Bad news came via a friend today. Michael Bay is planning a remake of Rosemary’s Baby. Yes, I know, the director of the original was Roman Polanski and Roman is a grade-A pervert, not to mention a criminal one, and for that he can’t be excused. But friends, that movie is brilliant in so many ways, I can’t even begin to describe them.
Now I could give a hoot about Bay sullying the good name of some cleverly hinged toys. Really, what were folks expecting from Transformers? Orson Welles? But for Bay to drown out the quiet legacy of Rosemary’s Baby with his orgy of smash cuts and tilted cameras and strike-a-match-on-it cleavage, well, that’s another thing entirely. The original is a study in atmosphere and tension, a metaphor for being trapped in a womb. It’s provocative and haunting and everything a thriller should be. Most of all, it’s subtle. Just check out the discussion of it in the 1992 documentary Visions of Light to see how Polanski’s subtle choices produced profound effects in the audience. Then check this out:
That’s right. Subtle don’t cut it anymore. A professor friend of mine recently screened The Shining for one of his classes and the kids practically fell asleep. Not enough guts. Not enough saws. As a youth, I enjoyed splatter flicks as much as anyone, but I hardly needed every scene to include a rusty auger bit and a head in a vice grip. I’ll bet dollars to donuts that Michael Bay will deliver a slam-bam gore-fest of a Rosemary’s Baby with an over-the-hill actress (you know, like Amanda Peet) stepping in for Ruth Gordon and an ingenue such as Amanda Seyfried sighing and heaving her way into Mia Farrow’s maternity dress. There will be a car chase on the way to the OB/GYN’s office. The devil will sport flaming wings and will vomit a fireball into the Chrysler Building. A black guy will say “Damn Rosemary, baby-makin’ is makin’ you hot!” 200 million dollars will be spent.
It’s sad, but I don’t have the clout to fight Bay on this. The remake is on its way to production, and I can only hope the original film will always be remembered. I will, however, throw down if he thinks of touching one of my lesser-known favorites. Consider yourself warned, Mr. Bay. Don’t EVER remake Paris, Texas:
Anyone who’s seen Paris, Texas should get a chuckle out of this notion. It is, in my mind, one of the greatest slow-burn films of all time, a languidly paced character study that enters softly and finishes on such a breathtaking note that I have spent my entire writing life trying to figure out how Wim Wenders, Sam Shepard, Harry Dean Stanton and Natasha Kinski pulled it off. The penultimate scene is perfection. Every time I watch it, I marvel at the lighting, the reflections, the editing, at how the crafts of storytelling and acting fold in on each other. I won’t say anything else about the scene or provide a link to it, but anyone who loves this film knows which one it is.
So while Michael Bay’s Paris, Texas seems unlikely, in a certain way, he’s already come close. Start typing up a petition and I implore all fans of Paris, Texas to watch this NSFW clip from Bad Boys 2. Tell me it’s not Bay’s subconscious nod to Wenders and Shepard. He probably saw the original film during his student days at Wesleyan. While absorbing that amazing exchange between Stanton and Kinski, he probably said to himself “this is great and all, but instead of a two-way mirror, they should have filled the room with a crapload of flat-screen TVs. And it could have used a few more erection jokes.”
I was 19, maybe 20. It was summertime, or maybe the holidays. I can’t be sure. It doesn’t matter really. The only thing that matters is that I was home from college, living in my parents’ house. I had been out for the evening, catching a movie. I returned around 11PM, with a craving for a glass of milk. This was nothing odd. Up until my early 20s, I probably drank a glass of milk a day.
I opened the fridge, and found a gallon container of 2%, with about a cup of milk in it. It was the only milk left in the house and I poured the entirety in a glass. I didn’t take it all down at once, but I held a healthy gulp in my mouth. It was tepid and stale – simply disgusting. As I spit it into the kitchen sink, I had flashbacks to a day when I had swallowed an entire glass of sour milk before realizing what I had done. Nausea doesn’t begin to describe what rampaged through my guts. I was not prepared to relive such horrors, so I promptly dumped the milk down the drain. As I washed the glass and the container, I noticed the expiration date. It had passed two days before. A close call. I set the empty container on the counter as a signal to my parents that we needed to buy more milk, I brushed my teeth, I counted my blessings and I went to bed.
The next morning I woke up and headed straight to the fridge. It was the same as I left it the night before, except for one thing. On the top shelf was a gallon container of 2%, with about a cup of milk in it. I opened it, smelled it, and touched some to my lips. It was tepid and stale – simply disgusting. I looked at the expiration date. It had passed three days before. This was the exact same stuff I had encountered the previous night, the exact same stuff I had held in my mouth, had spit out, had dumped down the sink. That demon milk had been reincarnated.
I wasn’t feverish. I hadn’t sipped a drop of alcohol in days. I had gone to a movie and that’s all. There was no possible way I could have been drugged. I’ve had my share of vivid dreams, but not prophetic ones. This was beyond deju vu. There was only one answer (and no, Matrix fans, Laurence Fishburne had nothing to do with it). I had gone insane. Schizophrenia usually hits around 19 or 20 and this was my first taste of it. It tasted like spoiled dairy.
For the rest of the morning, I sat quietly wondering what would come of my life. This was, quite clearly, a turning point. I chuckle as I write about it now, because I eventually solved the Encyclopedia Brown level mystery. But at the time, it was pure existential terror. Can you guess what happened?
They will refer to this post in court. Millions of dollars will be at stake. The very foundations of copyright law will be in question. Sonia Sotamayor will chime in. Sean Hannity will call someone a communist. The blogosphere will be ablaze.
Yes, for today I reveal an idea for a television program so revolutionary that someone will not only be tempted to steal it, they will be required to. The world must see this show.
People love (or watch a lot of, in any case) reality television. But it’s not the Real Housewives that make the prime time network lineups. It’s the competitions, the gussied up game shows. We want singing, dancing, feats of strength and knowledge and endurance. Why can’t one show offer all these things?
Round I – Two contestants. One chooses from a variety of categories: History, Art, Science, the standard Trivial Pursuit fare. The other chooses from a menu of food items: hot dogs, chicken wings, blueberry pies, all the staples of the competitive eating circuit. Both contestants must answer a barrage of questions from the chosen category. When they get a question right, they must eat a piece of the chosen food item within a set time period. When they get a question wrong or fail to finish the food in the allotted time, the other contestant takes over. Back and forth, back and forth they go, answering and eating, answering and eating. Vomiting, of course, means disqualification. At the end of ten minutes, whoever has answered and eaten the most moves on. Then the process is repeated with two other pairs of contestants.
Round II – Three contestants remain, and they’re all stuffed to the gills. Now is our moment for the warbling and wobbling. The host of the show, a suited-up Malcolm Jamal Warner, will introduce the finalists via some touching human interest stories. Then they will each perform a fully choreographed song and dance routine before a live audience and a panel of judges. The judges (Mario Batali, Pepa from Salt n’ Pepa, and Anna Wintour) will weigh in. The public will vote. A winner will be crowned. Again, vomiting means disqualification.
There are a lot of ways I might have gone with this. Belly Busters. Food for Thought. The Biggest Dancer. Eh. No, there’s really only one thing this can be called. The greatest television program of our era must be known as: Go With Your Gut!
So there it is. Make it so, TV executives. And when some Joey Chestnut-bellied, Ken Jennings-minded, Carrie Underwood-singing dynamo shows up on the cover of Time as the Person of Millenium, call my lawyers. Because it all started here.
I have a scar on my forehead, starting just below my current hairline. I “cracked open my skull,” as the neighborhood kids liked to say, at the height of my curly-haired moppetness. It was the result of a head-to-head collision during an intense garden hose fight. Six stitches later, I was fixed, but I was forever marked.
This was the early 80s. Forehead stitches, as well as dermatological pastiness, were Frankenstein’s stock in trade, and I was the proud possessor of both. I can’t count the number of times I was chased through elementary school halls by pitchfork wielding bullies. Well, maybe not pitchfork-wielding, but they certainly had some sharp barbs to poke me with. My hair wasn’t helping things either. You could swab a deck with the stuff. Since the barber crisis of the 70s had come and gone, afros weren’t cutting it anymore in my town. If you didn’t look like Ted McGinley, William Zabka or Michael Schoeffling, you might as well have been Curtis Armstrong. I only wish I was born a generation or two later. “Why?” you ask. Well let’s look at the evidence.
The boy who lived, and has the scar to prove it. That’s right. Harry Potter. Can you think of anything that would get you more hand-holding at a modern-day roller skating party? You can’t, because a Harry Potter scar bestows upon its owner a Fonzie level of chick-magnetism. It implies that you are a hero, but the soul of a bad-boy is always at the front of your mind. It’s the type of internal conflict that will keep the valentine box full and the pleas to see your patronus pouring in.
Thanks to Robert Pattison, visible cheek veins haven’t been this en vogue since they were casting for The Munsters. Vampire fanaticism is nothing new, but 13-year-old girls never hung posters of Bela Lugosi or Max Schreck on their walls. And it’s certainly not the Interview with a Vampire Brad Pitt that got them swooning more than 15 years back. All the libidinous metaphors aside, what distinguishes the current craze is its insidious, ubiquitous infiltration of bubble-gum culture. Most notably: Justin Bieber. He may not be some 100-year-old man who runs his incisors across your daughter’s neck, but he’s as pale-skinned as they come and his lyrics give away his agenda. His song Eenie Meenie features the chorus, “Eenie meenie miney mo. Catch a bad chick by her toe. If she holla (if, if, if she holla) let her go.” It’s nice to see Mr. Bieber takes no for an answer, but what happens if she don’t “holla?” He’s Canadian, you know? I don’t doubt that deep in the woods of Manitoba, Bieber’s got a log cabin full of Mike’s Hard Lemonade and ninja gear. And I don’t doubt that he stands on the roof of that cabin, all shirtless and pigment-free, and he screams his mantra into the endless Canadian night: “By the blood and souls of all shorties, I will never, ever die!“
Dr. Spock must have added an afterword to one of his tomes imploring us to raise a bunch of Albert Hammond Juniors. Because kids these days look like rejects from Phoenix (the band, not the city…or the mythological beast). Go to any grade school and you’ll find the evidence that parents of all socio-economic stripes are against the clear cutting of hair. When I was a kid, the school nurse would make regular visits to our homerooms to perform lice examinations. We’d put our heads on our desks and she’d tickle our scalps with rubber-gloved fingers. Then, 45 minutes after she left, the classroom phone would ring and the teacher would call out names of children who were to report to the gymnasium. Never was there a less subtle outing of the lousy. In my day, the shamed would hang their heads as they shuffled to the door. Now, I bet they walk a proud gauntlet of high-fives and sprint to the gym hoping to learn that their tangled locks are harboring ticks.
Which all means…had I been born 20 years later than I was, my scar, my skin and my hair would have made me, quite simply, legendary. Or maybe I would have ended up a tan, unblemished boy with a nicely parted quaff and nary an invitation to slow dance. In any case, a man must ponder these things from time to time.
When I learned the other day that Danica McKellar was pregnant, I had happy thoughts of The Wonder Years and the Winnie Cooper inspired crushes that swept through my middle school (Iwas actually a much bigger fan of Julie Condra’s bad girl Madeline Adams). Little Winnie will be a mom soon, and I can imagine that in ten years some nostalgic TV exec will call her and Kevin (Fred Savage) up with a pitch for a Texasville-esque sequel. I put the odds at 4-1.
My next thoughts were of serial killers. Stay with me now. Years back, I wrote a series of macabre little scripts that re-imagined classic television shows. The twist? The main characters would be cast as depraved sociopaths. The one I did for Alfalfa and The Little Rascals haunts me to this day, and I should probably keep it in the bottom of the drawer. However, I thought the Kevin Arnold edition deserved a dust off, given the recent news. A savage little monster indeed.
THE WONDER YEARS: Pilot
EXT. STREET – NIGHT
KEVIN ARNOLD stands in the street, watching PAUL PFEIFFER and WINNIE COOPER disappear into the hazy folds of the suburban night. Daniel Stern narrates.
When the sun set on our last summer evening together, I think I knew it would never be the same between us. It didn’t make me sad, exactly. Just a little empty.
EXT. VACANT LOT – NIGHT
Kevin bends over in the shadows, lifts something small and fuzzy.
To fill the emptiness, I did what I always did.
Kevin stuffs the furry lump violently down into a bucket. Grimy water splashes over the edges as Kevin’s mouth shrivels into an angry snarl.
It’s funny, when you drown puppies, I can’t say all your problems melt away. But the moonlight shines a little brighter, and friends that mattered so much seem tiny in comparison. It’s kids’ stuff really, but as I piled the limp bodies next to the bucket, I knew everything was going to be okay.
EXT. FRONT YARD – NIGHT
Kevin walks into his yard, shaking water off his hands. He stops, looks up longingly at the stars.
Friends come and go. School leads to a job in an office. One day you’re drowning puppies, the next you’re decapitating hitchhikers. Seventh grade started tomorrow. Maybe I didn’t know it then, but I was ready.
The camera pans down to reveal Kevin is not wearing pants.