Monday, 7 February 2011

They should make a film about . . . . .

I heard the tale of  Aron Ralston years ago, not long after it happened. I'd like to begin by saying I have not seen the new film. But I'm highly dubious of the fact that a big budget studio has turned it into a feature length film. It's a truly harrowing thing to happen, granted, but I'm curious to know how they have dramatised it enough to fill out 90 minutes or more and I will probably watch it when it is released on D.V.D.

 If I could get Danny Boyle in a room (I'm only using him as an example, as he made the aforementioned film- I'm not a fan or anything) I would plead with him to make a film about William Willis.  Big shot directors probably get swamped with morons telling them what they should make a films about all the time, but after learning that ralston's plight was being made into to a film, I got thinking about my hero; William Willis. Now for a kick off, the information on his wiki page is sadly skeletal. There's a number of errors, and there is a tonne of stuff that's been disregarded. Unless like me; you've read all his books, you probably wouldn't want to see a film about him; especially after looking at his wiki page (Because wiki is the all knowing all seeing)

His juvenile years would certainly make a decent enough story. When he was a nipper growing up near the docks in his native Hamburg, "ended up" on a tender boat, and untied the ropes that secured it, hoping to cross the river Elbe. He lost his oars due to being too weak to operate them, yet came out unscathed; great for a four year old! His mother saved him from near death when a raft he made had sank on a pond. From a young age, after viewing ancient greek statues; became obsessed the human form, something that would later come into relavence in the story of William Willis.

He was a talented artist, gaining a scholarship at the Kunst Und Gewerbe Schule of Hamburg - Financial difficulties and his father left the household leaving William to be the sole provider, so at the age of 15, he set out to work to provide for his Mother and younger Brothers.  Eventually at the age of sixteen, the poverty and monotony of Germany spurred him to leave his homeland in search of a better life. He ended up on an a square rigger called the henriette and braved the infamous horn; not before memorising an eye test to pass the medical. The conditions aboard these old square riggers were nothing short of barbaric.
"I realised I had entred a different world, a world of brute force and uncontrolled passions- a world I had not even dreamed of. So far I had lived in a cloister, surrounded by books and drawrings and with my mother to protect me. And now this...I still heard the curses ringing in my ears; they had been driven into my very brain- words never heard before"

There were tales of mutiny on the previous voyage of the henriette. Tales of murder, you name it.  He met an array of different nationalities, hearing all sorts of maritime related tales. The labour was intense, yet he thrived in the environment. He returned to Hamburg and there was a realization that the life of a seaman might not be the life for him, as it was mostly physical, and "deadening to the mind" He decided to leave Germany for good after being told of fortunes to be made the America and volunteered for a ship heading for America. He promised he would make enough money for his mother and brothers, and send for them, once he was settled. He planned on joining a ship, and then jumping ship in America, an idea he'd got on board the henriette. In these voyages his physical attributes would be well and truly tested, and he passed them all graciously. A boy to a man, in a short space of time. The mentality of Willis was simple- Strong body, strong mind. This, coupled with his philosophy towards life and nature would later show it's face in the tales of William Willis.

 He eventually jumped ship in frisco, and headed for Housten (He was nearly caught by a police officer, who he would encounter a year later, who remembered not arresting him, and promised not to run him in as he was a worker, and 'america needed workers') and undertook various professions. He worked in a Sawmill, and was 'employed' with out pay for the first few weeks, and eventually quit- the bastard employer threatened to blow him up to immigration, but as far as I'm aware he told him to get fucked. He breifly worked on a dredger in Galveston, a fireman on the S.S Summer, a docker, cartoonist, artist, a farmer, he tried to bunk the train back to his farm upon hearing of a hurricane that was heading for it, and was caught by a U.S Marshall, and was close to serving 90 days in prison, but his story of misfortune worked on the judge, and was let free. He briefly moved to Chicago, competed in Physical Culture's Best developed man; a contest where he was beaten by Charles Atlas, also did a stint at wrestling. This whole period of his life is steeped in tails, and he recounts much of it so well in his books.

Then it gets good.

"Damned and Damned Again" was a book released in 1959 (After the release of his first book depicting his first rafting adventure)  telling the story of when, in the 1930's, William rented a room in Brooklyn NY, off a lady called Madame Carnot; who he eventually got on speaking terms with, and he discovered her son, Bernard Carbot was incarcerated on Devil's Island for a crime he did not commit.

 Fed up with life in New York, Willis decided he would save Carnot and he set about a rescue, initially hitting the library and gathering as much information on the penal colony as possible. Using his own finances, he headed to Devil's Island to try and free the innocent Carbot. The tale is quite fascinating. He poses as an évadé (term used to describe a convict of devils island that had been released into the surrounding area) He spends a number of months in the vicinity of Devil's Island trying to find Cabot, under the guidance of an evade who he became acquainted with, called Jules. He comes down with yellow fever, and is close to death, but is saved by bush Negros. He fights barenuckle with a Leper who was trying to kill him for the gold in his teeth. He travels through disease riddled, piranha infested waters and eventually finds his man, and sends him on his way to the safety of Brazil (sending him anywhere else would probably result in him being returned to Devil's Isle)

I assure you, this is a mere gist of what happened. The book is truly fascinating.

They made a film (staring Steve Mc Queen) about the book Papillon, and in all fairness there's much controversy about the plausibility of the authors sources. The publisher, before his death, admitted the book was initially submitted to him as a novel.  Damned and Damned again happened.

Now we're with Willis approaching the age of 60. To paraphrase Willis "The Passage of time had hardly made an impression on me"  After hearing of Thor Heyerdahl's Kon-Tiki expedition, and probably wanting some sort of test, he decides to build a raft out of balsa wood, and sail it across the Pacific; which he gracefully dose so as told in "The epic voyage of the seven little sisters" - He travels further, and faster than the Kon Tiki, and on his own (The Cat, Parrot, and Shark that tailed him for much of the journey did little to assist him) In his own words, it was "A voyage of the spirit".

He drank salt water along the way; testing his own theories that a little salt water could keep a person going, also to make up for his bad planning; his water containers rusted and leaked. He ate raw fish, as his primus stove packed in and ate barley flour, canua a type of barley flour- mixed with water. He fell over board, was stalked by sharks, tested by the nature. He wanted to test himself, and prove himself, and he did just that. He arrived in Pago Pago. 6700 miles, in 115 days.
He donated his beloved raft to the people of American Samoa- It's quite sad, that Willis discovers in his next voyage, that The Seven Little Sisters was broken up and used for fire wood.

At the age of 70, Willis builds himself a raft out of pipes in a Dockyard in City Island, New York. This time, accompanied by a cat, he sails from South America, right across to Australia. He is briefly held by the authorities thinking that he is a convict from a penal colony not used for 100 years. If you look at the article I'm going to post at the end of this; you'll see why they probably came to that conclusion. He donated this raft to a Maritime Musem in Maine- Who dismantled it in the 70's - Pricks.

After trying three times, to get across the Atlantic (Failing due to medical/physical/weather) The 3rd attempt, in 1967 resulted in the end for Willis.

I've missed out tonnes of relevant stuff to argue my case that the tale of William Willis would make a great feature film, I'm pretty much writing this off the top of my head.

 Then again, they'd probably bastardize it to the high heavens and I'd be left seething that it wasn't good enough, or something was missing, or the actor they picked to play Willis was a worthless piece of shit. Maybe William Willis' tale is best left in obscurity...great, there's an hour I'll never get back.

LIFE magize article on William Willis

Also, Look out for
Damned and Damned Again, The Epic Voyage of the Seven Little Sisters, and An Angel on Each Shoulder - you'll pick them up cheap as chips from online book dealers.