Fed up with no media coverage, the film palace owner fantasizes revenge. 1,940 words. Part One. Illustration by Mark Fearing.
The Casbah’s one-year anniversary was approaching and it was time to do something drastic. The next film booking would have to be a unique program. I devised a Plan A… and a cold-blooded Plan B.
But, first, I began checking the availability of prints. As a completely non-digital venue, our options were extremely limited and getting more so with every month. Then I set a face-to-face meeting with Flicker Weekly’s film reporter Tony Fortunato so this run could, finally, be decently promoted. However much the newspaper game seemed to have changed, I knew the best way to a journalist’s heart was still through his stomach, with perhaps a secondary route through his liver. I also knew that writers always accepted anyone’s invitation that ended with the words, “My treat.” So I went through several recent issues to see what was the newest, trendiest, silliest restaurant in town and made a reservation for two.
The next week we sat at a small table in a large room where the portions were miniscule and the prices gargantuan. But the drinks were enormous, too, and I had arranged with the waiter to make sure that Fortunato’s kept coming. The journalist began our dinner by launching into a long list of reasons why nobody cared about my theater or its programming.
“Those damn black-and-white movies. They’re so corny,” he railed.
A messy intersection of film journalism and the revival-house business. 2,153 words. Part Two tomorrow. Illustration by Mark Fearing.
The thousand injuries of Flicker Weekly I had borne as best I could, but when they insulted Orson Welles, I vowed revenge. It had already been a long and stressful year since I had refinanced my house, cashed out my 401K and bought the elegant ruins of the Casbah.
The movie theater had been empty for nearly a decade when I spied it. It was like seeing a once great beauty with her front teeth knocked out. The screen was miraculously intact, hidden behind a cheap curtain, and the seats were all there. But the projection booth was full of pigeons, and something far less pleasant had been living in the men’s room. The whole place smelled of damp and rot and mold and despair.
“I’ll take it,” I said. That was a year ago,
Designed by the esteemed Rapp & Rapp, the motion picture palace had been built in 1924 in the faddish “Moorish” style, influenced by then-popular melodramas of exotic oases and desert passions. Intricately cut archways framed every interior door; turquoise tiled fountains bubbled invitingly outside the ladies’ and gents’ lounges. A painted azure ceiling replicated a limitless North African sky, and pictures of leafy palms waved from the walls. Patrons who bought a ticket bought a dream.
A studio’s marketing maven is on a quest to destroy the distribution windows. 2,880 words. Illustration by Mark Fearing.
“It’ll never fly.”
“You’re not listening to me,” Kathleen Berg pleaded with him. “We’ve got to be the first media conglomerate to do this. We’ll not only make history, but we’ll set a trend.”
That sounded incongruous; it didn’t matter if they set a trend or not, only that it was successful.
“Day and date will never ever work. Give it up. I’m getting tired of having this conversation with you, day in and day out! Out!”
Mentally crestfallen, Kathleen rose from the chair and left the executive’s office. The idiots would never learn. She’d have to convince them. Somehow.
As she walked away, the executive – another in a long line she’d spoken to about the subject — admired the shape of the lower half of her body in the snug power skirt.
In the not-so-brave new world, cinemas are now virtual reality centers for sex. 1,876 words. Part Two. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
Hollywood – 2030
Nine billion human beings on the Earth. People felt squeezed in a hundred different ways. Living with economic deflation. Climate change. Failed crops. Government surveillance. Strange new diseases. Like antibiotic resistant super-gonorrhea. Superum neisseria gonorrhoeae. A fastidious gram negative diplococci bacteria that evolved over centuries and caused joint problems, blindness, pelvic disease, testicular cancer, ovarian cancer, severe dementia. And usually proved fatal.
SNG was especially prevalent among teenagers, most of whom were highly promiscuous. Sex was one of the few pleasures which life had to offer them in a world gone crazy. But there was a dark side to all this sexual activity. Hospitals filled up with young people. World governments tried praising the value of abstention. But the kids were horny. They wanted sex. Propaganda praising the value of masturbation didn’t work either.
Of course adults wanted to have sex, too, but they had better self-control than teenagers and often took the time to use condoms. But they were getting SNG, too.
And so antibiotic resistant super-gonorrhea continued to spread.
Until the full-body sensory suit was developed.
The development of the suit was the natural extension of high tech virtual reality. You put the suit on and you were instantly living in a brave new world. A VR world. A world beyond all human comprehension. Beyond all normal human sensation. Beyond any previous sensory stimulation.
Just how it worked was a trade secret, proprietary information owned by Sensorsex, a Palo Alto corporation. But instead of selling the sensory suits directly to consumers, Sensorsex decided to open up a retail chain of VR Cinemas.
The screenwriter’s script is completed. But how will the studio mogul react to the brutally honest biopic? 2,802 words. Part One. Part Two. Part Three. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.
After finishing Act Two, Dave went on a one-night bender, polishing off a fifth of Jack Daniels and falling into a deep sleep on his living room sofa. He awoke with a start in the middle of the night and ran to the typewriter. Through bleary eyes and a cracking headache, he began to type out the opening scene of Act Three: a close-up of a television set.
The Argot Pictures board keeps a safe distance from the blond wood TV cabinet, as if it were some alien life form. But studio mogul Jules Azenberg approaches the contraption and gently strokes it. With that one motion, he demonstrates to the members that he is not threatened by television and that he plans to tame the medium just as he did the movies.
Forced to divest itself of its theater chain following the 1948 Consent Decree, Argot is running a deficit for the first time since the early ‘1930s. There is the smell of blood in the boardroom and Jules must convince the members that he is still in control of the situation. The advent of television gives Jules a new sense of purpose after the prolonged depression he suffered in the wake of his sons’ WWII deaths.
Rather than retread radio stars for television, Jules strikes on an original idea. The next scene is set in a quiet isolated booth at The Brown Derby where Jules is lunching with Madeleine Devane, one of Argot’s biggest stars. Her contract is up for renewal and the aging actress is clearly nervous. They chat for a while as she waits for the boom to fall. In the middle of the meal, Jules lays his napkin on the table and lets out an extended sigh. The color drains from Madeleine’s face, fearing that she’s about to be fired.
“How would you like us to renew your contract for five more years?” he asks.
“Don’t tease me,” Madeleine responds tersely.
A film critic picks a fight with his city’s biggest theatre chain. Will his editor support him? 2,596 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
Jensen Hirsch had the second most dangerous job on the newspaper. He was the film critic. If he’d held the most dangerous job, war correspondent, he might have at least received some respect. But movie criticism, as The New Yorker editor Harold Ross once told filmmaker Nunnally Johnson, “was for old ladies and fairies.” And Jensen Hirsch was neither.
“Look at it this way,” Hirsch liked to say whenever anyone dismissed his job as cushy. “A film critic is the only person at a newspaper, magazine, television, radio station, or website whose job is to criticize an advertiser. Sports writers, political columnists, and beat reporters can say what they want and nobody ever complains. But God help the journalist who takes on supermarkets, car dealerships, furniture stores, or real estate.”
Hirsch knew that film criticism was almost an S&M relationship between the movie studios who buy advertising and those who draw a salary for saying if the films are worth seeing. Sure, Hirsch would be on the other end of the occasional call or letter from a director or actor objecting to something he’d written about them. But they were always polite, assuming that Hirsch would be reviewing what they did next. The only people who routinely griped were theatre owners whose box office was dented by a negative Hirsch review. But, even then, they were making so much on advertising kickbacks and inflated house costs that they usually held their tongues. Nevertheless, every now and then some angry exhibitors would call the newspaper publisher to complain and threaten to pull their advertising unless Hirsch was fired. Sometimes they did cancel their ad buys, but they would always skulk back a few days later after the studio raised holy hell. In such cases, Hirsch’s editor, Russell Pelota, would summon the critic and warn that the next negative review could be the one that got him fired.
“Do you want me to like everything?” Hirsch always responded. “A critic who likes everything likes nothing.”