Saturday, October 28, 2006

Extra-Strength


On the days that I attended the sets of ‘Superman Returns’, we didn’t see Superman but we all felt his presence. Look up in the sky, where is everybody is favorite man in blue-tights, with the red underwear on the outside?

Yes, for a brief time I walked among the chosen few in the great city of Metropolis, where there was no better scenery to observe the cult of celebrity, the desire to be rich and famous so rampant amongst the young. Each girl compared herself to Kate Bosworth, sizing her up, examining her, scrutinizing her, and measuring her own self worth in comparison to what is held up and adored. Of course, Kate is special, aside from her beauty and talents she has two different colored eyes. That was the assessment. She has a brand, a niche. That’s what you need today or there’s no chance for you, the unknown unimportant person, to enter into significance.

Once I was on the set of a small film, where there were three main actors, all of them unknown, and the Production Assistant accidentally sent the handful of Extras up to wait with them in the green room. When we arrived we were informed in a forceful condescending bark by the guardian of the holy order, ACTORS ONLY, NOT EXTRAS! Right, got that, extras are dirt.

The class system on a set is rigorous. Even amongst the Extras there is a ranking: featured Extras and filler Extras. The filler Extras want to be featured, and the featured Extras want a speaking role, and the speaking roles want a more substantial role, and perhaps those want to be Nicole, or Mel, or Kate, or Hugo. It is a harkening to the days when the classes were more visually obvious, and a magnified sample the system of desires that fuels capitalism today. The funny thing is, my friend assured me, all the extras here think they’re going to be discovered. Outrageous! Hilarious! Our laughter peaked then died on a strange choke.

A thirty-something mother of one responded, well, I heard about one girl who was on Home and Away as an Extra and then she got on the show. It can happen. Now she’s an actress. The conversation stumbled over itself as she tried to recall the name of the girl and what happened to her.

On sets there is a clear pecking order of whom this society deems important and whom it doesn’t. Regardless of whether they are known or talented the actors are always first, unless there is a star director, followed by the crew like (cinematographer, camerapersons, audio, etc.) then the less important crew, (gaffers, runners, 12th assistant to the 5th assistant director, etc.) then everyone’s pet dog, fish, then the toaster, their old lunch, then, Oh right - Extras.

What do these dirty uneducated vermin Extras do with their plentiful free time? Fantasize about being upgraded to the high class, of course. On the Superman set, a lovely dark haired girl pondered the system unable to comprehend it: pointing to a young lady with a small speaking role she said, I look just like her except I’m younger, I’m so much younger, I could be her, that could be me, I’m prettier too, look at me, aren’t I prettier? Her friend told her what she wanted to hear, yes, yes, you are, way prettier.
This young lady struck a chord in me. I scanned the crowd trying to understand the belief so entrenched in our Western self, that we would somehow be a better person, or a happier person if we were discovered and became the next Nicole Kidman. That somehow being rich and famous makes you worth more. It makes you special.
Why do we buy into it?
Why do we believe, short of being Nic, that her lifestyle would bring a greater meaning to our lives?

I listened to the Extras leaning over the railing asking those in front of the railing, thus closer to the camera, how did you get that job? You look familiar. Have I seen you in something? I imagined them clawing their way to a fictitious end. We are in search for the Holy Grail, the fountain of youth. I couldn’t find any answers for that, so I placated myself with the thought that I am one of the privileged. Here I am, living in one of the greatest cities on earth, and I’m a featured Extra on the set of Superman Returns!

(For more information about Superman Returns check out: bluetights.net)
This article was published in Blitz Magazine August 8-14 2005. I submitted it under the title “Blue Tights and Desire” but the title was changed to “Extra Strength” I think - for the better.

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