Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Better In Your Head?--ENDLESS LOVE

1979
Scott Spencer


SPOILER ALERT, it ends and arguably is not love.

"We know almost nothing. The only way we stand it is not to care. I care and I can't stand it."

1967, Chicago. Summertime and the living is unendurable for 17-year-old David Axelrod. The parents of his 15-year-old girlfriend, Jade Butterfield, have been sufficiently freaked by their relationship to order a temporary kibosh. David responds by setting fire to the Butterfield domicile, more out of desperation than rage. Once what he's deemed to be a proper amount of time has passed, he enters the burning building, leading the family of five to safety before losing consciousness.

David survives, thanks to Hugh Butterfield, head of the now-uninhabitable house. One year in Rockville Hospital turns into three years. He sees his parents, therapists, nurses, doctors, fellow abnormals…but never Jade. (At least, never outside of his own head.)

Upon release, he returns to the care of his parents. The hoped-for solace is slow in coming. Mrs. Axelrod blames the Butterfields, whose "open house" policy made them a dubious legend locally. David loved the family; he fancied himself keenly sensitive to their dysfunction, to say nothing of the joys in plowing their daughter. His own mother and father are proving ill-equipped to help their only child tidy up his moral disarray. At least they can assure that David meets the demands of his parole: see a shrink, visit a PO, do not leave Chicago without the court's permission, and do not contact any member of the Butterfield clan.

David brings his life together, little by little: a little job, a little education, a little apartment. A little obsession that has him searching phone directories.

The thing about America: it is a big country, and even the largest cities are essentially small. He finds Ann in the phone book, under her maiden name. After a few tearful calls, she sends David a lengthy letter bringing him up to date. She and Hugh are divorced, the kids are scattered. David is not the only one struggling with leaving the past in its rightful place--Hugh Butterfield has been badgering the District Attorney about "new information" that would take the arsonist/daughter-deflowerer off the streets.

David decides to fly to New York without telling a soul. He meets up with Ann, and the pair indulge in some liquid and smoke and self-dissection, stopping just short of bumping plains. (Maybe if Ann hadn't blabbed about writing a story based on the night she spotted David and Jade banging by the fireplace?) Her compassion outweighs her shame, and she lets him stay overnight. Before departing, David copies Jade's contact information from an address book Ann made no effort to conceal.

Stirred and shaken, David walks the Manhattan streets, memories of Jade threatening to kick him over the edge, yet he continues marchin' on, until a red crosswalk light insists he take a break. Waiting with several dozen others, who should David see across the street but--Hugh Butterfield and his girlfriend Ingrid. The two men lock eyes and the younger one begins hauling ass. Dumbly, Hugh follows--right into the path of a taxi rushing to beat the yellow light.

Possibly more stupid is David's decision to hang around and gape, even (of his own volition) sharing words with a distraught Ingrid. The pair meet twice again, both times at Ann's apartment, yet if she recognizes David, she gives no outward indication. The second occasion is a brief wake of sorts, with every Butterfield child present save for Jade. Perfectly, David is exiting the apartment building when who should step out of a taxi. They embrace, but no more.

The next day, though, who should show up at David's hotel. Awkwardness, decorum, and weariness are sapped of their strength, and soon the two reunite more meaningfully. The next day they're on the bus back to Vermont, where Jade shares a house with several other young(ish) folks. Four years after burning the Butterfield place, David is once again with the love of his life, figuring out where he fits into her life, indulging in pleasures both common and not-so.

News of his father's hospitalization sends David back briefly to Chicago, a visit that ends with him attacking his mother in a fit of frustration and paranoia. He calls Jade, who informs him that Ingrid will be visiting the house in Vermont soon. The poor lady's been undergoing intensive therapy and wants very much to speak with Jade in person.

David figures the shoe will have dropped and gathered dust by the time he returns, and he's right. Another six years pass before he is once more trusted among society, a full decade since he set a stack of newspapers on fire. Jade has moved on…out of the country and off of the table. Is David reborn? Or merely rearranged?

Endless Love is a gorgeously-written tale of erotic obsession narrated by a sociopath. Surprised? Why ever would you be? "Endless love" cannot be felt by a non-lunatic. A sane person enters into an affair aware of the possibility of abbreviation. Doesn't mean they look forward to it, or expect it. They simply know it might happen. Then there's people like David Axelrod, their souls forever tethered to one person even as they give their bodies to others.  

Endless Love sold over two million copies and earned a National Book Award nomination for 1980's best work of fiction published in the paperback format (an honor which went to The Stories of John Cheever. Not too dissimilar from A Boy Named Charlie Brown losing an Oscar to Let It Be). I recommend it highly but be forewarned: it is mother-watching-you-fucking intense. Packed sick with moments of excruciating heartbreak and juddering insights. The single sex scene is long and disgustingly ferocious. Everything that occurs feels inevitable, yet the tension never wavers. I only ever put it down because I had to.




1981
Director-Franco Zeffirelli
Writer-Judith Rascoe


"What would you do if I died?"
"I'd die too."

Scott Spencer relinquished the movie rights to his acclaimed novel in 1980. He could not possibly have imagined the fecal tsunamis to follow. The first, and "best"--I really feel like I should put quotation marks around those quotation marks--arrived just one year later.

It's young luv in suburban Chicago. David Axelrod (Martin Hewlitt) is head over heels for Jade Butterfield (Brooke Shields), the only daughter of Hugh and Ann (Don Murray, Shirley Knight). The Butterfields are beloved/detested for their bohemian style of life, while the Axelrods are well-connected Socialists who seem to like their only child okay. No wonder David would rather hang with the Butterfields. Their parties are wild, with attendees are from all crawls of life, and also, their last name is Butterfield.

Once the party disperses, David sneaks back and, with the rest of the family mostly snuggled in their beds, he and Jade bang their very first gong in front of a roaring fireplace. I say "mostly" since Jade's mother is frozen on the staircase, watching her daughter get the pork roll with no small satisfaction.

Love helps Jade feel better about her subpar tits, but it isn't doing much for her sleep cycle, which in turn affects her school grades. When she's caught swiping her pop's Z-booster pills, he goes apoplectic and forbids her from seeing that friggin' Axelrod punk…for thirty days.

He understandably doesn't handle it well, bitching to a couple buddies from school. One of them, Billy (Tom Cruise in his film debut, as well as some insane short shorts), shares a story about the time he decided to burn some newspapers in his house. The resultant blaze spooked him so much he immediately put it out. His parents misunderstood the situation and thought their boy a hero.*

Later that night, another swinging shindig at Casa de Butterfield. So much fun, so much freedom…David watches with increasing resentment. To the strains of "Heart of Glass." For two and a half crotch-rubbing minutes.

Kindly he waits till the guests have left before setting the fire.

The Axelrods pull the necessary strings to assure their boy winds up not in prison, but a psychiatric hospital. It doesn't really matter to David where he is; if Jade isn't there, he doesn't want to be there either. Only she gives value to a place, a person, a thing, indeed to the entire world.

More strings, more pulling. After two years, David is released into the custody of his parents. Suddenly, David is in Manhattan, on the doorstep of Ann Butterfield, now divorced and living alone in an overpriced apartment. The two catch up on good old times and nearly make a new awful memory. The next morning, David pilfers Jade's contact information from Ann's address book and purchases a bus ticket to Vermont that he decides to sit on.

(Is a little consistency in your impulsivity too much to ask?!)

It's hard to have an unproductive time in NYC, but David's on a pretty notable roll. When he unintentionally leads Jade's father into the path of an unusually reckless taxi driver, I'm pretty much ready to name him Mayor. (He even makes a dreadful error in judgment at the scene which will come back to bite him in the ass later.)

Jade comes to NYC to mourn with the family. She later shows up at David's hotel. Through tears, she insists that although she loves him, they aren't meant to be. Through tears, he insists that they are. David grabs her and throws her onto the bed. At first she's vehement in her resistance, but then she gives in to their shared desire. Women, amiriterwut?

The next morning, post-reunion afterglow is snuffed out by a couple of uninvited guests: Jade's brother Keith (Jimmy Spader, as he was then known, looking for all the world like WASP Andy Gibb) and Hugh's girlfriend, Ingrid. She has something to tell Jade, something she's already told Keith and will soon tell a court of law: David was present at the site of the accident that took Hugh's life. David doesn't deny her assertion, which prompts Keith to attack him while spouting lines straight out of a kung fu flick where a son is hellbent on avenging his father's murder. Soon, David is being dragged off by the cops as Jade remonstrates from a safe distance.

The action jumps ahead, but not too far ahead. We see Ann and Jade, speaking of love. Ann departs. Through the barred windows of his cell, David watches as Jade approaches.

Then the movie ends on a BSOD.

Endless Love did so-so at the B.O., nothing compared to success enjoyed by the theme song courtesy of Lionel Richie and Diana Ross, which wound up becoming one of the most popular tunes of the decade. And oh what a decade, the 1980s, a time when someone like Brooke Shields could be considered a sex symbol. Her acting has never been up to snuff, and she's laughably bad in Endless Love. She recites her lines like some imbecilic pixie whose wings I yearn to crush underneath my all-black Converse low-tops. She stands still, stares straight ahead, her features frozen as if she's expecting a backhand slap for burning the meatloaf, and that's supposed to suffice as a "look of love." Shields brings to the crucial role all the sex appeal of an armless Barbie doll and all the intelligence of the kid responsible for ruining his sister's most beloved toy.

But she's hardly alone in shouldering the blame. Franco Zeffirelli directed the much-loved 1968 Romeo and Juliet, and Endless Love was basically his attempt at a modern recreation. The problem is that Endless Love at its core is about one young man's staggering appetency. There's depressingly little of that--you know, what made Spencer's work so enrapturing in the first damn place--in the movie. Certainly, Hollywood could have done much better than this sloppy, lusterless transfer. 

Instead, they did much worse.




2014
Director-Shana Feste
Writers-Shana Feste, Joshua Safran


Butterfields, meet the Butterfields. Hugh (Bruce Greenwood) and Anne (Joely Fisher) have one son, had one son, and their only daughter, Jade (Gabriella Wilde) is headed for Brown U. in the fall. She's oh-so gorgeous, precarious as an angels sneeze, precious as a puppy dog's snore. She is the object of a crush held by classmate David Elliot (Alex Pettyfor). When the Butterfields roll up to a restaurant where David and his buddy work as valets, he gets up the gumption to approach Jade after she drops her yearbook. She responds with an invitation to her graduation party.

Said party is real lame. If this is how rich teenagers let their hair down, hand me the scissors posthaste. Jade and David sneak off for a couple minutes heaven, only to get caught by pretty much every other attendee (exciting stuff for this soiree; I promise you no one left with a blood alcohol level about .008). Hugh takes David out for a brief man-to-boy chat, with David insisting that his intentions are pure.

Initiate ingratiation process.

Ever the mechanic's son, David decides to fix the car that's been sitting in the Butterfield driveway since the death of its owner. (It doesn't dawn on David that Hugh might not want his late son's car to be resurrected.) He has dinner with the family and makes an immediate positive impression on Anne. Who isn't around to watch, however, when David sneaks back in later that same evening to spend quality time with her daughter.

Ann also clearly had not expressed to Jade the importance of not making critical decisions until at least twelve hours after your most recent orgasm. Because she's telling her parents, oh hey I'm just gonna forego that internship at the exalted university, guys. And I invited my boyfriend along to our vacation at the lake house, isn't love grand? Y'know, like a piano?

Hugh remains a non-fan, and the vibe becomes mutual when David catches the older man tearing a chunk off a side piece.

I am ready to tear off my left thumbnail and stab myself in both eyes with it.

David and Jade break into a local zoo with some pals, 'cause that's painful. Somebody snitches, and David winds up cuffed. Hugh learns that his little girl's paramour has quite the record. Still, he's willing to bail the little shit out--so long as Jade agrees to do her internship. Oh, and break up with David. Who responds by punching Hugh. Who responds by taking out a restraining order.

Right thumbnail, I didn't forget you.

Months pass. David spots Anne in a bookstore. Jade is flying into town for the holidays. Gee, Anne, you should arrange for David to meet up with her. In fact, David should come to the house.

Hugh takes the younger man's presence there as well as my eyes have taken to being jabbed at with keratin toothpicks. Jade calls her pops out for being a domineering prick since his son's death. A fight breaks out, and a lit candle falls to the floor.**

It's fine, I still have eight others left.

Time to wrap this bitch up like a fish enchilada. A wedding on a beach in California! David and Jade? No, Keith Butterfield and his woman. But David and Jade are right there, soaking in the sun and seeping up the sand. We have now entered a No Ambiguity Zone! Min'na shiawase? Min'na shiawase.

What in the incredible, edible fuck happened? How does someone read Endless Love and translate it as a sickeningly vapid extended clothing ad with British mannequins in the lead roles? Gormless, gutless, spineless, mindless, without heart, lacking soul, worm-infested, bird-chested, but hey! You wanna watch it, knock yourself out. Because that's what you'll wind up doing.

(I do rather like the ending, though, for two reasons. First, because it marks the conclusion of a soaped-up cliche party. Second, it features "Don't Find Another Love" by Teagan and Sara. Hooray for movies that wait until their final minutes to do anything right!)

BETTER IN YOUR HEAD?
The 1981 film was clearly based on the novel. I can imagine the scriptwriter being given a copy and instructed to work bunnies-and-quarters. I recognize the events happening onscreen. The tone is completely off, not to mention the transitions, but hey, they tried.

Vis-a-vis the 2014 offering, I refuse to believe anyone involved in the making of that claptrap actually read Scott Spencer's work. They read Twilight, or The Notebook. Hop On Pop, perhaps. But no one actually looked to Endless Love for inspiration. Curious, I know, but there's no other explanation I can offer without getting borderline slanderous.

Scott Spencer was no fan of Zeffirelli's movie, and called Feste's flick "even more egregiously and ridiculously misunderstood." Which was awful nice of him to say, all things considered. I am gobsmacked at how both films missed the point of the novel, especially the latter. A viewer ignorant of the source material could be easily forgiven for assuming it to be asinine YA piffle in the collapsed vein of Sparks, Meyer, et. al. Which goes beyond being a shame. It's really a goddamn sin.

Outwardly diffident, inwardly berserk, David Axelrod feels with maximum intensity. The love he felt with Jade Butterfield never had the chance to settle down. Perhaps it couldn't have. Is David a bad person? He is a law-breaker, an impulsive truth-susser, a compulsive liar, and left to his own devices he crumbles apart as fantasy and reality lock limbs and fumble around in a windowless room, until his only option is to bury his face into a pillow and leak.

The brooding boy becomes a moody man. Possibly he is bullied by women, possibly the toxicity of individualism rendered his parents incapable of properly raising a child, thus dooming David before he even uttered his first sound, leaving him ill-prepared for a world that will not give a damn about his backstory.

All David Axelrod wanted was to be part of the Butterfield family. A family so unlike his own, where experimentation is encouraged and the lines of communication aren't mere dashes or hyphens. He wants a mother who'll regard him with something besides pity and paranoia. He wants a father who will discipline him. He wants siblings to fight with, to confide in. He is jealous. He is consumed. He craves air.

He watches passively as love fails around him. He is envied for his passion, his great fortune, even as he suspects he's been cursed with an essential stink, this unfortunate odor that is indiscernible to mere passersby. Eventually, the avidity loses its poignancy and charm. Conscience rot sets in.

He is, to a point, deserving of our sympathy.

He is an arsonist, not a murderer or a rapist. Should he, should anyone, be defined by one action? Is any single decision, or response, so bad, or so good as to mark a person for life?

The novel is David's song: of innocence and guilt, of grace and sin. It's not only better in my head, I suspect it's even better in his head.

MIND THE GAP 
Both films are bogged down by underwhelming acting. Martin Hewlitt looks like Mark Ruffalo in The Greg Brady Story, but I'll still take him over a male model so nondescript I imagine his own parents would struggle picking him out of a police lineup. Brooke Shields is a flapjack with legs and PTSD, but that other chick is the Sen Dog to my Mack-10.

Both films include the fireplace sex. Neither manages to make said sex actually sexy. Can you believe we didn't get the period sex? The first film replaces it with almost-rape. Fuck that noise. Gimme twenty-plus pages of blood, sweat, boy blast and girl gravy.

"Lola" by the Kinks plays over the PA system at the nuthouse when David learns Jade has a new last name. This struck me as a bit amusing, considering David Axelrod is on the shortlist for "Most Passionate Guy In Twentieth-Century English Literature."

The frequent mention of family friends, memories of times spent with members of extended family, some of whom offer favors they actually intend to honor, I tell ya, all that reads like sci-fi to somebody like me. Emotional and spiritual collapse, the unshakeable certainty that no one understands, the fear that if you sit still long enough you will hear a sand pile being born...I can relate to all that. Conversations with cousins? Hosting parties? Weirdo stuff.

I like Scott Spencer; I like anyone who knows a cat wouldn't be satisfied with just the one bird. Dude should never have to pay for a meal or a drink ever.

Redman Pants--AKA, "gasoline drawers."

Everyone misplaced their stuff over the Ritchie/Ross duet, but listen here--"Heart of Glass" and "I Was Made For Loving You." Bang, boom, Blondie and Kiss. Two rock bands whose stabs at disco made them pariahs among their original fantasies while at the same time bringing them further exposure and wealth.

So, fellas. REAL LOVE means not caring that a woman is bleeding from the place you want to stick your dick.

Is "failure flecks" a type of film grain?

Zeffirelli's film does surpass the book once. The moment when Hugh Butterfield is struck in the street is described by David/Spencer thusly: "It looked like a stunt." And in the movie it is, a seriously impressive end-over-end flip that would probably get closer to the props it deserves were it not part of a much larger wreck.

I could have made a better adaptation using just a dynamite stick, a mousetrap and "Obsession" by Animation.

Ann waves goodbye to Jade near the end of the 1981 movie the same way she waved goodbye to David near the end of the novel. Kind of a cool touch.

Love corrupts, hate purifies. Other way? Either way?




*Why would you introduce a new character to "inspire" David to set the fire? Character Compromise 101.
**Why would you make it not arson? Story Betrayal 101.

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