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Sunday, March 14, 2010

Nat Boxer

This morning I read Nat Boxer died (on LinkedIn). He was 84, had won his Oscar, and from what I read, still boogieing on, making the world a better place.

I could say he was my favorite college professor, or the only one I remember, or the one I think about a couple of times a month, but I realized he is my hero, a model for what I think a man should be.

Nat was a working cinema soundman, past president of his Union Local in NYC, when he came to teach in upstate New York, rumored to be chilling out after a divorce.

Nat was usually amused and spent a lot of time listening to other people. He knew a lot, and if you asked him, he would give you his opinion. If you didn’t like his opinion, he didn’t much care.

He had an inexhaustible list of things he wanted to do, now that he had the time. He would just announce he was doing something and ask if anyone wanted to help. I remember getting up in the dark and tramping through the fields because Nat wanted to do a time-lapse film of a sunrise. I think we did it more than once as his concept matured.

Somehow his students were always making things - movies, books, pictures, scripts, whatever they wanted. A few of us started following Fred Keller, and we began making commercial films. I saw “One Old Man” was playing at 2 am on a Baltimore television station a few years ago. That would be over 30 years after we made it.

Nat was magical in that we were not talking about doing things, or what they meant, we were always making. We made movies, music, scripts, books, pictures, equipment, whatever was needed for a project.

I remember driving 400 miles on weekend to get the pre-release camera battery packs the press was taking for Nixon in China. Somehow we had them first.

I asked him once about his take on men and women. He thought for a minute, then said, “Sometimes things don’t work out.”

I remember one time we were screening a finished film. The customer loved it. It had pictures, music, acting, great editing. A new, academic cinema professor was an invited guest. Film finishes, lights come up, he says, “Well, it’s good, Fred. But is it Art?”

That was the difference with Nat Boxer. We did more than we ever had, at a higher level, and when it was over, we started something else. What was “Art” was decided by somebody else.

Four months after I graduated, I came back to see him. I had some work success and built a truck for my guitars and carpenter tools and was going to take my Grand Tour. We talked and at one point I asked, “What should I do with the rest of my life, Nat?”

He said, “I have no idea, but I need you in Lake Tahoe as soon as you can get there. I’m flying out tonight. We’re doing some work for Coppola.”

So I hustled across Route 80 and worked on the filming of Connie’s Wedding at the Kaiser Estate for the Godfather series. I had some amateur skills and appreciated watching a professional crew. As Nat’s friend I was expected to help wherever I was needed.

The Key Grip (head of the carpenters) made a call and gave me a letter to take to the Business Agent of the union local in LA. We broke camp and I never spoke to Nat again.

I never knew of anything Nat Boxer wanted that he didn’t have. He took big joy in making the most of what was in front of him.

I’m not going to miss him, as I have been listening to him every time I make something instead of talk about it, every time I accept or encourage someone else.

Goodbye my friend.