Sunday 02.10.08 -- Robert Kramer--Route One/USA--Screening
1. About This Sunday 02.10.08
2. About "Route One/USA"
3. Robert Kramer excerpts from 1968 interview with four Newsreel members
in Film Quarterly
4. Paul McIsaac--"Creating Doc"
1. About This Sunday 02.10.08
Where: 16beaver, 4th Floor
Who: Free and Open to all
A couple of us were lucky to catch part of Robert Kramer's film "Route
One/USA" the one and only time it screened at Documenta 12 this past
summer. We owe thanks film curator Alexander Horwath for bringing Kramer
back to our attention, in particular this film. Prior his death in 1999,
Robert Kramer had been living in Europe since the early 1980s. Before
that he was a community organizer, leftist filmmaker, and co-founder and
organizer of the Newsreel film movement. As many different parties will
be offering "40th Anniversary of 1968" events throughout the year--an
inevitably depressing mix of closure, self-congratulation, and
cooptation––we thought Route One/USA would be a worthwhile exploration to
screen and discuss. Situated halfway between 1968 and today, Route
One/USA documents a social and political American landscape of 1988 while
looking back from that moment at changes in the social and political
landscape of the US since the late 60s. We reprint below a description
more seductive than anything we could write to convince you to come see an
almost 5-hour long film.
If you want, bring food to share. We'll take a short break in the middle.
This is the first of two screenings we're billing as Five-Hour February.
Later this month we'll be screening Peter Watkins' film "La Commune: Paris
2. About "Route One/USA"
Robert Kramer, 1989, 255 minutes.
(Screened from the French DVD released in 2006--Not Available in Stores)
“In the brooding, irresistible epic Route One/USA, Kramer and fellow
expatriate Doc (Paul McIsaac) join in a trek from the beginning of Route 1
in Maine to its end in Florida. Doc enters, fleetingly, a succession of
private worlds, each of which reveals itself to the camera, sometimes in a
canned, practised way suggesting that cameras have been here before (a
self-aggrandising community leader in Bridgeport, Connecticut; a barker in
front of the Tragedy in U.S. History Museum in St. Augustine, Florida),
sometimes in a capsule of time that is hard, unfamiliar and complete (an
aged Indian woman in Maine going back over her life). Running throughout
is the idea of rebellion: rebellion of the colonists against Britain, of
the South against the North, of child against parent. Constantly, the
themes of parents and children, of history, legacies, memory, are linked
to the cinema and to photography. … Kramer washes us in things,
conversations, information, [but his] gliding images make explicit the
longing for distance, for transcendence.” (Chris Fujiwara)
3. Robert Kramer excerpts from 1968 interview with four Newsreel members
in Film Quarterly
(read online at http://www.donalforeman.com/blog/?p=44)
We began by trying to bridge the gap between the states of mind and ways
of working that we were accustomed to as film-makers, and the
engagement/daily involvement/commitments of our political analysis and
political activity. This had immediate implications—not only for our
film-making, but for interpretations of what, as film-makers, as people in
a struggle against established forms of power and control, against
established media of all forces, we had to do with or without cameras. In
regard to our films. I think we argue a different hierarchy of values. Not
traditional canons of “what is professional,” what is “comprehensive and
intelligent reportage,” what is “acceptable quality and range of
material.” No. Nor do we accept a more sophisticated argument about
propaganda in general: that if the product isn’t sold well, if the surface
of the film (grainy, troublesome sound, soft-focus, a wide range of
maladies that come up when you are filming under stress) alienates, then
the subject population never even gets to your “message” about the
product—they just say, “Fuck that, I’m not watching that shit.”
The subject population in this society, bombarded by and totally immersed
in complex, ostensibly “free” medcia, has learned to absorb all
facts/information relatively easily. Within the formats now popularised by
the television documentary, you can lodge almost any material, no matter
how implicitly explosive, with the confidence that it will neither haunt
the subject population, nor push them to move—in the streets, in their
communities, in their heads. You see Cleaver or Seale on a panel show, and
they don’t scare you or impress your or make you think as they would if
you met them on the street. Why? Because they can’t get their hands on
you? Partly, sure. (Fear and committed thought exist in terms of the
threat that power will be used against you—in terms of the absolute
necessity of figuring out what has to be done—noe in terms of some vague
decision to “think it through” in isolation.) But also, because their
words are absorbed by the format of the “panel show,” rational (note well:
ostensibly rational) discussion about issues that we all agree are
important and pressing, and that we (all good liberal viewers) are
committed to analysing. Well: bullshit. The illusion of the commitment to
analyse. The illusion of real dissent. The illusion of even understanding
the issues. Rather, the commitment to pretend that we’re engaging in
OK. At the point when you have considered this argument then you start to
make films with different priorities, with shapes justified in a different
way. You want to make films that unnerve, that shake assumptions, that
threaten, that do not soft-sell, but hopefully (an impossible ideal)
explode like grenades in peoples’ faces, or open minds like a good can
opener. We say: “The things you see in these films are happening at this
moment, they are our ‘news,’ they are important to us and do not represent
the droppings of a few freaks, but the activity of a growing wave of
people, youir children who were fighting the pigs at Columbia, your
brothers who deserted the army, your former slaves who will not now accept
your insufficient reparations, etc., etc. You know this reality. You know
enough to know that this is real—now deal with it, because soon it’s going
to come to deal with you, in one way or another.” The effect of our films
is more like seeing 250 Black Panthers around the Oakland Court House, or
Columbia students carrying on the business of revolt at Kirk’s desk, or
Free Men occupying the streets of Berkely, than listening to what some
reporter tells us about what these people might have said, and how we can
understand “rebellion” psychologically. We strive for confrontation, we
prefer disgust/violent disagreement/painful recognition/jolts—all these to
slow liberal head-nodding and general wonderment at the complexity of
these times and their being out of joint.
We want a form of propaganda that polarises, angers, excites, for the
purpose of discussion—a way of getting at people, not by making
concessions to where they are, but by showing them where you are then
forcing them to deal with that, bringing out all their assumptions, their
prejudices, their imperfect perceptions.
We shoot as best we can—but we shoot what’s important to us, what meets
our perceptions of our lived reality; we cut according to our priorities,
our ideologies, not “to make it plain and simple to them.” Not to present
a “line.” Not to present the lived reality as less complex than it really
is. Not to enter into that sterile game: modulating our emotions and
intensities and intelligences in some vain hope that by speaking your
language your way we can persuade you. No, we know the effective outcome
of that: only the acceptance of another of the subtle forms of domination
and control. Now we move according to our own priorities, and we are
justified in this by objective conditions. Five years ago, for example,
such a decision would have been suicidal. Our movement was only
emerging—few people knew anything about it—few people were involved. But
now, all our audiences (and our audiences represent the full spectrum of
the society) know the essence of what we’re talking about. They read it
every day in every paper digested and shaped to their preconceptions. So
now we present it to them in its nakedness, in our true understanding of
it, not vitiated by analyses and “in-depth studies” that we do not accept,
but just exactly what counts from our point of view. The established media
have done the job of popularising: now we must specify and make immediate;
convert our audiences or neutralise them; threaten.
Our films remind some people of battle footage: grainy, camera weaving
around trying to get the material and still not get beaten/trapped. Well,
we, and many others, are at war. We not only document that war, but try to
find ways to bring that to places which have managed so far to buy
themselves isolation from it.
So, to return to the issue of propaganda. Our propaganda is one of
confrontation. Using film—using our voices with and after films—using our
bodies with and without cameras—to provoke confrontation. Changing minds,
altering consciousness, seems to us to come through confrontations, not
out of sweet/reasonable conversations that are one of the society’s modes
of absorbing and disarming dissent and movement, of giving that illusion
that indeed we are dealing with “the issues.” Therefore we keep moving. We
keep hacking out films, as quickly as we can, in whatever way we can. To
all film-makers who accept the limited, socially determined rules of
clarity of exposition, who think that films must use the accepted
vocabulary to “convince,” we say, essentially: “You only work, whatever
your reasons, whatever your presumed ‘content,’ to support and bolster
this society; you are part of the mechanisms which maintain stability
through re–integation; your films are helping to hold it all together;
and, finally, whatever your other descriptions, you have already chosen
sides. Dig: Your sense of order and form is already a political choice.
Don’t talk to me about “content”—but if you do, I will tell you that you
cannot encompass our “content” with those legislated and approved senses,
that you do not understand it if you treat it that way. There is no such
thing as revolutionary content, revolutionary spirit, laid out for
inspection and sale on the bargain basement counter.
4. Paul McIsaac "Creating Doc" 1997
(read online at http://www.windwalk.net/writing/rk_mci.htm)
I worked with Robert Kramer on three of his major films; ICE (1969), DOC'S
KINGDOM (1986), ROUTE 1-USA (1987/88). In our collaboration over these
thirty years we often ignored the usual distinctions between writer,
actor, camera operator and director. Drawing on our own lives and others
of our generation we created the character of Doc and placed him in the
real world. It was a dialectical process...Doc is a synthesis, one
expression of our generation and of the creative tension between two very
Thirty years ago when Robert and I first met, we were radicals, we were
young, arrogant and it was a glorious time to be alive. Today, in these
reactionary times, 60's revisionists' from the right and the left are
building careers picking over the mistakes of that era or apologizing for
our excesses. It's true, we were crazy enough to try to change the world .
. . and we did, sometimes even for the better. To understand our work
together, you have to start with that past.
We were comrades back then. But we were also competitive, watching each
other with both respect and suspicion. People sometimes ask if we are
brothers and have mistaken us for each other. Back then, in our late
twenties, I was mostly aware of our class differences.
Raised in New York's Greenwich Village after WWII with all the breeding
and education a liberal Jewish professional family could provide, Robert,
the anointed son, was destined to be a leader. But after college he
rebelled, he avoided the draft and became a community organizer, a radical
filmmaker, a founder of Newsreel and a key figure in the New Left. Robert
did have the skills and confidence to lead but what he wanted to help lead
was a revolution that would completely turn the "world of his father"
On the other hand I'm from the Protestant lower class of America. My
father was a house painter, illegally here from Scotland. My mother a
factory worker from Georgia. I spent most of my early life in
institutions, children's homes, juvenile lockups and the Army. Instead of
college I found my way into theater and film, acting and directing. We
came from opposite ends of the social strata and met at an insurrectionary
"Revolution is created not by a nondescript body of people called "the
masses" . . . the fuel that stoked fires into blazes was a minority of
militants who came from the suppressed strata.. And very significantly, a
radical intelligentsia . . . a footloose network of writers, artists,
poets, and professional of all sorts, even actors..."
THE THIRD REVOLUTION Vol. I.(Cassell-1996)
Though we came from very different worlds Robert and I were both part of
what was called, the Movement. Made up of different political tendencies,
exacerbated by race and class differences and intensified by American
individualism, the Movement was home for all kinds of rebellions. It was
rooted in the struggle for Black Civil Rights, the artists of the Beat
Generation, the liberal middle class and the remnants of the traditional
Left, suppressed during the Cold War. Its ranks were filled with dedicated
revolutionaries and others, looking to avoid the draft and get on with
We were Red Diaper Babies, Pacifists and members of the antiwar movement,
students and former students of the New Left, Marxists and Anarchists, (of
many varieties), racial and cultural Nationalists, emerging activists of
the Womens, Gay/Lesbian and Ecology movements. We were radicalized workers
and war veterans, liberal reformers, street kids, agent provocateurs,
spoiled brats, crazy fools, spiritual explorers, drugged-out hustlers and
a few real heros. In the late 60's Robert was a leading figure in the New
Left, but he was also making independent, auture films, exploring ideas
years before they emerged in the Left in the US or in Europe.
During that same time I was living in Europe connected to the
AnarcoArtists network inspired by Antonin Artaud, the Living Theater,
psychedelics and anarchism. We wanted to transform social and political
events, demonstrations, concerts and daily life into...Art. I arrived in
Paris in May of '68 and joined the "theater of insurrection" on the
streets. One night during a lull in the action a young woman, filled with
"l' esprit revolutionnaire" told me the history of Revolution in Paris.
Holding a cobble stone in her hand, she said these were the same stones
her ancestors had dug up to fight the army and the police all the way back
in the French Revolution. . . it was intoxicating.
When I arrived back in the States, it was the summer of 1968, in the
middle of a year that was more like a decade. I hooked up with the
Yippies! and helped stage the Festival of Life at the Democratic
Convention in Chicago that fall. I quickly became aware of splits in the
Movement, particularly the one between the Political and the Cultural
Radicals--the Marxist "politicos" and the "counterculture" anarchists.
Running with Newsreel people on the streets of Chicago, I was impressed
with the way they melted in and out of the demonstrators with their
cameras; always apart and yet not apart of the action.
This was THE radical film group in America. Newsreel made and distributed
films about the Black Panthers, the student rebellion, civil rights, the
Womens Movement and the worldwide struggle against Colonialism,
Imperialism and Capitalism. The films they made and the way the used film
as an organizing tool was inspiring and incendiary. I imagined this group
could bring together the two tendencies on the left, the cultural and the
I saw Robert in action at my first Newsreel meeting in the early winter of
1968. There were maybe fifty people meeting in this barren creaky old loft
near New York City's garment district. These were strong and talented men
and women...but finally the group was controlled by a small group of
"heavies" and Robert was definitely one. In the old days someone like
Robert and one or two other (male) leaders would have taken charge and run
the group directly. But this was the New Left and we were a "collective".
So they ran the group, indirectly.
By the force of their ideas and arguments they would educate and convince
others and sometime build a genuine consensus. But always at work were
their charms, their intelligence and their male self confidence and sexy
charisma. Lurking in the back ground was also their access to money,
information, power and just a hint of violence and intimidation. I admired
and resented this small group of men. I had (or thought I had) so many of
their abilities--but little of their power.
Robert was the most dynamic of the group. His Karate discipline gave him
an easy and strong physical presence, while his anger threatened to boil
over at any moment. Moving in and out of the shadows on the edge of the
meeting, whispering to this one, flirting with that one, stepping into the
light to make a point or dismiss someone's ideas with his body
language...he was an attractive and threatening force. He had long thick
dark hair, Zapata mustache, worn leather jacket and heavy boots...and you
knew he might have a knife. Armed with his class and skin privileges, now
in service of "the people," Robert worked hard on his image as the urban
In the NEWSREEL film, "Summer 68", you see Robert with Tom Hayden and the
other New Left leaders addressing the crowds in Chicago. It's easy to see
in their attitude that if a true revolutionary situation had emerged they
were ready to lead.
Late one night back then, in a quiet moment, I asked Robert what he was
looking for. In that solid, clear way of the revolutionary leader he
said..."I'm looking for the Army." We're not talking here about some rag
tag rock throwing mob, but a real army. I'm sure he saw himself as a
commandanta. Of course that was not on- at the time though it seemed that
anything was possible. Robert responded to this "revolutionary" moment by
creating a fiction film which expressed the dreams, nightmares and
aspirations of the Movement. It was prophetic, disturbing and is an
important document of that era . . . it's called ICE.
"Our films remind some people of battle footage: grainy, camera weaving
around trying to get the material and still not get beaten/trapped. Well,
we and many others, are at war . . . (We) want to make films that unnerve,
that shake assumptions, that threaten, that . . . explode like grenades in
peoples' faces, or open minds up like a good can opener."
FILM QUARTERLY, Winter 1968-69.
"Revolution is touching all of our lives. Tens of thousands have learned
that protest and marches don't do it. Revolutionary violence is the only
A Declaration Of A State Of War Communique #1.
Underground - May 21, 1970
Even by the last months of 1968 many of us felt that both revolutionary
change and serious repression were imminent. What should we do? Our
government was waging war abroad and in the ghettos and barrios at home...
Do we peacefully protest or join the armed resistance? What is the
"correct" role of violence? Do we support the VietCong (NLF) or do we just
demonstrate to get the US out of South East Asia?
We struggled with these kinds of questions at endless Newsreel meetings.
What films do we make and distribute? These frustrating and extraordinary
sessions had the life and death atmosphere of a revolutionary war council.
We believed that our films and actions made a real difference. We were
sure that every decision we made would affect the course of history--and
we were intent on making those decisions as collectively as possible. Yet
when Robert announced that he had the funding to make ICE, our commitment
to collective action seemed to fade away. ICE was never really subjected
to the group process. It had an unspoken, tacit approval, perhaps because
nearly all of us were playing a part, either on or off screen, in the film
or because it was being made by Newsreel "heavies." ICE was made in six
weeks in January and February 1969 and released in 1970. The film has no
credits but the film was written and directed by Robert Kramer, shot and
edited by Robert Machover and produced by David Stone with a $15,600 grant
from American Film Institute. AFI expected a "science fiction short." What
they got was a 16-mm B&W feature film that imagined an armed revolution in
It is set in the "near future", the United States had become more
repressive at home and was fighting "one, two, many Vietnams" abroad
including a counter revolutionary war in Mexico. The film follows a
fictional group called the National Committee of Independent Revolutionary
Organizations as they carry out an armed offensive in New York City in
preparation for a "national offensive" meant to spark a "general uprising
of the whole people." This armed clandestine group was in turn hunted
down, tortured and killed by paramilitary death squads.
I played one of the central roles in ICE and it seemed to make since,
moment by moment. But like everyone else I had no idea what the finished
film would be or how it would play. After seeing it edited I was torn, as
a film I liked it, but as a political document I rejected it. It was raw
and gritty and expressed many of my feelings and beleifs and yet I agreed
with those that did not want it to be distributed by Newsreel.
People had many reasons...It was just Robert's personal trip!..It was
"infantile adventurism". Finally I think ICE took us all right up to the
edege of violance and it's imlications and many of us back away. As a
group to "officially" release the film would mean an endorsement of the
emerging armed clandestine underground movement in the States and many
never supported that strategy. Newsreel got a film it refused to
Recently I asked two old friends what they thought about ICE back then.
One said " ICE was great! We said right on! That's what we need to do,"
and he did...as member of an armed revolutionary group he spent time
underground and a decade in jail. The other friend, a pacifist artist who
loves many of Kramer's other films said, "When I saw ICE in Paris in the
early '70's, I stood up in the middle of it and yelled..BULLSHIT, this is
Today I see ICE differently... It's a cautionary tale a "science fiction"
film that projects fears and paranoia about violence and revolution into
the future..."to see what could happen." Back then it worked as a kind of
psychodrama forcing the viewer to take sides. "You're either part of the
solution or you're part of the problem"! It was a time of absolutes. Some
people in ICE did join or became supporters of that desperate, violent
vision carried to its logical conclusion, by factions of the Weather
Underground, the Black Liberation Army in the States, the Red Brigades,
the Bider Menehoff Group and other urban guerilla movements in Japan and
These debates about violance and armed struggled in Newsreel were focused
on ICE, but the same questions faced others in the broader Movement.
Additionally, there were enormous pressures on us all, from the outside,
from the government and from within. The police, the FBI and National
Security forces were unleashed in a very effective campaign code named
COINTELPRO. It worked, they succeeded in infiltrating and destroying the
Movement. Militants, particularly Blacks, were targeted and "neutralized."
Finally there was a rebellion inside the rebellion.
Women, Blacks and other "minorities" rebelled, split or threw out the
white male leadership. Newsreel itself was transformed by these demands
for equity. It later became Third World Newsreel, which it is today. "Good
bye. goodbye forever, counterfeit Left, counter-left, male-dominated
cracked-glass-mirror reflection of the Amerikan nightmare. Women are the
real Left." Robin Morgan, February 9, 1970
I left Newsreel not long after ICE was released. Frustrated with how money
and resources were delegated by the leadership of the group, I went back
to nonviolent direct action on the street, organizing amongst workers and
prisoners.About the same time a contingent of original Newsreelers, (some
would say led by Robert after the rejection of ICE), left New York City
and went into live and organize in Vermont. They saw this move "back to
the land" not as an escape, but the first step in a Garvarist guerilla
warfare model of "bringing the war home." Others in the group, often the
women, opposed the war machine but were more focused on day to day issues.
They wanted to start building a new society, now "...in the shell of the
I encountered Robert once during this period. It was at Roz Payne's
rambling old house in northern Vermont. Roz, who appears in several of
Robert's films and other former Newsreel veterans like filmmaker John
Douglas were creating a state wide network called, "FREE VERMONT." Her
house was one of the a nerve centers supporting wars of liberation abroad
and people in the underground here...including draft evaders slipping into
Canada. Influenced by the counter culture they started communes, food
coops and community child care, health and woman centers. While some
continued their weapons practice secreatly back in the woods..
Consciousness was on the rise...male domination was being confronted, kids
were being born, marriages ended and new couples formed and reformed. Some
of our friends did pick up the gun and go underground. Many women and gays
were "coming out," often becoming more culturally radical.
I remember Robert, John and us other "guys'" sitting on Roz's front porch
one evening, being confronted with our sexism. While sewing patches on our
jeans, we were also busy "mending our ways." These confrontations were
inevitable and not easy...there was a period there when I felt that I was
like prisoner in a "political reeducation camp" for privileged white
males. Robert worked with John Douglas documenting this period in his 1972
feature film MILESTONES..for me the positive, erotic twin of ICE.
As the counter revolution gained force in the mid-'70s and the Movement
declined many people drifted back onto a career path and the mainstream.
Robert, still looking for the revolution, went to Portugal where he made
SCENE FROM THE CLASS STRUGGLE IN PORTUGAL (1975-76) and then onto Angola
to make a photo-book, PEOPLE WITH FREEDOM IN THEIR EYES. After more that a
year in California, working as a truck driver and writing screen plays, he
went to France in 1979. There he was able to make the films he wanted,
outside the huge corporate film industry.
I spent the late '70's and '80's working in non-commercial radio. I
covered strikes, social movements, wars and revolutions. In creating these
radio documentaries I tried to avoid experts, always looking for those
people who were living the "story."
>From a distance Robert's reputation grew. He was, "Kramer, the exe-patriot
radical filmmaker appreciated by the French, yes, but not at home." He and
his films were becoming increasingly mythical, mainly, I think, because we
never got to see any of his work in the States.
For nearly fifteen years Robert and I had no contact. Then in the summer
of 1984 Roz Payne and others organized a reunion of the FREE VERMONT
Movement. Dozens of people came from all over to a youth camp on Lake
Champlain near the Canadian-Vermont border. It was at once awkward and
sweet to see so many old friends. I tried to talk to everyone, I was
producing a radio documentary for National Public Radio, I called it the
Reunion of Radicals. The children of these '60's radicals were the
highlight of my program.
Conversations with Robert were different than with the others at this
reunion...very little chit chat or reminiscing. We connected at a much
deeper level than had ever been possible in our days in Newsreel. That
suspicion and competitiveness we had as young men seemed to have just
dissolved. We started the thinking and talking that led to the creation of
the character of Doc... not long after we were in Portugal shooting 'DOC'S
The film crew Robert assembled in Lisbon included Robert Machover who had
shot and helped edit ICE twenty years before and members of his French
film family, cinematographer Richard Copans and soundman Olivia Swab. The
character of Doc grew out of both of our lives and the lives of friends,
some of whom were now dead, in jail or just "missing in action." Without
forcing the myth we saw that like Odysseus, Doc has been on a long journey
home from the wars. Doc was a radical that would not surrender--he was
brave, idealistic and he barely survived.
During the shoot the script changed daily and I was free to improvise as I
"became" Doc. I have acted in many other films and on the stage, but I
never had this kind of freedom. I found a way of working that was natural
and engaged, like playing jazz. Up to that point Robert tended to avoid
working with professional actors, but I think he saw that this was a kind
of acting closer to how he works on films.
We learn a lot about Doc in "DOC'S KINGDOM." We see his little house on
the river Tage, watch him trudge to his job at a tired old Lisbon
hospital. There he is with death a lot. He has some disease...a virus,
alcohol, isolation? In his delirium he tells us about his jail time as a
youth and how he broke with the armed movement and had to choose between
the gun and medicine. Unlike Che, he chooses healing. He went on to live
in a self-imposed exile serving independence movements in Africa. That's
over now, he's hit bottom, hanging onto the edge of Europe.
Into this "kingdom" of his, comes his son, (Vincent Gallo). A son he has
never met. Doc longs to see the mother Rozie, (Roz Payne). But learns from
the son that she has died. The abandoned son and absent father try to find
some way to be with each other. There is finally only a fragile
connection. As the film ends, Doc wants to go back to the States after
these years of exile--and so does Robert. Even as he is editing DOC'S
KINGDOM, plans are underway for Robert's return.
The original idea Robert had for ROUTE ONE was for him a film crew to go
back to the States, travel down US #1 from the Canadian border along the
eastern seaboard, though the old colonies, Boston, New York, Washington,
D.C. and finally into the South and all the way down to Key West in
Florida. After more than a decade in "exile...in Europe making movies"
what would Robert find going back home to America? Robert called and asked
me to help find interesting places and people he could include on his film
trip. I agreed and started making calls. At first Doc was never mentioned.
But as we began working together planning Robert's trip, Doc "insisted" on
making the trip. It was just like everything else in this project... the
idea to follow Doc just emerged from the process of our working together.
Our team took six months, shooting nearly every day, to make the trip.
Every day the same motel rooms and dinners seemed to move with us down the
road. But the people and places out there on the road were always
different and compelling. This time Robert was behind the camera himself.
Richard Copans produced, did the cinematography and lighting. Olivia Swab
recorded the sound. Jordan Stone and Christine LaGoff were production
assistants. We were never more than a crew of five in two cars following
Doc down the road.
We were not tourists, but more like pilgrims or adventurers. Other than
getting to the end of Route #1 we had no real goal or plotted trip in
mind. Typically we'd pull into a town with some people or ideas to check
out; a witch, a bag pipe playing lobsterman, an illegal immigrant. Other
days we'd follow Doc to Thoreau's cabin on Walden Pond or a
community aids center...and then just see what would happen. Sometimes
everything stopped while I tried to figure out how Doc would get into some
scene. Other times I remember Robert sitting with the camera in his lap
meditating on how to shoot a moment. Finally we'd discover what was right
for Doc and how Robert would shoot it. We really made it up as we went
On the road the new people we met were completely at ease with the notion
that I was playing a doctor coming home after many years. They knew they
were "playing" themselves. At other times Robert took the camera and went
off to explore other realities without Doc, some very personal to his own
history. The complexity grows when Doc starts addressing himself directly
to the camera. Not talking to the viewers-but talking to his friend the
filmmaker, Robert. By the time we got to Georgia things got even more
complex. In the South we were building Doc's history by using people and
places out of my, Paul's, past. My friends got into the swing of it, they
called me Doc, but interacted with me based on our shared histories. Doc
got stronger as his past and his reality grew. As a result something
completely unpredictable and strange happened. This fictional person, Doc
turned to the camera and the filmmaker and changed the course of the film.
Doc was having his hair cut when he turned to Robert and said that he had
enjoyed going down the road, but that it was time for him to get back to
doctoring. Robert said he would miss Doc, but that he understood!
So while Robert and the crew continued down Route One from Georgia down
the length of Florida, Doc flew to Miami to see if he could find a life
for himself there. Weeks later when Robert arrived he documented this new
life. Doc had found a place to live, he had a new woman friend and a job
in public health working with AIDS patients. After documenting Doc's "new
life", Doc and Robert said goodbye again and Robert continued down to Key
West, immersed in images.
For once the subject/the actor talked directly to the all powerful
observer/the filmmaker, with some equity and shared control. Then, as
always when the shooting is done, the collaboration is over, Robert
returns to the solitude of the editing room. He will be generous with our
creativity--but in the end it is his vision, he must make something
coherent out of all that messy life we lived.
The finished film is a complex layering of different Points of View and
ways of seeing. Some viewers say they are confused watching it. After
screenings people have come up to ask me if I was still doctoring. Others
want to know ..."Where is Doc now", and not all are being ironic. People
have very different feelings about this shifting between fictional and
non-fictional realities. For me this is one of the most interesting and
subversive aspects of Route One. This process is all very risky. The
common wisdom is that the fictional character, once created must be
controlled and lead by the script. If not, a weak character will fizzle
and go flat. A strong self possessed charactor like Doc can run amuck,
like some blob of ink that jumps out of the cartoonist ink bottle and
takes over, running around changing shapes and defying the rational laws
of the screen. It's much too anarchic, and if the subject is "serious,"
it's hard for the viewer to sit back and just be entertained. ROUTE ONE
does have a story, a narrative and "characters" ...but the perspective is
always shifting between the objective and subjective. We were striving for
poetry not journalism or entertainment.
Over the last decade people ask, (we ask), if we'll bring Doc back. We are
both working on our own different projects, but we do wonder if there is
some new adventure for us with Doc? We have talked about pain and death
and that Doc would be a good companion on a journey into that dark place.
How would we do that? We'd walk and talk. Robert would write, we'd talk
some more, he'd rewrite. We'd share books, films and audio tapes and tales
and secrets from the past. We open to each other's paranoia and dreams.
We'd drink, get high, share long meals. Doc and his relationship to
certain ideas and places would begin to emerge. The process of discovering
could begin again.