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).