CHOCOLATE AND CHAMPAGNE, A Comedy with a Dark Center

Reg’d © Library of Congress
An Athens woman wakes up middle-aged and finds her life with a younger man undignified.
The stage version was performed in New York at the Creative Place Theatre.  Think of...
...only this is her movie, and she gets the younger guy.
Diana, a woman of a certain age, deals with a birthday by throwing out her younger live-in Jim.

They're right for each other, and she regrets it immediately, but she can't take him back: her daughter Jackie, who idolizes and competes with her, tells her Jim has seduced her, and Diana believes it.
So she makes do with the respectable but empty new life she'd thought she needed—with older lawyer Griff.
Jim gives a driving lesson to frantic neurotic Betsy, who almost shoots them off a cliff.  He calms her down and she takes him home. But he can't forget Diana.



Proposed cast: Katerina Didaskaloureel (Diana)


DIANA, the Hamlet at the heart of this comedy, is a clothes designer with a boutique, a house in Filothei, and a younger lover, Jim, her kept man for two years now. There’s nothing she can’t handle—except getting older.


Proposed cast: Yorgos Karamihosreel (Jim)
JIM is happy with a champagne-and-sports-car life, but he’s also a talented script-writer who’s postponing seriousness into a future that never comes.  Together they’re fast company.  They must have been brilliant at her birthday party last night.

This morning, though, even while he’s making love to her, she’s spooked.  She tells him he has to go.  She wants something more presentable, more—respectable—before it’s too late.

Which shocks him.  He takes life as it comes, but this is a bit violent.


Proposed cast: Athina Pappareel (Betsy) 
BETSY, the suicidal widow of a husband she drove to suicide, is too scattered to pass a driving test, takes a lesson with Jim, spins the car onto a cliff and is ready to gun it and take him with her.


Proposed cast: Sean James Suttonreel (Griff) 
Diana's lawyer GRIFF, more her age and on her success level, has been in love with her for years.  Now’s his chance.  When Jackie tells Diana the lie that Jim has seduced her Diana gives up on Jim and tries to make a go of it with Griff.



Proposed cast: Fiona Georgiadi, reel (Jackie) 
JACKIE, Diana’s daughter, idolizes her and so misses no chance to pick at and defy her.  Inwardly shaky, she is outwardly impish and sexy.  She thinks she’s in love with Jim; in fact what she needs is a father.


Proposed cast: Simeon Oakesreel (Dylan) 
Betsy's son DYLAN—eccentric hair, psychotic eyes, twitches constantly and rhythmically as if keeping time to music he doesn’t much enjoy—is in the same college class with Jackie, over whom he moans uncontrollably.  He disgusts her.


Proposed cast: Pepi Moschovakoureel (Maria) 
MARIA, Diana's housekeeper, is the deadpan foil to Diana's Hamlet, secret ally to Jim, and the one person Diana doesn't dare defy.


Proposed cast: Rea Karayanidoureel (Gwen)
GWEN is Diana's mischievous best friend and alter-ego.  She'll take Jim if Diana doesn't want him!  Just kidding.  In an attempt to bring them back together she throws a party and invites both of them, but it turns into a confrontation....

And the final character is Athens— 
—the tone, the climate and ambiance that make it inevitable for these people to collide.
The stage version of Chocolate and Champagne was produced by Love Creek  at the Creative Place Theatre in New York.
Pretentious Pictures presents a comedy with a dark center.
Reg’d © Library of Congress

The "Character Arc"

Shakespeare shows us the difference between tenderness and sentimentality. He is always tender, but never poisons a moment by getting sappy.

Hollywood movies, on the other hand—well. Which accounts for the curious feeling of disappointment we have even before the lights go down.

This is so even (no—especially) in action films. Consider Clint Eastwood, or the current James Bond: the tougher the sloppier.

(To be fair, Dickens is just as schmaltzy. "One must have a heart of stone," Oscar Wilde said, "to read the death of little Nell without laughing.")

One aspect of this questionable taste is the “character arc.” Character,” to etymologize, is the “mark” or defining quality that distinguishes one from other people. But since the Puritan 1600s it's come to mean “moral strength,” as in “he has no character.”

It's no surprise, then, that the cinema of a country arising out of that tradition insists that characters have an “arc” of moral development. (For a definition of Puritanism see Greece versus the Puritans.)

In the other mode—Catholic, for want of a better term, though hardly Christian (Joyce, Nabokov, Fellini, Hitchcock)—mystical rather than moralistic—the self cannot be indicated. There's no character arc there, only a change in circumstance brought about (I've been checking my Aristotle), not by sin but by mistake, or by dumb luck—which some call grace. There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.

Here is Alexander Pope, a professed anti-Puritan, as his name would imply, on character motivation:

On human actions reason though you can,
It may be reason, but it is not man:
His principle of action once explore,
That instant 'tis his principle no more.

Oft in the passions' wild rotation toss'd, 
Our spring of action to ourselves is lost.

Alas! in truth the man but chang'd his mind,
Perhaps was sick, in love, or had not dined.

Let me add this coda. A friend accused me of not believing in character, to which I replied:

Of course I believe in character! But it means so many things, like 'love' or 'nature' or 'fool.'

In Tolstoy’s novels the characters are so strong and vivid they get up and walk around. This is something of course that only he could do. Everyone has a different way about it.

Tolstoy’s student and imitator Hemingway said, “A writer should create living people; people, not characters. A character is a caricature.”

Of course when you do comedy caricature is what it’s about—and not just in comedy. In how many of the great painters—Raphael, Leonardo, Michaelangelo perhaps the least (Velasquez not at all)—do the portraits have a cartoon-like quality. 

In Nabokov's Lolita Humbert, and by a few deft strokes Lo herself, are the only ‘deep’ (if we must use such a Protestant word), ‘round’ (to use E.M. Forster’s) characters; the others are cartoons, ciphers to advance the plot. You can’t afford more than two or three 'characters.'

In drama? Consider the best play: Hamlet and his mother—that’s it. (And this may be the secret of Hamlet: who is his father? How long has she been sleeping with Claudius?) The ghost, played by Shakespeare himself, is a cartoon hero; the mold hasn’t varied since Homer. Ophelia? Sweet girl, among a thousand others; likes flowers. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are interchangeable. Laertes? The adolescence Hamlet might have had were he not preoccupied with his lack of advancement. Even Polonius is a type.  

Let us move to film, and to Graham Greene, who also weighed in on this, and who wrote the script for The Third Man. Too many characters, he warned us, ‘and the boat tips.’

Look at the best of all movies, Fellini’s : two characters, Guido and his wife. The rest are cartoons. But they have their looks and they have their voices—they’re there.

In fiction I use voice to achieve that kind of presence. I like to feel that I don't need "said X" or "said Y." In a movie you have to choose the right actor.

The important thing about any character is what he or she wants. That’s what gives them life. But I’m with Aristotle: what sells tickets is plot. And most characters, in life as in art—let us dare to say it—are there to advance the plot.


Also by Robert MacLean, the "Toby" books,
Will You Please Fuck Off? at Amazon USAmazon UKAmazon FRAmazon DEAmazon ITAmazon ES and Smashwords;
Foreign Matter at Amazon USAmazon UKAmazon FRAmazon DEAmazon ITAmazon ES and Smashwords; 
Total Moisture at Amazon USAmazon UKAmazon FRAmazon DEAmazon ITAmazon ES and Smashwords; 
and these, too,
Mortal Coil: A Comedy of Corpses at Amazon USAmazon UKAmazon FRAmazon DE, Amazon IT and Amazon ES;
The President's Palm Reader: A Washington Comedy at Amazon USAmazon UKAmazon FRAmazon DEAmazon IT and Amazon ES; and
Greek Island Murder at Amazon USAmazon UKAmazon FRAmazon DEAmazon IT and Amazon ES.

ALICE, A Psychological Thriller

Reg’d © Library of Congress
"To kill a human being is after all the least injury you can do him."—Henry James 
Jekyll & Ms Hyde: A schizophrenia drug turns Alice into the monster she needs to be to deal with a murderer.

When a writer kills his editor by letting him back in front of a taxi, no one sees but the editor’s lover and colleague, Alice. But how can she prove it?

She inherits the writer’s book, and him as a lover, and plays a sinister game with him, threatening to electrocute him in her shower: which will win, love or death?

But then, angered by his infidelity, she actually tries to kill him, and fails, and falls into depression. And when he does die in there by accident it’s as if she had done it.

His abandoned girlfriend thinks she did, puts her on antipsychotic drugs that change her grotesquely, holds the “murder” over her head—and kills Alice’s boss.  And frames Alice.

And Alice, to survive, must release that murderer we all have inside.
Book editor Alice takes her lover’s murderer, novelist Bill, to bed, but warns him, when he’s about to shower, to turn off the power: there’s a short in the system.  He could die.  That, she tells him, is how she’s going to kill him.

Proposed cast: Peter Sarsgaard (Bill)
Seduced by this danger Bill moves in with her, their lives spiced by the running joke of his impending death until he does die, all on his own, but just the way she had told him she’d do it—

Proposed cast: Olivia Williams (Beryl)
—and just the way he’d told Beryl she’d do it.  Beryl supports Bill's writing career with her work as a nurse till he leaves her for Alice.  She adores him, and now feels not only vengeful but snubbed, left out of the games these high-toned people play.

Proposed cast: Chris Hemsworth (Kenyon)
Kenyon is Alice's junior associate and protégé at the publishing company, and her lover.  When he quits his job over his inability to get along with Bill she talks him into going back and giving it another try—and when Bill murders him she feels responsible.


Proposed cast: Tom Wilkinson (Hollis)
Senior editor Hollis loves Alice and has seen her through affairs with two younger men.  Blaming herself for Bill's death and on drugs prescribed by Beryl that distort her horribly, she avoids him—until she rebels and Beryl kills him in front of her.

Pretentious Pictures presents a psychological thriller.
Reg’d © Library of Congress

Director's statement on EMMA BLUE

I had made a short comedy in London called The Moment of Accepting Life that was invited everywhere and won awards—and on the strength of this began to plan a feature-length romantic comedy.

But every time we got to the stage of financing the project collapsed because I had never directed a feature.

When this happened for the third time I decided to pick up a home-movie camera and shoot ninety minutes of film so witty and compelling that no one would ever doubt I could do something that big.  (If I were doing it today I'd shoot it with a phone.)

So I wrote a script for a minimal shoot that wouldn’t take too much lighting or propose sound problems—and as soon as I started to cast it I was approached by people eager to work for deferred payment—not only superb actors but famous technicians. The DOP on this movie, Giorgos Arvanitis, is one of the best known in Europe—and it shows in the result.

And that's how I shot Emma Blue.

DARK IN HERE, A Quick Comedy


INT. BEDROOM - DAY
A MOTHER and her LOVER are having sex. A NOISE.

INT. HALL - A SECOND LATER
Wrapping her robe on, the MOTHER meets her nine-year old SON coming in from baseball WHACKING his ball into his glove. She kisses him, hugs him and puts him into a closet.

INT. CLOSET - CONTINUOUS
Her SON stands there in the dark. SOUNDS OF SEX O.S.

INT. BEDROOM - MEANWHILE
The MOTHER and her LOVER are doing it. A NOISE. She looks out the window.

INT. HALL - A SECOND LATER
The MOTHER hurries her LOVER into the closet. Her HUSBAND COMES IN. She hugs him.

INT. CLOSET - MEANWHILE
The SON and the LOVER stand there. SOUNDS OF TALK O.S.

SON
Dark in here.
(no answer)
I have a baseball.
(no answer)
Want to buy it?
(no answer; makes to leave)
OK, I’ll ask my dad.

LOVER
(holds him there)
How much?

SON
Two hundred and fifty dollars.

Pause. The Lover takes out his money and counts it.

INT. FRONT HALL - ANOTHER DAY
The SON comes in from baseball with the glove. His MOTHER in her robe kisses him and puts him in the closet.

INT. CLOSET - MOMENTS LATER
The SON stands there. The door OPENS and his MOTHER pushes her LOVER in. They stand there. VOICES O.S.

SON
Dark in here.
(no answer)
I’ve got a glove.
(no answer)
Want to buy it?

LOVER
How much?

SON
Seven hundred and fifty dollars.

Pause. The Lover nods and reaches into his pocket.

INT. FRONT HALL - ANOTHER DAY
The SON is on his way out, his FATHER coming in.

FATHER
Want to throw the ball around?

SON
I sold it. And my glove.

FATHER
You sold them? For how much?

SON
A thousand dollars.

FATHER
That’s not honest! They’re not worth that! I hope you’re going to tell this in your next confession!


INT. CHURCH - ANOTHER DAY
The FATHER comes out of a confessional and nods at his SON, who GOES IN.

INT. CONFESSIONAL - DAY
The SON kneels by the screen.

SON
Dark in here.
 

The PRIEST turns his face into the light: he is the LOVER.

LOVER
Don’t start that shit again.
 


Also by Robert MacLean, the "Toby" books,
Will You Please Fuck Off? at Amazon USAmazon UKAmazon FRAmazon DEAmazonITAmazonES and Smashwords;
Foreign Matter at Amazon USAmazon UKAmazon FRAmazon DEAmazonITAmazonES and Smashwords; 
Total Moisture at Amazon USAmazon UKAmazon FRAmazon DEAmazonITAmazonES and Smashwords; 
and these, too,
Mortal Coil: A Comedy of Corpses at Amazon USAmazon UKAmazon FRAmazon DE, AmazonIT and AmazonES;
The President's Palm Reader: A Washington Comedy at Amazon USAmazon UKAmazon FRAmazon DEAmazonIT and AmazonES; and
Greek Island Murder at Amazon USAmazon UKAmazon FRAmazon DEAmazon IT and Amazon ES.

CHOCOLATE AND CHAMPAGNE, a comedy in the spirit of Lubitsch

Reg’d © Library of Congress
A Beverly Hills woman wakes up middle-aged and finds her life with a younger man undignified.

The stage version was performed in New York at the Creative Place Theatre.  Think of...

...only this is her movie, and she gets the younger guy.

Diana, a woman of a certain age, deals with a birthday by throwing out her younger live-in Jim.

They're right for each other, and she regrets it immediately, but she can't take him back: her daughter Jackie, who idolizes and competes with her, tells her Jim has seduced her, and Diana believes it.

So she makes do with the respectable but empty new life she'd thought she needed—with older lawyer Griff.

Jim gives a driving lesson to frantic neurotic Betsy, who almost shoots them off a cliff.  He calms her down and she takes him home. But he can't forget Diana.


Proposed cast: Meryl Streep (Diana)

DIANA, the Hamlet at the heart of this comedy, is a clothes designer with a boutique on Rodeo Drive, a house in Beverly Hills, and a younger lover, Jim, her kept man for two years now. There’s nothing she can’t handle—except getting older.


Proposed cast: Gael García Bernal (Jim)

JIM is happy with a champagne-and-sports-car life, but he’s also a talented script-writer who’s postponing seriousness into a future that never comes.  Together they’re fast company.  They must have been brilliant at her birthday party last night.

This morning, though, even while he’s making love to her, she’s spooked.  She tells him he has to go.  She wants something more presentable, more—respectable—before it’s too late.

Which shocks him.  He takes life as it comes, but this is a bit violent.


Proposed cast: Kathy Bates (Betsy)
 
BETSY, the suicidal widow of a husband she drove to suicide, is too scattered to pass a driving test, takes a lesson with Jim, spins the    car onto a Mulholland Drive cliff and is ready to gun it and take him with her.


Proposed cast: John Goodman (Griff)
 
Diana's lawyer GRIFF, more her age and on her success level, has been in love with her for years.  Now’s his chance.  When Jackie tells Diana the lie that Jim has seduced her Diana gives up on Jim and tries to make a go of it with Griff.


Proposed cast: Adelaide Clemens (Jackie)
 
JACKIE, Diana’s daughter, idolizes her and so misses no chance to pick at and defy her.  Inwardly shaky, she is outwardly impish and sexy.  She thinks she’s in love with Jim; in fact what she needs is a father.


Proposed cast: Jack Roth (Dylan)
 
Betsy's son DYLAN—eccentric hair, psychotic eyes, twitches constantly and rhythmically as if keeping time to music he doesn’t much enjoy—is in the same class at UCLA with Jackie, over whom he moans uncontrollably.  He disgusts her.


Proposed cast: Rosie Perez (Maria)
 
MARIA, Diana's housekeeper, is the deadpan foil to Diana's Hamlet, secret ally to Jim, and the one person Diana doesn't dare defy.


Proposed cast: Stockard Channing (Gwen)
GWEN is Diana's mischievous best friend and alter-ego.  She'll take Jim if Diana doesn't want him!  Just kidding.  In an attempt to bring them back together she throws a party and invites both of them, but it turns into a confrontation....


And the final character is Beverly Hills—
 
—the tone, the climate, the village size and ambiance that make it inevitable for these people to collide.

The stage version of Chocolate and Champagne was produced by Love Creek  at the Creative Place Theatre in New York.

Pretentious Pictures presents a comedy with a dark center.

Reg’d © Library of Congress

Foreign Matter

Toby travels with a woman who pays. He's got it made, except that her nine-year-old daughter is smarter than he is.  Based on the novel:

   

“A very, very funny book"—The West Coast Review of Books 
“Enormously enjoyable”—Kirkus Reviews 
“Fresh and spirited”—Publishers Weekly

Think of:


Proposed cast: Hugh Laurie
Toby Tucker gets along as a tour guide, though all he knows how to do is keep the clients amused.  In Venice he falls for rich bubble-head Marcie but can't afford her style.  "To-bee!  Let's just live on my money!"  Well—it’s awkward but what can one say?  He reclines into the good life.

Proposed cast: Leslie Mann
Marcie Harding, sweet, fresh, blonder than blonde and all heart, is a lonely widow who takes a tour in Venice.    Toby abandons the tour to take her to Rome, and when he runs out of cash is about to abandon her.  He loves her more than he knows.

Proposed cast: Amber Liddicoat
But for Andrea, things would be perfect.  "The child."  Toby and Marcie are no smarter than anybody else; the child is smarter than anybody else.  She'd have got rid of him long ago but her mommy loves him, so she keeps him around to, how shall I say, play with.  When you’re not looking she rotates her head like Linda Blair.

Proposed cast: John Goodman
Marcie’s father-in-law, billionaire Hazelton Turnbull “Hard Turd” Harding IV, loathes Toby, and loathes giving Marcie her allowance to feed him.  But he loves his little granddaughter, and there lies the control.
When Haze spends Marcie’s money on a painting for the Harding Memorial Museum it looks like Toby's meal ticket is gone.


Proposed cast Pamela Shaw:
Johna Nerg is the butch-nightmare artist whose painting Toby accidentally steps in, sits in and sets on fire.  He really doesn't mean it but she thinks, as who does not, that he's trying to destroy it—and gets real mean with him.
 
He has no choice, finally, but to try to steal it.  But until the child takes a hand, nothing works.
Light, charming, sophisticated, and the first of a series, each set in a new pleasure zone.  Total Moisture, one of the sequels, is set in the south of France: 

Foreign Matter is set in Venice and on a Greek island, and is available at Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon Germany, Smashwords, and the usual places: Apple, iTunes, Barnes and Noble, Sony, Kobo, Diesel—the whole street.


Pretentious Pictures presents a summer comedy.