CHOCOLATE AND CHAMPAGNE, a comedy with a dark center

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: Juliette Binoche (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.

The Pleasures of the Screenplay

I mean aside from writing them.

My director of photography on EMMA BLUE, Giorgos Arvanitis (, likes to say that it takes three things to make a film: a good script, a good script and a good script.

But it's not QUITE always enough. THE OUTLAW is a case in point—screenplay by Jules Furthman and the great, the unparalleled Ben Hecht; starring Jane Russell (her debut) and Walter Huston, THE actor of his day if we think of Barrymore as theatre. And yet I never saw a movie lie there quite so dead. The directing of Howard Hughes, even helped out by Howard Hawks, somehow embalms it before your eyes. It's like hearing the actors do a read-through—indeed you watch the film not to watch it but to hear the screenplay.

A screenplay is a poem, with a form as tight and limiting and intricate as a sonnet, and those limitations and intricacies must be made to sing.

I have other favorite screenplays (not that THE OUTLAW is my favorite—it's just that it stands there nude), like THE LONG HOT SUMMER, script by William Faulkner, Irving Ravetch, Harriet Frank Jr: "Well, life is very long and full of surprises, Miz Varner, you may jess bah sumpm yet"; and like Truman Capote’s BEAT THE DEVIL: “Harry, we must beware of those men—they’re desperate characters.” “What makes you say that?” “Not one of them looked at my legs!”

And which Rat Pack movie is this from? Dean: “Where’s my drink?” Frank: “In your hand.” Dean: “Is that my hand?”

But the best of all must be TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT by Faulkner and Furthman. ("Take the money and run," said Papa about Hollywood.)

Hawks told Bogart, "I'm going to pair you with somebody who's even more insolent than you are." So in walks nineteen-year-old Lauren Bacall: "Anybody got a match?"

She calls him Steve, though that's not his name. "Listen, Steve..."

"Wuz ya ever stung by a dead bee?" Walter Brennan asks her. "They lie upside down in the grass and you come along barefoot and step on 'em!"

Drinking in a Martinique bar and the cops come in. Bogey smiles. "A lot of them, aren't there, kid."

The cold beauty who resents Bogey faints as he's operating on her husband. Bogey catches her, carries her into her stateroom to drop her on the bed and hesitates just that instant when Baby comes in and catches this. "Tryna guess her weight?"

Some Senryū

She’s like a good book:
One is avid but in a
Hurry to finish.

Life is where you can’t
Believe what your friends tell you
About your haircut.

Men prefer women’s
Bodies to their souls because
They change more slowly.

Poems are like farts:
Other people’s stink; one’s own
Have subtle perfume.

Going to the loo
At a party is like death:
No one misses you.

Was it Heraclitus
Who said you never
Get the same haircut twice?

My skills as a thief            
Have enabled me to steal
What belongs to me.

The library of
The inner self publishes
No glib synopsis.

So obscene in the
Strainer of biography,
The warm cheap detail.

The pointlessness of
Principles: to keep you from
Behaving badly.

Too frivolous, we
Are betrayed by our depths; too
Deep and we get bored.

To consider what
One wants is to go in a
Hundred directions.

Human risk, wretched
Human purity: nothing

Forty-nine years old and
I made it without 
Killing anybody.

At least life is brief:
It holds your face in the shit
And then lets you go.

Chaos eats outward
At the compact order in
The heart of chaos.

My daemon uses me
To read every book 
I can get my hands on.

It was the poets 
Who invented God, after
Which they swallowed him.

My vulgarity
Is all that stands between me
And my suicide.

The avant-garde is
Founded on the fairy tale
That art moves forward.

Who has not changed channels
In belief that the
Broadcaster felt the blow?

I think of Homer
Or Shakespeare and I want to
Weep.  And some women.

Naiveté and
Cynicism: pups in the
Same noisy litter. 

The laughing gods weren’t
Aware of being gods.  That’s
How we got caught here.

Consciousness grazes,
A random velvet sweeping
Animal muzzle.

We try to make artists,
Like our own children,
Into ourselves, and can’t.

We seek the poet
Who’s right all the time, but who
Could bear to find him?

The moment we have
A feeling it has always
Been exactly so.

With an adequate
Stomachic one has no need
Of philosophy.

We neither transcend
Nor identify ourselves.
Something prevents it.

The humiliating
Message: you can’t think
The thought that brought you here.

What is poetry
But poverty, the will in
Tight circumstances.

The serpent holds to
His lines, shouldering through the
Maze of his pattern.

Very pretty.  But
Imagine having to feel
That way all the time!

Oh, my fuck-eat-drink-
Swim-sleep-write-feel machine, do
Not abandon me!

Seducible high
Spirits meld with statements, and
Are contradicted.

There is no diversion.
Diversion itself
Engages our passion.

Claustrophobic confession:
Try not to
Characterize me, I’ll scream.

He descended into
Hell to write these things.
And it ain’t over yet.

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

Casanova, Come Back!

Reg’d © Library of Congress

The modern Casanova longs to settle down with one woman, but she resists him.

He’s coming to Oxbridge to give a poetry reading and speak to a few classes…

…and the girls are sort of interested!

The great lover's great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandson—
(You didn’t know he was secretly married?  It happened in England—a nun who had already taken her vows, the Mother Superior outraged, powerful people to please…)
—has the same name, the same weakness for women (and they for him, or at least for his reputation), sports the same drag and is a so-so poet on the campus circuit.
How can he get steady work as a teacher when trouble dogs him everywhere!  No one takes him seriously except as a—Except as a—
So when he arrives in Oxbridge he announces that he’s impotent.
Ah, but he’s played here before, and now his past rises up to confront him.

Proposed cast: Robert Carlyle (Casanova)
GIACOMO CASANOVA (“Just make it Jack”) takes advantage of his ancestor’s reputation to spice up his act as a performing poet with eighteenth-century costume, and it works on the ladies.  But what he needs is a steady job, and a life.

Proposed cast: Lucy Griffiths (Henrietta)
He doesn’t remember her but some years earlier he had played Oxbridge and it had worked on HENRIETTA PASTORLY, now a lecturer here with a young son who speaks a private language—one that only Casanova can speak with him. Could it be…

Proposed cast: Donald Sutherland (the ghost)
The GHOST of the original Casanova haunts his great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandson, criticizes his choices and kibitzes the action. No one else can see him and sometimes Casanova almost thinks he’s real.

Proposed cast: Emma Thompson (Deborah)
Chairwoman DEBORAH BLAKE, the no-nonsense head of the Oxbridge English Department, can’t help but be intrigued by Casanova’s reputation.  Or is it excited?  Or is it, as her husband suspects, in love?

Proposed cast: Anjelica Huston (Cissy)
LADY CISSY SNABE, a benefactress of the University, falls from a dangerous height into Casanova’s gallant arms, much to everyone’s relief. She’s beyond suspicion in such matters, but who is that mysterious visitor at her bedroom window?

Proposed cast: Stephen fry (Rafe)
DEAN RAFE HARWICK’s wife and underage daughter are both in erotic trances over the arrival on campus of Casanova–and so, it turns out, is the Dean!

And the seventh character is Oxford.  Or rather Cambridge.  Let’s call it Oxbridge, as so many do.  Hell for some; heaven for others—like Jack, who could live happily ever after here as a simple lecturer.

Pretentious Pictures presents an elegant comedy.
Reg’d © Library of Congress