On The Importance Of Intent

billywilder
From the way I stand, the amount I drink, and the women that you’ll see me with (I mean, these girls practically break their legs climbing over tables to sit next to me) you wouldn’t think that I’m as old as I am, but I’m an old son of a bitch. I really am. And it’s not that I’m good looking or anything, that’s not the reason why these bleached blonde, suntanned, silicon implant girls want to get next to me, it’s just that in this town, I’m one of the people that other people want to get to know.

No, that’s slightly misleading. Nobody really wants to get to know me; it’s more that they want to be seen with me, or to have me use my influence to help them get what they want. I don’t blame them: it’s just how things are done in this town.

You see, I’m important. Not really important, in the grand scheme of things, I mean. I’m just one of the people in this town who has managed to parlay a flair for bullshitting into a slightly successful (by this town’s standards) and comfortable living. And when I say comfortable, I mean that I can afford a couch that won’t inflame my hemorrhoids, and a bed that won’t cripple me. Other than that, not much about this existence is what a regular type person might call comfortable.

You see, I live in Hollywood. Okay, well, that’s not true, but it’s what we say to you people to indicate a certain status. Hollywood is one of those all-encompassing words that indicate to you a sort of magical world that is neither of this one or the next. This magical fairy land of pixie dust and beauty, big toothy smiles, and legs that go all the way to there, if you know what I mean. The reality is that I haven’t actually been in Hollywood, the city, in about 35 years. You couldn’t pay me enough to go there these days, and that’s saying a lot because I’ll do pretty much anything for a buck. Hollywood is a shit hole full of broken dreams and gay hustlers. No thanks. You want my opinion? Firebomb the whole place. Sorry to burst your bubble, but it’s true.

Myself, I live in Beverly Hills in a massive terra cotta affair furnished in antique Spanish and a swimming pool designed to look like a typewriter. The whole place is ghastly and gauche and I love it – but I hate it. Maybe because I love it so much, which I shouldn’t. I was drunk when I bought the place and decorated it, so I keep it as it is as a reminder to never make important decisions that will effect my life in such a big way – like the colour of my drapes: peach – when I’ve been drinking corn liquor.

So, what I do is, I’m a writer. I write Hollywood movies of the sort that people watch on a rainy Sunday afternoon with the intent of crying. Schlock. Schmaltz. Sugary-sweet-turn-a-thinking-persons-stomach-shit. And, much to my delight (and horror), it has made me rich.

I’m an unlikely candidate for such a position, as, to be honest with you, I’m not all that talented, but I do have the qualities of perseverance and conviction, and that means more than anything else in this town. It’s the only reason I’ve managed to pull this off.

In 1955 I was living in New York, existing as what we like to politely call people with no talent: a Starving Artist. The reality was that I was a pimply-faced kid with dreams and ambitions that far exceeded my talent. I would introduce myself to people as a writer, but, in fact, I had not published even one word. I, of course, blamed this on snobby New York editors who wouldn’t know good writing if it smacked them in the face, and given my attitude at the time, I believe I would have done just that, if I’d had the opportunity.

One rainy Sunday afternoon I was feeling extremely depressed about receiving, by hand courier(!), a particularly nasty rejection letter that encouraged me to burn any pencils that I may have in my possession, and if I owned a typewriter to throw it in to whatever river was most easily accessible to me by public transportation. I was crushed, but still believed that the problem lied with the editors, not the writer. Besides, all great artists are misunderstood in their time, aren’t they? So, what I did was, I dragged my ass out of my apartment to a movie theatre in an attempt to forget about my sorrowful existence and wallow in the sorrows of those individuals presented to me on the projection screen.

And, oh, how sorrowful were their lives. I watched heartbreak after heartbreak, disappointment, failure, good intentions turning to intensely tragic results. I watched the people around me reach for their hankies, blowing their noses, dabbing their tear stained eyes and sucking in their bottom lips in an attempt to stifle their sobs – and then it hit me like a typewriter hitting the water – I COULD DO THIS! I could write this kind of sad story – for God sakes, if anyone knew disappointment, surely it was I.

I stood up in the middle of the theatre and amidst the audiences entreaties to ‘sit down, asshole’, I resolved to pack my meager belongings and move to Hollywood.

And so I did.

Unfortunately, it was not quite the experience I had counted on. What I had expected was, I expected that upon my arrival I would simply tell the first movie person that I met my idea for a movie, and off we would go, and the rest would be history. But the reality was oh, very different. I began to submit scripts to studios and in turn received scathing rejection letters that I would be wholly irresponsible if I were to reveal their contents to the general public. Once again, I was crushed.

Thing is, I have never been one to give up, so I began to formulate a plan as to how I could make this work. I began to watch people in the movie industry. From a distance, mind you, as I would never be allowed into the posh restaurants or nightclubs that they frequented, but through this process of investigation I began to recognize the dance and I realized that in order to join the dance, I need merely learn the steps and dance them with conviction. And I did.

The day after my epiphany, I made my way through a muggy L.A. Sunday afternoon to a shop that supplied business cards, at no small expense, I might add. I ordered fifty of them and walked out of the shop with my new title: Script Writer and Story Editor. I also changed my name on the cards so that anyone who may have read my scripts previously would not recognize me.

And then I began to present them to everyone I met. I used them to gain access to the restaurants and nightclubs that had once been off-limits to me, I handed them to anyone wearing a suit that looked like it cost more than a hundred dollars, I gave them to absolutely anyone who would take them. And the most ridiculous and wonderful thing began to happen: I was suddenly accepted by the Hollywood crowd as one of their own. The very same people who had encouraged me to take my scripts and hurl them off the Hollywood sign (and myself along with them) were suddenly inviting me to parties and gatherings of all kinds. I played my hands close to my chest waiting for the right opportunity, until one night, my big break came.

I had gone to a party in Laurel Canyon, having received an invitation from a new found associate who was a producer. As I entered the party I surveyed the crowd, looking around for my “friend” and spotted him next to a rather large and lasciviously black grand piano, speaking to the only man at the party who seemed to not be wearing a suit. He was an older, astute looking gentleman who wore glasses with big, round lenses, and flat black rims. He wore a tweed Christy’s style cap and a white Panama shirt with khaki pants. He had a long pipe in his mouth and it wagged up and down as he talked, while everyone around seemed to listen intently, seemingly hypnotized by the gentle swaying of his pipe.

I wandered over to them and my sponsor immediately introduced me around to everyone, and then finally to the old man.

“This is Billy Wilder,” he said, and my heart leaped into my throat. I blurted out my name, trying to work the syllables around my pounding heart and then began to listen with everyone else as Mr. Wilder advised us on how to be successful in the movies.

At one point Billy looked at me and said, “Son, you’ve got to grab them by the throat and never let ‘em go. That’s the only way.”

“Begging your pardon, sir,” I said, “but I thought I would just kiss them sweetly on the neck and then work my way down.”

A couple of the people around us actually let out audible gasps. How dare he challenge the great Billy Wilder, the looks on their faces suggested? I was suddenly very, very nervous

But Billy just looked at me, examining my face, obviously looking to see if there were any sincerity behind my statement, and then suddenly, without warning, he tilted his head back and let out a belly laugh, the sort of which one usually associates with Santa Claus. Everyone else began laughing, more out of relief than anything, I think and Billy clapped me on the shoulder and said, “Come to my office tomorrow, son. Let’s talk about some more of your ideas.”

And so I did.

And I have never stopped doubting my ability to make you people cry at things that should, in actuality, turn your stomachs. I have never stopped believing that I am the best at what I do, even though I know, in my heart of hearts, that I am not. I am merely a purveyor of cheap and worldly emotions, and the world cannot get enough of it. Much to my delight.

So much more to my horror.

It rips me from the inside out as I read the reviews that are written extolling the virtues of the pap that I have learned to produce. They use words like ‘triumph’, and ‘spirit’. They lead people to the theatres like so many pied pipers; people who know no better, and who have lost the ability to think for themselves. And I blame myself and my comrades for it.

We have given the people what the people wanted, and the cost is being paid even now by a general public that I have grown to despise. I sit at my desk writing, and all I can think of is how much I would love it if someone would finally say, “This stuff is shit, and unfit for public consumption.” But no one does.

My job is to reduce the human experience to the lowest common denominator, and to bring emotional responses out of persons whose everyday existence is one of emotional turmoil that they are wholly incapable of experiencing without the right lighting, or the right music, or the right cleverly placed tear from an actress that men wish they could kiss, and women wish they could be.

To be blunt, I am a writer who uses gimmicks to sell movies for large corporations; movies that have become not much more than ad space for other corporations.

I have achieved my goals, have lived my dream, and I am
so very, very sorry for it. Nevertheless, as long as you keep buying it, I’ll always have enough money for new drapes, should I ever choose to redecorate.

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