RHODE ISLAND ESSAY

Vin Fraioli

California, Here I Came


It’s difficult for me to think of him, owner of Video Dynamics in Warwick, Rhode Island, without remembering him and his buddies tooling along the road in a convertible along Hermosa Beach, the top down, the California sun going along for the ride, the radio blaring the Stone’s latest hit and him singing along.

Venice Beach, the author and Armand, not thinking about Icarus in the seventies. Photo by Vin Fraioli or more likely Deb Fraioli.

“Ooo oh ohoo, Miss You!”

That was a long time ago.

I had driven all the way from Rhode Island to see him. He had left Rhode Island, for good, or so we thought. That was a deep and scary thought for us natives, leaving the state. Armand went to the other side of the world, where people actually thought they could change for the better. Worse, fulfill their dreams.

Just a case of Icarus in Sunny California. The wings would melt, slowly, but they would melt.

I pull into the parking lot.

Video Dynamics is housed in a grayish building near the airport, an example of the quick architectural boom of the 1960’s. The general waiting room is full of papers, tapes, magazines, and in a reverential corner, a shelf full of awards, Telly and Axiom among them. Video Dynamics is a full production studio which has for years been cranking out commercials, local TV shows (“The Real Estate Show,” among them), cooking shows, graduations and very recently, an interview with Sergio Laccone, a singer songwriter from Italy and me.

Armand emerges. He looks as frazzled as if somebody’s always calling him. His hair is still thick, but twenty something years later, he has lost the West Coast tan.

“Very busy, these days,” he says.

“What’s going on?”

“Well, I’m really into this show we’re doing, “TV Maitre’d.” The show has been going very well. We profile restaurants. It’s not a review. We don’t pass judgment. We do one show a month and we’re now in the third year of production. We air four times on Channel 12, four on Fox. This month, we’re highlighting “Luciano’s” in Foxboro. Have you been there?”

Armand DeLuise hangs out happily among his tools. Photo by Vin Fraioli.

“No”

“Great restaurant. Great guy.”    

Man, what a change.

He was going to UCLA back then, majoring in History and taking every Motion Picture and Video course he could find. He went to school with guys who are now famous names in the business. When I showed up in my orange 1971 Pinto and pulled into the parking lot, he yelled, “Hey, man, slow down! You can tell you’re from the East Coast. You should lose some of that aggression.”

So, I referred to him as Easy Breezy after that. Life was different there.  He shared a house on Hermosa Beach with a bunch of guys also from Rhode Island. One, I remember, came home one day, and said he’d quit his job.

“You quit?” I said.

“Actually, I was fired,” he said.

But something was wrong. He wasn’t upset. If this were back home, a dark curtain would have fallen on top of him.

“No. I’ll just get another job.”

“Another job?” I said.

“Sure.”

Things were different in California.  The world was not flat as it was here. Gravity was not as heavy and the state was not surrounded by a dense forest full of monsters. There were opportunities to open with only the key of one’s imagination. Me,  I went back home, but Armand stayed. He graduated from UCLA, came back home briefly  to visit (with a friend whose grandfather was a famous animation expert), and then went back to the West Coast. When he got a job as a cameraman for “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,” we weren’t mumbling anymore.

Armand was actually doing it.                              

But he’s here now. In Warwick, Rhode Island.

“Are we going to do this interview?” he asks. “And by the way, thanks for the short notice about Sergio. You could have told me he was taking his guitar. Next time, give me some information, please.  I could have used two cameras.”

“I’m sorry, it won’t happen again.”

“Where were we?”

“The show,” I say.

“Oh, yes. “TV Maitre d’” has been our staple for quite a while. We had 44,000 viewers last week according to the polls.  All in all, twenty-eighty shows in three years.”

“What else?”

“Well, recently some tag lines for a national company, and of course, shoots for local businesses, like Providence Business News. I try to cater to the needs of my clients.  And sometimes a project comes along that I’m passionate about. Years ago, the photographer, Sal Mancini, was displaying works of his, images of old factories. I was inspired by them to do a piece for the Rhode Island Foundation which they used to encourage revitalization of the factories. That worked out well. Also, as a result of a profile we did for the Urban League, we were helpful in getting two kids adopted who were waiting for homes.”

“What you do is practical and commercial. Do you miss the creative days? You know, when you were in California…”

“Don’t print this,” he says, “but every day I face the fact that my creative passion is suppressed by a need to generate income.”

“I won’t,” I say.

After Lifestyles,” Armand met another guy from Rhode Island, Ed Tannenbaum, in of all places, California. Ed had developed a technique of computer graphics which, when filming a live dance performance, would generate an altered version of the dancer’s movements projected on a screen in a parallel, simultaneous performance. For the time, the concept was a unique and charged dimension of live performances, “an electronic, interactive collage,” as Armand calls its.  Armand and Ed  took these performance pieces on the road, from Los Angeles, to Canada, Japan, Germany, and France.

Then, he came home.  

Armand DeLuise, 1970-something,“That was a long time ago,” near Venice Beach. Photo by Vin Fraioli who was actually able to find it in his archives.

“If you watch the shows we do,” he says, “you’ll see my way of seeing things. I think I bring a uniqueness, a sense of vision. It’s the way I sense the composition and relationship between objects. The same way a photographer does, but photography is much more difficult than video in setting up the frame. With video, we have the extra dimension of time and its relationship within the frame.”

“Like music,” I say.

“Exactly.  A painting compares to one measure of music.”

“After all of that, how did you manage to come back, you, of all people.”

What Armand doesn’t remember, I’m sure, is the little trip my wife and I made to Los Angeles in the early 1980’s. I was going to study dramatic writing. We visited Armand in his house near the beach. He was busy working as a cameraman for “Lifestyles” and he had turned vegetarian (“I don’t eat anything with eyes,” he used to say).  Now, the dumb buoyancy of hope and change had hit us, my wife and me, on the verge of turning the big Three-O. I don’t know if he remembers that I and my wife were accepted into the Strasberg School and that she was offered a job there. Then, what happened? My wife and I began thinking about back home, the house that we owned, the position I had teaching at a University. I said, “Do you want to do this? Do you want to be poor?”

“No,” she said. “Let’s go home.”

 Armand drove us to LAX the next week.

Armand looks at me.

“If you remember,” he says, “my whole focus back then was to serve one purpose: to make enough money to go back to California to open my own production company. So, in the late 80’s, the real estate boom was in full swing in Rhode Island. My foray into real estate was to make enough money to buy my own equipment and to get started. But, I lost everything in real estate.                

Then, I found myself back here, busted, and  looking for a job. Nobody would hire me. I ended up shooting graduations with a bunch of New England Tech interns. Through one of those guys, I was introduced to Paul, the owner and founder of Video Dynamics. He recognized my background and abilities and he gave me a shot. He had built this company out of nothing. Remember, this was in the days when advertising agencies were going strong. He made all of these big contacts, like the Hasbro account and we were doing mock-up commercials for their marketing research department. Paul passed away. Poor guy, had his own demons on his back. His family asked me to run the company and I eventually bought it. I was always planning to go back to California as soon as I could, but, then, my mother was diagnosed with cancer and I met my future wife, Lisa.

It’s funny,” he says. “ I just couldn’t get out of Rhode Island. It took all of that for me to recognize where I wanted to be. It’s gorgeous here.  I live where I can see the bay and watch the swans. And you know, I grew up near the water. We have three great kids. I’m happy. It’s very cosmic, very Tao. What happened to me, as I was floating along the river, I didn’t chase. It chased me. And now, I have a life better than I dreamed I would have.”

Goodness, I think. There it is, those lines in the “Four Quartets.” But I don’t bring it up. I just think it.

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.

“So, I say, “Icarus did not fall, but floated back to earth.”

“What are you talking about?” Armand says.

“Something I saw in my mind’s eye when you were talking. By the way, I want you to film a cooking demonstration.”

“Really?”

“Yes. With Sergio. He’s coming next month.”

“Thanks for the warning.”

Armand DeLuise and Video Dynamics can be contacted at 401 732-7878, or   info@videodynamicsproductions.com


Vin Fraioli is a writer, sometime actor, classical guitarist, husband, father living in Rhode Island. He is a world traveler giving concerts and lectures, and a frequent contributor to IMAGINE. He was born in Providence, RI.