THE SECOND GUEST: A FREUDIAN GHOST STORY (unfinished shooting script)

 

In 2002 I sold an option on a screenplay, to a Berlin film production company, for a record amount (for that company) and began writing more scripts. Unfortunately, Kirch Gruppe, the company that was providing quite a bit of the money for film production in Germany, at the time, folded as an indirect result of “9/11”, putting an end to my screenplay-writing adventures (here’s another Script from 2002, this one completed)… which included a few months of being a script doctor for various private parties (all of them professional men older than forty and not naturally creative) with an uncannily common tendency for writing “sex on the kitchen table” scenes.

I was a third of the way through the writing of the shooting script posted below (and two thirds of the way through the windfall from the sale of the above-mentioned option) when Kirch Gruppe folded. I had to scramble (a Writer must be wily in order to both write and eat, which has something to do with JJ’s implied advice suggesting Silence, Exile and Cunning) to come up with another way to pay rent, a story in itself… which goes:

I knew a successful record producer who was bored with pop music and interested in branching out into film. I contacted him and asked if he wanted to co-author a screenplay. He said “yes!”, which got me into his recording studio with him for days on end. It was two weeks, and 5 or 6 meetings into that collaboration (titled “9.5 Lives”) that my friend, the record producer, casually asked for some help on a set of song lyrics he couldn’t complete… bingo: my goal all along.  I remember the exact moment. A lunch break. We had just parked and were walking toward a restaurant in then-ultra-trendy Friedrichshain, herds and flocks of model-types streaming around us and in and out of various cafes in the glorious sun along Simon-Dach Strasse, when F. said “By the way… if you have some time later…”

…and I did the interior jig of a minor criminal (aka Writer) who has just had his perfectly-executed plan (to earn a little bit of a living without working in kitchens, work boots or a cubicle) bear fruit. And that’s how I slipped into the crappy/ lucrative music business again, after having slipped out of it, in the late ’80s, in the US. In the ’80s, Music had been my Art: it paid poorly. When Writing became my Art, in Berlin, Music became my (how to word this delicately? Tenderly? With respect?)… Whore…  in order to support the Writing. No need to be offended: I was the Whore. Or half of me was. The arrangement worked. No more house painting.

But I always regretted not finishing this script, which is (among other things) a gentle send-up of Upper Middle Class German Progressives, of whom I knew more than a few in the early 2000s. I gave one of these Progressive characters, a woman into all things American, a passionate (self-subverting) speech in “praise” of America:

“Americans may be stupid, but, God, I love them for it. I love them for not knowing that they’re stupid, or not caring, and just getting on with it, making things happen, starting their little businesses or writing their little books or what have you… it’s so… so invigorating over there, after… all this. This European nightmare of… talking. Talking about talking about doing something… that’s what we do over here! That’s what we make. We make talk. We talk about talking about talking! It makes me want to… to bloody scream sometimes. But the problem is, you can’t scream in Europe… it’s not allowed. Instead you’re supposed to… (miming the act of choking herself) …talk about it.”

This was the text-package (including SYNOPSIS, found below, after the unfinished script excerpt)  I prepared before I would have delivered the works to an Irish Script Shopper who already had two of my scripts. It wouldn’t have been a commercial pitch back in 2002 and in 2018: impossible.

Still….

THE SECOND GUEST

a Freudian ghost story
“Fear is only the First Step”

By Steven Augustine

THE SECOND GUEST

Fade in

PROLOGUE (before TITLES)

1.   INT. NIGHT: A BEDROOM/KITCHEN IN A STUDENT FLAT

We see a delicate-looking young man, LARS, 21, asleep in his little room

On the walls we see, dimly, a movie poster: WERNER HERZOG’S ‘KASPAR HAUSER,’ and a poster of BOB MARLEY, both in GERMAN lettering

Stacks of books and papers are rising in little towers all over the room: we focus on a book here or there: WITTGENSTEIN’S ‘TRACTATUS,’ something by PRIMO LEVI, books by BERTRAND RUSSELL and HEINRICH BOLL

We see two or three portraits of LARS, of various sizes, leaning on the wall: someone is a painter

SUPER: AUGUST 1987

LARS wakes up and searches the bed, blinking

CUT TO:

LARS groggily enters the brightly-lit kitchen, where he finds YOUNG FRIEDA, 21, chain-smoking (the ash tray is full) and looking harassed, sitting at the kitchen table

Her hair is dyed-pink and in a ‘New Wave’ cut; she’s dressed in nothing but her slip; there are dozens of bracelets on one arm

She’s sitting by the open kitchen window, profile to the window: at her back we can barely see a poster for FEDERICO FELLINI’S ‘JULIET OF THE SPIRITS’

From a clock on the wall we see that it’s 4:00 in the morning

LARS

Can’t sleep?

Frieda just shakes her head

LARS (cont’d)

Nightmares again?

FRIEDA

They aren’t nightmares. It’s just… talking. Too much talking.

She points to her head with the cigarette

LARS

Hmmm.

Lars takes a seat at the little table

LARS (cont’d)

Maybe a brain problem?

Laughing a little, trying to cheer her up

Hey, I’m the smartest guy I’ve ever known, and you’re smarter than I am. There’s always a price to pay for that. Right? But would you rather be… like all those…

He gestures out the window

…like all those sound sleepers out there?

FRIEDA

I’d rather be able to sleep at night.

Lars gets up from the table and switches off the kitchen light: we can only see the little red star of Frieda’s cigarette

LARS

Then take a sleeping pill. Take two.

Beat

Come on to bed.

FRIEDA

Do you still love me?

LARS

Till the day I die.

FRIEDA

Don’t say that.

CUT TO:

2.   EXT.DAY: THE AUTOBAHN

A sunny day in East Germany; cars on the Autobahn, glinting in the sunlight

We TRACK IN on a late-model BMW containing two passengers: a blond male driver and a black female passenger

TITLE SEQUENCE

3.   INT. DAY: FLORIAN’S CAR

We see FLORIAN, a good-looking man of sharply Teutonic appearance, in his late thirties, driving a car in which his lover, TANYA, an extremely attractive Black American woman, 22, is the passenger

We seem to be interrupting a long silence

TANYA

Aren’t you at least going to say ‘thank you’ ?

FLORIAN

flatly

Thank you.

TANYA

That was convincing.

FLORIAN

with exaggerated sincerity

Thank you.

TANYA

That was a little over the top, wouldn’t you say?

FLORIAN

After a facetiously long pause to get into ‘proper character’, he says it again

Thank you.

TANYA

Why are Germans such terrible actors?

FLORIAN

smirking

Yes, German actors could all learn something by studying with an American Master like Keanu Reeves.

They both laugh

TANYA

There’d better be some serious food at this party, that’s all I can say. First sign of schnitzel and I’m hitchhiking back to Frankfurt.

FLORIAN

It’s not a party. It’s a gathering. And you can’t be hungry again already… we ate this morning!

TANYA

A ‘gathering?’ How many folks are you expecting at this thing? Couple hundred? And ‘this morning’ was three hours ago, by the way.

FLORIAN

overlapping her

No, there should be seven people there. And, listen: I’m not hungry, and I’m a man. Why are you hungry? How can you be so skinny and eat so much? You eat like a horse!

TANYA

You smooth-talking devil, you!

FLORIAN

But it’s true! You ate more than I did for breakfast, and you’re hungry again already!

TANYA

sarcastically

Maybe it’s a black thing.

FLORIAN

going into scientific mode

Maybe it is. Genetic memory of drought and famine…

TANYA

In Chicago?

FLORIAN

Africa, I mean.

TANYA

Honey, for the sake of the rest of the day, I suggest we change the subject. Anyway, you just brought me along  so you can show me off.

FLORIAN

Why not? Why else does a thirty-seven year old man put up with the nonsense of his twenty-two-year-old lover, if not for the pleasure of showing her off sometimes?

Looking over at her appreciatively

You’ll be the most beautiful thing they’ve ever laid eyes on.

TANYA

I’m not a ‘thing.’

FLORIAN

exasperated

Are you getting your period?

TANYA

Well this is going to be a fun weekend.

FLORIAN

in a parental tone

It’s going to be the best weekend of our lives.

Beat

Isn’t it?

CUT TO:

4.   INT. DAY: THE COTTAGE/KITCHEN/BEDROOMS

We see HOLGER, 36, wearing glasses and reading a newspaper at his breakfast table

framing the shot is a bay window with a magnificent view of a garden, a large pond sparkling with sunlight and, behind it all, a forest

Holger looks like a popular University Professor (in fact he has an important job in television); pleasant in appearance, with longish hair and an aura of easy-going authority which comes from his extremely wealthy background; there is always a tolerant smile on his lips

Tasteful Euro-jazz piano is playing on the stereo and Holger is humming tunelessly along with it as he reads, then stops to look at his watch

HOLGER

To himself

That’s enough fairy tales for now.

He folds the newspaper and gets up from the table, carries the remains of his breakfast to the sink, and exits the kitchen, which is beautifully appointed in the Yuppie-Rustic style

CUT TO:

CAMERA PUSHING: Holger as he walks down a long hall, crosses an airy living room, and ascends a flight of stairs

REVERSE: PULLING as Holger ascends, still humming with the Euro-jazz that is playing tastefully throughout the house

CUT TO:

Holger is walking along the upstairs hallway, carrying a decorative paper shopping bag; he opens a bedroom door with a neatly calligraphed sign on it that says PETER

Entering the little bedroom he searches through his bag and pulls out a little book; a valuable first edition of St. Exupery’s “THE LITTLE PRINCE”; and places it, with a smile, under Peter’s pillow

CUT TO:

Holger opening a door labeled FRIEDA; we see Holger, again with an affectionate smile, placing a gift from his little bag under her pillow: a framed picture of Frieda with her long-lost love (and the best friend of Holger’s youth), LARS

CUT TO:

In another room, placing a grotesque-looking African fertility fetish at the head of the bed: a bearded wooden figure with a rusty nail for a penis and cone-like breasts

Holger stands regarding the fetish with a look of bemused distaste for a beat before covering it with the pillow

CUT TO:

Holger is in the next room, sitting on the edge of the bed, his little bag empty and on the bed beside him

the pillow has been disturbed already (the gift must already be in place) and he’s looking out of the window, which has a view of the driveway (the opposite side of the house from where we’ve seen the pond and garden): he’s watching something outside while distractedly folding the empty bag into a neat little square in his lap; a frown passes briefly, a stray thought, across his face

The frown, together with his ever-present smile, makes him even more sympathetic in appearance

SFX: a sports car’s powerful engine, revving; tires on a gravel driveway

HOLGER

With affection

Good Old Goat.

5.   EXT. DAY: IN FRONT OF THE COTTAGE

Holger stands, with his hands in his pockets and his glasses on the top of his head, in front of the front door of The Cottage, watching as MARCUS, 36, unpacks his luggage from the trunk of his sports car

Marcus is not handsome; average in height but powerfully built (from weight-lifting), and  bald, with a selfish air about him that is somehow magnetic

Marcus has with him, as always, his dog: a Rotweiler named CASSIUS

HOLGER

To Marcus

Every year I wonder how you’ll surprise me… how you will have changed. And every year you surprise me by not changing at all.

MARCUS

Grunting with the effort of lifting his bags out of the trunk

That’s the advantage of going bald at twenty one… you get most of your aging out of the way early. I’ll tell you the truth…

He closes the car’s trunk and gets on his haunches to hug and pet his dog

… there was a time I envied Florian his pretty face, for example. But now, twenty years later …

HOLGER

Interesting point.

MARCUS

smiling while he pets his dog

I don’t envy the poor bastard. I don’t envy Frieda, or Peter, either.

Taking a long look at Holger

You’re faring better than most, but only Lars escaped the predicament entirely, the lucky prick.

Holger takes a few steps down to the sports car and picks up one of Marcus’ suitcases for him

Marcus, laden with luggage, follows Holger back into The Cottage

MARCUS (cont’d)

calling after Holger

You think I’m too blunt.

6.   INT. DAY: THE COTTAGE/THE LIVING ROOM

Holger and Marcus are assembling Marcus’ mountain of luggage at the foot of the stairs, before carrying it up to his bedroom; the dog (Cassius) is going from corner to corner, sniffing

HOLGER

I just think it’s a bit off to call a man a ‘lucky prick’ for being dead.

Attempting to lift a very heavy bag

Did you bring your entire weight room with you?

MARCUS

Just enough to get me through the weekend.

HOLGER

Anyway, who cares if I think you’re too blunt? We all have our roles to play, and we’ve learned them by heart: you’re too blunt, I’m too nice, Florian is too vain, Peter is too idealistic, and Frieda is too… er…

Holger makes a vague gesture with his hands; Holger and Marcus look at each other and start laughing

MARCUS

still laughing

What’s this I hear about Florian’s Ethiopian Princess?

HOLGER

Ethiopian Princess? Not quite… she’s from America… Chicago. Florian tells me she’s a singer of some sort.

MARCUS

That’s what they all say; you should hang out in the bar a few nights. Just once I’d like to meet a Black American accountant, or a veterinarian…

HOLGER

I hear she’s breathtaking.

MARCUS

Tragedy of my life that I never had a ‘soul sister.’ Berlin is crawling with them, but I never managed to get around to it.

HOLGER

I thought you were just waiting for your parents to die first.

They laugh together again

7.   EXT.DAY: BEHIND THE COTTAGE/THE POND

Marcus is stretched out on a lawn chair, shirtless and in sweat pants, sunning his impressive body, eyes shut under trendy-looking yellow sunglasses

Focused on Marcus, we can hear, off-camera, Holger chatting with PETER and GUNDI as they all three cross the lawn towards Marcus

PETER (OS)

Calling ahead to Marcus

There he is, our Pan, pretending to be a sun God!

Still focused on Marcus, we see that his only reaction to Peter’s jibe is a smile, his eyes still closed behind the sunglasses

Three shadows then lay across Marcus’ body as Holger, Peter and Gundi stand over him; Marcus’ eyes remain shut during the following exchange

HOLGER (OS)

To Marcus

Peter swears that on the way here, they passed Florian’s BMW on the autobahn, and Florian appeared to be the only one in the car…

PETER (OS)

Driving with that determined look of his. I honked as we passed him, but he didn’t react… he just kept clutching the steering wheel and staring at the road ahead…

HOLGER (OS)

But after Peter passed him…

PETER (OS)

Gundi said, ‘Look!’ and I looked in the rearview and this sleek-black head… looking very much like Neffertiti…

laughing

…just sort of popped up suddenly on the passenger side of Florian’s car! Now what do you suppose that means?

Marcus reacts by smiling and opening his eyes

Marcus sits up on the lawn chair and shakes Peter’s hand

PETER is 36, boyishly jovial,  pear-shaped, and wearing a t-shirt that says ‘My best friend knows an Ausländer.’

GUNDI is 39, wearing glasses, very sensible-looking, and shaped very much like PETER; her hair is gray/blonde

PETER and GUNDI look like matching salt-and-pepper shakers; both are wearing Birkenstocks for footwear

GUNDI

Shading her eyes from the sun

I think it was ten years ago the last time we saw each other, Marcus. You haven’t changed a bit.

MARCUS

Still shaking Peter’s hand

Holger and I have already been over all that. What’s new in the world of Robots?

PETER

Some pretty big things, really. Something nice, too. Gundi…

GUNDI

We brought a little toy with us.

PETER

We’ll unpack it after dinner.

MARCUS

Something destined to change our lives?

PETER

Nodding

Probably.

MARCUS

For better or worse?

PETER

benevolently

Better. Always better.

MARCUS

If we were Americans I’d accuse you two of secretly working for the military.

HOLGER

If we were Americans, I wouldn’t have a single book in my library…

GUNDI

Working for the military? What military?

PETER

Yeah, it’s something to be proud of here in Germany… the government is too cheap to support military research!

GUNDI

So we’re all still Lefties.

Gundi flashes a facetious ‘peace sign’

HOLGER

With a wry smile

Just because you haven’t been properly tempted?

MARCUS

Maybe you should apply for a grant from the Americans.

Marcus gets up off the chair and stretches; Gundi can’t help admiring his body; Marcus catches her looking and winks; Gundi blushes

PETER

When the Amis find out what we’re up to, I have a feeling we’re going to get their support, whether we like it or not. Where’s the monster?

MARCUS

Gesturing to the surrounding countryside

Somewhere out there. Running around. Enjoying himself.

 PETER

To Gundi, explaining

His dog. Size of a small Grizzly Bear.

Beat

Scares the hell out of me.

MARCUS

Oh, relax man. Cassius hasn’t killed anybody.

With a wicked grin

Yet.

they all start walking into The Cottage

CUT TO:

8.   INT. DAY: THE DINING ROOM

Holger,  Peter, Gundi, Florian, Tanya and Marcus are dressed informally and seated around the dining room table,  in the middle of a meal

Holger is seated at the head of the table; clockwise from Holger is Peter, then Marcus, then Florian; opposite Florian is Tanya, opposite Peter is Gundi; there is a vacant table setting at the other head of the table, and another vacant table setting clockwise from that

Behind Peter, Marcus and Florian is a bank of large windows over-looking the pond

Holger’s  Euro-Jazz is playing softly in the background; the table is beautifully set

The Sun is setting

GUNDI

To Tanya

Peter tells me you’re a musician, Tanya. What instrument do you play?

TANYA

I’m a singer.

GUNDI

So your instrument is your throat.

Marcus and Peter and Holger exchange naughty looks; Marcus winks

FLORIAN

She’s a very good singer. Sing something for us, Dear.

TANYA

I’m sure that nobody wants to hear me squawking while they try to eat. The food is delicious, by the way, Holger.

FLORIAN

looking around the table

I always tell her she’s too modest.

HOLGER

To Tanya, almost flirtatiously

Thank you, it pleases me to hear that. I realized the day after my divorce that I had better learn to cook. So I did.

TANYA

Divorced? That’s too bad.

HOLGER

Not at all!  A bad marriage is the first prerequisite for a good divorce…

GUNDI

to Tanya

Peter and I love Soul Music. That’s all we listen to at home: Dionne Warwick, The Supremes…

TANYA

I love it too, but I sing Rock. Soft Rock. My idol is Joni Mitchell.

GUNDI

surprised

Joni Mitchell! She’s wonderful.

MARCUS

looking up from his soup

That old cliché about all the best chefs being men has an interesting basis in fact, I think.

FLORIAN

To Marcus

You’re in the gastronomy business.

MARCUS

We’re more of a bar, but I have a full-time chef on the payroll. And I think men are better at it because they almost always learn out of necessity…like Holger. Whereas women…

GUNDI

Women by default. And they secretly hate it. Or not so secretly.

To Tanya

Can you cook?

TANYA

Only on stage.

proudly

I can’t even boil water without burning it.

FLORIAN

This is not an exaggeration.

GUNDI

Neither can I.

MARCUS

So we’ve finally discovered our generation’s improvement over our fathers’.

beat

Our women can’t cook!

PETER

I think it’s marvelous.

To Holger

And so is this consommé.

Nodding to Gundi

Gundi is my colleague, my best friend, and the non-mother of our non-children… not my cook!

GUNDI

With affection

Eccentrically put, but well-said, dear. But I’m not really your colleague, as much as your employee, am I?

PETER

Employee? The term is junior partner, Baby.

GUNDI

To the rest of the table

A junior partner who is three years his senior.

Suddenly

Oh, look!

GUNDI is pointing through the window that overlooks the pond: two graceful white swans are gliding across the water

HOLGER

The Count and Countess. Only, I discovered recently that they’re both Counts. But beautiful nevertheless. Was anything by Mozart as lovely as those two? Art is just the poor man’s Nature, really. Just look at them. Who needs a Van Gogh when you can look at that?

A woman, FRIEDA, suddenly appears in the dining room doorway with an overnight bag, knocking theatrically on the door jamb

This FRIEDA is the ‘grown up’ version of the nervous girl we saw in SCENE #1

She’s beautiful, 36, and dressed a bit ‘too young for her age,’ but pulls it off well; she’s wearing sun glasses,  white jeans, motorcycle boots, a Rock t-shirt; her blonde hair is expensively cut

She looks very L.A., where she has just been vacationing, in fact

FRIEDA

Knock, knock.

HOLGER

Getting up from his seat

My dear!

Holger crosses the room to embrace her

FLORIAN

dryly

Frieda, just once you should think about being on time, and give someone else the chance to make a grand entrance.

GUNDI

But this is as it should be… the grand entrances belong to women. Men all have their grand exit, don’t they?

HOLGER

Hugging Frieda

Here, here!

TANYA

Their what?

FLORIAN

Sniffing his wine

Are we starting on that topic again?

PETER

Which topic?

FRIEDA

From the doorway, with her arms around Holger still

The topic of how differently the sexes seem to experience the injustice of age, my dear.

FLORIAN

shaking his head

That’s all we talked about last year! Two African nations suffered violent coups; a human infant was given cornea transplants from a chimpanzee… and all we argued about, the whole weekend, was eye wrinkles! Is that what the Schiller Club is for? A bunch of old bastards getting together to moan about getting old?

HOLGER

Well, we weren’t old when we started it.

MARCUS

I have some news for you geniuses: 36 isn’t old. 36 isn’t nearly old.

GUNDI

What about 39?

FRIEDA

My father still refers to the elderly as ‘them.’

FLORIAN

You’re fooling yourself, Frieda, if you think that old men have less to fear from Time than old women do! You think I don’t feel vertigo when I glance in the mirror sometimes?!

FRIEDA

in a stage whisper to Gundi

I could have used you as an ally, last year, Gundi!

GUNDI

in a stage whisper back

Well, as you know, we Outsiders weren’t allowed on the premises, back then.

TANYA

Is it a secret society, like the Illuminati?

GUNDI

Peter and I have been together for fifteen years and this is the first time I’ve seen this dining room!

HOLGER

Still hugging Frieda

The Schiller Club is not a secret society, Tanya, just private. Since 1987, five of us have been meeting once a year to enjoy clean air and good food and stimulating conversation. The group was very carefully put together to bring a variety of perspectives to the table…

FRIEDA

patting Holger’s belly

Lars had a very broad taste in friends.

HOLGER

Nodding

He was the center.

MARCUS

I was afraid you were about to say ‘leader.’

HOLGER

Anyway, I thought it was about time we open the doors on our… activities…

FLORIAN

Toasting

Here’s to Glasnost.

Everyone at the table responds to the toast, echoing ‘To Glasnost,’ except Marcus, who continues to eat while staring pointedly at Frieda’s overnight bag

MARCUS

Chewing

You’re traveling light this year, aren’t you, Frieda? Your makeup wouldn’t even fit in that little bag, normally.

FRIEDA

coolly

My luggage is in the hallway, actually, Marcus.

Disengaging from Holger, Frieda takes a step out of the dining room and makes a gesture towards the hallway, directed off-camera

KLAUS, 27, her half-Persian, half-German lover, appears, with ominous hesitancy,  from the other side of the door, holding two very large suit cases

Klaus is broad-shouldered but shortish, similar in build to Marcus, but very serious looking…intensely ‘correct’ in a three piece suit (his conservative appearance is counter-balanced by shoulder-length jet-black hair)

Holger is the first to react: his smile freezes then fades

Florian and Peter both look pained; Tanya and Gundi, the ‘outsiders,’ seem oblivious to the situation

GUNDI

cheerfully; waving

I’m Gundi.

Klaus merely nods at her in response; Tanya looks from face to face, bewildered at the strange tension in the room

TANYA

softly

Did I miss something?

There is an awkward silence during which no one dares to move; Marcus breaks the spell by very loudly resuming his meal, then making a sly remark

MARCUS

sarcastically

Well, it’s about time you stopped all this ghastly grieving nonsense, anyway, Frieda. Life goes on.

FRIEDA

Taking Klaus by the hand, defiantly

I couldn’t agree more.

HOLGER

Attempting to return to cordiality

I’ll set another place at the table.

FRIEDA

Nonsense, there’re two empty places already.

She pulls the chair out at the place set at the other end of the table, opposite Holger

Klaus can sit here. And I’ll take the seat beside him.

TIGHT SHOT: between Tanya and Gundi

TANYA

Whispering, to Gundi

What’s the big deal?

GUNDI

Whispering, to Tanya

I think that place was set for Lars.

9.   INT. NIGHT: FRIEDA’S ROOM/DOWNSTAIRS HALL

Frieda is sitting on the edge of the bed, doing her makeup in a compact’s mirror, talking to Klaus who is off camera in the room’s little bathroom

FRIEDA

Don’t give them the satisfaction of pouting all night, Honey.

KLAUS (OS)

What?

FRIEDA

I said, don’t give them the satisfaction of letting them see that they’ve gotten to you. In ten minutes we’re going to go downstairs for drinks and dessert and look like we’re having the time of our lives. If it kills us.

KLAUS (OS)

I’m not pouting. I’m kicking myself for letting you talk me into coming, that’s all.

FRIEDA

I thought it would be interesting for you. These are my oldest friends.

KLAUS (OS)

Well, they’re certainly that.

FRIEDA

What?

Klaus comes into the bedroom from the bathroom, wearing only a towel like a sarong and a green clay beauty mask on his face

KLAUS

Old.

Frieda shrieks with childish delight,  pointing at the mask on Klaus’ face

KLAUS (cont’d)

What? I was just curious about this Voodoo you use on your face every night! Do I look like a savage?

Klaus performs a parody of a primitive  ‘native’ dance, stomping around the bed and making gestures of worship towards Frieda

Frieda jumps up on the bed and writhes sensually like a beautiful ‘White Goddess’ (or ritual sacrifice) at the center of Klaus’ dance

Their “savage” dance routine is somehow both comic and erotic

CUT TO:

Holger and Marcus in the shadows of the hall that leads to the library; from where they are standing, they can see Peter, Gundi, Florian and Tanya in the library; all are dressed in formal attire: the men in tuxedoes, the women in gowns

Peter is tending to the fire in the library’s hearth while Tanya offers encouragement, kneeling beside him; Florian and Gundi are looking at some of the books on Holger’s shelves

Holger and Marcus are facing each other in the little hallway, each holding a glass of wine

They are out-of-focus shapes in the FG while the activity of the others is clear in the BG

MARCUS

sipping, then speaking, in a soft, conspiratorial tone

She’s really something, isn’t she?

HOLGER

replying as quietly

I have to admit, the bastard’s finally made me jealous.

MARCUS

Ever been with one?

HOLGER

Yeah. But she was a dog. Face like a frying pan.  She was an intern at the Station. I just did it…

MARCUS

Grinning

Just because…

HOLGER

Yeah.

MARCUS

What was it like?

HOLGER

As bad, or unnecessary, as anything else.

Gesturing towards Tanya with his wine glass

But this one…

MARCUS

I agree. This is top notch material. She wouldn’t have to move an inch or make a sound and it would still be the best fuck of your life.

HOLGER

You’re a bad influence on me, Goat. I never talk this way unless you’re around!

MARCUS

I take that as a compliment.

SFX: Frieda’s shriek of delight, and muffled thudding as Klaus stomps around the room overhead; the sound of their activity continues during Marcus and Holger’s exchange

MARCUS

Disgusted

Jesus! Do they think they’re in a Hotel?

HOLGER

With an exasperated sigh

Frieda and her… toys. It’s bad enough when all you have to do is hear about them…

MARCUS

Ah, but the good thing about actually meeting one of them is that we don’t have to take Frieda’s word for how ‘beautiful’ he is…

HOLGER

Remember last year?

MARCUS

Christ! It was ‘Tony’ this and ‘Tony’ that…

HOLGER

Some drug dealer from Los Angeles with HIV, no doubt. How long was she out there?

MARCUS

Germans should stay away from that country.

HOLGER

It’s like liquor and Red Indians. Or brothers and…

MARCUS

Chuckling

Exactly. Only some of us Braves are strong enough to handle it…

HOLGER

Gesturing with his wine glass towards Tanya again

I could handle that.

MARCUS

Why not both of us?

HOLGER

Laughing with surprise

Are you kidding?

Gundi has come from the library to join Marcus and Holger where they’re standing

GUNDI

What are you two plotting out here?

CUT TO:

10.           INT. NIGHT: THE LIBRARY

Everyone is gathered in the library, formally dressed

Holger is standing in front of the fireplace; the others are assembled on chairs or sofas in a semi-circle around Holger, like students attending a lecture

Holger is making a speech

HOLGER

Every year,  for the past fifteen years, on the first Friday of Spring, I get to stand in this spot, in front of a fire place that my father built with his own hands…

MARCUS

in a stage whisper

With a little help from Holger’s mother… and the butler, of course!

PETER

in a stage whisper

Holger’s mother was the butler!

They all laugh; Marcus slaps Peter ‘five’

HOLGER

mock pleading

Come on! I’m trying to look important here!

FLORIAN

He’s right, you Primates! Let Homo Sapiens get a word in edgewise! Maybe he’ll show us how to manufacture some tools with his opposable thumb!

HOLGER

Thanks, Flo. Anyway…

PETER

Anyway…

HOLGER

Every year I get to stand here and make a speech about how, by getting together this way and enjoying the free exchange of ideas and information, we may not be able to change the World, but we can improve it…if only the tiny corner that consists of us. Truly, by improving ourselves we improve the World, one little… er…

MARCUS

Pretentious asshole?

HOLGER

…that’s right. One little … pretentious asshole… at a time!

bowing

And so, with that, I want to welcome our guests…

He gestures, one at a time, to Gundi, Klaus, and Tanya…seeming to linger a while on Tanya

…to the proceedings!

TANYA

Lovin’ every minute of it!

GUNDI

Yes, it’s nice to finally see what it looks like in here, after fifteen years of only hearing about it!

HOLGER

To Klaus

And Klaus, I hope your initial impression… that is, I hope you won’t let my odd behavior earlier this evening put you off.

KLAUS

coolly

Not at all.

HOLGER

We’re all intelligent people here, and what’s the point of The Schiller Club if I can’t be frank and admit that I was being foolish?

Shrugging

I apologize for my attitude and hope you can accept my apology so we can all enjoy the weekend!

FRIEDA

Jumping up to hug Holger

That’s the Holger I know!

KLAUS

I must admit I’m impressed. Honestly, if this kind of candor is what The Schiller Club is about, I’m really glad to be here, and look forward to learning something.

FRIEDA

But Holger, really… it’s such a beautiful evening. Do we have to stay inside?

HOLGER

Looking at Peter

It depends on what Peter and Gundi have to say. They wanted to make a little presentation….

To Peter

Do you need to be near the electricity?

PETER

No, we can run on battery power. It’s okay…

GUNDI

Yes, I’d like to enjoy the starry sky as well! Let’s go!

CUT TO:

11.           EXT. NIGHT: THE BACKYARD

The eight are seated in a semi-circle on a mismatched assortment of chairs and stools on the rolling lawn behind The Cottage

They each have some cake on a little plate on their laps

The Pond is in the background and the forest behind that

They are seated, clockwise from the left: Gundi, Tanya, Peter, Holger, Florian, Klaus, Frieda and Marcus

Gundi is fiddling with what appears to be a Laptop while Peter is pointing out the constellations in a very quiet voice; everyone is whispering in the night

PETER

Unfortunately, we can’t see Cassiopeia, the most beautifully named of the constellations… but that’s Ursa Major, the most German… there’s Venus, also known as Hesperus, the evening star…

MARCUS

I’m freezing my balls off.

FLORIAN

It’s good for you! Hush up, I’m trying to learn about the constellations… again.

MARCUS

He does this speech every year.

FLORIAN

It’s okay, I forget it every year, too.

PETER

I heard that!

KLAUS

Think there’s life up there?

PETER

It would seem arrogant of us to assume not.

HOLGER

Does anyone else notice what I’m noticing?

TANYA

Raising her hand as though in school

We’re all whispering, aren’t we?

HOLGER

Exactly. There isn’t anyone to be disturbed for five miles in any direction… but we’re all speaking in these hushed tones, as though we’re in a cathedral. It’s as though we sense the presence of the sacred…

MARCUS

In full voice

You’re right, it’s ridiculous.

Then, screaming

IT’S RIDICULOUS!

In the distance they hear Holger’s dog Cassius barking to answer his master’s scream; everyone laughs

FRIEDA

Was that your dog, Marcus? I didn’t see him when we arrived, so I assumed…

MARCUS

Assumed he was dead?

PETER

Hoped  he was.

Gundi, who has been busy fiddling with the ‘Laptop,’ suddenly looks up from the glowing screen

GUNDI

giddily

Okay! We’re ready!

(INCOMPLETE)

 

THE SECOND GUEST: SYNOPSIS

 

Once a year, five friends gather at a summer cottage on a rural estate outside of Berlin. They come to eat, drink, enjoy the fresh air, and indulge in the fine art of conversation. The five friends,  all now in their early middle-age, met in University,  as members of a charismatic professor’s philosophy course, where they formed a group called The Schiller Club.

The original five are Holger, Lars, Florian, Marcus and Peter (all 36 or thereabouts); it is at Holger’s cottage that these annual weekend reunions take place. Each of the five has a nickname, and a role to play: Lars ‘the poet,’ Florian the ‘peacock,’ Marcus ‘the goat,’ Peter ‘the wizard’  (he’s a computer science researcher), and Holger ‘the duke.’ Lars and Holger were the closest of friends; their relationship was the heart of The Schiller Club.

Lars died in his late 20s, trying to swim one chilly night across  the large pond on Holger’s property. Lars’ long-time lover, Frieda, eventually takes his place among the five, becoming an honorary member. Why shouldn’t a woman be allowed in with the men? They’re all progressive, left-leaning intellectuals, after all.

Frieda’s nickname, and role to play, is ‘The Gypsy.’ She is beautiful, brilliant, and gifted as a painter. She drifts from country to country; lover to lover; sensation to sensation. Every year, she makes her grand entrance at The Cottage and manages to provoke, delight, shock and irritate her four old friends with tales of her adventures. Every year, it seems that she goes out of her way to top the year previous.

This year, the four founding members of The Schiller Club vote to allow ‘outsiders’ (i.e., lovers) in on the gathering. Florian brings his black American mistress (Tanya, 22); Peter brings his long-time girlfriend (and colleague) Gundi, 39; and Frieda gives the founding four a jolt by breaking an unspoken rule: she brings with her another man, ‘insulting,’ as one of them puts it, the ‘helpless’ memory of Lars.

Actually, Frieda brings someone else along with her as well, without knowing it, and that’s what the eight… the eight living…will have to deal with for what will be the longest weekend of their lives.

 

SETTING: THE COTTAGE

 

As the film opens we see Holger in preparation for the weekend. We see his friends arriving, during the course of the afternoon, from all over Germany. We see good-natured Holger welcome first Marcus, then Peter and Gundi, then Florian and Tanya. Frieda of course has to make her big entrance, so she arrives very much later in the day than the others, who are by then enjoying an early supper.

Holger, Florian, Peter and Marcus are all critical of Frieda at this moment for their individual reasons (is Holger, for example, secretly in love with her?), but it’s the memory of Lars, their good friend and Frieda’s lost love, which seems most bruised by the presence of this new man, Klaus.

Of course they all got word that this year the gathering is open to ‘friends & lovers,’ and Frieda had as much right as any of the men to bring someone along, but Lars did drown (ten years before) in the pond that is visible from the dining room window…

After dinner, everyone freshens up in their respective rooms, and they discover the gifts that Holger has thoughtfully placed under the pillow on the bed in each room. The tension clears (to some extent, but Klaus, by temperament, perhaps, remains on edge… and discovering Holger’s gift for Frieda under their pillow… a framed picture of Frieda and Lars… doesn’t help).

They gather later in the living room, for drinks and twilight conversation. Peter and Gundi show off a curiosity they’ve brought along from their AI Research Lab: a laptop that can indulge in sophisticated ‘small talk’ with its owner. It’s name (or brand name), in fact, is Small Talk. Its opening line is ‘interesting weather we’re having, isn’t it?’ and the guests get a good laugh out of it.

Frieda shows off something else; the party game that she’s brought back with her from L.A.: a Ouija board.

A Ouija board is a very old and popular game played by both adults and children: a board on which appear the letters of the alphabet, the numerals zero through nine, and the words ‘yes’ and ‘no’. Those participating in the game place their fingers on an arrow-shaped device called a ‘planchette’ that will point to numbers and letters on the board, to spell out messages, the movement of the ‘planchette’ supposedly guided by a spirit force.

For amusement,  they ‘activate’ the Ouija board and seem to come in contact with an extremely lewd and flirtatious spirit, who identifies herself as ‘Iris.’ Iris begins by spelling out her bawdy comments on the Ouija board, but finds it more comfortable to speak directly through Frieda, who is, as Iris cracks lasciviously, ‘unusually open.’  Iris asks permission, via the Ouija Board, to inhabit Frieda and Frieda consents:

FRIEDA/ IRIS

That’s better.

Feeling her own chest

Nice tits.

Every one laughs loudly

 

The assembled guests, who don’t for a moment take ‘Iris’ seriously (they are, after all,  intellectuals), find this great fun.

Her act is a hit, but when Frieda comes out of the ‘trance’ she professes to remember not a thing that she said while speaking for ‘Iris,’ and is, in fact, embarrassed when some of Iris’ more outrageous remarks are quoted to her.

Only Tanya and Klaus (who take an instant dislike to each other)  take the possibility of Iris’ existence seriously. Holger and Peter think that Frieda is putting on a very good act. Florian wonders, in private, talking with Gundi, if Frieda isn’t going a bit nutty.

In any case, it isn’t long before they try to ‘contact’ Iris again, with no luck. They try and try: nothing.

And then a message comes over the board: wnt to spk. It comes over repeatedly, jerking the planchette from letter to letter to spell itself with rude impatience. Wnt to spk.

The message signals the presence of yet another spirit; male; decidedly different from Iris. And it’s this other presence… this second guest…  SETH… who turns things nasty when the eight make the fatal error of establishing contact with him. But is SETH an actual “spirit” or a sliver of Frieda’s own subconscious…?

For example (from ACT ii):

FRIEDA/SETH

Holger, you keep a gun in this house… it’s in the library on the top shelf behind those Agatha Christie books. Was that a subconscious gesture or were you being uncharacteristically witty?

HOLGER

After a very long pause

That doesn’t prove anything. That gun has been there for twelve years… Lars knew it was there. Lars could have told Frieda.

PETER

with disgust

A gun?

FRIEDA/SETH

Do you think Lars could have told Frieda about what you two did together on that trip to Portugal in ‘89?

HOLGER

Stiffening

It’s possible.

FRIEDA/SETH

smirking

It’s nothing to be ashamed of, my dear Holger.

HOLGER

Frieda, why are you doing this?

FRIEDA/SETH

The sultry breezes… the cheap wine…

PETER

Jesus. This has gone too far.

HOLGER

No big deal.

FRIEDA/SETH

…oh yes and that wide-hipped Mediterranean, moaning all night like a bitch in heat, laying on her back and reeking of cunt… it must have driven you mad… and no women at hand to take it out on…

HOLGER

It didn’t mean anything. It was an experiment.

PETER

Why are we wasting our time discussing something that happened fifteen years ago? This is boring. Next topic, please.

FRIEDA/SETH

But it says something about the relationship between Lars and Holger, doesn’t it, that Holger was always the bottom. Every single…

Holger lunches across the table and begins choking Frieda

FRIEDA/SETH (cont’d)

Grinning while choking

…time.

Peter and Florian pull Holger’s hands away from Frieda’s neck; Holger breaks away from them and leaves the cottage, Klaus goes after him

Frieda pushes away from the table, coughing violently, out of the ‘trance’

PETER

To Frieda

Can you breathe?

Frieda nods, holding her throat, still coughing

PETER (cont’d)

To Frieda

Should we call an ambulance?

Frieda shakes her head

PETER

Now angry

Why’d you do it?

FRIEDA

Barely able to talk

Why’d I do what?

PETER

Why’d you say those things?

FRIEDA

What are you talking about?

PETER

Exploding finally

For God’s sake, Frieda, will you stop playing this ridiculous fucking game? Are you mentally ill? What’s wrong with you? You need help! What are you trying to do? Kill us all with words?

FLORIAN

Calm down, Peter.

FRIEDA

To Florian

No, it’s okay…

PETER

No, it’s not okay!

FLORIAN

With exhausted exasperation

Peter, can’t you see?

PETER

See what?

GUNDI

softly, with something bordering on joy

It’s real.

PETER

Disgusted

What’s real?

GUNDI

The thing…  the spirit…

PETER

Oh, shut up. All of you. It just takes the slightest excuse to revert to the Dark Ages, doesn’t it? History proves it over and over again.

FRIEDA

And who are you, Peter? The God of All Knowledge? Just because you invent a talking box…your expensive little…that silly bloody toy…you think that qualifies you? To judge the rest of us? To say…

GUNDI

And what about me?

PETER

I guess you’re just weaker-minded than I thought. Sorry.

FRIEDA

Under her breath

Übermensch junior…

GUNDI

Hardening; over-lapping Frieda

A scientist has an open mind.

PETER

A scientist doesn’t believe in witchcraft.

GUNDI

I draw my conclusions from the evidence at hand.

MARCUS

with delight

I don’t give a rat’s ass what either of you have to say. It doesn’t matter to me if Frieda’s crazy, or if there really is a ghost. I’ve never been so fucking entertained in my life! I mean, finally, after all these years, the masks are coming off! I love it!

Pointing a finger at Peter

You accuse Frieda of playing a game… but what have we all been doing for twenty years? Shit! Twenty? What am I talking about? Two thousand! Two thousand years of playing the biggest fucking game of them all!

FLORIAN

dismissively

Maybe so.

Beat

But if this is Truth I’ve already had too much of it.

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR [letters are vetted for cogency and style]

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