"Creating art from chaos."


What is a Life?

I remember the day we first started shooting Mr. Chris & His Devil. I had bought a new HD video camera, and I had Chris position himself in front of the truck, where he lived. He talked to the camera about some of his experiences, lit a cigarette and walked over to a warehouse next door to wash up. Then I filmed him playing with the local pit-bull and then rummaging through a dumpster and discovering a female mannequin torso. All in a days work for Chris Marshall!
What really stunned me was when I viewed the footage afterwards. I had known Chris already for several months, so his ramshackle appearance really didn't bother me. But now I found myself staring in horror at the monstrous face I had never really seen before. Could this really be a human being? I asked myself. It was painful to look at those teeth, that skin, that false eye. But the camera had done what it does best: reveal. My, my, my, how lazy are our eyes. I had never really seen Chris. It was like having the Elephant Man right in front of me. I thought, Who in their right mind would want to see such a person on screen? Everybody knows the tendency of the movie industry to offer an artificial or exaggerated view of life. It's business. That's how tickets are sold. But with the footage of Chris, I was being more of a documentarian, as well as a photographer. Which is fine, except that this was supposed to be a feature film we were doing. You know, made up stuff. So I had a dilemma on my hands: either abandon the project - and with it the hopes and dreams of the two homeless men I had recruited to play the two character leads - or continue on, knowing full well I was committing commercial suicide. By the time, I finished shooting, editing, scoring the film, a year will have passed. That's a long time to spend on a project with little hope of it ever being seen.
And then it struck me. What was it that David Lynch's Elephant Man succeeded at doing so well? It pointed our attention to the person within the person, the pure spirit within the diseased vessel. Ah, now I was beginning to understand the potential of this project. The question, "What is a Life?", flashed before my eyes. By removing the "safety net" of conventional cinema, I had an opportunity to view life as life, and not some kind of glitzy, hyperactive equivalent of a cocaine high. The film would be about Chris Marshall playing "Chris", drawing from the realities of his past and present. Everything would be authentic. There would be no acting per se, even though I let him go on thinking that he was really acting. He would be doing a Shakespeare tragedy, but he would be playing himself in his own tragedy. This turn-of-reality was easily the most compelling aspect of the film: from the story of how, when he was serving overseas in the Gulf War, he learned of the death of his wife and two young sons, to his ongoing struggle with depression and schizophrenia and the twelve attempts to end his own life.
But despite all this, the best scenes are when Chris' natural warmth of spirit comes to the surface. Memorable is his humor and his crusty laugh, when playing off Jesse Morin as his ever-present imaginary "Devil". Equally touching is when Chris turns upwards towards the sky and offers a heartfelt prayer of thanks. Thanks for what? A life of misery, scorn and humiliation. Unbelievable what a person has to go through to realize that life is a gift, whatever the stony, thorny paths one has to traverse. All a person's karma - the pain, the hardships, the happiness and everything in between - has to be fully experienced and lived through for it to have any meaning to the individual.
And that is what I feel Mr. Chris & His Devil is really about. It's a leading question. When confronted with What is a life? One must dig further and ask, "What is a human being?" And then Who gives us this life? As well as the opportunity to perceive it and participate in our own personal development. And suddenly we're looking for answers, instead of standing idly by while life rushes past us. We begin to feel the pressure of our own spirits, insisting on a higher path, a path of knowledge in pursuit of Truth. Each one of us is a unique part of this all-encompassing Truth, with something completely individual and unrepeatable to offer the whole of humanity. We realize that to really live means to honor the spirit that is within each and every human being.
Chris told me once about a recurring nightmare he had concerning a true incident that happened when he was an officer in the Army's elite Special Forces. He and another soldier were patrolling the streets of Kuwait following the retreat of the Iraqi forces. Suddenly, he heard a woman's scream coming from a horse stable. When they opened the door, they saw a woman lying naked on the ground, with a brutish Iraqi soldier standing over her removing his pants. Chris caught the eye of the woman and put his finger to his lips: "SSSShhhh." He slowly snuck up behind the man, put an M9 pistol to the back of his head and pulled the trigger. The Iraqi's head disintegrated in bloody flash. Chris quickly covered the woman up and escorted her to safety. After telling me this, he shook his head and said, "I keep seeing this guy die over and over and I feel like I done something awful I can never get back."
I said, "On the contrary, you should be given a medal of valor. You saved a woman's life. That man you shot had forfeited the right to exist."
Tears filled Chris' eyes. "Yeh, but it's still a life. That man had a wife and children just like I did, and now they'll never see him again on account of me."
"Good riddance!" I said, patting him on the shoulder.
But Chris remained inconsolable. "How many lives had I taken? I can't even count 'em all."
And as I pulled my camera back from Chris' life and reflected on all I had seen, I realized that I had been filming myself all along. My faults, my fears, my hopes and aspirations were all echoed in this broken man's beaten face. The line between being on one side of the camera verses the other is only a matter of learning who we are and what our purpose in life truly is. When we see the whole picture of Creation and how we fit into It, we will, as a matter of course, stop needlessly punishing ourselves and find the true value in our own life experiences. And no other source offers such precise clarity of this picture of the Inexhaustible Whole than "In the Light of Truth: The Message from the Holy Grail" by Abdruschin. Surely, this is the Greatest Gift of All!


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