Thursday 29 December 2011

Rex Pickett, "Two Guys on Wine" and a better tomorrow

Things going bad for you?  Problems piled on problems, no end in sight?  It happens to us all at some stage. Just thinking of a few of those experiences reminded me of Peter Falk in Tune in Tomorrow (released in Australia under the original title of the novel by Mario Vargas Llosa, Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter). Here's his gee-up speech just before a big radio broadcast:

"You've gone belly-up in shit creek. You need a paddle, real bad. What do you reach for? Art! That's what I'm talking about. The very apex of your art. I want to hear your sinews crack and strain. I want your souls to enter those microphones and emerge like ghosts in the homes of our listeners. There's an army of 'em out there, groping blindly, toiling in the darkness, waiting. For what? For you! For your incandescent, brilliant, palpitating talent to light up their miserable, impoverished, dull and worthless lives."
That's what I call taking an attitude toward your work.

"Two Guys on Wine"
It's also the story of Rex Pickett. His life turned to crap. His mother had to be moved into an assisted-living facility, at Rex's expense.  Result?  He hit rock bottom financially. Then his troubles really started.
I stayed on at my mother’s seaside condominium while trying to unload it, but the real estate market was seriously depressed and property wasn’t moving. It took a year and a half to sell it, during which time I learned that my agent had died of AIDS, my wife served me with divorce papers and informed me that she was remarrying, and I awoke to the fact that my modest trust fund was, because of my younger brother’s mismanagement of my mother’s savings, gone. I was destitute, agent-less, divorced, jobless, and, approaching 40, unemployable. No wonder I started experiencing panic attacks, one of which landed me in the ER of the V.A. Hospital in La Jolla. To say I was walking on eggshells back in those days would be an understatement. I was an emotional wreck. I thought it was all over. I’ve since joked many times that if I could have afforded a gun I would have shot myself.
And in his hour of desperation, what did Rex reach for?  Art!  The art of screenwriting. He wrote a little something called "Two Guys on Wine" which, for some reason, didn't take off. Rewritten and retitled as "Sideways," it did just fine. ("Sideways" is English slang. In Australia we might say someone was "on their ear," which comes down to the same thing.)

Rex has written a sequel to Sideways, a novel called Vertical.  ($10.20 on Just click on the book cover to get there.)  And he's told the story of how Sideways came into being in a blog on Stage 32.  Have a read.  If you're going through a bad patch, think of Rex Pickett and hang on for that better tomorrow.


Anne Flournoy said...

I love your blog. There's so much life and intelligence and dry, dry humor. Thank you Henry Sheppard.

Kathy said...

Sorry, Henry, the screenwriter's complaints leave me cold. Really poor people's mothers don't own seaside condominiums and it is hard to imagine someone feeling down on his luck while living in one. Anyone who takes a year and a half to sell a house has seriously overestimated the market. And how come it is the other brother's responsibility to manage the mother's finances? The real test of misery compared to self pity is how the person responds to others' sadness. To feel sorry for yourself when someone close to you has suffered a miserable death is failing the test. Of course all the things that happened to the poor man are bad but since he has counted them up I don't think there is any need for anyone else to add to his self-sympathy. He obviously has no urge to see his wife happily remarried. He bemoans the lost of a trust fund which if I read it correctly is not money he earned. And anybody who says he is unemployable before he reaches forty is retiring in what should be the middle of his working career.