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SOME VERY SPECIAL DELIVERIES : Critic's Choices: If Stardom's Out, Suicide May Be Next Question

February 23, 1986|SHEILA BENSON

I love mail. I don't just appreciate it or find it a cheerful method of communication. I love it. Even when my only correspondent is Ed McMahon. Or when it's news that free speech or voting rights or national resources will go gurgling down the drain unless I immediately send substantial amounts of money.

This attitude is irrational, childlike, appallingly Irish and almost maniacally optimistic of me. I know all that. I still look forward to the postman's visit with a mind undarkened by years of experience. However, this week's mail addressed to this film critic. . . .

It began innocuously enough. An offer from some enterprising "producers of motion pictures" with a rural-delivery box number in the Florida Panhandle and office hours from 2 to 5 p.m. CST, "to play one of the parts in a forthcoming movie, 'The Day Women Saved the World.' So, my name was ball-point-penned-in on a murky Xerox. And misspelled. How many people get Merrill///Meryll///Merle///Miss Streep's name right the first time either? It's necessary to suffer, no?

Everyone working on this film, to be shot in Pensacola, will "receive a certain percentage of the movie, depending on the part." Seems reasonable, although one can envision a certain jostling for the larger parts in some greedy circles.

Unfortunately, the producers included the script. And "an appendage to the synopsis," to be read "if the script seems too outlandish for you to believe." After a quick look at the script, the appendage seemed my only hope.

" 'The Day Women Saved the World,' a story of the Scrooge world visited by the three spirits of life--past, present and future" doesn't just explain "why men and women look the way they do" but how "an ancient and unifying force will unmask all present economies, the nitroglycerin unstable types, and introduce a new, just and stable worldwide economy, featuring among other things, no more taxation." In 26 preeetttty eyebrow-elevating pages, almost entirely unrelated to Charles Dickens.

Nitroglycerin unstable. They had me, picked out like the silhouette of a knife-thrower's assistant. Nothing to do but bow out then and there.

The next envelope looked promising: It was pale blue and hand-addressed. A young-sounding maker of surfing movies was outraged by the review of "Down and Out in Beverly Hills."

Had he seen it? Yeah, well, the coming attractions; enough to know he wouldn't touch it. However, for fun, if I sent him one or two tickets, he'd subject himself to it and write me his honest review. He also wanted to get to the bottom of "hype vs. reality vs. pay-offs to reviewers." Return envelope enclosed.

Finally, a fat letter from a perfectly pleasant-sounding professor at American University in Washington, the immediate past president of the American Assn. of Suicidology. For the last year, avocationally, he had been investigating the presentation of suicidal behavior in American films, "examining whether art imitates life, life imitates art, or neither fits in this regard."

He has analyzed all American movies produced in the 1960s in regard to the method and/or motive for suicide attempts, but found himself with a large number of holes in his data.

Very politely, he wondered, could I fill in some of these blanks? Within the next two weeks.

There followed a window-rattling interval, during which I let myself wonder out loud what in the sweet name of daily deadlines professors think we do with our time down here at a Great Metropolitan Daily.

Then I glanced some at the seven pages of movies still eluding him:

" '13 West Street.' A gang, being pursued by a scientist they brutally beat, kills themselves, rather than being found out. METHOD ------------ .

" 'The Terror of the Tongs.' Rather than be killed by the enemy, a central character requests that his followers murder him. They do. METHOD ------------.

You get the idea.

Talk about feeling low. Talk about feeling suicidal. Talk about failing someone's fill-in-the-blank quizzes in your very own field.

Unfortunately, a certain frivolous element can be found working on newspapers, even Great ones. Sometimes, it feels to the others of us as though they are drawn here. I fear it was that element that got to the good professor's quiz, because when I next saw it, some of the blanks had been only too carefully filled in.

" 'Ned Kelly.' Rather than being taken alive, two gang members complete suicide. METHOD now read: Gang bang-bang .

" 'Lord Love a Duck.' Marie, thinking she has ruined both her own and her daughter's lives, completes suicide. METHOD: Baked a l'orange .

" 'The Night of the Generals.' Tanz commits suicide when faced with disgrace and humiliation after being discovered to be a murderer. METHOD: Todtentanz.

Professor, I'm sick about this. Some people just have no appreciation for research, much less the sanctity of a person's mail. Or the proper uses of time.

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