In the last two issues of Scene4 I presented scenes of my screenplay, THE GODDESS IN EXILE, a fictionalized account of the brief life of Cuban artist Ana Mendieta that deals with themes of wife murder, the natural versus the man-made world and the mythic feminine. Ana Mendieta’s death at age 36 became a scandal that rocked the art world at its zenith making headlines. My screenplay adapts the story of her alleged murder by her husband, prominent conceptual artist Carl Andre, who was acquitted by a judge without a jury and explores the premise ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’. The action takes place in the vivid milieu of the New York City art scene in the 1970's-80's, capturing the excitement of the avant-garde intelligentsia with character vignettes from the highest echelons of American artists and art world doyennes. Elvira’s work evolves from terra cotta sculptures of
female figures in allegorical relationship to their spiritual growth to a portrayal of the divine feminine on-site in natural settings. Her work is the antithesis of Hans’ art that fills empty space with geometric configurations.
In the first scenes Joanne, Elvira’s best friend, visits her studio a week after her death and moistens the rags protecting her terra cotta sculptures. When Joanne looks at the roof below the studio’s window she imagines Elvira’s body covered in a white sheet after she was pushed by her husband out the window. The camera zooms to her hand that comes alive as Elvira digging clay from a mountain near her home in Huancayo, Peru. Elvira skips down the Andes foothills to visit her maid Maria, who became her surrogate mother and she kisses the scars Maria’s husbands afflicted. When she travels with her father, Dr. Olmos, through the mountain villages she witnesses poverty and disease.
In these scenes Elvira, now 18, has matured as a sculptor and her father encourages her to pursue her dream of becoming an artist and move from Peru to New York City. When she arrives, her introduction to city life begins in the early 1970’s on the rough streets of Lower East Side when Mike, a Hells Angel biker, takes her on a tour. Her initiation into sex begins when her Russian landlord demands a blowjob to lower the rent and she becomes Mike’s girlfriend. Elvira trades her earthy life in the high Andes for the concrete canyons of New York City.
THE GODDESS IN EXILE
When The CAMERA ZOOMS back, we see ELVIRA, now 18, molding the figure of virgin Mary with out stretched arms with her hands in the kitchen. Her father is seated nearby at the kitchen table reading. He stops reading, pulling his glasses off.
What do you want to do with your life?
Become a great artist.
Everyday after college you leave your books on the table and instead of learning what will give you a future, you shape the clay into women's bodies. There are enough real ones in the world.
CLOSE on the sculpture.
ELVIRA (voice over)
You may see them, but in the realm of ideas that run the world, they are invisible.
ELVIRA leaves her work to sit at the table and confront her father.
I truly want to be an artist. My teacher showed me magazines - art journals from the great New York City. He said I have talent. Our country is not the best place for me now. One day my work will make a difference.
I will be lonely without you, my little bird, but I would never stop you from becoming what you desire. But why?
INT. ART STUDIO, PERU – DAY
ELVIRA is in a drawing class with other Peruvian students looking at an empty model stand. The students are impatient waiting for the model to show up. ELVIRA gets off her seat, goes to the stand, takes off her clothes and poses.
CLOSE SHOT of her nude pose.
ELVIRA (voice over)
Because life without vision is not enough. Children die, women are hurt by their husbands. In art we can be human. We can search for an ideal.
EXT. AIRPORT PERU - DAY
At a major airport in Peru, DR. OLMOS hugs ELVIRA goodbye before she boards a jet to New York. He hands her a wallet.
Here is $1,000. All I can give. If you need to come home, I will send you a ticket.
EXT. ATLANTIC OCEAN - AERIAL SHOTS - DAY
ELVIRA'S plane transverses the great green South American continent and makes its way over the ocean to New York.
ELVIRA'S (voice over)
When I left Peru, I knew a big adventure was waiting for me. I was afraid but my vision of myself as an artist gave me faith.
EXT. JFK TERMINAL, NYC - FALL DAY
ELVIRA has arrived at JFK airport. She stands alone at a taxi terminal looking bewildered at her new surroundings; an array of modern buildings and noisy traffic. A taxi stops and the driver offers her a ride. The DRIVER takes her two beat up suitcases, puts them in a trunk and holds the door for her to enter.
INT. TAXI, JFK TERMINAL, NYC - FALL DAY
ELVIRA sits in the back seat.
Where to Señora?
Wherever is cheap to live in Manhattan.
What do you do?
I'm an artist.
That's the Lower East Side.
AERIAL SHOTS OF TAXI NYC - FALL DAY
The taxi leaves JFK and heads for Manhattan. As the Aerial view rises, we see the taxi thread its way through a labyrinth of city streets and buildings.
EXT. EAST 4TH STREET, NYC - FALL DAY
ELVIRA gets out of the taxi. The driver takes her two bags out of the trunk. ELVIRA pays him. With her luggage, colorful poncho and long braid, ELVIRA looks conspicuous and when she walks down the street, heads turn. She walks towards a group of Hells Angels hanging out on 4th Street with their bikes. ELVIRA is stunned at the Bikers appearance and stops to stare.
What you looking at, spic bitch?
CLOSE on bikers. POV ELVIRA we study their tattoos, leather paraphernalia, beards and head gear. ELVIRA laughs and MIKE [a paunchy dark haired biker] offers her his beer. ELVIRA takes a swig.
This is my first time in the grand America.
Well, how'd you like to go on La Grand Tour?
MIKE motions for ELVIRA to hop on his bike. Another biker takes her bags and she mounts the shiny Harley Davidson.
EXT. MOVING SHOTS NYC - FALL DAY
As MIKE bikes around the city, ELVIRA's long braid swings in the wind. They go down FDR Drive around the Battery and up through Central Park.
EXT. AERIAL SHOTS - CENTRAL PARK, NYC - FALL DAY
As the Bike roars across 68th Street, Central Park appears as a giant autumn envelope in contrast to the stark hard edge skyscrapers.
SOUND of the bikes engine as ELVIRA laughs like a small girl.
EXT. EAST 4TH STREET, NYC - FALL DAY
MIKE stops his bike in front of his hang out and ELVIRA gets off. She shakes his hand to thank him, takes her bags and walks east.
EXT. NYC TENEMENT - EARLY FALL EVENING
VAL, a slender Russian man, sits on the stoop smoking. Behind him is a sign "APARTMENT FOR RENT."
Come with me. I'm Val. I'm the owner and super.
ELVIRA follows him up the stoop and into the building.
INT. STAIRS, NYC TENEMENT - EVENING
VAL leads her up three flights of rickety stairs with banisters, his keys jangling. At the top of the stairs he opens an apartment door.
The apartment’s on the third floor. The bathroom's in the hall.
INT. TENEMENT, NYC VACANT APT. - EVENING
ELVIRA views the small apartment with one room. The main room has a bathtub, refrigerator, stove and small window that looks out at the tenement next door.
VAL opens and shuts the refrigerator and turns on and off the gas stove.
$250 a month.
That's too much. $200.
OK, for you once a month. But for me, once a week.
VAL points to his groin and starts to unzip his fly.
CLOSE SHOT of ELVIRA's face, her eyes widening. VAL takes her head violently pushing her mouth onto him. After it is over, ELVIRA's eyes tear and VAL hands her a handkerchief. ELVIRA goes to her pocketbook and takes out $200 in $50 dollar bills and hands them to VAL.
You're good. Make it $150
VAL takes three keys from his key ring and hands them to ELVIRA along with her $50 bill.
Top lock - Bottom lock - Bathroom
After VAL leaves, ELVIRA's eyes tear as she opens one suitcase and takes out her large leather bound diary. She takes out a small sculpture bond in cloth and unwraps it to reveal Mary holding the shroud. She holds it close to her chest to protect herself and lies on her diary as a pillow on the floor.
CLOSE shot of the small window as the sky darkens and it begins to rain.
MONTAGE OF MOVING SHOTS - LOWER EAST SIDE - LATE FALL DAY
In order to fix up her apartment, ELVIRA finds a bed, large wood telephone spindle table and two tree trunk chairs on the streets and empty lots of the Lower East Side.
INT. ELVIRA'S APT., NYC TENEMENT - DAY
ELVIRA sets up a sculpture stand and sculpts a wood piece she has collected. She paints her walls light turquoise and baize, builds shelves from bricks and wood and displays her work.
EXT. STREET, LOWER EAST SIDE, NYC - WINTER DAY
ELVIRA and MIKE find an old phonograph and records on the street.
INT. ELVIRA'S APT, NYC TENEMENT - DAY
After plugging in the phonograph, ELVIRA puts on a Rock n'Roll records. She and MIKE dance. They land on her bed and start to make love.
INT. ELVIRA'S APT, NYC TENEMENT - MORNING
ELVIRA opens her refrigerator filled with eggs, peppers and onions and makes coffee and omelets. MIKE wakes up in her bed.
Is this your fist time?
Then you are an Honorary Hells Angel. What do you want from an old biker like me? You're hot stuff.
Nada. You're my angel.
Why not find some fancy art type who will bring you up in the world – get married - get a green card.
Where do I find this man?
I've got a buddy who owns a gallery on West 10th street. Need a job?
Sure, I'm tired of eating omelets.
ELVIRA opens the refrigerator and studies it. She sits on the bed and leans towards MIKE.
Ever been to a museum?
MIKE rolls his eyes.
EXT. MONTAGE OF MOVING SHOTS - NYC - WINTER DAY
MIKE and ELVIRA ride MIKE's bike uptown to tour the museums - The Metropolitan - the Museum of Modern Art - the Whitney.