Blue Mountain Center… & The Great Escape?

Cross posted on http://www.extracriticum.com

I’m here at Blue Mountain Center in the jaw-droppingly beautiful Adirondacks doing a residency on a pristine lake surrounded by trees verging on their fall foliage glory. You’d think I would write about how inspiring it is to hike with a botanist-writer, or kayak with a writer-painter, or accompany on guitar a singer-songwriter who killed “Girl from Ipanema.” You’d think I’d write about how these interactions with nature and people stimulated me to make brilliant edits on A Life’s Work. But no. I want to write about the photograph that’s hanging in my bathroom.

I stare at this photo while I towel off from my shower and it always reminds me of the spectacular chase scene in The Great Escape. In it Steve McQueen, the rebellious American character, speeds through hilly expanses on a stolen motorcycle, eluding his Nazi captors, going off road, making dramatic skidding u-turns at the sight of oncoming foes, jumping barbed wire fences until they prove too challenging and he winds up landing in one, entangled. All the while the timeless Alps stand silently in the background. The beauty of this scene is that expanse and those mountains (and okay, McQueen’s speeding motorcycle flying over rows of barbed wire fencing). Until this moment, we’ve spent all of our time in a claustrophobic WWII POW camp, and a lot of that time in an underground tunnel. The release into the Alps is literally breathtaking, the sound of the motorcycles is a rush.

The next thing that comes to mind is the irony. Now, I haven’t read the nonfiction book the film was based on, so I don’t know if the film is “faithful” to it or not, but I always smile when I think that of the dozens of characters that made it out of the camp, who stole airplanes, boarded trains, and rode motorcycles, all of them were recaptured, and the only three characters who managed to find their way to freedom were those who traveled by foot, rowboat, and bicycle – the slowest, steadiest means of conveyance.

“And this relates to A Life’s Work how?” you ask. Well, often when I mention the documentary and the subjects, the person I’m speaking with will ask, “So, have you noticed any similarities in your subjects?”

Yes I have, the most prominent being that they are all very steady and even keel. For the most part, they are not prone to extreme highs and lows. I would describe their pace as measured. When it comes to their work, they show up day in and day out. They have goals and they don’t lose sight of them and they know the surest way to reach them is one step at a time.

Any similarities between the subjects and the filmmaker are purely coincidental.

Yeah, right.