I have been asked to talk to you about endings. But I cannot speak of endings any more than a gravedigger can speak of the afterlife. That is to say, I can speak of endings with a special authority as husband to their symbolic play in the world of the literal. There. You have your first ending. Fait accompli.
1. Endings are a film, one side being the unreachable ideality of the terminus, the other being its staid and tangible expression.
Now, I suppose you all came here today, bodies leaden with the drip-drips of last night’s excitement? Eh? Hot college parties. Boxes of pizzas, always five buckaroos, stacked like greasy, cheesy obelisks. Wanton girls in tight or loose camisoles wearing tight or lose sweatpants. Hardbodies sucking down whey out of their enormous, mythic paws between bouts of War Hawks India: The Cumin Invasion. Get out of my sight. All of you.
2. Endings approach with anger but languish bereft of synechdoche and metaphor.
Or stay. I don’t care. Now I was told — heh, and God spoke to man, “Follow this curriculum” — that this seminar was going to be about some of my greatest hits. I bet you thought you would stroll in and hear about how I reworked that tragic farce Party Bus: The Kegs on the Bus Go Round and Round — Barf? Ok, see here. When I got that script the ending was a mess. Vance Constantine got the girl and learned his lesson and they beat the alpha dogs in the keg stand and stopped the bus from hitting the convent. Pedestrian stuff. So what did I do? I flipped it. The last fifteen pages of dialogue replaced by that unforgettable Vance soliloquy atop the speeding yellow missile:
Wendy was no longer an object to me, that is to say she was nothing to me. And in that infirmity between sexualized hotspot and airy nothing-whore — her Tiffani Amber-Theissen-esque behalfshirted self oscillating between being and its denial — I found Her. I had been running away for so long, not because I didn’t love Wendy but because I could no longer endure the doubts. Was she a discrete babe or a singularity, the virtual around which our sexual compasses simply spun. La femme n’est pas une femme.
Then, CRASH, the bus smashes into the convent. Nuns are comically shot out of the building like pious silly string. That was where I wrote the now-canon stage direction “A foamy mixture of blood and Pabst buffets 65th Street. The skeletons of holy women and hot co-eds bob like nightmare ponies dancing in the surf at Assateague.”
3. Endings should be a collision between irreducible opposites, as explicitly as possible.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
4. Endings always assert themselves importunely.
What did we learn from my reworking of A Life on the Brink? Sergei Miller’s original script was riddled with consistencies. Really, it was rife was sense. Terminal cancer patient grabs life by the horns. In the end he dies on the top of Everest, both physically and figuratively surmounting the odds. It was a tired ending. So what do I do? Porkpie reaches the top of the mountain, sure. But in mine … he doesn’t die. He finds a pantsless God wandering around.
“Oh, excuse me.”
“Oh, erm, this is –”
“How did … how did you know?”
“I’m God, it’s my definition to know.”
“Right, right. No this doesn’t make sense at all, it creates it.” “Yeah, totally.”
Then God and Porkpie ascend into heaven and we see? Do not answer! We see? Yes, the body of a defrocked and shamed woman dying of exposure on the top of the mountain. Opens the door for a sequel, see?
5. Endings only use the currency of finality to underwrite the meaning of the first ninety minutes. Ending should never, though, be themselves final.
We have time for one more, and no, I’m not going to discuss my work on … you all know the movie I’m referring to. I wrote a great coda, though, to a little action thriller called Sharpshot. Everyone knows that Sharpshot was supposed to end with Danny Glover staring down the barrel of a thirty-aught-six Springfield ready to end the life of President Zach Morris, played by the unforgettable Christopher Lloyd. No shots are fired. The credits roll. For a while the various nouvelle-vague gab-mags and dime-store film papes speculated that we had a left a door open for a sequel. But we had never planned a sequel. They speculated that there was some missing clues earlier in the film that made the final shot resonate with particular meaning. Nope. A graduate student at the State University of College even went so far as to pen a half-finished thesis on the ending of Sharpshot as a “strict refutation of pragmatic theories of meaning. By refusing all practical glosses, the movie highlights the genesis of sense out of anti-social — read: anarchical — roots.” The thesis was never finished, perhaps because the student had inquired after my assistance to help write his introduction. As we all know, I only do endings.
See in the original script, there were fifteen minutes that followed the epic, ultimate shot. When they brought me in I looked at the script, paced around the room, fetched a red — or perhaps blue, they were all blue in those days — magic marker and began crossing out entire pages of dialogue from the script. Kill your darlings, right? The last fifteen minutes were a mess. Jefferson Davis catching the bullet in midair. The hip-hoperatic cadenza. All that awful moralizing about shooting folks. In this way, I cut out the entire ending. Then I just said stop. And that’s where the film ends.
6. Endings belong everywhere and nowhere.
MERSLOW: Professor, wouldn’t you agree that endings are really just beginnings.
EDGARSTEIN: That’s stupid. Get your head out of Chicken Soup for the Chicken Shit and start starting death in the face.
JACKIE: Professor, when you end a work, should it be more of a finale or a conclusion?
EDGARSTEIN: It should be a veil being drawn off a bride only to reveal that tell-tale expression that she’s been with other men.
JACKIE: Isn’t that a bit misogynistic.
EDGARSTEIN: Isn’t what?
JACKIE: Well, that she’s umm … not a virgin.
EDGARSTEIN: Oh, yes, all endings stem from the masculine, erm, urges to put a point where a whole was.
JACKIE: Excuse me.
EDGARSTEIN: Whole, like w-h-o-l-e. The totality of things.
JACKIE: Gross. Don’t talk to me about totality.
MU: Are there any endings that you never wrote causing works to spill out, endlessly flooding the creative space.
MU: Well at 90 words per minute –
EDGARSTEIN: The new girl in the pool, eh?
MU: The flow rate is umm …
EDGARSTEIN: Ninety times two, ninety times two. A one hundred and eight percent chance she’ll drown.
EDGARSTEIN: The new girl –
MU: Oh, she’s old hat.
MU: Fitted rather.
CHASE: I need to have something cleared up. Your favorite character, The Platinum Blonde, played by Dennis Haysbert, had white hair or –
EDGARSTEIN: (Laughing) Ah yes. I never understood why it mattered to people so much whether or not The Platinum Blonde had white hair or platinum blonde hair. The wig was made out of cotton if that’s what you mean.
CHASE: But was Dennis supposed to have white hair or hair that was so blonde it was white.
EDGARSTEIN: So it’s a question of point versus limit.
EDGARSTEIN: That’s too heady for me … on account of it being a wig.
EDGARSTEIN: Any others? Alright. Class dismissed.
7. Endings are a dismissal of some previous truth.