Expansive Poetry & Music Online Essay 
A Short Film
by Arthur Mortensen
Copyright (c) 2000 by Arthur Mortensen
(Not to be reproduced, distributed
or otherwise used without the permission of the author)
The scene is the Soho office of producer Fred "Ollie" Stonewall.   Sitting opposite his desk is writer Harvey "Spectre" Delaney.   We cut in on Fred waving a screenplay over his desk:

"No, no, no, no, no!   I didn't ask for that, Harvey."

"Come on, Fred;  this is what we spoke about last Tuesday."

"The Pride of NYU?  Kevin Costner as a bestselling poet who suffers from late-onset dyslexia?"

"All right, all right, it needs work, Fred."

"It needs plausibility.  Bestselling poet?"

"Okay, so maybe it's a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet --  Robert DeNiro! and the only people who know about his work live on the Upper West Side of Manhattan."

"A Woody Allen take on the pretensions of the poetry world -- not bad. Pitch me."

"No, no, not the pretensions -- the tragedy!"

"The tragedy of a poet who switches letters in his poems being unknown outside of Manhattan."

"Think about it."

"I don't see it, Harvey."

"Okay, let's recut."

"Pitch me, Harvey. Pitch me."

"There's this passionate guy who grew up rough on Elizabeth Street."

"Next to the marble cutter...."

"Yeah, you've got it, Fred.  He grows up in a tenement all he sees are monuments being cut to the memory of dead people."

"Okay, rough then.  We'll need someone like Martin Scorcese."

"Maybe a younger Martin Scorcese."

"I like it.  So, pitch me, Harvey."

"So, despite a father who's a brutal longshoreman, and a tragic mother who's driven to alcholism by spousal abuse, the young boy, struggling to survive life in a gang and a public school education, decides that what he wants most in life is to become a poet."

"Harvey, I've got a problem."

"Yeah, I'm listening."

"All the longshoremen in New York were bought out in a deal cut by Anthony Scotto in the 1960's."

"Okay, so the father's been out of work for thirty-five years.  Frustration, anger. 'I could have been a contender.'  Motivation, Fred, motivation."

"I can't see a guy with a guaranteed income of $40 thousand a year for not working doing much more than going to the racetrack."

"Okay, okay, I see that. So, he's not abusive; he's an abandoning father."

"Why abandoning?  The last race is at about 4 o'clock; even if he's out at Belmont, he should be home in time to cook dinner, nevermind eat it."

"Well, in the world of poetry on the Upper West Side,  all fathers are abandoning.  It's a given, Fred."

"I'll put that reel in the back for now; go on."

"Fred, now this is the kicker.   The mother, abandoned by the poet's father, is a sexually frustrated woman who preys seductively on her son's vulnerability."

"I'm  supposed to see Robert DeNiro as vulnerable to his mother?  We're stretching plausibility, Harvey"

"With the right co-star, how could we miss?"

"Who do you see?"

"I'm looking at Juliette Lewis, Fred."

"Oh, great, Taxi Driver Finds A Way With a Gun.  Not a great choice for an election year, Harvey."

"A straight Auden with a Lower East Side accent -- how could we miss?"

"A straight Auden?  Too provincial, Harvey. And what happened to the Upper West Side?"

"Fred, what West Sider has Manhattan credentials going back to childhood?  Most are from somewhere else.  DeNiro would offset the ones from Iowa.  We're talking authentic."

"We've gone from the Upper West to the Lower East Side to Iowa.  That's authentic?  What's the connection?"

"There isn't one, Fred."

"I'm not seeing this, Harvey."

"Okay, okay, let's recut. How about Matt Damon."

"Matt Damon from the Lower East Side?  Who's the mother -- Darryl Hannah?"

"Fred, you're mocking me."

"She still looks good."

"She's too young to be Matt Damon's mother, Fred."

"She's hot; I'd believe her as seductive, Harvey."

"Okay, okay, so Matt Damon with Darryl Hannah as the mother.  But there's this love interest...."

"The young poet has a love interest who's not his mother?"


"But I thought this was a tragedy."

"It is; it is, Fred."

"So it must be a woman his own age, Harvey."

"Of course.  The man-woman thing is always tragic on the Upper West Side."

"Very poetic.  I think I see it."

"Great, Fred."

"So maybe she's kind of a Sharon Olds?"

"You know about Sharon Olds, Fred?"

"Yeah, it's a name I've memorized."

"Really?  What about her poetry?"

"Oh, I've never read that.  But her name was easy.  I just think of Sharon Stone in the back seat of an Oldsmobile."

"I'm not sure that's in the story, Fred.  But you think Sharon Olds should be in the picture?"

"I'm guessing someone like her is the love interest, you know, a younger Sharon Olds."

"Maybe we could call her Rose Barney, Fred."

"Okay.  I'm listening."

"Now, Rose Barney -- who are you thinking, Kate Hudson?"

"Someone almost famous with lots of hair, Harvey."

"Okay, so Rose Barney...do we have a name for the Matt Damon part?"

"What was the one you used in Pride of NYU? Listen, I am sorry about that, but you know..."

"It's okay, Fred.  Eliminating possiblities, isn't that what a conference is all about?"

"The name, Harvey?"

"Dana Feirstein!"

"The mother was Sicilian and the father was Jewish?"

"That's it, Fred.  Very perceptive.  I think we're getting this."

"I can see problems, Harvey.  Big problems.  For one, Matt Damon doesn't look Sicilian or Jewish.  He's too preppy, don't you think?"

"Put a cab driver in the right jacket and tie, give him a few weeks of oral interpretation, and he'll sound like he's ready for Yale."

"Okay, I think I see that, Harvey.  But..."

"Fred, let me finish my pitch."

"Just a minute, Harvey.  This is a collaborative enterprise here; we're conferencing a story.  There are no authors here."

"Right, right.  I sometimes forget."

"Well, you shouldn't, Harvey.  And as a conferencee, I have to ask this first. This isn't supposed to be a true story, is it?"

"We're conferencing a theatrical release here, Fred, not a biography for A&E."

"Okay, so what are the real limitations then?  Couldn't we do an animated version?  How about Snow White Meets The Seventh Dwarf? That's pretty poetic, isn't?"


"Of course."

"That's hot, Fred.   Hot.  Is that a Salemi property?"

"We might base it on that.   First, though, we take it out of Manhattan -- "

"No, no, we can't do that, Fred.  Manhattan's key...."

"Okay, okay, so we make Manhattan into a metaphor..."

"Gotham City?"

"I think that's been done, Harvey."

"But something like..."

"And instead of being from the Lower East Side, the kid -- I hear Arnold Schwarzenegger -- is a teenaged survivor of the Kosovo war.  But we won't call it Kosovo -- we'll call it -- let me think.  I've got it.  Lower Albrighta-Clintonia."

"That's subtle; that's deep, and I like it, Fred.   But wouldn't he be a little young to be a poet?"

"He's sincere.  You can always hear it in that voice.  So it doesn't matter if he's fifteen.  And with Arnie offscreen,  you don't have to worry about seeing the scars from his bypass surgery.   As for the mother -- I'm hearing Alison Steele,. you know, that great FM disk jockey..."

"She's dead, Fred."

"Not a problem!  We can digitize from voice samples -- it's the voice I hear, not whether she's alive or dead.  We can give the screen credit to your girlfriend."

"Your kindness is overwhelming; and Sandra desperately needs a S.A.G. card."

"So, she's the mother, but not just any mother, but a mother who's a cross between Saraguina in 8 1/2 and Sophia Loren in Divorce, Italian Style."

"Not Special Day...."

"Harvey, it's not that kind of movie."

"But a poet from Kosovo?  What about the language problem, Fred?"

"I see the poetry in subtitles -- you know the market we're after loves the sound of foreign languages.  It makes them feel so global, capece?"

"Ou-ai, absolument..."

"You're getting into the spirit, Harvey. And the subtitles, if they're done with a certain typographic flare, will help our audience believe that they actually understand what they're hearing."

"Sort of subliminable."

"You've got it, Harvey.  Now, the love interest -- I hear a young Katherine Hepburn."


"No, no, there's that good impressionist we saw last week at Catch a Rising Star."

"Fred, she's a female impersonator."

"Better than the original! And besides you won't see her.  Who would want to see Hepburn?  She's over ninety years old."

"Okay, okay.   But what's the arc?"

"Harvey, do I have to do all the work here?"

"I'm working.  I'm working..."

"Good, that's what I pay you for.  So?"

"So we've got  so far -- we've got a  double-victim in the poet."

"That's what I'm seeing, Harvey.  Sort of a poet-of-the-week story...."

"That's it exactly, Fred.  And he's looking to save the honor of his girlfriend, who's been slandered as a neo-formalist by Diane Wakoski, a friend of his evil mother..."

"Come on, Harvey.  Are we doing Sunday Night at the Movies or a theatrical release?"

"All right, all right.  He's trying to save the honor of his country.  Think Mel Gibson...."

"Swordplay, maiden in distress, lots of boob and dreamy smiles, long hair and horses...."

"That's it."

"Harvey, what's the budget?  I'm seeing hundreds of extras, more than one star, Friends of Animals cops on the set -- a nightmare.  The insurance alone..."

"So maybe instead of horses, our hero, Dana Feirstein, is sending the language of poetry against the enemy."

"Language poetry? Who can read that?  And the subtitles would be impossible, Harvey.  For one, who would believe them?"

"All right, let's recut."

"Harvey, I've got a better idea.  I've got a property about a corrupt cop who finds salvation by turning in his boss as a sexual harasser."

"What about our poet?  We've worked hard on this project.  Weeks!"

"Look Harvey, if you want to have him read a poem when we loop in the voice-over, that's fine. You can even call him Dana Feirstein if you want, though I'm having a hard time seeing that.  And Harvey, guess what?  I've got a sure tip that one of the Baldwins will do it if I can pitch it to Darryl Hannah."

"She's the victim, Fred?"

"No, no, it's a completely new cut on the story.  She's the harasser.  The guy would be the victim!"

"Wow, Fred."

"Of course there are mitigating circumstances. I mean, hey, it's Darryl Hannah, right? What do you think?"

"That's a story you can take to market, Fred."

"Yeah.  Who knows a thing about poets anyway?"

"After Eliot, the deluge...."

                        Arthur Mortensen