- · GENE PALMA
Gene Palma was the street drummer in Taxi Driver. C’mon, you remember him…
When it came time to shoot Jane Doe, I wanted him bad for the movie. I tracked him down to the St. Francis Residence. To call St. Francis a roominghouse would be lying. This was beyond stew bum. This was the checkout joint—where they force the door open and find your dead body, a week late on rent no more. No relatives, no funeral words or sendoff, a pauper’s grave. The last lousy deal in a lifetime of lousy deals.
So, I found him. Knock on his door. It opens, barely a crack. “Gene… it’s Paul Peditto. I’m the guy from the movie.” He didn’t understand.”No,” he mumbled, “I…no…” “Gene, we talked.” It took awhile to get through to him. Gene stood before me in purple-tinged hair, uncombed Roy Orbison sideburns and spotted shorts. I tucked a couple bucks into his palm. This seemed to help his comprehension. I told him I hoped he could do a cameo. We’d be shooting in the meatmarket district, tomorrow. “Please, come down.” Christ knew if he’d show up.
Next day, he appears. I introduce him all around. Not a person knows or remembers him. This was a reknowned artist in his own right, long before his Taxi Driver fame. So we shot the scene. Our protaganist Horace shuffles along the meatmarket district, the landscape mostly depopulated, only Gene and his greased back purple-tinged hair, passes him. We did the scene twice, in the can unremarkably. Pretty forgetable moment, actually, unless you knew that the extra guy Horace was passing was a legend.
He walked off, completely anonymous, that day. And died shortly after.
I was honored to meet him.
- · CHARLES BUKOWSKI
Charles Bukowski was my friend. Only met him once, at a National Public Radio performance of the play I adapted of his work, Buk, The Life and Times Of Charles Bukowski. This was 1992 and he had seen better days. He was gimpy, slow moving, in and out of poor health. He was still an imposing hulk of a man though, and when he cried during the performance, that was as good as it got for me. We corresponded for two years and some of those letters appear in his third letters book, Reach For The Sun. When he died in 1994 I went out to Los Angeles to pay tribute. He was buried in San Pedro and when I got out there, I found a simple plot. Certainly not the Jim Morrison Pere Lachaise cemetery plot covered with joints and wine bottles, graffiti declaring, “You were the Lizard King!” No, this was more…literary. This wasn’t a rock’n’roller resting here, but a poet. He had a clean, simple tombstone, that looks like this:
Don’t Try. I couldn’t figure out what that epitaph meant. Even driving back, I puzzled—what’s that mean? From the horse’s mouth came this excerpt from openculture.com:
“In October 1963, Bukowski recounted in a letter to John William Corrington how someone once asked him, “What do you do? How do you write, create?” To which, he replied: “You don’t try. That’s very important: ‘not’ to try, either for Cadillacs, creation or immortality. You wait, and if nothing happens, you wait some more. It’s like a bug high on the wall. You wait for it to come to you. When it gets close enough you reach out, slap out and kill it. Or if you like its looks you make a pet out of it.”
So, the key to life and art, it’s all about persistence? Patience? Timing? Waiting for your moment? Yes, but not just that.
Jumping forward to 1990, Bukowski sent a letter to his friend William Packard and reminded him: “We work too hard. We try too hard. Don’t try. Don’t work. It’s there. It’s been looking right at us, aching to kick out of the closed womb. There’s been too much direction. It’s all free, we needn’t be told.”
Right now you’re asking what the fuck any of this has to do with screenwriting. Just hold onto your ADHD balls, and I’ll tell you.
My thinking is that it means: Perspective. Perspective from the grave. Understanding that NOTHING is as important as we make it out to be—in the light of death.
When I think about so many of my students placing SOOO much importance, for instance, on screenwriting contests placings–it saddens me. A scam has been perpetrated. I can assure you, folks, placing Quarterfinals at the Page Awards, or Nicholl Fellowship, or Austin, in the grand, cosmic scheme, means fuck all.
What is this desperation all about anyhow? Have you ever stopped to ask why it’s so important that you make your movie? Movies are about illusion. How many movies from 1914 have you watched lately? What makes you think you’ll be one of the miniscule few who survives one hundred years from now? Why is that so important that you that you will do whatever it takes to make it happen, including burning your here and now present tense? Is legacy worth it?
Which brings us back to Bukowski. Maybe it’s time to step off, to gain some perspective on your commitment to to proposition of movie-making.