September 13th 1982

posted in: Innocents Abroad | 0
The field hospital

Doug had lent us his alarm clock, so we were up at 5, time enough to grab a cup of tea, + a couple of bits of bread + butter, + then struggle across to shore in the dark.  There was one young boy waiting at our appointed “bus stop”, + the 3 of us had to stand + shiver for about 25 mins.  Eventually, a bus did arrive, tho’ heading in the wrong direction – we took it anyway.  It’s only 20 miles all the way round the island, so whichever way you head, you get to where you want to go in the end.  However, we got about 4 miles down the road (we 3 were the only ones on the bus) + it stopped at a local school.  There we met up with the poor ladies who were trying to co-ordinate the transport.  I think they’d worked things out pretty well – the only problem is they were having to work with Rarotongan bus drivers + Rarotongan extras – neither of whom could be relied upon to be where they’d say they’d be at any given time.

 We were asked to change buses, which we did – not that it mattered, since we were about 10 miles from the film-site now, whichever way we went.  So we headed back the way we’d come, + eventually arrived at the site just before 7.30.  We were all already in costume, so all we had to do was report to make-up.  Make-up was for Kiwis only tho’ we learnt – we were asked to wear mud over our bodies.  The things one does for art.  Then we sat around.  It was remarkable really how much one felt as tho’ one really was in the army.  Groups of “soldiers” were sitting around, some singly, others in groups; one or two reading, some smoking, a group playing cards.  Which was the way things were.  Even in war, for so much of the time soldiers do nothing.

After 30 mins or so we were called onto set, + they really had done a splendid job.  The place was far more like the real thing than a false-fronted Hollywood set.  A stone hospital had been built, bamboo-fronted huts as officers’ barracks, log bridges, a few towering look-out posts, a barbed-wire enclosed entrance road with heavy log gates.  It certainly wasn’t difficult to imagine one was in the real thing.

It took quite a while for us to be lined up ready for our first shot, when we were in a long procession marching out of the camp.  One of the biggest problems of course was that the directors were dealing with pretend soldiers + not real ones – they had no idea how to form ranks (here my Boys Brigade training came in handy.)  And of course, with such a large number of people, there was the usual number of prats, people complaining about what a bore the whole thing was, yet struggling to get as near the camera as possible (which wasn’t very close – the Kiwis were always in the front, the rest of us were simply there to make up numbers, to act as a khaki backdrop.  It was quite amusing tho’ when Val, obeying instructions of “Women at the back!” was pulled out of her position and placed quite near the front – obviously they hadn’t realised she was female.  Still, after quite a while, they managed to get everyone into some semblance of order.  I would rate my own chances of being preserved for posterity on film as being exceedingly remote.

By the time we got all this finished, it was time for lunch – they provided a pretty good packed lunch of a piece of chicken, a good-sized sandwich + some fruit, + as they’d given us tea + a bun during the morning, we weren’t doing too bad (+a donut to come during the afternoon too!)  In the afternoon we had virtually nothing to do, so we watched them filming a big scene where Bowie is buried alive up to his neck.  Those of us extras who were interested kept creeping forward to get a better view of the proceedings, only to be sent back at regular intervals.  Which is hardly surprising when there are idiots about – I heard one thick Kiwi go up to Bowie + ask him what it was like to be a pop star, with girls yelling + screaming at you… oh dear.

Apparently the director, Oshima, is using a new technique, taking very few takes, usually just the one in fact.  It certainly makes things a lot easier on the actors… even us.  And, somewhat to my surprise, all the stars have their own director’s chair with their name stencilled on the back.

During the afternoon they asked for some singers.  It sounded like an old army trick to me, but I volunteered anyway.  And singing was what was required.  We recorded “The Lord’s My Shepherd” so that it could be dubbed onto the soundtrack for a different scene.  Later on during the afternoon, all we non-Kiwi extras were told we could go home.   Val + I were just on our way out the gate when one of the assistant directors rushed up to ask for a few more volunteers – they were filming the “singing” scene + needed just a few more bodies to make up the numbers.  So Val + I, being quite keen to be involved as much as possible, joined up.  We were all supposed to be lamenting the death of DB, who died to save us all.  Nice of him, eh?  It didn’t take long, + then we shoved off home.  Our buses had gone by now, but we managed to hitch back easily enough.

And Doug had our dinner sitting there waiting for us, which was very nice of him.  Followed by an early night of course – a film star needs his beauty sleep.

Quite the day, on set with the stars. I don’t know whether it happened on this day, as it is not mentioned in the diary, but an incident occurred – or actually didn’t occur – which gave me much later regret. As we were walking away from the set, I saw Tom Conti walking on his own ahead of us. This was my chance – I would introduce myself, say how much I admired his work, he would invite the 2 of us for a drink, one thing would lead to another, and I would end up with a bit part in the film. Except I decided not to be a prat, and to leave him alone. Still, you never know.

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