On the net and in magazines you are always reading about the stress and duress that led good people to do bad things. Their stories tell the tale of the shady individuals and sordid locales where the melodrama played out that tipped the protagonists over the edge.In my case it all started at the Go-Kart track.
When I was a kid in Southern California our family raced Go-Karts. It was something we did the way other families played Little League or went to the beach. On the weekends we were at the Go-Kart track. Like all family activities each member of the familial grouping had their assigned task (can you tell I come from a military family?). My Dad was the overall organizer. He worked on the karts all during the week, tweaking and tuning and generally doing anything in the evenings to forget his job at Norton AFB. Mom prepped the food, which usually included either her famous chili or her equally celebrated potato salad ( on special occasions, both). Mom didn’t always go with us but I remember her being there most weekends. My Sister Leslie also avoided the track like the plague, when she did come she could usually be found leaning on the barbed wire fence bordering the pasture adjacent to the track. There she cooed over the burros that lived there. Brother Bruce was, of course, “Le Pilote”. He was there to set his steely gaze on his competition and do battle between the hay bales.
…and that left me, the baby of the family. Too young to drive (and not likely to do that EVER if my Mom had anything to say about it!). So what to do with Marty. It was here my father made a decision that set me on the path to where I am now, as well as setting me up to be the first prepubescent pornographer in Sacramento, California.
My Dad was really into gadgets. If he had been born a little later he would have own one of every portable device available…and all the toys that went along with them. At the same time, with a young family to take care of he didn’t have a lot to spend. Still it was the ’50s/60s, the era of the home movie and Dad surrendered to the urge and bought the best camera he could afford, a wind up Regular 8mm Keystone with a lens turret like the giant cameras you saw on the nightly news.
As a side note, Dad was famous for his production of endless minutes of SAND with this camera. “Sand” as we called it on family movie nights, was a result of the peculiarities of Regular 8mm film and my Father impatience when he was trying to relax. Regular 8mm film stock was really just 16mm film that was only exposed on one side of the film. When the reel signaled its end, by a glorious celluloid flapping sound, the operator had to find a dark corner and open the camera, turn the film reel over, re-thread the camera and close it up. You were then able to expose the other side of the film. When the film was processed it would be slit lengthwise and the two ends spliced together to create one singular expanse of 8mm film for you to enjoy.
No matter how many times I told Dad that he had to do this in a dark place, remember I was about 8 at the time, he would inevitably throw a sweater over his hands, probably a crocheted one, and would have at changing the film. While cursing. The end result was that in the middle of every roll of film he shot would be an overexposed bit that my Uncle Jimmy once said was “Like a desert scene in Lawrence of Arabia”. Thus it was dubbed SAND.
Since the old man knew I was fascinated by the camera, and movies, it wasn’t much of a reach for him to load the film up and hand me the camera at the Kart Track. It was something of a seminal moment in my life, I mean I went from watching Fireball XL-5 to being Stanley Kubrik in one stroke. The grind of the camera and rattle of the film as it ran though it were just like in the old movies I watched about moviemaking before the war. Mom and Dad gave me film on the weekend as a reward and I can still smell the burning kart fuel, hot dust and hay bales that were a part of the weird camera angles I went for, and unlike the old man I shot very little sand, unless it was important for the shot (sorry Dad).
In 1965 the secretary of Defense personally decided that our family should be uprooted and moved out of Southern California where we had roots, friends and relations. My Dad had three choices: Florida, Utah or Sacramento. There was some talk of Germany made but my Grandma, who oddly enough was from an old German family, nixed that idea. That never made any sense to me. In the end the folks chose Sacramento, I was pulling Florida because Dad promised to buy me a dolphin…what can I say I was gullible.
When you are ten years old and moved away from all your friends and everything you know, it’s tough. Additionally since when we moved was during the height of “bussing”, the idea that you could create diversity by moving white kids to where the hispanic kids were and vice-versa. I had no trouble making friends in the new school, most of my friends in Southern California had been hispanic after all, but because of the bussing all my new friends lived 20 miles away so hanging out after school wasn’t really an option. So since I didn’t really know many other kids I had trips to the library where i checked out books on movies, movie making and film stars from the thirties.
I built my first optical printer when I was about 11, from that set same Keystone camera, a shoe box and a projector, which I used to copy spaceship shots of an 8mm copy of THIS ISLAND EARTH Dad had bought into one of my earliest films. I found out about optical printers in copy of some magazine (Famous Monsters? I dunno). In the same article I learned about Kinescopes…but we will get to that.
So in one of those confluences in human experience Jung called “Syncronicity” my discovery of Kinescopes, and how they could be replicated by say a Keystone 8mm Camera and a 13″ Black & White Sharpe television (similar to one a 13 year old might get for Christmas) coincided with two other events. The first was the growth of UHF TV stations, mostly local stations that were far removed from the strictures of Networks, and the hormonal bouillabaisse known as puberty.
The first UHF station I connected to when I attached the loopy antennae of the back of the faux wood cabinet of my tiny, tiny telly was KTXL TV40. Virtual weather seemed to rule my life as I went for the “SAND” of my Dad’s 8mm movies to the “SNOWSTORM” that accompanied channel 40’s weak tea signal. KTXL’s early transmitters must have been powered by gerbil wheels or something because it took years for the channel tom come in reliably, but I was undeterred from watching as the new “independent” station showed stuff that the networks channels didn’t, even in the dead hours of weekend afternoon that had not yet been filled up with golfers in bad pants and octopus wrestling from Borneo, like today. Bob Wilkin’s creature features jumped from KCRA to KTXL, meaning my diet of Monsters and rockets moved to UHF. Cap’n Mitch showed Speed Racer before school and Gerry Anderson in the afternoon so my animation and “Super Marionation” allotments each day were fulfilled as well, but there was one other bit of weekly programming that became important.
It was the end of the Sixties, when film was changing. It had already started changing elsewhere in the world and I had read about those changes, and the filmmakers that were driving the change. Unfortunately college was far away, and with it endless visits to the J street Cinema, so foreign film might as well have been in Neil Armstrong’s wallet for as accessible as it was to me. My folks took me to see what came out, they knew I loved movies, but what we saw was comedies and spectacles. I read about world cinema but it was a closed book.
At the same time KTXL was testing the boundaries of what it could get away with in terms of broadcasting. As far as I can remember it was the first station in the Sacramento Area that stayed up after 1AM, expanding the envelope and generating ad income from clients that couldn’t afford their rates in the middle of the broadcast day, “Prime Time”. I doubt we can ever know who came up with the idea for a show on Friday nights at 1AM called “FOR ADULTS ONLY”, a show that was introduced with loose animations of a Dionysian Orgy, ending in a long pan up a phallic Dorian Column, surmounted by the Venus De Milo.
I discovered the show one night when I had probably drunk too much Root Beer and was too wired to sleep, and after I had discovered the little earphone jack on the side of my tiny tiny telly along with the privacy it bestowed upon me, especially from my parent who slept in the next room. The show’s opening and title made it feel like I was doing something naughty and above everything else I was a “good boy” in those days. The idea of doing something that would reveal my developing proclivities to my parents, especially my Mom, was terrifying.
The most interesting thing about the show though was how well it demonstrated the remarkable level of confusion that America was suffering from at the time. In these days of 24 hour a day porn on tap it is as hard to roll back our minds to the days when the men in porn had black socks and hair on their backs and the women had big hair both on their heads and…in other areas. The thing is though the show didn’t have those sort of sordid kinescopes but rather what I discovered late at night was a foyer into world film like I had always dreamed of. So it was that in the early morning hours of sequential Saturdays I was introduced to the work of Fellini, Trauffaut and Antonioni. It was there I first saw WILD STRAWBERRIES and was so traumatized by THE VIRGIN SPRING that I shut off the TV and hid in the dark for 5 minutes before I turned it back on and finished watching the film. They showed REPULSION, L’Avventura and 8 1/2. By the flicker of that tiny tiny tube I learned about film…and it would all seem a lot nobler if I wasn’t also a horny preteen boy.
I wish I could say that I used my film expertise to record a bit of FARENHEIT 451, or the fountain scene in La Dolce Vita but my interest was much more age specific, and more appropriate to be the source of my shame. I was 13 and to a 13 year old boy one thing rules above all…boobies. There was a Danish sex comedy, “17”, that must have been particularly popular with the program director because they showed it quite often. By today’s standards it not even standard cable racey, but back then it was borderline scandalous. I had watched it several times and knew that at the beginning it had a dream sequence that had fully exposed boobies, I mean they were right there on the TV…BOTH OF THEM! This wasn’t your “sneaky peeky” beach movies side boob thing (where you could ALMOST SEE EVERYTHING!) this was really for real nekkid boobs. I found it quite titillating (yes that was intentional). So much so that I wanted to have a copy of my own. I had film in my Keystone and the film on my tiny, tiny telly…I was only doing what any precocious member of the AV club might do at 1:15 in the morning on a Saturday. That weekend I thought nothing of it, shot the rest of the roll up and asked my Mom to drop it by the Fotomat for processing.
Yes, I asked my mother to act as my go-between with the lab during my first pornographic endeavor.