Making Movies: FDR and Lincoln
On my trip to Washington DC last month, I packed my new camcorder. Until my daughter's wedding in March, I never owned a camera. At the psychiatric conference I attended, I got some talking head shots, then I paid a visit to the FDR and Lincoln Memorials.
I paid $800 for my camcorder. Little did I know I should have shelled out $3,500 minimum, plus another $3,500 for a decent lens, probably $10,000 for three more, plus $20,000 worth of accessories I since discovered I cannot afford to be without.
Obviously, it was an oversight. But I was naive and enthusiastic. I was going to make movies. I was going to do it with a device designed for filming your kid blowing out birthday candles.
FDR was the greatest President of the twentieth century. I felt I was on holy ground. The friend I was with felt so, too. I got out my camcorder and began filming. It was as if I had been planning the project for months. I was going to make a movie.
"FDR, Man with a Disability."
In 1921, in his prime, Franklin Roosevelt was struck down with a polio-like affliction. His legs stopped working. He would never walk unaided again.
Back in those days, physical infirmity was regarded as a sign of moral weakness. It was widely assumed that FDR would never return to public life.
Roosevelt never conquered his affliction. Instead,he became a better person. His illness sensitized him to the plight of others. It imbued him with the resolve to get things done. All the things we take for granted today - it's hard to imagine any of it without FDR.
My last shot was of three giggly teen-age girls posing with the life-scale statue of FDR. It was a fitting tribute to his disability and his legacy. To all the things we take for granted.
The Lincoln Memorial was a shrine. I was in a higher presence. I had to compose myself to keep my voice from cracking as I conversed with my friend. Again, I got out my camcorder. I was making a movie:
"Lincoln and his Depression."
Depression was a constant in Lincoln's life. He never overcame it. He never rose above it. His best friend warned him that if he did not rally, he would die. Lincoln's way of dealing with his illness was by throwing himself into his home life and his work. Then, he found a cause that animated him. Suddenly, Lincoln was center-stage in the great debate.
Facing the nation's gravest crisis, Lincoln assumed office with no executive experience, forced to govern from an untenable position. As the terrible carnage mounted, much of the population lost its resolve. Few thought there would be a successful conclusion to the war. No one thought he could be reelected.
During his term of office, his favorite son Willie died. On learning of the death of Willie, he wept convulsively.
"He looks so sad," a teen-age girl behind me said, as I was filming. My camera zoomed to a close-up of his face, his left hand balled into a fist.
Of all things, a lifetime of living with depression admirably prepared Lincoln for the task. He possessed both the intestinal fortitude and the moral will. And the insights he had acquired from a lifetime of sorrow seemed to connect him to a higher power.
His last days were filled with a transcendent lightness of being. My camera was now on Lincoln's opposite side, his right hand open and relaxed
It was as if, his mission on earth accomplished, he were ready to be taken up into heaven. On April 14, 1865, a man with a gun obliged. Now he belonged to the ages.
I returned home to "post production." My new iMac came equipped with a built-in videocam and a primitive film editing program. I had deployed both in producing three YouTube videos.
Now I had the clips from my new camcorder and far more sophisticated film software.
My old way of doing things was akin to microwaving prepared lasagna. Now I was making the dish from scratch. I couldn't understand why there was no equivalent of a microwave button in my new software. What do you mean I have to take the meat out of the wrapper and saute it? What do you mean I have to smash three cloves of garlic with a knife and chop?
And what's with turning on the oven?
It took me at least a week and one billion blown-out brain cells to figure out how things worked.
My clips were a bit jerky, but the images were clean and crisp. I added some talking head shots of me doing narration, pulled up various images from the web, and began telling a story. Or, rather the story told itself.
This was a labor of love. FDR and Lincoln are my heroes. Somehow, the enormity of their presence rendered my many rookie mistakes insignificant. I had two new movies in the can, ones I am proud to share with others.
You can check them out at YouTube:
FDR: Man with a Disability
Lincoln and his Depression