Romy Schneider in Uniform, on the Trail to Bandit Country

Romy Schneider in Western garb, 1952.

Romy Schneider in Western garb, 1952.

While writing a comedy dedicated to Luis Buñuel last summer I initially refrained from watching anything other than his films, so as to accustom my imagination with both Buñuel’s timing and framing; I also gave myself the excuse to catch up on a few from his Mexican period, which I had been saving (such as Illusion Travels by Streetcar). But eventually I began making exceptions. You see, when I’m writing fiction I tend to use real people as models, in order to help me visualize the characters and scenes. And since three of the leading characters in my comedy were physically inspired by actors Alain Delon, Romy Schneider, and Michel Piccoli, I carefully selected and viewed films in which they starred but that I had not yet seen. Three of these with Piccoli allowed me to feel comfortable with taking a break from Buñuel—without the fear of losing my inspiration—and introduced me to the films of Marco Ferreri (with La Grande Bouffe, Dillinger is Dead, and Don’t Touch The White Woman!). Other memorable films I watched during those months, with Alain Delon, were Purple Noon, Borsalino (co-starring Jean-Paul Belmondo, who had also inspired another one of my characters), and The Swimming Pool (with Romy Schneider).

The project was a spur of the moment reaction I had undertaken after reading the original film treatment it was based on, which was to have been presented with my blog’s third post. But this blog itself was prompted by the desire to share my movie finds and writing hobby while organizing my first screenplay and second Western.

The first images that gave birth to Bandit Country, which I am very happy to be pursuing again, were conceived of only a couple of days into February of 2011, after having had a repeated viewing of Dirty Little Billy (before its DVD release) and upon concluding my exploration of director Paul Morrissey’s feature films of the ‘70s and ‘80s. While I had known and loved Morrissey’s Blood for Dracula for many years, I hadn’t felt inclined to sample his other work, besides Flesh for Frankenstein. But that changed in late January, after stumbling upon Mixed Blood thru my online rental provider. Upon noting the consistency in humor of the latter crime film and those earlier horror-satires, I simply had to catch up with what else I had been missing out on. And within a couple of days I had managed to track down and watch all but one title (L’Amour).

The laughs and fun I got out of those Morrissey’s (especially two starring Holly Woodlawn: Trash and Women in Revolt) combined with my interest in the Billy the Kid origin story (Dirty Little Billy), as well as impressions left over in my subconscious from an Argentinian intersex drama I had seen months earlier (XXY with Inés Efron) must explain what the hell it was I had swimming around inside my head when I got the funny idea involving Morrissey regular Joe Dallesandro and Fellini Satyricon’s Gitone (Max Born), which left me itching to write a story to accompany what I’m still chuckling about. Incidentally, it’s when I went searching to find out what became of actor Max Born that I found the excerpt from Ciao, Federico! (click on his name) in which he sings a Bob Dylan classic that lead me to find this version of it. And it was the playful mood in that cover of Don’t Think Twice (performed by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons) that allowed me to imagine my two leading characters’ train ride out West and the unveiling of Bandit Country’s story. No, neither of those ‘kids’ is the one that’s Dallesandro-inspired. They meet up with that brute later.

To pick up additional ideas and inspiration for the benefit of one my leading protagonists, I’ve spent the following months, on and off, carefully selecting and viewing films with an LGBT theme. (It’s worth noting that before I began my research I had just watched a great Mexican Western featuring gay outlaws, recommended by director Alex Cox: Alberto Mariscal’s Los Marcados.)

I began with Querelle, which not only introduced me to the works of Rainer Werner Fassbinder but also helped me resolve the only scene I had left to figure out before completing my comedy (it was the presence of Jeanne Moreau that inspired Ardie’s Redheaded Woman). Besides the visually stunning Querelle, other titles which have impressed me most so far have been Toshio Matsumoto’s Funeral Parade of Roses (apparently influential on Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange), Fassbinder’s In A Year With 13 Moons, Luchino Visconti’s Death in Venice, fashion designer Tom Ford’s A Single Man, Nagisa Ôshima’s Taboo, Gregg Araki’s Mysterious Skin, and the 1958 remake of Mädchen in Uniform starring Romy Schneider. I immediately knew upon my initial viewing of the latter film that I wanted to comment on it here, and thought it best to save for when I returned to work on Bandit Country. But when Todd Liebenow of Forgotten Films recently invited me to contribute to a guest blogger series in which the author had to review a title which featured a celebrity he or she had a crush on, the timing and opportunity felt just right.

Back in late 1996, when I got myself a Laserdisc player after a close friend gave me a new appreciation for movie making, I wanted to read about and learn from the film giants. And the first two books I picked up were The Complete Films of Orson Welles by James Howard and Scorsese on Scorsese edited by David Thompson and Ian Christie (the October 1996 edition). Among the titles I jotted down to seek out, I was powerfully drawn to Howard’s section on Welles’ The Trial, which included two photos (click here and here) with a lovely young actress that had just as much to do with my interest in finding that film as the appealing sound of Welles adapting Franz Kafka. Fortunately I shortly found and purchased two VHS/EP copies, and for many years I’d tell everyone that The Trial was my favorite movie, as I related to the story at the time and loved its sense of humor; I later purchased and still own the Roan Group’s Laserdisc release of it, and was thrilled to have seen it on the big screen at Bill Cosford Cinema with a receptive group of appreciative friends.

Portrait of Romy Schneider in Chanel, 1963.

Portrait of Romy Schneider in Chanel, 1963.

While favorites have changed throughout the years, Romy Schneider remains in that special place in my heart that I can’t say any other actress has ever dug themselves into, and there have certainly been others whose charms I’ve fallen for. Both beautiful and immensely talented, there’s something about Schneider’s face that pulls a protective big brother-like love out of me nearly every time I see her in a film, sort of like what she does to Servais Mont (Fabio Testi) in L’important C’est D’aimer. It disturbs me whenever I see her sad or even nude on film. (I laugh at myself now for wishing horrors on director Claude Chabrol, along with a couple of the actors, for her character’s abuse and humiliation in Innocents with Dirty Hands.) Schneider actually had more than her share of tragedy in her personal life, including the accidental death of her 14-year-old son.

Reviewed here for Forgotten Films, Mädchen in Uniform was one of my ten favorite older movie discoveries in 2011, and remains among a handful of titles starring Romy Schneider which I simply adore and will continue to revisit for both entertainment and for inspiration as a writer. It’s no coincidence that my muse resembles Schneider a bit.

More details on Bandit Country and its other inhabitants to follow, along with two more posts; one focusing on ‘cooking up a better villain’. I’ve been watching a lot of older Westerns lately (including treasures like Monte Walsh, Buffalo Rider, and The Wonderful Country), so there just might be another Western film review too.

Links:

I Am a Rock (for Luis Buñuel, John Zorn, and Alejandro Jodorowsky)

Chastity “Titty” Garfield and Freddy Burtis at a Halloween party. Illustration by Enio Acosta.

When my muse and her boyfriend saw the maroon walls and lively Caribbean theme which my brother had applied to his first bachelor pad, they skedaddled out of the South American setting I had placed them in, years earlier, and emulated it as part of their permanent residence back in the states.

The final drafts of Exit the Sand—the story in which they first appeared—carry the title, but hardly bear any resemblance to the original narrative. Chastity “Titty” Garfield and Freddy Burtis (then named Leyaní Garcia and Alfredo Muni) began avoiding phone calls from the once-leading character and became interested on venturing out only for costume parties and fine dining. For the most part, they stayed home. Freddy would cook, together they’d clean, then both would cuddle in bed and snicker over some pretty bizarre movies—some of my own invention.

The only other character I brought about occasionally was a cousin of Titty’s named Ardie, who was slightly younger than her and whom she treated affectionately, like a kid brother. Not long afterwards, I noticed that the manner in which Ardie felt towards Titty was similar to how I had looked up to my older, first cousin, who had passed away years earlier (Alex had been the Peter Pan of my childhood, and was admired by many for his courage, his sense of humor, and his adventurous spirit).

In 2005, when the opportunity arose to devise a scenario for a possible indie feature, I grabbed scenes and ideas I wanted to see most on screen, and polished them up before even considering what the story was going to be about. But the targeted budget and location restrictions became enormously resourceful towards reacting efficiently, as well as creatively. Greatly inspired by Luis Buñuel at the time, I tried to pace my images as he had done with his French films of the 1960s and 70s. (More on those events can be read about here.)

Nearly six years later, my homage to Buñuel stood to benefit from a new draft. This time, my imagination had a blank check and 100% freedom to explore many ideas I’ve longed to see and feel inspired by in a story.

I Am A Rock is a surreal coming of age comedy dedicated to filmmaker Luis Buñuel, musician and composer John Zorn, and filmmaker and author Alejandro Jodorowsky. What began as a 4,200 word count film treatment grew into a 27,000-plus worded scenario / screenplay hybrid for both film and graphic novel—the latter of which I intend to pursue in the near future. It was, without a shadow of doubt, the most enjoyable writing experience I have ever had. Besides its mostly taking place in South Florida, where Titty flies in to visit Ardie and her aunt (Naomi), the less specifics provided the better; although, you’ll find a little bit more info below.

Luis Buñuel

There has never been quite another film director which has inspired my hobby of writing more than Luis Buñuel. And I believe I can specify the reasons for my strong feelings for his work, especially of his last ten features (from 1961’s Viridiana to 1977’s That Obscure Object of Desire). His use of contradictions and surrealism—which was for some artists a movement “that sought to release the creative potential of the unconscious mind; for example by the irrational juxtaposition of images”—blended with his unmistakable rhythm and sense of humor, continue to push my overactive imagination off the cliff and demands it to fly. (While I revisited many of my favorite Buñuel films over the summer, I would have to say that The Milky Way (1969) was the one which inspired me most.)

Whenever I needed another door to open for me, upon my return visit to the world of I Am a Rock, I turned to the versatile works of John Zorn (Naked City, Masada), who had long ago inspired my transition from poetry to narrative fiction, with Exit the Sand; Elegy had been the primary driving album for that story, along with Vangelis’s El Greco. This time around, Xaphan (Book of Angels: Volume 9), which is performed by Secret Chiefs 3, is largely to thank for guiding me; and Trey Spruance deserves a lot of credit for his arrangements. Four other writing companion Zorn albums worth mentioning were Painkiller: 50th Birthday Celebration (Volume 12), Ipos (Book of Angels: Volume 14), In Search of the Miraculous, and The Satyr’s Play/Cerberus.

As one who agrees that “if art is not a medicine for the society, it’s a poison”, I must say that Alejandro Jodorowsky’s optimism, enthusiasm and creativity has been quite an influence in my life, ever since I heard his DVD commentary tracks for El Topo (1970) and The Holy Mountain (1973). (Incidentally, it has become nearly impossible for me to revisit either of those two titles without selecting the aforementioned audio, which I find much more rewarding and complimentary to his choice of images.) But it wasn’t his films that inspired my own project; rather, it was his contributions to the comic book medium (with masterpieces such as The IncalThe Metabarons, Madwoman of the Sacred Heart, and Son of the Gun. Watch the restored trailer for the uncompleted animation adaptation of The Incal here.) My own introduction to this body of work began with The Technopriests, which I must confess was swimming around in my mind the entire time while writing.

I Am a Rock’s story has changed a great deal since that 2005 film treatment. The role of Naomi’s boyfriend, whom I had turned to French leading man Alain Delon as a model, has been given a different name and a much more suitable personality. Having been the only actor-model I had used with which to sculpt a character, this time I gathered others from the last decade in which Buñuel worked, in order to invigorate everyone else within my imagination.

The part of Ardie’s mother (Naomi) is dedicated to Romy Schneider. Few actresses have ever moved me so. Delon and Schneider make a handsome pair, and had actually been engaged from 1959 until 1963.

From left to right. Alain Delon (in Un Flic), Romy Schneider (in L’important C’est D’aimer), Michel Piccoli (in La Grande Bouffe).

Reexamining what had to be done with the Delon-inspired character (Caesar), I next turned to Buñuel regulars Michel Piccoli—one of my all-time favorite actors and an enormous inspiration to this story—for Caesar’s business associate (Tony), and Julien Bertheau for the head of Tony’s investment firm (the Cuban Jew, Emmanuel). Also, Macha Méril, who had starred in Buñuel’s Belle de Jour (1967), became my model for Titty’s mother (Fawn, a.k.a. Bambi).

Last but not least, I came to the conclusion that I had overlooked a curiously unmentioned and absent character. As I wondered what had ever happened to Ardie’s father, the answer came with the face of French New Wave icon Jean Paul Belmondo (as Sylvester).

From left to right. Julien Bertheau (in The Phantom of Liberty), Macha Méril (in Chinese Roulette), and Jean Paul Belmondo (in Le Magnifique).

While the reader is naturally free to imagine whomever they choose to see as the characters in this story, I think there might be some—including the aforementioned actors still with us—who might get an extra kick out of it, the way that I do. Hope you have a good time playing with it in your head. And please excuse the foul language. I can’t always control what you-know-who says.

For the free PDF file of I Am a Rock, you’ll have to enter through Bandit Country by clicking the image below. If Bedoya makes you feel uneasy, you can also read it on my Original Stories page.

I Am a Rock is brought to you by Bandit Country. “Carnes y Disparos Desde 2005.” Home of the world’s best Mexican pizza! Illustration by Enio Acosta.

Several artists directly inspired I Am a Rock, all of whom are listed at the end of the story. I wish to extend my thanks to Kenneth Anger, Ralph Bakshi, the Beastie Boys, the Boredoms, Trevor Brown, Jean-Claude Carrière, Conjunto ImpactoAlex Cox, the Dead MilkmenÁlex de la Iglesia, Divine, Michael Fassbender, Bill FrisellJaime Hernandez, Jonathan Hobin, Ho Chung Tao & Johnny Pate, Masakazu Katsura, Pierre Maguelon, Lyle Mays & Pat Metheny, Jeanne Moreau, MuniArch Oboler, Andrea Spinks, Los Panchos, Mike Patton & Dan the Automator, Silvia Pinal, Dick Rude, Eddie SantiagoMilena Vukotic, and, of course, Paul Simon.

One Year Later (Bonus Material):

  • Unused Art by Enio Acosta – this was the only illustration that didn’t make it into the book, as the scene was removed.
  • My Imaginary Soundtrack – links for every song that appears in the story, accompanied by a brief scene description and the page number.