Sunday, June 8, 2008

Nightmare Scenario

I made a first attempt at writing movie scripts in 1967. The Vietnam War and homefront resistance to it were both raging, Black people and some young whites seemed to be literally under fire; and I was an outspoken liberal fresh out of grad school--protesting publically some, arguing heatedly with my conservative parents, threatening to head for Canada if drafted, etc. (I was married and had a son, so that was unlikely.)

I tried to marshall some of those emotional issues in my first written-on-spec screenplay, titled The Wounded Man. In it, the protagonist, another war opponent who was earlier drafted, has already served a tour in Vietnam as a non-combatant medic. Now he is in pre-Med training at a university and very withdrawn and silent in general (reflecting his own traumatic experiences). At a campus rally for the Democratic candidate running for President, the lead guy meets and is attracted to a firebrand young woman, active supporter of a radical group (thinly disguised Black Panthers). The two of them argue politics, gradually become emotionally/sexually involved, and he is soon reluctantly embroiled in her (the group's) tribulations at the hands of authorities. This is all Act One lead-up to the major events of the story.

On the night of his election as President of the United States, the politically liberal winner is assassinated right on the steps of his New England home during his victory speech. The entire nation reacts first in horror and then violence, riots quickly spreading everywhere, even to Seattle. The unpopular lameduck President orders martial law measures. Various escalations occur, finally driving the woman and the hero and others into the group's headquarters, barricaded and about to be attacked full-scale by the police and whoever else is out there.

My "wounded man" has continually argued for Ghandi-styled peaceful resistance, and now from inside he tries to convince the armed Panthers to back away from this sure-to-be-disastrous confrontation. Working as go-between, he persuades the police to allow a peaceable surrender and then convinces the group's skeptical leader to give up. But when the Black man steps out into the lights, someone outside shouts that he has a gun! A fusillade of bullets strikes him down, and the woman rushes out to help him and is shot too.

Now what will the hero do? Continue espousing non-violence? Wait to be arrested or killed? Pick up the discarded gun and go to war? He chooses the last, runs out into the lights, and the screen goes to white. End of film.

Simplified in this telling, it doesn't sound like much, and probably wasn't. But the events of the last couple of weeks in the U.S. political race gradually brought this melodramatic story back into my mind. The parallels are just too bizarre to ignore... Unpopular wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; a despised President; references to assassination; Bobby Kennedy memorials in magazines; a too-violent nation that won't give up its guns; Obama the winning candidate but white voters, ostensible Democrats, refusing to back him, and Republicans even less likely to elect such a man.

I mentioned some of this to my son-in-law, who immediately wanted me to resurrect and update the screenplay. But I think not. I still remember the strange post-release saga of The Manchurian Candidate, and I've decided simply to mention my script in this blog.

As a disenfranchised citizen in the past, in despair of necessary change ever coming, at different times I voted for George McGovern, Eugene McCarthy, even Eldridge Cleaver. Now we have an inspiring and remarkable candidate promising Hope and Change once more. I'll warily vote for him.

"Barack the vote!" is the bumper-sticker slogan I suggested to his campaign months ago, which was (wisely) rejected or ignored. Now I say: Obama will have a tough time, both during the campaign and, if he's victorious, afterward.

I hope he succeeds... hell, I just pray he lives.

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