FILMING IN TUNISIA III
“From here, we’re on foot.”
I’d sort of gathered that might be the case, since even our valiant Land Rover wasn’t going to make it up this incline. The last stretch of track had given its springs quite a going-over already.
Mind you, it all added up to the rather exhilarating feeling that we were on some grand adventure. A great exploration of lost worlds lead by Sherpas and intrepid heroes, forced to leave behind the mechanical trappings of the twentieth century and rely solely on their feet – and of course, their donkeys. Bright they’re not but their non-reliance on fossil fuels perhaps explained the complacent expression on their docile faces gazing at our ultimately doomed four-wheeled transport. Dim, but all-terrain all-day – on a bag of straw.
We collected together as if in the foothills of the Himalayas. A mixed bag of assorted crew, porters, cast and other animals. A select cast though: Sir Alec, Mark and me. We looked up at the mountain. The dawn had streaked as we approached it through the open wilderness. Already now the sun prepared to give the world more rednecks – as if it needed more. A perfect day for mountaineering.
Like a Victorian picnic we were surrounded by an outrage of boxes, bags and diverse debris which all required humping to the top. Hired for the purpose, the donkeys were laden with assorted cargo: a tea urn and Artoo (indistinguishable to some); assorted sandwiches and metal ‘things’. The crew carried what remained. The camera team picked up the mighty Vistavision and joined the trek. As an artiste, I had to save my strength for the exhausting performance I would give on arrival at the summit, but to show willing, I picked up a small bag and carried on.
Toasted scrub and sand became a steeply rocky trail as we trekked higher. I was out of my depth. The only climbing I had ever done before, was social. But this seemed somehow easier. The strange procession straggled out around me. Soon I paused aside to view this mediaeval caravan – and rest. A landspeeder passed slowly by. I’d often read about them in the script. I had imagined that they hovered silently on cushioned air. This one had four legs and loudly brayed.
The exotic train halted in sequence at the top where bags and packages were gratefully dropped – so too was the camera, less gratefully, but that’s another tale.
In a mild sort of Christmas morning frenzy, packs were torn open, their contents heaped or spread across the rocks – props, costumes, cans of film and cakes covering this unvisited outcrop like an exotic car-boot sale. The donkeys, freed from their loads soon recollected it was Spring. How happy they were and noisy too. How entertaining for the crew as well. Eventually they seemed to fall into a doze and we could prepare the scene in undistracted peace.
We stood, rehearsing in a line on the highest rock deemed flat enough to stop us rolling spontaneously to our doom: Sir Alec, Mark, Artoo and me. Behind Artoo a metal ‘thing’. With much grunting, the landspeeder drew up behind us. Now the leg-count had increased to eight but it no longer brayed.
The props crew carefully threaded the light-weight fibre shell onto the supporting ‘thing’- an arm attached to a post with spreading plate-like feet, disguised with dust and shale. The speeder’s apparent hover was somewhat flawed by the steel support rod planted firmly on the ground. But cunning plans had been laid a long time ago in England. Artoo’s purpose was to hide the post from the camera’s point of view.
My purpose was merely to stand beside and give the scene some class. I should admit that my belief in hover-cars was, by this time, slightly strained.
So many things had been humped up here but not a dressing-room in sight. Oh well. My dignity had been abandoned some time before and I struggled into my golden suit under the dazzling wideness of the sky and the uncomprehending gaze of the exhausted donkeys.
I negotiated a rock-strewn path to take up my position next to Artoo as rehearsed. “Tea break!” They called. Timing, I know, is everything. I stood my ground rather than struggle back again. My temper fuelling all the time. They brought me tea to assuage it and my thirst. Strong but somehow it didn’t taste the same sucked through a straw.
Eventually the others in the line returned.
Eventually make-up and hair were glued in place.
By now I was fully fuelled with waiting.
Eventually a voice cried, “Action!”
Artoo, Threepio, Obi Wan and Luke – no one said a word. That’s what the script said. And I did – nothing.
I wasn’t being awkward. Nothing was what they required. Was I not staring with trepidation and distaste at Mos Eisley miles below on the desert plain? Of course in reality, that den of scum and villainy would be matted-in in time to come. I was really staring, through Threepio’s blinkered eyes, at nothing but the edge of the world.
Nothing – which terrifyingly seemed to go beyond any horizon I had ever known.
Suddenly I was overwhelmed with fear.
A clear perception of my irrelevance had filled my mind. I was insignificant to the mighty void around me. It didn’t even know that I was there at all. Its endless space blindly dwarfed my presence to a fractured atom on the planet’s surface. It was crushing me out of my existence. I mattered less than one of the grains of desert sand below. I did not exist.
Then panic came but in the billionth part of the smallest measure of time, changed into a deeply soothing sense of calm.
If I were so insignificant and irrelevant, then so too were the things in life that gave me grief: the niggles with my costume, the heat, the isolation and confusion and all the petty anger and stresses that fill the average life – suddenly they had no weight at all. I floated free.
At once a throaty braying tethered me to earth again. The donkeys just remembered it was Spring.
“Cut!” A voice said.
And we wrapped and packed and made our way back down on two legs or on four, depending.
I was too bemused to join in the camaraderie and chat. I felt I had visited a new dimension I could no longer grasp.
A strange but fleeting experience – transcendental even.
Perhaps it was the tea.