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....

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