In the dream, I was watching a movie — dreams can be so strange! — and in that movie, some characters were looking at a photograph, remarking about how the girl portrayed in it was strangely unattractive, but in a way you couldn’t quite put your finger on.
Cut to reverse angle detail shot of the photo. The girl has one eye in the centre of her forehead.
I immediately sussed that this dream-film was not a FIRST-CLASS PRODUCTION. The writer had tried to specify something precise about a character, and the director had thought, “That’s too subtle, the MASS AUDIENCE will never understand — what she needs is some big obvious flaw so everybody can agree she’s not attractive.”
I suppose it’s the dream-version of what my friend David Brown calls “the false good idea.” Mr. Brown has just turned down five weeks worth of pick-ups on the new Paul Greengrass film, perhaps fearing that Greengrass’s action movie career is itself a false good idea. (FIVE WEEKS of pick-ups! Edgar Ulmer would make you five whole features in that time, and only four of them would be terrible.)
Funnily enough, I know where the dream came from. When Steven McNicoll was visiting us last week I told him about an unfortunate moment in the TV version of King Lear starring Orson Welles. It’s the reconciliation scene, possibly the most moving moment in Shakespeare. Welles, wearing an unfortunate disguise that makes him look like Krankor, has to suggest that Cordelia must hate him, since his other daughters do. “They have no cause, you have some.” What comes out is “They have some cause…” pause, as realisation comes over Welles of the enormity of his flub. No choice but to finish the sentence, even though it makes no sense, and pray that the audience isn’t paying attention: “You have none.”
But Steven had a MUCH better story, which he’d heard from another thesp, Paul Morrow. An actor, unnamed, has to rhapsodise about his love. “That golden hair, those eyes!” But what comes out is “Those golden hairs -” the poor thesp falters, aware that to carry on is madness, but seeing no alternative, he finishes what he has begun: “Those golden hairs… that eye!”
The sickly expression coming over his face is that of an actor who realises he’s made a career-defining howler, but to the audience it actually seems as if he is PICTURING THAT HORROR.