Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Tales from the Riverbank

Yesterday I spent a several hours shooting footage and stills with the Filmmaker alongside the pier at North Woolwich. The latter is across the road from the now defunct railway station, which had been our mutual first choice of location. I knew that the latter had been renovated and turned into a museum within the past few years. Unfortunately I had not realised it had subsequently been boarded up again and was inaccessible, as too was the replacement railway station sited but a few hundred yards from the original.

At one point we fell into conversation with a plain clothes police officer, who was enjoying a crafty cigarette or two away from the nearby police station. The Filmmaker somewhat tactlessly asked how safe the area was. I interjected that I felt perfectly safe and the Filmmaker quickly added that he came from Stratford. Both the by now mollified police officer and the Filmmaker agreed that Stratford had a far worse reputation for crime than the local vicinity. I teased the Filmmaker later that it was a jolly good thing he had failed to mention he had meant perennial tourist favourite Stratford-upon-Avon and not its gritty urban counterpart, also called  Stratford but found in one of the most deprived parts of London. I was surprised at how concerned the Filmmaker was for our safety. Each time someone approached us he would warily assess their potential for danger. Perhaps he saw himself as a Knight in shining armour to my defenceless maiden. For my part, I saw myself as Joan of Arc, more than ready to take on the English hordes in single combat. But if the worst had come to the worst we could always have legged it, discretion being the greater part of valour.

I suggested that as the tide was out we take advantage of the fact and shoot some footage along the shingle foreshore by the derelict pier. At one point the Filmmaker toyed with the idea of trying to get up onto the pier itself, but I warned that the planks of wood forming the walkway were known to be rotten and I was not risking life and limb. As it was, whilst we were filming we noticed that the tide was coming in at quite an alarming rate. Luckily, we were able to get quite a lot of filming done prior to retreating to the safety of the pier steps before the water could begin to lap at our feet.

I then suggested we shoot some footage with me standing on the lower steps as the sun had come out causing the surface of the water to sparkle beguilingly. As I looked out to sea, or at least across the River Thames, I imagined myself as a second Meryl Streep, wistfully awaiting the return of the eponymous French Lieutenant. The mood was greatly helped by the antique black hat I wore with its silk flowers and spotted veil, dating from 1910. My attention was suddenly caught by what I took to be a sculpture of a huge black bird on a little iron platform in the river. Then I realised it was a living bird: a cormorant. Compared to the seagulls nearby it seemed huge. The cormorant began to hold its wings out to catch the heat of the sun. The Filmmaker said it reminded him of a bat when it did that. I told him to quickly film the bird which he did and then I suggested I would pose, holding my arms out as if in imitation. The Filmmaker accepted my idea with alacrity but I soon began to doubt the wisdom of striking such a pose as I began to feel more than a little dizzy on the concrete steps, which were both narrow and half covered with algae making them rather treacherous to boot. My balance was also affected by the fact that a virus had caused my hearing to be even more reduced than usual. Consequently all sound was muffled. Heroically I stuck it out. Less heroically, I scrambled up the steps on my hands and knees when the tide began to creep up the stairs. 

Back on the embankment, the Filmmaker decided to shoot my hand twisted into a claw like pose  as I stood looking out across the water, which was very difficult to hold for any length of time. I also had to wander along the riverside which I found quite difficult to do as I can become very self conscious when walking, especially as my shoes, made from an original 1930s design, had often proved uncomfortable in the past when worn for extended periods outside. For once they caused me no problems as I gamely perambulated back and forth along the walkway.    

I was glad I had chosen to wear my antique hat with the veil. The breeze caused it to flutter around my face, giving added movement and texture as the camera moved around my face. It also added to the theme of the film with its undertones of death and funerals. In reality the brightly coloured silk flowers meant the hat would never have been worn at an Edwardian funeral. However, I do own a Victorian hat box made to house the large mourning millinery worn by women in the 19th century.

We probably spent close to two and a half hours filming before returning to the King George V railway station and making our way to Greenwich. As we were so close to the Queen’s House, Greenwich I told the Filmmaker that in my guise of the Brimstone Butterfly I could not afford to miss the opportunity of filming the exterior again, especially as I had only managed to capture the front of the house when I had last been there in the winter. Now I had the chance to film the thoroughfare under the house which had once been a public right of way and later linked the house by arcades to 19th century buildings on either side. I also took footage of the back of the house where I had had my photograph taken as a schoolgirl. This time I forgot I had a companion with me as I filmed and it his dulcet tones along with mine that constitute the unwitting soundtrack.

Having earlier bought me some coconut ice at an old fashioned sweet shop in the market square, the Filmmaker then took me to a Chinese restaurant for fried noodles and duck before we made our way home. Well, he has to keep the Talent sweet somehow.