PLATINUM DREAMS. (1984) THE SCREENPLAY BOOK BY MICHAEL ARMSTRONG REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

MICHAEL ARMSTRONG: THE SCREENPLAYS.

PLATINUM DREAMS. (1984)

PUBLISHED IN 2021 BY PAPER DRAGON PRODUCTIONS.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

‘Michael Armstrong is creating history by being the first film-maker to publish his entire screenwriting output. With the original uncut screenplays in print for the first time ever and peppered with a mixture of wildly entertaining anecdotes, astounding behind-the-scenes revelations, creative and educational insights and brutal ‘no holds barred’ honesty, these books are guaranteed to provide a completely new kind of reading experience while offering a unique insight into the movie industry. Starting from his first professional screenplay written in 1960 when he was only fifteen and which he subsequently directed in 1968, the books will ultimately encompass a career that has spanned over fifty years. The books will include not only those screenplays which made it onto a cinema screen but, for the first time ever, all those that didn’t- and the reasons why…’

http://www.michaelarmstrong.co.uk

http://www.paperdragonproductions.com

My readers will be well familiar with Michael Armstrong by now, if they weren’t already. He is, of course, the famous British director and screen-writer who wrote the screenplays for the following films:

THE DARK- 1960.

THE IMAGE- 1964. Starring a young David Bowie in his first screen appearance.

THE HUNT- 1965.

MARK OF THE DEVIL- 1970. A gruesome but frighteningly real depiction of eighteenth century witch-burnings.

THE SEX THIEF- 1973.

ESKIMO NELL- 1974. A riotous sex comedy starring beloved English actor Roy Kinnear and a young and handsome Michael Armstrong himself.

IT COULD HAPPEN TO YOU- 1975.

THREE FOR ALL- 1975.

ADVENTURES OF A TAXI DRIVER #2- 1975.

ADVENTURES OF A PRIVATE EYE- 1976.

THE BLACK PANTHER- 1976. The story of Donald Neilson, the British armed robber, kidnapper and murderer who abducted wealthy British teenager Lesley Whittle in 1975.

HOME BEFORE MIDNIGHT- 1979.

SCREAMTIME- 1981.

HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS- 1982. The only film in the history of cinema to star horror legends Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Vincent Price and John Carradine all together.

LIFEFORCE- 1983.

That’s quite an impressive back catalogue, isn’t it, and that’s only a fraction of the screenplays Michael has penned over the years. As with all screen-writers, a few scripts are bound to fall through the cracks the odd time and not get made into films. This, sadly, was the case with PLATINUM DREAMS, the screenplay I want us to have a closer look at today.

As Andrew Porter, a good friend of Michael’s, says in his excellent foreword to the book, ‘Michael’s first task with PLATINUM DREAMS was to expose and satirise the hypocrisies of Hollywood- the platitudes hiding between the façade of show business glamour- the dream that is, in reality, no more than a mirage.

‘And the characters he created, similar to those in Fellini’s classic, LA DOLCE VITA, were doomed to live this pretence, prisoners of their hopeless ambition, eventually succumbing in a downward spiral of self-destruction…’

Cheerful, innit, lol. Michael himself, in the section of the film script book entitled A History of the Screen Play, says the following about his lead character Diane: ‘It was written to expose her interview, in hindsight, as a chilling and dangerous set of evasive platitudes hiding behind the façade of a glit & glam show business that, in reality, is no more than a mirage created to sell product…’

Let me explain what Michael means about ‘her interview’ in the lines above. PLATINUM DREAMS has a female protagonist- hear, hear!- called Diane Hayden. Diane is an attractive young English secretary to a minor music mogul.

She has no intention of remaining a humble PA forever, however. She wants to be the mogul, not just the assistant to a mogul. She’s fiercely ambitious, and she’s even prepared to be ruthless if she has to be.

She tries to advance in the company she works for, Centaur Records, but her progress is blocked every which way by the glass ceiling. In other words, the male executives progress up the ladder while Diane is patted on the head and told to be a good little quiet secretary and, look, here’s a nice bunch of flowers to keep you sweet, darlin’.

Diane explodes. She quits her job, breaks up with her boyfriend- after telling him unceremoniously that she was faking it pretty much the whole time- and catches a flight to Los Angeles on Centaur Records‘s tab. She doesn’t even tell her parents that she’s leaving. When they finally find out about it, it’s already a fait accompli.

Diane makes it big, really big, in the music industry in the City of Angels. Throughout the book, there are snippets of her being interviewed by a major showbiz magazine. (That’s the interview Michael is referring to above.) She’s quizzed about her life and her meteoric rise to the top, but the answers she gives are not the real ones.

She puts a glossy spin on everything and sanitises it, saying how lovely and polite and civilised everything was when we know from the rest of the narrative that her rise to fame was excruciatingly painful and head-wrecking and mired in drugs, booze, aimless thrill-seeking and sex with all the wrong people. (Erm, where do I sign up, please…?)

Not to mention the fact that you seem to have to kiss your values goodbye when you’re clawing your way to the top in an industry like the music business, in a city like Los Angeles, where all that glitters is almost certainly not gold. It’s much the same in the film and television industry and the modelling business as well, I imagine, though I’m no expert on the high life, haha.

Diane: ‘Money, sex, drugs and movies. Aren’t there any other topics of interest in this town…?’ That’d be a ‘no,’ love…

The story takes us through Diane’s relationships with the various men who populate her life as she goes on her journey to find fame, money and success in L.A. There’s Mel, a ‘lecherous ex-junkie songwriter,’ in Diane’s own words.

There’s a very funny bit where Diane is telling the interviewer how ‘spiritual’ Mel was, and how their relationship always remained ‘a purely professional one,’ on account of his wife and all. It was just all innocent fun and good hard honest graft.

What’s so funny is that her words are sandwiched in between two scenes where we clearly see Diane and Mel rutting like wild boars on the Apocalypse. There are many examples of this hilarious inter-slicing in the screenplay, and it’s just one of the many reasons it would have worked so well as a movie. Even in the book, though, you can actually see the irony…!

Anyway, then there’s the Jewish plastic surgeon with an extremely interesting background, Jerry Golba, who would be happy to make Diane his ‘kept woman,’ but Diane wants more than that. We get an insight here into the women who use Jerry’s services as a plastic surgeon, the ageing but rich women who will go to extraordinary lengths to ‘keep young and beautiful.’

One such woman tells Diane: ‘I say, if you’ve got imperfections, get ‘em fixed. Guys out there don’t go looking for women with imperfections. Ain’t that the truth?’ If it is the truth, then it’s curtains for the ninety-nine-point-nine percent of us with so-called imperfections…!

Jerry himself says of the ‘self-delusion and pretence’ that holds Los Angeles in a stranglehold: ‘It’s what I call the L.A. ‘disease’- a state of mind similar to being stoned. You lose track of what’s real and what’s an illusion.’ And of the lights of L.A. itself: ‘They’re nothing but bright lights, Diane. They may look pretty at night but they soon lose their glitter in the daylight.’ And ain’t that the truth…?

Finally, there’s Bobby, a very good-looking teenage gay guy with whom Diane has what could be termed a strange and unhealthy relationship. Things happen between them sexually that might have been called ‘rape’ had a man been doing them to a woman.

But Diane seems obsessed with Bobby, even though his much older millionaire lover, Paul Farrell, strongly disapproves and fears losing Bobby to this sexually aware and sophisticated English woman.

It’s a bizarre set-up, but it’s probably no more bizarre than any of the other sexual shenanigans that go on in the city of ridiculously lavish parties and anything-goes-as-long-as-you’re-young-and-beautiful-and-having-fun. I just despair of where it’s all going to end, that’s all…

I love the bit about the Charlie Manson-style ‘Children of the Avenger’ cult murders. Okay, yes, lol, I’m a ghoul, all right? Even though it’s gruesome and violent possibly beyond anything I’ve read before, I still loved it. I also love but kind of abhor the clear message the screenplay sends out that everyone in this city is disposable and no-one is irreplaceable.

For example, a guy who stars in a crime drama gets killed in the book. We’ll never forget him, everyone solemnly vows. Will the series he stars in be scrapped? Will it f**k. Here’s what someone in the ‘industry’ says: ‘Aw, they’ll find a way. Shoot round it like they always do. Use a double. Whatever. A few re-writes, no-one’ll miss him. Insurance’ll cover it. No big deal. Get their accounts department on it, they’ll probably even turn it into a tax loss.’

So much for ‘we’ll never forget him…!’

I’ll leave you with the following quote from Diane:

‘It’s all about winning, here. And if you’re not a winner, you’re some kind of lesser human being…. In Los Angeles, everyone comes- not to be the best at anything- but to be rich and famous- because that’s what making it’s all about.’

And so much for: ‘What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his soul…?’

PS, if you happen to meet Michael on the street some day, ask him from me if he’s got a female Rambo yet, he’ll know what it means…!

You can buy this book and all of Michael’s other books as well at the following links:

http://www.michaelarmstrong.co.uk

http://www.paperdragonproductions.com

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Vampirology. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

Her debut romantic fiction novel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books:

The sequel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS LATER,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books:

SUNSET BOULEVARD. (1950) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

SunsetBlvd

SUNSET BOULEVARD. (1950) A PARAMOUNT PICTURE. DIRECTED BY BILLY WILDER. STARRING GLORIA SWANSON, WILLIAM HOLDEN, ERICH VON STROHEIM AND NANCY OLSON. ALSO FEATURING CECIL B. DEMILLE, HEDDA HOPPER AND BUSTER KEATON AS THEMSELVES. COSTUMES BY EDITH HEAD.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

‘Say, don’t I know you from someplace? Aren’t you Norma Desmond, the silent movie star? Didn’t you used to be big?’

Joseph Gillis.

‘I AM big. It’s the pictures that got small.’

Norma Desmond.

‘They (the silent movie stars) had the eyes of the world back then. But that wasn’t enough for them. They wanted the ears as well. So they opened their mouths, and what came out? Talk, talk, talk…!’

Norma Desmond.

‘We didn’t need words back then. We had faces!’

Norma Desmond.

This magnificent film lost out on the Best Picture Oscar for that year to ALL ABOUT EVE, another excellent film. SUNSET BOULEVARD should have won, but some of the bigwigs in Hollywood weren’t exactly thrilled at the way their precious industry was portrayed as being so cynically soul-destroying and merciless towards the stars it routinely chewed up and spat out, and also ruthlessly dismissive of its older, washed-up stars. If you were hot, you were hot, and if you were not, well then, goodbye for ever and don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out. Still, we know SUNSET BOULEVARD should’ve won the Best Picture Oscar and that’s what matters.

Beefcake William Holden does a stellar job as Joe McGillis, the hack writer who keeps trying to write that bestselling Hollywood film script that’ll make his name and keep him in clover for the rest of his days. At the moment, however, all his ideas are dull and derivative and he’s up to his cojones in debt, because Hollywood doesn’t pay you for rubbish script ideas, only for good solid polished script ideas, see?

Joe has just about decided to throw in the towel and return home to Dayton, Ohio, where he’ll go back to working for the local rag and live out his working life reporting on Bonnie Baby beauty contests and charity bring and buy sales, when a strange thing happens.

Whilst fleeing from a pair of heavies who want to re-possess his jalopy, he accidentally finds himself in the grounds of a fabulous but decaying old Hollywood mansion from the ‘Twenties, the kind of house that was built by the super-rich silent movie stars of bygone years for them to enjoy their wonderfully privileged lifestyles in.

Swimming pool, deserted now, ruined tennis court, unswept deserted courtyard. Joe is inclined to think that the queer but fascinating place has actually been abandoned when a strange female figure appears from behind a curtain and imperiously bids him to hurry up and get his arse inside. He’s just been mistaken for a monkey-undertaker (that’s right, you heard me, lol!), and he’s also just had his first experience of Norma Desmond, star of the golden era of the silent screen…

Norma Desmond is rude, haughty, selfish and self-obsessed. She lives in her crumbling mansion surrounded by framed photographs of herself in her hey-day and the memorabilia of her long-lost film career, including a home cinema on which she never tires of playing her old movies. Talk about narcissism.

She’s all alone but for a solemn little foreign man called Max who carries out her every wish and whim, no matter how ludicrous. Max has gone to ridiculous lengths to hide from ‘Madame’ the fact that her legions of fans have not only deserted her, but forgotten her as well. He’s an enabler to Norma’s sick visions of herself as still a huge star.

It would have been kinder altogether to let her know the real truth about her washed-up career twenty years ago, but Norma’s so used to thinking of herself as Queen of the Cinema Screen that maybe Max feels that the shock of a good hard dose of reality might actually kill her. Well, he should know. After all, he’s her butler, ex-husband and the film director who discovered her, all rolled into one obliging package, lol.

This is the bizarre household in which Joe finds himself suddenly embroiled. Madame takes an enormous liking to Joe, the prime slice of ‘Fifties beefcake, and immediately hires him to live in her house and edit a long messy screenplay she’s written, with herself in the starring role of Salome.

She has every intention of presenting it to her old director, Cecil B. DeMille, when it’s finished. It’ll be her comeback film, even though she hates that word, lol (she prefers ‘return’), and it will be humongous. The notion of a comeback is entirely in her own head, by the way, and everyone but Norma knows it, even the mysterious little Max.

Joe soon finds himself rapidly becoming more than just an editor to the delusional Norma. He’s her gigolo now too, her toyboy, her plaything, and with every gift of cufflinks, gold cigarette cases and vicuna coats she buys him, he feels worse about himself. (What’s a vicuna, by the way? Does anyone know? Is it an animal or summat?) Norma has bought him lock, stock and barrel, and they both know it, and their card-playing friends (the waxworks) know it too.

Worst of all, he gives up writing altogether and just gives in to this meaningless lifestyle of indolence and luxury. Just look at the most uncomfortable New Years’ Eve party ever at Norma’s house! This is his life now, and how sad it is too.

In case you guys think all this indolence and luxury sounds terrific, and nice work if you can get it, etc, hear ye this. Anyone with a gift for writing, or indeed painting, playing music or running very, very fast, can’t just squash this gift into an old biscuit tin and slam a lid on it. It will out, like a plague of zombies under the stairs.

Joe’s real gift for writing ‘outs’ when a pretty young reader of scripts for Paramount Pictures, Betty Schaefer, encourages him to re-write a tired old script of his into something new and vibrantly exciting. He enters into this project with Betty with great enthusiasm, but their writing sessions have of necessity to be a secret from the jealous and possessive Norma.

Norma, you see, has a disturbing habit of harming herself, or even just threatening to, every time Joe’s five minutes late coming back from ‘t’ privy. Max and now Joe have got to watch her pretty closely because of it, just like Norma is watching Joe. What a strange, uncomfortably paranoid household it is!

It’s not like Norma wouldn’t have any reason to be jealous, either. Pretty soon, the sparks flying between Joe and Betty are enough to ignite a fire on the Paramount lot where they meet in secret, in Betty’s little office.

But there are two things standing in the way of their happiness. One thing is Joe’s own hatred of himself for submitting to being Norma’s kept man. After all, he could have said no, couldn’t he, if he wasn’t so morally weak and detestable in his own eyes? The other thing, of course, is Norma Desmond herself…

There are so many iconic scenes to single out for praise. I adore the monkey burial ceremony, carried out in the dead of night ‘with all the solemnity of a state funeral.’ Also, Buster Keaton and two other stars of the silent era, Anna Q. Nilsson and H.B. Warner, playing cards (bridge?) with Norma while Joe looks on, bored, emptying the ashtray when Norma tells him to like a good, obedient little stud. (H.B. Warner, by the way, plays Mr. Gower who clouts George Bailey over the ear in IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE!)

Then there’s Cecil B. DeMille, resplendent in his riding boots, playing himself when Norma makes her first visit to Paramount Studios since her career as a silent film star ended, and the uncomfortable scenes where poor Norma undergoes a series of gruelling ‘beauty treatments’ in order to look young and beautiful for her big ‘comeback.’

The poor, poor woman. It’s all an illusion, a big rip-off. Being boiled, squeezed into bandages and made to look like a gimp-slash-mummy will not lead to her appearing one iota younger or feeling a jot happier.

(Joan Crawford goes through the same ridiculous tortures in the film MOMMIE DEAREST). It’s hard for women to look at these scenes when we’re fully aware that Norma’s only fooling herself. How out of pocket would she have been as well?

Her final scenes- ‘I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille’- are pretty damned near heart-breaking to witness. Oh Norma, poor poor Norma. Has she cracked under the strain of it all? And will Joe find the courage to walk away from all that lovely money for ever, to live as an impoverished script-writer with the real love of his life, Betty Schaefer? You’ll have to watch this legendary movie for yourselves to find out, folks. Enjoy your stroll down Sunset Boulevard…

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor