Marlowe

May 18, 2013

Marlowe

Nemo script

August 18, 2011

Page One (four panels)

Panel 1.

Panel 2.

Panel 3.
JON:
*sigh*

Panel 4.
CAPTION:
Jon always wanted a parrot.

Pages Two-Three
CAPTION:
He wanted one of those fancy parrots he saw in pirate movies, the kind that could sing and say all kinds of things.
CAPTION:
They made him think of adventure on the high seas, of exciting ocean battles and treasure chests bursting with silver and gold.

Page four (four panels)

Panel 1.

CAPTION:
But Jon couldn’t afford one of those beautiful, colorful birds, so he always wanted a parrot…

CAPTION:
…but he knew he’d never have one.

Panel 2.

Panel 3.

Panel 4.

Page Five (four panels)

Panel 1.

JON (thought balloon):
Hey! I might be able to afford that parrot!

Panel 2.

JON (thought balloon):
He’s sort of small, and not very fancy…

Panel 3.

JON (thought balloon):
…but a plain little parrot is better than no parrot at all!

Panel 4.

CAPTION:
So Jon hurried to the book aisle, excited to learn more about this bird.

Page Six (four panels)

Panel 1.

JON (thought balloon):
Here we go… All About Parrots.

Panel 2.

Panel 3.

JON (thought balloon):
Wow! Sounds like a great little bird!

Panel 4.

JON (thought balloon):
But now I have to convince Dani to let me buy him!

Page Seven (four panels)

Panel 1.
CAPTION:
Jon searched the store for Dani, his wife, and their daughter Maranda.

Panel 2.

SFX (cat food):
PLOP!

Panel 3.

Panel 4.

JON (to Dani):
There you are! Gosh, have I told you how pretty you look in that top?

DANI:
No… why are you telling me now?

MARANDA:
He must want something.

Page Eight (four panels)

Panel 1.

JON:
No I don’t want anything! What could I want in a pet store?

MARANDA:
Oh, I don’t know… a parrot maybe?

Panel 2.

Panel 3.

JON:
You’re grounded.

Panel 4.

MARANDA:
Am I really grounded, mommy?

DANI:
No, dear. Now come on…

DANI:
…let’s go look at another bird we can’t afford.

Page Nine (four panels)

Panel 1.

JON:
But you’re wrong!

JON:
He doesn’t cost much and he can learn to talk and do all kinds of tricks and stuff!

Panel 2.

JON:
See? It isn’t that expensive.

DANI:
Mmm… I guess it isn’t, is it?

Panel 3.

JON:
So? What do you say?

DANI:
Well…

Panel 4.

DANI:
Oh, I guess so.

JON:
Yes!

Page Ten (four panels)

Panel 1.

CAP:
But there was a lot to learn before taking a little parrot home.

Panel 2.

CAP:
This was just a little baby bird, and they had to learn how to prepare its food.

CAP:
Too cold and the bird could get sick, too hot and it could burn its little tongue.

Panel 3.

CAP:
They had to pick out a cage that was big enough for a little bird to play in, but cozy enough to feel at home in.

Panel 4.

CAP:
And they had to pick out toys.

CAP:
Some toys are scary to a little bird. But without enough toys, the poor thing would be bored when it was alone in its cage.

CAP:
Everything had to be just right. A bird can be a lot like Goldilocks, but the family was looking forward to this visitor to their home.

Page Eleven (four panels)

Panel 1.

CAP:
And then one day, everything was finally ready.

Panel 2.

MARANDA:
They’re here! They’re here!

Panel 3.

MARANDA:
What are we going to call him?

JON:
I wanted to name him Nemo, for a cartoon that I really like.

Panel 4.

Page Twelve (two panels)

Panel 1.

JON:
Step up, little guy.

Panel 2.

DANI:
Well, little Nemo?

Page Thirteen (one panel)

DANI (off-panel):
What do you think of your new home?

Page Fourteen (four panels)

Panel 1.

CAP:
Nemo didn’t know what to think.

JON:
Come on, Nemo! Play with your toy!

Panel 2.

CAP: Everybody tried their best to be friendly.

MARANDA:
Let me scritch your cute, chubby cheeks!

Panel 3.

CAP:
Everyone tried to show Nemo they loved him.

DANI:
Give me a kiss!

Panel 4.

CAP:
But Nemo did not want to play. Nemo did not want his cheeks scritched. And Nemo did not want to kiss.

Page Fifteen (four panels)

Panel 1.

CAP:
No, he did not want to play or be scritched or give kisses.

Panel 2.

CAP:
All Nemo wanted to do was go back to the pet store to live and play with his bird friends.

Panel 3.

CAP:
Everything can look very big and very scary to a very little bird.

Panel 4.

CAP:
And his new home looked very scary indeed.

Page Sixteen (four panels)

Panel 1.

CAP:
Weeks went by, and little Nemo was still sad and quiet.

JON:
This is really good, sweets. Thanks!

MARANDA:
Yum!

Panel 2.

CAP:
The family thought he would never be happy. Maybe they had made a big mistake!

DANI:
Mmm! Yum yum!

Panel 3.

CAP:
But they did not know that Nemo was watching and listening and getting used to his new home.

MARANDA:
This is my favorite meal.

JON:
Yum!

Panel 4.

CAP:
And then one night…

NEMO:
Yum yum yum?

Page Seventeen (four panels)

Panel 1.

JON:
Are you hungry, little guy?

JON:
Is that what you’re trying to tell us?

Panel 2.

Panel 3.

Panel 4.

NEMO:
Yum yum yum.

Page Eighteen (four panels )

Panel 1.

CAP:
Before long, Nemo was a constant companion.

Panel 2.

CAP:
That means he was always around, a friend all the time.

Panel 3.
CAP:
Having a pet bird was just like Jon thought it would be…

Panel 4.

CAP:
…except for one thing…

DANI (off-panel):
I’m home!

NEMO:
Squawk! Squawk! Squawk!

Page Nineteen (four panels)

Panel 1.
CAP:
Nemo liked Maranda. Nemo liked Jon.

CAP:
But Nemo loved Dani.

Panel 2.

CAP:
He loved playing with Dani.

DANI:
Peek-a-boo!

Panel 3.

CAP:
He loved his bath time with Dani.
Panel 4.
CAP:
Nemo just loved being with Dani.

NEMO:
Gimme kiss.

Page Twenty (three panels)

Panel 1.

MARANDA:
Does it bother you that Nemo likes Mommy so much more than us?

JON:
Not really. You like some people more than others, right?

JON:
Well Nemo is just like a person.

Panel 2.

MARANDA:
What? Nemo isn’t anything like a person!

MARANDA:
He’s so small, and has wings and feathers, and…

MARANDA:
Well… he’s just not like us!

Panel 3.

JON:
Sure Nemo is like us.

JON:
He’s just like us. And like us, he can like more than one person, and it’s OK.

JON:
So I don’t mind. He can love your mommy and still love me.

Page Twenty-one

JON (CAP):
“Nemo eats, and so do you.

JON (CAP):
“Nemo plays with toys, and so do you.

JON (CAP):
“Nemo sleeps, and so do you.

JON (CAP):
“Sometimes, Nemo gets scared and needs his Mommy, and so do you.

JON (CAP):
“Nemo poops, and so do…”

MARANDA:
OK, OK, I get the idea!

MARANDA:
I guess Nemo is just like a person.

Page Twenty-two (three panels)

Panel 1.

CAP:
Unfortunately, Nemo was like a person in another way.

CAP:
He could get sick.

DANI:
Jon? Jon?! Something is wrong with Nemo!

Panel 2.

JON:
What is it? What’s wrong with him?

DANI:
I don’t know…

Panel 3.

DANI:
…but we better hurry and get him to the vet!

Page Twenty-three (four panels)

Panel 1.

CAP:
Jon drove as fast as he could.

Panel 2.

CAP:
And the veterinarian assistant moved as quickly as she could.

Panel 3.

CAP:
And the veterinarian did her very best.

CAP:
But birds are like people.

Panel 4.

CAP:
Sometimes they die.

Page Twenty-four (four panels)

Panel 1.

CAP:
So Jon and Dani returned home.

Panel 2.

CAP:
And they picked Maranda up from her grandparents.

Panel 3.

CAP:
And they carried Nemo’s cage up to their attic.

Panel 4.

CAP:
And they cried.

Page Twenty-five

CAP:
But then, little by little, they went back to doing the things they always did.

CAP:
They went back to work and to school.

CAP:
They went back to cleaning and doing their chores.

CAP:
They went back to having family time, to having fun.

CAP:
Everything went back to normal. But in some ways…

Page Twenty-six (four panels)

Panel 1.
CAP:
Well, in some ways…

Panel 2.

Panel 3.

Panel 4.

CAP:
…in some ways, things would never be the same again.

Page Twenty-seven (four panels)

Panel 1.

Panel 2.
MARANDA:
Mommy is still sad about Nemo.

JON:
Yes, well she is going to be. So am I.

JON:
We probably will always be a little sad.

Panel 3.

MARANDA:
Well then we should not ever have gotten him.

JON:
You think?

MARANDA:
Yes. Because then you wouldn’t be sad.

Panel 4.

JON:
Maybe. But think about what else would be different.

Page Twenty-eight (four panels)

Panel 1.

JON (CAP):
“If we never had Nemo, we wouldn’t be sad right now.

JON (CAP):
“But we also wouldn’t have our memories of Nemo.

JON (CAP):
“Of his kisses…

Panel 2. Nemo crouches down behind Dani’s hand…

JON (CAP):
“Of his games…

Panel 3. Nemo pops up from behind Dani’s hand.

NEMO:
Peek-a-boo!

Panel 4.

JON (CAP):
“Of his dancing.”

NEMO:
You wanna sing?

NEMO:
Doo-doo-doo!

Page Twenty-nine (three panels)

Panel 1.

MARANDA:
Yes, all that was great. That’s why we miss Nemo.

MARANDA:
That’s what I wish we had him back.

Panel 2.

JON:
Me too. But we can’t have him back.

JON:
But we can have memories.

Panel 3.

DANI:
Yes. Good memories, too.

DANI:
And as time goes by, we’ll hurt less and less. We’ll be less and less sad.

DANI:
But our memories will be just as good.

Page Thirty

Panel 1.

CAP:
And indeed, little by little, day by day, they did begin to feel better.

CAP:
It didn’t even make them sad anymore to go to the pet store and see the birds there.

Panel 2.
CAP:
And they even thought that maybe one day maybe, just maybe, they’d get another bird.

CAP:
After all…

Panel 3.

CAP:
Jon always wanted a parrot.

In the Image of Our Lord

April 2, 2011

This is a rejected script I wrote for the comic book “Vincent Price Presents.” The editor deemed it “too out there.” For anyone who has the patience to read a comic book script and who is curious about divine apes, here it is.

Page One

Panel 1. An establishing shot of the Moorish Castle in Gibraltar. I’ve had a devil of a time finding photo reference, but this one isn’t bad, just an awfully distant, un-detailed shot. Still, this isn’t a history lesson, it’s a story, so if there are some fudged details, no biggie, right?

CAP:
THE MOORISH CASTLE
GIBRALTAR, SPAIN
1710

Panel 2. A MOOR kneels, head hanging, broken, bruised, beaten, his arms at his side in such a way that we do not see his hands. The photo reference here depicts Moors of the early 20th century, but the attire is close enough, from what I have found, to be adequate for our purposes.

MOOR:
For some weeks I have been stealing from the tributes intended for the Holy Roman Empire and the Kingdom of Spain.

Panel 3. We pull back to see the MOOR kneels before several PRIESTS and inside the castle.

The central figures before whom he stands are JUNIPERO and DANIA. Junipero is our Vincent Price, a middle age Price, circa Laura. He is dressed like the other priests; see the above link for photo reference.

Dania is the nun referred to above, so again check the above link for a photo reference. Junipero is smug, gloating. Dania is doubtful, suspicious.

JUNIPERO:
Ah, Yasir.

JUNIPERO:
You could be in chains bound for the New World right now.

JUNIPERO:
Or baking in the deserts with your heathen brothers in the desert.

Panel 3. JUNIPERO places his finger under the MOOR’s chin, forcing his head up to face him, but the Moor averts his eyes.

JUNIPERO:
But for the mercy and kindness of sweet Spain.

JUNIPERO:
Are you not ashamed?

Page Two

Panel 1. The MOOR attempts a weak, sad smile.

MOOR:
Yes, for I have sinned against my lord.

MOOR:
How could I? Am I not made in his image?

Panel 2. An identical image, but JUNIPERO’s hand comes into the panel to slap the MOOR hard across the chin.

Panel 3. JUNIPERO looks with disdain down at the off-panel Moor.

JUNIPERO:
Blasphemy, you pig.

JUNIPERO:
You were most certainly not made in the image of our lord.

Panel 4. DANIA looks uncomfortable, even a little sickened.

JUNIPERO (off-panel):
Although Lucifer was an angel, so I suppose there is some darkness among the divine.

JUNIPERO (off-panel):
But you look nothing like our Lord.

Page Three

Panel 1. JUNIPERO smiles slyly at DANIA, who still looks doubtful.

JUNIPERO:
There, Sister Dania. There is the source of your missing tributes.

JUNIPERO:
He has confessed to his sins…

Panel 2. Close on the MOOR’s wrists, or stumps, revealing that his hands have been severed.

JUNIPERO (off-panel):
…and he has been dealt with.

Panel 3. DANIA turns coldly away from JUNIPERO, who looks after her scornfully.

DANIA:
Perhaps. But I must continue my investigation. It is my duty to my church and throne.

Panel 4. We pull back to see the MOOR has gotten to his feet, his head still hung, as JUNIPERO gestures toward him dismissively and DANIA begins walking away.

JUNIPERO:
Go on. Sin no more.

Panel 5. JUNIPERO tries to smile charmingly as he catches up to DANIA.

JUNIPERO:
Of course. You are our welcome guest for as long as you like.

JUNIPERO:
I’m sure you do excellent, thorough work.

JUNIPERO:
Why else would the Cardinal give a woman on such an important task?

Page Four

Panel 1. DANIA glances at a smug JUNIPERO with a hint of a sneer.

DANIA:
The Cardinal trusts me because I have earned that trust.

JUNIPERO:
Yes. I’m sure you have worked very hard for his Holiness.

Panel 2. DANIA looks coldly away from a smiling JUNIPERO.

DANIA:
I’m not sure I like your tone, Brother Junipero.

JUNIPERO:
I am sure I don’t know what you mean, sister.

Panel 3. DANIA and JUNIPERO are approaching a stairway from a lower level, and emerging from that level we can see four MOORS, dressed like those in the reference above, dragging a large mass from the castle. We can’t really see this in this shot, but they are dragging the body of a dead gorilla.

DANIA:
Save your scorn, Junipero.

DANIA:
My gender is no slight against – what is that?

Panel 4. JUNIPERO smiles proudly as he stops before the carcass and the MOORS.

JUNIPERO:
Ah, yes. One of my hobbies. But an important one.

JUNIPERO:
I have these beasts shipped in from the jungles of Africa.

Panel 5. JUNIPERO gestures down the stairway as DANIA looks at him doubtfully.

JUNIPERO:
I have learned much about our similar, human anatomy from my work with them.

JUNIPERO:
Come. Let me show you.
Page Five

Panel 1. DANIA and JUNIPERO emerge at the bottom of the stairway into a room. We see this as though we were in the room facing out, so we don’t see any details of the room yet. Dania is almost horrified by what she sees, but JUNIPERO is proud.

JUNIPERO:
Unfortunately, I have but one of the beasts left.

Panel 2. Flip the POV to see we are in a large room, the central feature of which is a large cage built against one of the walls. From the wall extends a chain, which is attached to a manacle around the neck of a GORILLA, which hangs its head and slumps with weakness and pain. In one corner is a large perch on which sits an AFRICAN GREY parrot. There is also a large wooden table, at least one window, a torture rack, an iron maiden, and perhaps some other implements of torture.

JUNIPERO (off-panel):
I have learned much from them about the limits of the body, about the possibilities for… torture, for lack of a better word.

TITLE:
THE IMAGE OF OUR LORD

Page Six

Panel 1. JUNIPERO smiles smugly as DANIA tries to conceal her disgust.

JUNIPERO:
Should the Church ever let the Inquisition return to its former… efficiency…

JUNIPERO:
…oh, the souls I could bring to Christ.

Panel 2. DANIA jumps with surprise as the AFRICAN GREY speaks and JUNIPERO smirks.

AFRICAN GRAY:
SQUAAAAWK!

AFRICAN GRAY:
Saith the Lord: I shall not pity!

AFRICAN GRAY:
SQUAAAAWK!

Panel 3. JUNIPERO smiles as PEDRO approaches from behind DANIA. Pedro is a young man, fifteen or so, dressed like the priests and looking solemn, morose. He is facially deformed to an extent, suggesting inbreeding. You might use one of these guys as a model.

JUNIPERO:
Yes, Solomon. Thank you.

JUNIPERO:
And here is Pedro.

Panel 4. DANIA turns to see PEDRO, and tries to hide her discomfort.

JUNIPERO (off-panel):
Poor Pedro. My late sister’s boy.

JUNIPERO (off-panel):
His father is a mystery. My late sister, the victim of some beastly male, took to her his identity to her grave.

Panel 5. A smug JUNIPERO puts an arm around the morose PEDRO.

JUNIPERO:
And someone, sometime, removed poor Pedro’s tongue, apparently to keep him from telling what he knew.

JUNIPERO:
Ah well.

JUNIPERO:
If thy tongue offend thee.

Page Seven

Panel 1. PEDRO nods his head at DANIA, who has regained his composure as JUNIPERO keeps his arm around him.

JUNIPERO:
Pedro, Sister Dania will be staying with us until she decides her work is done.

JUNIPERO:
Show her to a room.

Panel 2. JUNIPERO picks a knife up from the table and caresses it almost lovingly.

JUNIPERO:
Now, if you will excuse me, sister…

Panel 3. The GORILLA hangs its head sadly.

JUNIPERO (CAP):
“…I have been distracted from my work long enough.”

Page Eight

Panel 1. DANIA and PEDRO stand outside a door in a hallway in the castle. They hallway is appropriately decorated with opulent paintings, candles, etc. Dania tries to hide her uncertainty as she watches Pedro unlock the door with a key on a ring of dozens of keys.

DANIA:
So…

DANIA:
So you have a key to my room?

DANIA:
Umm… to all the rooms.

DANIA:
You have a key to all the rooms?

Panel 2. From inside the room, we see DANIA and PEDRO enter. Use this for a model if you like: http://www.danheller.com/images/Europe/Slovakia/SpisCastle/medieval-bedroom-big.jpg

DANIA:
Yes. OK. Well.

Panel 3. DANIA watches as PEDRO steps out of the room and begins closing the door…

DANIA:
Well, good…

Panel 4. …and the door closes.

DANIA:
…night.

Page Nine

Panel 1. An establishing shot of the exterior of the castle. It is night.

CAP:
“SQUAAAAWK!

CAP:
“God hath delivered me to the ungodly!

CAP:
“SQUAAAAWK!”

Panel 2. DANIA stands in the window of her darkened room, looking sadly down below at…

Panel 3. …a large ditch in which dozens of gorilla bodies are piled up Several MOORS are dragging yet more bodies into it.

Panel 4. An image identical to panel 2, only now PEDRO stands behind DANIA, a lit candle in his hand, so that the room is illuminated. DANIA looks up from the pit with a confused look, having noticed this light.

Page Ten

Panel 1. DANIA turns to look behind her…

Panel 2. …and sees PEDRO.

DANIA:
Oh!

Panel 3. DANIA tries to regain her composure.

DANIA:
What… what do you want?

Panel 4. PEDRO starts to walk away, looking back over his shoulder at DANIA and pointing in front of him.

DANIA:
You… you want me to follow you?

Panel 5. PEDRO holds a finger to his lips, indicating DANIA should remain quiet.

Page Eleven

Panel 1. DANIA follows PEDRO down a long, dark, creepy stone hallway, his candle the only illumination, throwing weird shadows onto the walls…

Panel 2. …she follows him down a narrow, crooked stairway…

Panel 3. …and she follows him down a cramped, claustrophobic hallway…

Panel 4. …and down another stairway…

Panel 5. …that ends in a single door at the bottom of the stairs, which PEDRO has put a key into…

Panel 6. …and begins pushing the door open.

Page Twelve

Panel 1. From a POV inside the room, we look out and see PEDRO and DANIA through the open door. He is expressionless, but she is shocked at what she sees.

Panel 2. Flip the POV to look in on the room and see what she sees – piles of gold, diamonds, gems, coins.

Panel 3. Flip the POV again so we are inside the room looking out at PEDRO and DANIA. She scrunches her face up in anger.

Panel 4. An identical image, but a hand reaches in from behind DANIA and grabs her hair, pulling her head back.

DANIA:
Oww!

Page Thirteen

Panel 1. Flip the POV to look up the stairs at JUNIPERO as he stands behind PEDRO and DANIA, her hair in his hand. He scowls evilly.

DANIA:
Let me –

Panel 2. JUNIPERO kicks PEDRO away from him as he rams DANIA’s face into the wall.

DANIA:
Aah!

Panel 3. DANIA has collapsed against the wall, holding her hands to her bloodies face, as JUNIPERO pounds his fist into PEDRO’s face.

Panel 4. JUNIPERO turns his attention back to DANIA…

Panel 5. …as she kicks him right in the groin, growling scowling through the blood as she does so.

JUNIPERO:
Oof!

Page Fourteen

Panel 1. JUNIPERO’s face is contorted with rage and hatred as he pounds on DANIA…

Panel 2. …again…

Panel 3. …and again.

Panel 4. JUNIPERO leans against the wall, catching his breath, exhausted, as he looks down at the prone DANIA…

Panel 5. …and spitefully kicks her.

Page Fifteen

Panel 1. JUNIPERO grabs DANIA by the hair…

Panel 2. …and drags her up the stairs.

Panel 3. Cut to the room from earlier, the one with the ape, as JUNIERO drags DANIA in behind him…

Panel 4. …and foists her up onto the rack…

Panel 5. ..and begins strapping her in.

Page Sixteen

Panel 1. JUNIPERO has strapped in DANIA’s wrists and one leg now, and is strapping in the other leg as she begins to gain consciousness.

DANIA:
What are you…

DANIA:
Oh… oh you will not get away with this…

Panel 2. JUNIPERO smiles insanely, fiendishly, at DANIA, as his hand starts to reach between her legs…

JUNIPERO:
Oh, I think I will.

JUNIPERO:
But don’t worry.

Panel 3. JUNIPERO continues to smile down at her, but we see this from her POV now.

JUNIPERO:
You’ll like this.

SFX (off-panel):
RIIIIIP!

JUNIPERO:
Just like my wench of a sister.

Panel 4. An identical image.

JUNIPERO:
Oh, stop squirming.

Panel 5. An identical image, but now the GORILLA, looking fierce, murderous, looms over JUNIPERO’s shoulder.

JUNIPERO:
There.

JUNIPERO:
That’s better.

Page Seventeen

Panel 1. An identical image, but JUNIPERO is yanked out of the panel.

JUNIPERO:
Wha –

Panel 2. DANIA struggles to raise her head, her face bloodied and dazed.

JUNIPERO (off-panel):
No! No! Get away!

Panel 3. The GORILLA, teeth bared, mouth foaming, holds JUNIPERO up by the neck with one hand.

JUNIPERO:
AAAAAAH!

JUNIPERO:
Help! Help!

Panel 4. Cut back to DANIA as her head slumps into unconsciousness.

Page Eighteen

Panel 1. DANIA regains consciousness, her arms and legs no longer bound.

DANIA:
Wha…

Panel 2. DANIA groggily sits up, looks around her with confusion, and sees…

Panel 3. The GORILLA, shuffling back into the cage…

Panel 4. …locking the manacle connected to the wall back around its neck…

Panel 5. …and collapsing sadly back into its spot.

Page Nineteen

Panel 1. DANIA is more alert now, but completely confused.

DANIA (CAP):
“Why? Why would the brute just return to its cage? And how did it get free in the first place?

Panel 2. Cut back to the GORILLA, who points at something…

DANIA (CAP):
“I could not understand. I was so disarmed, I did not even notice that Junipero was gone.

Panel 3. From outside the window, we look in on DANIA, who looks out the window in pained confusion as she shuffles towards it.

DANIA (cap):
“And then the brute pointed out the window.

Panel 4. From the POV of someone high in the air above the window, we look down on DANIA’s shocked face, her jaw hanging open.

DANIA (cap):
“And then everything was clear.”

Page Twenty

Panel 1. Cut to a Church council meeting room, something like this, as DANIA stands before a panel of PRIESTS dressed in ceremonial attire, looking down at her doubtfully.

PRIEST:
And that is the entirety of your approach, sister?

DANIA:
It is.

Panel 2. The PRIESTS look at each other questioningly, doubtfully, as one of them speaks.

PRIEST:
Sister Dania, this council recognizes all that your church and your country owe you.

PRIEST:
And that is why you are not going to be excommunicated for this heresy.

Panel 3. DANIA looks expressionless as she listens to this.

PRIEST (off-panel):
But should we ever hear that you have repeated this…

PRIEST (off-panel):
…story…

PRIEST (off-panel):
…you will find our patience has reached an end.

Panel 4. DANIA consider this…

Panel 5. …and nods…

Panel 6. …and turns to walk away.

Page Twenty-one

Panel 1. A much older DANIA sits at a candle-lit table in a darkened room, so dark that we can not see much detail at all. She is writing with a quill on a piece of parchment.

CAP:
1762

CAP:
“And so I waited more than fifty years for the last of the council to pass away.

Panel 2. Moving in closer on a pensive DANIA, a weakened, elderly, but determined woman.

CAP:
“And now I write this, so that those who have eyes may see.

Panel 3. Cut back to the torture room all those years ago, in an image that is in black-and-white or in some other way visually differentiated from the other panels to indicate that this is a flashback. This is an echo of page nineteen, panel three. From outside the window, we look in on DANIA, who looks out the window in pained confusion as she shuffles towards it.

CAP:
“I understood nothing until that day.

CAP:
“And then the brute pointed out the window.

CAP:
“And then everything was clear.”

Panel 4. This is an echo of page nineteen, panel four. From the POV of someone high in the air above the window, we look down on DANIA’s shocked face, her jaw hanging open.

CAP:
“Junipero was right.

CAP:
“That Moor was not made in the image of our Lord.

Page Twenty-two (splash)

From roughly DANIA’s POV, so that she may be off-panel, we see a GORILLA with long, flowing, white fur, clad in a long white robe. There is a halo of light around its head, and it has two finger and a thumb of one hand raised in the gesture of a beatific blessing, and we can see a bloody stigmata on its palm. The gorilla is standing on a cloud that is ascending into the heavens. On his knees in front of the gorilla, terrified, panicked, is JUNIPERO, a chain around his neck as he clutches at it desperately, two CHIMPANZEES, with halos and angel wings, hovering above him, one of them holding the end of the chain, the other prodding him with a pitchfork.

CAP:
“None of us is made in his image.”

Everyday Black Man

March 7, 2011

Article first published as DVD Review: Everyday Black Man on Blogcritics.

Everyday Black Man opens with an atmospheric montage of Oakland, instantly setting the mood the film seeks to evoke, one of urban despair that chokes out the efforts of individuals to make a difference in the face of institutional racism and parasitic criminals. It’s an effective sequence.

Unfortunately, it’s all downhill from there.

Moses Stanton (Henry Brown of Lethal Weapon), operates a small, unprofitable grocery store in an economically disadvantaged neighborhood that has, despite its problems, been free of drug dealers since Moses opened for business. How has Moses managed to chase the pushers from their corners? We’re never told, and it seems particularly puzzling given his ineffective handling of them later on. We are told how he pays his lone employee: room and board. He can’t swing an actual paycheck.

Anyway, Moses means well, frequently giving away groceries to impoverished customers and wanting to expand his business to better serve his community, but with no profit and no collateral, he just can’t secure a loan. His bank’s loan officer seems to have once been employed by the Bailey Savings and Loan, wishing he could just give Moses the money he needs and dispensing business advice in a gee-I’d-like-to-do-more kind of way. He’s the sort of loan officer one meets in movies and only in movies.

One piece of advice he gives Moses: seek a partner in the community, like the new principal at the local school. He has heard so much about her. Gloria something.

Hey, do you suppose we’ll later meet a principal by the name of Gloria? Do you sense you’ve been clubbed upside the head with the exposition stick? Well wait; there’s more.

Upon leaving the bank, Moses stares forlornly at an old photograph of a woman and a little girl and promises to “make you proud.”

So Moses is a soft-hearted pushover who has no patience for criminals, has lost a wife and daughter under mysterious circumstances, and is haunted by remorse. There’s a nice new principal in town by the name of Gloria, and Moses has a single employee to whom he gives room and board. And that’s all covered in the first few minutes of the picture.

It’s not exactly subtle, but it shifts the melodrama into high gear when we’re introduced to the supporting cast. Claire (Tessa Thompson, of Veronica Mars) toils at the local grade school as a teacher’s assistant, but plugs away at college and hopes one day to work for her new principal, Gloria Johnson (hey, remember her?). Claire’s grandmother is in the hospital with heart problems, which Moses is alarmed to hear. He always gives the woman free groceries, and he continues that tradition with Claire.

Hey, you don’t suppose there is some connection between Claire and her grandmother and Moses’ lost wife and daughter, do you?

Next up is Corey Jackson as Sonny, Moses’ employee. He sweeps up and takes out the garbage and has some vague, undefined mental handicap and is played with a sensitivity and understatement that makes Sean Penn’s I am Sam look positively nuanced.

And finally, we meet Malik (Omari Hardwick of Kick-Ass). He is running the local mosque and expanding it to a school and community center. Somehow he also finds time to bake pies and wants to start a bakery. He’s young and smart and civic-minded and handsome and he bakes and… hey, he does he sound too good to be true to you?

Of course he does, which is why you’ll be laughing at the utter implausibility of Moses ignoring all of his suspicions and accepting a $60,000 check from Malik in return for taking him on as a partner. In his failing grocery.

Turns out Malik has a sinister plot to use his pies as a cover for distributing drugs. Seems the most efficient way for him to deal in this neighborhood is for him to weasel his way into Moses’ life – which takes no small amount of effort – and then maintain his place there using snarled threats and occasional violence.

Why wouldn’t Malik just start his own front-business rather than spend so much time and money cajoling Moses only to then have an uncooperative partner on his hands? And why wouldn’t Moses, upon learning he had been deceived, just deal with Malik as he had all of the other dealers in his neighborhood? And how often do people conveniently resist passing away just long enough to pour out their hearts in tearful death scenes?

Well it all happens in this movie, and some of it more than once.

I’m not opposed to melodrama. In fact, I am a fan. But this strange synthesis of Charles Dickens and New Jack City (A Tale of Two Jack Cities?) never quite works.

The cast is all professional and competent, even good at times, and the camera work isn’t unimpressive, with fluid and unobtrusive movements and at times striking compositions. On the whole, it is a promising debut for producer-writer-director Carmen Madden and cinematographer Phillip Briggs. A promising debut, just not an entertaining one.

DVD extras include deleted scenes and run-of-the-mill puff piece that’s presented as a documentary. If you’re intrigued by the movie, I suggest a rental rather than a purchase.

Secretariat finshes place

January 27, 2011

Article first published as Blu-ray review: Secretariat on Blogcritics.

Although it may be heretical to a devotee of the sport, I just don’t see any variety in horse racing. One is just like any other to me. They go around in a circle, they end up at the finish line.

And that’s an apt metaphor for a movie like Secretariat, where one knows for the entire two-hour run time how the film will end (Spoiler alert: Secretariat turns out to be some kind of super horse). There is no suspense here, so a film like this must be highly effective in order to keep the audience’s attention.

The bad news: the film isn’t highly effective. The good news: it’s effective.

This is a family film, in the sense that few people would find anything objectionable in its content. On the other hand, Disney label aside, I don’t think too many kids are going to find it an entertaining watch.

This is also a family film in that it is loaded with “teachable moments.” Kids might not find it enjoyable, but, like vegetables, you may want to make them take it anyway.

The film opens with the perfect suburban life of Penny Chenery (Diane Lane) being disrupted by a phone call news that her mother has died. With kids and husband in tow she leaves Colorado for her parents’ Virginia horse farm. With mom gone and dad in the throes of dementia, it’s up to her to take the reins.

The costuming, sets, and props up to this point seem to have been designed to connote the 1950s. It all looks like some strange, horse-themed episode of Mad Men. And then the shift begins. One character makes a reference to Superfly. Chenery’s daughter plans a Viet Nam protest. And Penny runs face first into a wall of chauvinism.

The film tends to get heavy handed at times. Immediately upon assuming control of the family business, Penny tries to seek advice from a fellow horse owner who is dining at a country club. She’s stopped by an employee, who tells her she’s trying to enter a men only club. Penny recalls her father telling her that great horses come from mares just as much as stallions. Penny’s husband (Dylan Walsh) sees the error of his unsupportive ways, and apologizes for all in a hamfisted monologue.

So the film offers a chance to discuss a little bit of history – chauvinism, Viet Nam – and some life lessons in general. Penny’s father’s deathbed scene is clichéd, but it’s honest. And Secretariat’s birth is not graphic, but it is handled in a way that would lend itself to a discussion of birds and bees. And why, you may want to ask your kids, does everyone in Penny’s inner circle get to sit with her in box seats at the races, but Secretariat’s beloved groomer (Nelsan Ellis), a black man, stands with the rabble?

Compared to the average, disposable family film, Secretariat is a thoughtful, intelligent piece of filmmaking, with carefully-crafted mise-en-scene and dialogue, entertaining performances from the always watch-able Lane and John Malkovich (as Secretariat’s trainer), and beautifully photographed races. But there is no suspense or traditional action for the kids, and the whole thing is a tad too heavy-handed to be fully satisfying for adults.

Still, worth a rent, especially if you’re desperate to find something to watch with the kids that isn’t 3-D, which usually stands for dumb, dumber, dumbest.

You will see much better movies

December 31, 2010

Article first published as Movie Review: You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger on Blogcritics.

There were seven people (eight counting me) in attendance at the 4:35 p.m. Thursday showing of You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, the latest in Woody Allen’s oeuvre. The film continues the indications we’ve gotten over the last decade or so that we have entered the “disposable-afterthoughts” phase of Allen’s career. Hey, you’re as good as your best, not as good as your latest, and anyone who made Annie Hall, Manhattan, and Crimes and Misdemeanors has earned the right to coast their way into that good night.

But if Allen is down to preaching to the choir, his choir remains devoted. Eight people? On a Thursday afternoon? On the last day a film is showing in a second-run theater in a mid-sized, red-state town?

Yes, he has inspired loyalty.

And as far as disposable afterthoughts go, Stranger has enough to recommend it that it’s easy to remember how Allen has inspired such a following.

Right from the start, the experience was a good one. Right from the start, even before the movie rolled. Among my seven co-viewers was an attractive blond, all alone, reading in the dim pre-movie light. Ah, the optimism one can feel before a movie starts, the hope of a good movie to come can permeate every facet of the experience, convincing you that things might be more, that you might be better, that you could charm that blond. Woody can win over Diane Keaton; you could win her over.

And then the trailers rolled. You’ve got to love the hodgepodge of the second-run trailer reel. There’s always a little bit of everything coming soon, with none of the common denominators behind the market-researched, demographically-driven lineup of previews that precedes a first-run picture. Here, there are films that look potentially good (Love and Other Drugs) to mind-numbingly awful (Due Date) to not-bad-but-way-overrated (Inception) to could-be-a-camp-classic (Burlesque). It’s an island of misfits movies, lacking rhyme, no possible reason, mostly ugly but with an occasional gem.

Yeah, I know, what about the movie?

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger is another Allen soap opera, Everyone Says I Love You Redux. Gemma Jones (Bridget Jones’s Diary, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince) is desperately in search of meaning and direction after her husband, Anthony Hopkins (oh, you know), in the grips of a mid-life crisis, divorces her. Her daughter, Naomi Watts (Peter Jackson’s King Kong, I Heart Huckabees) persuades mom to see a psychic medium for guidance. Naomi doesn’t believe any of it, but mom eats it up and, as she tells husband Josh Brolin (No Country for Old Men, Milk) when he protests that Gemma needs psychiatric help, “Sometimes the illusions work better than the medicine.”

The problem with a film like this is that if there is no real point to the plot, then one must like the characters in order to enjoy the movie, or find the film visually striking. We have to be charmed right along with Diane Keaton in order to enjoy most Allen films. Otherwise, it all comes off as meaningless, narcissistic whining.

And therein lies the problem with Stranger; none of the characters or performances are likeable. I had no emotional investment in any of them, and in fact might have liked it if they had endured more hardship.

As is appropriate given his predilection for jazz, Allen has started making movies that are like jazz compositions. The foundations of any two performances of the same jazz song may be the same, the pleasure is in hearing the improvised variations on themes, how the same song can be re-interpreted.

More often than not, Allen plays the same songs. The question then is how they are re-interpreted. In one film, Larry Craig plays the Woody Allen role, in this one Josh Brolin does. In this film, Roger Ashton Griffiths plays the David Ogden Stiers part. Gemma Jones, meet Dianne Wiest.

So how well are those variations played here? Well Brolin never quite finds the right note, remaining whiny and never becoming believably charming. Would Freida Pinto ever leave her fiancé for Josh? We just don’t find it convincing. Could Anthony Hopkins really be stupid enough to think that call girl loves him? It never seems possible, and so we find him pathetic rather than being emotionally invested in him. And so on and so on.

As a variation on the Woody Allen song, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger never quite hits the right notes, but it is an admirable and at times thought provoking effort.

As for me, did I live up to my promise? I watched that blond walk out of the theater and never said a word to her. Couldn’t find the nerve. Like Josh Brolin, I just can’t play the Alvy Singer part convincingly.

“Onion SportsDome” chokes in the bottom of the ninth

December 31, 2010

Article first published as Comedy Central’s Onion SportsDome on Blogcritics.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one.

I say “knock knock,” then you say “who’s there,” then I say “banana,” then you say “banana who,” then I say “knock knock” again, then we repeat it all a few times, then I finally answer “who’s there” with “orange,” and then you say “orange who” then I say “orange you glad I didn’t say banana.”

Comedy Central’s new Onion SportsDome is a lot like that old kid’s joke. You might chuckle a bit in the end, but it’s awfully repetitive.

Onion SportsDome debuts January 11 at 10:30 p.m., and is a joint venture of Comedy Central and parody-newspaper-turned-parody-website The Onion.

The premise: the half-hour program skewers the inanity of cable sports news with The Onion’s trademarked deadpanned delivery of utterly absurd content. It’s The Onion, so it should be funny, and it is, even if it is sometimes a little cheap and easy. For example, the story about a teenage boy trying to break the single-day record for masturbation. See, it’s funny, because teenage boys like to masturbate. It’s also cheap and easy for the same reason. But it’s still funny. Is it funny enough to merit about three minutes of screen time? Maybe not, but they astutely break the joke up throughout the program rather than, umm, shoot their load all at once.

Maybe I crossed my own line into the land of the obvious and tasteless there, but it’s only appropriate as SportsDome makes its own forays into questionable taste. In one segment we are introduced to a disabled Iraqi vet who faces discrimination in his bid to become an MMA fighter, and in another to a little girl dying of cancer who is kept alive only by her hatred of a particular baseball player (“I hope he gets cancer like me”).

So, yes, at times obvious and tasteless. But it’s still funny.

The humor is also generally very accessible. One does not need to be a sports fan to get the joke when the anchors rush through several years of soccer coverage in a moment or two before abandoning the topic altogether (“Type MLS into Google and I’m sure you’ll find something”) or when crystal-meth-fueled hallucinations are covered like sporting events.

So, yes, at times obvious and tasteless. And accessible. And, most important, funny.

Unfortunately, it’s all so repetitive. Yes. We get it. It’s making fun of sports, sports news in particular. Well that joke really runs out of gas very quickly. Although the two screener episodes get more mileage out of the concept than they have any right to, both episodes still feel like SNL skits that ran on far too long.

The Onion online and in print makes for a great time killer. The Onion SportsDome may burn out the fastforward button on your DVR. Entertaining enough to check out, but this is a 50-yard dash run in marathon time.

“Easy A” Is an Easy A

December 30, 2010

Article first published as DVD Review: Easy A Is an Easy A on Blogcritics.

Yeah, I know, my first piece for Blogcritics, and I cop out and take the most obvious title one could think of. OK, but here’s the thing: Easy A really is a terrific little film.

Emma Stone plays Olive, a typically awkward teenage girl, which is to say a typically awkward movie version of an awkward teenage girl. We’re supposed to look at her and believe she isn’t movie-star-caliber beautiful but that she instead would never turn the boys’ heads. And she pulls it off.

Olive tells a little white lie one day, claiming to have lost her virginity to an older boy. The story spreads across the school like the cliched wildfire, and suddenly Olive is the alleged school slut. She turns entrepreneur, allowing boys who pay her to claim that they had sex so that they can be hailed as sexual conquering heroes.

The result is, like 10 Things I Hate About You, a clever, albeit much less literal, retelling of a lit classic, in this case The Scarlet Letter. Olive willing shoulders the labels her peers impose upon her, undergoing the typical self-discovery as she does.

OK, it’s all a bit cliched: the awkward girl discovers she is really beautiful inside and out, that boys can like her just the way she is, but it’s not handled in a cliched way at all. Stone turns in a star-making performance, showing she has charm enough to shoulder a movie all on her own.

And yet she doesn’t have to go it alone. How’s this for a supporting cast: Thomas Haden Church, Lisa Kudrow, Stanley Tucci, and Malcolm McDowell. And while she may not have the name value of those heavyweights, Amanda Bynes turns in a fine performance as Olive’s snooty, snotty rival, and Fred Armisen turns in a very funny cameo.

And that’s not even the best of the bunch: Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson play the too-hip-parents that you always wished you had, with dialogue far funnier and more charming than anything anyone ever actually said in a real conversation. But who cares? This isn’t about reality, it’s about entertainment, and this is tremendously intelligent entertainment.

Tucci, Clarkson, Church, and Stone trade rapid banter that evokes the feeling of a Howard Hawks screwball comedy, a sort of a His High School Girl Friday. And the film makes frequent and, at least to Gen-Xers, satisfying allusions to classic high school comedies like Sixteen Candles and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. The result: a movie that feels comfortingly familiar and novel all at once.

Olive is as smart and bitingly funny as you always wished you were. Her parents are as cool as you always wanted yours to be. And Easy A is as smart a high school comedy as you could ask for.

It’s a more cuddly than Saved, more biting than Breakfast Club, and more fanciful than Juno, and it’s a film that doesn’t deserve all these comparisons to other movies, because it’s a terrific movie in it’s own right.

Hoofers, Whores, and Madonnas: Misogyny and Life Advice in Singin’ in the Rain

July 4, 2010

It is one of the most revered of all films, a movie Roger Ebert calls ‘above all lighthearted and happy.’[1] And yet a movie like Singin’ in the Rain (Stanley Donen and Gene Kely, 1952) can be deceptively simple, presenting nothing but joy for the casual viewer and nothing but pitfalls for those critically analyzing a film as text. Approach it as a piece of highly-polished fluff and one runs the risk of overlooking telling indications of unconscious ideologies or surprisingly rewarding complexities. Scrutinize it too closely and one runs the risk of being unable to view it through anything but modern lenses; the textual analysis becomes a self-fulfilling, or self-failing, prophecy. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, or in this case an umbrella is just an umbrella. In intending to treat popular culture with the seriousness with which one approaches, say, Shakespeare, these critics make much ado about nothing. It is unfortunate that some critics come to provocative arguments seemingly for the sake of doing so, because Singin’ in the Rain is not only delightful entertainment but also very much a reflection of the values of its culture, a film that has a clear ideological perspective.

According to Carol J. Clover, Singin’ in the Rain ‘remains America’s favorite object lesson on giving credit where credit is due.’[2] What this reading neglects is that some work in the movie that goes credit-less is framed as benign, as when Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) works as a stuntman, but other work is not, such as when Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds) provides the onscreen voice for Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen). Clover herself refines her thematic summary of the movie later in her article, concluding that doing work that, through the magic of movies, appears to be someone else’s isn’t necessarily dishonest or wrong. Neither is taking credit for that work. Instead, it is ‘a kind of benign apprenticeship in the show business life cycle, in which giving your talent away in the beginning is a kind of investment in the future. […] Credit is given where it’s due – just not right away.’[3]

Nevertheless, Clover sees the movie as unconsciously alluding to the uncredited Black performers whose work was an inspiration to White dancers like Kelly, or was ripped off by those White dancers, depending on how kind one wants to be. To support this assertion, Clover points to two references to the movie The Jazz Singer (Alan Crosland, 1927) and to the presence of extras in blackface playing cannibals in one of the many generic films being made throughout the movie. It is the inclusion of these extras that Clover finds most indicative of an unconscious admission of debt to Black performers, saying ‘the dancing cannibals are gratuitous. So gratuitous that they want consideration as a system of symptoms, the kind of symptom that, in the postmodern critical scheme, is readable as a sign of repressed anxieties that underwrite the text but are denied by it’ (emphasis mine).[4]

Did Kelly and company owe a debt to Black performers from whose work they stole, performers who did not have the same opportunities that their White peers did? Yes, and Kelly openly admitted to outright stealing from other performers’ acts during his early days as an entertainer, including Black performers.[5] On the other hand, to see allusions to what is regarded as the first full-fledged talkie in a movie about the conversion from silents to sound as symptomatic of repressed racial issues rather than as an organic product of the topic at hand is overcomplicating the matter. It violates Occam’s razor. Similarly, one passing scene in which characters are in blackface is hardly ‘gratuitous.’ It is only natural that a film from the mid-twentieth century about the movie industry of decades prior might feature characters in blackface. One such scene is hardly gratuitous.

Further, Clover’s conclusion is undermined by an earlier film, The Pirate (Vincente Minnelli, 1948), in which Kelly danced with Fayard and Harold Nicholas, a Black duo included in the film because ‘Kelly reportedly requested [them, and] battled with the studio to get them cast.’[6] Why would Kelly the actor-choreographer-director suppress concerns over debts owed to Black performers by alluding to The Jazz Singer and using some extras in blackface when four years earlier a Kelly who was merely an actor-choreographer would insist on working with two Black dancers? If the Kelly of Singin’ in the Rain was on some level conflicted about his debt to Black performers, why wouldn’t he simply hire Black dancers for the movie rather than sublimate those concerns via veiled references to the issue of racism in Hollywood? Further, why should we see such references as ‘repressed anxieties’ over Hollywood’s racism when it would be much simpler to see them as evidence of Hollywood’s racism? For there to be some internalized conflicts over racism, there must be racism to begin with. So why wouldn’t the presence of characters in blackface simply be indicative of that racism rather of conflicts over that racism? Clearly, whatever the ‘lesson’ of ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ is, it is not ‘on giving credit where credit is due’ where race is concerned.

Kaja Silverman comes closer to the mark than Clover when she notes that Singin’ in the Rain makes a sort of double scapegoat out of Lamont in that she is both incompetent and ethically repugnant.[7] Yes, the film is misogynistic in that sense, but this is an incomplete exploration of the movie’s thematic handling of women, as it fails to consider Selden and the moll (Cyd Charisse) from the Broadway ballet. Taken together, these three women provide a key to understanding one of the film’s central themes.

The Selden/Lamont pair is a prime example of the ‘madonna/whore’ dichotomy, the tendency of men, and by extension a male-dominated society, to see women as either ‘good girls’ or ‘bad girls.’ By presenting us with no other major female characters, the film’s point is clear: women are ‘good’ or they are ‘bad,’ a patriarchal dichotomy. The moll falls clearly into the ‘whore’ category, as evidenced by her overt sexuality combined with her association with the gangster (Robert Fortier), whose coin flipping serves not only to make him reminiscent of George Raft and early film gangsters in general, but to make one associate the moll with crime and money, thus completing her whore image. If the young hoofer (Gene Kelly) of the Broadway ballet represents Lockwood himself, a point to which I will return, then one could see the moll as a fantasy version of Lamont, a personification of all that is ethically repugnant in the entertainment industry, a business in which success is only obtained by subjecting one’s self to constant potential rejection and then working for wealthy, callous people who no doubt acquired their wealth in unsavory ways.

Peter N. Chumo II[8] asserts that the moll and her ‘very sexual dancing’ seem to transform the hoofer.[9] She removes his glasses and hat, the ‘unglamorous’ parts of his wardrobe, and it is after meeting her that he ascends to success.[10] The implication seems to be that she seduces the honest rube and turns him into a corrupted cynic, which is what allows him to thrive in the big-city world. What this fails to consider is that the hoofer had already shed his glasses, only having put them back on in order to better see the moll, and that he had already begun his career climb, even obtaining an agent. He doesn’t owe his success to her, either directly or as an inspiration. Instead, she serves as a distraction, eventually rejecting him, leaving him momentarily crestfallen.

Marilyn M. Ewing[11] recognizes the importance of a much-maligned aspect of Singin’ in the Rain, the so-called ‘Broadway ballet.’ Just as Singin’ in the Rain seems to be universally loved, its climactic musical sequence seems to be universally disdained. It is regarded with grudging acceptance, as though one must expect and accept a flaw or two in an otherwise perfect film, a blemish on the face of Aphrodite. Kelly biographer Clive Hirschhorn’s judgment is a representative reaction to the film and the scene: ‘Apart from the length of the Broadway ballet and its rather tenuous link [emphasis mine] with the rest of the film, Singin’ in the Rain remains [Gene Kelly’s] undoubted masterpiece, and the most enduring film musical to have come out of Hollywood.’[12] Roger Ebert feels ‘it is possible to enjoy “Broadway Ballet” and still wonder if it’s really needed; it stops the headlong energy dead in its tracks.’[13] Ewing notes that ‘The few critics who mention “The Broadway Ballet” focus on the technical difficulties of filming the scarf sequence […] or they lament its inexplicable intrusion into an otherwise excellent musical.’[14] Even the scene’s parents distanced themselves from it. Gene Kelly said of the scene ‘I’d have liked to trim three minutes out of it,’[15] and co-director Stanley Donen considered the scene ‘an interruption to the main thrust of Singin’ in the Rain.’[16]

Yet as Ewing notes, the scene is far from extraneous but is actually thematically integral to the movie as a whole. This insistence that musical numbers serve the story is what elevates Kelly’s movies – the ones over which he had some measure of creative control, anyway – over most other artists’ musicals. In the best Kelly movies, of which Singin’ in the Rain is no doubt one, the musical numbers are beautiful and advance the story. Yes, if the Broadway ballet were cut one could still follow the plot of Singin’ in the Rain, but there is more to a story than its plot. Character and theme are just as important, and it is those story elements that the Broadway ballet enhances. Far from having a ‘tenuous link’ to the rest of the picture, the ballet offers insights into Lockwood and underscores one of the film’s central themes. Ewing does an excellent job of highlighting one element of the theme developed by this sequence: the ‘hypocrisy of Hollywood.’[17]

Where Ewing takes her analysis too far is in the specificity she sees in the hypocrisy presented in the ballet. She writes that the Broadway ballet ‘ostensibly celebrates the entertainment industry [and] seems at first glance to be a sincere testimonial to the joys of being a performer,’[18] but notes that to clearly consider the events of the sequence is to come to a far uglier conclusion. Here the industry takes a young artist who just wants to – no, who has just got to – dance and crafts a whole new identity for him, a lie in which he is changed from a ‘nerd’ to a leading man. Then he becomes an entertainer for criminals and has his love rebuffed by a golddigger. It’s a heartless world, this entertainment industry, and one financed by gangsters. To this point, Ewing’s analysis has prima facie validity. From here, however, she argues that this corruption is not only of a general kind but of a very specific sort; as the gangster and the moll both flip coins, and coins are dirty and resemble syphilitic lesions, the moll has syphilis, and so we can see her as having spread venereal disease to the hoofer. Ewing further notes that the moll is supposed to resemble Louise Brooks, who was, by her own admission, rumored to have syphilis, but how common would this knowledge be among contemporary audiences?

If Ewing’s point here is to demonstrate that the ballet undermines a simplistic view of the entertainment industry as benign, why carry her argument to such a specific conclusion, and one based on such flimsy premises? Even if we stop Ewing’s argument at an earlier, more defensible, point, her explication of the film’s primary theme is still incomplete. Yes, it has to do with the shadier aspects of Hollywood, but there is more going on than this as we can see when we take a closer look at the characters of Don Lockwood and the hoofer.

That characters were crucial to story, even in a musical, was an idea that Kelly had long held. While performing on Broadway, he came to the conclusion ‘that there was no character – whether a sailor or a truck driver or a gangster – that couldn’t be interpreted through dancing, if one found the correct choreographic language,’[19] and that ‘you have to remain totally in character when you dance.’[20] Consequently, Kelly devoted a great deal of time and thought to his dance numbers, trying to ensure that they served character, and therefore story, as well as possible. Take, for example, Kelly’s choreography in the dance scene set to the song ‘Singin’ in the Rain.’ Producer Arthur Freed, a former songwriter, had charged screenwriters Betty Comden and Adolph Green with creating a movie that used some of his old songs, to be called Singin’ in the Rain after his most successful song.[21]

So the inclusion of the song was a mandate from above, but the question still remained as to what form that inclusion should take. Originally, the sequence was to include Lockwood, Selden, and Cosmo Brown (Donald O’Connor). Following the failed test screening of The Dueling Cavalier, the movie-within-the-movie, the characters were going to sing the song to one another as an effort at cheering themselves up.[22] To Kelly, however, it was important to him that the scene make sense in the movie and support the development of the Lockwood character. He turned to the lyrics for inspiration as to the form the number should take, going over them ‘when, at the end of the first chorus, I suddenly added the word “dancing” to the lyric […] Suddenly the mist began to clear, because a dance tagged onto a song suggested a positive and joyous emotion. Then I went through the script to find out at what point I was at my happiest’ and concluded it was after Lockwood leaves Selden’s home.[23] Thus Kelly determined the location of the number within the film, ‘and all that was left for me to do was to provide a routine that expressed the good mood I was in. And to help me with this I thought of the fun children have splashing about in rain puddles and decided to become a kid again during the number.’[24] And so, because Kelly prized story and character, what could have been a throwaway scene made to appease a producer became ‘to the genre of the musical what the shower sequence of Psycho is to the genre of horror.’[25]

Similarly, the Broadway ballet reflects Lockwood’s emotional state. In fact, as maligned as it may be for its ‘tenuous link,’ if anything it reveals more about Lockwood’s inner state than any other musical number in the film, because it is literally happening in Lockwood’s mind – the sequence the viewer sees is one Lockwood is describing to R.F. Simpson (Milard Mitchell) as an addition he wants to make to The Dancing Cavalier.[26] The fact that we are moving into Lockwood’s vision is emphasized visually by the setup and beginning of the ballet. Before the ballet itself starts, Lockwood begins explaining his vision to Simpson. The camera moves in on him as he gestures to a movie screen behind him, a movement that looks, on a 2-D screen, as though he is pointing to the upper-left corner of the screen. The image then dissolves to Kelly portraying an unnamed singer who wears a tuxedo, a ‘boater’ hat, and a white carnation while carrying a cane. This singer then gestures to the upper-left corner of the screen, mirroring Lockwood’s intro to the number and thereby associating the Lockwood character with the other singer played by Kelly. We should see Lockwood and the unnamed singer as parallels.

The singer is surrounded by a chorus of dozens of dancers along a highly-stylized version of Broadway in New York City, and the image then cuts to the arrival of the hoofer, who makes the rounds of agents until he finds one who takes him on, bringing him to a speakeasy to begin his entertainment career. While there, the hoofer encounters and falls for the moll, who, after one seductive dance, callously abandons him for the coin-flipping gangster, who waves jewelry in front of her. Next, a montage of dance scenes depicts the hoofer’s climb up the ladder of the entertainment business, performing in better venues with more lavish productions until it appears that he is the traditional ‘toast of the town.’ Finally, a tuxedoed, polished hoofer meets the moll once again, this time in a gambling club, where he fantasizes about having an elaborate, romantic dance with her. His fantasies aside, she leaves once again with the gangster, and a dejected, depressed hoofer exits the club and mopes through the streets of New York. Then he encounters another young hoofer who has ‘gotta dance,’ and, apparently once more reminded of the simple joy of being simply joyful, the hoofer leads a chorus of dancers in an ode to dancing. Dancing has trumped the seediness and inequities of the entertainment world and failed romances.

It is important to note that during the scene set in the gambling club and as the entire ballet ends, Kelly is wearing the same outfit he wore when the ballet began – the tuxedo, ‘boater,’ carnation, and cane. In other words, the hoofer became the dancer who began the ballet, and as the dancer who began the ballet can be read as representing Lockwood, we can see the young hoofer as also representing Lockwood.[27] So what does the ballet then have to say about Singin’ in the Rain, and what does the film have to say for itself?

Well first, as the young hoofer represents Lockwood himself, and the hoofer is embroiled in a heartless, dirty business, Lockwood is obviously less than enamored with the industry of which he is a part. That ambiguity is consistent with the earlier scene in which Lockwood first meets Selden. She is put off by his apparent ego and his attempts at picking her up, and so pretends not to be very familiar with Lockwood and also trivializes the artistic value of movie acting. Lockwood is visibly bothered by her ignorance of him and her disdain for his business, lacking the confidence in his own worth, and his work, not to be shaken by the dismissive attitude of an unemployed woman he has just met. Don Lockwood, for all of his fame and success, is not sure how he feels about the industry that has made him so famous and successful.

And yet Don gets a happy ending, embracing Selden as they admire the billboard announcing their new film.[28] Why does Don get to live happily ever after? It isn’t simply that he is honest, for he isn’t. Just as the hoofer discards his wardrobe and nerd image for a more stylish persona, Don reinvents his past when recounting his career climb for the press and maintains a false relationship with Lina for the sake of their public. The entertainment industry is sordid, we are told, but just as Clover notes the ‘benign apprenticeship’ of uncredited work, many of the industry’s ethical lapses can be excused because of the happiness its art can bring us. The hoofer fell for a ‘whore’ and she broke his heart, whereas Don fell for a ‘madonna’ and she helps buoy his spirits and elevate both his art and career. Still, the hoofer leaves us not with a frown but with an infectious grin, having led a chorus of dancers in an uplifting finale to the ballet, even though he has just been tossed aside by the moll. The moral of our story: The secret to being happy is to have the love of a ‘good’ woman, a ‘madonna,’ and to simply be happy. When life gives you lemons, you just got to dance, and when it rains, you just got to sing. That’s something the movies can always help you with.

[1] Roger Ebert, The Great Movies, Broadway Books, New York, 2002, pp. 420-424, p. 420.

[2] Carol J. Clover, ‘Dancin’ in the Rain,’ Critical Inquiry, Summer 1995, pp. 722-747.

[3] Clover, p. 723.

[4] Ibid., p. 737

[5] Hirschhorn, pp. 37-38.

[6] Victoria Large, ‘Gene and Judy Go Wild: Thoughts on Minelli’s The Pirate. Bright Lights Film Journal, May 2006, http://www.brightlightsfilm.com/52/pirate.php.

[7] Kaja Silverman, The Female Voice in Psychoanalysis, 1988, paraphrased in Clover.

[8] Peter N. Chumo II, ‘Dance, Flexibility, and the Renewal of Genre in Singin’ in the Rain,’ Cinema Journal, Fall 1996, pp. 39-54.

[9] p. 45

[10] p. 45

[11] Marilyn M. Ewing, ‘Gotta Dance! Structure, Corruption, and Syphilis in Singin’ in the Rain,’ Journal of Popular Film and Television, Spring 2006, 12-23.

[12] Clive Hirschhorn, Gene Kelly: A Biography, Henry Regnery Company, Chicago, 1974, p. 219.

[13] Ebert, pp. 423-424.

[14] Ewing, p. 13

[15] Ibid., p. 218.

[16] Marilyn M. Ewing, ‘Gotta dance: Structure, corruption, and syphilis in Singin’ in the Rain,’ Journal of Popular Film & Television, Spring 2006, pp. 12-23, quote from p. 13.

[17] Ibid., p. 14

[18] Ewing, pp. 12-13.

[19] Hirschhorn, p. 84.

[20] Ibid., p. 120.

[21] Ibid., pp. 206-209.

[22] What a Glorious Feeling: The Making of Singin’ in the Rain, Peter Fitzgerald, 2002.

[23] Ibid., p. 215.

[24] Ibid, p. 215.

[25] Clover.

[26] In addition to offering insights to Lockwood, the form this sequence takes – being described to a character rather than performed for the audience – also allows for an in-joke. Freed often had difficulty picturing dance numbers that have been described to him, just as Simpson is unable to visualize the scene Lockwood describes to him. Ibid., p. 212. Although this can be seen as just an inconsequential wink to those in the know, it is also one more reference to film in a dance sequence that is, ostensibly, not about movies, and thus one more reminder that the role of the Broadway ballet in the narrative of Singin’ in the Rain must be interpreted in the context of the character who is creating it.

[27] The symbolic relationship between the two dancers, one in Hollywood and one on Broadway, is underscored in other ways as well. First, Cyd Charisse’s character is clearly meant to look like Louise Brooks, and the coin-flipping gangster is meant to remind one of George Raft. Second, the opening sequence, detailing the protagonist’s career climb, is reminiscent of any number of movie montages showing a character’s ascent to success – the technique was clichéd long before this film – including the montage at the beginning of Singin’ in the Rain that shows Lockwood’s beginning.

[28] This scene would have strengthened the film’s thematic connection between Selden and Lamont if the movie Singin’ in the Rain had been released in its original, unedited form. The billboard shows Lockwood on the left side in profile, facing Selden on the right, also in profile. In a deleted scene, Selden serenades a portrait of Lockwood on a billboard. The portrait is of Lockwood, on the left, facing a portrait of Lamont in profile on the right. Selden has literally replaced Lamont.

Fecal Attraction

June 4, 2010

“Chloe”
2009
Directed and by Atom Egoyan
Starring Julianne Moore, Liam Neeson, Amanda Seyfried
Bottom line: 1 out of 4 stars

If art should move you, affect you, make you feel something, then “Chloe” is indeed art. As this mess of clichés and overwrought melodrama lumbered on to its ridiculous conclusion, I was moved a number of times to pity Julianne Moore and Liam Neeson as they tried valiantly to make lemonade out of the lemony-script they’d been given to work with. I was affected in that hours after the credits rolled, I still lamented the hour-and-a-half I lost in watching it and I did indeed feel something: nausea.

Julianne Moore plays Catherine Stewart, a gynecologist with what is apparently a thriving practice, if her posh, just-retro-enough-to-be-insanely-hip home is any indication. Of course some of that material success may be attributed to her husband, David Stewart, played by Neeson. David is a professor of… well, music, apparently. Or maybe its theater. It’s not exactly clear. What is clear is that the college where he works holds their curriculum committee meetings well into the evening. As someone who has been in the world of academia for several years, I can assure you that this is a complete fiction.

When Catherine sees a questionable text on David’s cell phone, she suspects he has been unfaithful. Naturally, she hires an escort to test his fidelity. What? That isn’t what you would do? You’d confront your spouse or hire a P. I. or call “Cheaters?” Yeah, well Catherine turned to a call girl.

You’ve got to love a movie whose entire plot hinges on character actions that make no sense.

Well Catherine’s ridiculous decision has some serious consequences. Call girl Chloe, played by Amanda Seyfried, ends up falling in love with Catherine, and Catherine is a little confused on that front herself. When Catherine rejects Chloe, the latter doesn’t react well. In fact, she becomes a threat to Catherine and her family, and a bad movie takes a turn for the worse, trying to be “Fatal Attraction” but instead being “Poison Ivy.” At best.

Catherine’s insecurity as she ages, her marital difficulties, and her difficulties with raising a teenage son, played by Max Thieriot, could have made for fine dramatic material, but were instead used as melodramatic fodder. It’s a shame to waste talent like Neeson and Moore on this drivel, especially when the topics at the core of the movie – aging and mature, real-world marriages as opposed to the idealized notions of love Hollywood usually presents – are so often addressed in movies. How many films deal realistically with aging? The movie business is a young person’s game, more often than not, and interesting parts for middle-age-or-older performers are few and far between. Roles like that for women are even fewer and farther between. The role of Catherine Stewart isn’t one of those parts.

“Chloe” wants to be an exploration of a failing marriage, but ends up being a potboiler with the burner turned off. Catherine never should have hired Chloe, and you should avoid her, too.


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