House of Yes & Death on Long Island

by KEM Huntley

Parker Posey Hangs on the Wall of Hové® New Orleans.
The House of Yes and Love and Death on Long Island are two indie presentations that have more than 90210 cast members in common. Without getting too caught up in histrionics and endless details that often attend melodrama, each film offers the same premise: mad love exists.

Each film holds the same expectation, as well. The viewer will not look askance at the “all’s fair in love and war” tactics, but will instead nod their head in affirmation that the heart does what it damn well pleases.

For recent widower and recluse, Giles De’ath (John Hurt), the main character in Love and Death on Long Island, written and directed by Richard Kwientniowski and loosely based upon Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice, the story begins as he ventures into the present day (overall story concern) after accepting (story driver-decision; overall story solution) an invitation to be interviewed on the “wireless.” When asked if he uses a word processor for his novels, he is bemused, tartly replying he is a writer; he does not “process words.”

It is here established that the notable British author is completely out of touch with the 20th century (overall story domain-universe), illustrated again as the camera focuses on him ruefully looking through the front door mail slot at forgotten house keys, his gaze taking in an archaic life.

As Giles is locked out and must wait before his niece is available to bring the extra set of keys, he decides to go to the cinema. He mistakenly walks into a matinee of “Hotpants College II,” instead of the latest E. M. Forster adaptation. Rising to leave (main character symptom-reaction), he is dumbstruck by the beauty of its dreamboat star, impact character Ronnie Bostock (Jason Priestly), a screen heartthrob he will later compare to a painting of the writer Chatterton hanging in the Tate Gallery.

At this point, emphasis in the overall story throughline is placed upon the thematic conflict of attraction vs. repulsion, the clash between obsolescence and technology (overall story benchmark-progress) and high art and popular culture.

Giddy Giles begins the quest his own fictitious characters engage in (main character domain-physics) to learn (main character concern) all about the object of his desire. Hampered by the ministrations of his nosy parker housekeeper, and well-intentioned literary agent (main character problem-protection), he restricts their possible interference (main character approach-do-er) of his foray into “finding beauty where no-one (at least in his milieu) seems to look”: fan magazines, situation comedy, B grade movies.

While mooning over Ronnie, Giles comes to terms with the present (outcome-success). He is compelled to purchase and master the video player and “goggle box,” open an account at the video store (to rent the Ronnie film festival, “Tex Mex” and “Skid Marks”), hook up an answering machine to take messages while cutting and pasting his Ronnie collage, and finally, jetting to Long Island (main character response of proaction), where he will strategize (main character thematic issue) how to meet the actor.

Giles holes up in the roadside motel of Ronnie’s town, run by yet another interfering and overprotective landlady. Inside he scratches out tactics to determine his film idol’s whereabouts: “1. Hire detective 2. Bribe postman” (logical problem solving style), but it is his painstaking investigation (main vs. impact story catalyst) that pays off when he ascertains Ronnie’s exact location and trumps up a relationship with the lovely Audrey, Ronnie’s fiancée (overall story dividend-learning).

Like an infatuated schoolgirl, Giles sits anxiously by the telephone for hours (main vs. impact character inhibitor-need), until the beautiful couple rings up with a dinner invitation. Ronnie represents the emotional manipulation (impact character domain-psychology) of mass media, yet he repudiates (impact character problem-non-acceptance) his teen beat status-despite his photogenic “files of smiles” he wants to be a serious actor (impact character benchmark).

His initial appraisal (main vs. impact character thematic issue) of the old gentleman is based on Giles’ fabrication and the teen’s own conviction that “British stuff is cool,” yet this first impression (appraisal) is his critical flaw. Giles flatters the boy with what he needs (impact character thematic issue) to hear-he has “the look of a young Olivier” and the potential (main vs. impact character story problem) for Shakespeare.

Astute Audrey understands, however, that “something is rotten in the state of Denmark” and arranges (impact character unique ability-permission) to effectively remove Ronnie from Giles’ advances (main character growth-stop).

Giles reacts (main vs. impact character story symptom) to Ronnie’s impending departure by confessing (main vs. impact character response-proaction) his desperate love to the boy in the local hamburger dive. That each has a different point of view (main vs. impact character story domain-mind) is underscored as they face each other from across the vinyl booth. It is clear Giles is as steadfast (main character resolve) in his disdain for the popular arts as he is in his devotion to Ronnie, contemptuously dismissing Ronnie’s adolescent audience and American “contacts” and entreating the actor to fall in with a traditional European relationship of mentor and student, on the order of Rimbaud and Verlaine.

Rattled, Ronnie refuses to consider the offer (overall story consequence-conscious), and the relationship, heretofore certain (main vs. impact character story solution) to flourish is ended. In the erstwhile author’s world, the quest is not a success without sacrifice.

Giles faxes a love letter to Ronnie that includes a revised scene for “Hot Pants College III.” On the way to the airport he inquires of the cabby if faxes can be retrieved. Shaking his head no, the cab driver asks Giles if he would like to return to the motel anyway. Giles knows there is no turning back (story limit-optionlock). With a smile (judgment-good), he slips on the new wave sunglasses-a gift from Ronnie-and waves the driver to continue on (main character solution-inaction).

Ronnie’s change is depicted on-screen in his new film as he delivers Giles’ eulogy to his character’s mother, an indication he will now aspire to something more than performing for the “rabble in the pit.”

In the House of Yes, written and directed by Mark Waters, the overall story concern is how the memory of the day JFK died–the same day Daddy tried to leave:

“Everybody remembers that day. Exactly what they were doing.”

The overall story goal, in particular, is the memory twins, (main vs. impact story domain-universe) Jackie-O (Parker Posey) and Marty (Josh Hamilton), share of their illicit affair that occurred the day they attended an Ides of March party . . . Jackie O costumed as Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy pirouetting:

“. . . in a pink Chanel suit and pillbox hat and blood on my dress. Well, ketchup actually and other stuff too, like macaroni kind of glued on like brains. It was more tasteful than it sounds.”

Jackie-O is another main character zealous (do-er) in her efforts (main character domain-physics) to fulfill desires (main character problem). When impact character Marty, comes home to Washington D.C. Thanksgiving 1982-“20 years after the Kennedy assassination”-and announces (story driver-action) his engagement to Lesly (Tori Spelling), he has sealed his fate (main vs. impact character issue).

The circumstances (main vs. impact character domain-universe) of the twins’ relationship are such that any plan for a normal life Marty attempts to implement (impact character concern-conceptualizing) is anarchy (main vs. impact character problem-chaos).
Marriage is an act the unhinged Jackie-O will steadfastly (main character resolve) not allow.

Mama (Genevieve Bujold), very French Gothic, demands a private word with her son: Mama: You, a fiancée here, why?
Marty: I love her and I’m just trying to follow procedure (impact character symptom-order).
Mama: Marty, your sister has been out of the hospital less than six months. Last week she nearly lost it because the seltzer water was flat and you bring a woman home! Not just a woman, a fiancée! An anti-Jackie! Are you trying to push your sister over the edge?Marty: No.
Mama: Just what, then, are you trying to do?
Marty: Be normal.

Family secrets and lies (overall story thematic counterpoint-falsehood), exposed or withheld, are the weapons used against artless Lesly, the fiancée who smells like powdered sugar. The family knows (overall story symptom) Marty is making a mistake. Marty had loved a lizard; Jackie-O flushed it down the toilet.

Lesly’s perception overall story problem) of Marty’s glamorous twin is mistaken-she calls Jackie-O spoiled to which Jackie-O replies-“Oh please. If people start telling the truth (overall story thematic issue) around here, I’m going to bed.” What Lesly doesn’t consider (overall story benchmark-conscious), until almost too late, is that Jackie-O is insane (overall story solution-actuality) and extravagantly dangerous.

An unexpected hurricane extinguishes the electrical power and all but Marty and Jackie-O retire for the evening. By candlelight, the twins play their favorite game, the reenactment of Jack Kennedy’s assassination. This leads to a reenactment of their own affaire d’ amour, unaware Lesly is watching. Crushed, Lesly allows the twins’ younger brother, Anthony (Freddie Prinze, Jr.), to make love to her, unaware Mama is watching.

Confronting the naïf with what she knows (overall story symptom): “A mother doesn’t spy, a mother pays attention!”-she thinks (overall story response) Lesly will now leave alone. Instead, Lesly persuades Marty to believe the man she fell in love with is the man he truly is (impact character thematic issue of state of being), not the image he has of himself (impact character thematic counterpoint-sense of self). She implores Marty to return with her to New York.

Destiny (main vs. impact character catalyst), however, prevails. Jackie-O cajoles her brother into one more dead Kennedy charade, with the promise he may leave afterwards. He foolishly does not suspect (impact character critical flaw) she may fire the pistol they have used to pretend, despite the fact Jackie-O has shot him in the past (main vs. impact character concern). Marty is gunned down, and buried in the back yard next to his father-the romantic memory of gallant men: Jack, Daddy, and Marty, preserved intact (outcome-success).

In voice-over, Jackie-O reassures us: “Don’t worry about Marty. A close family like ours has to stick together. We cleared out a nice place for him out back, next to Daddy so he would stay right here with me, where he belongs (story judgment-good).

Love and Death on Long Island and the House of Yes approach obsessive, irrational love with humor and compassion for its main characters, and a distant nod to their impact characters. Emphasis in each is placed upon the main vs. impact story, almost to the exclusion of the overall story throughline, much like lovers heedless to the world around them.
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All Who Wander Are Not Lost

by Kerrin Ross Monahan


 
  
 “All who wander are not lost.”—Tolkien

“Everything comes from somewhere.”—Rushdie

The way to avoid tragedy is to cultivate a sense of it” (Robert D. Kaplan). Aidan Chamber has said that the classic definition of story is: “What happens to whom, and why,” and since, as he reminds us, “story is everywhere,” we need to look everywhere in order to find exactly what it is we should be searching for.

We should start with oral tradition, with what Seamus Heaney calls: “the directness of utterance” by the skalds, bards, jongleurs, troubadours (and Rushdie’s the “Shah of Blah”), and from there progress through the arts up to the present.

A quest is a search or pursuit made in order to find or obtain something. There is a testing of some importance and obstacles to overcome. The goal or prize could be: The Holy Grail, hidden treasure, a castle or kingdom or fair maiden. It could well be something intangible such as: salvation, redemption, revenge, justice, peace, truth, glory, courage, strength, wisdom, faith, love, or hope. Sometimes one isn’t certain what it is that she/he seeks. Some fail, others do reach their goal.

The quest occurs in all types of literature, music, and historic events the world over, and all forms reflect the historical and cultural base in which they are embedded. There is a universality, however, a basic humanism about them all—a transcending core that resonates with everyone.

The quest can take the form of a grand and sweeping heroic epic, can appear in a short poem, a long narrative, an interior monologue, a small gem of a fable, a “pourquoi” story, a nursery rhyme. It can be found in certain films, music, plays, opera, novels, and rock songs. It can take the form of a chivalric romance, fairytale, folktale, mythology, legend, or nationalistic or religious saga. It can be emotionally heavy, or light and airy, and may contain both elements of tragedy and comedy. (Barzun points out that the word “tragedy” means “goat song” and in the Renaissance the word “comedy” meant any sort of play—drama in general.) He also states that the epic, thought of as a serious genre, is “often close to burlesque.”

The quest can be in the form of a cautionary tale, allegory, rules of conduct, a coming-of-age work or nationalistic propaganda. It can be gorgeous and soaring in tone, and heartwarming, whimsical, and quaint, or raw, ugly, and petty—but always passionate and always magic. It can entertain (hopefully, always), anger and disturb, instruct and uplift, enchant and inspire: one should come away thinking, analyzing, considering and questioning—and be receptive to and expressive about the core meaning of each story.

In each instance the characters could be any of the following: druids, oracles, pookas, banshees, piskies, kelpies, leprechauns, trolls, elves, menehunes, water sprites, Baba Yagas, dwarves, goblins, vampires, werewolves, ghosts, wizards, nissers, sorcerers, ogres, mummies, monsters, fairies, witches, queens, gremlins, brownies, golems, giants, genies, Black and Tans, angels, kings, dragons, devils, talking animals, and of course, larger-than-life heroic warriors (both male and female), their evil human counterparts, and naturally, a large cast of “common folk” such as farmers, innkeepers, “hoors,” hobbits, beggars, and children.

Props include: ancient books and parchments, thunder and fire, magic swords, cloaks, wooden legs, riddles and runes, shoes and lamps, talking cats, flying horses, snakes and toads, secret doorways and curses, spells, passwords, boats, bikes, rafts, umbrellas, whales, Cadillacs and taxis, dreams, visions, portents and nightmares, poisons and elixirs, trees and burning bushes, vast quantities of beer, wine, mead, and weed, and of course, gold rings.

Because, on the whole, we in this country have been exposed to mostly Western Canon, some may not be aware that there is a plenitude of much admired, and many revered, works of all genres that come from a global cultural base. Much of Western art, in fact, is based upon, or drawn from, ancient worldwide customs and lore.

The following is not meant by any means to be all-inclusive; the selections are certainly subjective. If they are top heavy with works from Great Britain, it is because (until fairly recently), our nation’s literary canon has derived mainly from and has glorified our “motherland’s” literature.

I Western

Great Britain and Ireland

The Cuchulain CycleThe Finn Cycle, (Fin M’Coul), two pre-Christian Celtic epics: The Hound of Ulster and Queen MabBeowulf: Anglo Saxon epic Christian poem composed sometime between 650 ad and 900 AD. Seamus Heaney, Irish Nobel Laureate Poet, renders a brilliant translation. King Arthur, Knights of the Round Table, Merlin, The Holy Grail, and Robin Hood. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (author unknown). The Crusades, St. George and the Dragon, William Langland’s Piers Plowman, Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, the Welsh White Book of Rchydderch, Sir Thomas Mallory’s Le Morte d’ Arthur. Morality plays and mystery plays for example, Everyman, dramatized allegories of Christian life: a quest for salvation.

Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene, Shakespeare’s English and Roman histories, tragedies and tragic-comedies. He was extremely knowledgeable about the volatile social and political issues of his day: the escalating patriotism and nationalism, the new colonialism, and concerns about the royal succession. A.L. Rowse tells us that he (Shakespeare) “. . . knew too well how thin is the crust of civilisation; how easy for society to break down, to fall into what dark waters beneath.” In these works, Shakespeare’s quest is for order and obedience to authority.

Milton’s Paradise Lost, John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe and Moll Flanders, Richardson’s Clarissa, Fielding’s Tom Jones, Edward Fitzgerald’s (translation) The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyam, Wordsworth’s The Prelude, Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Kubla Khan, Blake’s The Four Zoas and Jerusalem, Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound, Keat’s HyperionThe Eve of St. Agnes and La Belle Dame Sans Merci, Byron’s Childe Harold, Sir Walter Scott’s historical novels and ballads, Dicken’s Bleak HouseDavid CopperfieldGreat Expectations and A Tale of Two Cities, Robert Browning’s Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came, Tennyson’s Ulysses and Idylls of the King, Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, Stevenson’s Treasure Island, Kipling’s Just So Stories, Sir James Barrie’s Peter Pan, Hugh Lofting’s Dr. Doolittle, Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows, A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh, P.L. Travers’ Mary Poppins, Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit, James Joyce’s Ulysses, Yeats’ Fairy Tales of Ireland, T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland, Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Ring Trilogy, C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, Roddy Doyle’s A Star Called Henry, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series

North America

Highwater’s Anpao (the Native American UlyssesThe Sedna Legends of the Inuits, Paul Bunyan’s tall tales, the tales of Pecos Bill the Cowboy, Melville’s Moby Dick, Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, Joel Chandler Harris’ Uncle Remus Stories (a retelling of stories brought from overseas by African slaves), L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz, Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, Ralph Ellison’s The Invisible Man, the Russian born Nabokov’s Lolita, Steven Spielberg’s E.T., and, with George Lucas, the Indiana Jones sagas and Star Wars series.

French Canada
The Adventures of Petit Jean

Mexico/South America
Why the Burro Lives With ManThe Tale of the Lazy People and many legends and myths from the Incas and Aztecs and Mayan civilizations

Greece
Homer’s The Iliad, The OdysseyAesop’s Fables

Italy
The Roman poet Virgil’s The Aëneid, the poet Dante’s The Inferno, the poet Tasso’s Jerusalem Delivered

Spain
El Cid (the epic poem El Cantar de Mio Cid), Cervante’s Don Quixote

Portugal
Comoën’s The Lusiads

France
The deeds of Charlemagne, Le Chanson de Roland, Jean de Neun’s Roman de la Rose, La Fontaine’s Fables, Perrault’s folktales (Cinderella), Villanueva’s Beauty and the Beast, Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo, Saint Exupéry’s Le Petit Prince, de Brunhoff’s Stories of Babar

Germany
The Nibelungen Saga (heroic sagas), the tales of the Brothers Grimm, Richard Wagner’s Opera CycleThe Ring of the Neibelung

Norway/Sweden/Denmark
The great sagas involving Valhalla and the gods Thor, Odin, Freya, and Loke; Hans Christian Andersen’s tales

Iceland

The Elder EddaThe Younger Edda (ancient manuscripts), from these comes The Volsunga Saga

Finland

The saga The Kalevala

Russia

The Legend of the Firebird, Pushkin’s fairy tales, Vasilissa the Fair

II Middle East

The sacred texts: The Holy BibleThe TorahThe TalmudThe Koran. Firdavsi’s Shah (collection of legendary Persian epic folktales), the splendid Arabian Nights, the Islamic legend The Night Journey (Mohammed’s Night Ride to Heaven) Nobel Laureate Isaac B. Singer’s Zlateh the Goat and Other Stories

III India

The Fables of BidpaiThe Jatake Tales of Buddha, the cycle of fables in the Hindu collection of the Panchatantha, Vyasa’s Mahabharata, Valmiki’s Ranayana, Salman Rushdie’s Shame and Haroun and the Sea of Stories

IV Africa

Tribal tales of witchdoctors and brave warriors, folktales like Anansi the SpiderPodhu and AruwaUnanana and the Elephant

IV Far East

Japan
Great shogun and samurai exploits, folktales such as The Tongue-Cut SparrowThe Enchanted Sticks

China
Fantastic tales of empresses and peasants, warlords and courtiers. Folktales like Ah Tcha the SleeperThe Story of Wang Li

V Oceania (Australia)

The wonderful Aboriginal “dream-time” experiences and folktales such as Dinewan the Emu

Polynesia
Many fantasy tales of how their islands were fashioned; from Hawaii we get the myth: How Kana Brought Back the Sun and Moon and Stars. To quote Heaney, all of the foregoing are universal stories of “mythic potency.”

To return to the main question: What should we be looking for, and why? Tolkien said: “Myth is invention about truth.” Joseph Campbell states that the hero’s journey is about “overcoming the dark passions . . . to control the irrational savage within us,” and that “the journey is a life lived in self-discovery . . . the ultimate aim of the quest must be . . . the wisdom and the power to serve others.” The hero acts “to redeem society.” Dostoyevsky said: “Man is a mystery.” The author was “an investigator of the human spirit” always searching for truth. In Richard Tarnas’ preface to his grand The Passion of the Western Mind (and this could certainly apply to the rich and varied canon of world literature as well), he states: “The history of Western culture has long seemed to possess the dynamics, scope, and beauty of a great epic drama . . . [containing] sweep and grandeur, dramatic conflicts and astonishing resolutions . . . a stirring adventure and epic heroism . . .” He also talks about: “A common vision . . . to see clarifying universals in the chaos of life . . . the attempt to comprehend the nature of reality.” Bruno Bettelheim says that through fables and fairy tales we can find ways “to gain peace within ourselves and with the world . . .” In a new volume of Yeat’s essays, Writings on Irish Folklore, Legend and Myth he tells us that in fables, “mortals are transformed into ‘perfect symbols of the sorrow and beauty and of the magnificence and penury of dreams.'” Harold Bloom feels: “We read to find ourselves . . .[to gain] an enhanced sense of freedom . . . to prepare ourselves for change and the final change, alas is universal.”

Certainly there are skeptics among us: the poet W. H. Auden said: “poetry makes nothing happen” and Jack Kerouac’s On the Road narrator (“the road is life”) says “. . . nobody, nobody knows what’s going to happen to anybody besides the forlorn rags of growing old . . .” And U2’s Bono laments “. . . and I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.” To all that, Tolkien’s Gandalf could well answer: “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

During the rest of our lifequest we must: read, write, travel, attend plays, opera, museums and films, watch television and sporting events, listen to music, political debates, talk shows, gossip, and propaganda. We must sing and dance and work and love, all so that we may connect in some positive and meaningful way with our ancestors, peers, and children, thus hopefully discovering our higher selves. By doing so, when our grand quest comes to the inevitable and unavoidable end, we will be able to leave behind a brilliant, universal ensemble cast with a balanced and harmonious script full of recurring motifs such as unity and integration, a magnificent work, a gift of love and peace to our vast audience—all of humankind’s descendants.

“The world is sacred,
It can’t be improved.
If you tamper with it, you’ll ruin it.
If your treat it like an object, you’ll lose it.”—Lao-tzu

Bibliography

Barzun, Jacques. From Dawn to Decadence. New York: HarperCollins, 2000.
Bettelheim, Bruno. The Uses of Enchantment. New York: Simon, 2000.
Bloom, Harold. How to Read and Why. New York: Simon, 2000.
Campbell, Joseph. The Power of Myth. New York: Doubleday, 1988.
Chamber, Aidan. Introducing Books to Children. 2nd ed. Horn, 1983.
Doyle, Roddy. A Star Called Henry. New York: Penguin, 2000.
Heaney, Seamus. Beowulf. New York: Norton, 2000.
Kerouac, Jack. On the Road. New York: Viking, 1957.
Lao-tzu. Tao Te Ching. Trans. Stephen Mitchell. New York: Harper, 1988.
Maxym, Lucy. Russian Lacquer, Legends and Fairy Tales. 2 vols. New York: Siamese Imports, 1985-86.
Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. M.H. Abrams. 5th ed. 2 vols. New York: Norton, 1986.
Oxford Companion to the English Language. Ed. Tom McArthur. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1992.
Porcaro, Lauren. “Book Currents”: rev. of Writings on Irish Folklore, Legend and Myth by William Butler Yeats, New Yorker 1, Apr. 2002: 21.
Riverside Anthology of Children’s Literature. Judith Saltman. 6th ed. Boston: Houghton, 1985.
Rowse, A.L. The Annotated Shakespeare. Vols I and II. New York: Clarkson, 1978.
Rushdie, Salman. Haroun and the Sea of Stories. New York: Viking, 1990.
Tarnas, Richard. The Passion of the Western Mind. New York: Ballantine, 1993.
Tolkien, J.R.R. The Hobbit. New York: Ballantine, 1967.
Tolkien, J.R.R. The Ring Trilogy. New York: Ballantine, 1982.

The Butcher Boy

by KEM Huntley

In a Dramatica grand argument story, it is the influence character that has the most impact on the main character. The influence character, wittingly or unwittingly, will compel the main character to remain steadfast to their particular paradigm or change to the influence character’s point of view.

Typically, the influence character is one person or single entity. In the case of Neil Jordan’s The Butcher Boy, and Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, the influence character is the society in which the main character functions.

The Butcher Boy, an adaptation of Pat McCabe’s novel, is a brutal account of one boy’s moral destruction set against the “duck and cover” environment of fear that emanated from communism, specifically the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. Precocious and full of Gaelic charm, “The Incredible Francis Brady” (main character) is an ebullient twelve-year-old with a wide Irish eyes smile and an unfortunate set of parents-a beautiful and suicidal mother, and a father who ” . . . was the best drinker in the town.” Francie sets up the story with a voice-over narration: “When I was a young lad . . . I lived in a small town where they were all after me on account of what I’d done [to] Mrs. Nugent.”

What follows is a cinematic treatise on the making of a psychopath.

Francis steals apples from Mrs. Nugent’s tree and extorts Green Lantern comics from her bespectacled son, Philip. Mrs. Nugent tells his mother exactly what she thinks of the Bradys: “Pigs!” igniting a feud (story driver-action) between the boy and neighbor that erupts in unholy carnage. During the course of the story, Francie’s pranks evolve from the malicious to the unconscionably vicious. He is sent to a reform school where he easily manipulates his release, a mental institution where he escapes, and even fools his parish priest who exhorts the townspeople to ” . . . pray for the redemption of Francis Brady . . .” Each personal tragedy, most notably the death of his mother and perceived betrayal of best friend Joe Purcell, exacerbates the sins he commits against Mrs. Nugent and the small community. Finally, the town’s authorities ” . . . put Francie Brady in the ‘garage’ for bad bastards.” (ic resolve-change)

Like anti-hero Alex in A Clockwork Orange, none of Francie’s actions are excusable, but there is a margin for understanding. In one of the film’s most poignant moments, Francie lists his losses on the steamed up kitchen window with his finger-unaware his abandoned soul is the most tragic loss of all.

The Catbird Seat

by KEM Huntley

The short story does not usually lend itself to a Dramatica Grand Argument. Moreover, there often is not enough “real estate” to properly explore all four throughlines. Nevertheless, it can be done. In answering key Dramatica questions, an analysis of James Thurber’s satire, The Catbird Seat, provides an example.

1. What is the title of the story?

The Catbird Seat

2. In a short paragraph, describe what The Catbird Seat is about.

This short story explored the horrors of “downsizing” long before the term became a fashionable catchword for the elimination of jobs and subsequent mass firings of loyal employees who often don’t see it coming. However, if you are one of those with an eye on the ball and few tricks up your buttoned-down shirt sleeve, you may just end up sitting pretty in the catbird seat.

3. Who is the author?

James Thurber

4. Where does the story take place?

New York, early 1940’s

5. Determine and describe the main character-the figure with whom the reader will most identify.

Mr. Erwin Martin: “Cautious, painstaking” (239)

6. Determine and describe the Impact Character-the figure that will have the most bearing on the main character.

Mrs. Ulgine Barrows: “Her quacking voice and braying laugh . . . . had appalled Mr. Martin instantly, but he hadn’t shown it. He had given her his dry hand, a look of studious concentration and a faint smile. ‘Well,’ she said, looking at the papers on his desk, ‘are you lifting the oxcart out of the ditch?’ Later: “The faults of the woman as a woman kept chattering on in his mind like an unruly witness. She had, for almost two years now, baited him. In the halls, in the elevator, even in his own office, into which she romped now and then like a circus horse, she was constantly shouting these silly questions at him. “. . . Are you tearing up the pea patch? Are you hollering down the rain barrel? Are you scraping around the bottom of the pickle barrel? Are you sitting in the catbird seat?’ . . . Mr. Martin dismissed all this with an effort. It had been annoying, it had driven him near to distraction, but he was too solid a man to be moved to murder by anything so childish.” (239-40)

7. Determine and describe all the characters concerned with the overall story.

  • Mr. Erwin Martin-particular and remarkably efficient in his work; model employee
  • Mrs. Ulgine Barrows-loud, vulgar, crass; she has quite a lot of power
  • Mr. Fitweiler-the susceptible boss that is taken in by Barrows
  • Old Roberts-personnel chief
  • Joey Hart-assistant to Mr. Martin
  • Miss Paird-assistant to Mr. Martin; she is not above eavesdropping for Mr. Martin’s benefit
  • Miss Tyson-ex-employee
  • Mr. Brundage-ex-employee
  • Mr. Bartlett-ex-employee
  • Mr. Munson-ex-employee
  • Dr. Fitch-Mr. Fitweiler’s psychiatrist
  • Stockton-employee
  • Fishbein-employee
  • Mrs. Powell-employee

8. At the end of the story, has the Main Character changed or remained the same (MC Resolve)?

Mr. Martin is steadfast in his drive to maintain his filing department and his position as its head.

9. Does the Main Character need to grow out of something (Stop) or grow into something (Start)?

Mr. Martin must stop the madness that is Mrs. Ulgine Barrows.

10. What is main character’s approach to solving problems? Does he at first confront a dilemma head-on (Do-er), or does he adapt himself to the situation at hand (Be-er)?

Although quiet and unassuming, Mr. Martin is nevertheless a do-er. Once Mr. Martin believes his department is Mrs. Ulgine Barrow’s next target he knows: “He must act quickly. . . . Mr. Martin stood up in his living room, still holding his milk glass. ‘Gentlemen of the jury,’ he said to himself, ‘I demand the death penalty for this horrible person'” (241).

11. Determine and describe the main character’s use of linear or holistic problem– solving techniques.

Mr. Martin uses linear thinking to solve his problems. Not only is his daily life extremely routine, his plan to “rub out” Mrs. Ulgine Barrows is done step by step.

12. Determine and describe the actions or decisions that drive the plot forward.

Actions drive the plot forward, first described in the backstory:

. . . Mrs. Barrows had met Mr. Fitweiler at a party, where she had rescued him from the embraces of a powerfully built drunken man who had mistaken the president of F & S for a famous retired Middle Western football coach. She had led him to a sofa and somehow worked upon him a monstrous magic (impact character domain-psychology). The aging gentleman had jumped to the conclusion (overall story symptom-deduction) there and then that this was a woman of singular attainments . . . . A week later he had introduced her into F & S as his special advisor (overall story response-induction). (240)

Later, Mrs. Barrows’ actions are the cause of Mr. Martin’s decision “to rub out Mrs. Ulgine Barrows. The term ‘rub out’ pleased him because it suggested nothing more that the correction of an error-in this case an error of Mr. Fitweiler” (239).

13. Determine and describe how the story has reached its conclusion (Story Limit). Is it because time has run out (Timelock), or because all the options (Optionlock) are exhausted?

Mr. Fitweiler has the option to either believe Mrs. Ulgine Barrows or Mr. Martin’s account of what had transpired between the two in determining which one will remain employed at F & S:

“Mrs. Barrows is under the delusion (impact character domain-psychology),” continued Mr. Fitweiler, “that you visited her last evening and behaved yourself in an-uh-unseemly manner.” He raised his hand to silence Mr. Martin’s little pained outcry. “It is the nature of these psychological diseases,” Mr. Fitweiler said, “to fix upon the least likely and most innocent party as the ­uh-source of persecution. These matters are not for the lay mind to grasp, Martin. I’ve just had my psychiatrist, Dr. Fitch, on the phone. He would not, of course, commit himself, but he made enough generalizations to substantiate my suspicions. I suggested to Mrs. Barrows, when she completed her-uh-story to me this morning, that she visit Dr. Fitch, for I suspected her condition at once. She flew, I regret to say, into a rage, and demanded-uh-requested that I call you on the carpet. You may not know, Martin, but Mrs. Barrows had planned a reorganization of your department-subject to my approval, of course, subject to my approval (main character problem-reduction). This brought you, rather than anyone else, to her mind-but again that is a phenomenon for Dr. Fitch and not for us. So, Martin, I am afraid Mrs. Barrows’ usefulness here is at an end.”

“I am dreadfully sorry, sir,” said Mr. Martin. (244-45)

14. Is the outcome of the story a Success or Failure?

This is a success story. Mrs. Ulgine’s dismissal from F & S means the potential (overall story solution) for more departmental reorganization, therefore disruptions, is eliminated.

15. At the end of the story does the Main character feel Good or Bad (Judgment)?

Mr. Martin, without having to literally “rub out” Mrs. Ulgine Barrows has still effectively removed his nemesis, thus relieving his angst:

“I regret that this has happened,” said Mr. Fitweiler. “I shall ask you to dismiss it from your mind, Martin.” “Yes, sir,” said Mr. Martin, anticipating his chief’s “That will be all” by moving to the door. “I will dismiss it.” He went out and shut the door, and his step was light and quick in the hall. When he entered his department he had slowed down to his customary gait, and he walked quietly across the room to the W20 file, wearing a look of studious concentration. (245-46)

16. Describe the four points of view (domains): Overall, Main Character, Impact Character, and Relationship.

  • Overall Story-Universe: F & S is a company that thrives on its systems-and will employ whatever methods to make certain it runs with the utmost efficiency.
  • Main Character-Physics: Mr. Martin is a staunch defender of his department-even to the point of engaging in activities to “rub out Mrs. Ugline Barrows” (239)-the woman who threatens to dispense with it and he as its head.
  • Impact Character-Psychology: Mrs. Ulgine Barrows is a master manipulator. She has Mr. Fitweiler firmly under her thumb and the fate of the company in her hands.
  • Relationship Story-Mind: Mrs. Ulgine Barrows is determined to eliminate Mr. Martin’s department; Mr. Martin is just as determined to keep it intact.

17. What is the Goal of the story? Describe.

How the “system” of F & S stands (Present) is the story goal. Although the company president, Mr. Fitweiler, has hired Mrs. Ulgine Barrows “to bring out the best in him and in the firm” (240), “. . . in Mr. Martin’s mind . . . . Mrs. Ulgine Barrows stood charged with willful, blatant, and persistent attempts to destroy the efficiency and system of F & S” (240).

18. What thematic conflict in the Overall Story is explored?

The workplace of F & S, has been in an uproar since the “. . . day confusion got its foot in the door” in the arrival of Mrs. Ulgine Barrows. Her attempts at reorganization, with no prior professional experience, are depicted negatively, whereas those who are suited for the task at hand are shown in a positive light (work vs. attempt).

19. What is the problem in the Overall Story?

Mr. Fitweiler’s total reliability on Mrs. Ulgine Barrows’ judgment (certainty) creates problems for the employees of F & S:

After Miss Tyson, Mr. Brundage and Mr. Bartlett had been fired and Mr. Munson had taken his hat and stalked out, mailing in his resignation later, old Roberts had been emboldened to speak to Mr. Fitweiler. He mentioned that Mr. Munson’s department had been “a little disrupted” and hadn’t they perhaps better resume the old system there? Mr. Fitweiler had said certainly not. He had the greatest faith in Mrs. Barrows’ ideas (impact character concern-conceiving). (240)

20. Describe what conflict (Concern) occurs in the four throughlines.

  • Overall Story-Present: A self proclaimed efficiency expert has insinuated herself into F & S-and is wasting no time in having it run her way (overall concern thematic issue-expediency). It is a situation of concern to all involved: “She had begun chipping at the cornices of the firm’s edifice and now she was swinging at the foundation stones with a pickaxe” (240).
  • Main Character-Learning: Mr. Martin is concerned to learn his department is next on Mrs. Barrows’ hit list; Mr. Martin is concerned that no one learns of his part in Mrs. Barrows’ “rubbing out.”
  • Impact Character-Conceiving: Mrs. Ulgine Barrows is influential with her ideas: “Mr. Fitweiler . . . had the greatest faith in Mrs. Barrows’ ideas. ‘They require a little seasoning, a little seasoning is all'” (240).
  • Relationship Story-Conscious: Considerations are the source of conflict between Mr. Martin and Mrs. Ulgine Barrows. Mr. Martin is sensible to the fact Mrs. Ulgine Barrows is contemplating a reorganization of his department which is problematic for him; Mrs. Ulgine Barrows underestimates Mr. Martin, not for a second taking his devotion to his department-and what he might do to protect it-into consideration.

21. Describe the sequence of events for the four throughlines (Signposts).

Overall story: In the past (Signpost 1) F & S was a staid, old firm operating quite efficiently, until the day:

[Mrs. Barrows’] . . . quacking voice and braying laugh had first profaned the halls of F & S on March 7, 1941. . . . It was competent, material, and relevant to review her advent and rise to power. Mr. Martin had got the story from Miss Paird, who seemed always able to find things out. . . . Mr. Martin came now, in his summing up, to the afternoon of Monday, November 2, 1942-just one week ago. On that day, at 3 P.M., Mrs. Barrows had bounced into his office. “Boo!” she had yelled. “Are you scraping around the bottom of the pickle barrel?” Mr. Martin had looked at her from under his green eyeshade, saying nothing. She had begun to wander about the office, taking it in with her great, popping eyes. “Do you really need all these filing cabinets?” she had demanded suddenly. (241) Much to Mr. Martin’s alarm, Mrs. Ulgine Barrows’ progress (Signpost 2) in turning F & S upside down includes the “reorganization” of his department. Mr. Martin shares his (phony) future (Signpost 3) plans with Mrs. Barrows that includes blowing up their boss. Once she reports his extremely out of character behavior to Mr. Fitweiler, her state of mind is questioned, and she is dismissed (Signpost 4-present). Mr. Martin is successful in stopping her from steam rolling his department and wreaking any further havoc at F& S.

Main Character: Mr. Martin bought the pack of Camels on Monday night in the most crowded cigar store on Broadway. It was theatre time and seven or eight were buying cigarettes. . . . If any of the staff at F & S had seen him buy the cigarettes, they would have been astonished, for it was generally known that Mr. Martin did not smoke, and never had (Signpost 1-obtaining). No one saw him. It was just a week to the day since Mr. Martin had decided to rub out Mrs. Ulgine Barrows. The term “rub out” pleased him because is suggested nothing more than the correction of an error-in this case an error of Mr. Fitweiler. . . . The project as he had worked it out was casual and bold, the risks were considerable. . . . And therein lay the cunning of his scheme. No one would ever see in it the cautious, painstaking hand of Erwin Martin, head of the filing department at F & S, of whom Mr. Fitweiler had once said, “Man is fallible, but Martin isn’t.” (239) Mr. Martin understands (Signpost 2) he must be very careful not to make any mistakes as: “If he ran into anybody, he would simply have to place the rubbing-out of Ulgine Barrows in the inactive file forever” (242). His plan is put into action (Signpost 3-doing) once he finds himself in her apartment: “Mr. Martin looked quickly around the living room for the weapon. He had counted on finding one there. There were andirons and a poker and something in a corner that looked like an Indian club. None of them would do. . . . When Mrs. Barrows reappeared, carrying two highballs, Mr. Martin standing there with his gloves on, became acutely conscious of the fantasy he had wrought. Cigarettes in his pocket, a drink prepared for him-it was all too grossly improbable. It was more than that; it was impossible. Somewhere in the back of his mind a vague idea stirred, sprouted. . . . The idea began to bloom, strange and wonderful. She put the glasses on a coffee table in front of a sofa and sat on the sofa. “Come over here, you odd little man,” she said. “Well,” she said, handing him his drink, “this is perfectly marvelous. You with a drink and a cigarette.” Mr. Martin puffed, not too awkwardly, and took a gulp of the highball. “I drink and smoke all the time,” he said. He clinked his glass against hers. “Here’s nuts to that old windbag, Fitweiler,” he said, and gulped again. The stuff tasted awful, but he made no grimace. “Really, Mr. Martin,” she said, her voice and posture changing, “you are insulting our employer.” (243) The following day, Mr. Martin learns (Signpost 4) his department will stay intact once Mr. Fitweiler deems Mrs. Barrows mentally incompetent, after she had reported a fantastic account of Mr. Martin’s evening visit.

Impact Character: Mrs. Barrows and her big ideas (Signpost 1-conceiving) are upsetting the apple cart at F & S. Her role (Signpost 2-being) as special advisor to the president has a profoundly negative effect on the company, and particularly on Mr. Martin. She comes dangerously close to becoming (Signpost 3) a corpse at Mr. Martin’s hands-but it is her self-righteousness that finally does her in. The concept (Signpost 4) that “such a drab, ordinary little man” (245) as Mr. Martin could cause her demise changes (impact character resolve) her from the office tyrant to a blithering idiot:

She stopped yelling to catch her breath and a new glint came into her popping eyes. . . . She glared at Mr. Fitweiler. “Can’t you see how he has tricked us, you old fool? Can’t you see his little game?” But Mr. Fitweiler had been surreptitiously pushing all the buttons under the top of his desk and employees of F & S began pouring into the room. “Stockton,” said Mr. Fitweiler, “you and Fishbein will take Mrs. Barrows to her home. Mrs. Powell, you will go with them.” Stockton, who had played a little football in high school, blocked Mrs. Barrows as she made for Mr. Martin. It took him and Fishbein together to force her out of the door into the hall, crowded with stenographers and office boys. She was still screaming imprecations at Mr. Martin, tangled and contradictory imprecations. (245)

Relationship Story: Whereas Mrs. Ulgine Barrows doesn’t give Mr. Martin a second thought (Signpost 1-conscious), Mr. Martin is very conscious of her threat to his department. He recalls (Signpost 2-memory) the description of her “ducky first-floor apartment” (242) as he makes his way to surprise her at home:

“‘Well, for God’s sake, look who’s here!’ bawled Mrs. Barrows, and her braying laugh rang out like the report of a shotgun. He rushed past her like a football tackle, bumping her. . . . ‘What’s after you?’ she said. ‘You’re as jumpy as a goat (Signpost 3-preconscious)'” (242). Instead of bumping Mrs. Barrows off, Mr. Martin acts out of character, fully cognizant that she will be driven to report his odd behaviour to Mr. Fitweiler the next day. She does, and to her great fury (Signpost 4-subconscious), finds Mr. Fitweiler thinks she’s crazy and her employment is terminated-much to the satisfaction of Mr. Martin.

Source Cited:

Thurber, James. “The Catbird Seat.” Studies in the Short Story. Ed. Adrian H. Jaffe and Virgil Scott. 3rd ed. New York: Holt, 1968. 239-246.

Boogie Nights

by KEM Huntley

This ’70s joyride through LaLa Land’s exotic erotic film scene is a fresh twist on the extended family and the curious ties that bind. Writer/Director Paul Thomas Anderson presents a story that coolly dismisses accepted societal standards. He populates his screenplay with empty souls who follow their own (a)moral code, yet instead of alienating the audience, he convinces it to care.

A key component of this success is its underlying story structure. An exact storyform, however, is not immediately evidenced. At times it feels like an overall story with a goal of obtaining—the characters all want something: sex, drugs, fame and fortune. Other times the goal appears to be being—the characters believe their lifestyle is temporary and want to take on another role.  Buck dreams of being his own boss—ruling the “Super Cool Stereo World.” Following the grand argument may be somewhat difficult when the plot progression falters, for example, after Dirk Diggler (main character) and Jack Horner’s (influence character) falling out, the relationship story steps aside for a considerable amount of screen time in favor of the other three throughlines. Still and all, dressed in its best polyester double knit, Boogie Nights turns story into film art as the acting, cinematography, soundtrack, and so forth spins you through its disco party.

What follows is one “rolleroid” snapshot perspective of this Goodfellasesque epic:

Pornographic film director Jack Horner opens the door to his private paradise as the setting for the overall story. “It resembles the Jungle Room at Graceland” and comes complete with Jacuzzi, swimming pool, and its own (basement) film studio. Talent resides at this secure (thematic issue) funhouse where reality is distorted by white lines and Cuervo Gold. It is here where the changing industry (story goal of progress) is debated:

FLOYD

The video revolution is upon us—and our role is critical.

COLONEL

Jack, please understand that this is not an argument . . . this is a fact (overall story catalyst).

JACK

What?

COLONEL

I think that there is a serious case to be made for the price and the gamble on the whole idea of a home video market . . . two, three years from now, everyone’s gonna be able to walk into their local supermarket and buy or rent a videocassette . . . film is just too damn expensive . . . the theaters are already planning converting to video projectors.

Jack represents a different way of thinking. He has the ability (thematic issue) to direct “stellar, sexual standouts” but his true desire (thematic counterpoint) lies in making porno films with “stories.” Jack discovers (story driver–action) the next big thing, Dirk’s big thang, and the relationship story throughline sets in motion as each takes a fixed position on what it means to be a director and an actor. The thematic issue of confidence illustrates the positive aspects of their relationship. Jack is certain of Dirk’s value (relationship story catalyst), and this assuredness plays out–making the director amenable to the kid’s ideas—his  own stage name and his own action series (Brock Landers: Angels Live in my Town).

Sweet-natured and trusting (main character symptom), Dirk is a physics character, whose first approach to a problem is to work it out externally (doer). His male mental sex has led him to an environment where he can be “a big, bright, shining star.” An inexperienced (thematic counterpoint) actor, Dirk’s raw skills (thematic issue) are applauded in the adult film world (“Diggler delivers a performance (doing) worth a thousand hard-ons”).

The relationship story concern is explored in the preconscious, where Dirk’s anywhere, anytime, sexual impulses (“I can do it again if you need a close-up”) are filmed under the direction of Jack. The fantasy world Jack fabricates for Dirk eventually inhibits their relationship. Dirk boasts he blocks his own sex shots “. . . and he (Jack) gives me flexibility to work with the character . . .”  His vanity pricked, Jack laughs it off.

Jack’s tolerance (problem of accurate) of Dirk’s escalating ego and cocaine habit reaches its limit, illustrated when Dirk, strung out, screams, “YOU’RE NOT THE BOSS OF ME!” (solution of non-accurate) and Jack immediately fires him (overall story consequence of preconscious).

Anderson deftly indicates how the effects of the objective characters’ individual circumstances create dilemmas for them: the effect Amber Waves’ career choice has on her custody battle (no visiting rights), the effect Little Bill’s wife’s flagrant sexual escapades have on her husband (murder in cold blood), and particularly, the devastating effect Dirk has on Scotty (heart wrenching humiliation).

For Dirk, doing the hustle no longer means choreographed booty shakes—it’s risky street business with ill effects (main character problem). Trapped in a nightmarish parody of his own action films (Guns! Firecrackers! Sister Christian!) Dirk finally realizes he has no other option but to stop his wayward Wonderland course—that only he can be the agent (cause) of his change—a solution shared in the overall story.

Stripped of his pride, a wiser (unique ability) Dirk stumbles back to his Hollywood home. By this time, Jack has resolved his own problem of sticking to the proven method of producing porno on film to successfully using videotape (unproven). Preparing for his next feature with Jack, Dirk’s angst has evaporated (story judgment good). He is cool. He is sexy. He chants to his mirror image—“I’m a star, I’m a star, I’m a star, I’m a star, I’m a star, I’m a big bright shining star”—and karate kicks to the credits.

Pecker

by KE Monahan Huntley

Pecker is a Dramatica grand argument story emanating from John Waters’ weird, yet very real, world. Pecker (main character) is a “snappy go happy—happy go lucky” amateur photographer. His sidekick, and occasional assistant, Matt, is a pro at “five-finger discounts.”

PECKER

Dude, you’re gonna get popped.

MATT

Not me bro—I’m invisible.

Pecker’s girlfriend, Shelley the “stain goddess” (influence character), operates the local laundromat—The Spin n’ Grin.

PECKER

You’re my Venus De Milo.

SHELLEY

You’re crazy. You see art when there’s nothing there.

Pecker’s parents run business ventures that run in the red. His mother’s thrift store outfits the homeless; his father’s dive bar cannot compete with the strip club (overall story focus-temptation) across the way. Little sister Little Chrissy is a sugar maven; big haired big sister Tina bartends at the downtown gay discotheque. Grandmother Memama has a roadside pit beef (!) sandwich stand, and believes her Blessed Mary statue speaks (overall story solution-faith).

Pecker is open (main character unique ability) to the variety of life in and outside of Hampden, a district of Baltimore: “If it wasn’t for you, Peckerman, I’d never know this shit existed.”

To Pecker, “everything always look good” through the lens of his camera.

Pecker has taken pictures all over Baltimore for his first exhibit to be held at the fast-food joint where he works, The Sub Pit.

The fliers he has plastered around town (main character approach-doer) catch the eye of Rorey. She approaches (overall story catalyst) Pecker, checkbook in hand: “Your pictures are amazing. They’re the real thing. . . . I’d love to give you a show in my New York Gallery—if you’d be willing.”

At the opening, Pecker and his “culturally challenged family” are introduced to the New York art world that anoint him: “A brand new art star.” Pecker snaps pics of the chic crowd because: “Life is nothing if you’re not obsessed.”

The family returns to Hampden to find their home burglarized. Rorey encourages him to: “Take pictures, Pecker. This could be your next show. Your dad’s loss. Your mom’s sadness. Get close-ups.” As quickly as the community has embraced Pecker’s fame, they are ready to disown it—and him. The police officer investigating the case admonishes the boy: “What they call art up in New York young man, looks like just plain misery to me.” Shelley entreats him not to: “. . . become (consequence) an asshole, Pecker. I beg of you, do not become an asshole.”

All manners of catastrophes hit. Little Chrissy is put on Ritalin. Matt is caught shoplifting. Tina’s fired. Memama is accused of faking Mary’s miracle. Pecker can no longer take original photos: “I’m trying to get new stuff, but everyone knows me now.” As one potential snapshot subject snaps: “Some people don’t feel like being art.”

When Rorey puts the moves on Pecker (main character focus-temptation), an act witnessed by Shelley—it is the last straw for the photographer (main character response-conscience). Assuring Shelley he loves her “more than Kodak” (relationship story thematic counterpoint-commitment) he turns his back on New York and says: “They can come to me this time . . . I’m going to have my own show right here in Baltimore (mental sex-female).”

Shelley learns (overall story requirement) to appreciate the colors of her world (influence character resolve-change), and the town realizes its favorite son is true blue (main character resolve-steadfast). New York travels to Baltimore by limousine, and Pecker’s “outsider art” is a brilliant success (overall story outcome). All applause for Pecker and “the end of irony.” A newscaster inquires, “So what’s next, Pecker?” To which he replies, “Well. I’m thinking of directing a movie.” (main character concern-future)

Go

Go on a road trip, Go-Go Girls on the Vegas strip.  Take X for the head trip.

In this one night stand of a film, director Doug Liman and Writer John August’s “Ginseng and Dexatrim” fueled skim of L.A.’s surface picks the audience up and we go to Hollywood and Vegas, baby, travelling with outsiders who interact and occasionally intersect with each other in three different stories.

Part one, “Ronna.” originally intended as a short, concerns Ronna Martin, grocery store checkout clerk. Taking Simon’s (protagonist in part two) shift, she’s working the register when Zack and Adam (protagonists in common for part three) come through the line. Facing eviction, opportunity knocks in the guise of a drug deal:

ZACK

Say . . . (checks nametag) Ronna. You don’t know where we could get something to go with this orange juice, do you? . . . something . . . euphoric.

Off the timeclock, Ronna and cohorts Claire and manic Mannie are in the car:

CLAIRE

You know that Simon’s in Vegas.

RONNA

I don’t need Simon. I’m going to Todd.

MANNIE

Todd GAINES?

CLAIRE

Who’s Todd Gaines?

MANNIE

Simon’s dealer. . . . But it’s like an evolutionary leap. You’re moving up the drug food chain. Without permission.

CLAIRE

Ronna, you shouldn’t do this.

RONNA

Both of you just chill the fuck out. It’s just once. When Simon gets back, we can still pay for quarters . . . . But this is my deal, so just sit back and watch.

We all watch as the best laid plans unravel for Ronna. The deal is a set up. Zack and Adam are actors whose backstory is revealed. Recently busted for possession, they must play their part to make the illegal indiscretion go away.

Meanwhile in part two, “Simon,” a British lad, revels in the bright lights and big city of Las Vegas:  champagne, fast women, and a stolen fast car accessorized with a 9mm Beretta:

SIMON

This is why I came here. . . . America is about a man and a gun.

Go is a long, strange trip set to rave music that blares and neon lights that blur. The film features fringe characters that rollick in indiscriminate, illicit behavior. Pop culture references, many particular to L.A., convey much of the humor. As a slice of SoCal 90’s life, Go works extremely well. The film, however, does not appear to let well enough alone. Themes introduced but not explored indicate there might have been something more. For example, the only parent in the film contends:

VICTOR

In the old days, you know how you got to the top (thematic issue-experience)? By being better than the guy ahead of you (thematic counterpoint-skill). How do you people get to the top? By being so fucking incompetent that the guy ahead of you can’t even do his job, he falls on his ass and congratulations, you’re on top.

All this coming from a father who owns a strip joint and employs his son, Vic Jr., as the bouncer. The statement about today’s youth is issued forth but not followed up with a satisfying rebuttal-for or against.

Lack of context does not distract from the fun; however, it does undermine any meaningful thematic assertions Go is attempting to make. Protagonists erratically move the action forward in each story, but no time is allowed for emotional investment.  Concession is given to events that somewhat link the characters in all three stories:

BURKE

It’s all connected. The circle of life.

Not the Disney version, but life in the fast lane that may be extinct by the millennium. The last line uttered–“So. What are we doing New Year’s?”–hints at the pathos of characters who know they are going nowhere. Good times are for the moment only, underscored by the melancholy lyrics,

“Don’t let it go away, this feeling has got to stay . . .” as the credits roll on ”bye.”

Fast forward to 2020.  Watching Go with the millennial Socialites.

The fog rolls and retreats in a tentative, mincing manner.  No shade, no shroud for the ghostly crowd.  Outside, they are no longer allowed.

The parties.

The rowdies.

The “Howdies.”

Confiscated car keys.

“We aim to please.”

They’re such a tease.

“Ho.  Let’s blow.”

The lease is up, but there’s nowhere to Go.

American Beauty

by KEM Huntley

“Welcome to America’s Weirdest Home Videos”—an apt line from American Beauty, director Sam Mendes and screenwriter Alan Ball’s stark art set piece of individual torment and family calamity. Familiar familial territory immediately reminiscent of Ordinary People and The Ice Storm (films that influenced Mendes, Premiere 10/99), American Beauty is a Dramatica grand argument story that compels us to “look closer” at pain and mundane, and life will reveal the spectacular.

INANITY

Main character Lester Burnham recounts in voice-over: “I’m forty-two-years old. In less than a year, I’ll be dead. In a way, I’m dead already. . . Both my wife and daughter think I’m this gigantic loser (overall story problem-perception). And they’re right (main character problem-perception). I’ve lost something very important. I’m not exactly sure what it is, but I know I didn’t always feel this . . . sedated (main character focus-inertia). But you know what? It’s never too late to get it back” (main character growth-start).

At Lester’s ad agency, it has been decided (overall story driver) that: “. . . everyone write a job description, mapping out in detail how they contribute. That way, management can assess who’s valuable and who’s ‘expendable'” (overall story concern conceptualizing). Lester objects (main character approach-do-er) to this “fascist” order (overall story focus), Wife Carolyn, a study in glacial ambition, asserts: “There is no decision. Just write the damn thing! . . . you don’t want to be unemployed” (overall story direction-chaos).

Lester sulkily attends daughter Jane’s high school dance performance with Carolyn: “What makes you so sure she wants us to be there? Did she ask us to come? . . . I’m missing the James Bond marathon on TNT.”

Jane’s best friend and fellow “Dancing Pantherette” Angela Hayes (allusion to Nabokov’s Lolita Haze?) catapults Lester out of his malaise: “I feel like I’ve been in a coma for about twenty years (main character concern-past), and I’m just now waking up” (main character growth-start), priming him for impact character Ricky Fitts.

Apathetically escorting Carolyn to a realtor’s function: “Lester, listen to me. This is important . . . as you know, my business is selling an image (overall story problem-perception) . . . do me a favor and act happy” (overall story benchmark-being).  Lester is approached by Ricky, a waiter in the hotel:

RICKY
I’m Ricky Fitts. I just moved into the house next to you . . . Hey, do you party? (relationship story concern-doing).

LESTER
I’m sorry?

RICKY
Do you get high?

Lester’s surprised, but instantly intrigued . . .  Ricky and Lester stand next to a dumpster behind the service entrance to the hotel, smoking a JOINT (relationship story thematic issue-senses) . . .  Suddenly . . . a serious young MAN in a cheap suit peers out at them. Ricky hides the joint.

MAN
(to Ricky)

Look. I’m not paying you to . . . (eyes Lester suspiciously) . . . do whatever it is you’re doing out here (relationship story catalyst-interpretation).

RICKY
Fine. Don’t pay me . . .  I quit (impact character driver-change). Now, leave me alone.

LESTER
I think you just became my personal hero (relationship story concern-understanding). Doesn’t that make you nervous, just quitting your job like that?

RICKY
. . . I just do these gigs every now and then as a cover. . .  But my dad (impact character domain-mind) interferes a lot less in my life when I pretend (overall story benchmark-being) to be an upstanding young citizen with a respectable job (overall story problem-perception).

Like all the objective characters in American Beauty, Ricky has his own agenda (overall story domain-psychology). Taking Jane in with an ardent video gaze, he is captivated:

JANE
What is it?

ANGELA
It’s that psycho next door. . .

JANE
I bet he’s filming us right now.

Voyeurism and exhibitionism loop, as through the camera lens Ricky seeks out Jane from his bedroom window:

On VIDEO: We’re across from Jane’s window, peering in. Jane tries to shut the drapes, but Angela won’t let her. Irritated, Jane retreats into the room. We ZOOM toward her, even as Angela poses in the window, waving, but we’re clearly not interested in Angela. The ZOOM continues, searching for Jane . . . Finally, we settle on the full-length MIRROR on the open closet door, where we see a REFLECTION of Jane . . .  She’s smiling.

Lester continues to be directed by change: “It’s a great thing to realize you still have the ability to surprise yourself. Makes you wonder what else you can do that you’ve forgotten about . . .”

He meets Ricky’s father, Colonel Frank Fitts, U.S. Marine Corps, a man locked in a perpetual vise grip of impotent rage, and always suspicious (impact character thematic counterpoint) of what goes on in his son’s life. Immoral and/or illegal:

RICKY
. . . G-13 . . . genetically engineered by the U.S. Government. Extremely potent. But a completely mellow high, no paranoia. . . Two grand.

LESTER
. . . Well, now I know how you can afford all this equipment. When I was your age, I worked at McDonald’s all summer just to buy an eight track. . .  it was probably the best time of my life (main character concern-past).

RICKY
My dad thinks I paid for all this with catering jobs. Never underestimate the power of denial (overall story inhibitor-senses).

Lester and Carolyn’s marriage is another relationship on trial:

CAROLYN
This is not a marriage.

LESTER
This hasn’t been a marriage for years. But you were perfectly happy as long as I kept my mouth shut. Well, guess what? I’ve changed (main character direction).

The vicissitudes include Lester quitting his job (after blackmailing his boss for a sweet severance package), hiring on at a fast food restaurant, and indulging in adolescent fantasies (overall story dividend-the past). Incensed, Carolyn relieves her stress by bopping Leonard Kane-The Real Estate King-and obsessively shooting a “Glock 19” automatic revolver at the local firing range.

Ricky confides his fierce obsession to Jane: “I knew there was this entire life behind things, and . . . this incredibly benevolent force, that wanted me to know there was no reason to be afraid. Ever. Video’s a poor excuse. But it helps remember . . . and I need to remember . . .” (impact character concern-memory.

Ricky must recall all instances of beauty to survive as the only child of a desensitized (overall story inhibitor-senses) mother and militaristic father:

COLONEL
You need structure, you need discipline (impact character focus-order).

INSANITY

Ultimately, the fairytale of an American family (overall story goal-conceptualizing) fractures(outcome-failure):

LESTER
Remember those posters that said, “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.”  Well, that’s true of every day except one. The day you die.

A day of cataclysmic decisions.

Colonel Fitts misinterprets (relationship story thematic counterpoint) the relationship between Lester and Ricky as homosexual. An avowed homophobic, he brutally evicts his son from their home. The Colonel is only repressing his own feelings (overall story solution-actuality). Unpredictably (main character thematic issue) he kisses Lester on the mouth. Lester compassionately rebuffs his advances, unaware of the impossible circumstances (overall story catalyst) in which the Colonel now (overall story forewarnings-present) finds himself.

Ricky asks Jane to run away with him:

RICKY
If I had to leave tonight, would you come with me? If I went to New York. To live. Tonight. Would you come with me?

JANE
Yes.

Angela, alienated from Jane and Ricky, is determined to follow through with her seductive promise to Lester. Until:

ANGELA
This is my first time (overall story solution-actuality).

Reality check (main character solution-actuality). Lester decides not to deflower this American beauty (main character resolve-change).

Morality gives way to mortality. The Colonel silently returns and takes a gun to Lester. Carolyn, arriving on the scene, gathers Lester’s empty suits in her arms, understanding (overall story consequence) the husband she so contemptuously dismissed, is really gone (limit-optionlock).

HUMANITY

Lester takes his demise philosophically:

LESTER
. . . it’s hard to stay mad when there’s so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I’m seeing it all at once (main character mental sex-female), and it’s too much, my heart fills up like a balloon that’s about to burst . . . and then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it, and then it flows through me like rain and I can’t feel anything but gratitude for every single moment (main character judgement-good) of my stupid little life . . .

A life of artifice and the ordinary redeemed by an appreciation for the extraordinary.

NOTE: Since the time of this article’s publication, it has been determined that the storyform presented above was inaccurate in regard to one key story point: the Main Character’s Problem-Solving Style (now Linear).

Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?

by KEM Huntley

“Want to see it again little girl? It shouldn’t frighten you.” The opening scene of a crying Jack in the Box toy forebodes the strangeness yet to come.

Director Robert Aldrich and writer Lukas Heller’s What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (based on a novel by Henry Farrell), is classic horror saved from camp by its fine performances. The story of sibling rivalry gone mad necessitates the highly wrought performances from its lead actresses, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. The sparse supporting cast play their individual parts with enough verve to make them memorable, yet with the restraint required to allow two of Hollywood’s Grande Dames fued.

In 1917, Baby Jane Hudson (main character) is a wildly popular child song and dance act on the vaudeville circuit. Tyrannical behind the scenes, her heart belongs to daddy and her earnings support the show business family. “I want an ice cream. . . . I want it! I make the money so I can have what I want.”

Mother understands (overall story consequence) Jane’s stardom will be short lived, and the real talent lies in big sister Blanche (impact character).

MOTHER

You’re the lucky one Blanche, really you are. Someday it’s going to be you that’s getting all the attention (impact character benchmark-future). And when that happens, I want you to try to be kinder to Jane and your father than they are to you now. . . . I hope you’ll try and remember that (overall story dividend-memory).

Bitterly, Blanche replies: “I won’t forget. You bet I won’t forget!”

Cut to 1935. Baby Jane is a B movie actress.  Blanche, “the biggest thing in movies today.” Blanche has the clout to insist (impact character unique ability-interdiction) Jane receive film work—much to the chagrin of the industry:

PROJECTIONIST 1

When the old man hired the Hudson sisters, how come he had to hire the back end of the act too? Boy, what a no-talent broad that Baby Jane is.

PROJECTIONIST 2

Why can’t she stay sober?

Later, a studio head remarks: “She [Blanche] ought to have sense (relationship story thematic issue) enough to know that she can’t make a star out of Baby Jane again.”

Up to this point, enough information is given to provide backstory for the sisters’ twisted relationship. The next scene is an automobile pulling up to the Hudson residence—one sister opens the gate, the other attempts to run her down (story driver-action). A shriek and a sob and the credits open the film to present day.

Blanche is bound physically to a wheelchair (impact character domain-universe); Jane bound emotionally to her sister by guilt (relationship story domain-physics). They live as recluses with intermittent household help. Nosy Parker neighbor comments: “How come we never see her [Blanche] around? We’ve been living next door (overall thematic issue-situation) for six months now, and the only one I ever see is that fat sister slouching around. Don’t they ever have company? . . . Julie says that sister is kind of peculiar (main character thematic issue-suspicion). . . she’s supposed to be (overall problem-perception) responsible for the accident that crippled her sister Blanche.”

The local television station is broadcasting (impact character signpost 1-present) Blanche’s classic films (impact character concern-past), an event that pleases her, yet raises Jane’s ire (relationship story symptom-self-aware; overall story catalyst-circumstances). A vitriolic alcoholic (overall story symptom-chaos), Jane’s increasing jealousy (main character benchmark-subconscious) and strange behavior (overall story domain-psychology) is cause for Elvira, the Hudson’s’ housekeeper, to prod Blanche to sell the house and conceptualize (overall story goal) a way to put Jane “where they can look after her properly.”

BLANCHE

We’ll probably have to sell the house.

JANE

When did our business manager tell you all this?

BLANCHE

Early last week, I think.

JANE

. . . Oh you’re a liar. You’re just a liar! You always were (impact character solution-actuality). . . . Don’t you think I know everything that goes on in this house (relationship story response-aware)? . . . Blanche, you aren’t ever going to sell this house (relationship story inhibitor-destiny).

Jane, furious, disconnects Blanche’s bedroom telephone (relationship story thematic issue-senses) and serves up a dead pet bird for lunch.

Determined (main character domain-mind) to make a comeback (main character critical flaw-sense of self), Jane places an ad in the personals to hire a musical accompanist. She equivocates to Elvira to keep her out of the way—and away from interfering with Blanche:

JANE

You can have the whole day off.

ELVIRA

Well thanks, but does . . . Miss Blanche know about my taking the day off?

JANE

Oh sure, she knows (overall story inhibitor-falsehood).

Jane receives her gentleman caller garishly made up and dressed in ghastly Baby Jane apparel. Edwin, a musician and mama’s boy, is a bit of a con artist (overall story signpost 3-being). Financial circumstances (overall story catalyst) have compelled him to answer Jane’s ad. He overlooks Jane’s bizarre behavior-intent on following his own agenda (overall story concern-psychology).

JANE

I’m Baby Jane Hudson.

EDWIN

(Taken aback. He obviously has no clue who she is. He makes a quick recovery.)

Oh. Do you mean you’re really the Baby Jane Hudson?

JANE

Yes I am. And I’m going to revive my act exactly as I used to do it. Of course some of the arrangements will have to be brought up to date. Music changes (main character problem) so much, doesn’t it? . . . There are a lot of people who remember me (main character concern-memory). Lots of them.

While Jane is out with Edwin, Blanche crawls downstairs to telephone the doctor. Jane catches her in the act, overhearing Blanche inform Dr. Shelby her sister is “emotionally disturbed.” Jane calls him back, impersonating Blanche (main character approach-be-er), to put the doctor’s mind at ease (overall outcome-failure).

The women’s relationship deteriorates further when Jane bashes Elvira over the head. Jane trusses Blanche up and gags her mouth (relationship story thematic issue-senses). Blanche’s last link to humanity is Edwin. Now a frequent visitor, his mother’s recounting of the Hudson sisters’ scandal does not deter him from playing along with Baby Jane. Once he (overall solution) sees Blanche, dying from dehydration and starvation, he runs out (overall symptom-chaos), a weak, drunk, and frightened man.

(Or was it the lifelike, genuine Baby Jane doll that scared him off?)

Jane believes “he’s gone to tell” (main character thematic counterpoint-evidence) and bundles Blanche off into the car—heading for the beach (relationship story signpost 4-doing). Lying on the sand, near death, Blanche confesses to Jane (impact character resolve-change):

BLANCHE

Jane, I made you waste your whole life thinking you’d crippled me (relationship story problem-perception). . . . You didn’t do it Jane. I did it myself. Don’t you understand (relationship story concern)? I crippled myself. You weren’t driving that night. . . . You were too drunk. . . . You’d been so cruel to me . . . I wanted to run you down—crush you. But you saw the car coming. I hit the gates. I snapped my spine.

JANE

You mean, all this time we could have been friends? (relationship story solution-actuality)

The police then catch up to insane Baby Jane, dancing on the sand, strawberry ice cream in hand (main character resolve-steadfast; main character judgment-good).