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selected from shoot diaries spanning three decades

cold comfort in Connecticut

20th January 2014

Bridgeport ill-met by moonlight
Bridgeport ill-met by moonlight

Last week we lived in the city that never sleeps, now it’s a town where waking up is hard to do. Bridgeport is the place where my target, Charles Stratton, aka Tom Thumb, was born and raised to 20 inches.

Last night’s view was vaguely romantic in a Walker Evans, Edward Hopper kind of way – light snow drifting across tungsten lights, trucks moving on the bridge of outside my window, vagrants huddling in doorways. 

ill manors by daylight
ill manors by daylight

This morning it’s not so romantic. The usual opening top shots from the hotel window, in these small Eastern towns often the highest point to get GVs from. Used to spot them in other people’s films, feeling for them, the task of making new America look as interesting as it must once have been in the time their story is set.

Before the off leave Nick to wrangle Michael and his sides over the usual eggs and carbs and coffee. In three layers and a hat under the hood get outside to capture Connecticut in the thin light. Fearsomely cold. The nearer to the river, the worse it gets. Kit hire have supplied tripod with carbon-fibre legs that shatter at ten below and I reckon it’s at least that, but no wind, even on intersections. Drivers so bored they don’t even hoot or jeer as in bigger towns or in rural parts.

Shoot lights changing, joggers with smoky breath. As ever in search of irony. Get dark and empty hairdressing salon with a huge neon sign saying No Appointment Required.

The Barnum Museum was built by PT and is suitably heavy stone Golden Age, the same style as the Upper East Side of Manhattan and the campus of Glasgow University. The only building worth a low-angle shot, which is saying something as changing lenses and opening the spreader is painful.

strong man of British TV enters frame left
strong man of British TV enters frame left

When Michael arrives we shoot a brisk up and past and then we’re inside in a strange yellow light. The place is patched up after a tornado twisted through three years ago.  Sheets are draped over things and murals by local kids slightly obscure scaffolds and plasterboard.

showman and shaman
showman and shaman

The exhibits make it all worth it. Tom Thumb’s miniature carriages, his little desk, behind the scenes, in the archive, his top hat and bespoke leather riding boots perfect for a modern toddler.  And the Feegee Mermaid – a copy, says Kathy Meher the curator, bubbly and talkative with the English Lord. The real thing changed hands endlessly and ruined most who owned it: Barnum made millions, says Michael, but then he would say that, says the showman smiling at the antics of the showman, like nodding to like across a century. 

biggest celebrity of the 19th century
actual size: biggest celebrity of the 19th century

Tonight we dined alone, Nick digitizing. A masterclass in How to Steal Another Agent’s client – the agency who pinched Cathy Kirby from him, his retaliatory theft of Clodah Rogers, Harry Worth and the Train Home Factor.  We talk about Upcoming B Forsyth film – he loves Brucie. Stagger home full of Montepulciano in minus 20 I swear. If Milord croaks on me I'm done for, and there's nobody to help carry. If I go, nobody will care. That’s day one then.