Monday, April 6, 2009

School Play: David Quinn's Not-Great Story About His Short-Lived Film Career

David Quinn in School Play.

David Quinn—father, husband, lawyer, longtime Center Square resident, folklorist, brother of original MTV VJ Martha Quinn—has stories to tell. Leaning back in his office chair, it becomes clear that, despite calling a week on the set of an Andy Warhol production School Play 'not a great story,' he has no qualms about making it one. “It was a great, great time to be 19,” he tells us. “I had the world by the short hairs.” He smiles as he reenacts his week, laughing at his 19-year-old-self and the adventures he had.--Michelle Cabral

It was the summer of 1969 and I had just dropped out of college. I went back to New York, back to my mother’s house, and found a job with a film production company. I thought that was what I wanted to do with my life.

I didn’t know anything about film, but I liked film, and thought I could do something with it. I got a job in the editing room, cleaning and splicing film together. It was mostly grunt work, but I told the guy I was interested in it and he sent me to Long Island University for a film production workshop.

Bud Wirtshafter taught the course; he was this avant-garde filmmaker. He had a piece called “Polar Bears in the Snow.” It was just a blank white film with a voiceover, describing all these polar bears running around in a blizzard. It was ridiculous but hysterical.

Well anyway, he was hired to do the camera work for this production out in Bridgehampton.

He asked, “Who wants to come out and watch and maybe help out?”

“Uh, Sure.”

So we go out to Bridgehampton and, lo and behold, all these Warhol Factory people are there. Taylor Mead and Gerard Malanga were the most famous people. There was also a woman named Brigid [Berlin]. She was this was this hugely fat, very pale woman, famous for her nude calendar. Anyway, I was young, wasn’t bad looking, and this guy says, “Wanna be in this movie?”

“Oh shit. Sure, okay,” I say.

“Put on this bathing suit.”

Oh god--I saw it coming. These were weird people, weird people, but peaceable people. Just a little weird.

The opening credits of School Play. Quinn's name is third down in the second column.

The plot of the movie was this series of dream sequences, sort of a Cinderella kind of fairytale thing. It was weird. And you know, when you shoot a movie, you never know what it’s about, unless you’ve written it or you're involved with it.

My character in this movie was one that would reappear in the various dream sequences with Brigid, who was the princess or whatever. Then we would repeat the scene with another woman who was just the absolute visual negative of Brigid.

I would repeat those scenes, and we did a couple more weird scenes. In one scene, this guy Carl was in a big cast iron pot, and I was one of the natives cooking him. I was supposed to taste him—ladle out of the pot and make native nosies. Ooga-booga, things like that.

So that was the movie.

When we wrapped, Brigid came over to me. “Oh David, you gotta come to L.A. We’re gonna start a TV series, The Every Day Show, it’s gonna be fun, you’re a natural, you should come to L.A. with us.”

Well, these people were weird enough, and it was going to be far for me to go off to L.A. with them, I tell you that right now.

Then Charles Rydell, the film's director, comes up and he has my check: 290 dollars. He comes up, just like on Cash Cab, and says “Well, I got your check right here. But I suggest you join SAG.”

“SAG? What’s that”?

“That’s the union for screen actors. Once you get into SAG, you get paid union rate”--scale, they call it--“and you get health benefits and all it’s a great gig. If you’re ever going to do this you’ve got to be a member of SAG.”

So I said, “What’s that going to cost me?”

He says, “275 dollars.”

“Wait a minute," I say. "You want me to give you my 290 hard-earned dollars and get 15 back, for a card? I don’t think so.”

And I think it was probably a mistake--it would have been worth the 290 dollars to carry a SAG card today.

About the spring of 1970 was when the screening occurred. I got a job in the Natural History Museum and went down to the book store and this guy comes over to me.

“Hey, David. Were you ever in a movie?”

Aww shit man, I’m getting busted on this. “Well uh, yeah, why do you ask?”

“Cause there’s a magazine, Interview, you’re in it.”

“No way.”

“A picture of you uh, ladling something out of a pot, and you’re name’s there.”

I never saw that picture. I never saw that magazine. I’ve no idea what this magazine was about.

So that is a flash-in-the-pan of my events with the Warhol group. That was pretty cool. But it’s not a great story.