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My Leading Man by David Wanczyk

My Leading Man by David Wanczyk

Drama, Vol. 5.1, March 2011

ACT ONE

EXT. DRIVEWAY – DAY

A young MAN walks with an umbrella, accompanied by a WOMAN in a long coat. It is cold. We see them as dots slowly approaching the camera as they converse.

MAN

Shouldn’t we expect more?

Every beginning deserves a tracking shot. One that sets a record for length, as if Robert Altman followed us on our doorway walk down a mile-long driveway during magic hour. It is dawn. It is cold.

WOMAN

I’m happy right here with you.

She is happy right here with him. She trips on a pebble and has to stop to tie her shoe.

MAN

See, there. You tripped.

He’s not cynical about imperfection, but he could do with less of it.

WOMAN

Yes, yes I did.

She knows he struggles to communicate whatever it is he’s thinking about; he’s prone to this type of yearning for a vague “more.” She wonders about him sometimes, whether he is happy with her as she is.

MAN

Why? Why can’t we have a flawless day? Just once?

WOMAN

Because we’re not in a movie.

MAN

But we could be. Today we could have at our disposal the cast and crew from an old studio. Say, RKO.

WOMAN

Would we be in the movie?

MAN

Yes.

They keep walking. The sun rises. The shot widens and the business of a movie set carries on quietly around them. We see a stray man with a boom mic.

MAN

(to boom mic man)

We should not see you.

(angrily)

Why are you in the shot?

He is over-dramatic, an over-analyzer. He likes to watch frame by frame. Some days he feels like he is in a movie. And on those days, we all say the right things.

WOMAN

Calm down. You asked for him.

She knows MAN wants more, wants to sing and tap dance. The studio would applaud him, the masses would applaud him. He would feel real.

MAN

I didn’t write him in.

WOMAN

Yes you did. The director interpreted what you said about being in a movie and added some extras.

MAN

NO. You’re missing the point. I write it. I direct it.

WOMAN

Oh really? And I suppose you’d like me to be your starlet of the week. Which boa would you like me to wear, Mister Director, sir?

Boo-boo-bee-do.

A SIBERIAN HUSKY runs up and bites MAN.

MAN

Ouch!

WOMAN

I wrote that in and I’m the co-director.

MAN

That was the idea all along. We make the movie together. You are the perfect scene.

WOMAN

I wrote that too.

They tacitly agree to stop writing lines for each other and WOMAN controls the HUSKY. They keep walking. It is, after all, cold.

MAN

Maybe we couldn’t live with that type of intensity, but today I just. . . Line.

Take two.

MAN

Maybe we couldn’t live with that type of intensity, but today I just want to be scripted, to use only one take and get it right.

I feel the same way. Today I want to choose between technicolor and black and white, be auto-pilot right because I.A.L. Diamond wrote my words. I’d sound off on sound-stage. I would be perfect in drawl with a well-cast co-star, in an unending fifth act.

But this is a script about a man unlike myself, and, look here, I’ve co-opted his screen-time. Tip of the cap to you, MAN.

MAN

See, the writer knows.

WOMAN

The writer knows what? I thought you were the writer.

MAN

Well I is and I isn’t.

He begins to sound like 1942. He is a newspaper MAN, a savvy MAN-about-town. He is a man’s MAN.

MAN

That’s the ticket, ticket-wise.

There are moments, he thinks, that have required soundtracks. And yet they’ve gone unaccompanied. Pies in the face without slide whistles. Deaths without organ.

A comedy should be a comedy. A tragedy should be a tragedy.

He wants moments in all their glory, perfectly lit, perfectly framed.

But what’s my objective?

WOMAN

May I speak to the scene description?

MAN

See here. It’s highly unusual. And, therefore, yes.

(to an invisible operator)

Gladys. Get the lady klondike-5-9282. She wants to ring the scribbler.

WOMAN

(taking phone)

Hello up there. What do you mean by “a comedy should be a comedy,” young man?

I mean that I want to feel a consistent tone about the picture. I want to control by understanding, slow down the reel, turn into my close-up like Burt Lancaster, like ecstasy. Suddenly, and for good, to be outside myself with company.

WOMAN

That may never happen, son.

Wait, aren’t you the same age as me?

WOMAN

Yes, but I’m in black-and-white right now and therefore wise.

She has a point. And she seems to be understanding MAN’s desire for more. But what’s my objective?

MAN runs toward the camera, Gloria Swanson in London Fog.

MAN

Can anyone hear? Do you see what I mean. Does no one understand?

He leans in close because he needs to communicate. LOUD, HAUNTING MUSIC. Sensing a feeling of panic in MAN, I want to help him help us understand. He does not connect. The MUSIC is too loud. He shouts.

MAN (cont’d)

Man continued. Every day. The same. Man continued.

(to woman)

Must everything be imperfect?

ANGLE ON WOMAN

We see her mouth up-close. That mouth. It crinkles, the lips thin and graceful. She is imperfection, lovely.

WOMAN

(hurt)

My leading MAN.

The actors pause to acknowledge the title of the film. In a long shot we see the two on opposite sides of the screen. She is higher, up a hill. He turns to speak to her.

MAN

I have never given the same energy to real life that Brando gave to a role. When have I, sultry and tortured, shouted any name toward a balcony? Moments came, the spliced-together episodes which could have made a decent B-picture romance, and I mostly walked away. I’d like to see again and redirect. Take it from a different angle. Try a new filter. Recut it. RECUT it.

I love a woman, wish I loved her more, wish we could sip suggestively from the same glass, wish we TANGOED like a Hayes Code metaphor.

WOMAN

Didn’t you say we had RKO’s stars?

MAN

That I did.

WOMAN

Well that means Ginger Rogers.

And I can be your Fred Astaire, see? You knew that was coming. We wrote each other’s lines! We might need a second take, but we will make it perfect. Tomorrow we walk off the set, Gene Kelly and his lucky star, Cary and Kate, you and I, imperfect with thin lips in the cold.

MAN

That’s a wrap.

WOMAN

Not quite.

They dance together, tripping over a pebble and we all

FADE OUT

ACT TWO

EXT. DRIVEWAY – DAY

We see WOMAN and MAN. From another angle. They are dancing as music swells.

WOMAN

Hold on. What comes next?

The music stops. A pause.

MAN

THE END and a rewind. Nothing comes after an ending.

WOMAN

But are we still on screen? Who’s the director?

MAN

You’re the director of what you see. . .

WOMAN

And you’re the director of what you see? We’re projectors?

MAN

If you will. You’re my star, I’m yours, and so it goes. In a way, your perception of what I do. . .

WOMAN

What?

MAN

Well, if you think what I’m doing is romantic, isn’t it?

He is mad at himself for espousing a “perception is reality” philosophy. Dramatically, this is none-too-compelling.

WOMAN

So it doesn’t matter what we do as much as how it’s viewed?

He knows this isn’t quite it. He fights with himself, contradictory maxims flashing through his head like captions.

MAN

Precisely.

It depends on how you look at it.

WOMAN

But aren’t we more like cameras than directors? Don’t we take in what’s real without necessarily changing it?

It is what it is.

MAN laughs. He begins speaking as if in THE MALTESE FALCON.

MAN

She walked into my office. Took my breath and a cigarette. A tough dame with a question to match.

WOMAN

So I says to this Dick, I says, “See here. . .”

MAN

Now you’re speaking my language, dame, but your camera idea’s as screwy as a toolbox.

WOMAN

But isn’t it your goal to be seen and to see in a perfect way, objectively somehow?

MAN

And to have you see me as more than I am. At the top of the Empire State Building, maybe.

WOMAN

At midnight?

MAN

No. Midnight’s played. I’d prefer the hour when clocks get set back.

WOMAN

Two o’clock suddenly one?

MAN

Yeah, that’s it.

They reset their time. The forties fade.

MAN (cont’d)

She wonders what I wonder. How do we create ourselves through the lens of another person? Who controls our love? Who has final cut?

WOMAN

So, if I’m a camera. . .

He looks at her closely, waiting for her argument. He gazes. How does he see her? He taps his umbrella.

WOMAN (cont’d)

Listen. Andre Bazin wrote, “The photographic image is the object itself, the object freed from the conditions of time and space.”

MAN tries to make this moment a memory as it happens. Blinks his eyes to capture the image.

WOMAN (cont’d)

When I see you, I’m filming essence without the clutter.

MAN is two-dimensional for a moment, a flat image speaking.

MAN

(flatly denying)

But the image is nothing if not artifice.

He regains his width.

MAN

(with vigor)

If you’re a camera, you collect façades of me.

WOMAN

And how are you different, director, projector, objectifier? Aren’t you letting your imagination take me over?

MAN

I don’t know, but someone’s watching us.

From the forest lining the driveway, ANDRÉ BAZIN, 95, walks toward MAN and WOMAN. He carries an old-fashioned camera, cranks it.

MAN (cont’d)

Can we help you?

Bazin parle en soutitres Anglais.

BAZIN

Thank you, yes. Be holy, please.

MAN

Excuse me.

(to woman)

Did you bring him. . . ?

WOMAN

I thought he could help us.

BAZIN

Continue. Please look directly at each other. Be silent. What I see through the camera is untainted by perception. Though I will

perceive the resulting image, I will know there’s inherent truth in it. A processed truth, but separate from my imagination.

MAN and WOMAN stare at each other, cannot look away. Try this. I look to you, feel adored, threatened. Look at me. A holy moment.

WOMAN

I feel like we’re dreaming.

MAN

I feel more awake than ever! We’re new every second.

And they are: colored-in, enhanced versions of themselves.

WOMAN

We’re more real than real. Animated, photographed, loved.

We are

MAN

Expressionistic.

MAN’s face contorts. He grows taller. All is SKEWED. He thinks anything can happen. IT DOES. His umbrella begins to walk. They are in a CARTOON.

WOMAN

Fantasia. Do you see? You wanted perfection, but that didn’t mean less real.

It meant more real, heightened.

JUMP CUT: A freeze-frame kiss.

MAN

To me, a movie is perfection in twenty-fourth of a second slices.

Not quite real. To you and Andre, the film is reality, the real on the reel, unconcealed.

MONTAGE – REALITY

—Freeze-frame kiss.

—Siberian husky.

—Film dangling off reel.

—A choir singing.

—Gyroscope

—Post-WWII kissing photograph.

WOMAN

Can’t reality be perfect, if only for a minute?

MAN

(anguished)

NO!

The cartoon ends and the driveway becomes a battlefield. MAN and WOMAN in a BATTLE scene: shrapnel, trenches, the sound of explosions.

MAN (cont’d)

Reality CANNOT equal perfection. I refuse to accept that!

BAZIN jumps into the trench. He is wounded badly, but stares directly at MAN. He has no camera, but continues the cranking motion.

BAZIN

What you see is the only way life could be. Perfect. We are engaged in the creation of an ideal world in the likeness of the real.

He pulls the pin on a grenade, throws it, ducks. MUSIC.

BAZIN

Tell everyone back home. . .

The music pauses. . .

BAZIN (cont’d)

This is how I wanted it to end.

. . .Swells.

MAN

I will, Sarge. I will. God bless you.

BAZIN

(dying)

God reveals himself in the image. . .

{The din of the war goes silent. WOMAN crawls into trench. Am I creating MAN and WOMAN and BAZIN and GOD in my own image?

Before he died, BAZIN wrote that receiving through a camera allows us to form the world automatically, without creative intervention. Can I do anything without intervening, without dominance? Or am I a renderer of artifice? How do I reveal myself?}

WOMAN

Keep your pants on, MAN. I’m here and I see you.

MAN

God, I thought I’d lost you. The cartoon. The war. What a grotesque reality.

WOMAN

And a brutally lovely one.

MAN

Kiss me.

They are on a beach, Lancaster and Kerr, ideal, eternal.

They touch, coming closer. They’ve waited for this for so long.

ANGLE ON COUPLE

WOMAN

(an inch from his lips)

So here we are at another ending.

MAN

(an inch from her lips)

You’re the projector. Put an end to endings.

They rise and begin to sing.

MAN and WOMAN

We’re Singin’ in the rain. Just Singin’ in the rain.

MAN

I’ve had my umbrella all along!

WOMAN

Perfection unexpected.

FADE OUT

ACT III

IRIS-IN:

WOMAN

What just happened? Where are we?

The eye has closed on them. MAN stretches the black screen like PORKY PIG, doesn’t want to be blotted out.

MAN (anguished, as usual).

NO!

IRIS-OUT:

Perfection is a risk.

MAN and WOMAN find themselves in a SILENT FILM. They speed up. They gesticulate. And touch UNSURE.

Hold there. Indefinitely. MAN and WOMAN freed from the conditions of time and space, framed as a title card. As language.

So perfect.

FADING OUT:

AN AFTERIMAGE of MAN and WOMAN visible in the resulting black screen.

AN AFTERIMAGE of MAN and WOMAN suspended.

MAN

(still, one inch from her lips)

Is there such a thing as a shared happy ending?

WOMAN

(still, one inch from his lips)

If we remember it that way. If someone takes a picture.

MAN

Is this happiness? This darkness.

 

THE END

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