Wednesday, April 13, 2005

You CAN take some of it with you. . .

. . . but it rots in the casket or gets cremated.

That's why over the past few years, as I come ever closer to the very last word in your friends having fun without you, I've begun to sell off stuff on ebay. Even things with great sentimental value, such as the printing plates for some Covarrubias books, and Oliver Harrington artwork given to me my late friend, actress-activist, Frances Williams. But the item (or I should say items) that I put up for auction today really takes the petite madelaine: a file of personal correspondence with the director of, and items related to the cult film (Carnival of Souls). Take a look at the ebay listing here here.

A longtime fan of the 1962 film stretching back to the days in the same decade when it used to show on one of the late (make that late LATE) shows on New York TV (most likely Channel 9), in 1982 I decided to try and track Harvey down. I rang up information in Lawrence, Kansas where the film was mostly shot. Bingo ! They had a listing!

Inasmuch as there probably weren't too many Herk Harvey's (a son perhaps?) in Lawrence (the exact epicenter of the U.S. I seem to recall) I took down the number, and rang it up.. ."Hello. You don't know me, but. . .".

The next thing you knew I was engaged in a long long distance (remember long distance?) call with the one-shot director of, IMHO, the cult film to end all cult films. With his permission---recorder at the ready---I taped our conversation. Not long afterward I received a big package of "Carnival"-related material in the mail, including a press book, which I have since sold.

Afterward, I tried without success to peddle an article about Harvey to any number of under and above ground publications----can you say "Ahead of the Curve"?---but to no avail. Finally, in 1997 I was able to hustle it to some now defunct Internet site for $50.00 (pity the lowly free-lancer).

In the early 1990s I produced special laserdisc editons for the prestigious Criterion Collction, but at the time they always turned a deaf ear whenever I would suggest reissuing "Carnival." The overweening Criterion philosophy at the time was---for the most part--if it doesn't require English subtitles, we're not interested. They have since released a magnificent Two-DVD edition of the film. I guess you could now say Carnival of Souls rightfully belongs to the ages. Harvey died in 1996, but not before history had absolved me, and landed him in a small but significant niche in film history.

Way too long to post in its entirety here, what follows is a brief snippet of some of what the very pleasant and forthcoming Harvey told me that afternoon about his One Hit Wonder.

note: "Centron," referred to several times in the interview, is the industrial filmmaking outfit, with which Harvey was associated for many years.

Q. Tell me little more about the logistics of the making of the film.

HH: We had a five-man crew. Our sound man had never made a movie before. He'd only been a sound recordist. Our camera man had a really good feel for black and white. Maurice Prather; he worked for Centron. First we shot here in Lawrence for about four days. Then we went to Saltair. I'd written the governor previously and he said they'd co-operate, which they really did, because when I got to Salt Lake they just gave me the key and said go out and enjoy it. When we got there, we found this guy who was doing a survey of the pilings to see if they could rebuild the place. The decorations for the finale were already there when we got there, which was lucky. And it was a great break when we discovered that the electricity was still on and we could shoot at night which made for very interesting effects.

Q. How about your own role on the screen?

A: I played the part of "The Man," and one night I was just sitting out there and some school kid came walking by and I had my make-up on.

Q. Tell me about early showings of the film.

A. The premiere in Lawrence was a big deal, spotlight out in front, etc. We know that Carnival was shown throughout all of Europe and also Brazil and Argentina and Venezuela. The good reviews were initially really heartening.

Q. How about your job with Centron?

A. I've directed 400 to 500 films for Centron. Some of them I'm very proud of. We bring in professional actors for them. I've worked recently with Jesse White, Rowan and Martin; Ricardo Montalban does the narration for a film I've just completed. Films that are used for business meetings, stockholders meetings. We've made films all over Europe. I've been to the tip of South America, Alaska, the Far East, Korea, Sometimes the clients tell us what they want, we map it out, and we meet somewhere in the middle. Other times they give us an outline and turn us loose, Other times they tell us exactly what they want and we deliver. It all depends.

Q. I often wondered why the man who did Carnival of Souls never made another movie. I now can see that you did.

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