Polyester Road Diaries

My life in the bush of filmic ghosts

Castelli in Aria (1999): A visual poem of a father's legacy and the beauty he brought to the world. Edited with help from the filmmaker's father; shelved shortly after the father's death and completed in time for the 1999 Newport Beach International Film Festival, where it won the prestigious Executive Director's Award.

The Death of the Father (1997): Based on a story by Charles Bukowski, Davanzo's film depicts the attack of vulturous neighbors upon a deceased man's remaining material goods. The only purity is the vision of his three children who witness the attack.

Passive Anarchy (1996): A journey to Beijing during the summer of 1995 exposes the contradictions in the foundations of Chinese culture.

Pirates & Corsairs (1995): A brief visual history of freemasonry and its impact on the minds of young hipsters.

Tipo (1994): This short is the culmination of filming 10 distinctly American phenomena over the course of 10 weeks, from UFO conventions to cat shows. The filmmaker has concisely captured the perverse side of the American dream.

Gesu della Citta (Jesus of the City) (1993): The story of Jesus and Mary is re-created through the perspective of a contemporary barfly and his angelic girlfriend.

The screening goes well. There is laughter; there are tears. The seed has been planted. My mission to bring film to the masses has begun in earnest.

May 23. Bandon, Oregon. Besides seeing America, one of my objectives on this voyage is to scour every thrift store between LA and Canada to find those elusive treasures of gold.

I've been called the Polyester Prince in honor of my affection for the flamboyantly colored shirts favored by the men of my early years. But I'm also a disciplined thrift shopper. Before and after Bandon, with the film festival as my cover, I score the following deals on the road: an Elvis Presley macramť wall hanging, $5 (Coos Bay, Oregon); a pink tuxedo shirt with matching trousers, $7 (Tillamook, Oregon); a glow-in-the-dark clock depicting the Last Supper, $3.50 (Mill Valley, California); a 1983 Disco Mickey Mouse album in its original package, 50 cents (Seattle); a Kmart Super 8 camera with tripod, $15 (Olympia, Washington); three rolls of NASA rocket-test footage on 16-mm film, $1 (Livingston, Montana); the most beautiful polyester jacket you have ever seen, $3 (Las Vegas) ; a mint-condition 8-mm film projector, $3 (Nanoimo, British Columbia); a Cookie Monsteresque polyester jump suit, $4 (Hope, British Columbia); a 1983 Transformers lunch pail, $10 (Twin Falls, Idaho).

I seek refuge in the tiny fishing village of Bandon. At the entrance to the state park, a guard tells me it'll cost 20 precious dollars for the night. The park is crowded with holiday campers; kids on plastic Big Wheels produce a sound like the largest gravel crusher in the world. The guard directs me across the street where, for a more reasonable $3, a lovely, tiny old woman welcomes me into her private campground. I find a spot underneath a large redwood and settle in for the evening.

In this obscure spot on the Oregon coast, I figure the Polyester Prince Traveling Film Festival on Wheels will (as we say in Hollywood) go dark. I am cooking up a feast of tortellini (with a tomato, red pepper and tuna sauce), hunched over the stove. The Lakers' third playoff game against the Utah "Spazz" blares from my radio. I don't notice the approach of a neighbor until I hear: "Howdy there, fella. Where ya from?"

He's an RVer camping in a nearby lot. You may know the type: retired, transient, cruising in the Winnebago, lifetime membership to AAA and the Good Sam Club. But this man is different. African-American for one thing, and a huge Lakers fan for another. He introduces himself as William Jefferson.

William Jefferson and I commiserate in the sadness of a basketball season coming to an ignominious end. The conversation turns.

"So what are you doing traveling alone?" asks William Jefferson.

His words are soft, carefully calculated. A veteran of the road himself, a man who rode the rails in search of work during the Great Depression, it's clear he knows that simple pleasantries like "What are you doing?" can seem like threatening interrogations out here.

I offer him embarrassment and explain my mission of bringing film to the masses. As I begin talking about the road, I feel perhaps we share some sort of spirit. He settles into respectful silence, and I feel a lifetime of memories racing through his head. He looks at me like a father at his child and says: "Follow your heart, son. There is so much world out there for you to see."

As he begins walking away, I take a chance. "Do you want to watch some of my films?"

He smiles. I tell him to come over in an hour or so, and I will set up the projector to shine off an abandoned barn nearby. After dinner, William Jefferson, his wife and two other RVers set up lawn chairs, insert Budweisers into foam can coolers, and proceed to watch Passive Anarchy and half of Pirates & Corsairs under the misty Oregon sky until the projector begins acting up and we're forced to stop. I don't think they understand the films, but they are kind in their comments.

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