The Auteur Thing

by

Charles Anders

 

The sun didn't set on Sunset Boulevard. Instead, it crapped in the sky, leaving a smudge on its way. Pollution worsens all the time, but for twenty bucks you can visit a retinal projection parlor and let Hollywood beam a better sunset into your eyes.

I looked away from the window of the Retina Obscura office as Sidney Marko introduced a dozen Iowans who'd agreed to be a focus group. "Why don't you tell these people about your movie?" Sidney was chubby but dynamic for an old guy.

"Well, the hundredth anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is next year. We feel Americans have never faced up to the reality of what we did. The first and only use of nuclear weapons in human history."

I grinned at each Everyman in turn. They resembled your stereotype of Midwesterners: plump, stoic and flanneled. But their eyes didn't seem to focus.

"So we've made a movie about it. We filmed in front of a whitescreen. We need to add backgrounds and effects. Then we distribute it to RP parlors nationwide."

Terry took over, his curly black hair flopping. "We don't get into the whole issue of whether America did the right thing dropping those bombs. But we didn't want to gloss over what those bombs did to people in those two cities. We want it to be, ah... brutally real."

There was a terrible silence as Middle America digested the pitch Terry and I had just given for the umpteenth time. I felt my intestines strangle my bladder.

A slender middle-aged man with a baseball cap saying PRAY FOR LIFE spoke first. "Bombs," he drawled. "Brutally real." His voice sounded disapproving.

"Yes," Terry said uneasily. "Mark and I feel that total honesty is the only way to go."

"Budgie," the man said. Terry and I almost fell out of our seats. Was this some new swear word the hinterland had invented without telling us? "Budgie fudgie finches death," the man added.

An orthodontist-looking man piped up as if arguing. "Marigold avenger. Dead corndog."

Others piped up and it became a free-for-all. It took me a moment to realize they'd been drinking ALE. That is, Amytal, LSD and Ecstasy, a cocktail designed to facilitate free association. I looked uneasily at Sidney.

"All our focus groups get ALE now," Sidney whispered.

A woman with enormous gingham breasts moaned "Love," "Agony," then "Love" again.

"But why?" I whispered back.

"We couldn't communicate with them otherwise. You see, the average American has no creativity whatsoever. They don't understand creative people like us, so the only way we can have a dialogue with them is if they're drugged out of their minds. Personally, I blame the educational system."

"So why communicate with them at all?" Mark asked.

"Because they hate us and we don't know why. The Cultural Execution Squad has iced the best minds of five studios in the past six months. The death threats always say we don't listen. So we're trying."

One of the Iowans defecated on the mahogany table.

"Their reactions to your proposal are being recorded. Once the computer interprets them, we'll have a better idea what kind of movie the public wants."

Actually, Hollywood made a lot more sense if you knew its movies resulted from drugged midwestern free-association. While Terry and I were waiting for Sidney Marko's decision, we watched Macho Nun VI. The film had five explosions for every line of dialogue until the last fifteen minutes, when it became a dolphin love story.

The first clue we'd won was when we received our Cultural Execution Squad death threat a few days later. Only the Hollywood elite got CES threats. Somehow the CES knew what was going on in Hollywood before Variety and most execs.

"Your so dead," the crimson cocktail napkin scrawl read. "For attempting to defile the history of America's just actions in WWII, the CES demands your lives. Prepare 2 Die."

"Prepare 2 Die" was the title of a Neo-Blaxploitation film whose director the Cultural Execution Squad had already garroted. I cringed that the CES had gotten close enough to stick this napkin on the windscreen of our '41 Yugo.

Sure enough, Sidney told us we had the brass ring in our teeth. "We're going to take that rough cut of yours and make it the next sensation."

"As long as we get the last word," I jumped in. "We don't want it to become something different in post-production."

Sidney shook his head sadly. "Take it from a member of Generation X: the word 'cynic' has the same number of letters as 'sellout.'" He made quotation marks with pudgy fingers.

"No, it doesn't," Terry said.

"I mean metaphysically, OK? I mean if you're a cynic you've already sold out. It's only those of use who dare to dream who have to worry about selling our ideals."

"That's really deep. Where is this leading?"

"It means you gotta believe in me, guys. I have a vision in this old slacker heart for your Holocaust movie."

"It's a Hiroshima movie."

"Oh. How post-postmodern of me. My bad."

We trusted Sidney. We also spent every waking minute in the Retina Obscura basement, where computer post-production happened. It was not a huge room, and the techies begged us to back off. But Terry and I had this idea that after putting five years of stomach acid and semen into this movie, we ought to have a say in what it looked like. That whole "auteur" thing.

Also, the CES terrified us. They tried to off us once. It was like a Jackie Chan remake of "What's New Pussycat." Viking women and ninjas chased us back to the studio.

After that, we ordered delivery and frisked the pizza guy. It would have been easy to poison us, but the CES seemed to like spectacle, which added to my suspicion a lot of Hollywood creative people belonged.

At last we finished our movie. A bullet-proof hover-float dropped us at the premiere.

The laser teased my retinas. I saw our movie for the first time -- a magnificent epic. Computer-generated ruins replaced the white background we'd filmed. Dying mothers held up babies whose eyes turned to ash. Wails filled my ears. Children shoveled rubble to reach mutilated corpses. The movie's power startled even me.

Then suddenly my vision blurred. The eyeless babies became a Jeremy Gerbil cartoon. Where Jeremy joins a pirate gang and seeks the Big Cheese Of The Seven Seas. "What the Hell --"

"You're seeing it too," Sidney's voice came. "That means your own movie upsets you. Interesting."

"What is going on?" Terry demanded through teeth.

"Our innovation. The laser projects onto your retina, but it also records your vital signs. The slightest sign something in the movie upsets or offends a viewer, the laser switches them to a cartoon, like the one most of us are seeing now."

"So only someone who doesn't react to our movie at all can watch it?" Terry shrieked.

"Basically, yes."

I ripped the earphones out and stood up. "If you can't shock, you can't teach!" Terry shouted much the same tirade.

"Who's to say a Jeremy Gerbil cartoon is less worthy than a movie about bloody babies?" Sidney sounded calm, but gestured to some big men. "This way, maybe the CES will stop killing us."

"You're dreaming if you think more pandering will get you out of this mess!" The heavies grabbed Terry and me. Sidney muttered something about "creative types" and "never happy."

An hour later, Terry and I nursed our pride over milkshakes. My bones hurt from being thrown to the curb. I felt an emptiness no shake could abate. "All my life I've had direction," I moaned. "Worthwhile goals. Please my parents. Get into NYU. Ace the film program. Make my Hiroshima movie."

"Our Hiroshima movie," Terry corrected me and slurped.

"Might as well be your Hiroshima movie. I want no part of that --" slurp "-- travesty!"

"So you feel let down. Like you have no purpose."

"Right."

"Isn't it obvious what our purpose should be now? To get even! To smash the system!" I had never seen Terry this impassioned, even talking about our movie. "Kropotkin said, or was it Bakunin?, that in a bourgeois society the artist's task is to destroy, not to create."

"You just made that up. You've never read either of those guys."

"Or better yet, to destroy the means of creation!" Terry's glasses misted as he pounded the table. I had to admit it was a rousing slogan.

So we decided to join the CES. If Hollywood couldn't respond to the CES with integrity, it didn't deserve to survive.

Terry and I wandered the streets waiting for the CES to make another attempt on our lives. Finally a gang of Native Americans, construction workers and bikers surrounded us on Rodeo Drive.

"It's the Village People," I sneered.

"We're the CES. You are about to die," a man in a Chinese straw hat grunted, waving a cleaver.

"Wait a minute," I said. "We've been looking for you guys."

"That so?"

"We wanna join. The sooner this town burns the better."

They led us to a headquarters under a deli. They pumped truth drugs into us and interrogated us. Eventually we convinced them to let us join. In fact, Terry and I were instrumental in the scheme that razed L.A. just over a year later, exactly on the 100th. anniversary of Hiroshima. Once the fallout settles, they can turn it into a museum.

END

 
 
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Charles Anders is spending a year in Cambridge, MA. She is the author of The Lazy Crossdresser and co-publisher of Other Magazine. Her stories have appeared in ZYZZYVA, Strange Horizons, Space & Time and many other magazines and anthologies.
 
 
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