Truth to Power
“Behold, the world brings forth iniquity; yes, he conceives trouble and brings forth falsehood.” Psalm No.7
In recent issues of Scene4, I presented a sequence of scenes from my screenplay THE GODDESS IN EXILE, a fictionalized account of the brief life of Cuban born artist Ana Mendieta that deals with themes of wife murder, the natural versus the man-made world and the mythic feminine. Ana Mendieta’s death at age 36 became a scandal that rocked the art world at its zenith making headlines. My screenplay adapts the basic story of her alleged murder by her husband, prominent minimalist artist Carl Andre, who was acquitted by a judge without a jury and explores the premise ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’. My character Elvira creates art that celebrates the divine feminine while her husband Hans arranges geometric forms in abstract spaces. The action takes place in the vivid milieu of the New York City art scene in the 1970's, capturing the excitement of the elite intelligentsia with
character vignettes from the highest echelons of American artists and art world doyennes.
Today, when the swords of truth and power are in a mighty clash their thunder resonates around the world in forces of political, social, climate and feminist battles. In history, mythology, liturgy and literature the struggle between good and evil dominates the human condition in a never-ending saga.
In the ancient Scandinavian legend, the hero Beowulf rescues the court of the King from Grendel, a horrible monster born in a swamp, and defeats its mother. He later becomes a righteous King only to be killed by a vicious dragon slain by his young heir. In the Old Testament psalms, prayers reassure that one’s enemies will suffer dishonor and their offspring their inheritance. In Shakespeare’s tragedies, “Macbeth”, “Richard III” and “Othello” the evil villains are destroyed by their own flaws, but not before killing their innocent adversaries.
In my screenplay when Elvira’s best friend Joanne reads her diary she is convinced that she was murdered by her husband Hans. She is shunned at every turn by the powerful elite in the male dominated art world when she speaks her truth to his peers in Max’s, his famous art dealer and her own publisher who don’t want to tarnish their own reputations without proof of Hans’ guilt.
137 - INT. ELVIRA'S STUDIO - AFTERNOON
JOANNE is still seated on the ledge of the window in ELVIRA'S studio. She closes the diary and places it in her large briefcase.
138 - EXT. NYC STREETS - AFTERNOON
After JOANNE leaves ELVIRA'S studio, we see her walk down the street POV ELVIRA’S window towards the local police precinct.
139 - INT. PRECINCT - AFTERNOON
While JOANNE is seated on a dark wooden bench outside DETECTIVE SMITH'S office waiting to speak to him, she ponders her decision to turn over the diary. She pulls a complete Xerox copy of the diary out of its leather cover and puts the copy into her large purse.
As she waits, she flashes back in memory to a pleasant afternoon she and ELVIRA shared on a spring day in the country - an idyllic scene that contrasts sharply with the bureaucratic precinct.
140 - EXT. COUNTRY PICNIC - SPRING DAY
ELVIRA and JOANNE are lying in high grass on a blue spread under the sun after finishing a picnic lunch. A half empty bottle of wine, a bit of cheese and fruit are all that remain. ELVIRA gets up to photograph the form of a kneeling woman she has painted on a rock.
You are always so concerned about me. What about you? Don't you get tired of your typewriter and thinking about how you get along with your capitalist publisher? You need a love life.
My writing is my love life, but I feel that I have nothing really important to write about. Art has its limitations you know.
How could you say such a thing?
141 - INT. DETECTIVE SMITH'S OFFICE - AFTERNOON
In the drab office, DETECTIVE SMITH [a young, black x-cop with a pleasant, yet calculating personality] is interviewing JOE GERARDI [an Italian liquor store owner with a strong accent, wearing a checkered shirt and sweater vest]. While DETECTIVE SMITH questions JOE, he uses a tape recorder.
What were you doing early morning of July 8th when Elvira Olmos was found dead on the roof over your liquor store?
Every night I close my store around say 4 A.M. It's a good business because allot of artists live downtown and party late.
Did you know Elvira Whit?
Yes, chow bella.
JOE wipes a tearful eye.
She always bought fine dinner wine and her husband, a bigga guy, he buys top of the line champagne.
Did you notice anything strange happen the morning of July 8th?
Yesa, just when I finished locking the gate, I heard a woman scream. It was a quiet night, so I hear clear. She was ascreaming "Don't! Stop! Stop! No-no-no" and then I heard alarga bang lika maybe an explosion. I lookka all around but I don't see nothing.
Did you ever look up in the direction of Elvira's studio window?
No, butta the voice sounded familiar and like it was afraid someone was forcing her to do something.
Are you prepared to testify to what you said just now in court?
Sure, butta I can't say for sure there was a crime - only what I heard.
142 - EXT. DETECTIVE SMITH'S - AFTERNOON
JOE leaves. SMITH holds the door and motions for JOANNE to come in. As she enters the office she gives SMITH the diary and SMITH closes the door to his office.
You were Elvira's best friend?
Was she suicidal or do you think her husband killed her.
Yes, but nobody's talkin.
Are you prepared to testify to what you said just now in court?
143 - EXT. NYC STREETS - DAY
On her way out of court, JOANNE stops MIKE who has parked his bike and is coming up the courthouse stairs.
What are you going to say?
That Elvira knew her way around.
A couple of hours later, JOANNE is walking on the street. She stops to pick up a newspaper with ELVIRA'S picture on the cover. The page reads, "HUSBAND - MURDER SUSPECT IN TRAGIC DEATH OF GODDESS ARTIST".
JOANNE continues to walk and winds up at MAX’s.
144 - INT. MAX’S - AFTERNOON
The first thing JOANNE notices by the cashier is a large yellow wooden block with a slot in it and a hand painted sign which reads, "Make a Contribution to Hans Whit's legal fund."
NED, who leans near the box, gestures for her to make a contribution. JOANNE ignores him, sits at the bar and orders a beer from GUS.
So, what's the latest news?
Nothing much. He'll go before the grand jury in a few weeks.
DAVE sits next to her. JOANNE looks at DAVE.
Do you think Hans murdered Elvira? He was violent with you – he knocked you out.
Oh, it was just a love pat. We kid around like that all the time. Naaa, that lady was a little wacko. It wouldn't surprise me if she just decided to jump.
Another man whispers in JOANNE'S ear.
You're doing the right thing. The guys are just nervous - reporters – TV crews come here every day. If they say the wrong thing...
A couple of male artists sit next DAVE.
Ya, Joanne, we know Elvira was your friend and we offer our condolences, but we couldn't let a little incidence like this - Man, if one of us gets a bad rap, it would start an avalanche. We've got our tabs to support.
JOANNE, who has just been served a large beer takes a sip, then throws it swiftly at the crowd.
Well, I'm going to write the TRUE story. You guys are all wet.
JOANNE gets up and leaves.
145 - INT. TONY'S LOFT - LATER SAME DAY
TONY is seated in his underwear on a sofa looking distraught as he plays the incoming message tape from his answering machine over and over again. We hear TONY'S infant daughter crying in the background.
HANS (voice on answering machine)
Tony, wake up. I need your help. Wake up, I think I killed her. Wake up damn it!
Then the phone slams down on the recording. A second message plays.
HANS (voice on answering machine)
Tony, Elvira jumped out the window. I'm alone, man! Come over! Pick up!
TONY answers on the machine. He has just woken from a deep sleep.
TONY (voice on answering machine)
Hans, is that you? What's up?
TONY, who has reached an important inner decision, rewinds the tape and pushes the erase button over the first message. He does this several times when SUE, carrying the BABY against her shoulder, wearing a short nightgown, comes in.
The police will be coming soon to question you. Are you going to give them the tape?
TONY gets up and paces the floor. He takes SUE by the waist and they sit down together looking at the BABY.
I've made a decision.
TONY crosses himself.
Susan, you've got to back me up. Our marriage depends on it.
You erased the first message. That's the only evidence that could possibly convict Hans. If he gets off and he really did kill her you're just as guilty. Oh, Tony!
He's my friend. He was drunk. He didn't say, I killed her. He said,”I think I killed her”. If she jumped and he felt responsible it's the same thing.
Isn't that up to a jury to think about?
Listen, one life is destroyed. That's enough.
The way SUE looks at him you know she will keep quiet.
The doorbell rings and SUE runs with the BABY to the bedroom. TONY answers the door and lets JOANNE in. TONY gives her a kiss.
Sorry for how I look.
JOANNE admires his slender build.
Oh, you look just fine. I'm thinking of writing an article about Elvira and Hans. Mind if I tape a little interview with you?
Sure, fine, sure sit down.
JOANNE sits on the sofa next to TONY and starts her tape recorder.
146 - INT. VASSELI'S GALLERY OFFICE - AFTERNOON
The next day, JOANNE and VASSELI are seated in the inner sanctum of VASSELI's gallery office near a small coffee table. The office is cluttered with works of modern masters. JOANNE is studying a framed poem signed by HANS WHIT. CAMERA CLOSES on the poem that reads:
By Hans Whit
JOANNE hands the framed poem back to VASSELI. VASSELI bites on his cigar.
You know, Joanne, I have my doubts about the case. Hans is - unpredictable - but I must stand behind him. None of the artists I represent would trust me if I shared our confidences with the public.
But the art world is just beginning to recognize Elvira's work
Hans' blocks are becoming passe.
Of course, art trends come and go. But, I only choose artists whose work will be valued far into the future. Sadly this will make the price of his work go up.
147 - INT. JOANNE'S APT. KITCHEN - EVENING
JOANNE types her article on a typewriter on her kitchen and drinks white wine. CLOSE on the headline "ART WORLD ELITE COVERUP WIFE MURDER."
148 - INT. PETER BAKER'S OFFICE - DAY
PETER, with shirtsleeves rolled up, is seated on a swivel chair that he swivels at whim, holding JOANNE'S article.
Good writing as usual JOANNE, but I can't publish it.
But why? What I wrote is the truth. The liquor store owner is prepared to testify.
Your conclusions are the result of hearsay. I can't let the magazine take sides until after the trial. I could be sued for libel. Especially this quote by Tony Bennito. He implies that he erased the first message Hans left after the "accident". You must have spoken to him in a weak moment. He could go to jail for perjury.
You know that's not the reason.
Well, I think Hans is a first class SOB, but Vaselli is a major advertiser....
JOANNE starts to cry.
My best friend, - so full of life, so young - dead while that arrogant cow turd walks around free.
We can't bring about justice. It's up to the jury. For your sake and for Elvira's take this article home and burn it.
PETER returns the article to JOANNE before she angrily exits the office.