Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Last night after the house went to sleep I was on the couch, not sleepy. It was strange, as I had been nodding off about 45 minutes earlier. I switched over to the Sundance channel right at nine o'clock, and figured I would watch whatever it was they were showing. It was one of those rainy nights, perhaps you've had one, where, for no good reason, you're a bit lonely and a bit bored, and that fully-hopped beer you just had and that Christmas tree shimmering in the other room are having no effect, and you're in the mood for something artsy or esoteric. You're somewhere else. But you're nowhere. Or maybe it's just me and I'm the only one who ever feels that way.

So I turned on the Sundance channel and found a terrific documentary on Stanley Kubrick called Stanley Kubrick's Boxes. If you don't like Kubrick you probably wouldn't get into it, and truth be told the film feels longer than the hour that it takes to watch it, with its slightly droll and excessively pensive narration, but it was a Kubrickian kind of night, and I couldn't resist.

The whole documentary is here, if you're interested, and it's about how when Stanley Kubrick died he left behind thousands and thousands of boxes that kept the oddest assortment of things, mostly research for his films. If you know anything about Kubrick, you know he was masterfully attentive to detail, and here it's shown how he meticulously filed it all away in boxes. Kubrick made a film about every seven years or so, (probably as a result of the slow, painstaking research) and many consider him the greatest director who ever lived. You don't have to agree. Many find his films to be boring, offensive, haunting nonsense. They may be. All the same, this is the type of guy who demanded that he be the projectionist at the premieres of his films -because the projectionist has the last creative input on a film. This is a guy who read, annotated, and filed away every fan letter ever written to him in boxes labeled by region and city. This is a guy who had location photographers shoot thousands of pictures of things like gates and doorways for a scene in a film that would last only seconds. This is a guy who was shy, friendly, intelligent, and yet crazy, obsessive, and brilliant. (They ended up shooting that doorway on a set.)

The documentary itself is about the boxes -because Lord knows there's been enough commentaries on Kubrick's filmmaking. I found it completely enthralling, and it may be because I have my own set of boxes stacked around the house. They're in my bedroom, here in the office, and piled high in the attic waiting for a fire. I have winnowed them down over the years, but they still follow me. It's only because I don't own a Kubrick-sized estate that I have as few boxes as I do. It's painful to trash anything in them. I go through them and I don't know what to do with the stuff. File it away in more boxes. Kindly Mrs. Ditchman tolerates it all, like Kubrick's wife did (she's interviewed in the film.)

What's in my boxes: college notes, letters, articles, journals, poetry, screenplays, novels, songs, unfinished projects, research, character histories, lists of names, notes on self, jokes, anecdotes, story outlines, notable locations, encyclopedia entries, drafts upon drafts of the same work -some with only minor word changes. And then there's the boxes of photos, manuals, books, calendars, receipts, star wars action figures, an odd array of striped pebbles. I kept most of my college textbooks. I have every movie stub of every movie I have ever seen in a theater. I'm not kidding. Ask me about it and I'll show you.

It's a disease. Still, I think I have it under control. Like I said, I've winnowed the boxes down to twenty or thirty or so. I don't know whether or not I should save all my old bad writings from years ago. They're terrible. If I had become some genius artist like Kubrick, and like every twenty-something thinks he is, these boxes would find a place in some research library after I'm long gone, but alas... If I were to revisit some of the subject matter some day for some big creative project, they might pose as useful -but I build aluminum patio covers now, so I can't be sure such usefulness will come of them. I don't know. Tomes of bad writing no one's ever read, and no one ever will. Was it all a waste of time?

I wish it was all on a hard drive, but it was done in the woody days before such things. If I had the time I might go back and read it, perchance learn something about myself, but I doubt it would hold my interest. Still, if I had an ancestor who had boxes of inept writings, I would consider them a treasure! I would pore over them at great length, fastidiously digitize everything, and become an expert on the man and his times! But, woe to my decendents mired in the boxes of this piffle. I even began to archive these blog entries for a while, but then I started to feel sorry for myself. It's all a poor man's hubris. "I never saw a wild thing sorry for itself. A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough without ever having felt sorry for itself." D.H.Lawrence wrote that. Scholars would kill for boxes of his old crap.

Right now my garage is filled with empty boxes, of all things, and come Christmas morning, empty boxes by the millions will be curbside in America. I suppose this is the season of boxes. (December 26th is "Boxing Day" you know.) Filled boxes have a use, and empty ones are trash. Kubrick, the mad artist, invented his own box at one point. He was frustrated that lids were too tight on some, walls and bottoms not strong enough on others. He designed one with dimensions in the folds that measured down to the millimeter, and then had them specially made. An internal memo from the box-maker, who had no idea who he was, reads: Pushy customer - Very touchy about his lids.

The empty boxes in the garage are for the Christmas ornaments. They'll be filled again after the new year and shuffled away in the attic, next to my never-opened ones. I wonder what will become of the Christmas stuff when I die. And what of the other stuff? Will the kids clamor for the ornaments? Will they trade journal for bulb from one box to another? Whatever happened to the boxes of Christmas ornaments I grew up with? I remember them all so well, and one day it all just flatly disappeared.

But there is stuff, and then there are the other things -the works and efforts. All that work. All that effort. I would say that man is a funny animal, but it's the stuff in those boxes that makes him something else entirely. And not at all an animal. Sooner or later man feels sorry for himself, and tries to make sense of it in his work. Now I make aluminum patio covers, and they have far more purpose. Besides shade, they feed my family. The boxes in the attic never lived up to their promises. That is, except for the Christmas boxes.

In the documentary they focus a bit on the box Kubrick invented and it's his Rosebud -that useless thing unwittingly tossed in the fire after Citizen Kane's life, but contains all the indecipherable secrets of the man. Every man has a Rosebud, boxed or otherwise.