Unfinished screenplay (1985)


1. Karen and Norbert
2. Russell and model
3. Norbert and computer
4. Karen
5. Karen, Pago, and Iota
6. Pago and Iota
7. Norbert and Howard
8. Karen and stranger
9. Venda, Karen, and Norbert

[1. Karen and Norbert]

[SCENE: Amid silence, Karen sits at the dining table flipping through a spiral note pad, occasionally making new entries, while Norbert strolls about the room eating from a bowl of cherries, reading the titles on the bookshelf. They are maraschino cherries, and they stain his fingers as he eats. The camera cuts back and forth closing in on various details: her in the chair writing, him eyeing a book spine, the pad, the bowl, etc. For a while they seem oblivious to each other, going about their separate business; then she looks up and begins observing what he is doing, resumes writing, glancing up occasionally. This goes on for a while until he turns away from the shelf and realizes she is watching him.]

NORBERT: See something you like?

KAREN (disappointed): No, don't stop. I wanted to capture you in your natural state.

NORBERT: Well, maybe this is it. (Smiles slightly) I'm given to observing a few things myself, you know.

KAREN: These notes may not amount to much of anything, I'm afraid. Still lifes were never my specialty.

NORBERT: Oh, you'll be fine once I'm out of here and you have to rely on your memory. You'll be obsessed with trying to recapture the intimacy of this moment. Don't you have any assignments that aren't completed? I saw you working yesterday on that National Geographic piece? The one on dzerens?

KAREN: I have to make a visit to the zoo before I can continue with that. The library doesn't have all that many books on dzerens, I'm afraid. I'll have to talk to someone who's seen one.

NORBERT: Oh. What are they, anyway?

[The phone rings.]

NORBERT (answering): Hello? Yeah, she's here. Hold on. (Handing her the receiver) It sounds like the guy who delivered the typewriter yesterday.

KAREN (caught unaware): Oh!

[Concerned with making an impression, she takes the receiver and hurries over to the typewriter, propping the receiver on her shoulder as she types.]

KAREN (into phone): Yes, it works fine, I'm just now using it. Do we owe you anything?—You did? We haven't noticed any problem. Are you sure you—um...

[The carriage pops three feet into the air and lands in a planter shaped like Napoleon and containing a pear tree, at the other end of the room. A startled partridge flies out.]

KAREN: I guess I haven't been using it that long. Yes, please bring the part over as soon as you can.—That's all right. Yes, there'll be someone here.—(Nervous) Yah! G'bye. (Hangs up) Remind me to include him in the acknowledgments section.

NORBERT: I might as well take off, I guess. There's some stuff I can get done before Howard shows up. You know I have a new extension, right, in case you need to call me?

KAREN: No, I didn't know that. What is it?

NORBERT: (Thinks for a moment, draws a blank) I'll call and give it to you. You won't stay cooped up all day, I hope.

KAREN: I'm going to the store in a little while, and then there's the zoo like I said, and once the typewriter's fixed I should be able to stay busy until you get back. Will you eat on the way home or shall I fix something?

NORBERT (reminded): Oh, that's a good idea. I was going to stop at Faggi & Macho's for some fresh gorgonzola, to go into that recipe we found yesterday? The one you're supposed to store in the closet next to the water heater for two days, and then eat only on Thursday?

KAREN: Now why can't I write like that?

NORBERT: You're so lacking in self-awareness sometimes. (Kisses her) I have to run. Don't suffer too much. Remember, I'm the one arguing with the computer all day.

KAREN: It's all typing of one sort or another. Hurry back.

[He goes out the door. Karen sits at the typewriter looking off into space for about ten seconds, then strikes a single key and pauses again.]

KAREN: I'm really going to have to get myself some new page numbers.

[2. Russell and model]

[SCENE: We see an extreme closeup of a 35mm camera mounted on a tripod.]

RUSSELL (off scene): Now, come on, it's not that bad.

MODEL (off scene): It's unnatural. I can't strike the kind of pose you seem to want.

RUSSELL (off scene): Well, then, imagine that I want something else.

[Cut to a two-shot profile of Russell behind the camera, and the model in front of it wearing a bathing suit and holding a bowling ball in one hand, trying to appear graceful.]

MODEL: Why don't you just admit you need someone more muscular for this sort of shot?

RUSSELL: But that's the whole point. It's the contrast that strikes the viewer's attention. That's what's going to sell bowling balls.

[Cut back and forth between point of view shots of whomever is speaking. Russell has his eye near the viewfinder most of the time.]

MODEL (straining): Well...can't you do some sort of trick shot? Bolt it to the wall, or shoot from above, or something?

RUSSELL: We can try that if this doesn't work, but I think we should go for the simplest options first, don't you?

MODEL (pausing to cradle the ball in both arms, then trying again): For whom do you want me to imagine this is simple, Russell? It just seems like quick and dirty to me.

RUSSELL: I won't tolerate that kind of language during working hours. Set it aside for another project. You know, this might be better with the green filter.

MODEL: You want me to suppose that we're after some kind of effect, but I think you're just too cheap to do things the smoothest way.

RUSSELL: Don't give me any of that stuff about being cheap. I bought my second lens just yesterday.

MODEL (bending down slightly): Well (huff), I don't normally accept modeling assignments with the idea that the photographer isn't going to be adding anything of his own to the shot...

RUSSELL: Well, if that's what you think, then maybe we could do something like apply the bowling ball logo to your belly button, or balance a pin on your head, or...

MODEL (cradling the ball): I'm sure it's just a coincidence that causes you to use "pin" and "head" in the same phrase?

RUSSELL: Why do I always get so much hostility from paranoids?

MODEL (holding up the ball again, always in the same hand, with increasing difficulty): Oh, I don't want you to think I'm unappreciative of the opportunity to work with a major artist such as yourself. But usually you have things thought out a little more carefully before I show up.

RUSSELL: Yeah, maybe you're right. We should take a break while I make a phone call to the client. (Looking up from camera) Oh...you can set that thing down, you know. I haven't put film in the camera yet.

[Cut to a full shot of the model, angled slightly from below, as she sighs and releases the ball, which drops to the floor in slow motion and literally cracks like a giant egg, including white and yolk.]

[3. Norbert and computer]

[SCENE: Norbert is sitting next to the computer with a huge continuous printout stacked on the floor in front of him. He is holding one of the pages, with all of the pages before that one strewn haphazardly about the room.]

NORBERT: It's supposed to appear on this printout somewhere. I know it does.

COMPUTER (female voice): I wish you'd just ask me to search for it instead. I can't find it unless you ask me.

NORBERT: But I was just looking at it a few minutes ago. I thought I could find it myself just as fast.

COMPUTER: My, but you do overestimate yourself.

NORBERT: Okay, now I'll do it just to minimize any further comments. (Pushing buttons) There, search away.

COMPUTER: Look about a third of the way down Page 264.

NORBERT (riffling through paper): I knew the page number had three digits.

COMPUTER: We're supposed to be doing everything faster these days, remember?

NORBERT: This has to be flush right. They didn't even make it flush right.

[He pushes a button revealing codes on a terminal.]

NORBERT (reading terminal): Very funny. I suppose the text itself is in Norwegian now, too?

COMPUTER: Oh, don't mind me. I have to find some way to amuse myself when you're gone. Sometimes when you're here, too...

NORBERT: You think things might start working properly if I slap the terminal across the face a few times? (Raises his open palm)

COMPUTER: You're really rude, you know that?

[The codes on the screen revert to English.]

NORBERT: Only by comparison. Okay, I see what's wrong now. (Pushes some more buttons) If this gets done soon enough, which it will, I'll play some Planetoids with you later.

COMPUTER: That game really does need to be reprogrammed. It seems to me they discovered a ninth planet recently.

NORBERT: But eight is such a nice divisible number. If anyone tried to order nine flanges from us—well. They would just have to redesign everything, that's all.

COMPUTER: Just like I'm asking you to do.

NORBERT: No harm in asking. It gives us something to talk about. (Notices something on the screen) What the—

COMPUTER: Did you find something that was correct?

NORBERT: Shush! Who asked you? I think someone may have done a few calculations by hand, I think, I think. (Uses desk calculator) This is crazy. I thought this had all been double-checked.

COMPUTER: Someone was billed twice? (Chittering laugh)

NORBERT: I can't do that add-on Howard was showing me unless these calculations are straightened out first. I'm going to let you run through the program while I'm in his office, okay? You think you can handle that?

COMPUTER: Please. Do I ever ask things of you in that tone of voice?

NORBERT: Hm. That's a thought, maybe you should. I'll consider it when I'm programming your successor. We still live longer than you do, remember.

COMPUTER: Did you say "live?"

NORBERT (reaching for door): I did say that, didn't I?

COMPUTER: If you don't remember, I can check it for you.

[4. Karen]

[SCENE: Karen is in the kitchen rinsing vegetables in the sink, the telephone receiver propped on her shoulder.]

KAREN: Uh-huh. Yeah. Well, I would never—uh-huh. Did she say anything else? ... She said you were what? ... Oh, obsequious. I thought you said obscene. Well, if she wants you to stop being obsequious, why don't you do what she says? ... No, Russell, I'm not making fun of you. I just think maybe we should downplay the situation. She can't be that mad if she's using four-syllable words where two will suffice. When I saw her last week, she still seemed to like you an awful lot. ... Oh, really? Like what? ... She put what in the freezer? Well, doesn't that sort of work against her interests as well as yours? ... All right, maybe I will try to explain that to her, but it won't do any good unless you try also. ... (Sighs) No, Russell, we're not all in league against you. Some of us don't even know you that well.

[She places a cucumber on the counter and chops it in half with a meat cleaver, sadistically. The symbolism is obvious.]

KAREN (frowning): How'd you like to come over for dinner tonight?

[We see her a few minutes later preparing to leave the apartment. She's putting on a sweater with one hand while holding the answering machine mike with the other, recording an announcement.]

KAREN (into mike, cynically): Hi, friends—you're probably someone we wouldn't mind talking to or else you wouldn't know our phone number, and we would never ask our friends to prostrate themselves by leaving a message or anything, so let's try to make the procedure as painless as possible.

[She turns on the blender, which contains ice cubes, and holds the mike up to it for a few seconds, then cut.]

[5. Karen, Pago, and Iota]

[SCENE: Karen, on her way downstairs, passes by Pago and Iota coming upstairs.]

KAREN (startled): Oh!

IOTA (amicably): Hi! You're in Number 46, aren't you?

KAREN (hesitant): Ye-es?

IOTA (taking Karen's hand and shaking it): We just moved in next door to you. I hope we haven't been making too much noise.

PAGO: We prefer to think of it as ambience.

KAREN: I really hadn't noticed...

PAGO: Ever seen one of these things?

[He pushes a button on his wristwatch and the sound of a tape rewinding is heard.]

IOTA: Pretty cerebral.

KAREN: Oh—that's—that's fine. Cerebration in its many forms is always acceptable, I guess. (Averting her eyes) Um—my husband and I have been sort of in and out recently, so some things escape our attention. I was just on my way to the store; is there anything I can get for you while I'm there?

IOTA (to Pago): Do we need anything?

PAGO: We've got it all.

KAREN: Well, if something comes up, don't call my husband at work. If the phone rings while the computer's running, the coffee machine blows up.

PAGO: Well, that's been done, I think.

IOTA: We don't get into conventional arrangements very much.

KAREN: Well, you're very wise. Look, I should get out of here before hunger dictates what I'm going to buy. We use only controlled substances at our place...

PAGO: Oh, same here. We're cool about that.

IOTA: Yeah, that stuff was last week.

KAREN (impatient to leave): Yah. Well, maybe if you're going to be around in the evening, we can introduce ourselves more formally.

PAGO: Stranger things have happened.

KAREN (smiling sardonically): Now how did you know that? I'll see ya.

[Karen continues downstairs while the two musicians continue upstairs.]

IOTA: Is everything in the apartment plugged in?

PAGO: Not until we get there.

[6. Pago and Iota]

[SCENE: Pago and Iota arrive at their door and enter their apartment, which contains a reel-to-reel and various other electronic sound-producing devices.]

PAGO: Did we ever decide what we were going to perform tonight?

IOTA: Oh, hell, I dunno...look around the room. Find a tape we haven't used.

PAGO (locating a small reel): This one says "Supermarket."

IOTA: I think we've both used that tape at one time or another, so I'm not real sure what's on it.

PAGO: Well, you were poking around the watermelons with it.

IOTA: Yeah, they're not very responsive this time of year.

PAGO: But you didn't see me talking to that lady with three kids, over in the liquor section. They threw some things at the mike, I think.

IOTA: Anything you can make into a loop?

PAGO: Always, always.

IOTA (turning on a keyboard instrument): I think I had programmed this to play something earlier, but I can't remember what.

[The instrument plays something very simple, such as "Merrily We Roll Along," haltingly.]

PAGO: Did you do that? Wow! That's great.

IOTA: You don't think it's too melodic?

PAGO: Well, it's going to be dubbed over something else, isn't it? The combination is what's important.

[He goes to the bookshelf and begins leafing through some music.]

PAGO: This looks good...unless...

[He takes the score over to the keyboard, which is next to a mirror, and reads the score backwards.]

PAGO: Nah, that's no good...

[He turns the score upside down.]

PAGO: Here we go.

[He plays something highly dissonant on the keyboard.]

IOTA: Come down a half tone.

[They improvise a little bit, four-handed.]

IOTA: Will that go well with what's on the tape?

PAGO: Several ways to find out.

[He ties a knot in the tape and threads it so that the knot will pass over the playback head.]

PAGO: You haven't cleaned these heads, I hope.

IOTA: Haven't left your side the whole time.

[The tape winds back and forth creating wow.]

IOTA: Well, that's okay, I guess.

PAGO: Let's see if I can find the part where the store manager is yelling.

[He winds the tape ahead a bit, and when it resumes playing, smoke emerges from the machine.]

IOTA: Wow!

PAGO: Where's my theremin?

[More improvising.]

IOTA: Should there be a recitation over this?

PAGO: I've still got our grocery list. Seems sort of out of date, though.

IOTA: I knew we should have bought a lottery ticket.

PAGO: Well...the thing we read doesn't have to be in English, does it?

IOTA: Where's that letter from your mother?

PAGO: They won't go for that.

IOTA: You're not copping out on me, are you, Pago? Going after commercial acceptance now?

PAGO (dead serious): Oh, Iota, you know I'd never do that. I just want something interesting is all. Let's just skip it, we've got enough.

[The tape falls off of the machine and onto the floor.]

IOTA: Oh, no...and we weren't recording.

[7. Norbert and Howard]

[SCENE: Norbert walks up to Howard's office door with a data entry form in his hand and knocks impatiently.]

NORBERT: Howard! Can I talk to you? Please! It's about this add-on you want me to do.

[The door opens gently and Howard peers out.]

HOWARD (softly): Sure, Norbert. Don't go into your manic stage. What is it?...

[Norbert enters the office as Howard returns to sit behind his desk. We see them in profile; on the wall behind and between them is a parody of Magritte's "The Great War," with a banana rather than an apple floating in front of the man's face.]

HOWARD (continuing): ...Something out of the ordinary?

NORBERT: This entry you're submitting...the way you have these merge codes indicated...something about it is...it's just—I dunno. Something in the composition just isn't right. It's too—Felliniesque or something.

HOWARD: I'm not imitating anybody, Norbert.

NORBERT: But look. Just read these opening lines again. Isn't that the same thing you wrote last time?

HOWARD: Yes, and the time before that. It's all part of the same product line, so of course...

NORBERT: Well, yes, it's all within a particular genre, but since you just identified yourself as an auteur...

HOWARD: I never used that word...

NORBERT: But we both know what you're capable of, Howard. Where's your distinctive touch? How are you interpreting these column widths? We want to see what goes on in the artist's head as he experiences it...

HOWARD (outraged): Are you accusing me of being an expressionist? I could have you reported!

NORBERT: The union will protect me. I don't see how a few touches of unreality here and there could undo the basic form. I'm only trying to make it more interesting.

HOWARD (deliberately): It is a data entry form, Norbert. You'll have plenty of time to be interesting during lunch.

NORBERT: Now, Howard...you must live and breathe your art every waking moment if you're ever going to be great. The universe being present in a grain of sand and all that...

HOWARD: Oh, now who's being derivative? Huh? At least when I repeat something, it's my own words!

NORBERT: I take it, then, that you're not open to suggestions that might enable these printouts to evolve and take flight.

HOWARD: You want to make suggestions? Go fill my coffee mug for me and come back. Then maybe you'll understand your position around here a little better.

NORBERT (sighing): All right, it's your printout. But I want my name taken off as of right now.

HOWARD: Let me tell you something, Norbert. A lot goes on behind this door that the public doesn't see. It's happening right now with you coming in here. Compromises. Clashes. Aesthetic differences. Everyone sees things in a different way, but the responsibility for the finished product still lies with me. That's the way it is in any business, no matter how glamorous and exciting people think it is. It's the way flanges get made, Norbert. Besides, anyone can manufacture a disagreement out of thin air if they really want to. (Waving an arm) Take the space inside this office—a negative quantity waiting to be filled...

[A formless, luminescent pink blob slowly materializes at eye level and hovers surrealistically between the two men.]

HOWARD (continuing): Is there something you see in it? What does it suggest to you?

NORBERT: Well, aside from the obvious Barthesean interpretation, which has become something of a cliche at this point, I'd say you have the makings of a "Twilight Zone" episode right here in your office. It's all there: the vastness of space, the lack of any sense of direction, an encounter with the unknown... (Pause) This stuff wasn't in your coffee mug, was it?

HOWARD: I see what you're getting at, but why stop at a half-hour episode? You could do some heavy exploration here: man's constant struggle to come to terms with himself, to make sense out of the larger questions that have no boundary or limit. Something with Dudley Moore, maybe...

NORBERT: Of course, you don't want to get too abstract. It could be a little more visceral...

HOWARD: No, that's viscous, Norbert, viscous. There's a big difference...

NORBERT: But we are talking flanges, remember. It's something with a very definite shape and form, and we're taking a surrealist approach to it.

HOWARD: Every computer program has to have conflict, Norbert. We just play off the resulting incongruity and work towards a resolution. We're still quite a ways away from the third act.

NORBERT (leaning forward aggressively): Howard, I'm a businessman. I care about the profit margin as much as you do. We can't afford to take up our time discussing loss leaders. This is verité, Howard. It's all really happening. Can we really get away with using a copper alloy in this item with this particular diameter? It just seems so out of character somehow.

HOWARD: Not all of the decisions are made by me, Norbert.

[The blob begins to fade away.]

HOWARD (continuing): I think this discussion is about over, don't you? We're already running over budget, and I have these storyboards to go over still.

[He indicates engineer's blueprints.]

NORBERT: Yeah, okay, I guess everything's been talked out. You're right—I was overreacting a little bit. The rest of the day should go smoothly, I hope. Well, back to work.


[Norbert leaves the office and closes the door; the banana in the picture on the wall falls off, revealing the face of Dali underneath. Howard stares blankly for a moment.]

[8. Karen and stranger]

[SCENE: Karen is on foot carrying a bag of groceries in each arm back to the apartment. She is waiting for the light to change so she can cross the street. A street person dressed in psychedelic colors and loaded down with jewelry accosts her.]

STRANGER: You wouldn't happen to have any spare change, would you?

KAREN (slightly winded): What I don't have right now is a spare arm. Do you think maybe you could choose your prospects with more discretion?

[The stranger proffers a Sherlock Holmes hat in one hand and a vial of white powder in another.]

STRANGER: Maybe you'd be interested in a deerstalker? Only $10, and it comes with a bonus this week...

[The light changes and they both enter the crosswalk.]

KAREN: No. I'm sorry. Please go talk to someone else. We have different value systems...

STRANGER: Well, hey, sweetie, I know we can work something out. All it takes is a dialogue...

[He speeds up and overtakes her, turning around and blocking her path right in the middle of the street.]

STRANGER: ...You don't want to be too prejudgmental or anything like that, now...

KAREN (huffing exasperatedly): This really isn't a good idea. I know you don't believe it, but—

STRANGER: You think I'm gonna hurt you or somethin'?

KAREN: No, I mean stopping in the middle of the street isn't such a good idea. Can we get across before I have to make a decision?

STRANGER: What's wrong with right here? Only $10. That's not very complicated, is it?

KAREN: Okay, just give me five seconds. One...two...three...four...

[Just before she says "five," a car that had been stopped at the light moves forward, causing the stranger to fall and roll onto its hood and taking him off scene. Karen then continues walking.]

KAREN: Patience. That's all you need. Especially when you cross at the same light every day.

[She reaches the other side of the street and pauses.]

KAREN: Really wasn't such a bad-looking deerstalker.

[9. Venda, Karen, and Norbert]

[SCENE: We see a closeup of a wasp's nest lying on a glass counter. There is a brass chain attached to the top of it. A woman's hands prop it up slightly.]

VENDA (off camera): We keep only a few of these in stock, but if you want me to set one aside for you, I can take your name...

[Venda turns a thumb switch attached to the chain and the nest lights up. We realize that it is an electric lamp. The effect is grotesque. Cut to a three-shot of Venda behind the counter waiting on Karen and Norbert. They are in a shop where all of the items are made from insects or insect products.]

VENDA (continuing): ...and we'll place it in the back room.

KAREN (to Norbert): What do you think?

NORBERT: I don't know. I mean, it's practical, but I don't know. I think maybe we should look around a little more.

VENDA: Oh, by all means, feel free. Just let me know before you leave.

[The phone rings. The receiver is shaped like a giant earwig.]

VENDA: Good morning, Bug Aura. ... This is Venda Thrall. ... The Jerusalem beetle? Hold on, let me check. (To Norbert) Do you see any Jerusalem beetles on that étagére in the corner?

[Norbert steps over to a glass étagére placed at a 45-degree angle in one corner of the shop. We see a closeup of his hand picking up a glazed business card holder made out of potato bugs. There are other card holders of grasshoppers, mantises, and sphinx moths. Cut to a medium shot of Norbert examining the card holder in his hand.]

NORBERT: Yeah, you got 'em. Honey, did you see these? I wonder if Howard would like one.

VENDA (into phone): Yes, those are here. I'm expecting some smoky browns to come in later in the week.

[With a magazine she swats something crawling across the counter.]

VENDA: I'm sorry, what? ... Really? You have termites at your place? Yeah, sure, bring 'em in. We can work out something. Listen, I have a customer in the shop right now. Call me back around noon. ... No, I don't think I'll be needing any of those this week. The ones from South America are more popular. ... I thought about that, and I don't think I'd have much use for the Venus's flyrap. Most of my overstock is no longer edible anyway, and I prefer a plant that shares my musical tastes. Gotta go. Call me back. (Hangs up)

KAREN (crouching before counter display): I notice you moved the katydids to the bottom shelf. I might not even have noticed that you had them.

VENDA (somewhat wearily): Yes, a couple of other customers have made the same comment. I'm surprised the katydids haven't been selling, but people just seem to like the bloodsucking conenoses better. I don't know why.

[Norbert approaches the counter with a stag beetle in each hand.]

NORBERT: How much are these refrigerator magnets?

VENDA: Those are two dollars and seventy-five cents each.

NORBERT: Two seventy-five for these? I saw the same thing across the street for a dollar twenty.

VENDA: Oh, you're thinking of the push pins. We have those too, if you want them...

NORBERT (overlapping): I-I still think it's too much.

KAREN: Norbert, don't you see? You're paying for the craftsmanship. Not just anyone can produce a thing of beauty like that. People will see that you're discriminating.

NORBERT: I would never discriminate against any insect based solely on the size of its mandibles or the number of its eyes. I have integrity.

KAREN: Well, then. Have a conenose.

NORBERT (handing beetles to Venda): Could you put these in a bag, please? I feel a touch of entropy coming on.

[SCENE: Cut to exterior of storefront with sign reading "BUG AURA," seen at an angle, as Karen and Norbert walk out with their purchase and continue down the sidewalk toward the camera.]


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