Turkeys, Literal and Metaphorical

Turkey, NYC, c. 1996

Turkey, NYC, c. 1996

The professional turkey, black with a scarlet head, relaxing in his crate, was rolled into my studio on a small wooden dolly. Across the loft, behind a closed door, Willie (our first beloved yellow Labrador), barked relentlessly (“let me at him, let me at him”), eager to retrieve a bird he had detected solely by scent.

We were shooting a cover for the Village Voice, whimsically illustrating legendary rock critic Robert Christgau’s annual “Turkey Shoot,” his Thanksgiving-time roundup of newly-released music beneath his extremely witty contempt.

The turkey, from Long Island, was having a very good week and with an appearance on a late night talk show and a starring role in a Toyota ad, was earning more than anyone else in the studio.

His wrangler said of course his wranglee would wear the pink Walkman headphones and we put them around his neck, his ears being very small and hard to see. Luckily when we booked the turkey, we had thought to ask what color he was and realized the standard black headphones wouldn’t show up well against his feathers, particularly in the Voice’s mushy newsprint reproduction.

Willing to work for food, the turkey gobbled down little grainy bits offered by his wrangler and walked, as somehow instructed, horizontally back and forth across the seamless. And although seemingly comfortable with (or maybe oblivious to) my strobes, 20 minutes into the shoot, he suddenly freaked and launched his big bird body into the air. Frantic for a place to roost, he chose the gobo in front of one of the heads lighting the white seamless. The 1/4-inch foam core couldn’t support him and as it, the light, the umbrella and the stands fell toward the seamless, I caught them and the wrangler subdued our star. We continued, thankful that no birds or expensive photo equipment were hurt in the making of the Voice’s cover image.

BAMcinématek describes its current series “Turkeys for Thanksgiving,” as an “All-American feast of ripe-for-reappraisals films maudits,* which flopped on their original release but grow more fascinating each year.”

Included in the program is Robert Altman’s offbeat “Popeye;” William Friedkin’s nail-biter, “Sorcerer;” Francis Ford Coppola’s gorgeously stylized musical, “One From the Heart,” featuring great songs by Tom Waits and a luminous Nastassja Kinski; Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s costly Taylor/Burton “Cleopatra,” the epitome of Hollywood spectacle; and Michael Cimino’s profound and beautiful “Heaven’s Gate,” much- and long-maligned, and now recognized as a masterpiece.

“Turkeys for Thanksgiving” at BAMcinématek runs through Sunday, November 29.

*literally “cursed film”

Willie, NYC, c. 1996

Willie, NYC, c. 1996

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