Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Stillwater - 20

46,545/50,000. I'm gonna win it, guys. 

***

Eventually Melly kept to the refuge of her room. She was there on Friday afternoon, hemming a pair of trousers for Malcolm, when Alys knocked on her door. 

“Are you too busy, Melly? I was just wondering if you’d help me get these lines down. This is the longest scene I have, and it’s near the beginning so it has to be played fairly straight. Will you read it with me?”

Melly set aside the work.

“I’d be happy to read with you,” she said, “but it really ought to be Malcolm.”

“I can’t find him, and we’re supposed to be shooting the scene this afternoon. Is he even home yet?”

“I don’t think so. There’s some important school paperwork due by 5:00 today. He’d been going in by 6:00 each morning to get it all taken care of so he can be home for the filming, but perhaps he needed more time.”

 Alys dismissed the school with a gesture. “I thought he might have been in one of the front rooms, but Ian and Sophia were making such a pretty spectacle of themselves in the parlor that everyone’s fled from the whole first floor. I think they insist on as many retakes as João does. Good thing you’re safe back here, though I have to warn you, I think Sophia is planning on throwing a vase in the library.”

“Which vase?” Melly was filled with foreboding for the precious antiques of the drawing room.

“Oh, just something from the attic. Esther told Sophia it was fine to use. ”

Alys handed Melly the script and pushed the velvet curtains away from the tall windows. “Okay, I’m in place. Ashley and Melly are supposed to be looking over a balcony overlooking Twelve Oaks — I think they’re going to film it on one of the balconies upstairs. 

Melly looked over the lines on the page Sophia had handed her.

ASHLEY
You seem to belong here. As if it had all been 
imagined for you.

MELANIE
I like to feel that I belong to the things you love.

ASHLEY
You love Twelve Oaks as I do.

MELANIE
Yes, Ashley. I love it as, as more than a house. It's 
a whole world that wants only to be graceful and 
beautiful.

ASHLEY
And so unaware that it may not last, forever.

MELANIE
You're afraid of what may happen when the war comes, 
aren't you? Well, we don't have to be afraid. For us. 
No war can come into our world, Ashley. Whatever 
comes, I'll love you, just as I do now. Until I die.


Melly held the lines in her hand, but she did not see them. She saw Malcolm and Alys, speaking these words to each other, standing side by side by in a haze of beautiful sunlight, overlooking the west lawn of Stillwater. She saw Malcolm taking Alys’s hands in his and kissing them, with gentlemanly fervor. She saw Alys looking up at him with a simple and beautiful devotion shining from her face, masking her amusement at the absurd sincerity of the language. She saw… 

No, she was just getting silly. Malcolm and Alys would just be playing Ashley and Melanie. They wouldn’t be speaking for themselves. And yet Malcolm at least did feel something for Alys. Would he be able to avoid putting some of his own feeling into these lines? Was he supposed to avoid it? How did one act, anyway? 

“I know,” said Alys, observing how Melly’s eyes were fixed on the page. “I don’t know how I’m going to get through these lines. How can anyone be that sincere? I know I’m going to bust up as soon as I look at Malcolm’s face. That’s why I thought I could read with you first, to practice keeping a straight face. You and Malcolm have that same serious look, so at least I’ll be used to seeing it when I rehearse with him. Do you know, I think your eyes are even the same color.”

Melly knew this scene by heart, but she couldn’t imagine reeling off the lines to Alys. She stood by the window, clutching the script as a convenient prop, and half whispered Ashley’s line. The first rehearsal did not go smoothly. Melly could not enjoy putting herself forward enough to be dramatic, and Alys was dissolved in giggles half the time. This was infuriating. Melly thought tartly that perhaps if Alys had read with some conviction, she would have been able to respond in kind. 

“Well, that was terrible,” Alys laughed after their first stumbling attempt at the scene. Melly’s rising frustration kept her from responding to this other than with a sigh. She gamely took up the script again for the next round and was about to deliver her line when there was a knock at the door. 

Melly opened it to find Malcolm standing in the hall, script in hand.

“Melly, I was wondering if you would read my lines with me,” he asked, with some embarrassment. “I got home a little while ago and haven’t been able to find Alys to run this scene with me. I know you don’t want to do any acting, but would you mind helping me rehearse?”

Before Melly had time to ponder how it would have been if Malcolm had been the first one to knock that afternoon, Alys had bounded over to the door. 

“We had the same idea!” she said. “I should have known you would come to Melly’s room eventually; it’s the only sane place in the house.”

“Great minds think alike.” 

Malcolm and Alys were so pleased at the occasion having arranged itself so neatly that Melly found herself agreeing to let them rehearse in her room while she prompted them.  She sat on her bed, script in hand, as they took their places at the window. Before they could begin, however, they had to settle the rehearsal jitters by talking through their blocking and analyzing each line for what Alys called “subtext”. There wasn’t much of either. 

“Usually an actor looks for the meaning underneath the words and tries to communicate that, but in this scene there is no subtext. The characters mean exactly what they’re saying. Where’s the fun in that?”

“I like it, though,” said Malcolm. “It’s comfortable. It’s uncomplicated. It's honest.”

“Yeah, but there’s a good reason that Scarlett is the main character. Imagine a whole movie full of Melly being earnest! How boring would that be?”

“If I recall correctly,” Malcolm pointed out, “it was Melly, and not Scarlett, who was given money by the richest prostitute in Atlanta.”

During this conversation, Melly had been sitting quietly on the bed, looking at the script and imagining how Malcolm would have rehearsed it with her. How would she have be able to listen to him telling her that all this estate seemed to have been imagined for her, without her heart beating with joy? How could she have managed to say, “I like to feel that I belong to the things you love,” without meaning it not just as Melanie, but as Melly? How would she have even been able to speak the words, “I’ll love you, just as I do now”? Everything she felt would have been written on her face. 

Finally the rehearsal began, in as much earnest as Alys could manage. Melly was supposed to be prompting them, but she found herself caught up in watching Malcolm trying to deliver his three lines. He was grave and gentle, if a bit stiff, but he was aided by at least a quarter of a decade’s worth of memories of sitting by his mother’s side, watching Leslie Howard and Olivia de Havilland play this very scene. Alys had no such sentimental connection, and although she did her best to settle down and play Melanie seriously, she could not help wiggling her eyebrows or batting her eyelashes. 

“I’m going to read with Melly, and she’ll show you how it’s done,” Malcolm threatened.

“No,” said Melly in alarm. “I really can’t act.”


That evening everything was thrown into an uproar by the unexpected arrival of Chris Dalton. He had heard brief reports of the moviemaking from Sophia, and, feeling slighted and a bit jealous, had decided to come down for the weekend and get involved. This was a most unwelcome development. Olivia and João, with Ian’s help, had worked out a script with a fair amount of economy, and inserting a new scene or even just a new clip would interrupt the flow and rhythm of the video. It was impossible to have a full consultation about the event with Chris right in the room. Melly, attuned to the tension, noticed a great deal of subtext in the discussions. 

“I think that since Sophia is playing Scarlett, I should be Rhett,” Chris announced. Glances were cast, caught, and flung around the room.

“We’ve already shot quite a few of the scenes, Chris,” said Olivia carefully. “It would be hard to change things now.”

“Chris, don’t be a pain.” Sophia had no patience for this. “We’re not going to redo the whole thing for your sake.”

But Chris was obstinate. “Scarlett is in love with Rhett, so obviously I should be Rhett.”

“Scarlett doesn’t love Rhett. She loves Ashley,” said Olivia. “So it wouldn’t do you much good to play Rhett.”

“Then I’ll play Ashley.”

“Chris, we’ve already filmed most of his scenes.”

“And Ashley is married to another woman,” said Alys reasonably. “You wouldn’t want to play that part.”

“Charles Hamilton,” said Ian suddenly. “You should play Charles Hamilton.”

“Who’s that?” Chris was suspicious.

“Scarlett’s first husband. He marries her right before he goes to war.”

“How come no one ever talks about him?”

“He has a bigger part in the book,” said Sophia, who had never read it. “He dies a hero’s death.”

“Actually, it’s kind of amusing how he proposes,” said Olivia, chewing over the idea. “You know, I think we could work that in somewhere.”

So it was decided. They would squeeze in Chris’s scene during the good daylight filming time after the 11 AM tour group was out of the house. Fortunately, he’d been to the last Stillwater Ball, so there was a jacket in the attic that would fit him nicely. It didn’t matter what pants he wore; only the jacket would show. 

“We’ll need to rig some lights and film a scene or two tomorrow night, since João and Olivia have to leave on Sunday,” Ian decided.

Chris looked forward to the filming with great anticipation. He had counted out his lines, mostly variations on the theme of “Miss O’Hara, will you marry me?”, and was explaining to Melly, who was hearing him read, his memorization technique.

“We had this fellow out to our last conference who’s an expert in memorization. He’s memorized all kinds of things: the phone book, the Iliad, I don’t know what-all. The technique is simple yet powerful. If you want to remember something, you just have to relate it to something else that you’ll remember. Say I want to remember the name of Hazelwood. I have to think, “tree!” Hazel is a kind of tree. And trees are made of wood: Hazel-wood! Now all I have to do is think of trees, and I remember Hazelwood. Of course, I’ll never forget Hazelwood, so that’s just an example. Here, let’s read this scene, and I’ll show you how it works.” 

Melly obediently delivered the cue line: “Oh, what did you say?

Chris dropped to one knee for his big proposal: “I say, Miss O’Hara, I say, would you marry me?”

Melly shook her head gently. “The line is: Miss O’Hara, I said, would you marry me?

“Oh, that’s right. You know what I was thinking of, to remember it? I was thinking of Foghorn Leghorn. Charles says, ‘I said, would you marry me?’, and Foghorn Leghorn always says, ‘I say’. So ‘I say’ reminds me of ‘I said,’ which is the line.”

Melly was dubious. “But Charles says, ‘I said’, because he’s repeating something he said earlier that Scarlett didn’t hear. The cue line is ‘What did you say?’ and he’s answering her.”

Chris shook his head knowingly. “This is how we do things in business. Trust me, I heard a whole lecture on this, and this guy was an expert. You should have heard him recite the phone book.”

This was but a foretaste of Saturday’s filming. Chris free-associated all afternoon, dancing around the text of his lines with the agility of a boxer dodging blows. He paused between every take to explain the adjustments he was making to his memorization techniques. 

“Each time I fine-tune the line, and by trial and error I find the perfect word match,” he declared to the room of tight faces. 

“I thought the point was to memorize it the first time,” said Malcolm.

“Yeah, but I want to get the technique just right.”


The whole afternoon shooting schedule was pushed farther and farther back. Tempers frayed. Dinner was a short affair in the basement family room, everyone wearily gnawing sandwiches except for Chris. Although his scene was finally wrapped, he was conducting a full post-mortem of each of his line choices for the patient Melly. Sophia was behind the bar with Ian, talking in suggestive whispers. Olivia and João were looking over the last business of the evening, reshooting one of Malcolm and Alys’s scenes from another angle. Dick, earbuds in place, was watching the day’s footage on Olivia’s laptop, not so much to see the scenes as to revel in Chris’s out takes. Malcolm and Alys were sitting in companionable silence on the love seat, their usual perch, when her phone rang. She looked at the number and gave an exclamation that caused everyone’s head to turn in her direction.

“It’s that contract on the West Coast!” she hissed at Ian. “He was going to call tonight about the tiara commission, and I agreed because I thought we’d be done by this time.” 

She rose. “I have to take this, guys, sorry.” Quickly she answered the phone, waved goodnight, and headed back to her own cottage.

The missing energy in the room returned with a vengeance. 

“What’s going on?” Olivia wailed. “Why is she leaving? We’re so close!”

“She’s been trying to talk to this guy for weeks about a big jewelry commission, and now she’s finally got him on the phone discussing the details will take ages. She won’t be back tonight, guys,” Ian explained, shrugging ruefully.

There was general murmur. To put off this last take! It was unthinkable. And yet, if Alys was going busy for hours… The frustration was palpable. Dick swore. Malcolm slumped on the loveseat, passing tired hands over his eyes.

João had been studying the scheduled scene, and now he looked up. “It is only her back, and she wears a… a… on her head…” He mimed putting on a hat. 

“Bonnet,” supplied Olivia.

“If Sophia would be nice and be the Melanie in the scene…”

“I don’t look a thing like Alys,” Sophia drawled. “She’s much fairer than I am, and we have different figures. Even under a bonnet anyone could tell.”

“Maybe Olivia…?”

“Same problem.”

“Melly,” said Dick. “Melly could do it. Put her hair up so none of it shows, and get her in Alys’s dress, and no one could ever tell.”

“But she’s too short,” said Olivia, eyeing Melly speculatively.

“She will stand on a box,” said João. 

“No!” cried Melly. “I can’t act.”

“You don’t have to act,” said Dick persuasively. “All you have to do is stand there and let Malcolm hug you.”

“No, I really can’t.”

“Come on, Melly, you’ve done so much work sewing,” coaxed Olivia. “This is a little cameo for you. I’m glad you’ll have a chance to be in the video.”

“No.”

“Just do it, Melly,” Sophia ordered. “No one’s ever going to know it’s you, so there’s nothing to be shy about. It’s the least you can do for us.”

“You’ll do a better job than Alys,” said Ian, “She’s never serious, and you always are.”

“No.”

Olivia and João gathered their equipment to head upstairs. Sophia tossed Alys’s dress to Melly. 

“Here, put it on and come up when you’re ready.”

 “I don’t want a part in it.”


“Malcolm, you talk to her,” said Dick in mild disgust. “She does whatever you tell her. Get her to show some Stillwater spirit.” 

The others cleared out. Melly stood, dress in hand, unmoving. Malcolm walked over to her slowly and sighed.

“Melly, I’m sorry about this. I know how much you hate this whole thing, and I agree. It’s bigger and worse and more time-consuming than I imagined it would be.” 

Melly did not look up at him, but she could hear the hoarse weariness in his voice, and she yearned to give him rest.

“This is entirely unfair of them to put this on you without any warning, but this is it. The End. This scene, and the filming is over and we get our house and our quiet time back. Let’s just get it over with.”

“I don’t want to be involved. I don’t want to play a scene in front of everyone.”

“I know you’re nervous, Melly.” His compassion was melting her, bit by bit. “You barely have to do anything. Ashley just has to hug Melanie. This is all it is.”

He put his arms around her and pulled her close, dress and all, pressing her head to his shoulder. She closed her eyes and felt his arms around her.

“Just like this, and I’ll say a line, and it cuts to a reaction shot from Scarlett, I think. All they want is the back of Melanie. Can you do that?”

“I… I don’t know.” If only there were no movie and no Winters and he would hold her like this forever.

“This whole thing will be over soon,” he said, “and everything will go back to normal, thank God.” 

He released her and gave her shoulder a squeeze. 

“There’s no rush. They can wait for you.”

He went upstairs. Melly continued to stand, twisting and untwisting the dress. All she needed to do was be still and let Malcolm hold her. No one would know it was her. She didn’t have to say anything, didn’t have to do anything but put on this dress and go upstairs and make everyone happy. Then everything would be over and everyone would go away again.

But everyone was going away anyway, whether she played the scene or not. Olivia was going back to school and Sophia couldn’t remain at Stillwater indefinitely. Dick ignored her most of the time anyway. And Malcolm would still be here. And so would the Winters.

But if she refused, would Sophia and Dick — and Esther, when she heard about it — think that she ought to leave Stillwater? Was she trying to police everyone’s morals, as Esther claimed? Would Mrs. Spencer even miss her when she was gone? Would Malcolm turn to Alys Winter even more than he had already? Could she live away from Stillwater?

Melly was still standing, dress still in hand, when she heard the outside door open and shut. Alys was back. Alys would play her part and be praised. Melly would again be consigned to the lowest position, perhaps even lower than before because she had not cooperated. She would be nobody again, and no one would rise to her defense this time.

“Hello, Melly,” said a voice from the doorway, a voice ringing with an undertone of profound happiness. “You look sad. Where is everyone?”

Melly’s head shot up, and the dress dropped to the floor. 

“Hello, Mr. Spencer,” she breathed.

6 comments:

Brandon said...

I can very much imagine Chris trying to play a part in Gone with the Wind as if he were playing Foghorn Leghorn.

Catholic Bibliophagist said...

This whole segment is very well done.

--C.B.

Melanie Bettinelli said...

I love the stuff with Chris. Even though I know the story I was still surprised when Mr Spencer walked in.

JP said...

Eep. Whatever the source/model is I haven't read it, so Mr. Spencer's appearance is somewhat of a surprise. Curses at the sudden cliffhanger too (although I end up doing it just about every day as well...)

Congratulations on catching up! How long did/does a 3,300 chunk like this one take?

MrsDarwin said...

JP, I had about two hundred words of it before I started last night. I started at 8 PM and went to bed at 3 AM. On the other hand, I got almost my entire word count for today between midnight and 3, so that's nice. Hope I won't be up so late tonight!

Skywalker said...

The bits about Chris are hilarious. I'm looking forward the next installment!