny Temple. Nonetheless, Minny supplied James time and again as a model for his literary female characters. Author Fred Kaplan remarks: “ Minny attached life. If she was reckless, it was a recklessness that excited James.”

An atypical Victorian woman, Minny defied the narrow constraints harnessing the role of females of her generation. Inquisitive and explorative, she was bound to challenge the world around her. A tribute to Minny’s independence, her willfulness is immortalized for so many readers of James’ novels. Her tenacious approach to life sculpted the personalities of subsequent generations of young women by giving them an alternative example to the prescribed social expectations of her day.

Minny Temple died of tuberculosis at the tender age of 25, no doubt a crushing blow to her fondest admirer, Henry James. Is it possible that her loss is the reason James never married? He certainly endowed many of his created women with her sprit. She was a major influence on him and a presence he imbibed in much of his writings.

(painting photo: Mark Serman)

© Laurence Revene, 2014

Isadora Duncan (Painting #11 of 13) “Influential Women”

•July 11, 2014 • 1 Comment

Isadora Duncan

Isadora Duncan
1877 – 1927

“Farewell, my friends. I go to glory!”

By the end of her life, Isadora Duncan’s performing career had dwindled and she became as notorious for her financial woes, scandalous love life and all-too-frequent public drunkenness, as for her contributions to the arts.

At the beginning of Isadora’s career, she broke with dance conventions. Duncan traced the art of dance back to its roots as a sacred art. She developed a style of free and natural movements inspired by the classical Greek arts, folk dances, social dances, nature and natural forces, as well as an approach to the new American athleticism which included skipping, running, jumping, leaping and tossing. She founded dance schools, based on her technique in the US, France, Russia and Germany. She was lauded throughout Europe for her fresh approach to the art of dance. She sustained herself and her family by performing in public as well as private venues.

There is some speculation the nude woman in Eadweard Muybridge movement photo studies (Nude descending a staircase) is, Mary Isadora Gray, Isadora’s mother. Both Muybridge and Isadoria’s mother were living in San Fransisco at the  time of Muybridge’s photo studies.  Joseph Charles Duncan, Isadora’s father, was a banker, mining engineer and connoisseur of the arts. Soon after Isadora’s birth, her father lost his bank and was publicly disgraced. As a result the family became extremely poor.

Isadora’s childhood was an unhappy one. There was strife and divorce, her mother insisted her father was a demon in human garb. Her mother disavowed the religion in which she was raised, and she espoused  the atheism of Robert Ingersoll. These elements shaped Isadora’s childhood. When  eventually meeting her father, Isadora found him to be a charming, lovable poet. Passing years softened the intolerance of childhood, but Isadora Duncan never lost her contempt for the institution of marriage as she knew it. When she was twelve years old, she made a solemn vow that she would welcome love when it came, but she would never marry.

Isadora engaged in many romances with both men and women, and seemed to create scandals wherever she went. She was a noted renegade throughout her 50 years of life. Perhaps this added to her reputation as a non-traditional dancer. She adopted communism and was expelled from the US as a result, but this too she jettisoned when that ideology turned out to be false.

No stranger to tragedy, Isadora lost her two children to a freak accident not unlike her own tragic death. She was strangled to death when her long flowing scarf, which she was noted for, caught in the spokes of the open-top car in which she was riding. Her children and their nanny were drowned when the driver of their car forgot to set the hand brake when he got out to crank the car in order to start it. The car rolled into a river.

She will forever be known as the “mother of modern dance” – a claim that she no doubt would have relished.

(painting photo: Mark Serman)

© Laurence Revene, 2014

Amelia Earhart (Painting #10 of 13) “Influential Women”

•July 10, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Amelia Earhart 1897 -1937

Amelia Earhart
1897 – 1937

“I believe that little red airplane said something to me as it swished by.”

“We remember her because she is our favorite missing person,” says Tom D. Crouch, Senior Curator of the National Air and Space Museum. The unresolved circumstances of Amelia Earhart’s disappearance, along with her fame as a record breaking aviatrix, attracted various claims relating to her last flight, all of which have been generally dismissed for lack of verifiable evidence. Several unsupported theories have become well known. Earhart was an international celebrity during her lifetime. Her shyly charismatic appeal, independence, persistence, coolness under pressure, courage and goal-oriented career, along with the circumstances of her disappearance at a comparatively early age, have driven her lasting fame in popular culture. Hundreds of articles and scores of books have been written about her life – which is often cited as a motivational tale, especially for women. Earhart is generally regarded as a feminist icon.

Earhart’s accomplishments in aviation inspired a generation of female aviators, including more than 1,000 women pilots of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) who ferried military aircraft, towed gliders, flew target practice aircraft, and served as transport pilots during World War II.

The home where Earhart was born is now the Amelia Earhart Birthplace Museum in Atchinson Ks. and is maintained by The Ninety-Nines, an international group of female pilots of whom Earhart was the first elected president.

A small section of Earhart’s Lockheed Electra starboard engine nacelle recovered in the aftermath of first attempted around the world flight, that crashed in Hawaii, has been confirmed as authentic and is now regarded as a control piece that will help to authenticate possible future discoveries.

Amy Earhart, Amelia’s mother, did not believe in molding her children into “nice little girls.” At age seven Earhart’s well-documented first flight ended dramatically. She emerged from the broken wooden box that had served as a sled with a bruised lip, torn dress and a “sensation of exhilaration.” She exclaimed, “Oh, Pidge, (her sister) it’s just like flying!” She made a ramp on the roof of the family shed and slid down it, emulating a rollercaoster she had see at the 1904 World Fair in St. Louis.

During a flying exhibition put on by a World War I ace, the pilot spotted Earhart and a friend, watching from an isolated clearing, and dived at them. “I am sure he said to himself, ‘Watch me make them scamper,'” she wrote in an account. Earhart stood her ground as the aircraft came close. “I did not understand it at the time,” she said, “but I believe that little red airplane said something to me as it swished by.”

Chronic sinusitis significantly affected Earhart’s flying activities in later life, sometimes on the airfield she was forced to wear a bandage on her cheek to cover a small drainage tube. This was due to her Red Cross duties in Toronto, Canada after World War I, where she was exposure to the flu pandemic of 1918. She worked other jobs, including photographer, truck driver, and stenographer at the local Long Beach Ca. telephone company, while she was living there with her parents. She managed to save $1,000 for flying lessons. Earhart had her first lessons, beginning on January 3, 1921. After securing her pilots license, Amelia still had to work at various jobs to sustain herself and her mother. It wasn’t until her transatlantic flight with Wilmer Stultz and Louis Gordon that she found some semblance of recognition. Self-described as “just baggage” on that endeavor, the notoriety she enjoyed as “Lady Lindy” (after Charles Lindberg) resulted in a series for public speaking tours that further raised her prominence. With George P. Putnam, the book publisher and publicist, backing her, Amelia became a well known comity endorsing women’s clothes, luggage and cigarettes. She became associate editor for Cosmopolitan magazine, giving her a platform to promote female flying, and she became involved with The Ninety-Nines, an organization of female pilots providing moral support and advancing the cause of women in aviation. At age 34 she was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic, followed by other “first”: Honolulu to Oakland, Ca., LA to Mexico City, and from there to New York. Air racing was popular during this period and Earhart participated in many of these events.

Amelia Earhart’s first attemt to circumnavagate the globe was plauged with mechanical difficulties, but she resolved those problems and set off from Miami on her second attempt July 2, 1937. What followed during the last leg of her flight over the Pacific has been the subject of speculation and research for decades. Many therioes are postured as to her final hours in the Howland Island vicinty but to date there has never been any evidence to substanciate what happend to Amelia and her navigator, Fred Noonan. Mysteries remain and therories abound but the only solid fact is Amelia’s legacy as a courageous woman with a determination to fulfill her dream of being a first rate pilot.


(Painting photo: Mark Serman)

© Laurence Revene, 2014

Julia Jackson-Stephen (Painting #9 of 13) “Influential Women”

•July 9, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Julia jackson

Julia Jackson-Stephen
“As you are, so was I. As I am, so shall you be.”

Julia Jackson-Stevens, as a child, moved with her mother in 1848 to England from Calcutta, India, where she was born. In 1882 Julia Jackson-Stephen gave birth to Virginia Woolf, who grew up to resemble her mother, who was noted for her beauty. Julia had a reputation for saintly self-sacrifice; she also had prominent social and artistic connections. In 1926, Virginia Woolf wrote a book on her great-aunt’s photographs, Julia Margaret Cameron, one of the first and most renown portrait photographers of the 19th Century. Cameron made more than twenty portraits of her favorite niece and namesake, Julia Jackson. She never portrayed Julia as a sibyl or a saint but rather as a natural embodiment of purity, beauty and grace. Julia Jackson-Stephens also served as a model for pre-Raphaelite painters such as Edward Burne-Jones.

After the sudden death of Julia’s first husband Herbert Duckworth, she married Sir Leslie Stephen (1832–1904) a notable historian, author, critic and mountaineer. Sir Leslie was a founding editor of the Dictionary of National Biography, which influenced his daughter Virginia’s later experimental biographies. Both Julia Jackson’s first husband, and Sir Leslie’s first wife, a daughter of the novelist William Makepeace Thackeray, died unexpectedly. Julia was left with three children and Sir Leslie with one son. Julia Jackson Duckworth and Leslie Stephen married in 1878, and had four children from their union: Vanessa (born 1879), Thoby (born 1880), Virginia (born 1882), and Adrian (born 1883).

Julia Jackson-Stevens was a renowned beauty, the twenty-one-year-old subject here seems bodiless, an ethereal spirit afloat like an untethered soul. She came from a family of beauties who left their mark on Victorian society as models for Pre-Raphaelite artists and early photographers. It was on 5 May 1895 that Julia Stephen died very suddenly: her heart gave out following an attack of influenza which turned into rheumatic fever. This profoundly affected her family, especially Virgina, who wrote Reminiscences, about her childhood and her lost mother, which was published in 1908. After the death of her father in 1904, Virginia had a nervous breakdown and suffer bipolar symptoms for the remainder of her life – which end with her suicide in 1941 at the age of 49 – the same age at which her mother died.

(Painting photo: Mark Serman)

© Laurence Revene, 2014