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Barbara Guest

Five pieces from The Confetti Trees

From: Barbara Guest, The Confetti Trees, Sun & Moon Press, 6026 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, California 90036, USA, 67 pages, ISBN 1 55713 390 5, US$10.95

Barbara Guest’s author notes page here on the Jacket site offers a biographical note, and also links to a dozen or so Jacket pages that feature her work or reviews of her books, or where she is interviewed.

"When I was a girl in Los Angeles," Barbara Guest writes, "the city became a haven for émigrés of World War II. People of the arts and film, experts in languages, arrived. The brothers Mann, the composers Mahler and Schoenberg. In the studios were Lang, Milestone, Lubitsch. Cameramen, story writers. They were people of experience and imagination. They were sad with a different kind of sadness. They did not know about our maturing under their guidance, abstract as it might be. It was an émigré climate we never lost. The Confetti Trees grew strange leaves and feathers."

Trousers for Extras

IT WAS THE SCENE where the toothy actress takes a glass of water and places it on a table next to a bouquet of flowers. The glass of water was merely a prop intended to remove the camera from her ambitious arrangement of flowers. The camera, following the rhythm of the water, picked up the shine of her molars as she brought the water to her face. The shine remains in the shadowy fade-out to a mansion where the star of the picture under a canopy of ice green purple red lay chained to an enormous burlap bag. "TROUSERS FOR EXTRAS" was written on it, and there were many many people in the chamber all dressed in trousers, with "grips" handling extra lights and extra food and extra "quiet" cards for the extra stages in what was to be one of the most gigantic productions of the studio.

Illustration of palm trees from the book's endpapers by June Felter

Illustration of palm trees from the book’s endpapers by June Felter

He believed if the woman on the right moved over to the left he could place her into the frame where a meadow lay beyond her. But it did not work out that way. The moon came up too early. The glow the moon cast lit up the shadow behind the wheelbarrow. No one could advance in the shattering moonlight. The film begins to take the shape of a milk bottle with the heavy cream on top.

He blamed everything on the use of color. The heavy woman who played the woodcutter's wife wanted to lay some emeralds on her bosom. They are the color of trees, she says. The skin of the leading actor was the color of ferns which do not blend with the pastel process that turns the clouds to pastel. The girl's knee is supposed to be grey when she bends it, not the color of blood. The voice coming from the elderberries is colorless, indicating melancholy. He remembers the alluring depths in film without color when tears were dark as drops falling from a raven's mouth. Once again his efforts have been emptied of meaning.


IT WAS MIDNIGHT and the chief cutter was turning out the lights in the cutting room when he heard a noise. The noise seemed to shift around the room like an obscure cloud. From the open window of his house he often watched the montage of these clouds.

He had been in this country so long he was accustomed to the continual shifting of noise. His native home was in the Black Forest as it edged around Freiberg. Later in Berlin he learned to edit out the city noise. He became a film cutter because he could control the little shifting sounds that attempted to warp his life.

He remembered an actress in Berlin. On the set her heel caught on the hem of her gown. She fell as the camera turned. The curls of her hair were spread over the nape of her neck. The Director murmured "Lovely," then he called "Take."

Later the cutter had rerun the film in his machine and decided to delete the fall; to use only the moment when the actress lay on the floor her hair spread around her. He noticed the cast had gathered to watch the fallen actress and he left them in the film.

Now he recognized the source of the noise in the room. It was his scissors cutting into the woman's hair.

The Minus Ones

SHE submitted a few stories she called The Minus Ones.

They came to her as short signals, as if they lived on her roof top. They rolled off the roof of her mouth climbed there from memory or from a table where empty cups glistened with tearfulness. Also menu-like out of her stung heart came surprising plots: Spanish women and high shoes, stories of valleys and boatless seas no cargoes. Rocks similar to the porpoises in her marine story appeared. They were made of coal hard yet they chipped flakes of coal dust blew off them soiling her clothes.

From her reading she borrowed a lake bottomless and a body without gravity flying over it. This appropriation brought on a serious malaise; she became plotless and her stories were bound without the usual wrapping of ribbon.

Seasons became important, ivy on green trees and the mournful rhododendron, icicles appeared more frequently. And meadows with horses. She neglected to include the rituals of contemporary life and the Scenario Department complained. When she wrote of wood burning she said the devils inside the fire were excited.

The fire scene destroyed any chance she had for her new stories to be accepted. They told her they liked real fires and not those of the imagination. Imagination was harmful and always messed up the set.

The Spell of Beauty

THERE WERE endless searches for beautiful women who, it was believed, could be taught to act. The search continued because Hollywood had never determined its own canon of beauty. For this canon to remain indestructible one had to be fanatically aware that the skin that presents itself as beauty is part of the fairy tale that envelops the studio while it continues to sleep in its palace under cobwebs.

Since the "giants of the industry" were always under a spell, a certain type was displayed in their films, not beautiful at all. Pure beauty eluded the industry, being so ephemeral it refuses to show its face. One of the producers defined this elusive canon of beauty as unbelievable, indefinable, and utterly necessary. Stripped as he had been of money and wives in his continuing fairy tale search, he attended all the unproductive meetings held in the early hours of the morning when these men liked to hold their meetings. He was the most voluble of the unhappy men at the unproductive meetings held at the yearning studios where unhappy powerful determined magnetic men discuss a subject that eludes them and will continue to do so.

The fault lay actually in the camera. A truly lovely woman is an enigma to its lenses, she is beyond the propriety of real life. The artist knows that beauty lies in distortion as Ingres, a favorite of this studio official, the one who had lost so many worldly goods, discovered. Of the distortion that exists in rare beauty the studio officials did not wish to hear, the subject made them restless and domineering at the same time.

There was only one Director who, marked by "the wound of artistry" as he described it, would be willing to cope with ideal beauty. (Not once had this Director, despite harassment of the most vulgar kind, permitted his work to be finished on schedule.)

He acquired a meticulous identification with this 'wound,' a kind of gauze wrapping surrounded him. Regarding his commitment to the projected film, he asked if before they brought him into their discussions, he might be permitted an interlude to listen to Ariadne in Naxos with Elizabeth Schwartzkopf singing the title role.

There was something harmless and melancholy about the studio's reaction to this proposal. One person fell down, another broke his little finger. The woman present quietly pulled out her eyelash. The spell of beauty began to work.

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