When an artist paints a picture, he often places shadows into which he might wish the viewer to see though he cautiously leaves out telling details wondering if someone might guess or intuit what is there seemingly unseen. I've thought of this many times in looking at a Rembrandt. I had the same thought looking at a photo of me at a friend's party not realizing that one could make out people in the dark background when the photo was sufficiently enlarged. I suppose the same is true of storytellers wondering who will read between the lines and who will read only from uppercase letter straight to the period.
One day I received a call from a friend whom I hadn't seen or heard from in many months. We still liked each other but ours had become different worlds. After years of living my life as though I were in a movie, I got serious about starting to make movies. This decision put me on a journey that would lead me away from more than a few friends and would ultimately land me in Paris, France where I shot my first film Montmartre. My friend, whom I'll refer to as James and it is most assuredly not his real name, wanted to meet me for lunch to which I readily agreed. We'd spent a lot of time together but I understood this lunch--coming as it did after a long silence--would prove to be out of the ordinary.
Back in the day, there was an establishment in what is now West Hollywood that had one kitchen but two restaurants attached with completely different menus--The Yellow Sub and The Red Barn. This was his favorite meeting place and so it was that he suggested I meet him there. We had a very pleasant lunch of pizza and fried chicken and exchanged news and anecdotes that would have made great headlines for anyone that had been paying attention but either they weren't or were being paid to look the other way. It was just like old times though they were not so old at that point.
Lunch was over and the conversation wound down to a prolonged silence. I let him have his time. Somehow, I knew I was not in a rush to hear what he had to say. When he spoke next, he commented about the gigantic Cadillac El Dorado convertible I was driving that had a (pre-cellular) telephone in it. I assumed it was an attempt to stall but he followed up by asking if I still had the briefcase phone. I told him that it had no function in the movie world and he let it drop.
"If I need you for some back-up over the next two weeks, would you be available?"
Suddenly, I knew everything and nothing at the same time. I knew what he needed from me--the sort of protection that doesn't come from Neighborhood Watch or from law enforcement until after the fact. I did not know what he was a afraid of though I knew he didn't scare easily. James had been a mercenary in the Belgian Congo and that is not something you volunteer for if bravery is an issue. I also knew that what he feared was not a result of any criminal activity on his part strange as that may sound, but there it is.
The two weeks came and went without a phone call. The storm has passed, I thought, and we were all better off as a result. Then, I get a phone call from a mutual friend. "Have you heard from James?" It was one of 'those' friends so I told him the story of our lunch meeting. He thanked me and hung up. It was another moment where you know everything and nothing all at once.
Days latter, the mutual friend calls again with a debriefing. James' body had been found in the desert. The men of whom he had been afraid were in custody and later went to prison, I'm told. The motive had been money--riches they assumed were his but sadly were not. I had to accept this at face value there being far too many dark shadows for even me to see into.
For some reason, it seems that James went ahead and met them without having called me. I can't imagine why. Just the presence of a friend in the room might have deflected all that happened that day. It might have meant everything. It might have meant nothing.
We'll never know.