The part was a killer, no doubt about it. I had my reasons to take it on. I needed the money and I hadn’t had a SAG job for many a day. It was something I could not afford to refuse.
Jane was nervous about it, and we both talked with several actor friends about working with Voorhees, but I needed the work, so that was that. Jane had been in the theater when we first met, but now was working as a volleyball coach at a local college.
My depression was beginning to haunt me, nothing I did was medically or therapeutically helpful, so maybe this role would bring me back to life.
The film was dark, no question of it and the script by Ludwig Kornholz was an amalgam of old time noir and a rapped-out saga of drugs, passion and fetching women. But it was not out of my range though age-wise I was a little long in the tooth. But with Bert Cosgrove doing makeup, I looked ok for the job.
Casting maven Jody Arvino found I was living in San Luis del Rio in the state of Guanajuato in Mexico and I took a chance on leaving my comfortable lethargy for what I could foresee as a séance in exaggerated American ascensionism. But what the hell, I thought, let’s go for it.
Rilke has a line in the Duino Elegies ‘we wasters of sorrows’ and I felt that of late. I was trying to survive in Mexico while the world went on elsewhere. I was sad about things, nothing really enthused me much anymore. The political world was a bad joke; it was all for sale and I couldn’t support much of any political slant. This unfortunately had inner consequences and depression had taken root in me.
I was looking forward to working with Sonia Salzer, who had just finished a run on Broadway as Josie in A Moon for the Misbegotten with Clyde Ramble as Tyrone. Playing Josie and trying to keep the drunk Tyrone alive apparently wounded her and brought up material related to her first marriage. I had some trepidation entering the neurotic realms of love in art, though I was sure it would be a hot collaboration with Sonia. We had always liked one another.
Thinking Some energies not available in ordinary life become possible on the set or on the stage. There is a bodily awareness that keens the intuition to some special realm of feeling. Perhaps the playwrights themselves knew this, or the actors and directors who climb into that special field of play resurrect these occasions. But the recurrence of the backstage romance is not an accident; it is an accepted and ready part of that ceremonial instinct that flares up in theater work.
But what did I bring to the part and what should I do about it now that it was clear it might create so many stressors. Some parts were exhausting and ultimately dangerous and I knew I was over my head almost immediately. Kornholz’s script was changing daily and it went from an attempt at big box office to more of a tragic love story. Voorhees went along with it, and I think was in love with Sonia after the first few days of the shoot. I had feelings for Sonia but was still committed to Jane, though the excitement of my first years with Jane was gone. In the old days, I would have switched partners by now, but had this time around made myself stay. But as is the case with every theatrical project I ever attempted, the sexual climate on the set, in the trailers and the catering tents was a living erotic elemental that hummed with tension, vanity, and desire.
But this was a chance to shine—I knew that—a much more solid part than anything I had done before. Even though my own death in the picture was a foregone conclusion, the part gave me a chance for heroic pathos at a time I was falling into supporting roles that had no meat. Still, I could tell Sonia was expecting more than I could give, and even though she was going through a divorce with Dick Harrison, I did not really have the energy for both the part and regular sexual diversion. I had my supply of Viagra if I needed it, but was not in a state of mind to push all envelopes, as was often the case twenty years back. So the work was what I was after and it kept me going. I owed a solid performance to producer Alice Goldman and to director Austin Voorhees. It could easily be my last good part and I could leave behind a piece of work that showed my capacity as a man and actor.
Mine was a crossover part, a slippage in the vernacular that allowed an imaginal sense of ambivalence that I came to feel is part of my method training as well as my Jungian studies. The archetypal power in the role came from its bipolar nature. This was a split tricksterish character and I loved both sides of his inevitably contradictory psyche. This character was bisexual, bi-national (US-Mexico) and it gave more than it took. My own history manifested in the storyline and scenes filmed in Brazil were probably my favorites. Love scenes in the Brazilian Cerrado under a waterfall needed very few takes, as this was a re-enactment of my actual experience many years back when I fell in love in Brazil and split my time between Brasilia and Pirenopolis, a village out in the country 100 kilometers from Brasilia.
I fell hard and moved to Brazil in my 53rd year and the amazing power of that sensual landscape and the erotic excess of my relationship with S. have haunted me heavily ever since.
The pat was bigger than I could handle. It had qualities of Lear, Sam Spade and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. He was depressed, manic, infinitely resourceful and had a lust for beautiful women that sometimes floored me. The part spilled across western literature and called upon an actor’s strongest instincts. How the part would fill out across the whole screen was beyond me.
A combustion/stasis dichotomy that often came over me in actual experience recurred during my scenes in New Mexico. I suggested we shoot a gang-related doper intrigue in a small town near Santa Fe, and Voorhees went along with it and I felt at some point a serious synchronicity as the days of my life as the mentor of a 60s commune came flashing back and I was torn between 1967-8 and the present wide-angled exploration of themes deemed simultaneously true for our time as well as writer Kornholz’s attempt to create a fresh mimetic out of what DH Lawrence once called ’the most beautiful place in the world’. Shooting on bright sunny days above 7000 feet was a boon for us all and the catering by Tortilla Arroyo also entered the mix of special effects. Their huevos rancheros were probably the all-time best, with Hatch green chili in a perfect blend with black beans, white cheddar cheese and those great eggs.
The chief cinematographer Frank Olvera who was raised on nearby San Felipe Reservation, said he thought he could get enough good lighting to hark back to pre-Columbian pre-combustive engine blue skies he had been told about as a kid growing up on the Pueblo. Frank said that the peyote rituals he experienced as a young man were good background for his cinematography. Frank was a kindred soul and when we had the chance, we hung out.
--What do you think of the casino culture for these Pueblo tribes?
--Some good, some bad. The money trickles down some, but a lot of it stays with the managers and elders.
--What about the kids on the res?
--I think the education levels are going up. And some of the new money is going into mental health too. That part is good.
My scenes with Sonia Salzer were working ok, but the chemistry between us sometimes flagged and I began thinking we should either rehearse privately or the producers should consider replacing one of us. I was not really anticipating being replaced as my agent Gene Rostow worked hard convincing Alice Goldman I could do this part and help make the film highly regarded and also do some business. Gene was always on his actors’ side and he knew I hadn’t worked on a respectable project in quite a while and we both had something to prove. At my age, certain stunts were beyond me, but I could still run and lift heavy objects. There was some slippage of strength in the legs and hips but not so much that I couldn’t perform quick pivotal movements.
But the love scenes were a different matter and I had to have a body double for some of the close-ups. Didn’t bother me that much really. My gut has gotten a bit paunchy lately, so what the hell. Sonia and I hit it off and I knew she was going through a divorce and her sometime husband Dick made appearances just off-set and made trouble for her. I told Voorhees he should be kicked off the shooting area, but they apparently went to UCLA film school together. I said I graduated from the UCLA Theater Dept., and didn’t remember meeting him. I told Voorhees about meeting fellow film students Jim Morrison and the Doors in those wild years of Venice Beach in the 60s. Morrison used to come over to my apartment and check out my poetry collection, but was usually very taciturn. We all had mad Felix Venable in common in those days. Voorhees said he always lived on the West Side and didn’t dig the beach that much. I loved the beach, still do, and grew up in Manhattan Beach where I played a lot of volleyball, bodysurfed and later played indoor volleyball on UCLA’s first great Al Scates team which won the 1965 national championship. I was named first-team All American.
I was thinking twice about an affair with Sonia. My experience with married women had been spotty; I usually felt that the energy of my lovemaking would win the day, but it could easily backfire. I carried with me an old psychological complex that came into existence early on largely because of an unavailable mother. The complex seemed to thrive or at least get hammered home by romantic failure. And I had been down that road so many times it was clear that a complex is an independent unconscious entity that went where it would, notwithstanding my conscious objection.
Sonia needs her audience. ‘I need the empathy’ she says. Sonia moves into people’s lives like a tornado. I am a built in trauma for her. I remind her of her incest with her older brother. Sexual trauma roars through her approach/avoid atmospherics.
‘You’re a phallocentric logician, she once said to me. An alluring cathexis, she said of my voice. My writing adjudicates fantasy & trauma. ‘Psychic extremity is my meat’ she exhorted. ‘I find in our scenes a confessional intimacy that often thrills me.’
It gives me meaning. I speak Kornholz’s lines because he arranges words in a script that know more than I know. I’ll say this another way, she goes on—the scripts I really need allow a sort of salvation, a way of being that keeps suicide at bay. From the script:
(Closeup, scene by a stream. Slow kiss, then)
--I love you in a way that defies gravity. You are more meaningful than life itself. If this doesn’t work between us, I think I won’t go on living.
--Easy for you to say; you’re a man. I have all the risk on my side—my body, my reputation, my place in the sun.
Kornholz say he is considering leaving the project. ‘It’s losing energy’ he says. Voorhees I think feels similar things. ‘There is too much discouragement and clashing of wills in this cast.’ Question is who is to blame. I refuse to take full responsibility. Sonia knew from the beginning that this was going to be an uphill battle. I’m tempted to let the whole damn thing go and start with something else.
Jane has learned to live with my unconscious ambivalence toward any one woman. It was a struggle, though I told her early on I was not always able to withstand desire when it hit me hard and made a kind of split-off unconscious trance where my consciousness was weak. I think this was beginning to fall away with ageing, but still it cropped up. Theater was a dangerous place for me, in the sense that there were these recurring attacks of fantasy that occurred with women. This was a psychological complex. As analysis has it, a complex is a broken off part of the personality that seems to operate independently of the rest of the psyche. It’s equivalent to a phantom energy that comes and goes; it is constellated (for me) by what the Jungians call an anima projection, or an inner implosion of energy that is created in the fantasy buildup of a beautiful feminine image.
I get a call from my ex-wife Mira who is involved in taking care of her demented husband Ricardo. She wants my help, but I tell her I’m in the middle of a film shoot and can’t get away. She doesn’t need money. But from what I hear she is the sole caregiver and won’t put Ricardo in an assisted living facility. It’s like she is taking her marriage vow of ‘sickness and in health’ very seriously. I’m a little ambivalent about her problems, especially given that she left me to take up with Ricardo. But she sounded as though her unflagging commitment to seeing Ricardo through to the end of his life was both admirable and way too demanding. Mira came from old money and she was never wanting. But now she obviously had a demanding mission and it was giving her meaning. In reality, I do not think this thing Mira is doing is merely living up to the ‘sickness and in health’ of the marriage promise. It was something more immediate—an instinct of the heart, a recognition of inescapable obligation. Add an archetypal dimension of calling and you have a plate full of exaggerated mission. It also kept her from moving on with her life.
By comparison I had my part, that inelegant prefigured scripted semi-bummer that would likely end up on the cutting room floor or the dustbin of film history. But who knows?
But within Mira’s noble commitment, there is a shadow element that wants it both ways—caregiver and lover, so that a slight ache of longing comes over the caregiver, and she wants to make love with someone who wants her.
That unacknowledged or unconscious ambivalence deep-down is part of the psychic makeup of the human being. Even the most devoted caregiver is at times haunted by the expectation of a greater desire than she has ever known, made more poignant by the difficulties of caring for a deteriorating spouse.
Mira’s call had in it a wisp of longing to see me again, or so I imagined. We had a decent life for a few years, and then my theater travel and the occasional affair took their toll on our marriage. But I think we always kept a sort of flame for each other. Now she was growing weary of the caregiver role. In my fantasy, I think there is desire by the caregiver to fuck free of shame, down in the slave quarters where there is new energy, new blandishments of pleasure and undaunted lust.
People often like to think there is nothing shadowy in their brave and earnest devotions. But I think if truth prevail, in the most serious mission of caregiving, there is a desire to be free of it, out in the open where the heart can race carefree again. But approaching Mira with these speculations might disrupt what for her is a foundation that she finds exhausting but fitting at this time.
It’s early in the shoot and the part is burning my ass. I always loved the theater, but film work is a jumble of half-assed decisions that go allover the place—camera setups, grips, sound problems, bad takes, pissed-off directors and assistants.
Jason Robards was my hero in many ways. He had that presence onstage you could feel. He had a voice and a style that harked back to great acting. I saw him do O’Neill’s Iceman Cometh and Pinter’s Twilight. In Twilight, Robards’ character is in a bed dying onstage; his wife, played by Blythe Danner, sits beside the bed. Far away on stage right, there are their children dealing with other problems. That evening at the Roundabout was riveting. Jason Robards was so strong, even in a role requiring a dying energy, he was vital and so emotionally alert and his voice carried throughout the large house.
Fucking job won’t let me sleep. I’m up at all hours. I’m either worried about lines, the script’s malfunctions or some woman in the cast or crew. There’s an assistant director, Angie, I think Voorhees is fucking, but she looks at me with great brown eyes and I feel fire in the loins, though she is probably twenty-five years younger than me. Damn! I keep thinking all that will eventually pass, but it doesn’t and it takes over like a bad habit.
Not strong enough, where’s my strength of purpose, of body, of will—where do I go from here? Not a lot of time left and yet I do what I can; still looking for something I can do to finish up this life. Am I missing something? Is there something beyond this life?
Concentrate on the work and things will come together. Sonia believes in reincarnation and all kinds of new-age notions. She meditates, does various spiritual practices, spent time in India, you name it. I looked at all that and found it wanting, though a friend taught me some yoga which I still use for my back. Also, at one point in LA, I did have a guru who made the light change in the room; I also liked attending Krishnamurti’s Oak Grove talks in Ojai. He made sense to me. But here I am, transience calling me to be engaged. Get the equipment working, do your yoga and stretching, go into the day open, innocent, learn the day’s lines, go to makeup without expectations, get into costume, stay focused, alert to the significance of your part. Fellow actor Jerry Bienestado’s trying to be a brave man: he’s a survivor; he needs to win the day, seize the featureless inner landscape of an outsized ambition, and for god’s sake, listen to him try to transcend his limitations. His part requires him to descend to lower rungs of hell. He never imagined he would grow old, lose strength, ride out the summary inclusion of memory and desire…
Sonia has asked me to dinner, says she has things she wants to discuss about the film, our parts and how we can give them more life—and yet a part of me wants to hold back—do we really want to get intimate at this stage of the production? She says she has an Argentine Malbec that needs opening and she’ll have All-In Catering make us a Chateaubriand, and she’ll make a vinaigrette avocado and cucumber salad. How can I say no? And yet I know she is skidding away from her husband and wants a diversion from all the conflicting trends in her life.
Thinking Without a woman I’ve often felt dull, encumbered, unable to fully experience life and yet another part of me wants to live solitary, freed from the demands of another
And a woman appears in mind as anchorage, as place of migration, of helping to stay sane
Slow the beat. A calm almost enters, a slowing of the hopelessness, the desperate search for a zone that fulfills
And the part remains, alert on the page, lodged in context, a literary space, in camera angle, in spite of all our striving, we wheel forward toward some unknown end
I liked Sonia a lot and we have worked together earlier, so I felt a certain loyalty to her, though I think she knew my eye was wandering and it was always easy to catch the interest of a script girl, a makeup woman, an assistant location manager. The set was full of women—many were younger than Sonia and besides Sonia was still married.
The work grounds me—I see faces and bodies and my natural inclination for visual anticipation of desire gets stronger. When I’m on my own, I often float and begin to feel a sense of vacuity, though it often passes, especially when I begin working on a part or a monologue.
I did a one-man show about C.G. Jung recently and that was a great grounding experience. I got to feel Jung’s inner world and ideas, and exploration in the range of psychology and performance which is right up my alley. The show went well, and there was a long question and answer session, and I think I did ok with it.
Health is a popular subject, but I am not sure what it means. I experience much of life as a sort of displacement and I need anchorage as much as I can find it. The ocean anchors me as well as a woman’s body. In younger years, it was sports or just running. I had to get the body working and the heart pounding. Most mornings I do a yoga routine to loosen up my back, or ‘adjust it’ as the chiropractors say. While I’m trying to learn the lines for this part, I have competing interior consciousness that takes in what is happening around me on the set:
the legs of a techie, the mouth of a caterer, the basic humming of my own wanton excursions in feeling intuition—the whole assemblage of conditions that make up my psyche.
Somehow, this needs to be written, this acrid state of being. Somehow, love returns slowly and the part I may have loved rises or regresses to older states of consciousness.
The more I have an internal quarrel with myself, the longer it comes home to me that I am a divided personality. Maybe not schizophrenic, but doubled up inside. I want to do this work, want it to be good, and yet I am incongruent; a part of me is always trying to fetch some sexual extravagance from the world.
Mighty the grip on the soul of man and this physical excess and its demands. How heavily one pays for this nomadic drift, this deliberation in untimely rippings from the motherlode. I was our hope for a time and yet the home stretch was disabled at the flashing point
At another level, perhaps I am at war with women; not consciously but altogether a recurring episodic sense that I am clashing with this entity, this confusion, this unaltered separate being
In the dream, a blanket of coldness from everyone. An old friend P. is crying telling me I have no more friends. I have put myself beyond everyone he says. There is confusion in me that will not let up. The song will go on and on and I have lost real connection. Nobody knows what I am going through.
A friend writes that it is not useful for another friend to help in these dire situations. There is not enough objective seeing; the friend has an ulterior motive, does not want to see clearly.
Another long day shooting one scene until we almost got it right. Well, maybe we actually did, but I am not sure…
Sonia could not stay still; ever restless, now with one soldier from far afield and then with an athletic grip who just happens to be in her field of vision. I implore inwardly that she renounce all this felicity and come back to me as we had it maybe six years back when were doing Tennessee Williams in Seattle. Orpheus Descending. No more fullness of feeling could have given us force that drove us to the ends of earthly pleasure. A substantial woman, she has an affinity with a wild animal that hauls her prey back to a lair whose sole purpose is to battle the prey into a launched force that drives feeling and appetite into a frenzy until there is completely exhausted quietus.
But what was I to her or anyone anymore? What warrior code could I still keep in regard to the powerful beauties? I remember seeing Mexican star Maria Felix in a mystery-seduction-spy role and every image of her fulfilled amazed angles of feminine intrigue. Film tends to be about physical beauty.
Sonia tells me she learned lovemaking from Rajneesh, sometimes called Osho, in Oregon. She makes it a sacred mystery in keeping with his teachings. She has candles and incense, soft music, maybe a little grass, but she takes it very seriously, no question about it. She also insists on herself on top most of the time. ‘It keeps the man from too much movement,’ she says, and adds that it’s easier for her to climax that way. I like the idea of being an innocent worshipper in her world of sex. She has always had a strong image of sexual power when she acts, and, even though she is no longer young, she really hasn’t lost her appeal. I also realize that no matter how much I might want to spend serious future time with her, she will have gone through several other men in the coming years. Whether she gets a divorce as she now says she will is up for grabs. I’m sure it will depend on her lawyer’s recommendations. But for now, I think to myself, why not enjoy her considerable charms, which I do.
Interesting to me after all these years how easily I am distracted from my part and the part I will be playing after the shoot. I will be going down to Mexico again, where I have a little place in San Luis del Rio. I am able to live there pretty cheap, and I can get on a bus and travel cheaply pretty much anywhere. Mexico is good for me, though the drug war of the past few years has been pretty awful. But my little mountain desert berg is out of the range of the militarized drug war.
I should be glad I do not stay with any woman. It gives me a certain freedom to enjoy the world without this incessant responsibility to another. It gives me an awareness of the vastness of life, the sunset just now over the desert sky. I love to be alone, I embrace it, the world fills me and I am happy. I have to keep thinking of these things. This Osho that Sonia keeps referring to could have learned everything he knew from DH Lawrence and Krishnamurti. There is only the human world for us. If there is a beyond, and all this metaphysical speculation has some validity, good for us. ‘There is no death,’ a friend recently said to me, but what does that mean? That we keep on keeping on, that the world is so much soul and not so much transience? But what could that really give us, except a kind of hope that all this will continue, which we know always has and will? Where are the voices of the long dead? How would assurance of a future life help us with the dilemma of living this one? What will we say to one another when the end comes for each of us? We had a good run? We shaped a destiny with our own souls. We were here for a time and it was good.
Thinking This clever leap keeps running for nuance and the vaulting spectaculars that align with us. We want something to happen. Robert Graves said that happiness means ‘something is happening’. How I remember that summer in Deya, Mallorca. It was grand and my new wife Mira was with me and we communed at the cove (la cala) and everything was ours. We were granted some relief, and the Mediterranean was full of treasures. We would swim during the afternoon, and then have sangria in the little café on the cala sand.
We were offered a house but I refused it. I do not actually remember why now, except I kept hearing a line from Creeley about finding your ‘own scene.’ I could not possibly have found work in the theater in Spain. It just would not have happened. There was an urge to belong inside a theater, on the stage, my stage, whatever.
Sonia knows how I feel about her, but she also knows I have never been able to stay with any woman, no matter who. I was not the staying kind, I was a quick-release artist, always packed and ready to leave. Always on the move, the make, the quick parting. Some sadness in it, but not enough to make a real stand. I remember a good friend in Hawaii, Jeff, now deceased, who said he had made a commitment to his marriage and his family and was going to damn well keep it. He did, right till the end. What would that take? What willed hypothesis of desire would have to intervene in such a story?
But what was I to her or anyone anymore?
What warrior code could I still keep in regard to the powerful beauties?
Sonia was supposed to meet me in her trailer after the morning shoot today. I went by there and there was a sign on her door, ‘Gone fishin’.
--Do you love me?
--Are we in role?
--Can we start again?
I think Sonia has something going with director Voorhees. I can’t be sure, though I have this sinking feeling. I want to hear from her the truth. Or maybe just forget the whole thing. Maybe it doesn’t make any difference. Maybe nothing much does. I think this is an important project and yet it seems like it’s out of my control. Some editor—probably Leah Brooks—will cut me out of most of the scenes. I don’t really know what will happen next. I need to move on, I say to myself . If I go back to Mexico before the end of this shoot, they will have to find another actor to complete my scenes. So, in reality, I have to stay. I’m dejected by the whole process. What good really is making film anyway?
The thought comes to me: At times Sonia looks like all women. Nothing specific about her, just what the camera wants, the focus of desire, the projection onto her, as it has happened to all the screen beauties: Claudia Cardinale, Ava Gardner, Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, Liv Tyler, Juliette Binoche, Irene Jacob. Inexhaustible desire projected on a screen with such delectable aspiring after the perfect image of woman…
I think Sonia is pissed off that I asked her to pay our restaurant bill the other night—or at least pay half. She says where she comes from the man pays. Oh, I said, that is distinctly unmodern; the bills are shared in most of the western world save a few holdouts who make sure the man is in charge of most everything, even if the woman has more money. I know the last few years Sonia has been making a lot of money, and I haven’t been doing all that well. But she doesn’t like looking as though she is supporting men. No queremos hombres mantenidos! (We don’t want no stinking kept men). That is something she says she hates above all else. She was enraged the other night at a restaurant, and made a scene, and even threw her drink at me. She also threw a $100 bill at me, all crumpled up and said: “you piker, how dare you make me feel like a slut in front of all these people. These people pay good money to see me work, and they don’t want me fucking around with a gigolo.” “What? I said, asking to share a bar bill is making me out to be a gigolo?” “You don’t get it,” she said, and scrambled out of the booth and into the night, and hailed a cab to take her back to her hotel. I stood at the curb, dumbfounded. Then went back in and paid the bill. Fuck. What a dripping with snot move that was. I guess I should have just swallowed the problem, paid and gotten over it. But I am running low on cash and every time we’ve gone out in these last few weeks, I’ve paid. She doesn’t even ask if it’s all right. Sonia had a Mexican mother and an American father. The Mexican mother probably set her on the course of not paying when going out with a man, especially a gringo.
Rigorous beauty dances in the heart of the sun. It is the sun ennobling the outcry that still haunts these days. It is late, the body will not surrender to loss and yet we have it facing us, begins to structure a stress fracture in the mind, begins to rummage through all parts of our desire. This could include the rummaging through the past that manages the world of our confusions. We can only just find in our processes something that condenses into an eternal yarn, an eternal spin that revolves around our never-ending sun.
Neither relation worked. Amiss, money issues with one, disagreements about sex with the other. You fucked it all up, says D. One great night and the second night I complained, she says. And Sonia says I am not making enough money. She says the last time we traveled, she spent more than I did.
Two consciousnesses weighing on one. The weight of two needs, two separate allegiances. When with me, the other weighs on me. And yet, with one, there is only the one consciousness. And the weight continues, the load of having to answer another. Better to leave all—that thought recurs. And yet solitude is also a problem. No answer. I call Jane on occasion to see how things are going down there in Mexico. She keeps a separate place, but we are regularly together.
Remorse and pleading backward. Nothing to be done by re-arranging all the texture of memory.
Now Sonia has me worried. I think she is losing it and it’s starting to take over everything we do. She is angry at her ex or soon-to-be ex. He is making demands, and watching her every move. She says he has somebody following her wherever she goes. Wants to get dirt on her, or maybe worse. What do I do? Protect her? Wounded animals all around. I guess I could go to Goldman the producer and see if she has any ideas. Or to Voorhees.
Beautiful women and their men. What an endless saga, and one open to speculation as to what can be done to make it all work. I think it may be time to let it all go, to get beyond speculative desire. If only it were as easily done as the saying of it. If only Solitude would send me the right message about what I can do with existence. There must be some way to come through with the thought parallels that might be the opening I need to sponsor a way to traffic the airwaves with new energy, new emotion, a fresh way of seeing. A sensation devoutly to be wished for. A sensation compounded of the very essentials of living.
Sonia writes me in an email: ‘you seem to think you can have me in scenes and in person. I’m tired of mistreatment by men. You want flesh, money and soul. I am thinking of pulling away and leaving you to your own premises. I DO NOT LIKE HANGERS-ON. And you seem to be a changeling, forever disrupting whatever seems like it is stable. I liked you, never loved you, you are too selfish for that but let’s leave this for now.’ S
Riding a rut across time. Need for disparaging graceful innuendoes. Great leap of faith that stretches all the way through the necessities of time. I didn’t want more of this, didn’t want to catch fire, did not want to know more than I do. Obvious stretch of the image and a concurrence of forms that extend every idea into a further force. Actor, soldier, tailor, edgy prophet.
Come what may, it’s an outpost surrounding the particulars of our time here. This set, this unfulfilled idea, this groping for mystery that never gets to the bottom of the barrel.
Now as I look this over, I see I am perpetuating a fiction. I am no longer with Jane and yet I allow she is still with me. I made her into something she is not, a figment, to perhaps lend credibility to the story. In reality I am despairingly alone, not close to any woman. Maybe Sonia, but who is she, but another fiction? A movie in my head, in my declarations, in my tortured mind. Nobody lives with me, nobody wants me back; I stay with no one, I am beholden to no one and so it goes. This deliberate making things up to appear a certain way is a lost cause; I knew that years back and yet I still try it on like a worn out shirt or a pair of pants that no longer fits.
Was Sonia my sister or my muse? Who could tell, and who would interrupt my confusion long enough for me to settle into an inner dialogue that would cough up some answers?
In the dream, a woman throws the ball over the fence rather than to me, which is how I rehearsed it. Then there were no more balls. Who took them? I ask, knowing it’s the management. It’s a holiday and she is to meet friends; she cries because she knows I do not want to go. I have plans to go deep into the jungle and do ayahuasca, I tell her, hoping I could meet her after.
Before I leave 2 guys show up at my small apartment; one wants to throw away some garbage—I show him where and give him another plastic bag, & one of my discarded shirts. Another shows with lots of personal queries I don’t answer. He then pulls out a hash pipe & wants me to smoke with him. I say no, I have things to do. He lights up on his own. I think he may be a spy or something official. I think of my jungle project, later in the day.
At some point, I drink a beer that has a double label, part Budweiser and part foreign beer.
Fringe elementals. At some point in the part, I have to extend myself toward suicide, and then provide an antidote at the last minute. Bienestado actually gets totally suicidal after the woman (Blanca) which Sonia plays very well, starts to pull away from him. The writing takes off in this development, and all the wild dangers of passionate romance creep into my character’s mind and I have to go down deep in my acting method and find the agony he is going through. He cannot find himself, he ducks into a shell, starts to stone-out, starts to read himself into a veering box of self-contempt. I think Sonia goes through something similar, though she is immune to the savage self-beating I have to take on. I knew there would be a time in the life of this part and this shoot when I would wither under the storm of the self doubts this guy has to endure. He really doesn’t want to live if Blanca leaves him. He has his whole psyche immersed in her power. She becomes contentious when he tries to control her, and he loses her from sheer overbearing interest in her every move.
I really should try to have a word with Sonia and Voorhees about this situation. There is no use in my capitulating to the character’s will in this matter. I can see Death come knocking on my trailer door; and even though the part does not call for me to actually die, I come close enough for it to unravel whatever peace I have found for myself. But in another sense, I am at risk much of the time these days. I have been womanless more or less for quite some time, and as Sonia moves back and forth between me and her sometime husband and the other folks on the set she occasionally fucks, I have to cut myself some slack and let her stampede around this set and her weird part which Kornholz cooked up I think to allay his own demons in this regard. Kornholz was married five times I think, has several kids with multiple wives and is generally thought to be pretty much totally misogynistic at this point in his career, though I have seen him around the set with several starlets who probably do the job for him these days. He’s not much younger than me, though he gets to pen the parts while I actually have to nosedive into them and pay the price.
--Ludwig, why does this guy become such a wimp about women?
--He’s allover the map, I know, but I wanted something modern.
--What’s that mean?
--He’s a confused guy.
--Yeah. No doubt. He’s hard to play and get right.
--Well, just keep going deep. You are a deep cat.
The thing I have to do is not expect that much help in getting to the bottom of this guy’s prearranged bullshit of a mind. He can’t figure women out and when he does surrender to Sonia’s Blanca, he still manages a self-reproach that accelerates his demise. He’s an enigma to himself, doesn’t seem to get it when it comes to his own desires, and he stumbles when he should be flying. And when he’s way down, he drinks.
‘I want you and I dread you’, Sonia’s Blanca says in the scene we keep repeating. ‘You are an atrocity, and yet I love you.’ Now I have to storm this part, and it will take its toll on me, I am sure. The feelings I have to endure I think will make it impossible for me to see Sonia outside the shoot. The parts are the sum of the fallout; nothing to be accomplished by jesting when it is actually too late to make something up. ‘Behavior’, I heard from Edward Call, who directed me in a Mamet piece years back. We don’t want you thinking this part into a mechanical form of art, we want you in, really in. Of course, and Voorhees wants a screen reality that transcends modern work. And the close-ups of the anguish in the part I am playing are going to yield the utter darkness I have to admit is beyond reckoning. At least I think that now. I do not think we’ve got the best of this yet, so I have to find my portable incendiary power fulminating around the edges of this project, which I have come to think will never be perfect, though I want to keep at it hoping we get it close to right. One of the advantages of filming this kind of distorted mass of feeling is that we can re-do it, which is both a curse and a blessing. In the theater there is only each performance, though in rehearsal much of the work is done by the time the piece opens. With all the mechanical crap around the two of us trying to get these scenes right, there is the nightmare of being invaded by monstrous corporate forces operating like huge eyes into the soul. I really don’t like these shoots.
And yet SAG salaries make up for the lack of audience that would bring this kind of work into a living space where actors can be in their bodies and vocal capacities and still have a human response. But even though Voorhees makes sounds when he likes something, there is really a kind of awful silence when we are shooting, as the sound systems have to be just right to pick up everything we say. Sometimes, I’d like to strangle these technical wizards who are prima donnas in their respective fields, always trying for a spectacular yield from their bag of tricks. Once in a while, you hear the word ‘union’ spoken by somebody but it never comes to much. The producers generally respect ‘the talent’ and the food is really great most of the time. And they give us breaks and we do have a trailer at the ready if we need to duck in for some privacy or rest. And the Brookfield Hotel had decent rooms for most of us. But you can see how people like Norma Jean Monroe went crazy around this shit, and how she hoped she could find a life in the New York theater scene which she hoped would dignify her abilities even after she became a big star. But she was not really big enough vocally for stage work. When I first broke in, I did nothing but stage, and the casting people complained there was not enough film on me. Actors. Often playthings or puppets of an industry that is really pretty crass in many ways, though you sell out readily if you want to make the real dough.
The rushes of the scene from hell were pretty awful, or so I thought. I had a conference with Voorhees and Kornholz, asking if we could start the scene from scratch, and let the production linger for a while until we could rehearse the damn thing until we liked it. Voorhees said we were already behind schedule, but if it had to be, etc. Kornholz asked if I thought there was something he could do with the part that would make it easier. I said I thought Sonia’s husband on the set was a major obstacle. ‘Couldn’t he just vanish and go lick his wounds?’ I could tell Voorhees did not like the fact that Sonia and I were ‘friends.’ So I had to swallow the fact that yes, we could do more off-camera rehearsal, but the artificial atmosphere of the shoot would continue just as always. ‘We have to stop all the time—there are interruptions when something does not work, or when the sound is off, or when the camera is in the wrong place—live with it!’ Ok. I send Sonia an email which I know she reads in her trailer:
Dear Sonia—I know you think I am screwing with this scene, but believe me, I want it to work as much as you and Voorhees do. It’s just that I think I am actually breaking down. I do not like what we’ve done so far with this. Would you be willing to rehearse on our own time? I don’t want to go to SAG and talk about the extra money this may cost, so let’s not go down that road. Let me know your thoughts. Much love, B
B,--I do not want to rehearse this scene anymore. It takes away from the emotional spontaneity of the scene, and it is unnecessary. Get ready to re-do the scene, that’s all I have to say…Sonia
Maybe editor Bob Stanhope can put the whole thing together. We are doing some kind of hand-held spontaneity, and the picture I think is becoming gloomy with indecision. I wonder if my character can come up with any kind of semblance of real emotion. We have a losing marriage, but it can be salvaged if we realize the kids are gone, living their own lives.
How did I ever get to this place? Nothing to be done. Nothing in my own impotent self that can salvage the necessities of another vision. My tenure on this earth is becoming a subject of imaginal research, and I think I have not lived up to my potential. We go so long without moorings and then comes to us something usefully sane and we realize we failed. We failed to make use of our talents; we failed to garner the stuff to make a life worthwhile.
Acting is my nemesis and my love. I do like being onstage in a good piece. It’s as close as I get to something round and furious like a good fuck.
But it doesn’t necessarily keep me content. It is something that comes and goes in my mind. When I had a certain agent in LA years back, it was hard for me to get parts because casting people said I looked like Jack Warden. But then I don’t think I was good enough, so it was probably an uphill battle. Struggling to make it as an actor is a terrible anguish for a person. I should have given it up long ago.
I’ve started remembering my life with women. I paid for two abortions in my life, or maybe the second was on insurance. The first I was still in college, with J., my grad student girlfriend in the art department at UCLA. That seemed necessary, though she described the ordeal as a nightmare, blindfolded in a weird part of LA. The second with S., I still feel bad about because she wanted to keep the child and I didn’t. I had had one child I hardly saw when she was growing up, and was beginning to imagine a second. S. and I had gone through rough times, and were on the verge of breaking up when the pregnancy occurred. We talked with friends. She had a daughter from a previous relationship, and that kid was a mess. But in retrospect, I should have been willing to go ahead with it, because she wanted another child. But in the end, she aborted, though with great misgivings.
I never really wanted a lot of money. It was just a way to do things, to travel or eat in restaurants or buy wine. But I can see some people take it very seriously, as if it were a calling. Sonia does not like it when she has to contribute to something I should pay for. It is my obligation, from her point of view to pay for meals or cars or transport. She is to be pampered, treated with great respect and courtesy. The man has the money, this is taken for granted. And it is not a choice, it is a sort of lifestyle, a progress of roles which has been handed down by generations of women to their daughters.
Your father would like to speak with you. Wait till your father comes home and ask him. I cannot decide these things on my own.
I am beholden to women, a woman, a trail that leads throughout a life. But perhaps it can come to an end, as all things do. I can bow out of this struggle, this formidable ongoing disposition that pulls me toward this theater of relations, and then when the show is over, the ovations and bows taken, then there can be a silence, a withdrawal.
My own world there alone, the place of the details, the fathoming, the context, the scrawl. Look at how you perform your wayward march. Size up the destined fury of these days, and preclude what trace harmonics will keep you in the world’s regard. Conversations once kept entirely for the sake of exploration now are a thing of memory. Nobody can remember quite where they are. We have become lost in our own antiquity, pummeled into dense state of forgetfulness. Dementia is spreading about the land and nothing can bring us back to sane translation of experience into reliable structures. Even Sonia and people my own age seem to be wearing their smartphones as if they were inventions stuck in a brain.
Staggering about this strange scene, not really able to find in it all something to rally forces. It’s a marginally interesting occasion. I’ve done what I could so far, and it is not feeding me anything like that celestial food I crave. What brought us here and keeps us here, though we want something else. I say to myself come on, you can carry on, but then a sense of being on the way out drowns me in a sense of malaise, I can’t explain it. Agitation and depression, downward sinking into some kind of hole, a heavy dark place, a hole that doesn’t shrink but grows unbearably larger with passing hours. Once I thought that the basic problem was the passing of time so fast you couldn’t get a grip on it, but now I think it’s being here that’s the problem. Being stuck here somehow is the real issue. There’s not a clear way out, or so I say to myself at this juncture. I walked around earlier in the town near this nowhere zone, but nothing much came of it. I bought some coffee, beer, some time for my phone.
But make no mistake: Sonia was part of me and always would be. She was artist, model, actress extraordinaire, courtesan and a wilderness I would never fully know or conquer. She was not made for marriage with one man, so that any part she played was only a tiny slice of her underworld of make-believe and substantive splendor. But I needed to live in this brief episodic erotic rhapsody without too much judgment.
But there’s nothing of any consequence on the horizon. A few more days of this shoot, and I’m done. I’m already done, to tell the truth. I have tried to find in these later years something I really wanted to do, but having tried several things—philosophy, poetry, anthropology, painting—it was clearer now that there is no subject matter that matches my own divided inclination to exasperate myself. Even women—those variable creatures with whom one can explore heaven and hell as well as with any drug— were becoming a kind of anathema to me. They all looked different; some were divine in grace and beauty, thin arms being one of the things I find attractive, but then legs and feet which dazzle me at times. But now desire was on the wane, and a sort of sentimental longing was the revised map of my soul. Nothing in reality looked desirable in the scheme of things, or so I thought.
A good night’s rest and I am back at it. Sonia is up early as well; I can see she is refreshed and we can begin again. Yes, Voorhees, I have my lines; give me the marks and let’s get rolling. Who? I ask. Voorhees gives me a look of uncertainty, raises his shoulders in mock-quizzicalness, and says Kornholz has written in a doppelganger for Bienestado, who is going to shadow the character for a scene or two, as in a dream sequence. Dream sequence, I say, what in the world are you talking about? We’ll see in the rushes, says Voorhees, just let it go for now. It’s under control. Just do your part.
So I am climbing a hill to a theater in this dreamscene, the double who is also me is already in the theater. He has the part of King Lear, which I have rehearsed and was ready to play, but I am too late; the piece is already underway and all I can do is watch from the wings. John Spengler is playing my double; he is a pretty good actor, but I don’t get how they came to write him in. He is taller than I am, but does not have my physical presence. I am in the dark here, but I think I should wait and see. I ask Sonia if she saw this coming, and she too shrugs her shoulders. It could be good, she adds.
I liked the blending of dream and present circumstance Fellini was able to pull off. Just not sure Kornholz/Voorhees have the same capacity. But the idea of another version of me suddenly introduced at this stage of the script is a little disconcerting. But ok, let it pass; we shall see soon enough if it works.
‘It’s my money, I’m not taking care of you or any other man.’ Stillborn in the makeshift distance of trying to disentangle what she wanted from me—I knew that if I were the one with more money, she would have no trouble having me pay her way. This was an old system of female dependency left over from another age. A kept man (hombre mantenido) was something repulsive, but a kept woman was standard operating procedure. Nothing much had changed. So the solution for women like Sonia was to bag another guy with real money. ‘Don’t tell me what kind of man I should have!’ she railed. No way to win that one at all.
The dream had me with the young beauty. As I was bending to kiss her on the bed, she was telling me about her boyfriend. She did not stop me, but I think wanted me to know this was a kind of one shot thing, and she would have to decline the second time. The two women so intensely involved in conversation about the one woman’s doctorate in biology and the admission that she went to law school to get a job was coming on strong and I did not know whether they were serious or not. Sounded like they were, a lot of wet smacking and pleasure sounds.
Word reaches me that a friend in my little Mexican village is failing, becoming demented, and other friends are trying to get him to a care facility.
This saddens me as I do not know how to approach the problem. There has to be a way to help him, but he may be beyond help. I think I should try to get back fairly soon.
What K. needs is company, and activity, not some impersonal care facility. He needs a human community.
Sonia tells me she hasn’t decided if she will leave her husband. ‘It’s a whole lifetime of engagement, a sense of place; we have our farm, the place where I grew into adulthood. ‘I was only 24 when we married,’ she goes on, ‘and I have my identity tied with place, marriage, my kids. On the other hand, I feel stifled, the marriage no longer has anything like intimacy or growth and it wears me out how lonely I am, how painfully alone a person can be with a cold relation with another who is around, but instead of relieving loneliness, exacerbates it, leaves me sad and despondent.’
And yet stasis, no decision, worry over what to do, a sense of having a responsibility to keep up the continuity, the appearances, the dull stalemate.
But what unknowns await, what difficulties will transcribe the new reality, what further focus of dimensions of reality that cannot be contained by some framework which I only glimpse, can never see fully. What should I do, I go on with this self doubt, this self scrutiny, the self mortification as the play continues to grind to some conclusion, but what it is, I cannot say.
I am leaving this shoot. I can no longer take what they are doing with the piece. It had potential, but now I think it is botched. There is no continuity, no real storyline, and I am done with it. The situation with Sonia has gotten worse, she is not going to make any decisions. Voorhees is not competent. I will leave them the footage I’ve completed and they can either start over with another actor, or blend my scenes into something else. There are times when integrity is tested, this has to be one of them. What I will do next is not that bothersome right now. I am determined to go away from this emptiness. I am exhausted with bullshit.
When I get back to my little pueblo, I learn that my friend K. has died. His cousin absconded with him to Vermont, where he was placed in a nursing home and withered away. Now there will be a service. The place is not the same without him. The emptiness I began to feel while working on the part is now resonating here. I have to recover. I call Jane and she says she is willing to help put Humpty-Dumpty back together. It’s good to hear her voice, though I sense she is not happy with me. There will need to be some healing if we are to start up again. I really don’t know if she wants me back or not, truth to tell.
I have to begin to see in all this assemblage of fleeting dreams something I cannot control. Sonia writes me from the set: ‘I sort of miss you.
But you were becoming way too difficult for me and I think for Voorhees too. He has replaced you with some unknown, and, though I have no desire to get close to him, he seems pretty interesting. He just finished a series about an FBI agent who leaves his family for a new woman. Sound familiar? Cheers, S.’