Memphis Movie: A Novel

Memphis Movie: A Novel

by Corey Mesler


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Eric Warberg went to Hollywood to make it big. For many years, he was successful, until directing a few box office bombs made him virtually unemployable. When an opportunity presents itself for a return to his hometown of Memphis, to direct a small, independent film, it is a return to his roots in more ways than one. Despite the fact that he’s greeted like a star, his homecoming is bittersweet.
The novel begins on the onset of filming of what is temporarily called Memphis Movie. From day one, Eric feels stuck and unable to find his creative spark. He is helped along by a large cast of characters, some from his past and some from the filmmaking industry, including his partner, Sandy, who wrote the script for the movie. Their open relationship will be challenged by Eric’s return to his roots.
Memphis Movie reads like a Robert Altman film, with many story strands making up the rich tapestry. The novel's central question: will Eric lose or find his soul in Memphis, a town where soul has so many meanings?

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781593766146
Publisher: Catapult
Publication date: 04/07/2015
Pages: 320
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Corey Mesler has published in numerous journals and anthologies, including The Esquire/Narrative4 Project and Good Poems, American Places (Viking Press, 2011). He has published seven novels, Talk: A Novel in Dialogue (2002), We Are Billion-Year-Old Carbon (2006), The Ballad of the Two Tom Mores (2010), Following Richard Brautigan (2010), Gardner Remembers (2011), Frank Comma and the Time-Slip (2012), and Diddy-Wah-Diddy: A Beale Street Suite (2013); 3 full length poetry collections, Some Identity Problems (2008), Before the Great Troubling (2011), and Our Locust Years (2013), and 3 books of short stories, Listen: 29 Short Conversations (2009), Notes toward the Story and Other Stories (2011) and I’ll Give You Something to Cry About (2011). He has also published over a dozen chapbooks of both poetry and prose. He has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize numerous times, and two of his poems have been chosen for Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac. His fiction has received praise from John Grisham, Robert Olen Butler, Lee Smith, Frederick Barthelme, Greil Marcus, among others. With his wife, he runs Burke’s Book Store in Memphis TN, one of the country’s oldest (1875) and best independent bookstores.

Read an Excerpt


Q: So you've come back to Memphis to make a movie.

A: Yes. Is that it? Is that all you want to know?

Q: Ha, no. Why Memphis? Why now?

A: Well, Donald, I'll tell you. Memphis is ground zero for me, that is, emotionally. It is, obviously, where I came from, but it is also where my heart goes when I am in need of solace, reparation, succor.

Q: I see. Plus your last movie in Hollywood tanked.

A: Yes. Yes, it did.

Q: What happened? You were being hailed as the next —

A: Don't say it.

Q: Tarantino.

A: Shit. Yeah, I know. I got that, the next Tarantino. It's like being the next Dylan, you know? Like they called Springsteen that when he started. And, first, he had to live that down. First, he had to kill that spiritual father before he could become whatever it is he was to become.

Q: Would you say you're the Springsteen of movies?

A: Huh. But, Tarantino, you know, at first I thought Tarantino wanted to be Robert Altman — now it's clear he always wanted to be St. Spielberg. It's the same gee-whiz, eternal-child, look-at-me, everything-is-nostalgic shtick. It makes one want to throw up one's pabulum.

Q: You had a falling out.

A: No, no, I've never met the man. The whole Tarantino tag began and ended with movie critics. I think it was Premiere who first threw that one out there.

Q: Would you say this has been a long gap between films, a longer than usual —

A: You know, Donald, after 9/11 I found it very hard to work. Forget whether the world was waiting anxiously for another film from me. But 9/11 just blew me out of the water, creatively. I imagine other artists found themselves in similar straits — why create? The attack was the last artistic statement in a way. A negation statement. It made null future art. Or so I felt at the time. Then, someone said something to me that kicked me back into gear.

Q: That if you don't make this movie the terrorists have won?

A: No. No, not that. That was tired the second time I heard it. If you don't shop the terrorists have won. If you don't buy this car the terrorists have won. If you don't eat steak, if you don't go to the laundromat — anyway —

Q: So what was said to you?

A: A friend of mine, a writer, who was working in Prague at the time, said, Eric, buck up, you little bastard.

Q: That's it.

A: Well, I admit, as pith it lacks a certain elegance. Still, as a kick in the ass it was sufficient.

Q: Ok. So, the last movie — A: You can call it by name. I'm not ashamed of it.


A:A title only its progenitor could love.

Q: What does it mean?

A: Didn't you read the crabby press? Money, it means money. A subject in Hollywood more taboo than incest or child molestation.

Q: You think you opened some sores —

A: Yes, that's one way of putting it. Hollywood, even more so than Las Vegas, is a city built on greed, on making money. Say all you want about Dream Factories and such. The dollar rules. And, the irony is, that there is more money in Hollywood than in the mob's secret stashes. Pocket money out there is measured in the thousands. Tens of thousands.

Q: And your movie —

A: Besides being disrespectful to the dream, it was disrespectful of the banks. Of the deep pockets.

Q: Chris, in the movie, the character played by Peter Riegert, he seems a product of Hollywood rather than a man who dreams independently.

A: Yes, I think so. Chris, with eye on the prize, thought that if he made one more movie, one more stab at contemporary angst, he would hit it big. He was seduced by the city, by the idea that a movie could both be provocative and profitable.

Q: And his end is tragic, don't you think?

A: Tragic and inevitable.

Q: Inevitably tragic.

A: Right.

Q: So how much of Chris is you?

A: Ah, that question. I'd say about 26 percent.

Q: Ha. So, it's a question that bedevils you, one you have grown weary of.

A: Well, a friend of mine sent me a T-shirt that read, I AM NOT CHRIS.

Q: Uh-huh.

A: So, yeah, you know. I am not Chris. But I am, too. I am that piece of the dream.

Q: Do you see your end as tragic?

A: Well, I hope I haven't reached the end.

Q: No, no, I meant, in Hollywood. Do you —

A: Think I'm washed up in Hollywood? For today. You know it's also a city where a comeback is pre-programmed and expected. They count you out only to wish you to rise again someday, renewed, reinvented, the Phoenix from the flameout.

Q: Hm.

A: You know, Donald. The thing is that most filmmakers have to do the Hollywood thing once or they don't feel validated. But, really, the reality is that today, with digital, with co-ops, with every state offering film companies incentives to work there, it's all so diverse, spread out, dispersed.

Q: Do you see that as a healthy thing?

A: Well, as an independent I have to. I would be a fool not to celebrate it.

Q: Because it benefits you.

A: Yes.

Q: So, at the height of your Hollywood fame, you made ...

A: Titanic Opera.

Q: Wha — I don't have that in my notes. Titanic Opera?

A: Well, it's become a personal in-joke.

Q: How so?

A: Well, I made this film, this epic, three and a half hours. It was gonna be my — my —

Q:Heaven's Gate.


Q: Sorry.

A: My magnum opus. It was great, I mean really great. The cast was superb: Jon Voigt, Gene Hackman, Ellen Green, Halle Berry, Faith Glory, Blue Positive. And the photography — my God, Haskell Wexler, some of his best late work — and a sprawling, multigenerational tale, loosely based on Nabokov's Ada, but set in the San Fernando Valley.

Q: It sounds incredible. What happened to it?

A: It disappeared. Poof. Cut down so small, bit by bit, both sides, studio and artistic, though I was left out and given no reason, snipping, snipping, so that eventually it was shown for the first and last time between features on IFC. About four and a half minutes, I think was the final run time.

Q: Incredible.

A: Yes, I think it's some kind of record.

Q: Hm.

A: Yes.

Q: Ok, so, the new film. Let's talk about that.

A: Of course.

Q: What is its working title?

A: Curiology.

Q: What is that?

A: It means picture writing. So, an obvious pun.

Q: Do you think that will be the final title?

A: No, I learned my lesson with Spondulicks. We have also discussed Potemkin Village.

Q: Tell me why, what does that mean? An Eisenstein reference —

A: It's a city that appears as an impressive showy facade designed to mask undesirable facts.

Q: A city with dark secrets.

A: Yes, dark city secrets down its dark streets.

Q: Is this another Hollywood metaphor?

A: No, not this time.

Q: Then —

A: Well, running the risk of ruffling feathers, it's Memphis that is the dark end of the street.

Q: That's Dan Penn, our homeboy.

A: Of course.

Q: So you think that title will stick?

A: Don't know. The working title is, simply, Memphis Movie. Sandy wanted it to be called S Is for Symbolism.

Q: That's Sandy Shoars, your wife and collaborator.

A: We're not married, but, yes. My collaborator and paramour. She has written every one of my movies.

Q: And received an Independent Spirit Award for After You I Almost Disappeared.

A: A nomination.

Q: She didn't win?

A: No, that was the year Sleeping in a Box won everything.

Q: Oh, right.

A: Sandy's new script, that is, for this movie set in Memphis, is the best thing she's ever done.

Q: That's very exciting.

A: Yes, it is. It is how we get the actors we want, the power of her words. Actors relish good scripts, as they should.

Q: Hope Davis.

A: Exactly. My first choice for all my movies, but this is the first time we'll be working together. She's the right stuff.

Q: And lovely.

A: Yes.

Q: Elena Musick, Ike Bana, Suze Everingham. It's quite a cast.

A: Yes, we're very lucky.

Q: Trinka Dukes, Deni Kohut.

A: Yes.

Q: And this is the first time you'll be working with Dan Yumont.

A: Yes, it is.

Q: His reputation precedes him. How do you think he'll be to work with?

A: I don't anticipate any problems.

Q: Yet, upon his arrival in Memphis for preliminary meetings he was arrested at the airport.

A: A misunderstanding.

Q: They found a box cutter and a roach clip in his pockets.

A: He explained that.

Q: Ok.

A: Dan is a complex man, a thinking man's actor. He is this generation's De Niro.

Q: Some papers have compared him to Sean Penn —

A: Or this generation's Sean Penn, an actor of the first water —

Q: Sean Penn, of the Madonna era, I was going to say. The spitting at paparazzi, the antagonism with the press.

A: The press ... well, best I keep myself to myself. Let's talk about the new movie — the soundtrack —

Q: And the soundtrack, you —

A: Will be all Stax.

Q: Stax — whatever — the whole Stax canon?

A: Yes.

Q: One would have thought you'd come to Memphis and use Memphis music. Is it too predictable, do you think?

A: One doesn't use unpredictability just to be unpredictable. Maybe I'll switch to a klezmer band, that suit you?

Q: Ok.

A: Donald, don't print that. I'll come off as an asshole. I love Memphis music. You know, my other films are peppered with it. Scott Bomar helped with Sunset Striptease. That's his deconstructed version of "Eight Miles High" at the end. There's the "Big Star" song in Cracker Hobgoblin. I used "Your Eyes May Shine" as the opening theme for Huck and Hominy. Uh, John Kilzer and Rob Jungklas in She and He in a Swivet. And in After You I Almost Disappeared that's Reverend Al covering "Big Ass Truck." How's that for Memphis mojo?

Q: I guess I didn't realize —

A: Right.

Q: Hm.

A: Amy LaVere.

Q: What about her?

A: I just wanted to say her name because I have a crush on her. Anyway. The music —

Q: Memphis is there —

A: In every film, yes. I have been, over the years, going home again and again. And now —

Q: You're literally here.

A: Yes.

Q: Let's talk about the movie.

A: Fair enough.

Q: You said in a recent interview that you were coming back to Memphis to make your next film because its themes were Southern. What did you mean by that?

A: Well, again, I don't want to give too much away. But the story concerns a man who comes up against the racism in his own family and has to make a choice between the people he came from and what his future may possibly hold, which includes a beautiful woman from New York. That's Hope Davis. She represents for him what he's never had, what he's dreamed of.

Q: The Southern angle being the racism —

A: No, no, now, don't go off on a toot. Racism isn't exclusive to the South. But for the character that Dan plays, this kind of racism, deeply ingrained in his family history, is like an anchor holding him back.

Q: I see. Monster's Ball

A: Crossed with The Reivers. I can see the campaign already.

Q: The Hope Davis character. Is she based on anyone?

A: Anyone out there — in the real world?

Q: Yes.

A: No.

Q: Yet, she —

A: I see where you're going.

Q: Well, the tabloids were full of stories about you and Ms. Davis. That you were seen nightclubbing —

A: Is that really a verb?

Q: For our purposes.

A: The purposes being to make something salacious out of our casting Hope Davis. That Sandy would write her into our next movie as some perverse Hollywood sexual triangle thing.

Q: No, I —

A: Donald.

Q: But you and Ms. Davis —

A: I wish.

Q: Do you?

A: No, no, c'mon, Donald, be a go-with guy. I'm joking.

Q: Oh, ok. So the Hope Davis character —

A: Is based on dreamstuff, is pulled out of the same ether from which Scarlett O'Hara, Mick Kelly and Quentin Compson were pulled squalling from —

Q: I don't —

A: Move on.

Q: Right.

A: So, how you been, Donald?

Q: Fine. Fine. Oh, you're looking for more questions ...

A: When you're ready.

Q: Ha. Ok. Um, there's a moment in one of your earlier films. The main character, a filmmaker, has just been excoriated in the press for some of his more, uh, personal sexual content. It seems he has used his own life, his own sexual history for his films.

A: Yes.

Q: So, what would you say about this character? Is he you, an aspect of you?

A: The question doesn't interest me much. But, for you, for the sake of your audience, I'll take a stab at answering. You're referring to the film After You I Almost Disappeared. My second feature and the first film I made after moving to Hollywood. I was homesick. I was thinking about my past. My first film, Sunset Striptease, had its success, you know. It took me to California where I was given a lot of money and told to do whatever I wanted. It's dangerous for an artist to be told, "Do whatever you want." [Laughs.] So, I had all this cash and was told to make a wish list of actors, which I did, putting Hope Davis at the top, of course. And I set to writing a script that would be worthy of all this freedom.

Q: Sandy didn't write this one?

A: Wait. This is a story. I am telling you a story.

Q: Sorry.

A: So, I set about writing this script and I thought, man, they're eating up everything I dish out. I am king of the fucking moviemaking universe. This is what it felt like. Yet, underneath that there was this River Styx of regret and loneliness. I mean, I had left behind everything that was what I thought of as my identity. Memphis was gone gone. So this script was all about the past, all about my past, you dig? And I wrote scene after scene based on people I knew, people I loved, women whom I loved and lost, women whom I loved and left. You know? It's such a seductive topic for a young artist, that rich soil of the past. So I turn the sucker in, I take it to the studio and say, "Here. Here's my next film and here's who I want to play each part." It's laughable now, my hubris. And Marty Sicowicz, at the studio, took this mess home with him. It took less than a day and I was called back in. He smiled a sad smile and handed me back my new masterpiece. "No," he said, and sat back. That was it. I was dumbfounded. Just no. And that really sent me reeling. So to speak. I went home, well back to this amazing house I was renting in Brentwood, and wept like a child. I was really stung.

Q: It hurt, even after all the success.

A: Yes, I was hurt. But another 24 hours went by and I went back in to see Marty. "What do I do?" I asked him. He gave me Sandy's number. And that was that.

Q: That's how you met Sandy?

A: That's it. And, it turned out, unbeknownst to me, she had been called in to doctor Sunset Striptease. So, when I say she wrote every one of my movies, I mean every damn one.

Q: Huh.

A: Yeah. And the finished product, the irony of the finished product is that the title is almost the only thing left from my self-indulgent script. Beverly was still there.

Q: The Hope Davis character.

A: Right, the character I wanted Hope Davis to play. Well, it's funny now, but, really, what I wanted was to visualize Hope Davis in the role of my ex-lover, a woman who was as hot as a pepper sprout.

Q: And Beverly is her name.


Q: Or not. I see.

A: Right.

Q: Who ended up playing Beverly? I can't recall —

A: Jodie Foster.

Q: That's not a bad fantasy lover either.

A: [Laughs.] You said it.

Q: Huh. So ... what was I getting at? Oh, yeah. This character, this filmmaker, then. He really is you.

A: No. It's fiction.

Q: Yes, but —

A: It becomes fiction. Everything becomes fiction. Leave it out on the counter long enough and it becomes fiction.

Q: Ok.

A: That's the title of my next movie. Everything Becomes Fiction.

Q: Really, that sounds —

A: No, not really. I am pulling your leg.

Q: Ah.

A: Sorry.

Q: Right. Do you have an idea for a movie after this, after Memphis Movie?

A: I do.

Q: Can you talk about it?

A: I can.


Excerpted from "Memphis Movie"
by .
Copyright © 2015 Corey Mesler.
Excerpted by permission of Counterpoint.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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