Saturday, July 14, 2007
Mining history, the foundation.
I have spent this week examining my film structure. How do say all I want to within the 90 minutes I have to tell the tale. For me, this film is first and foremost a film film about martial arts in Chicago. The early presence of martial arts here in the Midwest is intriguing. I am working to narrow down the very first judo dojo and first secret kwoon in Chinatown.
Pictured here is Don Draeger, an early Chicago martial artist who was a great influence on Steven Segal and no doubt had some effect on the ideas of John Keehan.
Green Dragons, Black Dragons...all have links and conflict back into antiquity. How did these rivalries play themselves out in Chicago and why.
Keehan's early examples, his teachers and heroes, boxing with Johnny Coulon, the books of Don Draeger, Bruce Tegner, his first lessons with Charles Grusanski. People outside Chicago constantly tell me "there are better more worthy people to make films about, sir." And I encourage them that they should do just that. My path is set. Examining the world that produces a character like Keehan is absolutely fascinating to me.
It is more interesting than an hour of watching him show us how to rip off people's noses and ears for sure. In the end, what he taught is not so important as how he learned it, what influenced him, who he came into contact with, and what influenced and changed him. What becomes important is how we as a society have been influenced by and have embraced the idea of martial arts as part of a global physical culture. The promise of great power and longevity, the understanding of what real power is, takes us back to the core teachings of ancient internal arts.
Last night someone asked me how I expected to get all of this stuff into one film. My answer was that is is like music, a symphony or suite, you set a theme, present ideas, create melody and rhythm in a grand introduction to the piece. Then , these themes and melodies recur throughout the composition in various forms spinning new ideas and building on the those ideas that come before. This is how I intend to weave all these many facts and individuals into this one film.
The introduction of Asian martial arts in America was always beset by challenges. The first martial artist to arrive on our shores to teach were always tested by local wrestlers or boxers. Maybe it is in our nature as human beings to challenge anything that smacks of difference. New ideas are alway met with skepticism, it seems. There is a book in here as well as a film, but I am not the one to write it. I am just making the film.
I have enough footage right now to stop right where I am. I could treat John Keehan as a crazy hairdressing karate guy with a pet lion and did crazy stuff, get a good laugh out of it in 30 minutes and be done with it. But I want something more than that. Keehan is a metaphor for a lot more then his crazy self. He is the sum total of shared histories and environments. He was not all bad and has left great memories in the minds of a lot of people from back in those days.
Retracing Keehan's paths and reintroducing myself to the martial arts as a thing I once loved and was obsessed with has been quite a journey. Rising to the top of this story for me right now are four characters, Mas Tamura, Bruce Tegner, Don Draeger and Charles Grusanski. These are all the same people and I and many others came into contact with in some form or fashion in Chicago martial arts. The University of Chicago is integral to this story (my new neighborhood, Hyde Park) as it housed the first formal Judo course taught by Japanese students in the early 1900s and then was the site of the first national karate tournament in 1963.
One of the most important pieces of film footage I am trying to find in of the scene from the Chicago Loop elevated train that passes a corner building where Mas Tamura's Jiu Jitsu Institute, established in 1938, was located. This ride fired the imagination of thousands. The white mats and dancing men in white clothing an colored belts in movement to the music of a banking train at the corner of Van Buren and Wabash.
Thinking, writing and editing....planing more shooting on a shoestring...this is the life.