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Memories of Our Movies
My Life and Apar Films
Part I: Beginnings
(Clayton Rogers and the Parfarganian Menace, 1969)
When I was 14, I was a movie star. Of sorts. It was 1969 and my friend Christian Doherty – a wild kid who was very quick-witted and amusing with an encyclopedic knowledge of action films – asked me if I wanted to be in a movie he was making. It was purportedly based on a short story by another friend of mine, Tom Sinclair, and had the improbable name of Clayton Rogers and the Parfarganian Menace (the original tale dealt with the “Palfarganian” menace – note the “l” replacing the “r” – such subtle differences are what movie adaptations are all about).
It turned out that it wasn’t much of a movie, more an opportunity to play chase games. In fact, it wasn’t a feature film at all, but a “serial,” based on the old Flash Gordon sci-fi serials of the 1930s – short installments with a cliff-hanger ending.
The way the cliff-hanger worked was simplicity itself: our hero (Clayton Rogers, played by Tom Sinclair) would find himself in a precarious situation (like hanging off a cliff – hence the name cliff-hanger) – only to be resolved in the following week’s chapter. The solution was often a cheat: in Flash Gordon, a spaceship carrying Gordon might explode at the end of one chapter, with no possibility of Flash escaping. In the subsequent chapter, however, we’d see a scene that we somehow missed the previous week, where Flash conveniently jumps out of the spaceship with a parachute (or whatever they wore in space) moments before the blast.
It was a convention we tried to ape, but with our limited budget, all we could manage was, for instance, falling off of a cliff (in our case a big rock in Riverside Park), and in the subsequent chapter, finding our hero landing on a ledge that wasn’t shown in last week’s installment.
We made a five-minute chapter every Saturday for five or six Saturdays. This being the Super-8 pre-digital era (hell, it was the pre-everything era – pre-minicam, pre-VHS, pre-Beta), we’d shoot a chapter one week, the film would be sent to Kodak in Rochester. N.Y., for development, and then we’d reassemble the following week for a screening just before we’d shoot the new chapter.
The scripts were improvised (sometimes using incidents from the Sinclair short story) and widely improbable, often straining our limited special effects: I recall that at the end of one chapter, a villainous warlock (Alan Saly) caused an explosion that rocked Clayton’s world. Saly brought along his chemistry set and managed to create a puff of smoke; we magnified its seriousness by shaking the camera every which way but loose. It was a cool effect; not Flash Gordon, but close.
We made many other movies – all much better than Clayton Rogers – but first love is always the most memorable, and that was our first love, a movie that has been lost in the mists of memory. Perhaps it’s just as well, though. They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, and I hardly think that our poor Parfarganian Menace would smell as sweet today as it did to those fresh-faced 14-year-olds of long ago.
December 31, 2010