Jack Nicholson Vs Thomas Pynchon
Well, I put up the old Dennis Hopper vs Pynchon story, so I might as well put this one up too…
Jack Nicholson watched from a few yards behind. Dennis and Peter and their disciples flowed off the stage, Dennis crowing about something to someone, Peter picking out the next woman to put in his bed.
Jack followed them down, a few faces looking his way, but not many. He wasn’t the star, it was theirs.
Later, when the others were in the bar, he sat outside with the phone to his ear. ‘It’s a son of a bitch, Warren. The attention these guys get. And, shit, don’t get me wrong, man, it’s deserved, they’ve nailed it, but…it’s gotta be my turn soon, know what I’m saying?’
Warren, far away with a woman sitting opposite him, a joint on the table, shook his head. ‘Yeah, for you and for me, Jackie.’
Jack signed off and hung up the phone. By his side there was nothing. He went back to his apartment and dropped down on the sofa, alone. On the desk, his copy of the book, his beautiful V.
‘One flew over the Cuckoos nest’: thoughts of Profane, the Chief and rape, the Chief and sex, a community of men…
Milos told Jack why the scene was important.
Jack nodded. He looked at his director and compared him to Dennis. Taller, more stable. He compared him to Roman. Way taller, more European in his attitude towards art.
Jack wondered if they were making art.
Milos called ‘action’ with the ‘ac’ booming and the ‘tion’ quiet.
Jack walked away from the nurse, the villain, and sat down in front of the TV. He looked around at the others, gave the audience some time to understand he was testing the other nuts as nuts who might participate, and then started commentating. There was a game, and he pictured it. One he remembered from a few years back.
During the scene another part of him detached itself and asked continuously which exact part of this scene was art. Sure, it says something, but is it art?
Jack didn’t have a trailer, he had a room.
Milos had insisted on it. He’d called the entire cast onto the set, into the institutions common room, and had told them that in this film, there were no stars. Jack hadn’t argued.
He sat on his bed and thought of the others sitting on their beds. Brad Dourif, Danny Devito, the Chief. Were there really no stars then?
On his pillow was V. He picked it up and flicked through the first hundred and fifty pages. That’s where his character was. Profane. The bum, the drifter, the counter-culture schmuck.
He practiced a few lines, testing the rhythm, seeing if it made sense coming out of his mouth. He didn’t say much, Profane, but he had a way.
‘Under the street…’ Jack mumbled. ‘Under the street.’
Brad Dourif was playing dead. Or he was already dead.
Jack looked at him and tried to work up the emotion needed to strangle the nurse. It was Brad, he had his whole life ahead of him, he was so fucking cute. What did she do?
He turned and stormed to her desk.
As he stormed he thought about how far he should go. Feel the character, express his rage, he wants her to die. This was art, wasn’t it?
He reached her and sprang. His hands went round her neck and he held on as tight as he could, and even dug his nails in a little. She started to turn blue, but Milos didn’t stop him.
Jack looked at her face then at her arms. She was strong, she was fighting back. What should he do? Harder? Should I kill her, Milos?
Milos called ‘cut’. Jack loosened his grip, but didn’t let go. ‘Well?’
Jack sat on his bed again, thinking about the scene.
It was a woman he was killing. Was that what he wanted? But it was Kesey, not him. ‘Son of a bitch,’ he said, ‘it’s Kesey. He wrote the damn thing.’
He turned to the book again, to his V.
Profane would never do that, would he? He was different, Pynchon was different. His canvas was broad, Kesey’s was small. Pynchon was talking about the world, big, big, huge.
His Profane, when he played it, would be big. He’d be everyone.
The Chief was on top of him, holding the pillow.
Jack couldn’t show a thing. He had no mind.
Milos called action from the side and the Chief brought the pillow down onto Jack’s face.
‘Son of a bitch, you’re…loosen, loosen, you fucking…’ Jack tried to say as the Chief smothered him.
Jack lay still faster than he probably should’ve, and the pillow was removed. He tried to be calm and not breathe so they wouldn’t have to do it again.
As he lay there, he felt the thighs of the Chief pressuring his waist. They were huge. He was huge. Six-eight, broad as a tree-cutter. He imagined being in bed with the Chief and letting him play around with his tiny white ass.
On his bed, Jack wrote the script for V.
His version started with Profane, it journeyed with Profane, and it would end with Profane.
He stopped and thought about the Chief, sitting naked in his room.
‘Son of a bitch…a body like that…’
He thought of the others, all the guys on their beds, naked.
‘Shit…what is this, man?’
Jack made a note on the script page. ‘More girls, more sex.’
The ‘Shining’ and the way Jack saw Stanley’s control of everything…
Stanley told him to do it again.
‘You sure about that, Stan?’ Jack asked.
Stanley told him it wasn’t right, he had to do it again.
‘Shit, if you say it then…’
Jack walked into the bar and sat down on the stool for the thirty-second time.
Jack sat in the hotel lobby, after hours, looking over the script.
Stanley had told him it would only be a couple of months. ‘There’s not actually that much to shoot,’ he’d said, way back East.
It was the ninth month of the shoot. The weather was changing, becoming brighter.
‘Son of a bitch…’ Jack muttered. ‘This one…you’re killing me at the heels.’
He was looking at the scene for the next day. The one where his wife found what he’d spent the winter writing.
Jack wondered how he should portray madness. He had his own doubts, his own depressions, but they weren’t these depressions. They weren’t anything to do with madness. What should he do?
He thought of the book, his long suffering V.
There’s madness in Stencil, he thought. Fuck Profane, he’s a bum. I need Stencil.
Jack knew Stencil. He was a paranoid, a conspiracist, it was a madness he knew he knew.
Jack crept up the stairs, shaking his hair bizarro, saying whatever shit came into his head.
Stanley watched from behind the monitor.
Jack told his wife she was a nosy bitch and he was sick of it. He held up his fingers when he told her he was sick of it.
She swung the baseball bat, the warning swings. He swatted them away, but he knew she’d swing big soon.
He got closer and closer and thought about how he’d fall down the stairs. Then he counter-thought about how a true madman wouldn’t think about that.
Stanley called ‘cut.’
He came over and shouted at the wife. He told her she was swinging all wrong and it was ruining the scene.
‘Shit, Stan, swing seemed fine to me,’ Jack said.
‘No, fine is wrong. It must be perfect. Always.’
‘Perfect, perfect, does it even exist? What about those…happy accidents, that unexpected chaos that hits you in the…’
‘Do it again,’ Stanley said and walked back to the monitor.
Jack sat at the typewriter, talking to the pages.
He wasn’t mad, he was feigning it. Yes, he was a feigner, he’d decided.
‘Fucking caretakers in the snow…fucking Stephen King…you’re not any madness I know,’ he said to page forty-seven of his script, his burgeoning V.
Stencil was at the dentists now. He was asking the guy what he knew about the conspiracy, the world of V.
Jack knew the madness of Stencil. He wouldn’t need to feign that.
Jack sat with his back against the hedge while the make-up artist put the snow on his hair and made his face look frozen.
Stanley paced up and down nearby, holding pictures of people frozen in blizzards and telling her it had to be perfect.
Jack thought the make-up artist was pretty so he told her they should have a few drinks in the hotel bar before the shoot was over.
‘Jack, don’t talk to her,’ Stanley said.
‘Shit, Stan, we’re not even filming.’
Jack didn’t say any more to her. He sat still and thought about how fake the film would look when it was finished, how lifeless it would be.
‘You know, Stan, my next film…there’s gonna be a guy just like you,’ Jack said.
Stanley didn’t respond.
‘Yeah, he’s gonna be a dentist,’ Jack added.
‘About Schmidt’ and the idea in Jack’s mind that it was probably too late to do much of anything…
The tall kid, the director, told Jack to control his face. ‘Keep your lips straight, your eyes down, your body slumped,’ he said.
The idea, Jack had been told, was that the character was tired. He didn’t have the energy to react anymore, even if he was reigniting his life.
Jack thought about what the film meant. There’s an old guy, he hasn’t got long left, he wants to affect something in the world.
He wondered if it was art.
The scene played and he sat in the hot tub as Kathy Bates came over and took off her towel.
‘Play the scene, Jack,’ he told himself, ‘you’re not a star. Play the age.’
He sat in his trailer, alone.
There were no photos on the desk, no woman in the bed. Only the book on his pillow, that loyal, unconquerable V.
He flicked through it and searched for a character he could play.
Seventy years old. No credibility for Profane anymore, and too old for Stencil. So what was left?
Godolphin, the guy in his eighties? Jack read a few of his scenes and shivered. The old man, the one who found V. then lost it, the one with no discernible mind-view.
The phone rang, it was Warren.
‘Hey Jackie, how’s the new kid?’
They talked about the film he was doing, and how the new kid was pretty good but not quite the same as the old ones, the Polanskis, the Hoppers, the Formans.
‘To be back in the day, huh?’
Jack told him about V. He told him he was thinking of playing the old man.
‘Godolphin? Shit, Jackie…it’s that bad?’
‘It’s a son of a bitch, isn’t it, man? Age and…you know, just age.’
Warren, sitting far away in the Mulholland hills with a woman waiting in his bed, told him it was a bust anyway, Pynchon would never give the rights.
Jack shook his head. ‘Shit, you’re probably right.’
He hung up and put his head down on the pillow. He looked at the book, at the giant V. and its full stop, at the name, Thomas Pynchon.
Thirty years ago, that’s when he should’ve done it.
‘It’s all a son of a bitch.’