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Scrambled or Raw: Drug addicts in Vancouver?s East Side provide subjects for Vancouver?s film industry

Thursday 1 January 1970
Scrambled or Raw: Drug addicts in Vancouver?s East Side provide subjects for Vancouver?s film industry

An artist and instructor at the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design, Liz Magor exudes: [The] discrepancy reveals another perceptual mechanism, a willingness to overlook certain realities if they don?t fit the story you believe in.

By Michelle Paster Email:Sylk52@aol.com

To know thy neighbor is a pity. It is a shame, or is it an influential state? What is beyond that line up there? Do they all live in Igloos? From the posh waterfront, pug-walking West End to the Woodward squatters in the East Side, Vancouver, British Columbia is a place worth destining Americans to. I heard the money is greener, multi-colored eye-candy up there. So let?s go.

Have you ever borrowed an egg from your neighbor? Now there?s an excuse to visit. The eggs are cheaper. Let?s represent those eggs through a twisted reality. Let?s use Vancouver?s reality to our disposal. Take for a moment, Vancouver?s East Side. Junkies, homeless, and welfare check recipients make their living on the corner of Carrol and Hastings Street. At first sight it is a shock. Then the process of acclamation takes place. How do we possibly de-acclimate? We result to film. Film allows us to buy into the carton and test whether each egg is cracked or not. Film enables true existence and re-creation to coincide. A downtown eastside pub is half open to the general public; half open to a film crew. A man in his fifties begins to play pool while the film production sets up for a shot. He puts a quarter in the jute box, listening to Roxanne by The Police. A crewmember unplugs the jute box. The man relents his cue stick, so the tip refrains from hitting the orange ball. He raises his voice: what the hell is going on here? I?m trying to listen to my music. Meanwhile, two women and a younger man lay back in their chairs drinking beers at 10 o?clock in the morning. The beers for the extras in the film are free, but they are actually water disguised in bottles. The beers for the general public are a result of Welfare Wednesdays.

In a polite manner, the crewmember informs the pool-playing man: we are setting up to film in this pub. The man fails to cooperate, claiming he came here to play pool. By now, a gaffer, the best boy, and the director of photography have joined the semi-circle surrounding the pool player. Here is a quarter to compensate for your lost song, offers the director of photography. The man takes it in haste, mumbling to himself of the unjust situation.

Welcome to the world of film--of low-budget film-- of low budget film imitating low budget reality. In Vancouver?s east side the pub?s bathroom displays a sign advertising free Hepatitis C testing. The production assistants have to disinfect the pub bathroom to dismiss the floor of hypodermic needles and caked urine and blood. The egg, now, is rather raw. Is this truly the land of hockey, igloos, and moose? The dodge parked outside does have a bumper sticker that reads: 10,000 Wolves Can?t Be Wrong. Eat Moose.

Shall we express emphathy for the production assistants, who work without monetary compensation or shall we surpass that pity, in order to meet our Canadian neighbors? Sometimes we must meet our neighbors behind closed doors. Film both opens these doors and keeps them closed. Sometimes we are fortunate enough to see the true atmosphere behind a story?s construction. On my entrance to set, I stumble upon a hunched over sixty-something year old man shooting heroin into his arm. The close up enables me to see the blood peak through the needle?s end and into his vein of life. The script does not call for this scene, and hence it is not on film. The doors remain closed. The story remains constructed.

On the corner, the production takes place. Inside an abandoned hotel, one rumored the government will turn into social housing, actors and actresses use baby powder as cocaine and purple makeup for a black eye. Meanwhile on the city streets, a woman, bearing facial sores from crack and heroin, screams at the production assistant guarding the hotel door. Where is your letter of permission to film here? You damn film people always take our business away from the corner. You owe me ten dollars. For security reasons production assistants are not suppose to carry cash.

For the sake of the story, let?s overplay reality. We will add in excessive swearing and call it adhering to the truth. On a park bench two actresses, playing best friends, provoke one another with fuck you's and accusations of doing crack. A poem, most likely written by a local, displays itself in black marker on an adjacent park bench. The poem begins with Fatigue, fatality. Dare he died due to depravation. Bird crap inches its way down on depravation. Only the production assistant notices. Whether it?s swearing or bird crap, they both add to the environment of syringes, feces, and nurses. Alleys contain human feces, but if one looks down the street a brighter future ensues. Volunteer nurses hand out packaged syringes for safety and cleanliness. At least the residents don?t have to share needles. But once again the camera fails to capture this needle-exchange moment. For the safety and sake of the picture all locations must be secured. To block off a hot alley sometimes includes a little conversation. A woman, teeth missing and breath reeking of alcohol, approaches the production assistant guarding the alley. The respect for personal space is eliminated. The take-for-granted dentistry is absent. The woman spits out: My parents are in heaven and my brother is in hell because of me. I get drunk and I am allowed to do whatever I want. The woman wants to give the production assistant a hug, but sanitary reasons refuse that.

When high budget fails, use the production assistants as actors! This film story would be nothing but a story without the depiction of a drug addict giving head in exchange for drugs. For five hundred dollars a production assistant acts. The lines of reality are really blurred now, and the egg is beginning to crack. Money cannot always possibly be the defining force. If money were always the verdict, the 14-hour days would seem meaningless, as the production assistants who weren?t giving head, worked for free.

To create extended meaning we must look outside the box. By now the street people have familiarized their faces with the crew. Day after day the same man with a huge, rangy nose smokes crack in the same corner where a constructed wood wall depicts a graffiti painting of a character spinning music on a turntable. Inside the hotel, an actor playing the role of a Pimp, seduces the actress playing a girl out to remedy her brother from drug addiction. Outside the set a Hispanic man and several African-Americans sell drugs. The assumed drug lord talks on his cell phone, adorning a new basketball jersey and chain necklace. His clothes alone cause him to stand out amongst the homeless and junkies. A skinny, tall woman swings her hips above her high heels as she combs through the pebbled concrete looking for pieces of crack. A familiar face approaches her saying: You?ll never get your check in the mail because when he says he won?t cum in your mouth it?s a lie. Can?t we just use them for the movie and make the low budget even lower? Rumors spread lies and lies resemble the truth. At midnight a female production assistant overhears a conversation between two other production assistants: That woman has a gun in her purse. The female PA thinks: Thanks for putting me on the corner. Thanks for making me a part of this film. For the sake of film, we must ignore that gun, we must ignore the junkies, we must re-construct structure--the structure of the streets. The way things go. The sun rises and the film crew sets up. The sun sets, and the film crew still works. Eight o?clock in the morning, noon, five o?clock in the evening, or two o?clock in the morning- it doesn?t matter. The junkies are always working. They work to make money. They work to find drugs. They work to survive. I wonder if they work to be happy. I used to think these were just stereotypes, but having seen these residents of Vancouver?s East side first hand, the ?types may just be justified. When a camera trainee exerts: Everything dies in the face of efficiency down here, the truth of the matter is revealed through someone helping to re-create a life of drug addiction. And the trainee was just referring to his mushroom soup. I don?t think there were any eggs in there, though. But at least now we know a little bit more about some of our neighbors. Whether the sake of re-creation is for awareness, for nostalgia, for entertainment, is I guess, just up to the viewer of the film. And as for those eggs, apparently Canada is allowing foreign farmers increased access to egg markets. Maybe we are sharing eggs after all. Shall we film that?

Michelle Paster ,



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