The following is another chapter from volume 1 of my autobiography entitled Sex With a Sunburnt Penis. Written on the crest of a wave of binge-drinking, it was a process of autobiography as therapy conducted between July and November of 1997. The title, Sex With a Sunburnt Penis (hereafter SWASP) is a metaphor highlighting the consequences of mounting pleasure upon pleasure. It posited that, in a country as wealthy as Australia, those born without any significant disadvantage are so well placed in life that it is really up to them to screw it up. I did so, royally, on many occasions, but regret is a wasted, pointless, indulgent emotion unless it fuels change and action. We must get back up on the bicycle so to speak, or otherwise, seek Rough Solace, a character who appears in the story as a personification of the frank good advice we can give ourselves if any wisdom dwells within. SWASP was initially intended as a one-off, but a couple of years after having written it, I envisaged a trilogy to complete the picture. Volume 2, still in the pipeline and sketched to some degree, bears the working title Loitering with Scholastic Intent. My good friend Chris recommended the title A Blow Job too Far for volume 3, though, whilst it sounds magnificent, I’m not entirely sure it will turn out to be appropriate.
The following passage, entitled Entropy, contains in its entirety my first attempt at writing a short film script. It is hopelessly inept, incongruous and contradictory, but we were very happy with it at the time and that’s good enough for me. Too many cones indeed, and apologies for the formatting. WordPress does not seem to accommodate pre-formatted screenplays when cutting and pasting, unless I am missing something. Enjoy it, ja!
I met Tyrone Books early in 1992 at my friend Mike’s place. As Tyrone had a certain suave, philosophical nonchalance about him and a much-coveted girlfriend, it was my plan to appear formidably impressive during our initial encounter. He found me with a bong in one hand, a glass of wine in the other and about three litres of cardboard Claret already in my stomach. When, after a good hour’s conversation about the influence of jazz and classical on certain Scandinavian metal bands, I looked down to find my No-Names bolognaise floating in a sea of wine on Mike’s polished-cork kitchen floor, I thought I had blown it. It so happened, however, that this was a defining moment of a different kind. For, as he was to confess many years later, what impressed Tyrone most of all was my insistence on continuing the conversation between apologies, cleaning, and further evacuations into the kitchen sink.
While the Barcelona Olympics were on, my old friend Gustav and I were given the opportunity to house-sit in a bungalow in Newtown. It seemed short-sighted to waste the opportunity of living in such a marvellous house by going to lectures, so instead I spent every last penny on weed, speed and acid and holed up for the games. During the second week of events I invited Books to visit one evening. We smoked hashish on hot knives, fashioned a bong out of a pen and shampoo bottle, then hosed the back yard and sat listening to it drip for a good hour.
“Gustav and I listen to the garden every night,” I explained. “The sound of the dripping is hypnotic, I highly recommend that you get right into it.”
“It’s pretty good, man,” said Books. I could tell that he was impressed.
Our conversation stretched well into the wee hours and Books finally departed as I began my shift at the Olympics. The following night he got in touch and came around for more of the same. By the end of the week we were best friends.
Books, who had just moved into Arundel Street in Glebe, soon found himself in the difficult situation of having to find new housemates. Within three weeks of moving into the house, through no fault of his own, all the other tenants moved out. He was fortunate in finding three replacements with extraordinary speed, one of whom was an enthusiastic wannabe film maker and communications student by the name of Saul Godly. Keen to get away from home and hang out with my new friend, I began to use Books’ house as an outpost at which to base myself after a long day dodging lectures. Soon Tyrone, Saul and I were as thick as thieves, and it was only natural that such a blessed triumvirate should be granted ambitious revelations.
One evening the three of us dropped acid and walked from Paddington to Glebe on an all-night epic. During that journey we declaimed, with great affectation, our dreams and visions for the future.
“I’m going to make it rich as a psychologist,” said Books, “then spend my money making movies. I’m going to be a director and an inventor, but most of all, I’m going to be a scientist and computer expert like Avon in Blake’s 7, or Davros in the Genesis of the Daleks.”
“I’m going to make films too,” said Saul. “But I don’t just want to be behind the camera, I want to be in front of it as well. Plus, I’m gonna write the damned things. I’m going to be an artiste, an auteur, an actor!”
“And I’m going to be a writer!” I shouted, beating my fist into the copy of Clive Barker’s Weaveworld, which I happened to be carrying. “I’m gunna write novels like a demon – novels, films, plays, short stories, poems – the lot. I’m going to be a writer!”
After some lines of speed at Arundel street, we spent the morning photographing each other in front of the railway viaduct at Glebe Point. It was a day to remember, and we wanted to preserve that glow of determined youth for eternity. Saul and I went further and made a pact. Within a year we were to produce a major work. He would write a film script, and I would write a book – either a novel or collection of short stories. At last I felt I had found a definite direction in which to steer myself.
Four months later, I hadn’t written a thing. I had, at least, begun to teach myself to touch type, but in a world without e-mail or the internet, and too lazy even to write my essays, let alone type them, it was difficult to motivate myself to stay in front of a keyboard. University was sliding away from me again. My absenteeism in first semester had ruled out any chance of passing in Fine Arts and Linguistics and now, having moved deep into second semester, I faced the prospect of failing the lot. Hanging thus by a thread, I could not justify such slackness unless I began to produce extra-curricular results. If I was going to be a writer, I had better start soon.
It was, therefore, without a moment’s hesitation that I accepted my first commission. As Saul was nearing the end of his first year, the deadline for his short film project was approaching. He had already signed Books up to the task but they had, as yet, failed to come up with any script ideas. So it was that Saul asked me, “the writer”, if I would be willing to help him out.
“For fucking sure, Saul,” I said. “That’d be untold!”
This was it. This was the chance. We were going to make a film!
It was a great excuse to get drunk and stoned, take some speed and drop a trip, and we did so by way of a script moot. The following morning found us drawing and painting on the walls of Tyrone’s bedroom and it was when I asked Tyrone what he was going to say to his landlord that the story finally took shape. It would be about an artist, played by Saul, painting his walls in praise of the sun and not caring for the concerns of the Proprietor, whom he considered an obstacle to art. The painter would live with a writer, (myself) and both of these characters would be plagued by the naggings of Books, the Joker.
“The story is about the tension between chaos, anarchy, vandalism,” said Books, “and order, society and structure. The proprietor is Society incarnate and his interest is to keep the walls white, for this is tradition. The proprietor wants to maintain conservative values, while the painter and writer want to express their subversive ideas in their pictures and writing. It’s about the problem of being forced to be a part of the society into which you are born.”
“Like wanting to be a hermit,” said Saul, “but needing to work to live.”
“Exactly,” said Books, “or sort of, at least. Now, the position we wish to support in the play is that the expression of individuality and the freedom of that expression is good and should not be hindered by conservatism, but that one needs to respect society and its component structures.”
“Okay,” I said, impressed by the perspicacity of Books’ reasoning. “So what is the Joker’s role?”
“Ah,” said Books, “the Joker symbolises anarchy – he is diametrically opposed to the proprietor, yet he cannot escape from the room – society – and he has no power over him. Why? Because he is not real but ethereal; not a person, but a concept – an energy, something which can be activated and used, as both the Writer and Painter do in their art. In the end the Painter uses the Joker’s energy to kill the Proprietor. The painter, you see, is the simple idealist – he is all passion, and refuses to be a sheep, helplessly passing his time in the grasslands away.”
“I thought you’d like it. So the story ends with the death of the Proprietor and the walls painted – the Painter triumphant, but a murderer. The Joker is free, and so, in a sense is the Writer – yet the writer now wonders whether or not he will miss the Proprietor, with whom he occasionally liked to converse, being more able to walk the median strip of life. The final scene ought to take place in a field, outside of the room. For with the Proprietor dead, society is gone, and society was, after all, the room. In effect, this film is about the end of society.”
Over the next two weeks I struggled with pen and paper, having next to no knowledge of how to write a screenplay. My only experience on this front was a script written in my first year of high school as an English project called A hand for the Chopper, which was shot in exactly forty-three minutes one Thursday lunch break. My father had written film scripts and done a lot of writing for television, but rather than consulting him, I figured I could just wing it. I was sure of myself. I had talent, didn’t I? All my University friends and Newtown acquaintances thought of me as an ideas man, a creative conversationalist, someone with the gift of the gab. All I had to do was put a little of that into the project and we’d be right as rain.
Inspiration struck one Tuesday night with nothing much to do. I got stoned and went up to the Courthouse Hotel with an exercise book in which to begin my scribbling. I was soon on a roll. I poured schooners down my neck and stabbed away at the paper, hoping girls would notice me being so obviously bohemian. The few girls present ignored me completely, so I just kept writing and writing, unwilling to abandon hope. After about two hours, I put down my pen, smoked my twentieth cigarette and felt proud. I had written a masterpiece. This, I knew, would one day be remembered as the moment that Benjamin David Philip Cornford first thrust himself onto the scene as a writer.
INT. TERRACE BEDROOM WITH BALCONY
Sun streams through open French doors onto a white stretch of wall. Standing, studying the wall is the PAINTER. A WRITER sits at his desk, writing with a pencil. PAINTER approaches wall and runs hands over it, scratches his chin, steps back, kneels, frames scene between joined hands.
I can see it all in my wall. Should my hands confess in paint the sights they wish to shape? Such bland boundaries, faded but never kissed by the light. Reduced by a sun intolerant of their lack of welcome. I must impress with colour that yellow god and look back so he knows I admire his daily ablutions.
We close to the WRITER, who leers up from his work. Music softly sounds his theme intuitive.
An eye. Am eye to watch the sun and not squint, but occasionally wink in friendly approval. What colours should I use?
PAINTER begins to sharpen his pencil with a knife and begins to draw on wall.
This is my wall, I’ll do as I will. As I must. For it is my wall.
Enter JOKER, grinning, from the doorway. WRITER watches him but says nothing as JOKER sneaks up from behind and takes the knife from the PAINTER. PAINTER backs away, disarmed, frightened, apprehensive.
In praise of a fool you would commit this sin? For surely the sun is a fool. Your talent is a lie, your art a falsity. Dear painter, bathe yourself in guilty blood for the works you have made incite the punishment of the lawful. Does the sun care for your work? Is he not truly beautiful? Your work is a mockery of his golden pain, your guilt and your pain are as one with his, his sins are far greater. So burn in the heart you feel is true, end this childish game. Look painter, but not to the sun.
But, but you see (plaintive) I must paint. I must, I, I…
So many I’s in so short a space makes for a rather egotistical young fool. The sun’s eyes bleed, he cannot see past his face. He grumbles that fools like you live and revel in his painful light.
JOKER approaches WRITER who instantly takes the knife from his hand and begins to clean his nails. The JOKER smiles at the WRITER’s wit.
Aha!, you play well, writer, and yet do you write well? Is not the painter a fool, is not the painter going to pay for his indulgence? But you know of his kind, free with his art, licensed to vandalise and insult.
Is his art a sin? Do you label and lay claim to his heart? What price do you place on his defence? If his belief is true, you won’t stay his hand. His work is good, it is no stain.
And yet you write words by the thousand – his art is slow. His pictures tell a thousand words, but is this evidence of a quick mind or that of a simpleton challenged to form sentences in description of his own ridiculous plight!
My work is long
You work well, while he lays his foundations.
Slash his wrist and he’ll paint till the blood runs free. I’d write his epitaph, but fill it full of praise.
And I’d paint his headstone in praise of the sun. Cajole and provoke, but I wouldn’t take his life. See how he frustrates at his wall.
He frustrates for he is like the sun trapped within his youthful form. His blazing light runs rivulets through his limbs, coursing through his torso, abdomen, head. Yet he cannot burn now to let it all out at once in a flash. Can one convict him of a sin when he has no choice?
Yet in time his spirit will change. Better he realise now than when red-faced and fifty. He’ll live for twenty years and die for fifty more, die now or become now what no illusions can prevent him from being.
Cut to the PAINTER whose thoughts we hear as voice-over while he paints.
How will he know? How should he find my work? Soon I’ll be away and leave my work behind. Yet it will then be elsewhere. Cannot he see that it beautifies the room? Why does my very conscience nag me so? Why should I not do what is right to be done? I’ll paint, damn it. That eye will have sight and that fool’s attempt to subvert my goal – damn him, he won’t sway me.
JOKER moves back over to PAINTER and prods him with his finger.
Ahh, I see it’s the sort of stain that spreads. And what will you do when he sees it? Shall you apologise, try to explain? The writer asks what price your defence. I’d place the price high for the work would be hard, and of course, unfulfilling, for how can you expect a pardon? Don’t you know you cannot win? Yet, I tire of this provocation.
Then obstruct me no more!
Why should I indulge myself, your mind is so full of obstacles. Look at the writer, he pauses, thinks, his hand is smooth. Stop-start it is with that dirty brush – you have no style, no flow, you silly orang-utan. I see only one fully evolved individual in this room – he reads what is written and writes what is not.
Confound it! I cannot concentrate.
You never concentrate, have you tried? You stare but your drive is anger – are your emotions so malformed? You’re worried and aware of the consequences of your desecration. Have some regard. Play not games with life, when your soul is unfit for competition!
But it bothers me not what is in the mind of the Proprietor. How painful can his punishment be? As painful as a life without freedom? Should he stand in my way I’ll sweep him aside as in a brush stroke and paint him with blood. Better than to burn slowly to death. Now leave me, I must work!
I haven’t quite finished. Ignore me and I expect I’ll go away, but oh, you’ll listen now that slaying is on your mind. Do you think I don’t want the both of you dead? Your youthful fire extinguished, to hear the sun laugh to win in your game and to laugh at the sins on that fool’s wall?
JOKER steps back and stands by himself. We close in on the WRITER who sits and thinks.
I wonder how great his anger will be, how furious that landlord. Now the Painter’s veins run with anger. Is the need so great that no compromise is reached? Should not one live in cohesion with others. It is the painter’s will that the world will bend to his ways. He does not wish to rule, but to run free – push through every blockade – ignore all orders to halt or slow. It shall be his undoing. We shall soon see what the sun thinks.
The WRITER continues to write. The JOKER comes over to the WRITER’s table and picks up the knife. He crosses to the PAINTER and hands the knife to him.
I believe you need this to sharpen your pencils, or perhaps your will. See if I care where you stick it!
I’ll stick you with it if you aren’t careful! Why this constant harassment? Can’t you see I want to be left alone? I’m too busy to have time for your trouble-making. Now leave me!
There is a knock at the door. Close up of PAINTER. The JOKER smiles as he opens the door to admit the PROPRIETOR.
I never made it any further. My hand was spent, my lungs were heavy, my eyes were reeling drunk. Yet, I was terrifically excited. Coming close to finishing anything was an achievement in itself. I took myself off home and passed out in a stupor. The next morning I gave the beer-stained, dog-eared script to Saul on my way to university, before lying on the grass of campus to rest my weary, hung-over mind. The shoot was to take place the following night in the colon of the University of Technology. I would need to gather my strength. Things were moving forward apace!
When I arrived at UTS the next evening, Tyrone and Saul were overrun with excitement.
“Cornford, this is classic,” said Tyrone.
“It’s a gem,” said Saul, “just what I was after.”
“It’s so incongruous,” continued Tyrone, “and there’s a lot of it we can’t even read, let alone fathom, but there are some great lines in here. We’ve decided to call it Entropy.”
Saul had enlisted the assistance of two stunning women whom I failed utterly to impress, but who did an admirable, if unsubtle job of making me look older and uglier. Since there was no time for rehearsals, the Painter and Joker had prepared a series of idiot boards, leaving frequent gaps where my handwriting proved impenetrable. I enlightened them where possible and we got stuck straight into the shoot. It was finished in about four hours, with only one or two takes for most scenes. The studio was hot and bright, the girls lounged about languidly. I could see they had no confidence in me – I was far too overexcited to appear at all cool. My make-up ran in the heat, and my powdered brow glistened in dabs and clumps.
When it was all over we felt triumphant. I returned home buzzing with a sense of achievement I’d not felt in years. At last my life seemed to have obtained some momentum. If only I could sustain it! I lay in bed, closed my eyes, and remembered the English essay I’d forgotten to write.
Saul and Tyrone took care of finishing and editing the film. The Proprietor, ably played by their other housemate, Jen-Ming, wound up with a knife in his back on the grass of Glebe Point and with him died society. A week later, Saul submitted his work and a screening of the class’s films soon followed.
On the night of the screening Tyrone and Saul sat on the steps in the tiny cinema to play guitar and bass for the soundtrack. I lay back in my chair like a lord, ready to sip away at glory, enjoying the other projects. When Entropy finally began to roll my heart was thrust into my throat. Here we were on the big screen – all ladies present please take note!
Unfortunately, despite the quality of Tyrone and Saul’s light, funky riffing, nothing could disguise the sheer incongruity of the script, nor the abundant continuity errors. The Joker’s coat was on and off like a strobe in a melange of leering close-ups, and the words that had made so much sense to me whilst drunk and stoned at the Courthouse now seemed confusing and contradictory. To begin with the audience had no idea what to make of it, but after a couple of minutes, they decided it was a comedy and laughed along with the more amusing facial expressions. Ours was one of the last films shown, and when it was over, another rolled straight on in. Entropy passed by like a ship in the night in a thick fog on the sullen expanse of a dark, moonless ocean, and with it went all hope of having anything to be proud of. Two weeks later I passed the point of no return and my second first year at university became an unmitigated failure. I was close to passing one subject, but when I turned up for my English exam, I discovered I had gotten the date wrong. I shrugged, turned away and went to get stoned again.
Nineteen ninety-two was a complete and utter flop.