What Do You See When You Turn Out The Light?

Kage Baker loved movies. Visual input was her preferred sensory channel, and so gazing into the electronic eyes of a screen was a perpetually satisfying experience for her. She would go on fondly sometimes about her childhood nights in the soft blue lunar glow of the cathode ray tube.

It’s why her books are full of cinematic references, and why the private slang of the Company Operatives is called Cinema Standard. Kage didn’t think the movies themselves were romantic – no one who grows up in The Industry (as we did) really believes that. But the romance of the process – the hands-on magic and kitchen-sink alchemy of making moves entranced her: all those essentially blue-collar sorcerers writing stories in light. The end product, the finished dream, the artifact was what Kage loved.

Watching film was a panacea for migraines. It energized the ennui and flat effect of colds. A video game was always a perfect treat, the best reward and/or bribe for meeting a deadline. She loved to read, but the mental result of reading was a panopticon in her brain: constantly revised and renewed, repainted, edited and then shot again as the story rolled on. Me, I hear the words in my mind first as I read, and then gradually a picture builds up like scenery back-projected on a scrim: for Kage, it was instantaneous conversion into vision.

As she grew up and learned more, an urge to edit and direct was revealed. Yep, what she really wanted to do was direct – and she did. Her favourite roles at Renaissance Faires were backstage, behind scenes. and downright covert – she stage managed, she directed troupes, she filled out skeletal improvisations with dialogue and action. Then she usually watched anonymously from the sidelines to see how it all turned out. Kage lurked.

Though sometimes she took the stage … we did a couple of little plays where we traded rhymed lines of narration, she and I. And Kage would balance a broom on her fingertips while she walked in processions, sometimes; a half mile route up a rocky dirt avenue, the ribboned broom blowing like a dozen tiny banners over her head, arm out and head back as she walked it unerringly along the road and never bobbled once. Sometimes she would toss it from hand to hand – never grasping it, you understand, just twirling it on her fingertips.

I think that’s how she plotted out her stories, too. It’s the best representation I can offer, after decades of watching the dance of her brain scatter sequins around. She whirled like a magneto and threw off sparks, ribbons, ideas in all directions.

One of the side effects was that she gradually started re-editing movies out loud while she watched them. Not in theatres – she abhored noise in theatres, was one of those fierce old ladies who Shush! talkers, texters and cell-phone users. Or she’d elbow me into kidney damage and make me turn around to threaten someone …  but in a movie house, Kage was a perfect lady. It was at home in her own living room that she got carried away and started re-cutting movies as we watched them.

Talking during movies (again, at home only) is a long tradition in our family. We all do it, in styles ranging from arguments with the characters on screen to scholarly lectures on costumes and history. And there’s always at least one person who wants everyone else to please SHUT UP. But we don’t. Any of us. Ever. Kage was just like all her siblings in this – objecting vociferously if someone wanted to loudly discuss Roman burlap-hanging techniques, and then turning right around to explain how she would have re-cut that last scene in Jurassic Park III.

Although the most common response with the lot of us is a MST3K-style cineme dementia stream of wisecracks, so Kage may have been justified in yelling at the hooting and hollering to quiet down … you know that scene in Mendoza In Hollywood, Dear Readers, where the First Ever Cahuenga Pass Film Festival takes place? The room full of Operatives laughing and talking and yelling things at the screen? Where Imarte flips out at the end and goes looking for Babylon down on Vine Street?

Drawn from life, Dear Readers. Drawn from life. You can trust me on this one.

I was there.

About Kate

I am Kage Baker's sister. Kage was/is a well-known science fiction writer, who died on January 31, 2010. She told me to keep her work going - I'm doing that. This blog will document the process.
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3 Responses to What Do You See When You Turn Out The Light?

  1. widdershins says:

    It’s like that in my house too… we often have intervals … and thank the gods for the ‘pause’ button!

  2. widdershins says:

    Indeed… and we all resume moving the minute the wind changes 🙂

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