Dreams That Die – Extract

Dreams That Die

In 2003, during the run-up to the war in Iraq, I was living in Hollywood, where at the time I was working as Ben Affleck’s stand-in on the movie Surviving Christmas. The experience is recounted in my book, Dreams That Die, just published by Zero Books. Given that Affleck has just won the BAFTA for the movie Argo, and with this week marking the tenth anniversary of the historic international day of protest on February 15 2003, here is an extract from the book on my experience on the set of the movie in the immediate aftermath of the February 15 demo in Los Angeles.

The Monday after the demonstration saw me arrive for the start of another week on the movie in high spirits. The enormous size and number of demonstrations that had taken place around the world had hit the headlines, managing to knock the pro-war consensus within the mainstream off the front pages of all the major newspapers, as well as relegating them in order of importance on the TV news bulletins.

On the set it was interesting to hear the differing opinions of the antiwar movement. More than a few, consisting of those who supported Bush without equivocation or condition and wholeheartedly believed in the ‘mission’ to get Saddam, dismissed the protesters as traitors. Others, more liberal in outlook, though still of the belief that the US was the greatest nation on earth, abhorred the Bush administration. Conscious of what they referred to as ‘America’s place in the world’, which they viewed as a shining example of other nations to follow rather than a hammed to be feared and loathed, they watched aghast as Bush and his cronies set about turning their beloved country into a rogue state. The liberal antiwar stance they espoused was reflective of the view that the US should only go to war against Iraq under a UN mandate and not unilaterally. They weren’t concerned about the damage already that had already been done to the Iraqi people by the sanctions, nor were they overly concerned at the prospect of innocent Iraqis being blown to smithereens if the US went ahead and attacked. Their primary concern was the welfare of the troops (our boys) and America’s image and standing in the eyes of the world. In other words, they supported the same aims as the neocons – namely US domination – but advocated different, subtler means of achieving those aims. This difference in form not content is what separated Democrats and Republicans and had done more or less throughout the nation’s history.

By now word had gotten round that I was involved in the antiwar movement, and I began to detect hostility from various quarters as a consequence. Affleck’s bodyguard Scott for example had taken to throwing me dirty looks when he wasn’t ignoring me completely. The same with his personal assistant. Too bad.

There remained one of two sympathetic voices on the crew as well, though. Sadly they weren’t very vocal, preferring to keep their antiwar and anti-Bush sentiments quiet. Their reluctance to speak out was illustrative of the fear, now commonplace, of being labelled unpatriotic or anti-American. It was a fear prevalent not just on the set of this movie but within the country as a whole.

Later that day another UN debate was due to be held on Iraq, on whether or not the Iraqi government was complying with the inspections that were now scouring the country looking for stockpiles of WMD. Despite being at work, I was determined to listen to some of the proceedings on the radio one way or another, especially now that events were approaching the point of no return.

Finally, Manny the DP announced that the shot was ready and the call went up for first team. Along with my fellow stand-ins, I began making my way off the set to make way for the principals, who began to arrive in their usual ones and twos. James Gandolfini as ever was the first to appear, hitting everyone with his customary jovial smile and friendly greeting as he took up his position. I was just heading over to the corner of the soundstage where the stand-ins were congregated when the soundstage door opened and in came Affleck’s entourage, followed by the man himself. Standing directly in their path it was a moment that called for acknowledgement in the form of a nod or a polite greeting. But this was Hollywood, where a different kind of normality prevailed, and all five of them walked right past me as if I didn’t exist, had never existed, and would never exist in any shape or form worthy of recognition. I continued on over to my chair and picked up the book I was reading – the Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Frederich Engels – and resumed reading where I’d left off.

‘The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles. Freemen and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.’

Five or ten minutes later, I got up again and began walking across the soundstage in the direction of the exit, heading for the bathroom. As I passed the set I could hear the voices of Ben Affleck and his many sycophants, interspersed with loud laughter. Suddenly, Affleck led off on a rendition of the Star Spangled Banner. Almost immediately he was joined by others, until the entire set was united in song.

I continued on my way to the bathroom. What else could I do? I was desperate for a shit.

Dreams That Die is currently available from Word Power Books

 

 

24 comments on “Dreams That Die – Extract

  1. Affleck won BAFTA for Argo. Oh dear…. He’s been winning various awards for it. Not seen the film as it just didn’t appeal to me will wait until its on DVD.

    Affleck’s stand-in! In credits of films you see “stand-ins” and such like is it due to the actors being lazy and/or they are off doing something else? Worked with a guy once who was a stand-in, he worked on a couple of films and met Ewan MacGregor and Christian Bale. Said they were nice and friendly guys who engaged with everyone. Sounds different in Hollywood.

    Funny how Affleck wants to be seen as a serious director. He was offered the chance to direct Homeland but declined…he regrets it apparently. Interesting too re collaboration with Affleck and Damon… Damon always seemed the political one especially his views on war in Iraq.

    Oh, you met Mister Soprano aka James Gandolfini…. Wow!

    Must read your book…..

  2. HarpyMarx: Funny how Affleck wants to be seen as a serious director. He was offered the chance to direct Homeland but declined…he regrets it apparently. Interesting too re collaboration with Affleck and Damon… Damon always seemed the political one especially his views on war in Iraq.

    I don’t know if you’ve ever watched his directorial debut ‘Gone Baby Gone’ (starring his brother Casey, in what I’m sure was a completely fair audition), I thought it was actually pretty decent.

    Damon does seem OK politically, I remember him speaking in support of a teachers’ strike. Never actually seen an actor comment on industrial disputes unconnected to their own profession before. :P

  3. HarpyMarx,

    Yes, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon both come from liberal backgrounds. Affleck’s mother was a Freedom Rider during the US civil rights movement, and both he and Damon knew Howard Zinn. I actually read somewhere that they’d bought the rights to one of the chapters in Zinn’s excellent ‘A People’s History of the United States’.

    That said, clearly Matt Damon sits further on the left than Ben Affleck. Damon has been a vocal critic of Obama for example, accusing him of ‘misunderstanding his mandate’ when it comes to his domestic agenda.

    The rumours are that Affleck is looking to kickstart a political career. My experience of him is through the prism of working as his flunkey, which is recounted in the book. During his acceptance speech at the Golden Globes recently, he went out of his way to salute the troops. It was very contrived, I thought.

    I haven’t seen Argo, but I’ve heard mixed reviews.

  4. Manzil
    Yes, have seen “Gone Baby Gone” it is a decent film.

    Reason Damon was speaking re teachers’ strike is that his mum is one. Fascinating interview with him and his mum on the subject. Also his attack on Sarah Palin was funny but very serious.

    Affleck seems like a political opportunist while Damon doesn’t.

  5. HarpyMarx: Didn’t mind the film The Town, directed by Affleck.

    I thought it was excellent, the strongest performance from Affleck I think I’ve seen.

    He’s definitely talented. Surviving Christmas didn’t turn out well, but this was around the whole ‘Bennifer’ period, when I think he got caught up with being a movie star rather than a serious filmmaker and actor.

    I recall J-Lo and her entourage would visit him on the set, all of them in velour tracksuits. It was quite a spectacle.

  6. Hands up who else mistakenly attempted to watch Gigli? [Edit: Damn it, beat me to it, HM.]

    Go on, don’t be ashamed, we’re all comrades here.

    HarpyMarx: Reason Damon was speaking re teachers’ strike is that his mum is one.

    Haha. Must have missed that. So, not quite the selfless act of solidarity I’d assumed. Still, though, better than your run o’ the mill Hollywood star. :)

    John: I recall J-Lo and her entourage would visit him on the set, all of them in velour tracksuits. It was quite a spectacle.

    LOL. Just… LOL.

  7. Manzil. …. Rather like Malcolm McD. In A Clockwork Orange was forced to watch violent images with his eye lids pulled back maybe it is time to do the same to mechanical Ortho Trots but make them watch Gigli… Just a thought!

  8. :D

    Developmental disabilities played for laughs, people being ‘cured’ of lesbianism, and Al Pacino continuing to ruin every cherished memory I have of him? I wouldn’t wish that on Nick Griffin himself!

    Keep seeing The Town recommended on LoveFilm/Netflix, will have to give it a look.

  9. Nick Fredman on said:

    John: I actually read somewhere that they’d bought the rights to one of the chapters in Zinn’s excellent ‘A People’s History of the United States’.

    I’ve got a bit of time for Matt Damon and follow the teachers’ strikes in the US a bit and looked up this curious connection a while ago. Zinn was a neighbour of the Damon household with an obvious political affinity with his mum. Damon and Affleck wrote Good Will Hunting in which the Damon character recommends the Affleck character read the book. Damon narrated an audio version of the book and Damon and Zinn produced a doco based on the chapter you mention http://www.thepeoplespeak.com/

  10. You may be right Manzil…. I think most of us (er, that isn’t any admittance of watching the film) would possibly visit the doctor in The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and remove every trace of Gigli from our consciousness or unconsciousness.

  11. Quite liked Argo (“Argo fuck yourself!”) but it’s a Hollywood liberal’s wet dream, with US power trying to do the right thing (after conceding past excesses) and a gently mocked movie business doing its bit.

  12. Marxist Lenonist on said:

    #13 “Developmental disabilities played for laughs, people being ‘cured’ of lesbianism….I wouldn’t wish that on Nick Griffin himself!”

    Sounds like Nick Griffin might enjoy it!

  13. Marxist Lenonist on said:

    Matt,

    Thats probably a good summary, and personally I enjoyed it too. I did like the opening about Mossadegh very much, especially as most of the film’s audiences would probably never have heard of him.

  14. Marxist Lenonist on said:

    John,

    Do you expand on J-Lo and her entourage in the book? I’m sure some of your readers would like to know =)

  15. “I was living in Hollywood, where at the time I was working as Ben Affleck’s stand-in on the movie”

    I usually say I am a doctor or a marine biologist but I may give this a go.

    Affleck has that twat look about him if you ask me. Agree that Matt Damon seems like a decent chap.

    I do find it hard to believe that someone like Affleck could produce award winning, serious art. But maybe that is my prejudice. Still i won’t bother watching the film as I suspect it is utter junk.

  16. Marxist Lenonist:

    Do you expand on J-Lo and her entourage in the book? I’m sure some of your readers would like to know =)

    Have a cheeky crush on Jenny from the block, do we ML? :P

  17. Marxist Lenonist on said:

    #22 Not really, but I probably did a bit back then, around the time it turns out she was sharing a filmset with John =)