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One of my best friends died twenty years ago today. His name was Jos Claerbout, and he was one of the best people I've known. I only knew him for a few years and have more Jos stories than I can count, but, since I mostly talk movies here, I'll share some Jos movie stories. 1/???
I met Jos freshman year of college through the radio station. He was excited that I was an aspiring filmmaker, and one evening started talking to him and his friend Jano about a film I had started writing with Matthew (a remake of a classic Western with mutants instead of Apache)
He was probably the most enthusiastic person I'd ever met, so he immediately wanted to be involved. His only condition was that he get to play a mutant with an arm growing out of his head. Obviously, this movie never happened.
Jos took the next year of college off to go work in Alaska, and when he came back he was aspiring toward severe asceticism -- bare rooms, no activities other than classes. This didn't last long.
He'd come up with a movie idea he wanted to write. A middle-aged Asian American couple investigating the cover-up around the death of their son at college. I told him I loved it, since you don't see enough movies starring middle-aged Asian actors.
That was apparently the right reaction -- he was thrilled. We started talking movies a lot more frequently. Next semester he tired of his single dorm room and moved into my double when my roommate left for Glasgow, which he promptly redubbed "The Arango-Claerbout Pleasure Palace"
That semester, I was taking a screenwriting class. I'd written a fine but derivative con artist movie -- pretty much Repo Man meets The Grifters. Once I finished it, Jos wanted to help me rewrite it because he had a lot of ideas.
He, Jano, and I went to Taco Bell (at what I assume was something like 10pm) to hash out the new plot. My original story got compressed down to the Act I and II with a lengthy comeuppance coda.
Quick plot summary of my story: Flaherty (clearly written for Harry Dean Stanton) is mentoring Lila, an aspiring con woman. He dispatches her to find a mark, get involved, then they'll stage a kidnapping for quick money.
Of course, she ends up picking a local from Alabama who is so smitten with her than he pretends to be wealthy, despite not having two nickels to rub together. They don't find out until after the kidnapping.
Rather than walk away, Flaherty decides to take the kid under his wing and use him as the very visible face of a series of cons. The kid gets busted and hauled off to jail, while Flaherty and Lila make off with the loot.
Jos insisted it couldn't end there (which was probably a good impulse). Now, the kid gets out of prison, frames Flaherty, then convinces Lila that they need to flee the country before the police come after her.
They head to Mexico, where he proceeds to break her down mentally -- finally culminating in her being left penniless and bald in Guatemala. The title of this film: "Money, Hair, and Freedom"
(Side note: we were aware of how this story might seems wildly misogynistic -- Jos had an argument that this was comeuppance for Lila's strict adherence to traditional gender roles and the film was a "profoundly feminist statement." I continue to have my doubts)
After that, we kept coming up with more ideas. We intended to make a short film entitled "FlummoX" (I can't remember why the X was capitalized. Something about it being a grand statement for Generation X)
To explain this one, you need to understand how our dorm room was laid it. Think shotgun apartment: front door, my room, Jos' room, bathroom. Jos was a morning person, and I was not, so every morning he would try to creep out without waking me. He never did.
In FlummoX, the two roommates have the same setup, except the one in the outer room never gets out of bed and, when he sees the Jos character, greets him with a crushing insult, ruining his day.
Then, "Jos" falls in love. It's great, but he realizes he can never take her back to his room, or his awful roommate will say something unforgivable. His only option is to try to kill his roommate. I don't remember all the attempts, but they all fail in comedic fashion.
Finally, he builds an elaborate Rube Goldberg device that will drop a bowling ball onto "my" head. He brings back the girl, opens the door, triggers the device. At the last moment, the roommate rolls over, the ball bounces off the bed, hits "Jos" in the head and kills him.
At which point the roommate wakes up, sees the love interest, waves her over. He lifts up the sheets of his bed, sunlight shines out from under the covers. She crawls under the sheets, leading the two of them to sunlit meadow.
(I swear, my current scripts are much better and make a lot more sense)
We did not make FlummoX, but we did end up making a movie my senior year. Feature-length, shot on 16mm, actual actors. I wrote the script on my own, then Jos helped punch it up, then it all went to hell once cameras started rolling.
The "film" program at my college was vehemently opposed to hands-on learning, so I knew nothing about sound recording, lighting, camera operation, etc. It was a disaster, but, honestly, probably should have been more of a disaster.
I recruited Jos as Producer, even though I was paying for it. He also acted in it as a sleazy local radio host. It was not a good movie -- more or less a fake documentary about Jesus coming back to discuss contemporary American generational politics.
After graduation, we kept working together. We came up with a musical we wanted to shoot starring our mutual friend Keith -- "Too Fast to Live, Too Cool to Die." I barely remember the specifics on this one.
To the best of my recollection, it is set in a town where Rockers and Surfers are in an endless feud. Keith would be a Rocker, who drives around town in a 60's Cadillac deVille Sedan -- he is widely mocked for not owning a Coupe
I think there's a Battle of the Bands kind of thing with ludicrously high stakes, and he ends up having to play on a broken amplifier, so he can't turn off the reverb. Obviously, reverb is Surfers-only, so it starts a riot until everyone comes together though the power of music.
At the end, he climbs into his backseat with a pair of women, thus explaining his choice of car. The movie finishes with the song "Sedan deLove".
Unsurprisingly, we did not make this movie. I'm not sure we ever told Keith we had this idea. A couple years after that Keith got busted, and I never talked to him again.
At this point, Jos was living up near his hometown of Palo Alto, and I was still down in suburban LA. We'd talk online, and he'd fly down occasionally for writing sessions. Our next film was "Held" - a short based on a classic logic problem.
It also did not go well -- without Jos around every day, I dropped the ball on rehearsing with the actors, prepping sets, etc. It was a long, tense 24 hour shoot. I haven't watched the film in 20 years, but it's here if you want to: vimeo.com/136126729
After that, we did a little work on script we'd outlined back in college, but never finished -- "Because They Can't Shoot Us" (a title inspired by our college's periodic insistence on kicking us out of the dining hall and making us eat outside while listening to awful music)
An evil corporation laments the power that liberals have over college students, so buys a small liberal arts college. (In retrospect, this is basically a Koch brothers plan) They lose money hand over fist, and realize the only out is to make everyone voluntarily withdraw.
The bulk of the film is then the college's attempt to make life so miserable that everyone quits -- installing modern art installations in front of dorm doorways, Gwar playing at the cafeteria, mascot replaced by Sludgie the Fighting Industrial Waste.
The remaining students do their best to keep the college from folding -- plan their own recruitment drives, etc -- but to no avail. Just before the deadline, they quit. The evil company appears to have won --
EXCEPT that the mascot they sealed into the Sludgie suit couldn't sign the papers, so the day is saved through their own incompetence. As you might have guessed, this was an extremely broad script. We wrote about half of it before losing steam.
(I ended up finishing it ten years ago -- right when I was trying to get back into writing)
After that, we worked on separate projects. Jos made a short film with some of his WebTV coworkers -- vimeo.com/136126732. I worked on some scripts of my own, but mostly we were both getting sucked into our day jobs in tech.
He died suddenly and unexpectedly of an undiagnosed heart failure August 20th, 1999. Four months after that, my then-girlfriend-now-wife was diagnosed with leukemia. That one-two punch messed me up for about ten years.
Like I said a hundred tweets ago, I have a lot of Jos stories. Everyone who knew Jos has a lot of Jos stories. He was one of a kind.

Even more than that, he was one of the very few people who believed in me, which mattered more than he knew.
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