What Does a Woman Want?

This is a story Leonard Cohen told me, late one night over drinks on the island of Hydra. (See Leonard: A Memoir.) I have preserved his unique phrasing as well as I could. Chaucerians will recognize it as the tale the Wife of Bath tells on her way to Canterbury.

King Arthur was hunting in the forest. He rode into a clearing and there before him was a knight in black armor, on a black horse, his visor down, his lance at the ready.

He accosted Arthur saying, "Well, Arthur, Fate has delivered you into my hands. Prepare to do battle."

Arthur said, "I'll gladly fight you. Let me ride back to Camelot and put on my armour."

"No, Arthur, Fate has decreed it thus."

"But I'm in hunting greens! Let me don my armor and we'll do battle evenly matched."

"No," said the Black Knight.

"But this is not chivalry! These are not the rules!"

They argued and argued, and finally the Black Knight threw up his hand and said, "All right, Arthur, ride back to Camelot. But you must meet me here in a year and a day with the answer to a riddle. And if you don't have the right answer you must do battle dressed as you are now."

"All right. Tell me riddle."

And the Black Knight said, "What does a woman want?"

So Arthur rode back to Camelot, called his knights to the Round Table and told them what had happened. "Don't worry, Arthur," they said, "we'll find out." 

And they mounted their horses and rode off in all directions, some to Ireland, some to Sweden, some to Italy, some to North Africa. They interviewed queens and princesses, merchants' wives, fish wives and peasant women, and they compiled scrolls upon scrolls of answers: "Eternal love," "Great prowess in bed," "Riches," "Three chickens and a goat"—every possible answer was there, and by the end of the year the scrolls were piled high on the Round Table. 

Arthur read it all, studied it all, contemplated it all—but somehow he sensed the answer wasn't there.

Nevertheless, trusting to the spontaneity of the moment, he mounted his steed and set off to keep the appointment. And as he was riding along the forest trail he saw before him a woman—though she was scarcely a woman any more—a hag, ancient and bent and wearing a black cowl, and from the cowl protruded a nose that bent in two places, and on the end of the nose a wart, and from the wart, hairs.

So ugly was she that he steered his horse to the far side of the path, but as he was passing she looked up and caught his eye, and raised a long bony finger. "You don't know the answer, do you," she cackled.

He reined his horse. "No," he said. "Do you?"

"Of course I do!"

"Then tell me!"

"Ah," she said, raising the long bony finger, "if you wish me to do that for you, you must do something for me."

"What?" he said.

"You must wed me to Sir Gawain."

Now Sir Gawain was the youngest, the handsomest, the most eligible of all the knights, and Arthur said, "The thought of his beautiful young body and yours in the marriage bed is grotesque! I won't do it!" There was a silence. "Besides, I couldn't possibly give Sir Gawain in marriage without his permission."

"Then ride back to Camelot and get permission."

So Arthur went back and called his knights around the Round Table and told them what had happened. "Of course it's impossible," he said.

But Sir Gawain came to him, put his hands on Arthur's shoulders and said, "My Liege, my life is pledged to you. If this can help you, I will do it."

Arthur sighed. "Well, we'll have a small wedding."

He rode back into the forest and found the hag. "It is done. You shall wed Sir Gawain. What does a woman want?"

"Her will in all things," she said.

Now Arthur was a man of the world and knew the right answer when he heard it. He spurred on into the forest and found the Black Knight. 

"Well, Arthur, a year and a day have elapsed. What does a woman want?"

"Her will in all things," said Arthur.

The Black Knight threw up his hand. "Bah!" he said, "my sister told you," and rode off into the forest.

Came the day of the wedding, and the hag arrived at Camelot. 

There was a small ceremony in a chapel, and afterward a modest feast. The tumblers tumbled, the jugglers juggled, the fools fooled, the fiddlers fiddled, and each knight danced once with the hag. 

Then Sir Gawain took a candle, gave her his arm and escorted her up the stone stairs to the bridal chamber. When they arrived before a tall oaken door he handed her the candle and said, "So, we are wed. the bargain is fulfilled. Now you go your way, and I mine."

She raised the long bony finger. "Ah," she said, "but the marriage is not yet consummated. Come in with me."

Sore reluctant, Sir Gawain followed the hag into the bridal chamber. She closed the door, placed the candle on the table and took off her robe. She looked—as we would expect her to look.

She lay on the bed. "Lie here beside me."

Much loath, Sir Gawain got on the bed.

"Embrace me," she said.

Trembling at the task, he fitted his hands around her waist.

"Kiss me," she said.

He squeezed his eyes shut and, puckering his lips so as to extend them as far as he could, bent towards her—

And the moment his lips touched hers she turned into a princess more beautiful than his most extravagant fantasies. They made fabulous love, and afterwards lay together in a profound peace.

She got up on her elbow and looked at him. "Now you must choose," she said. "I can be the princess you see before you by day, and the hag you knew me as by night, or I can be the hag by day and the princess by night. Which shall it be?" she twinkled.

Sir Gawain was cast into a brown study. He couldn't acquit his husbandly duties with the hag at night, but neither did he want to come find her waiting at his board.

Suddenly, seized by an inspiration, he got up on his elbow and said, "Your will in all things."

"Ah," she said, "I will to be as I am now, always."

Pretentious Pictures Presents:

You Need Money to Be Rich
a thriller about stealing with style
Nobody ever met cuter:
She's tough; he's refined.
She's practical; he's cultured.
She's brilliant; he's elegant.
She's serious; he's frivolous.
She's a lawyer; he's a crook.
She never loses; neither does he.
Daring British barrister Francesca Smithson, the darling of the press for her courtroom tactics, is appointed to defend American CFO Hugo Danch at hearings to extradite him to New York for absconding with a fortune from his crashing company Engone.

Proposed: Anna Friel
But at the hotel there's a mix-up—she's sent to the suite of Romeo Balue, a light-hearted charmer who mistakes her for the call girl he'd ordered—

Proposed: Christopher Lambert
—and, what is it, her spirit of fun? she is in a rut—she plays along!
Soon she's leading a double life—by night Romeo's bird of paradise, by day the defender of a man with a briefcase full of bearer bonds.

Proposed: Tim Robbins
To avoid arrest Hugo allows her to take charge of the bonds—but then Romeo disappears with them! Who's been conning who?
He's a retired art thief, whose mistress Ada Hauptmeier has seen paintings at the Royal Academy of Arts that the Nazis confiscated from her family, and are now in the hands of the Russian government, where they're being pilfered away. She doesn't want Romeo to do anything bad, but he's looking into it. 

Proposed: Anamaria Marinca
And why not scoop the bonds at the same time? 
What's Francesca to do? All right, she was bored with her fiancé, Jason—

Proposed: Steve Pemberton
—but Romeo has disappeared with the bonds, and a truck full of paintings, left her on the hook with some murderous people...and the game heats up.
Set in London—
—and Lake Como.
—plus this—
—equals this:           
Pretentious pictures presents
You Need Money to Be Rich

Short poems


It’s allergy season and the nose is always something of an issue,
So instead of rubbing it between your breasts I thrust it into a tissue.
But I miss you.

That which sees but is not seen
And puts on flesh to feel,
Immerses itself in the carnal dream
And bobs to the surface for meals.

Etre né,
C’est oublier.

Breeds caress.

Hollow distance,
Strange persistence.

A beautiful place,
Its own time and pace.

Put it in the drawer.
Never touch it more.

The mother country’s not easy to love.
It’s just full of mothers and fuckers thereof.

In the winter I’m a Buddhist,
In the summer I’m a nudist,
And when happiness is mootest
That’s just when I’m at my cutest.

The perspiration on your anal pucker,
Oh, sweetest distillation of your shit!—
Emboldens me to fix thereto my sucker
So I can work my tongue around in it.

A pleasure almost too intense to mention,
The perspiration glistening on your toes,
Lubricates my sordidest attentions,
To try to force each digit up my nose.

Also by Robert MacLean:

The President's Palm Reader: A Washington Comedy at Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon Germany, Smashwords, Apple, Barnes and Noble, Sony, Kobo, Diesel—the whole street.

Foreign Matter: In Trouble with My Fantasies at Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon Germany, Smashwords and the others.

Pretentious Pictures Presents

My husband suspects
A 20-minute romantic comedy without much dialogue

A middle-aged woman in love with a younger man is frustrated at every turn in her attempts to bring them together. But she doesn't know how to quit. 
A restaurant. The patrons are in evening clothes, the waiters formal. There is no music, only the soft sound of voices in conversation. Michaela, elegant in a black dress, participates in one such conversation.
We can't hear what's being said but the atmosphere is happy, polite. Her husband presides with an easy charm. Over her shoulder we see the couple they are dining with, Philip and his wife. Philip's eyes are toward the other two, perhaps carefully so.  
Michaela is absorbed in the general conversation, self-forgetful, but she too is restraining her gaze. When it does rest on him it is with a gaiety that seems a touch contrived.
She gets up and walks away, pausing to greet friends at another table. As her husband and the younger woman continue chatting Philip permits himself a discreet but lingering glance at Michaela. She is several yards away in profile, smiling, nodding.

Suddenly, absurdly, she is nude. She stands there talking with someone, in heels and necklace, tiny purse in hand, oblivious to her nudity, as are those around her. This is Philip's fantasy. 
But now, even more absurdly, she does notice!  She looks down at herself, shocked. The others don't see.

She does not convulse and cover herself but stands her ground, purse lifted in her hand, and glances at Philip—too briefly to be eloquent, but sharply. He looks away mortified.

Instantly she is dressed again and, taking leave of her friends, she proceeds to the bathroom...
Michaela has reached a certain age, and worries about her beauty—but Philip, her husband’s business associate, is mad about her. And she about him: lightening has struck. 
They do everything they can to meet but are constantly frustrated—each episode an assault on her dignity.
He's not a bad husband; she loves him. And his passion for her is keen, so keen that he can tell something, or someone, is on her mind, and watches even as the lovers try to elude his eye.
So does Philip's wife. He's starting to disappear at odd times. In fact she's sure there was a stranger in their bedroom while she was asleep. Did someone reach the balcony from the street outside and—?
As Michaela climbs a steep street past Philip's apartment, where the balconies hover near the steps, her friend hails her from up high—from where she spies at the other couple. That night she steals down and stretches their balcony—

The co-star is Athens, the only place this story could happen. Every opportunity, every chance meeting, every frustration is a piece of Athenian realty.
Always elegant, always in a little black dress and heels, she hangs from balconies, climbs cliffs, crosses deserts, clings between moving taxis
but her dignity prevails, and the sound of her steps as she threads the Athens labyrinth is the music of the film.
Pretentious Pictures Presents
My husband suspects
A 20-minute romantic comedy without much dialogue

The Trial of Don Juan

"Alas, poor Hollywood! I knew it, Horatio: a source of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy. And now, how abhorred in my imagination it is! My gorge rises at it."

Ladies and Gentlemen,
We are face to face with the remarkable fact that Hollywood doesn’t exist anymore. Like so many of our institutions, it’s gone.
But the market for movies and streaming series is starving.
Here in Athens there is robust activity—production companies, studio space, talent, crew, and a 40% cash rebate on everything shot here.
My own circle includes Andreas Tsilifonis, head of Central Athens Film Productions; Anglo-Greek Chiltern Media; and my at-the-ready crew. We can do anything.

Speaking of Hamlet, Flaubert once said “The three finest things God ever made are Hamlet, Don Giovanni and the sea.” I can’t entirely give myself to any formula, but I like that one.
And I love Don Giovanni, aka Don Juan, especially in The Trial of Don Juan, in which Amanda Plummer will play the don, and which we'll make entirely in Athens.
In case of scheduling problems we can go to Charlotte Gainsbourg, Oona Chaplin, Tracy Spiridakos, Ana Alexander, Tilda Swinton, Chiara Mastroianni…
But is there a stronger or a funnier actor than Amanda? Here she is stealing a scene from Robin Williams, on a first date, and threatening every motherfucking one of you.
Tough girl.
Be well, kids. I’m in Greece, you’re not, and those are the breaks.
O Robertos

Robert MacLean is an independent filmmaker. His The Light Touch is on Amazon PrimeTubi and Scanbox, and his 7-minute comedy is an out-loud laugh. He is also a novelist, a playwright, a blogger, a YouTuber, a film reviewer, a literary critic, and a stand-up comic poet. Born Toronto, PhD McGill, taught at Canadian universities, too cold, live Greece, Irish citizen. No brains but an intellectual snob.

“We have a duty to be happy.”—Voltaire

The Light Touch on Amazon Prime

The Natural Wish to Be Robert MacLean

The Death of Culture

Ladies and Gentlemen,

There is no more high culture—no painting, no sculpture, no theatre, no opera, no pleasure in language.

High culture is a defunct privilege, drowned out by the shrieks of the many.

The rabblement hooted and clapped their chapped hands and threw up their sweaty night-caps and uttered such a deal of stinking breath that it had almost choked Caesar—for he swooned and fell down at it. And for mine own part, I durst not laugh for fear of opening my lips and receiving the bad air.

Oh, well. Let me remind you what gorgeousness used to be, what comedy used to be, what books used to be, what France used to be, what movies used to be, what books and movies still can be.

Awaken me from this pod-people nightmare!


Robert MacLean is an independent filmmaker. His The Light Touch is on Amazon PrimeTubi and Scanbox, and his 7-minute comedy is an out-loud laugh. He is also a novelist, a playwright, a blogger, a YouTuber, a film reviewer, a literary critic, and a stand-up comic poet. Born Toronto, taught at Canadian universities, too cold, live Greece, Irish citizen. No brains but an intellectual snob.

"Football [soccer, for many of us] is a game for gentlemen played by thugs; rugby is a game for thugs played by gentlemen."—Tommy Cameron, bartender at the James Joyce pub in Athens


A Venetian Thriller
 Reg’d © Library of Congress
A playboy accused of murder disguises himself and leads the police on a chase through Venice.

Think of...
and of...

When Philip’s mistress the Contessa Antonia falls to her death and leaves him money, the police find that his former mistress had done the same—

—and Philip escapes over the rooftops through the Venice labyrinth, changing disguises as fast as he changes protectors.

Someone, he realizes, did kill Antonia, and is now trying to kill the rich American lady who’s taken him in—and who plans to marry him to her virginal niece.

Caught between the police and the murderer, between a crooked lawyer and a gay priest, between women who love and betray him, Philip slips, tears, swims, sails, jumps, races, hide-and-seeks through Venice—his co-star—to the final masquerade.

Proposed cast: Pierce Brosnan (Philip Fanchester)
PHILIP is by profession a lady’s gentleman—and he is a gentleman, despite all the challenges.  He has more fun than he perhaps should but it looks good on him.

Proposed cast: Tamsin Egerton (Audrey)
AUDREY is shy, romantic, protected, intellectual, emotionally a bit of a waif but a perfect lady.  Her aunt Mrs Clark betroths her to Philip almost on a whim.

Proposed cast: Kathy Bates (Mrs Clark)
American and imperious MRS CLARK, robust rather than elegant, takes Philip in when she should turn him over to the police, follows her instinct and trusts him implicitly.

Proposed cast: Lily Cole (Gaby) 
GABY, Contessa Antonia's teenage maid, adores Philip, misses no chance to tease him, helps him escape—and does murder.

Proposed cast: Nick Moran (Father Tomasso)
Father TOMASSO, a man of perfect integrity, hides his old friend against the advice of his fellow priest, who fears that his love for Philip is not entirely Christian.

Proposed cast: Anna Friel (Angela)
ANGELA, beautiful, superficial, much too rich but utterly charming, typifies Philip's old circle and hopes he murdered his mistress so he could be with her. “Angela, darling, anybody can be with you.”

And the seventh character is VENICE, the only place this story could happen.

Pretentious Pictures presents a UK-Italian co-production of a Venetian thriller.
Reg’d © Library of Congress