"X" is for "Exiting"
Speaking of flying, suppose you were given the assignment of shooting film footage of Mont Saint Michel?
Well, that was the assignment I was given some years ago by the French Government Tourist Office.
First off, I could see a problem: it’s been done.
Mont Saint Michel, as you may know, is one of the most famous tourist attractions in Europe, a magnificent monument in Normandy that stands alone and rises dramatically from sand and waves. As a film-maker, one couldn’t just shoot straightforward footage; you’d have to do something a little different, approach it from an unusual angle. So I decided to go upstairs, so to speak. I’d rent a plane and do it from the sky.
A bit of history. This marvelous church, with its incredible situation on an island, has been around for 13 centuries or so. Seems that St. Michael the Archangel, during the 8th century, instructed the local bishop to build a church on this rocky isle. The bishop, who had a lot on his plate and other things to think about, didn’t get around to it. So St. Michael, according to the historical record, “burned a hole in the bishop’s skull with his finger.”
That did it. Mont St. Michel came into existence.
I asked around about airplane rental in a nearby city and was told there was a photographic plane I could rent. A photographic plane was just what was needed so I signed up for it.
The next day, when I got a good look at the aircraft, my heart sank. It was old; it looked a lot like a World War I single-engine French warplane, which had perhaps been shot down a time or two, then more or less rebuilt. The thing wasn’t even in an airport, just standing on a huge lawn, a kind of meadow. There was a kid who wss sort of guarding it; evidently the pilot hadn’t shown up yet.
My confidence in this operation didn’t improve when I learned that the kid, who was about twenty, was the pilot. He also served as stewardess; he made sure my seat belt was fastened.
At this point I began to “rouspeter” – gripe, complain – as they say in France. Photographic plane? They had to be kidding. There was a single tiny window next to my seat; I could barely see out. And I was supposed to shoot 35mm wide-screen motion picture footage through this thing?
The kid had evidently been through this before. He ignored my rouspetting.
He unscrewed a number of nuts and bolts and then proceeded to lift off the entire side of the aircraft. I had to admit I could now see out.
We then went through takeoff, different from just about any other I had experienced. The old crate went bumpety-bumpety on the lawn and somehow made it into the air. We then headed out toward Mont St Michel at what I figured was about 60 miles an hour.
However, it was a beautiful day and the view from above was terrific. As we approached it from a distance I thought I’d get great footage of the place as we sailed by it.
But the kid had another idea. Trouble was, he hadn’t told me about it.
As we approached the church directly overhead, he proceeded to suddenly tip the plane completely over on its side. I nearly lost my lunch. With the entire side of the plane gone, it was as though someone had taken me to the top of the Empire State building and then hung me by a belt over the madding crowd far below.
I am not overweight. But still, if you add to my avoirdupois the weight of a huge professional 35mm Arriflex motion picture camera, complete with a heavy magazine full of 35mm color negative, it added up. All I could think of was that seat belt, which was the only thing that kept me from exiting the plane. I hadn’t thought to check it carefully; now I couldn’t even see it because of the huge camera in my lap.
Well, I said to myself, this may be the last thing I do on this earth so I might as well get some good footage. I shot the incredibly beautiful Mont St. Michel from directly overhead.
My pilot then righted the plane and said, “I’m going over there to approach it from a different angle.”
“No!” I cried, hurriedly, “no, I got what I need! Don’t want to waste film. Let’s head back.”
The belt didn’t break, I’m happy to say, and the footage was spectacular.
1 year ago