Friday, December 15, 2006

With an eye on the future

Eric M Nilsson is a strange fellow in that he often seems to know what’s just about to happen. Once upon a time, he was making a documentary film in the heart of Stockholm, using the services of a newly-hired but not-very-bright Canadian cameraman. An ideal cameraman sets his machine in action just before the action starts, not after it’s finished. So, he needs to be capable—like Nilsson—of predicting future events. As far as the Canadian was concerned, this was not the case, and tension was developing between him and Nilsson. At the end of yet another’s day unsuccessful shooting, the crew went out to a restaurant for dinner, and they eased the tension by consuming a lot of red wine. The cameraman complained that Eric wasn’t giving him explicit orders on what had to be done. “Well here’s an order,” shouted Nilsson, who was both furious and slightly drunk. “Rendezvous tomorrow morning at 4.30 am on the central square of the city.” After a few hours sleep, and nursing a hangover, Nilsson wandered along to the central square, wondering whether his cameraman would be turning up. The Canadian was already there, shivering in the cold. At that time of the year, there was already sufficient light in the sky to contemplate filming, but neither Nilsson nor the cameraman could imagine what on earth they might shoot, since the square was totally deserted. “Point the camera at that door,” ordered Nilsson, indicating the entry into Stockholm’s underground train system, “and start shooting.” The machine whirred for two minutes, but nothing was happening. Later on, Nilsson would admit to himself that, at that moment, he wondered if he had not become a little insane as a consequence of his stressed and frustrated state of mind. Then the door opened, and a little fat middle-aged man emerged. He was wearing a hat and huge coat, and carrying a briefcase. At the top of the stairs, he took out an aerosol can of paint, walked towards a nearby marble wall, and wrote the words SOCIAL DEMOCRATIE. Without realizing at any moment that he was being filmed, he turned around and disappeared back down into the train station. Nilsson and his cameraman were amazed and elated. They had captured this extraordinary spontaneous scene. In the context of his future film (on the theme of the city of Stockholm), Nilsson was already convinced that these amazing images would start the ball rolling, as it were. In ways he only dimly imagined, the spray-painted words would surely become the departure point of Nilsson’s documentary on the city. However, later that day, when the rushes were developed, Nilsson was terribly disappointed to discover that the Canadian cameraman had been so disturbed by the idea of seeing something unexpected happening at the other end of his lens that he simply forgot to focus it. And the images of the little man with the spray can were totally unusable. Nilsson fired the cameraman on the spot. He then exceeded his budget by having to hire a competent cameraman who could predict the future, but the outcome was one of Nilsson’s finest documentaries.

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