Dangerous: Kay Boyle – The Blog
“It was in the late twenties that I went to live and work in Paris, and I was then still a French citizen (through my marriage). These two facts would seem to disqualify me as a member of the lost generation or as an expatriate. But I was there, in whatever guise, and even if a bit late.” – – Kay Boyle
I’ve been working on the film Dangerous: Kay Boyle for over 30 years. Not all the time mind you, I’ve had to stop to do silly things like pay the rent, have a kid, get a divorce and work on other people’s movies. I’ve also made eight short films, three features, a bunch of documentaries, and written three books. I’ve criss-crossed the US over a dozen times and put this film on the back burner so many times I’ve lost count.
The reason I’m writing this journal now is because the time has come to put this film on the front burner and keep it there until I can complete it. I’ve applied for grants, asked friends for money, begged friends for money, conned friends in to working with me for free as long as I picked up the tab for traveling, had credit cards taken away from me, rented equipment in foreign cities that I couldn’t pay for, and used way too much of my own funds to get as far as I have.
Making any film is a struggle, making this film makes me feel like I’m the Ancient Mariner and Dangerous has become my albatross.
I’ve had more run ins with people and organizations that have lied to me, taken advantage of me, and used my work for their own purposes. I’m not bitter (angry is a word that comes to mind), this is what happens to any filmmaker who is so passionate about their work that they want to believe only good things about people when they’re approached. I’ve given away too many things and received very little in return, but I’m still excited and passionate about this film.
Whenever I’ve had a negative experience I tell myself its okay. “Just wait until I finish this, they’ll see.” I’ve used that to sustain me over the years. When I’ve put this film away for a while I’ve allowed myself to get depressed. “Will I ever finish this film?” Is a familiar refrain in my head. I have friends who don’t even want to ask me about it anymore, afraid that I’ll jump all over them. I won’t.
In an earlier book I wrote that film school taught me you always finish what start. Well it’s time I listen to myself and get this finished.
So follow along and see the trials and tribulations of a filmmaker who bit off more than he could chew in the beginning but is going to finish this film no matter what. My hope is that you’ll read about all of the mistakes I’ve made and avoid them when you’re making your film.
I’ll be updating this every week. So here we go.
And if you want to donate to this film here’s your chance.
Blog Post Part Two
Origins of the film
I started researching American Expatriates for a documentary film in 1982. I knew people who lived outside of the US for many reasons and I thought it would make an interesting documentary especially since we were living under Reagan. (Little did I know what was to come…)
I was researching American Expatriates in Paris in the 1920’s and I kept coming across the name, Kay Boyle. I always thought I was well read but I had no idea who this woman was, so I started doing more research. (See Kay’s brief bio – http://www.angryfilmmaker.com/dangerous-kay-boyle/a-brief-biography/)
It seemed like Kay had been everywhere. Here was a person who had witnessed and written about so many major events of the 20th Century and she was virtually unknown.
I was talking to a friend of mine, a poet and playwright, and told her about Kay Boyle. She said, “Oh yeah, Kay lives in Springfield. We had her up here for one of our poetry events.” I was floored. Kay was living 100 miles away?
Through friends I got her address and a phone number. I wrote a letter telling her who I was and that I was interested in making a documentary about American Expatriates and would she consent to an interview? I sent the letter off and waited a week. Then I called her phone number.
It was disconnected! I couldn’t believe it. I had come so close. My biggest fear was that she had passed away. I knew she was in her 80’s. I was depressed. So close. (This was to be a re-occurring theme for the making of this film.)
Later that day I went to my post office box and there was a letter from her. Her handwriting was very impressive, a joy to look at.
She had just moved back to the Bay Area (Oakland) and if I was ever down there she would love to talk to me about Paris in the 20’s and the whole expatriate thing. I was elated!
Three weeks later I called Kay and told her I was going to be in San Francisco and could we meet? She told me she was quite busy getting a book review out for the New York Times but she would spare a little time, an hour.
Quite busy? Only an hour? She was in her 80’s how busy could she be? I soon learned that Kay was always busy, that’s what kept her going.
I don’t remember much about the first time I met Kay. We went out for coffee in her neighborhood and talked about lots of things. I do remember that she wouldn’t (or didn’t) agree to participate in my film. She wanted to think about it.
I’m sure she saw this young guy she had never heard of talking about making films and she’d probably heard all of this before. I don’t know what kind of an impression I made on her, but she made quite an impression on me. It was amazing.
Here was a living link to Paris in the 1920’s. She was very open about many things, very opinionated, and I learned in that first conversation not to bring up the name, Ernest Hemingway! Or, as she referred to him, “That Bastard.”
I’ll continue updating this every week.
And if you want to donate to this film here’s your chance.
I left Oakland determined to learn more about Kay and the whole expatriate movement. It was the first time that she told me that she never considered herself an “expatriate”, as she was married to a Frenchman (Richard Brault) and in those days a woman had to take the last name of her husband and his nationality.
She did give me some information about her past and told me about a Gale research piece that she had written which was basically her biography. I got a copy from the library.
The more I researched and found out about Kay, the more I realized that this film needed to be about her. I wasn’t sure how she would feel about it, but I pushed forward trying to learn as much as I could about her and Paris in the twenties.
It was while I was reading her short bio in the Gale Research piece that I found out that it wasn’t just the 1920’s that was important, the thirties, forties, fifties, sixties and even the seventies played a huge role in her life. I started checking out her books from the library and haunting used bookstores (which I loved anyway) for copies of her work. Every time I got a book I read it and although her books are novels I knew that they were autobiographical.
I continued to correspond with Kay, mostly by mail but sometimes by phone. I know this sounds funny now, but in those days “call waiting” was a new thing and sometimes when I was talking to her I would get that tone that I had another call. I never once took the other call. I had this fear that if I did, she would feel that she wasn’t important and I could lose my chance at making the film.
I also realize how rude that is, talking to someone and then saying, “Wait a minute, there is someone possibly more important or interesting wanting to talk to me, I’m going to interrupt our conversation to see if this is something more important.” I still do not take calls off of call waiting, if I’m talking to you, then you’re the most important person to me at that time. I hate been putting on hold when someone determines that I may not be important enough…
I must also say that since I knew she was in her 80’s I always feared that something would happen to her before I could make the film. This feeling haunted me through out the entire making of it.
I visited Oakland every chance I got and Kay and I talked. Talking with her was always enjoyable but also a challenge. I could never ask her point blank questions because she would always say that she had already written about that, or there was an article about it, or whatever.
She didn’t want to hear questions; she wanted to engage in conversations.
If I wanted to talk about Paris in the 20’s I had to figure out a way to guide the conversation to that topic, usually by using something that was relevant to what we were already talking about, or going on today. It was an interesting way to talk to someone, and something I would have to use when actually interviewing her.
There were times talking with her that I needed a program, the kind you get at sporting events that lists the players so you could figure out who is who. It took me a while to figure out that when she talked about Sam it was Samuel Beckett, Joyce was James Joyce, Archie was Archibald MacLeish, Bill was William Carlos Williams, and so on.
She wasn’t bragging when she talked about these folks, these were her peers. She spoke of them like you and I might about our college friends. It was just that her college friends became famous artists and writers. Many times I would return home after a day or two in Oakland with a list of first names, figure out who was who, and then research them so I knew who they were. I didn’t want to ask her as I was afraid that she would think I was ignorant. I found out later that she never thought that.
If you want to donate to this film here’s your chance.