Many, many centuries ago, when the earth’s climate was very different from what it is today, seasons were reckoned not from solstice to equinox and equinox to solstice, but from days that are halfway between them. This is why the times of the solstices are still called midsummer and midwinter, and why the lunar new year of East Asia, in late January or early February, is said to celebrate the beginning of spring.

Nowadays people have forgotten this reckoning, and springlike weather in February is called unseasonable, even in Los Angeles, where February is the time that most resembles what in the rest of North America, at least above the thirtieth parallel, is known as spring.

February is, in Southern California, the time when all kinds of flowering plants – from tropical succulents to Dutch bulbs – present their most exuberant bloom. It sometimes rains, but when it does not, then the weather is so mild that just about any kind of clothes one wears will feel comfortable. And so people will put on whatever clothes – more for some, less for others – they feel will make them, like the flora around them, look their best.

Just such a variety of clothing could be seen on the long line of people that, on a sunny February afternoon, was slowly moving toward the box office of a movie theater on Hollywood Boulevard. The marquee read ALBERT BOSCH’S PALE HORIZON. Among the people were a couple – in late youth or early middle age, depending on the observer’s point of view – composed of a buxom blonde wearing stiletto heels and a tight-fitting bright green dress, the hem just above the knees, with a brown jacket over it, unbuttoned just enough to show a not-too-subtle hint of cleavage, and a dark-haired, somewhat tanned man in a white turtleneck shirt and navy-blue slacks. Behind the couple could be seen a glass case containing a poster for The Sins of the World, surmounted by an angled sticker reading BEST FOREIGN PICTURE NOMINEE.

People who watch subtitled movies and don’t understand the language of the dialogue, or not much of it, have varying ways of relating to the subtitles. Some focus most of their attention on the action on the screen, and divert it to the subtitles only when absolutely necessary to understand what is going on. Others read the subtitles as though reading a book in which the screen images are mere illustrations. It would seem natural that a producer, accustomed to thinking in terms of action sequences, would belong to the first group, and an actor or actress, in the habit of learning lines, to the second. So it was with the couple under observation. By the time Pale Horizon had rolled to its final sequence, an interior shot of a couple walking away from a pale predawn horizon and talking to each other while facing the camera, the man had thoroughly succumbed to an intense tedium while the woman was trying to make sense of subtitles that read

I shall never forget that pale horizon.

It was the beginning of the world.


By the time they walked back toward the garage the afternoon had turned into a neon-lit evening. They did not glance across the street, where another movie theater, of the type quaintly known as “adult,” bore a marquee reading GINA GEORGE / IN / THOSE HOLLYWOOD HILLS. And yet the poster outside the theater, bearing a sticker saying COMING SOON, showed, below the words Barry Bergman presents / Gina George and above the title Young Wives’ Tales, a barely-dressed image of the very same blonde who was now ignoring it.

“I’d love to be in a movie like that,” she was saying.

“You would?” said her companion, in a surprised tone, as they entered the garage. “You?”

“Yes, me. Why? Do you think it’s too subtle for me? Do you think the sex is too sensitive? You don’t think I can do it?”

“I know you can do it, sweetheart, and I’m looking forward to you doing it tonight...”

She interrupted him with a mock-slap, unable to suppress a smile. As they approached a white Mercedes convertible, he pointed at it and continued,

“... But it’s not exactly sensitive sex that got you this.” He moved to the passenger door and waited for her to unlock it with her remote key, which she delayed doing until she felt composed enough to flash him a movie-star smile. Then they went out, Gina driving, for the short ride up into the Hollywood Hills.

A few hours later, on a cold, icy morning in Western Europe, a small sports car could be seen coming down a winding mountain road, past a waterfall and a slate-roofed village with a Romanesque church tower, with majestic snow-capped peaks in the background. This car was also driven by a woman with a man in the passenger seat. Pointing at the scenery, she said, with an educated London accent,

“You mean you would give this up?”

“They have mountains in California too,” he replied, his accent that of a continental European, “and they say that you can go skiing an hour away from Los Angeles. And they have palm trees, and the sea...”

“Well, I certainly won’t,” she said. “I can’t suddenly start painting surfers.”

“Look at what-is-his-name,” he said after a pause. “Hockney.”

“I’m not Hockney,” she said. “I respect what he does, but it ain’t me, babe.”

“I should hope not,” he said, smiling. “He ain’t my type.”

They had come out of the mountains. The road was now level and its bends were gentle. She was driving at 120 kilometers an hour. They were silent for a long while.

“I’ll wait for you to come back,” she suddenly said when she saw the airport exit sign.

“What if I don’t, Margaret?” he asked.

“I shan’t wait forever, Albert.”

The next morning in the Hollywood Hills, with the sun already warm, Gina George could be seen coming out of the swimming pool behind Barry Bergman’s house, wearing a bikini revealing even more of her body than shown on the poster on Hollywood Boulevard. The only person that she could be so seen by, however, was Barry Bergman, and he, wearing shorts and sitting in a lounge chair on the deck, was absorbed in alternately sipping a drink and reading Daily Variety. When he heard her flip-flopped footsteps approaching her, he said without looking up,

“Guess who’s coming to Hollywood?”

“Give me a hint,” she said.

“Mr. Sensitive.”

“I don’t know any of those,” she said as she placed her hand on his back. He set down his drink and put his free hand on hers.

“Albert Bosch,” he said.

“For the Oscars?”

“Yes, but also to deal – he’s supposed to direct Back Roads.

“Has it been cast?”

“It doesn’t say.”

Gina pulled away and sat in a lounge chair facing Barry’s, forcing him to look at her. His gaze moved rhythmically between her breasts and her blue eyes.

“Get me an audition,” she demanded.

“You’re kidding,” he said softly as his eyes fixed on hers. “That” – he paused – “is not what you do.”

“Barry, I said, get me an audition.” She rose to approach him again.

“Sweetheart, you might be forgetting something.” His eyes followed her movement. “I’m not your agent. I’m your producer.”

“Then fuckin’ produce something for me, besides excuses! What do you mean, ‘that’s not what I do’? I’m tired of what I do.”

“You are? What are you tired of? The hot steamy sex?”

“Yeah, that kind.” She knelt beside him and put her hands on his nearer leg. “You know I don’t get tired of the real kind.” Her hands began to move along his leg, one down the calf and the other up the thigh. He took her hands in his and they began to walk toward the house.

After changing planes in Paris, Albert Bosch spent most of the flight to Los Angeles trying to read the script of Back Roads that had been shipped to him by Federal Express several weeks before but that he had not done more than glance at. It was not, of course, a full shooting script but a thirty-page “treatment,” as the Hollywood people had called it.

Since becoming established as a filmmaker, after some youthful experiments that included filming a novel that had sold a total of two hundred fifty copies, he had not directed another writer’s screenplay. He had, instead, followed his idiosyncratic method of starting with the barest outline of a story – based on an idea that would come to him from he knew not where, perhaps an unremembered dream – and writing the screenplay in the course of filming. He often let the actors – not only the leads but, especially, the secondary ones – write their own lines, though not improvise. This method and its results had made him famous but not rich. In spite of several festival awards, every new project would entail a struggle for financing that would leave him exhausted, and he was grateful for the opportunity that his relationship with Margaret, now three years old, gave him to recover his strength in her house in the mountains.

He had never been much interested in Hollywood, but the Academy Award nomination for The Sins of the World made Hollywood suddenly interested in him. It was obvious that the script of Back Roads, though not written for him, had been modified by someone who had taken a crash course in his œuvre. It seemed to have been conceived as a kind of postmodern film noir, a genre that he despised and that his films, to his great annoyance, had sometimes been compared to. (At press conferences he would sometimes say, “Call it film rouge, film bleu – anything but noir.”) But on every second or third page of the Back Roads script he could find a verbal exchange, a shot indication, a cut that seemed to have been lifted from an Albert Bosch film.

He was tired. He and Margaret had not slept much the night before, and on the westbound flight time seemed to be standing still. The only films available to watch were Hollywood mass productions. Even the food served in the first-class cabin seemed flat, more like something he had to eat to stave off hunger than a pleasure. He feared that the Back Roads project might be like that.

Gina George left Barry Bergman’s house shortly before noon, and came back mid-afternoon. The moment he saw her walk in, he knew what had happened. He could visualize the two lead producers for the Back Roads project, whom he knew well – one an older and the other a younger man – at lunch in a Beverly Hills restaurant, with the younger one saying, “You know who wants to audition for Back Roads? Gina George!” And the older one responding “She sure has the tits for it.” The younger guy would then say “And the ass too, but what kind of image would that be – Albert Bosch’s first Hollywood film, with a porno queen?” And the older one: “I guess we’ll tell her it’s already been cast.”

She could also tell that he already knew.

“So they don’t want me,” she began. “Shit, Barry, maybe Back Roads wasn’t it, but I want to go legit.”

“Sounds like a line out of Guys and Dolls,” he said.

“Fuck you, Barry! I’m an actress, but not to you...”

“Sure you are, honey, to me you’re a great actress, but a certain type. A lot of the others can’t do what you do, and I daresay you’ve done pretty well – maybe not entirely without my help...”

“Well,” she interrupted him furiously, “maybe that’s what you think, but people can change, and I want to change, and if you don’t want to help, then fuck off!” And she began to walk toward the door.

“My, my, such language,” he said. She stopped in her tracks, picked up a brass ashtray that had been sitting, spotlessly clean – Barry and his cronies had long since given up smoking – on a teak stand near the door, and threw it wildly in his general direction. He did not need to duck, and it landed harmlessly on the sofa.

In the limousine that took them from Los Angeles International Airport to the Beverly Hilton Hotel, an obviously tired Albert Bosch gamely tried to keep up with the chitchat proffered by the two producers whom Barry Bergman had earlier imagined. Living with Margaret had made his English quite fluent, and he was acquainted with Hollywood lingo from film festivals, but his jet-lagged mind now found it hard to respond, especially since the subject of Back Roads had not come up in the conversation – at the moment it seemed to be mostly about various experiences in going through customs. At some point the producers became aware of their guest’s fatigue, and silence took over. It was then that thoughts of Margaret infiltrated his mind.

“May I use the car phone?” he asked.

“Uhh... here, use my cell phone,” the younger producer said. Albert was about to ask “What?” when he remembered reading that this was what Americans called wireless mobile telephones, a new invention that he had not used yet.

“May I call Europe with it?”

“Sure. Just dial 011, then the country code, and then the rest of it.”

Halfway through the dialing – or, rather, key punching – Albert Bosch stopped. “It’s now the middle of the night there,” he said. “I think I will call later, when it’s morning there.”

Margaret liked to begin painting when the morning’s first light came through the windows that she had put into the barn when she had it made into her studio, along with a fireplace, electricity and a telephone line. She would feel guilty about her early rising when Albert was staying with her, since he liked to stay in bed until mid-morning, but the guilt feeling did not stop her routine. With Albert away, as he was much of the time, she felt relief from the guilt, and she thought that the change in feeling might be reflected in a changed painting style, though she could not consciously specify the difference. And this morning was no exception. She found herself reaching for colors that she might not have used the day before; well, not the day before, since that was when she drove Albert to the airport, but the one before that.

The phone rang. She picked up the receiver with her left hand; her right hand did not stop painting. Nor did she say “Hello.” This was a routine.

“I miss you too,” she said.

“It’s coming along fine,” she said.

“Yes, I shall,” she said. She hung up, briefly stopped painting to look at the mountain peaks through her window, and resumed her work with no change in expression.

Albert Bosch had a difficult time getting to sleep. Several times he got up and turned on the television, but the quality and the variety of the programming, seemingly half of it in Spanish – are these channels from Mexico? he wondered – bewildered him. But when he finally fell asleep, he slept until ten o’clock, and when he woke up he felt that he was on his natural schedule. He found this realization to be an encouraging sign. He saw that an orange light on his telephone was flashing, indicating a message. Of course: the producers, probably to set up a lunch meeting. He smiled inwardly at the thought that he would actually be participating in one of those famous Hollywood lunches.

He felt hungry, but decided that a croissant and coffee – was that what Americans called a “continental breakfast”? he wondered – would tide him over until lunch.

Lunch was in the hotel’s restaurant. The producers were joined by a screenwriter – not the author of the original script, Albert Bosch found out, but the one who was adapting it into an Albert Bosch film.

The food, Albert Bosch had to admit to himself, was much better than what had been served in first class on a European airline.

“As I told you,” he was saying, “I have never directed someone else’s script before.”

“We knew that,” the younger producer said. “It’s just an adjustment. You can pretend it’s yours. Make all the changes you need – it’s in your contract. Look, Paul Verhoeven did it, and Wolfgang Petersen, and Bille August...”

“And you can go way back,” the older producer added. “Wilder, Preminger, Renoir – this town wouldn’t be what it is without you guys from Europe.”

“What about casting?” Bosch asked after a sip of his beer.

“Well,” said the younger producer, “that’s a sensitive issue. Of course we know that over there you’re free to cast who you want. Here, we have to please the money guys.”

“Don’t worry, Al,” the older producer said, “there’s plenty of interest. There’s even this, uh, erotic star named Gina George who was interested, believe it or not.” He guffawed.

“Will she be in it?” Bosch asked with a smile.

“Are you kidding?” the older producer said with another guffaw. “No, we’ll get you a classy cast.”

“We figure that except for the leads,” the screenwriter said, “you can hire some of your European people, if they want to work here. In fact, some of them already have, like...”

“I know,” said Bosch. “But I cannot prepare the script, as you call it, without specific actors in mind. That is how I work.”

“We’ll let you know who the likeliest prospects for the leads are,” said the younger producer. “They’re not over-the-title stars, but they’re bankable, and if you don’t know them, we’ll give you videos of their work. You can then start writing with them in mind, and if any of them don’t work out, you’ll just change it as needed.”

“And I’ll be there to help you,” the screenwriter said. “You can call on me any time, night and day. It will be a privilege,” he added as though to avert any protest on Bosch’s part.

“We got no time to waste,” were the older producer’s parting words. And so by late afternoon Albert Bosch was sitting at the desk of his hotel room, rewriting the screenplay. The easy part was crossing out most of the “Albert Bosch” touches that the screenwriter had put in, though there were two or three that he thought were clever.

In his twenties he had supported himself for a couple of years as a substitute teacher of English literature in a secondary school, and rewriting someone else’s already rewritten screenplay reminded him of correcting the pretentious essays of adolescents.

Through the window he saw the hotel’s swimming pool. It was empty; it was, after all, only February. He thought of the view he might have had through the windows of Margaret’s house.

He picked up the telephone and mindlessly began to punch keys. He stopped when he realized that he had forgotten the 011, and began all over.

The bedside phone rang numerous times before the sound moved from Margaret’s dream into her consciousness. When she finally picked up the receiver and drowsily said “Hello?” there was no voice on the other line.

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