Saturday, July 14, 2012


When the Estonian refugees arrived in Poland they were placed in temporary camps, but Ralph did not wish to be trapped there indefinitely even though they had food and shelter. One of the men in his bunk house had planned an escape, and Ralph insisted on joining him. Their escape by night went undetected and after a day’s trek they reached a farmhouse where they spent a night, obtained some money and were directed to the railroads which could take them further west. Ralph and his travelling companion boarded a train but were forced to ride up top because of the Nazi soldiers checking papers on the train. When Hans and Ralph arrived in Wroclaw they were amazed at the size of the railroad yard. It was an easy matter to escape the train before the station, but not such an easy matter to know what to do next. They were hungry.

Author Intrustion

If and when this story is complete I will delete this intrusion, but thought I might use the occasion to talk about one of the challenges of writing.

More than two decades ago while talking about writing fiction with some writer friends we got into the challenge of moving from one scene to another, or even moving from one room to another. There are a hundred ways to move characters forward in a story. Marcel Proust spent thirty-five pages to have his main character roll over in bed in his epic Remembrance of Things Past.

Sometimes there is dialogue in one space and then a new setting described. The reader assumes they walked or sashayed or somehow carried their bodies from there to here. If it is not integral to the development of the story these things are often skipped.

But in some stories we more description than we can imagine because it contributes to revealing tomsething about the characters whether by what they said and did or didn't say, and even tedious quantities of detail of what their thoughts were as they plowed forward into the next scene.

My problem here with Uprooted is trying to decide how much detail to infuse as Ralph and Hans travel westward to escape the approaching Red Army. At some point along the way Hans chooses to go his own way. Whether in Wroclaw or Prague is not relevant. What's significant is that Ralph refuses to settle down until he knows he has reached the free lands he longs for.

In Poland he thinks about Chopin who was from that land and whose heart was returned there after he died. In Prague he thinks of Beethoven who is buried there. Classical music is how Ralph comforted himself in the hard life he lived. 

His goal was Switzerland. In the screenplay that I wrote (Uprooted, 1994) based on Ralph's story, the movie opens with a panorama of the Swiss Alps at Austria's western-most edge, spectacular, celestial and glorious. 

The mountains, like the accompanying music, convey a sense of lightness and joy, freedom and hope. As we pan down the mountainside to a small village far, far down in the basin of the mountainside below, discordant notes interfere with the joy, evoking a feeling of conflict between the two major themes, between hope and joy, disillusionment and grief. Superimposed over this small alpine village is the text "January 1945."

While the titles roll we see scenes of the village of Schrunz including a hotel, old houses, a German soldier, empty streets, blowing snow and a construction site. The impression created is that of "Why are we here?" and when this effect has been created, the camera zeroes in on a huge pipeline, begins tracking, following the huge concrete pipe up through a cleavage in the mountains, up three miles to an empty man-made depression in the mountains where, in spite of the bitter cold and unfavorable weather, cement trucks and workers are pouring concrete. There are no happy faces on the workers we see and the discordant music has obliterated the light, airy theme that opened the movie. The music fades, but continues under as... a young man with a limp approaches the building, hunched against the cold. He is alone, fighting against strong winds. It is so cold the packed snow squeaks beneath his broken step. His left shoe has a platform sole and the leg drags a little but it causes him no pain.

* * * *

So it is that we have moved our character from Wroclaw to Shrunz where the next chapter will begin.


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