At 5 AM the drinks are still flowing. At one end of the table the talk is about the gunfire on the Serbian border and the historical tensions that underlie the entire country A German journalist says “ I walked in to a courtyard theater to see the film about America, but I suddenly remembered how years ago bodies had been stacked in similar courtyards all over the region. I couldn’t help but imagine them there.” At the other end of the table the talk is of the loveliness of Prizen and the film festival – how magical it is too see films from all over the world projected on the city’s medieval fortress walls and over its gentle river. From some nearby café speakers Rhianna yelps about how she likes S&M, while above the town prayer calls begin.
The heat reaches a sullen100 degrees then breaks with lightening above the city. In minutes the streets are all downpour and cold sizzle. Wet and shivering, I nab a broken umbrella from the gutter as it sails by. A block later I give it to a woman trying to make a dry bed in an archway. She’d covered as much of herself as she could with a black garbage bag. The dark, wet plastic looks as if she’s pulled the soaked asphalt off the street to protect herself.
After 2 years of filming, this is the city where the ghost of Dan Markingson walks gently in his mother’s home, peaceful after his horrific suicide; where Lucinda Williams wants her blood to flow red again into that whitening snow; where Carl Elliot appalls us with stories of medical horror and corruption but delights us with his constant, compassionate, black humor; where gold booths sparkle in gorgeous, tawdry bars and mayflies cluster like living hoarfrost on neon lit windows; where a Patsy Cline tribute band brings tears to the eyes of the old man dancing, seemingly desperately, with his wife; where a handsome actor tells me he specializes in gruesome death scenes and fills two hours with whisky, fake blood, the perils of playing dead, and flirtatious touches of knees and hands. Later, as we walk on a street showing the first signs of autumn, I realize that I don’t know when I’ll be back. The kiss outside the hotel feels like kissing the city goodbye.
This is the first Halloween away from October Country. For the last four autumns my family ghosts were with me, either in person or on screen. Thanks to editing the new film, the terrors of this season are medical testing gone awry, drug induced suicide, and war trauma –haunting’s that belong to others but bleed just as easily into the holiday as any of the domestic terrors my family have to face. I catch glimpses of pharmaceutical side effects in the bubbly skin and the vacant eyes of a Walgreens’ monster masks. A plastic severed limb sets off flashes of the bloody photos and footage we were given by a very young medic who suffers PTSD from his service in Irag and Abu Graib. But just when I think there is no end to this grisly catalogue it is dispelled by the kids shrieking from house to house in their costumes; by the rubber and paper monsters that prowl yards and front windows; by leaving the horrors of the world in the editing room but putting just a touch of them into the murder ballads and ghost songs we play at our party; by watching Mike, handsome in his costume gray hair, smiling more than he has in days, flirting and mixing potions for the guests; by waking on all saints’ day to find myself curled next to a long warm body and the shaggy pants of a charming satyr on the floor beside the bed.