Friday, August 15, 2008

Hellhound 15: B'lieve I'm Sinkin' Down

((The fourth section of Hellhound begins just below; there are five in all, so look for the entire finished script, 20-some parts total, to be posted in a few more weeks.))


A busy street in some town, cars and many white people hurrying past Johnson, who stands playing his guitar somewhat desultorily. No one stops to listen, though one or two passersby toss nickels or dimes at this beggar's feet. And "beggar" is what he looks like--fresh scab near his eye, dirt and dried blood on his shirt, scruffy pants, shoes without socks. Johnson is in bad shape, and no better when he bends down to pick up the few coins.


He picks the coins up, one by one. Suddenly large legs and huge boots step before his face.


On the mammoth towering figure of a gross, perspiring Southern white lawman.


Johnson stands up gingerly, shielding his guitar behind him. Very nervous, he plays the "Tom" completely--so much so that the scene becomes embarrassing and uncomfortable for the viewer too.

LAWMAN: What's this, boy?

JOHNSON (mumbling): Nuthin', suh.

LAWMAN: Whut say, boy? Speak up.

JOHNSON: I jes' playin' mah git-tar.

LAWMAN: Not in this heah town, you don't, boy. Wheah you from?

JOHNSON (darting nervous looks): Memphis, suh. On my way back there, suh.

LAWMAN: Well, you jes' keep movin', y'heah? We don't want no (sarcastic now) big-city nigras comin' in this litta-bitty town o' ours.

Johnson is shifting and shuffling, anxious to be away.

JOHNSON (bobbing his head): Yassuh, I do it...

LAWMAN (off-hand now, bored): All right, boy. Git on you' way now. Ten p.m.'s curfew for culuhed folks. Don' lemme find you heah-'bouts come mawnin'.

JOHNSON: Yassuh, cap'n.

Still bowing and scraping, he scurries off.


To this ramshackle, back-country farm at twilight comes Johnson. He is dressed as before, carrying his guitar, yet looks somewhat better; we'll see that the scab has healed some too. The black farmer sits on his porch steps whittling.


JOHNSON: (wearily): Mighty low. (sheds his guitar) But it's a nice 'nuff evenin'.

FARMER: Summer come early.

JOHNSON (after a moment): You got somethin' could lay the dust?


Farmer gestures with his whittling knife.

FARMER: Water over there.

JOHNSON: Whiskey mebbe go wid it?

The farmer stops whittling and regards him thoughtfully, then nods at the guitar.

FARMER: Is you kin play that?

JOHNSON (collapsing on the steps): Oh yes, my frien', I do play gittar.


The farmer twists around to shout into the house; some children are peeking out already.

FARMER: Yo, Martha! Bring us 'at jar out. (to Robert) Hongry too?

JOHNSON (shrugging): Not so's you'd notice...

He picks up his guitar and begins picking and chording softly, tuning up some. Martha appears in the doorway, nodding shyly and handing the Mason jar of corn liquor to her husband. Then she leans against the doorframe, kids clinging to her skirt and peeking around. Johnson accepts the first drink gladly.

JOHNSON (toasting): Better days. I hope.

He takes a healthy swig and passes it back to the farmer, who drinks more carefully, savoring the taste. Johnson starts a slow blues instrumental.


The music continues over. By the moonlight we see that the children are long gone, the woman is rocking slowly back and forth, Robert is tipsy and consuming the last of the jar's contents, and the farmer is now playing Johnson's guitar.


Later, Johnson lies snoring in a smushed heap of corn-cobs and straw, inside the farmer's rickety shed. The music slowly fades.


Still later. Now his sleep is fitful; he struggles and utters a strangled groan--another nightmare...


In pitch-black darkness Johnson stands at a rural crossroads, a town vaguely in the distance. He is nervous, agitated, glancing about fearfully. A mournful howling dog sounds on the track throughout the ensuing brief scenes...

Now distant shouting men too. Johnson's fears mount, but he seems rooted to the spot, unable to move.


As an old sedan speeds past on the crossing road, driven by a white man resembling Dawson the record producer. Johnson, still rooted, tries to flag him down, to no avail.


The voices are getting louder, as a second car comes speeding from the town. The driver seems to be Johnny, with Betty Mae as his passenger. Jonson waves frantically for them to stop, but the car passes him by. Betty Mae turns to look back as the car speeds away. An incoming vehicle appears beside it, this one seemingly driven by Louise.


Johnson is finally able to move, and he runs into the road to stop this third car. But Louise drives as though she can't see him there, and at the last moment Johnson must leap from the path of the speeding car, rolling off the road.


As Louise's vehicle speeds toward the town--suddenly illuminating a gang of white-hooded figures coming for Johnson.


A lone tree looms against the night sky. Up this rise go the men hauling Johnson. One figure throws a rope over a high limb.


As the hooded men fashion a noose and slip it over his head. They brutally yank him erect till only his toes are touching the ground.


This menacing figure now removes his hood, revealing himself to be plantation-owner Lubbell. He brandishes his riding crop, striking Johnson lightly across the face, then bursts into maniacal but silent laughter.


One of the other figures steps forward, opening a straight-razor. He stands before Johnson, and Lubbell pulls the hood from his head--it is, of course, black gangster Ras.


His utter terror; his frantically pleading eyes. Then he simply closes them. (The dog's howling has kept getting louder and louder through all the above.)


As he smiles evilly, then lifts the razor and strikes suddenly downwards. The camera image is optically forced to a blood-red, then orange, blankness, dissolving to:


Dawn over the farmer's nearby field. Zoom out reveals Johnson seated, leaning against a broken wagon.


He is drawn and haggard, his eyes bloodshot, traces of straw in his clothing. He stares out across the field, lost in thought, guitar across his lap. Absently, he reaches up to touch the missing mojo bag, then realizes what he is doing and shifts his hands to the guitar. He positions it and begins idly picking, trying out chords and lines as he goes.

JOHNSON: I was standin' at the crossroads... (pause) ...crossroads, an' I could not get...

Hearing voices, he stops and turns.


The farmer and his family have come out on the porch, the children still brushing sleep from their eyes.


Robert stands up, slings the guitar over his back, and waves goodby.

JOHNSON: Thank you.

Close to camera, the farmer and children wave back. The woman calls out to him.

MARTHA: You got to eat some-thin'!

Johnson looks back, already heading off.

JOHNSON: Give mine t' the chil'ren.

The he walks away. When he stumbles momentarily, the watching farmer looks at his wife and speaks for the first time this scene.

FARMER: That boy is livin' fas' time...

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Hellhound 14: The Killing Floor


A long bar closer to camera, some tables for eating further back. The front window reads "SPIVEY'S" (seen reversed from here inside). Camera view puts Robert and Louise in background; they are huddled together at a table, laughing and talking intimately, though none of their words reach us. The bartender putters around behind his bar. Seated there drinking and watching the happy couple in the reflecting mirror on the wall is a black man, a street hustler type. He finishes his beer and then, whistling, saunters over to the wall phone and begins dialing.


The room is in total darkness, but the bright neon sign outside the window keeps flashing on and off, adding a pulsating reddish glow to the room. Robert and Louise are in bed; they have likely just had sex because he rolls off from atop her. The two rest happily beside each other, breathing deeply. Then on the soundtrack a mournful howling begins, some unseen hound baying in the distance. Louise shivers and moves closer to Johnson.

LOUISE: Somebody dying...

Her words chill Johnson too--always the superstitious one--but he tries to make light of the continuing sound.

JOHNSON: Naw, baby, settle down. Some ol' hound, one eye on the moon, other on some sweet bitch.

They snuggle together silently then.


Suddenly there is the sound of something crashing into the room door and splintering the wood; the door bursts open, kicked in by the heavy-set, gangsterish man (Louise's keeper Ras) who steps inside, a huge .45 in his hand. Louise has screamed during his entry; closer to the door and Ras, she cowers against Robert.

RAS: Well, well now. Ain't y'all the picture... So, Lou, you an' your cousin here talkin' old times?

Johnson still hasn't moved. Louise tries to recover some, hoping that Ras may be willing to talk. She starts to rise from the bed.

LOUISE: Ras... Please... Don't do anything, please. I'll...

RAS: Cheat on me, bitch.

He shoots her coldly three times. Louise's body sprawls backwards across Johnson--who struggles to cast her aside and tumble to the floor on the far side of the bed. Ras takes two steps closer, aiming for Robert too; but when he fires, the gun jams. He throws it aside, pulling a straight razor from his coat pocket.

RAS: I sooner cut you, nigge', down...


Johnson manages to escape to the far side of the bed away from the razor. He is weaponless and naked (his body seen only in motion as the pulsating red light continues). Ras closes in on him fast, slashing out. Johnson leaps backwards to avoid the blade but is still nicked on his face, near one eye.

JOHNSON (in shock and pain): Motherfucker!

He stumbles backwards over a chair, his hand knocking a near-empty bottle from the table. Johnson grabs this up from the floor and smashes it on the table edge, holding up the jagged top as his own cutting weapon.


A series of quick-cut, in motion, jagged shots of the ensuing fight between razor and bottle-knife. In the flickering reddish light it becomes an obscene dance of death, as much imagined by the viewer as actually seen, in the alternating darkness and light of the room--feinting, slashing, parrying, grappling, circling each other, the two men grunting and perspiring. Robert's face when seen is set and focussed, blood dripping from the cut; Ras in contrast looks manic, even evil, a grim smile frozen on his mouth. The light flickers on razor, bottle, teeth, and sweating flesh.

Finally, in a lit moment, the two grapple close again. Ras starts a swing of his razor, and Johnson steps inside that slash as the light goes off again. In the moment of darkness there is the sound of a blow and a terrifying scream. A body falls as the returning half-light reveals Johnson (minus his neckbag now) standing over the bloody body of Ras, whose face is a pulpy mess. (The dog's howling has continued throughout all this frantic action; now it stops.) Johnson kicks at the fallen man; when there is no response, he wearily drops the bloody bottle-knife beside the body.

JOHNSON: Lord Jesus...

He grasps for his lucky bag--and it's not there! He looks about in sudden panic. But...


Now Robert becomes aware of pounding feet coming up the unseen stairs outside the room.

MAN'S VOICE: Ras! Ras! Everything all right?

Already Johnson has been grabbing up his clothes and guitar. With no more than a glance at Louise's body, still naked himself, he dives out the open window onto a fire escape.


Tumbling down the metal stairs, dropping some clothing as he scrambles, yanking his trousers on at a staggered run, he leaps down to the ground. From the window above two black men shout and fire wildly after him, but he escapes into the alley darkness.