A Tale of Two Lofts
The Exotic Eastern European Film Director (EEEFD) and I climbed out of our cab and rang the bell at the studio of the Internationally Famous Artist (IFA).
The IFA gave us a tour of his studio, which was eye-opening. Even in those days, Soho was a heart-stoppingly expensive neighborhood, but the IFA owned a huge, lovely building, on the top floor of which was his studio. It was bathed all day long in even northern light, coming in from huge windows facing north and from huge skylights, also facing north.
The IFA didn’t soil his hands with anything so vulgar as actually making art. No, what the IFA did was to envision what a work should look like, then describe this vision to his serfs—excuse me, his unpaid, adoring art student interns—and those wretches would then actually create the work.
Following the tour, the IFA seemed confused about why we were there, but the EEEFD was Johnny-on-the-Spot, handing the IFA our screenplay and explaining quickly that we hoped he would consider backing the film. The IFA tossed the script negligently on a table, saying, “I’ll have my people look at it.”
The EEEFD and I left and heard nothing further, nothing whatever. But then, more than two years later, the EEEFD called me so outraged that I couldn’t understand a word he was saying—he was cursing in several languages. It turned out that the Internationally Famous Artist had made a film about Jean-Michel Basquiat.
The EEEFD, who had finagled early rushes of the film, claimed, at high volume, that “The [expletive deleted] stole our [expletive deleted] movie, Pittsburk!” When I declined to engage legal counsel based on the EEEFD’s say-so, he slammed the phone down in my ear.
Months later, when the film appeared in theaters, I naturally went to see it. It wasn’t our film at all, although, to give the EEEFD his due, it did appear that many scenes and whole chunks of dialogue had been lifted out of the screenplay the Internationally Famous Artist had so casually tossed on a table back in Soho.
Amusingly, during the opening credits of “Basquiat,” if you were paying close attention you could see, at the very bottom of the screen, in infinitesimally small font, the phrase, “Based on an idea by” the EEEFD.
So the EEEFD had managed to snag minuscule credit for the film. Well, good for him. But where o’ where was the credit due to Your Humble Blogger? Nowhere to be seen. I had been abandoned to the trash heap of Hollywood, consigned to cutting-room-floor oblivion.
Some months after that the EEEFD called me from New York in a rollicking good mood. It turned out that the tiny mention of him had, in the movie world, been (as Donald Trump might say) HUUGE. The EEEFD had already raised the money for his next film and all was forgiven.
“Listen, Pittsburk,” he said. “You want to meet some graffiti artists, friends of Basquiat?”
As it happened, my wife and I—and our toddler son—were headed to New York later that week anyway, so we hooked up with the EEEFD and found ourselves in a cab heading for the graffiti artists’ loft. I was imagining a lovely Soho venue, à la the Internationally Famous Artist. But when I glanced out the taxi window we were cruising through Alphabet City.
I don’t know how much you know about Alphabet City – Avenues A, B, C and D, located on the Lower East Side of New York, next to the East Village. But in the days of which I speak, it was, uh, not a nice neighborhood. When I lived in New York we referred to Alphabet City as ‘the two-block walk,” that being, on average, how far you could go before getting mugged.
Former Mayor Ed Koch put it this way: “The neighborhood known as Alphabet City … has for years been occupied by a stubbornly persistent plague of street dealers in narcotics whose flagrantly open drug dealing has destroyed the community life of the neighborhood.” Amen, Ed.
Anyway, just to be sure you have the full picture here, I wasn’t exactly prepared for a dangerous excursion into the remotest reaches of Alphabet City. I was wearing a preppie blue blazer, white button-down shirt, pink-striped tie, flannel trousers and tassel loafers. I had with me my pretty young wife and our rambunctious young son.
As we climbed nervously out of the cab—our son had spent the trip downtown essentially dismantling the back seat—the EEEFD whispered to me, “Listen Pittsburk, I told these graffiti guys you are a major art collector from Pittsburk.”
“You what?” I shrieked.
The EEEFD shrugged. “It was the only way they let you in, Pittsburk.”
We gingerly entered a derelict warehouse and the EEEFD pressed a big red button to summon a huge freight elevator—the kind where the door opens vertically, not horizontally.
As we stepped into the elevator the EEEFD said, casually, “Holt your nosses.” But it was too late. This was not only a freight elevator but also, apparently, the local pissoir.
As the elevator jerked its way slowly and noisily toward the top floor (“The loft, Pittsburk”), my wife and I exchanged anxious glances. Finally, the door opened and there on the fifth floor, lounging in stolen lawn chairs, were half a dozen terrifying street thugs.
We froze, but our son charged off the elevator and raced over to the street thugs—who, fortunately, turned out to be graffiti artists trying to look like street thugs—and began knocking things over.
The smallest and least alarming of these fellows came rushing over and shook my hand, introducing himself as AONE (pronounced “A-1”). While the EEEFD and my wife went over to chat up the graffiti artists, and while my son proceeded to break everything that wasn’t nailed down, AONE and I talked art, as befitted a “major art collector from Pittsburk.”
We’ll see how that went down next week.
Next up: AONE and Me, Part III