This is a story about my first brush with the movie biz.
London. 1982. I was a junior in college and that was where I spent my junior year abroad.
One drizzly Saturday morning I woke up in a fog, rolled out of bed, and, like a zombie from Night of the Living Dead, swayed blindly and listlessly to the tube station (that’s London’s subway). I might have even moaned. Why was I listless and moaning? Simple: I was hung over, felt awful and had a huge amount of school work to do. I was on my way to study at one of the libraries at the University of London.
The library was up a couple of flights in a building on a quiet residential square. Once I was in the lobby, I filed into the elevator with a bunch of other people. As soon as the elevator doors closed, I became aware of a soft-spoken female voice, talking fast and even; it sounded as if she were trying to empty her brain as quickly as possible before the next deluge of information rushed in. Though she was talking at a steady clip. Not one word seemed to be spoken faster or slower than another. She was making my headache worse and I could not make out what she was saying; I simply had to see what she looked like. I turned around and looked at her, but she didn’t see me. She was too busy having a one-sided conversation, literally. She wasn’t talking to anyone. Maybe she didn’t know she was thinking aloud. Or maybe she thought someone was right next to her, hanging onto her every word. As we filed out of the elevator, the woman did not skip a beat—she kept talking in the same tap-tap-tapping staccato pace. We entered the library and I made sure to go the opposite way as she.
Today, I can still hear that soft voice chattering away, thoughts racing through her head like horses racing around a track.
I loved libraries. Still do. This one was beautiful. Everything was made of old, austere chestnut wood that looked like it was there long before we were born, and would remain there long after we died. I could imagine Shakespeare leaning over a book on a thick, sturdy wooden table, one of a long line of tables that ran parallel to and midway between the long walls lined with books. Apparently it had stopped drizzling; the sunlight shined through the massive arched windows.
I didn’t last there very long. It’s hard to focus when your whole being is telling you to lie down. I left after about an hour and a half, this time walking with purpose in anticipation of falling back into bed. But when I stepped into the foyer I stopped short. A sign stood before the elevator telling us not to use it. We had to take the stairs. Given that I had just taken the elevator with no problem, I was amazed that it had broken so suddenly. I stumbled down the stairs, staggered across the corner of the lobby, which seemed to have more people than usual. And it was oddly quiet. As I left the building. I took a quick glance back and saw a huge spotlight shining into the elevator.
That was one strange way of repairing elevators.
Or so I thought.
I considered asking someone what was going on, but no one talked to strangers in Britain in those days. The Brits opened doors for women, they were polite and chivalrous, but they never spoke loudly and certainly not to people they did not know.
I did not want to be a loud, obnoxious American tourist, so I continued to walk onto the street. I did not get very far before I saw two parked white trucks, with company logos on them; the only thing I remembered about the name was that it ended with “Studios.”
This time my stomach lurched when I stopped short and turned around. I could not simply leave without asking someone what was going on. So I went back into the lobby and did just that.
“They’re filming a movie,” a girl told me. “David Bowie’s in the elevator.”
Stupor gone. Hormones up.
David Bowie! I have always loved him, since….since he came into my radar.
That huge spotlight shining into the elevator was a movie spotlight!
As I said, there were relatively few people there, and they weren’t talking or craning their necks. How could there be a rock icon only a few yards away?
I moved in closer along the semicircle of people surrounding the elevator. I stopped directly across from it, but the director and random crew members blocked my view. Then they parted a little and I could get a glimpse of a guy in the elevator; oh it was him all right. He was covered in gobs of makeup, made up to be a werewolf, but you could still see that distinct facial structure carved out of pure godliness.
Soon the shoot was over, and Bowie stepped out of the elevator, walking in my direction, and as he walked he scanned the crowd. He looked toward where I was standing, and that was when it happened: for one slight nanosecond, our eyes met.
Take it in folks, David Bowie and I locked eyes.
And during that momentous nanosecond, a moment I have never forgotten, while I looked into his renowned blue eye and its brother brown eye, I could only think of one thing:
It looked awful. That morning I left the flat without taking a shower. I was hung over, I felt horrible, and I must have looked horrible.
How could I let Bowie see me like this?
Someone had put a coat on his shoulders and he was walking away. That was my opportunity. I ran out of the building and down a couple of blocks to the gym, took a shower, blew dry my hair, and ran back, only to find…
No vans, no spotlight, no crew. Only people entering and leaving the elevator to get in and out of the library.
Saddened by what I did not see, I stood just inside the lobby doors, staring at the elevator and wishing there was someone else to share the miracle with. But I had gone to the library alone; although I would later tell my flat-mates what had happened, it was not the same.
The day had started in an elevator with a lonely British student talking out loud to no one and ended with a confused, hung-over American college student, with lovely hair, wishing someone were there to see what she saw, and share in her moment of glory.
PS the movie was The Howling, a complete bomb, not that it mattered. After all, David Bowie was in it.