by Steven Boone (part of the Close-Up blog-a-thon)
I am in love with Cabiria, a woman who does not exist. How did this happen? A few clues:
1.) Federico Fellini's masterpiece is not the phantasmic 8 1/2 or the flashy La Dolce Vita. It's Nights of Cabiria (1957), his modest, eloquent film about a woman looking everywhere for love and what can only be described as God's grace. She finds it in small, ecstatic moments but is slow to recognize it.
2.) Fellini gives us a character that virtually no one in the world of the film takes seriously, appreciates or even likes. Cabiria is a short, loud, testy street prostitute. But through the camera lens and Giulietta Masina's performance, she's the most adorable, precious thing on earth. Whatever she does for a living, the film makes it indisputable that she's a good, guileless soul.
3.) Critics tend to focus on how Masina's broadly emotive performance is an homage to Chaplin and the great silents, but she takes Cabiria to a place of naked desperation that even Erich von Stroheim never reached.
4.) Whenever Fellini wants to give us a cheat-sheet glimpse into Cabiria's heart, he goes to a medium close-up. Only at the very end does he unleash one of the deadliest tight close-ups in cinema.
5.) While most films associate "sexy" with hostility, narcissism, chic nihilism, high fashion, sculpted beauty and cheap romance, Cabiria's sexiness flows directly from her compassion and sensitivity.
Fellini: "Cabiria is a victim, and any of us can be a victim at one time or another. Cabiria is, however, more of a victim personality than most. Yet even so, there is also the survivor in her. This film doesn’t have a resolution in the sense that there is a final scene in which the story reaches a conclusion so definitive that you no longer have to worry about Cabiria. I myself have worried about her fate ever since."
Sunday, October 07, 2007
by Steven Boone
I believe that nothing should be written (or at least shared) that isn't bursting to get out, like the baby alien in Alien. That accounts for why months go by here without a new post. But since a lot more folks are linking to this page now, it seems a waste not to post more frequently. In that spirit, let me share stuff that's a little more personal.
Two years ago, I wrote and began shooting a short comedy about going on a job interview. It reflected my state of mind at the time: With the war overseas and the living dead status of so many of my neighbors, the world seemed overrun with killers, thieves and corpses. I felt like I was in a new minority of people who didn't have a taste for blood. I felt alone.
We shot only a few scenes before I lost interest. The script is not good, and I knew it then. But it was bursting to get out, and that gives it enough value for me to share it with you here.
A Good Job
short screenplay by
HAWK, a young black man, hovers over a tangle of wires, circuit boards, connectors and metal parts. He is soldering two flimsy strips of metal together. Smoke curls up from the melting solder in thin spirals.
A RADIO talk show is playing constantly in the background. The dude on the radio is saying things like:
In a Massachusetts school, seventy-three disabled children were spoon-fed oatmeal laced with radioactive isotopes.
In an upstate New York hospital, an eighteen-year-old woman, believing she was being treated for a pituitary disorder, was injected with plutonium.
At a Tennessee clinic, 829 pregnant women were served "vitamin cocktails" containing radioactive iron, as part of their regular treatment.
These are just some of the secret human radiation experiments that the U.S. government conducted on unsuspecting Americans for decades as part of its atom bomb program.
All the while, Hawk works silently, not reacting to the radio or, really, anything that isn’t sitting before him on the work table.
He takes up a satchel and delicately tilts it over the mouth of a narrow cylinder. A grainy brown powder slides down into the tube. When it is nearly full, he covers the opening with strips of duct tape to create a smooth, flat cover; pricks a small hole in the center of it.
He bares his teeth, bites down gently on a piece of wire to strip off some insulation. The exposed wire tips are frayed, so he twists them into a tight braid and runs them down into the tube. Covers the whole thing with more tape.
The RADIO keeps going:
A theme restaurant for cats (the Meow Mix Cafe) opened in New York City in August, allowing owners to dine with their kitties and eat similar dishes ("Deep Sea Delight" mackerel for felines, tuna rolls for humans). No dogs are allowed, and visitors' catnip must be checked at the door.
Some time later. Hawk is in a dress shirt, tying a tie in the mirror. He suddenly smiles at himself—a real toothy, kindergarten kind of cheese. But his eyes are dead.
In Thailand, prostitutes spread knockout drugs on their breasts like paraffin on a surfboard. But hookers don't have degrees in anesthesiology, and sometimes the john pays a high price. In the Thai resort town of Pattaya alone, some 50 foreign tourists died of cardiac arrest after allegedly sucking nipples spiked with the so-called date rape drug Rohypnol, according to the Bangkok Post.
Finally, Hawk’s eyes come alive. He busts out laughing.
Hawk is serious again. He slips on a suit jacket and reaches down for a black case. His first lazy attempt at lifting it fails; he pulls a little harder, and this time the case, which looks light, goes with him.
A SIGN with breezy, almost utopian graphics and a futuristic font:
PERLE CENTER FOR UBRAN ENTERPRISE
Black to the Future
INT. CONFERENCE ROOM.
A Human Resources woman (LINDA) and a male manager (BOB) face us, smiling, nodding. They are both well-dressed, and both black. The young woman is clearly trendier than the older man—she could work at VIBE or something. The older man looks like a scholarly, well-groomed Jazz intellectual, like Wynton Marsalis or Stanely Crouch. He has a playful demeanor, but with a slight edge that says, “Don’t bring me no bullshit.”
Well, I’m gonna let Bob take the reins from here, to give you the specs and whatnot.
Thank you, Linda. Well, in a nutshell, we are a
bunch of tough muthas. When people think of
black conservatives, they think of a bunch of
feeble Uncle Toms. Even I did, at one point.
He is addressing Hawk, who sits across the table from them.
No, sir, I can’t say I ever did.
You’re a better man than me. I thought people like Thomas Sowell or Alan Keyes were just trying to sell us up the river, but it took some growing up for me to learn that these guys got it right. Not Uncle Toms, but American heroes. The future belongs to us.
Bob studies Hawk for a moment. Hawk glances over at Linda and smiles. She almost blushes.
Alright, let’s get down to the nitty. Your writing is damn good. It leaps off the page. Why are you here? You can make much more money writing for one of them pants-dragging-around-the-ass hip-hop magazines or some TV show.
Well, as I said, those kinds of things don’t reflect my values. Look at me. Are my pants dragging off my ass? I’m a young dude, yeah, but do I watch TV? Hardly. It makes my stomach turn.
Bob tries hard to keep his smile under control. He likes this kid. But, back to business:
Yours would be one of the few paid positions here. We have mostly volunteers. They do it because they believe.
And that’s why I would do it. But, Bob, a brother gotta eat too, right?
Bob looks at Linda and laughs. She joins in.
Yeah, a brother do gotta eat. (pause) Well, the work here is mainly writing press releases and speeches. We give you the facts and figures, you turn it into a stunning piece of oratory, or reportage, as the case may be.
Quick, who was the 29th president of the United States?
Warren G. Harding.
Who was Rosa Luxemburg?
Marxist socialist revolutionary, born 1870.
What is string theory?
The theory that the universe is composed of one-dimensional extended objects rather than minute particles.
Now, I don’t know the answer to none of that shit. Is he right?
Linda laughs and shrugs.
You have a G.E.D. and a certificate in refrigerator repair. How is it you sound so educated?
A little spare time, a lot of books…
Self-taught. Most of my heroes are self-taught.
Bob, don’t think I’m comfortable with that. I want this job so bad partly ‘cause I have a feeling it will motivate me to get back on the college track.
He’s got all the right answers, don’t he?
INT. OFFICE CORRIDOR.
A while later. Bob shows Hawk to the door.
We’re interviewing a few more this week, so let me fair about it and get back to you later this week.
They shake hands.
Hawk heads down an empty hall and, when he finds a bathroom door, looks around warily. He ducks into the bathroom.
INT. MEN’S ROOM.
The bathroom is empty. He locks the door and goes into the single stall.
He opens his briefcase and pulls out a bundle of cylinders—the kind he was assembling in his apartment.
Crouching at the toilet, he slips the bundle behind the bowl, underneath the tank. A small electronic counter is attached to the back of the bundle. He presses a button on its side, and the counter starts running: 30:00, 30:59, 30:58, 30:57….
When he has it hidden squarely behind the bowl, he gets up and leaves.
Hawk walks out of the building, passing a sign on the front lawn: PERLE CENTER FOR URBAN ENTERPRISE.
He crosses the street to go sit on a park bench facing the twelve-story building.
A WOMAN sits there reading a magazine.
What you reading there?
She doesn’t respond, her head stuck in the magazine.
It’s an entertainment glossy. Pictures of soap opera stars, Ashley Judd, J. Lo, etc.
Oh, I’m sorry. What you say? (pause ) That’s a nice suit.
It’s a little early for lunch. All dressed up.
Huh? Aw, no I’m not working anywhere. I just had an interview.
Nah. Killing. Pure killing machine.
I’m tired of being left out. I want in. Feels like I’m the only one left.
How do you get a job as a killer?
I have no idea. Ask me when—if—I get the job.
Who will you have to kill?
Black people, poor people…
Sounds like an easy job. Benefits?
Medical, dental, life.
You don’t believe me. Sometimes, to make the world better, you have to kill some people, even if they did no wrong. They’ll be rewarded in the afterlife. Bottom line is, you have to do some evil to achieve a lot of good.
Yeah, yeah. But what’s the job, for real?
I have to write speeches and press releases for a public policy research group.
The readout on the counter: 14:25… 14:24…. 14:23…
The conversation continues:
Thank you. Talking all this foolishness about killing. Look like you couldn’t hurt a fly.
Well, killing ain’t just what you do with a knife and a gun.
How is it you’d be killing folks by writing speeches?
You know what? I’m not sitting here staring into those pretty eyes so I can talk about work. What’s your name?
Marie. What do you do, Marie?
And what do you like to do?
A man comes into the bathroom to use the urinal.
I like music. I like to go out on weekends. I like to travel.
What kind of music?
I’ve been to Cancun, and Hawaii, and Jamaica, where my peoples are from.
That sounds real nice.
I want to go to Europe.
Anywhere in particular?
No. The whole country looks nice when they show it on TV.
Hawk glances over and sees…
…across the street, a man entering the building with a baby in his arms.
Hawk’s smile fades a little.
I don’t know. Maybe I’m a little jealous. I wish I could go somewhere nice.
Like you can’t?
He stares off in the distance, ignoring her.
He gets up and starts walking across the street.
A guy goes into the stall where Hawk’s bomb is planted and shuts the door.
Hawk enters the lobby, starts jogging to the elevators.
As the elevator goes up, he hammers the 5th FLOOR button, shifting on his feet.
A moment later. The doors open at the 5th FLOOR, and Hawk bumps into BOB.
Hey, man. I told you I’d have what I owe you on payday!
Bob laughs at his own corny joke.
I forgot something….
He rushes past Bob.
Hawk rushes in to find the stall door closed. A pair of feet visible below the door.
The man in the stall is groaning, cursing softly to himself.
Hawk looks at his watch.
THE BOMB COUNTER: 05:15, 05:14, 05:13…
Hawk goes to the mirror and looks at himself:
He looks nauseous. His eyes are wild, his forehead drenched in sweat.
Hey, man! How long you gonna be!
MAN IN STALL
…the fuck! I just got in here!
It’s been fifteen minutes!
MAN IN STALL
Nigga, I just sat my ass down! You have to wait.
The sound of papers shuffling.
Alright, I got five minutes. It’ll take ninety seconds to get to the lobby, one minute to get down the block. I got two and a half minutes. If he’s still in there, I’m out. Fuck it.
The sound of the toilet paper dispenser jangling.
The sound of the toilet flushing.
The stall door opens, and out comes a guy in a delivery man’s uniform.
You lucky I’m saved. The old me woulda…
Hawk brushes past him and shuts the stall door.
He pulls the bomb from behind the bowl and sits on the toilet with it in his lap.
THE COUNTER: 3:12… 3:11…
Hawk presses a button to stop it.
The counter stops cold.
Hawk slumps down over the bomb, exhales a huge sigh.
Dear no one: I can’t do it.
INT. HAWK’S ROOM-NIGHT.
Hawk scribbles in his notebook.
It turns out I don’t have the heart for killing. I know I got to do something besides sit here in this room, writing on these stupid pieces of paper, but what? The enemy wants me to work for them, spouting insanity for the people to poison themselves with. Maybe I should take the job, and all that comes with it.
A SIGN that says HAWK FOR CONGRESS, with a picture of Hawk smiling.
An old black man passing by spits on the sign.
INT. HAWK’S ROOM.
Hawk pours packets of duck sauce on a plate of fried rice.
Apile of empty duck sauce packets.
I could rise up through the ranks, get next to the top man, and take him out. Or maybe I could make a speech that changes the hearts of the killers.
A regal white man who looks like his head could be on Mt. Rushmore breaks down crying while looking up and offscreen at something. Faint but thunderous applause.
Hawk walks the streets, gives somebody a pound in passing.
A NY POST in a bin has the headline: SMOKIN’: MARLBORO MEN KICK BUTT IN FALLUJAH. The bloodied, filthy face of a white soldier coolly smoking a cigarette.
If I can find a way to put these things out of my mind… then I could get on with my shit and just live. I mean, they haven’t done anything
to me. I live alright. But if I got up and said something they didn’t like, they would kill me.
EXT. STREET- DAY.
A man bops down the street in a sport jacket, boxer shorts and red face paint with black eye sockets.
Every week now, you hear about some brother who lost it, ran out into the street with a samurai sword or onto the train with an assault rifle. I don’t want to end up like that.
INT. HAWK’S ROOM-DAY.
Hawk stares outside his window.
Some kids are playing in the street.
Knowledge is power. That’s that bullshit. Knowledge is cancer. Knowledge is the flu. I don’t want to know. I wish I didn’t know. All I want is to be happy, get a good job—to leave this earth able to say I got through it without killing anybody. Fewer and fewer people can
say that. (pause) I don’t even know if I can say that for sure. Isn’t that crazy?
Hawk looks right at you, his eyes begging.
CUT TO BLACK.