|Carla Laemmle and I. She's on the right.|
Even though most of A Sad State of Affairs was shot last summer, it was still missing something. The film is--in a not very obvious way-- a tribute to the very early backstage musicals of the talkie era. The songs are written in that familiar 32-bar Tin Pan Alley form. And, it has a plot that makes no sense. So what was it missing?
It was missing some jazz age credibility. I knew of Carla Laemmle, a dancer and actress who had appeared in numerous silent films and early musicals. I knew she was 100 years-old and living in California. I was also pretty sure she would have nothing to do with my movie. So, for a long time, I didn't bother trying. I tried tracking down other 100 year-old actresses. That was difficult. Timing is everything when you're trying to book a centenarian performer.
For awhile I just gave up. I removed the scene I had written and figured I'd go without a genuine flapper appearing in the movie. But, that was terribly unsatisfying. So, I wrote Carla Laemmle a letter explaining how awesome she was and how my humble movie really could use a few lines of dialogue from a legend like her. Weirdest thing happened. She wrote back and said she'd do it.
One more thing that I thing I should point out that makes this all the more special: Carla was a dancer in the Universal Pictures revue "The King of Jazz." It featured Paul Whiteman and his Orchestra and was released in 1930. That film includes a performance by comic-musician Willie Hall, who turns a normal bicycle tire pump into a musical instrument. His performance stuck with me for years and is the reason I have my film's main character trying to learn how to play the tire pump. So to have someone who was actually in that film more than 80 years ago willing to learn lines and appear in my little movie was amazing.
All I had to do was fly from Chicago to Los Angeles with my camera and sound equipment and film her. The shortest way to tell the story is to simply say that I did just that and it went off without a hitch. Carla is 101 years old now, spent a week learning four pages of dialogue, and didn't even need her glasses when running through the lines with me. She put her all into the performance and it is fantastic.
For now, I'm back to editing, but I promise to have more frequent updates from now on.