The Mistress – Flash Fiction For 2/1/13

If you would like to come out and play with Rochell Wisoff-Fields and the Friday Fictioneers, click here.

Genre: Historical Fiction

Photo copyright Claire Fuller

Photo copyright Claire Fuller

“Drinking alone, I see,” said the Roman judge to his mistress.

She filled his chalice. He gulped it.

“I’m celebrating completing  my sculpture.”

He looked appraisingly.

“A passable likeness of yourself, but I’m ugly, instead of handsome.”

“I carved you the way I see you.”

“Vindictive wench, I have enough troubles. The city rages over this Nazarene carpenter I sent to Calvary.”

Suddenly, he clutched his stomach and fell to his knees.

“The wine . . . I am betrayed. You, a Christian?”

She lifted the statue and smashed his head.

“Nay.  An eye for an eye. I’m Old Testament.”

Movies About Movie Stars

Daniel Day Lews and Sally Field in Lincoln

Daniel Day Lews and Sally Field in Lincoln

Nicole Kidman as Grace Kelly

Nicole Kidman as Grace Kelly

In the last couple of years, I’ve noted a growing trend in moviemaking, films focused on movie stars and political figures. In other words, movies about celebrities, being played by other celebrities.

With the 2013 Academy Awards less than a month away, one of the leading contenders for best picture is Lincoln, and the favorite to win best actor is Daniel Day Lewis who portrays the sixteenth U.S. President. Also favored to win is Sally Field for her supporting role as Mary Todd Lincoln.

Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady

Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady

Just last year, Meryl Streep took home an Oscar for her role as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady. Julianne Moore won a 2012 Emmy for playing Sarah Palin in HBO’s Game Change miniseries. And Bill Murray also is getting into the act, literally, with Hyde Park On The Hudson, in which he plays FDR.

But even more profuse are the films being churned out in which movie stars play other movie stars.

In one of the more intriguing films of this type, yet to be released, Princess Grace of Monaco, Nicole Kidman plays Grace Kelly with a story line about how miserable Kelly became during her marriage to Prince Ranier.HITCHCOCK-Movie

In current release is Hitchcock, in which an ensemble cast led by Anthony Hopkins, cast as Hitch, step into the shoes of movie royalty so moviegoers can go gaga with celebrity worship retroactively. Scarlettt Johansson takes on the iconic regurgitation of Janet Leigh in Psycho, James D’Arcy morphs into Tony Perkins, Jessica Biel is Vera Miles and Helen Mirren plays Hitchcock’s wife Alma Reville.

Toby Jones and Sienna Miller in The Girl

Toby Jones and Sienna Miller in The Girl

Actually this is the second time the legendary director has been the centerpiece of a film recently. Just last October, HBO premiered The Girl, about the making of Hitchcock’s The Birds, starring Toby Jones as the director and Sienna Miller as Tippy Hedren.

It seems that if you were a major Hollywood star, you can count on a movie coming out about your life not long after you die.

One example, Liz and Dick. Last year 3.5 million viewers tuned in to Lifetime to see Lindsay Lohan imitate Elizabeth Taylor and Grant Bowler try to recreate Richard Burton.

Lindsay Lohan and Grant Bowler in Liz and Dick

Lindsay Lohan and Grant Bowler in Liz and Dick

Finally, there is the most portrayed movie star of all time, Marilyn Monroe, who has been the subject no less than 25 times in films, music videos, advertising campaigns and TV shows. And the idolatry goes on. In October 2011, My Week With Marilyn came out, featuring Michelle Williams as the blonde bombshell and it garnered some awards attention. And released just a few months ago and produced by Brad Pitt, Blonde is based on the Joyce Carol Oates novel and Naomi Watts is the latest actress to try to inhabit the legend that is Marilyn.

So the question arises, why all these movies about movie and political stars? There’s certainly no denying that we’ve seen these kinds of movies before, with everyone from Jim Morrison to JFK being chronicled. But in past times, these kind of movies seemed to only come along occasionally. Now, we seem to be inundated with them.

One factor seems to be that celebrity worship is more rampant today than it’s ever been. A few years back, Robert Redford came and gave a speech at the local university. One of the things he addressed was celebrity worship and how overblown it is in our culture. Then, as soon as he finished speaking, a huge mob of people rushed up to him to fawn and grovel.

70202150When Hollywood makes a movie about some former movie idol, there is a double-edged built-in audience. First, movie lovers are interested in learning more about the life of the person being dissected, and second, they are interested in seeing how closely some current actor can transform himself or herself into the legend. So the appeal for this kind of movie is strong, and that should drive the production of more and more movies like this.

Another aspect that makes these movies ready-made for shooting is that the audience already knows the story and mainly just wants to go along on the ride. Who doesn’t know how Lincoln’s conflict over slavery came out? Who doesn’t know the Sarah Palin boondoggle fiasco? We know Princess Grace died in a car wreck. No dramatic surprise ending there. The point is that no screenwriter has to strain creativity to produce a brilliant innovative screenplay. The story is already there, laid out, and all the writers have to do is journalize real events. That’s a lot easier than creating a story from scratch.

Time and again, I’ve heard movie lovers who’ve seen one of these movies raving, saying  something like, “It seemed so real it was spooky.”

Naomi Watts as Marilyn in Blonde

Naomi Watts as Marilyn in Blonde

There’s no doubt that good actors can do almost letter perfect portrayals of other actors. When you play someone famous, the audience knows that person, so they are amazed when the actor playing them practically brings them back to life. But this ability is overrated. Actors can spend endless amounts of time reviewing how a famous person talked, what their signature mannerisms were, how they walked, how they dressed, how they comported themselves. Any good actor should be able to do this, and it shouldn’t be so amazing. But because the actor can hitchike on the star’s charisma, is usually is.

Probably a lot more difficult, from an acting standpoint, is creating a memorable character from fiction, a character the audience never met before. How impressive is Tom Hanks’ Forrest Gump or Billy Bob Thornton’s twisted Carl from Sling Blade? Those actors didn’t have nearly the template to work with. They had to envision the character themselves from words on paper. That’s much more challenging.

The future of this genre, movies about celebrities, seems secure. It could get ridiculous. Every person with name recognition is a potential movie. (Remember that movie about Chuck Barris?)

Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh

Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh

I have to wonder if one of these days, we’ll be watching a movie about the life of Scarlett Johansson, and it will include a section about Scarlet playing Janet Leigh, and then, whoever is playing Scarlett, will there eventually be a movie about her, playing Scarlet, playing Janet? The whole thing could get more convoluted than that picture on the Pet Milk can, which just shows that celebs are cash cows and Hollywood will keep milking them.

The Beach Party – Flash Fiction For 1/25/13

If you would like to come out and play with Rochelle Wisoff-Fields and the Friday Fictioneers, click here.

Genre: Whimsy

Photo copyright Renee Homan Heath

Photo copyright Renee Homan Heath

The singles beach party was a mess. I had a crush on Annette, but she had a thing for Tommy. Peggy slipped me a note saying she liked me and kept walking by in her black bikini. Nobody was going to tell her she didn’t have the body for it. I refused to make eye contact. Annette and Tommy were on a blanket and I saw him rubbing lotion on her back. Tommy’s girlfriend Sandra was furious. I was glad when the party broke up early and we had to head back in time for bingo at the retirement village.

Guns Of The Founding Fathers

The other night I had just gone to bed a little after midnight and was lying there about to drop off when I heard an automatic weapon firing just down the hill from my house. There was no mistaking it. The shooter fired off a burst of about 20 shots in two or three seconds. It’s impossible to pull the trigger on a semi-automatic rifle in that brief period.

It didn’t surprise me. I know gun enthusiasts where I live have automatic rifles, though they’re supposedly illegal. It doesn’t take a lot of expertise to convert a perfectly legal semi-automatic rifle like an M16 or a Bushmaster into an automatic weapon, because they were designed to be used as automatic weapons in military situations. Rifles like the Bushmaster have a modular design which makes it fairly easy to adapt them to automatic operation.

Just a few nights after first hearing the automatic fire, I happened to be awake in the wee hours, about two in the morning. Again, I heard someone not far away firing an automatic weapon. This can mean only one thing, one of my neighbors has an illegal automatic rifle and is going out in the middle of the night spraying the countryside with bullets.

founding-fathers

This is a painting of the founding fathers at the Constitutional Convention. They wrote the Second Amendment:

2ndAmendment_s640x427

Note that the Second Amendment tied the right to bear arms to the right to organize a miltia. The Second Amendment never mentions the right to bear arms for hunting,  personal protection or collecting. But the courts have expanded the rights of gun owners to include these uses.

But there’s no question that gun ownership was important to the founding fathers because private gun ownership had been pivotal in the Revolutionary War. The British not only had to contend with the rebel army, they were horrified to find that many farmers were armed and willing to take potshots at the Redcoats. The British were accustomed to fighting rival armies, but they were discouraged to find they were also under attack by an armed populace sniping at them. They had never before encountered that kind of guerilla warfare and it was demoralizing.

Every farmer owned a firearm, but not because they anticipated a war with English soldiers. Farmers had armed themselves to protect themselves from Indians during the colonial era. However, this profusion of arms turned out to be a huge advantage for the revolutionary forces, and it set the stage and tradition for Americans to routinely own guns.

s223b

When the founding fathers penned the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, guaranteeing citizens the right to bear arms, the primary weapon in use by the military was the flintlock musket. After being fired, a soldier was expected to be able to reload the musket in 15 seconds, so a trained solider could get off four rounds per minute. After about four minutes, the musket would become so fouled with black powder, it was no longer safe to fire.

Muskets also had no rifling, and the musket balls used were slightly smaller than the bore of the barrel. The result was that the ball usually came out spinning, and traveled in a curve, much like a golfer hitting a slice. Hitting a target at any distance with a musket was difficult. Muskets were so inaccurate, they didn’t even have any sights on them.

WWcoltpeacemaker

During the 1800s, advances in gun manufacturing produced weapons that could fire more rounds more quickly and were more accurate. For example, this is the Colt .45 Peacemaker, called the gun that won the west. It was first manufactured in 1873. When it first came out, it was a single-action revolver, meaning that you had to cock the revolver before firing each shot. It held six bullets, after which you had to pull out the spent brass and reload. So a gunman could fire six rounds in the same 15 seconds it took a Revolutionary War soldier to fire one shot. It had a rifled barrel and sights and would shoot straight. Still, after six shots, it would take you probably about 15 seconds at least to reload.

bushmaster_ar15_carbine

This is the AR15 Bushmaster semi-automatic rifle, the weapon used in the killing of 20 school children and 6 school staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Originally designed for military use, it’s a deadly, accurate rifle, capable of hitting targets at up to 600 meters. The automatic version, supposedly unavailable to civilians, is capable of firing 800 rounds per minute. The semi-automatic version is supplied with a clip that holds either 20 or 30 rounds, but clips are available that hold up to 100 rounds. The firing rate of the semi-automatic depends only on how fast you can pull the trigger, but experienced shooters can empty a 30-round clip in the same 15 seconds it took a Revoutionary War solider to reload one round, and still have time left to insert a new clip, meaning the semi-automatic rifle can fire more than 100 rounds per minute if extra clips are available.

Time and again I hear gun proponents citing the Second Amendment and the fact that the founding fathers put the right to private gun ownership in the Constitution. But the founding fathers were thinking of muskets when they included the amendment. And it’s also clear that they were thinking that local militias would provide a check on the power of the federal government. Both of those issues have shifted radically. Militia groups are no longer viewed favorably by the government or the public. Not long ago, the leader of my local militia was sent to jail for buying a machine gun.

The main point is this, it’s impossible to know what the founding fathers would think about private citizens owning the kind of deadly weapons available to them today. The firearms technology of their time was light years from where it has evolved today. So when the NRA cites the founding fathers, they’re claiming the endorsement of a group which only approved of the ownership of single-shot muskets.

And if the founding fathers had been able to magically envision the future and see that crazed killers would be going into shopping malls, movie theaters, and schools to kill innocent men, women and children, it’s hard to believe they would support the profusion of military-style weapons like the one I heard being fired recently in my neighborhood in the middle of the night.

Legacy – Flash Fiction for 1/18/13

If you would like to come out and play with Rochelle Wisoff-Fields and the Friday Fictioneers, click here.

Genre: Literary Fiction

Photo copyright Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

Photo copyright Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

They say I was left on the steps of the orphanage where I grew up. I knew nothing of my heritage or even my name.

When the FedEx package of random items arrived, I was mystified.

Enclosed was a letter from a lawyer:  “Our research finds you are the sole living heir of Ezra Cohen. These are his possessions. Mr. Cohen survived internment in a German death camp. He believed all his family was deceased. We hope these mementos of your grandfather will be meaningful to you.”

While I marveled at the objects, my matzo ball soup was getting cold.

Snakeland

17-gadsden

Once there was a country called Snakeland where snakes were revered and protected by the laws of the land. Snakes were so well-loved that many of the citizens of Snakeland actually kept snakes in their homes. Of course, this sometimes led to accidents, especially when curious children tried to handle the snakes and were bitten.

But snake lovers argued that having the snakes around gave them a feeling of security. If someone broke into their home, the snakes could protect them from intruders.

Soon, a huge business grew up around the breeding and selling of snakes. Patriotic snake collectors enjoyed owning many snakes, and filled their homes with them. People carried snakes in their cars and trucks. Some people carried a concealed snake to protect them from criminals. Huge snake shows were held all over the country to buy, sell and trade snakes.

Snake advocates so loved their snakes that they proposed there should be snakes everywhere, in homes, restaurants, bars, schools, colleges, and even in churches. If snakes were everywhere, everyone would be safe and protected.

Unfortunately, the snakes presented a growing problem. More and more people were getting bitten by snakes. There seemed to be a connection between the number of people who died from snake bites and the large number of snakes in Snakeland.

But snake lovers argued that the snakes were not the problem. People were the real problem. The snakes were just doing what they did naturally. It was just a few isolated crazy snake owners going haywire.

Besides, said snake lovers, the right to own snakes was a time-honored tradition in Snakeland. It was tied to the country’s identity and history.

The snake breeders kept churning out snakes. The rising number of deaths from snakebite actually stimulated their business. When a large number of people were killed by snakes, the public rushed out and bought snakes to protect themselves from other people with snakes.

Eventually, the country was completely overrun by snakes. There wasn’t anywhere you could go that wasn’t rife with snakes. You had to watch where you stepped, because the whole country was inundated with snakes.

Some people proposed putting controls on snakes, but the snake lobby was powerful and had many members. The National Reptile Association had so many politicians snake charmed, the snake crisis was ignored.

The real problem, said the NRA, was television, movies, video games and the mentally ill. Snakes couldn’t possibly be the problem, because they were the very thing that had made Snakeland a great country.

Nobody is quite sure what the future will be like in Snakeland. Every day about thirty people die from snakebites and every few months there is a mass killing by snakes.

The answer is simple say snake enthusiasts– more snakes.

The Commission – Flash Fiction for 1/11/13

If you would like to come out and play with Rochelle Wisoff-Fields and the Friday Fictioneers, click here.

Genre: Historical Fiction

Photo copyright Roger Cohen

Photo copyright Roger Cohen

I found Ludwig at the inn eating lungs and potatoes. Contempt gleamed in his small bloodshot eyes when he saw me. He knew what I wanted.

I sat across from him. He ignored me, a disgusting sight, gravy on his doublet, filthy, smelling like old piss.

The food shoveled home, he dragged a sleeve across his greasy mouth and belched loudly. He glared and flung a sheaf of papers at me. They fluttered to the floor. I re-assembled them excitedly.

Concerto in D Major for Double Bass. I followed the scrawl of notes and beautiful music played in my head.