Dec 31, 2015

All bundled up in the wheelchair he looked like the father in Five Easy Pieces (his closest friend László Kovács shot that film). In the middle of the afternoon, we rolled him from one house to the other, up past the swimming pool, down the old driveway to the cabin with its fabulous view of the coast stretching south from Pfeiffer Pt.

Someone put on his head the baseball cap he always wore on the set and then his dark glasses. Someone else brought still another blanket. The sun was full on his face. I suspect it was too much; he hadn't had to endure the sun like that in months. He said nothing. I couldn't tell if his eyes were even open. Finally, after but a few minutes, I heard him whisper, "let's go back". The next day he was gone.

There was a time nearly 30 years ago when he first saw this view and imagined he'd found Shangri-La. Coming all that way from Szeged, where as a kid —his mother estranged, gone off with a lover never to return; his father away in Tangiers coaching a professional soccer team — his life had often seemed limited, lonely and drab.  And here he was on top of the world, with the most beautiful light.  In the end, that was the greatest attraction. Certainly it was spectacular to see the coast and the whole curvature of the earth, but it was the light that he treasured.
Today, out of nowhere, 12 vultures appeared high up in the branches of two California Pines. The trees stand next to a balcony where we go at night to watch the universe expand. The gigantic birds, in their cowboy long coats, barely moved, but you could see the eye of one, blinking as though electronically.  Another vulture extended his wing for a moment, like a big man looking to scratch his armpit. Another hung its head on its chest, the face particularly worn and ugly. "Does this mean today will be the day?" someone asked.

Dec 28, 2015

We stand around his bed, working out the details of his extraction from the hospital.  He has finally decided that he's had enough.  Last night he tore the catheter out of his neck that enables a connection to the dialysis machine, which he's been a slave to for more than a month, three days a week, three or four hours at a clip, and always as though the prey of an ambivalent and inept dracula.

And still he goes on.  The pacemaker demands it.  But now by withdrawing from dialysis, he has committed to a quick end.  The kidneys will shut down in a week, or less.  And just now, even with fresh blood he does not look well.  His face suggests 'The Scream.' Head thrown back, mouth open. You think of Munch's inspiration: "One evening I was walking along a path, the city was on one side and the fjord below. I felt tired and ill. I stopped and looked out over the fjord — the sun was setting, and the clouds turning blood red. I sensed a scream passing through nature; it seemed to me that I heard the scream. I painted this picture, painted the clouds as actual blood. The color shrieked. This became The Scream."

Perhaps, the cinematographer is filming just such a scene right now: like a scene from The Deer Hunter, but more ghastly even, a true metaphor for his abhorrence of what's been done to him, of what goes on each day....  The nurses have surved him well; the doctors not so much, particularly the one in charge who had him come down to his office, in September... Or was it late August.  The 'managing' doctor is a small wiry man, with an air of

Nevertheless, the case worker is confident: "This is a great man, he has brought happiness to many people. You never know where people go in their minds." The case worker is a chubby butch with a Brooklyn accent and a camp counsellor's demeanor.   She offer a long monologue about visitations with the dead. "My guardian spirit is my mother, of course," she begins, "and whenever I see a butterfly I know she's around."

I wondered if the cinematographer could hear her.  His bushy eyebrows twitched, which they often do when he is trying to suffer fools.

"It's important to ask the patient, if you can," the case worker went on. "Of course, sometimes, you can't, it's always delicate, but sometimes you can ask how they imagine they will be reincarnated. I know someone who said they would come back as a moth and they did!"

Said as though reappearing as a moth was like coming back as a fabulous prince.

Dec 5, 2015

The great cinematographer is down to his last shots.  The lighting is no longer an issue.  The angle is not important.  No one cares what this will look like; only he can see what's going on.  He's the director now, and suddenly, from deep in his hospital bed, he reaches out through the hallucination, with his right arm — bruised to black, bristling with blood lines — with his gnarled craw hand, to adjust the picture. Not the camera, but the scene itself. He moves the actors around with his fingers; rambling on in Hungarian; his bushy eyebrows twitching.  And then he yells out, in English; "Where shall I cut this?"

"Anywhere you like," I tell him.

 "But where are the keys?"

"They're right here," I say.  The keys to your whole life, right here.  Everything is metaphoric at this stage.

"I  thought we'd lost them," he says.  But no, you assure him, Marceau like; no, they're right here, and they'll start up whatever you need to start up. He's now content.  And so we return to CNN.  He spent the Paris massacre in accute care;  the San Bernadino massacre, in palliative care. Tomorrow, more dialysis.  Tomorrow then will be a bad day.  So many bad days in a row.  Can we make it to Christmas?  That's the hope.

Meanwhile, he is back in his film. Maybe he's shooting Umberto D; one of his favorites, almost as much as many of his own films....  He's back in his film; everyone is part of it.  "It doesn't matter," he says suddenly.  But this is not a reference to the film; this is a broader recognition.  So it seems.  Would he trade this for all of his fame now?  His academy award?

And then just to squeeze every last drop of irony out of the evening, here on the monitor at the top of the room is Tony Bourdain in Tangier.  Why it was just a year ago that Tony was having lunch with the cinematographer, himself, in Budapest, talking about all his great movies, about what it was like  to escape in 1956. But here is the real irony:  it was in Tangier where the cinematographer's father once coached soccer; in the late 1930s and early 1940s, and the son would come all the way from Hungry to visit, oh what fabulous visits those were, and the son would never forget his father.  There was no greater hero, in life or the imagination.

He watches it all out of one eye, with the oxygen pump making the sound of white noise, with the Filipinas remaking the bed in the other half of the room, with the slow realization coming, that no, no he may never leave here after all....