Author Archive for James

Movies are Magic

Movies are magic, they have been since I was kid.  When I went to the theater – one of those big classic theaters of the past, vast like the inside of a cathedral – it was like going to the Ringling Brothers Circus.

In anticipation of the excitement I thought about it all week. Whatever was showing in my hometown that weekend was the grandest thing I could imagine. Whatever the film was, a western, a drama, a comedy, it  was OK  It was a movie and that told it all. That and the popcorn, the coke, the candy – it was all tied together. You had to have your candy, your coke. It made the whole thing come together. And then there was choosing the right seat, not too close, not too far back, on the aisle so you could make a quick trip to the bathroom just at the right time when the action lagged or when they kissed and then be back in time for something big, a payoff.

There was the long walk to the theater on Saturday morning along the railroad tracks behind the school, then across town, thirsty for my coke, getting amped up. Finally I arrived at the box office put my quarters down and went on inside the lobby. There was the carpet smell, the rich smell of the hot buttered popcorn, seeing kids from the neighborhood, and getting my stash of just the right candy – because it had to take you all the way through till the end, through the highs and lows and maybe some hard candy leftover for the long walk home: a time for reflection.

But before that there was the unbelievable anticipation for the moment, the moment the lights went down, and the giant enormous screen filled the whole world with this mighty event and instantly being transformed into another magical world of heroes and clowns, sounds and colors –  all the while glued to the screen. Being circumspect about your candy, balancing your coke, letting my child’s emotions run free to laugh and cry.

I laughed so hard during “The Russians are Coming” that the theater manager, a friend of my father, came down and told me to quiet down or I’d have to leave. I moved to the aisle stairs against the wall and kept howling. At the end of the movie, the lights coming up, a sense of immense loss and longing to stay here in the theater, in my seat, in this world. The effects of being in this magical world lasted all day.

After the movie I walked slowly heading for home, letting the whole experience wash over me, not wanting to go home, or to ever grow up but to stay here, in childhood for ever. If it was a summer day I lingered there on the railroad tracks walking on the rails, the sun splashing over me.

It was one of childhood’s great experiences.

My mother loved the opera and the theater and for some reason she took me on a Saturday to San Francisco to see Fellini’s “La Strada” when I was seven. It was a black-and-white, foreign film; moody, tragic – a curious and strange film for a seven year old.  Yet instead of repulsion, or worse boredom, I was fascinated. I loved the strangeness of it, the stark landscapes, the elfin waif, the brutish Anthony Quinn. Whatever my mother saw in me, wanted to expose me to remained a mystery.  Yet the film has moved me all these remaining years and continues to be significant and alluring. She was setting me up for something. I remember we didn’t speak all the way home. I sat looking at the landscape outside the car window.

That “La Strada” afternoon was one of those important memories of our relationship.

Making the Movie

James Koskinas

A new language to learn, thank god I have a master in Austin Texan John Witham, thirty odd years behind the camera and a performance artist to boot, an ex rock-and-roller. I’ve been hankering to get back on stage or performing again after my one man play a few years back.

JW is careful, methodical, professional. He balances my headstrong urges to rush in and shoot from the hip, it works with me being an action painter yet not in a long, detailed, arduous process like making a movie. And it’s not a short film either. We’re going for a full length feature. Daunting. But we’ve got stories, plenty of them, a backlog from the ones that didn’t make my one man play,” Even If the Mountains Burn.” Grist for the mill.


James, “shoot this part here.”

A film is like a giant moving painting with words. Oh, we’ll use my paintings as characters. In fact, JW has been lobbying for them from the beginning, and now I’ve moved away from the original movie idea which was to use most of my Vietnam stories again. I’m allowing the paintings to start telling their own stories, they are, in fact, how I ended up doing the play in the first place. That will be revealed in the film.

Every time I think something doesn’t really matter it comes back to show me that nothing is wasted. In art especially, there are no wrong turns or dead ends. So the new project is  up to date. JW says, it’s who I am now. The war stuff will inevitably reappear but I’m  thinking it may reveal all new stories. If you saw the play, this is another chapter, and if you didn’t you can catch part of it here on YouTube.

John Witham

Anyway this is whole new exploration of seeing that old character. Ways to show the experience I may never have thought about… a fresh take on it. The film is a mystery too – which the play wasn’t  In a strange way the war is an old friend, an old acquaintance at least. At this point I’m over the trauma of it, I went through that when I did my play. I think it will be more powerful. I’ve changed, written a lot since then, my artistic voice seems stronger, clearer. I’ve taken writing workshops with local author Robert Mayer,  lots of my own writing, out and about doing readings. Keeping it fresh.

Speaking of movies -how does one even start such a notion? …something so vast, so detailed and structured. Well the damn Texan got me into it really, he and all those people I kept seeing in the produce section at Trader Joe’s that kept asking, “when is the next play?” Carrots never tasted the same again. It wasn’t absolutely planned. I’d call it kismet. A slow dripping kismet, it snuck up on me.

JW is a quiet, still-waters-run-deep kind of a guy, humble, self effacing, but he’s got these iron arms. I was impressed with that. Quiet but substantial. He kept appearing in my life, here and there, around town, at parties, at readings, at Counter Culture, quiet but substantial. “I think we should work together, it will make us better men,” he kept repeating, quietly again. This sounds like a movie itself. Two gunfighters. Lets rob a bank, run a herd of cattle to California. Two wild guys that love samurai swords, that love to drive fast.



Hell, if you asked me straight up, let’s make a movie, let’s invest time and money in a potential public disaster, risk something so big, risk it all and trust in our own experiences, our own creativity, just what we’ve got now, whatever we’ve got inside us now, even if it’s 25 cents worth, I’d have said no.

But  here we are, I’m writing a new dialogue, a new script, we’re filming my paintings,  filming and recording stories, setting up lights, building our first sets and deciding on our first attack. I‘m not scared, but I will be.

Ironically, that’s when I’m most alive.