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Remake, Page 1

Connie Willis



  Praise for Connie Willis’s

  HUGO AND NEBULA AWARD-WINNING

  DOOMSDAY BOOK

  “A TOUR DE FORCE.”

  —The New York Times Book Review

  “SPLENDID WORK—BRUTAL, GRIPPING, AND

  GENUINELY HARROWING, THE PRODUCT OF

  DILIGENT RESEARCH, FINE WRITING, AND WELL-HONED

  INSTINCTS, THAT SHOULD APPEAL FAR

  BEYOND THE USUAL SCIENCE-FICTION

  CONSTITUENCY.”

  —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

  “THE WORLD OF 1348 BURNS IN THE MIND’S

  EYE…. IT BECOMES POSSIBLE TO FEEL … THAT

  CONNIE WILLIS DID, IN FACT, OVER THE FIVE

  YEARS DOOMSDAY BOOK TOOK HER TO WRITE,

  OPEN A WINDOW TO ANOTHER WORLD, AND

  THAT SHE SAW SOMETHING THERE.”

  —The Washington Post Book World

  LINCOLN’S DREAMS

  “A LOVE STORY ON MORE THAN ONE LEVEL,

  AND MS. WILLIS DOES JUSTICE TO THEM ALL. IT

  WAS ONLY TOWARD THE END OF THE BOOK

  THAT I REALIZED HOW MUCH TENSION HAD

  BEEN GENERATED, HOW ENGROSSED I WAS IN

  THE CHARACTERS, HOW MUCH I CARED ABOUT

  THEIR FATES.”

  —The New York Times Book Review

  MORE PRAISE FOR LINCOLN’S DREAMS

  “A TANTALIZING MIX OF HISTORY AND

  SCIENTIFIC SPECULATION … WILLIS TELLS THIS

  TALE WITH CLARITY AND ASSURANCE …

  IMPECCABLE.”

  —San Francisco Chronicle

  “FULFILLS ALL THE EXPECTATIONS OF THOSE

  WHO HAVE ADMIRED HER AWARD-WINNING

  SHORT FICTION.”

  —Los Angeles Times

  “LINCOLN’S DREAMS IS A NOVEL OF CLASSICAL

  PROPORTIONS AND VIRTUES … HUMANE AND

  MOVING.”

  —The Washington Post Book World

  “LINCOLN’S DREAMS IS NOT SO MUCH WRITTEN

  AS SCULPTED … [A] TALE OF LOVE AND WAR AS

  MOVING AS A DISTANT ROLL OF DRUMS…. NO

  ONE HAS REPRODUCED THE PAST THAT HAUNTS

  THE PRESENT ANY BETTER THAN CONNIE

  WILLIS.”

  —The Christian Science Monitor

  BANTAM BOOKS BY CONNIE WILLIS

  Doomsday Book

  Lincoln’s Dreams

  Impossible Things

  Uncharted Territory

  To Fred Astaire

  ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

  Special thanks to Scott Kippen and Sheryl Beck and all the rest of the UNC Sigma Tau Deltans

  and to

  my daughter Cordelia and her statistics classes

  and to

  my secretary Laura Norton

  all of whom

  helped come up with chase scenes, tears, happy endings,

  and all the other movie references

  “Not much is impossible.”

  —Steve Williams

  Industrial Light and Magic

  “The girl seems to have talent but the boy can do nothing.”

  —Vaudeville booking report

  on Fred Astaire

  House Lights Down

  BEFORE TITLES

  I saw her again tonight. I wasn’t looking for her. It was an early Spielberg liveaction, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, a cross between a shoot-’em-up and a VR ride and the last place you’d expect tap shoes, and it was too late. The musical had kicked off, as Michael Caine so eloquently put it, in 1965.

  This liveaction was made in ’84, at the very beginning of the computer graphics revolution, and it had a few CG sections: digitized Thugees being thrown off a cliff and a pathetically clunky morph of a heart being torn out. It also had a Ford Tri-Motor plane, which was what I was looking for when I found her.

  I needed the Tri-Motor for the big good-bye scene at the airport, so I’d accessed Heada, who knows everything, and she’d said she thought there was one in one of the live-action Spielbergs, the second Indy maybe. “It’s close to the end.”

  “How close?”

  “Fifty frames. Or maybe it’s in the third one. No, that’s a dirigible. The second one. How’s the remake coming, Tom?”

  Almost done, I thought. Three years off the AS’s and still sober.

  “The remake’s stuck on the big farewell scene,” I said, “which is why I need the plane. So what do you know, Heada? What’s the latest gossip? Who’s ILMGM being taken over by this month?”

  “Fox-Mitsubishi,” she said promptly. “Mayer’s frantic. And the word is Universal’s head exec is on the way out. Too many addictive substances.”

  “How about you?” I said. “Are you still off the AS’s? Still assistant producer?”

  “Still playing Melanie Griffith,” she said. “Does the plane have to be color?”

  “No. I’ve got a colorization program. Why?”

  “I think there’s one in Casablanca.”

  “No, there’s not,” I said. “That’s a two-engine Lockheed.”

  She said, “Tom, I talked to a set director last week who was on his way to China to do stock shots.”

  I knew where this was leading. I said, “I’ll check the Spielberg. Thanks,” and signed off before she could say anything else.

  The Ford Tri-Motor wasn’t at the end, or in the middle, which had one of the worst mattes I’d ever seen. I worked my way back through it at 48 per, thinking it would have been easier to do a scratch construct, and finally found the plane almost at the beginning. It was pretty good—there were close-ups of the door and the cockpit, and a nice medium shot of it taking off. I went back a few frames, trying to see if there was a close-up of the propellers, and then said, “Frame 1-001,” in case there was something at the very beginning.

  Trademark Spielberg morph of the old Paramount Studios mountain into opening shot, this time of a man-sized silver gong. Cue music. Red smoke. Credits. And there she was, in a chorus line, wearing silver tap shoes and a silver-sequined leotard with tuxedo lapels. Her face was made up thirties style—red lips, Harlow eyebrows—and her hair was platinum blonde.

  It caught me off guard. I’d already searched the eighties, looking in everything from Chorus Line to Footloose, and not found any sign of her.

  I said, “Freeze!” and then “Enhance right half,” and leaned forward to look at the enlarged image to make sure, as if I hadn’t already been sure the instant I saw her.

  “Full screen,” I said, “forward realtime,” and watched the rest of the number. It wasn’t much—four lines of blondes in sequined top hats and ribboned tap shoes doing a simple chorus routine that could have been lifted from 42nd Street, and was about as good. There must not have been any dancing teachers around in the eighties either.

  The steps were simple, mostly trenches and traveling steps, and I thought it had probably been one of the very first ones Alis did. She had been this good when I saw her practicing in the film hist classroom. And it was too Berkeleyesque. Near the end of the number it went to angles and a pan shot of red scarves being pulled out of tuxedo pockets, and Alis disappeared. The Digimatte couldn’t have matched that many switching shots, and I doubted if Alis had even tried. She had never had any patience with Busby Berkeley.

  “It isn’t dancing,” she’d said, watching the kaleidoscope scene in Dames that first night in my room.

  “I thought he was famous for his choreography,” I’d said.

  “He is, but he shouldn’t be. It’s all camera angles and stage sets. Fred Astaire always insisted his dances be shot full-length and one continuous take.”

  “Frame ten,” I said so I wouldn’t have to put up with the mountain morph again, and started through the routine again. “Freeze.”

  The screen froze her in midkick,
her foot in the silver tap shoe extended the way Madame Dilyovska of Meadowville had taught her, her arms outstretched. She was supposed to be smiling, but she wasn’t. She had a look of intentness, of careful concentration under the scarlet lipstick, the penciled brows, the look she had worn that first night, watching Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire on the freescreen.

  “Freeze,” I said again, even though the image hadn’t moved, and sat there for a long time, thinking about Fred Astaire and looking at her face, that face I had seen under endless wigs, in endless makeups, that face I would have known anywhere.

  Title up

  OPENING CREDITS AND DISSOLVE

  TO PAN SHOT OF PARTY SCENE

  MOVIE CLICHE #14: The Party. Disjointed snatches of bizarre conversation, excessive AS consumption, assorted outrageous behavior.

  SEE: Notorious; Greed; The Graduate; Risky Business; Breakfast at Tiffany’s; Dance, Fools, Dance; The Party.

  She was born the year Fred Astaire died. Hedda told me that the first time I met Alis. It was at one of the dorm parties the studios sponsor. There’s one every week, ostensibly to show off their latest CG innovations and try to tempt hackate film-school seniors into a life of digitizing and indentured servitude, really so their execs can score some chooch (of which there is never enough) and some popsy (of which there is plenty, all of it in white halter dresses and platinum hair). Hollywood at its finest, which is why I stay away, but this one was being sponsored by ILMGM, and Mayer had promised me he’d be there.

  I’d been doing a paste-up for him, digitizing his studio exec boss’s popsy into a River Phoenix movie. I wanted to give Mayer the opdisk and get paid before the boss found a new face. I’d already done the paste-up twice and fed in the feedback bypasses three times because he’d switched girlfriends, and this last time the new face had insisted on a scene with River Phoenix, which meant I’d had to watch every River Phoenix movie ever made, of which there are a lot—he was one of the first actors copyrighted. I wanted to get the money before Mayer’s boss changed partners again. The money and some AS’s.

  The party was crammed into the dorm lounge, like always—freshies and faces and hackates and hangers-on. The usual suspects. There was a big fibe-op freescreen in the middle of the room. I glanced up at it, hoping to God it wasn’t the new River Phoenix movie, and was surprised to see Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, dancing up a flight of stairs. Fred was wearing tails, and Ginger was in a white dress that flared into black at the hem. I couldn’t hear the music over the party din, but it looked like the Continental.

  I couldn’t see Mayer. There was a guy in an ILMGM baseball cap and a beard—the hackates’ uniform—standing under the freescreen with a remote, holding forth to a couple of CG majors. I scanned the crowd, looking for suits and/or somebody I knew who’d give me some chooch.

  “Hi,” one of the faces said breathily. She had platinum hair, a white halter dress, and a beauty mark, and she was very splatted. Her eyes weren’t focusing at all.

  “Hi,” I said, still scanning the crowd. “And who are you supposed to be? Jean Harlow?”

  “Who?” she said, and I wanted to believe that that was because of whatever AS she was doing, but it probably wasn’t. Ah, Hollywood, where everybody wants to be in the movies and nobody’s ever bothered to watch one.

  “Jeanne Eagles?” I said. “Carole Lombard? Kim Basinger?”

  “No,” she said, trying to focus. “Marilyn Monroe. Are you a studio exec?”

  “Depends. Do you have any chooch?”

  “No,” she said sadly. “All gone.”

  “Then I’m not a studio exec,” I said. I could see an exec, though, over by the stairs, talking to another Marilyn. The Marilyn was wearing a white halter dress just like the one I was talking to had on.

  I’ve never understood why the faces, who have nothing to sell but an original personality, an original face, all try to look like somebody else. But I guess it makes sense. Why should they be different from everybody else in Hollywood, which has always been in love with sequels and imitations and remakes?

  “Are you in the movies?” my Marilyn persisted.

  “Nobody’s in the movies,” I said, and started toward the studio exec through the crush.

  It was harder work than hauling the African Queen through the reeds. I edged my way between a group of faces talking about a rumor that Columbia Tri-Star was hiring warmbodies, and then a couple of geekates in data helmets at some other party altogether, and over to the stairs.

  I couldn’t tell it wasn’t Mayer till I got close enough to hear the exec’s voice—studio execs are as bad as Marilyns. They all look alike. And have the same line.

  “… looking for a face for my new project,” he was saying. The new project was a remake of Back to the Future starring, natch, River Phoenix. “It’s a perfect time to rerelease,” he said, leaning down the Marilyn’s halter top. “They say we’re this close”—he held his thumb and forefinger together, almost touching—“to getting the real thing.”

  “The real thing?” the Marilyn said, in a fair imitation of Marilyn Monroe’s breathy voice. She looked more like her than mine had, though she was a little thick in the waist. But the faces don’t worry about that as much as they used to. A few extra pounds can be didged out. Or in. “You mean time travel?”

  “I mean time travel. Only it won’t be in a DeLorean. It’ll be in a time machine that looks like the skids. We’ve already come up with the graphics. The only thing we don’t have is an actress to play opposite River. The director wanted to go with Michelle Pfeiffer or Lana Turner, but I told him I think we should go with an unknown. Somebody with a new face, somebody special. You interested in being in the movies?”

  I’d heard this line before. In Stage Door. 1937.

  I waded back into the party and over to the freescreen, where the baseball-cap-and-beard was holding forth to some freshies. “… programmed for any shots you want. Dolly shots, split-screens, pans. Say you want a close-up of this guy.” He pointed up at the screen with the remote.

  “Fred Astaire,” I said. “That guy is Fred Astaire.”

  “You punch in ‘close-up’—”

  Fred Astaire’s face filled the screen, smiling.

  “This is ILMGM’s new edit program,” the baseball cap said to me. “It picks angles, combines shots, makes cuts. All you need is a full-length base shot to work from, like this one.” He hit a button on the remote, and a full-length shot of Fred and Ginger replaced Fred’s face. “Full-length shots are hard to come by. I had to go all the way back to the b-and-w’s to find anything long enough, but we’re working on that.”

  He hit another button, and we were treated to a view of Fred’s mouth, and then his hand. “You can do any edit program you want,” Baseball Cap said, watching the screen. Fred’s mouth again, the white carnation in his lapel, his hand. “This one takes the base shot and edits it using the shot sequence of the opening scene from Citizen Kane.”

  A medium-shot of Ginger, and then of the carnation. I wondered which one was supposed to be Rosebud.

  “It’s all preprogrammed,” Baseball Cap said. “You don’t have to do a thing. It does everything.”

  “Does it know where Mayer is?” I asked.

  “He was here,” he said, looking vaguely around, and then back at the screen, where Fred was going through his paces. “It can extrapolate long shots, aerials, two-shots.”

  “Have it extrapolate somebody who knows where Mayer is,” I said, and went back over the side and into the water. The party was getting steadily more crowded. The only ones with any room at all to move were Fred and Ginger, swirling up and down the staircase.

  The exec I’d seen before was in the middle of the room, pitching to the same Marilyn, or a different one. Maybe he knew where Mayer was. I started toward him, and then spotted Hedda in a pink strapless sheath and diamond bracelets. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

  Hedda knows everything, all the news, all the gossip. If anybody knew where Maye
r was, it’d be Hedda. I waded my way over to her, past the exec, who was explaining time travel to the Marilyn. “It’s the same principle as the skids,” he said. “The Casimir effect. The randomized electrons in the walls create a negative-matter region that produces an overlap interval.”

  He must have been a hackate before he morphed into an exec.

  “The Casimir effect lets you overlap space to get from one skids station to another, and the same thing’s theoretically possible for getting from one parallel timefeed to another. I’ve got an opdisk that explains it all,” he said, running his hand down her haltered neck. “How about if we go up to your room and take a look at it?”

  I squeezed past him, hoping I wouldn’t come up covered with leeches, and hauled myself out next to Hedda. “Mayer here?” I asked.

  “Nope,” she said, her platinum head bent over an assortment of cubes and capsules in her pink-gloved hand. “He was here for a few minutes, but he left with one of the freshies. And when the party started there was a guy from Disney nosing around. The word is Disney’s scouting a takeover of ILMGM.”

  Another reason to get paid now. “Did Mayer say if he was coming back?”

  She shook her head, still deep in her study of the pharmacy.

  “Any chooch in there?” I said.

  “I think these are,” she said, handing me two purple-and-white capsules. “A face gave me this stuff, and he told me which was which, but I can’t remember. I’m pretty sure those are the chooch. I took some. I can let you know in a minute.”

  “Great,” I said, wishing I could take them now. Mayer’s leaving with a freshie might mean he was pimping again, which meant another paste-up. “What’s the word on Mayer’s boss? His new girlfriend dump him yet?”

  She looked instantly interested. “Not that I know of. Why? Did you hear something?”

  “No.” And if Hedda hadn’t either, it hadn’t happened. So Mayer’d just taken the freshie up to her dorm room for a quick pop or a quicker line or two of flake, and he’d be back in a few minutes, and I might actually get paid.