Tuesday, 1 September 2009

BOBBY'S DREAM (Langston Bailey, 1972)

(...And we know, through epileptic flashbacks, that the situation somehow began with the murder of a young mother; a corpse lies in a bathroom, a baby cries, and a shadowy figure leaves through the door. Our hero (Bruce Dern, or similar) arrives at the scene, and we then flashback further: The young woman is alive, it is three days earlier, and we follow her on her relatively mundane path around her town. It ends, where it begins, with our hero hiding in an abandoned cinema. Bad guys are pursuing, and he's not sure if his gun will work. It is nighttime, and we are in something akin to a bankrupt Manhattan, but perhaps not.)

Click. Muffled movements; possibly his own. An alarm in the distance. Source unknown. He clutched the gun in both hands, put his ear to the wall and listened. Silence.

Hard Silence (1955) had been the first movie he had seen in this cinema, and now he thought of it, the dark moved, and he studied every suggestion. The building creaked with possibility, even more so now that it was empty, save for himself and his prey. Or his assailants, depending on who got the upper hand. His narrative had arrived at this point breathlessly; tedious stakeouts and crosswords had bled into action before he knew it, and now it came to this.

He cast his mind backwards over the facts of the case, looking for a detail that might help. Profile of the enemy? They outnumber me, I'm sure of that. They are more at home in this part of town too. One of them is at least twice my weight. Any pertinent fact that might help? One of them a southpaw? Colorblind? Temper? We've all got tempers. Kill remaining lights or turn them all on full? When? Athlete? Olympic runners run anti-clockwise. If I can get him going the other way, he'll lose some seconds. Similarly, always kick a boxer.

Bobby mentally unwrapped his black notebook. From the beginning it had made him think of another case: the girl, the prize, the double-triple cross; then there was the obscure artifact, the conspiracy, and the trap. He was sure that he had walked into it deliberately, but had spent so much time acting like he knew what was happening over the years that he was struggling now to pin down the specifics here. He was sure that they thought that he knew it was a trap, and as such the fact that he wasn't sure if he had known could be an asset: He knew something they didn't, which was that they didn't know what he didn't know. But what he didn't know was exactly how much he didn't know. He checked his gun. six bullets. He knew he hadn't shot anybody yet.

But the route to the present is hazy... there had been the letter that had arrived at his apartment, unnoticed for days in the bills. It sat on the dresser, the provocation of its hot knowledge ignored, until while driving one day it came into his mind; he turned for home, unsure why he hadn't opened it sooner. It was a valentine, with a sad sailor on the cover, bending a girl into an awkward kiss. He opened it, waiting for a punchline. Do you ever think of me? Love, Roxy. 3rd Mai, Never Again.

His instincts had been questioned by Johnson more than ever on this one. Old Girlfriends. Get over it, Bobby... and while he had met it all with bravado, it had troubled him. Roxy, his first girlfriend, was long dead. Another town, another time. Who here knew? Had May 3rd had been the day they'd moved into new territory at the fair? the day they knew the cartography of their separate lives might be shared? It seemed possible...

it was not long after that that she was taken away from him. She wasn't a cross on a map, she was a ghost.

And so the line nagged him. Someone who knew something wanted to tell him something.

It took him a while to get it. The French spelling of May was the end of the thread he had to pull, his way of unravelling the tangle. He circled it, tugged, it didn't give, he walked away, came back. Then, while sleeping, it came to him:

Roxy. 3rd Main. Ever Again.

The Roxy cinema, on 3rd and Main. The place. When he looked at their schedule in the Times, he saw the rest. Ever Again (Fritz Lang, 1952) was playing next Friday, midnight. Just the one time.

And so here he was. Question: What time is it? Past midnight, because the place is empty. He saw the last cleaner leave before he broke in. But it was Friday, he was sure, and that meant the late showing, which started at midnight, and finished at around two. He knew the last train would pass at 3 am, and that the noise would give him cover to make a move. But when was 3 am? He figured it was at least forty-five minutes since he came in here. How long was the film? If it was long, then that train might be any moment. He pictured the marquee in his head, saw the poster, saw everything, except the running time. Incorrect informations could not be filtered out: His memory, for example, repeatedly replayed photographically an image of himself , back before his hiding place behind screen one, across the red velvet seats, the lobby, the sign: BUS 5TOP (1956). Marilyn Monroe. A name with no S's, lucky, as the 'S' of 'Stop' had to be represented by a 5...
But that was weeks ago, a double bill with The Killers (1946), in a backroom of a bar; they had no marquee.

He had written a letter to Burt Lancaster thanking him for the genius of The Killers when he was in college. The moments otherwise undetected: When Marie's head dissects the 'Bus Stop' sign, so that it said, in sequence, B, US, TOP, then BE US on TOP, a subliminal message of hope, that they might Be Us on Top of the world, or even, he explained in an appendix, it could be the U.S. on top of the planet.

...a sound. He could hear a patio door sliding back and forth. Where was it? He was aware that the sound hadn't suddenly appeared, but that it had been growing for some time. There were no patio doors in the theater, none in the whole borough for that matter. He held his breath. The noise stopped. Letting out a breath, there was the sound again, long and slow. It had been his breathing, louder and more frantic than he realized, sucking back from his collar.

Which film had it been where the DRIVE-THRU sign was inhibited early in the first scene by the lead, a handsome innocent, so that it read D-I-E, instructing those open to such coding? Bobby had stood up, shouted 'he will be the killer', and walked out, leaving his date alone in the dark. The Avalon, - St. If only such certainties could be grasped here in the Roxy. I mean, The Ritz. This is the Ritz.

Oxbow Drive (1956), a film of such leading and misleading words (OXen? BOWs and arrows? Racing Drivers, Cattle Drives, Night Drives...) that poked through the images that he felt like a neon whiteness had burned into his eyes, never to be rubbed away.

This is the Roxy, not the old Ritz, remember, Bobby. You didn't see Cold Silence here. You saw Farewell, My Lovely here with that secretary, and Chinatown alone, more than once. The Roxy is gone.

... flashback in which the young mother is found dead in her bathroom, and the cops rage hard, and clues are given and given as this is more of a witch hunt now... he had spoken to a friend Doc about his doubts about being involved, Doc who was a doc, but off the record, but his words had fallen quickly and falsely onto the tape...'If I talk about it somewhat they'll prescribe the doctor or a massage or something more psychodramatic for which I have not the desire or the fire in my resolve to stand in that dark room for several visits visiting persecution upon my frame. If I don't, then they'll increase my workload to that of a healthy individual free of skull pain and worry. It would of course be a double-bind, were it not for the third factor, my own beady eye casting judgment upon my own (under) achievements... But I can't remember.... I just... can't... remember. I have a lyric in my head that was central to a previous case, but I don't remember how. It goes like this... 'I am a relative of the dancer/ Second cousin twice removed/ I'll steal a piece of his garment/ For you to do with what you do.' It is from... something. It solved something. But I don't know what, and the melody is murdering me over and over.'

...and when he heard it back, it seemed meaningless and wrong, somebody else's voice reading somebody else's script, bad enough to warrant a dismissive tagline... Bobby Spritz is a detective [pause]... with a problem. But it was noir lite, a melodrama-by numbers, far from the pivotal doubt and potential triumphs that elevated his skull.

It had all started so well, he was sure. But now he might just be an old man responding to noises in the night. Those kids. The first sign of trouble was the dead girl. There were always dead girls, pregnant and poor. But this one was called Prestbury, Alice, which had also been the name of his first girlfriend. It wasn't her, but a loop opened at the mention of the name. The chief suspect, missing, was an ex-army sergeant, Bates, Lucas. The name of his second girlfriend had been Lucy Bates. And here, that metaphysical engine, the angel driving all of them, had jolted: the card they all played, the Hunch, that hot chill from the nostril to the stomach that said something with this picture is slightly amiss exploded, and he knew that it was something more: The picture frame is askew, busted loose.

A taxi passes by, emitting late-night radio. Love excerpts hang in the air hopelessly out of context. Romantics, and there were plenty of those in his line of work, talked of the old days, but the city was different to the one sainted by memory. Same name, same vague location, but people were newer, traditions had shifted. The city was remembered in ceremony but chewed and rebuilt every second with the competing energies of a child who longs to be adult and an adult lnging for childhood. The city was ever-shifting, somewhere between this perceived present and perceived past. This, somehow, added to the tense uncertainty of people. He knew, that if he could articulate it, he could blame this feeling for half of the crimes he had witnessed. He'd sat with Johnson, talked, and Johnson had listened, indulgently, but Bobby had only circled the feeling. He couldn't quite hum the tune.

Bobby had followed as many dead ends as the rest of them. But a few celebrated leaps of faith over the years (The Case of the Quicksand, The Lost Watch) had marked him out as something of a clairvoyant, a seer. All it took was a couple of loudmouths at the station to call him 'Madame Bobby' or ask him to pick a winner on the horses, and his reputation was fixed. And he said nothing, it helped his business, kept the cops slightly in awe of him; but all the while he was paddling furiously underwater, desperate not to be perceived to have lost it. Personally, he doubted he had ever had it. But that didn't matter. Appearances held, and when a case needed opening, they'd call him up, ask him a favor. Hey Bob, let's get you drunk and see if we can't get you to dream, huh?

Reputation was everything. Take Eastwood, a P.I. he had known. Head full of Hammett, he looked on his profession mystically, as if it has come into it's way of being due to some abundance. An abundance of humanity. The day we're not human is the day I can retire. Not that he thought it was noble. It just was. Eastwood was a fine PI: quiet, tidy, inconspicuous. Made it seem like office work. Until a movie star came along with the same name. It was funny at first, when kids would call the number from his listing and ask for a Man With No Name to save their small town. Eventually, the cranks weighed him down, inhibited his business, put a spotlight on his doings. He took upon using his wife's name professionally. Changed the listing, changed his documents. But soon, that too was problematic: there was a new actor, named Hackman too. He retired before he could use his mother's first name, and it was just as well. Talk about instincts.

The truer the hunch, the more firm and fixed his conviction, the more he lost a grip on his bearings. If you have one ear on the cusp of the future, yesterday slips out of earshot. Past events murk together. Bobby felt a chill. He held his gun tigher. He recalled little now, which meant that the sudden feeling in his gut was likely correct: I'm going to die tonight.

The city lulled around him, low tide, and he pictured it outside the cinema, gray and black. He saw the alleys and fire escapes, but not in their correct configuration; in his mind they re-arranged themselves to aid his escape, and fell in over his tracks like new snow to conceal his position after he had gone. He couldn't leave the city, but instead opted to burrow into its depths until he was out of sight.

In that, of course, was the fitful existence of cities; his foes also imagined such assistance from the buildings, as did the millions around, favoring routes on a whim, sticking to wind-blocking paths, wishing for faster journeys across on their own graphs. This pulling in different directions lent the place it's frustrated energies, and caused the walls to tense defensively. A pipe tap-tapped overhead and threatened to flare like a poisoned nostril. It held. Water from somewhere moved through the walls. Normal sounds? Or are they trying to get my attention? Flush me out?

'Hey Bobby. They should call this one The Case of the Lost Girlfriends.'

'Or The Case of No Girlfriends.'

'Bobby Confuses Himself.'

'Or Bobby's Dream. The only lead you're following is your own tail. You're dreaming. Damn, I wish I could see it. Bobby's Dream. Ha. Man, every case you're ever on should be called that.'

He decided to move. He stuck his gun into the crack of the door and levered it open. He peeked through. More dark. But there was a sign, illuminated. NO EXIT. Punctuation? No, Ex it! Bobby, call your wife, apologize again, if you get out of here then make a go of it; Or No Ex, fall off the Earth tonight, say no prayer, and throw the suggestible alphabet onto the floor in a crash of bricks. Take a vow of silence, ignore the Maltese Falcon line, 'talking is something you can't do judiciously, unless you practice.'

Focus, or somesuch mantra, was muttered lowly, and it was him talking at himself. His words rang hollow. Focus meant nothing to him. On what? His guts were conspicuous, his senses untrustworthy. Recent dreams had slipped away from their usual parameters and into completely new space. Old friends had visited him, prompting crushingly sad mornings when he awoke and realised where he was, and that Jim was dead, or Suze had lost her mind, and that Bryan was gone. Johnson had bought him coffee and told him that the station saw him as a renegade now. Johnson had tried to keep them off his back, pulled as many strings as he could reach, everybody knew that. But Bobby had apparently gone too far this time. The police couldn't help him, in fact they were actively looking for him. One witnessed error, and his licence was gone. 

'There's nothing romantic about a P.I. with no gig,' said Johnson.

P.I. Pi. 3.14159.

'...and if you're out of this circle, then you're no P.I. at all.'

Pi. Circle. 
'Johnson, I think I can predict the future. Only sometimes, the patterns don't make sense. I get confused.'
'Bobby, you're off the case.'

Opinions, loud guesses. Bobby knew that he had no way of knowing what was round the corner. He had been in this theater forever, and perhaps would never find his way out.

Bobby's Dream Directed by Langston Bailey Starring Bruce Dern Nina Van Pallandt Francois Truffaut United Artists Release date US/UK: May 1972 Tagline: 'Somewhere between prophetic and pathetic, Bobby Spritz is a detective with a problem'

1. The film was the first of a loose trilogy, a homage to film noir, and was thus frequently known as Noir I. In some parts of the US, Bobby's Dream was re-released in 1978 as Bobby's Dream: Noir. Nobody has a compelling reason why.

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