Chaucer's "The Miller's Tale"

"Forbid us something and that thing we desire."―Geoffrey Chaucer
In the year 1380 a brilliant young student at Oxford University named Nicholas was boarding at the house of John the carpenter, an older man with a wife of eighteen, Alison.

Nick had finished his course work and was teaching himself astrology, which at that moment was very popular, and people came to him for advice. He was a handsome kid, with an innocent look about him, but he was a smooth talker, especially when it came to love and pleasure. He sang and played the guitar, everybody liked him, and though he was flat broke, he got by.

Alison was a flirt, and old John knew it, and kept his eye on her. Very good-looking girl. When she walked down the street everybody stopped what they were doing and watched. She was always happy, and when she sang, everybody closed their eyes and listened.

One day, when John was away, Nick and Alison were, you know, talking, when he suddenly grabbed her pussy. He said, “I’ve got to have this!” She jerked away but he held her by the hips and ground his pelvis against hers. “Let’s do it! I can’t stand it!”

“Get your hands off me or I’ll scream rape!” And what did Nick do? He wept. He begged. He pleaded, until she said, “Oh, all right. But not now! He’ll kill me if he catches me! Tie it in a knot until the moment comes.” He smiled and stroked her little thing, kissed her and sang her a song.

At church a young sacristan, Absalom, was also in love with her. He too was handsome, long curly blond hair that stood out like a fan, gray eyes, elegant clothes—when he took off the surplice he was a real dandy. Played the fiddle in bars, popular with the Oxford kids, and a ladies’ man. He always chose the ale houses with the best-looking bar maids. 

Even so, he was very prudish, very strait-laced. He was a church boy. Prissy. He didn’t like loose language, and farting—which to this day the English are apt to use as punctuation—offended him. 

He would do anything to win Alison, and she found his sincerity a little annoying. He went so far as to creep to her window, which was on the ground floor, in the middle of the night and serenade her, which woke old John up. “Do you hear that?” “Of course I hear it.” “Is that Absalom?”

He sent her messages, sent her sweets, got his friends to tell her things about him—very boring. He sent her money! She made a public joke out of it and everybody laughed at him.

It was Nick she loved, and Nick had a plan. He stocked his room with food and drink, and locked himself in there for a few days, until John thought he must be dead. Finally he broke the door down, and found Nick in a trance. “I’ve had a vision,” he said. “The stars have told me that the world will be destroyed by a second flood. On Monday. We must prepare.”

John’s humble common sense rebelled at this, but Nick seemed so persuaded, and he was the district astrologer, an authority on such things. And John, who was the kind of fool who would marry an eighteen-year-old, bought it. Put it down to the darkness of the medieval mind. None of us would ever believe that the world was about to end!

On Nick’s instructions John lay food and an axe in each of three tubs, one for Nick, one for Alison, one for himself, and hung them from the rafters where no one would see them. God wanted only these three to survive. When the waters rose they would chop themselves free and float till the flood went down.

“But no talking when we’re up there!” said Nick, “God wants us to pray—silently.” John nodded. And on Monday evening they climbed into their tubs, John closed his eyes to pray, and when he was snoring the lovers stole down, got into bed and enjoyed each other all night. An hour before dawn the bells rang, and the monks began to chant.

Meanwhile Absalom, still so in love, having heard that no one had seen John around, so he must be away, got up, chewed some licorice for his breath, placed a mint leaf under his tongue to sweeten his kiss, prowled over to Alison’s house and knocked on her window.

“Alison, my honeycomb, my fair bird, my cinnamon stick, wake up and speak to me! I can’t bear being without you!”

“Absalom, you idiot, I’m trying to sleep! Get away from that window or I’ll throw something at you! I do. Not. Love you.”

“Alas and wellaway that ever I saw you! For Jesus’ sake can I have just a kiss?”

“Wilt thou go thy way if I kiss thee?”

“Aye, if I must.”

“All right. Here I come.” She shushed Nick with a wink and opened the window while Absalom congratulated himself, thinking, “If I get that kiss, I’ll get it all.” 

“Come on, come on,” she said, “I don’t want the neighbors to see this,” though it was pitch dark, and she hung out her, how shall I say, behind, spreading her cheeks with her hands to offer him her sphincter, the which he kissed deeply and with relish—until he sensed something amiss. She didn’t have a beard. “Fie!” he said. “Alas! What have I done?”

He was not as pleased as another man might have been—remember, he was prim and delicate in these matters—and when she slammed the window shut and he heard Nick laughing, he fell out of love faster than he could ever have thought possible, wiping at his mouth with sand, with straw, with sawdust, with his sleeves, and weeping. That was it for him with all women—but especially her.

Across the street the blacksmith was already at work. Absalom went over. “Hey, Absalom, what are you doin’ up this early, tom-cattin’?” Absalom smiled coldly. “Could you lend me that red-hot poker in your forge?” “Sure. What for?” “I’ll tell you tomorrow.”

He took the poker back across the street and knocked on Alison’s window. “Who’s that, a thief?” “No, my darling, it’s your Absalom, with my mother’s gold ring, which I will give thee for another such kiss.” 

Now, Nick had got up to take a piss, and hearing this as he came back in, he opened the window and hung his ass out. “Say something, sweetheart,” said Absalom, “so I know where you are,” and for answer Nick let go a fart as loud as thunder, and so strong, so thick, so dense, so heavy with—that it almost blinded Absalom. But he had the poker ready, and rammed it in.

It was an eternal moment before Nick knew what had happened. As he jerked away from the poker it tore the skin off the entire area, and he danced the dance of pain, rubbing at it with both hands. “Water!” he screamed at Alison, “Water!” Which woke John up and he chopped the rope and fell to the floor in the tub and was knocked out. 

At the sound of the crash the lovers raced into the street calling for help, and everybody, I mean everybody, ran in and looked at John. His arm was broken, and when he came to he tried to explain what happened, but Nick and Alison said these were the ravings of a crazy old man who was waiting for Noah’s flood. They all looked up at the other two tubs and laughed, and after that John was the town fool.

That’s how the carpenter’s wife was swived, how Absalom kissed her nether eye, and how Nick got his ass burned. And thus endeth our tale.

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.

Pretentious Pictures Presents:

A Psychological Thriller
"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.

Proposed cast: Fiona Georgiadi
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: Tom Malloy (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: MariaCristina Heller (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: Albert de Jongh (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: Seán James Sutton (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

A MOTHER and her LOVER are having sex. A NOISE.

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.

Her SON stands there in the dark. SOUNDS OF SEX O.S.

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

The MOTHER hurries her LOVER into the closet. Her HUSBAND COMES IN. She hugs him.

The SON and the LOVER stand there. SOUNDS OF TALK O.S.

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.

(holds him there)
How much?

Two hundred and fifty dollars.

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

The SON comes in from baseball with the glove. His MOTHER in her robe kisses him and puts him in the closet.

The SON stands there. The door OPENS and his MOTHER pushes her LOVER in. They stand there. VOICES O.S.

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

How much?

Seven hundred and fifty dollars.

Pause. The Lover nods and reaches into his pocket.

The SON is on his way out, his FATHER coming in.

Want to throw the ball around?

I sold it. And my glove.

You sold them? For how much?

A thousand dollars.

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

The FATHER comes out of a confessional and nods at his SON, who GOES IN.

The SON kneels by the screen.

Dark in here.

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

Don’t start that shit again.

Pretentious Pictures Presents:

A comedy with a dark center

A Beverly Hills woman wakes up "older" and finds her life with a younger man undignified. The stage version was produced in at the Creative Place Theatre in NYC.

Attached: Bo Derek

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.

She deals with a birthday by throwing him out. They're right for each other, she regrets it immediately, but she can't take him back, because her daughter Jackie, who idolizes and competes with her, tells her Jim has seduced her, and Diana believes it.

Proposed: Michael Keaton

So she makes do with the respectable but empty life she'd thought she needed, with her lawyer Griff—more her age, and on her success level. Griff has been in love with her for years. Now’s his chance.

Proposed: Gael García Bernal

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: Jennifer Coolidge

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. He calms her down and she takes him home. But he can't forget Diana.

Proposed: Adelaide Clemens

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: Owen Teague

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: Rosie Perez 

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: Amy Brenneman

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.

Pretentious pictures presents
a comedy with a dark center.