Filmmaker Mike Leigh's biography of the landscape painter J.M.W. Turner is what critics call "austere"—which means it's slow and grim and deliberately hard to love—yet…
MALIBU, 1970 -- The door flew open from inside, revealing Lee Marvin in a torrid embrace, bent over Michelle Triola, a fond hand on her rump. "Love!" he said. "It's all love in this house. Nothing but love. All you need is love . . ."
Michelle smiled as if to say, well....
"What's this?" Marvin cried. He snatched the Los Angeles Times from his doormat and threw it at the front gate. LaBoo went careening after it, barking crazily.
"You bring that paper back here and I'll kill you," Marvin told LaBoo. He snarled at LaBoo and walked down the hallway and into the living room. LaBoo charged past him and jumped onto a chair. "LaBoo, you son of a bitch, I'm gonna kill you," Marvin said.
"Hello, LaBoo," Michelle said tenderly.
LaBoo wagged his tail.
"I need a beer," Marvin said. "Who's gonna get me a beer? I'mgonna get me a beer? I feellike a beer. Hell, I need a beer. Where are my glasses?" He peered around him. "Ever read this book? I got it for Christmas or some goddamn thing. A history of the West. Look here. All these cowboys are wearing chaps. Workingmen, see. Look here Bronco Billy dressed up in the East's conception of the Western hero. See. From a dime novel. That's how authentic a Western we made when we made ‘Monte Walsh.’ Where's that beer? That author, he knows what it was really like. Get me a beer."
"Finish your coffee," Michelle said.
"I said get me a beer."
Marvin paged through the book of Western lore, stopping to inspect an occasional page. When he stopped, he would pause for a moment and then whistle, moving on. Then silence. Only the pages turning. Now and again, a whistle.
"Where's that fucking beer, baby?" He dropped the book on the rug. "Look, if I want to develop an image, I'll do it my own fucking way."
Michelle went into the kitchen to get a beer.
"Anne...she seemed to be a nice girl" Marvin said "This was when I was in London for the Royal Command Performance of ‘Paint Your Wagon.’ Nice enough girl, Anne. Lord somebody or other kept pounding me on the back. I told him I'd already made other arrangements." Marvin whistled. "He kept poking me Lord somebody or other, never did catch his name. I advised him to fuck off." A pause. A whistle. "If that's swinging, I'll bring them back to Malibu Maybe to commit suicide...."
A record, ‘Victory at Sea,’ dropped on the stereo changer. "’Victory at Sea’," Marvin said "Well, thousands of ships went under, right? Tells you something."
Michelle returned with a bottle of Heineken. Marvin drank from the bottle, a long, deep drink, and then he smiled at her. "You gonna take off your clothes and jump on him now? Or later?" He smiled again. "Michelle, she's a good sport."
"Lee!" Michelle said.
"Where the hell are my glasses?" Marvin said. He took another drink from the bottle and looked on the floor around his chair.
"He took the lenses out of his glasses," Michelle said. "Last night. He said he didn't want to read any more scripts."
"Not another single goddamned script," Marvin said.
"So he took the lenses out of his glasses."
"I want simply to be the real Lee. The realLee. The real Kirk Lee."
You left the real Lee in London."
"Now I'm Kirk Lee. Not Lee Lee. Kirk Lee. I flew back from London with Sir Cary. I told him, I said, ‘Sir Cary, that's a nice watch you have’." Marvin pointed his finger like a gun and made a noise that began with a whistle and ended with a pop. "’A real nice watch, Sir Cary,’ I said." Whistle-pop. On the pop, his thumb came down.
"Cary has the same watch you have," Michelle said.
"No," Marvin said, " he has the same watch I have. If I saw his watch in a photograph, I could identify it anywhere. But, who gives a shit?"
Whistle-pop. "Going back to the old neighborhood. This was London. What was it? Bulgaria? No, Belgravia.Well it was only seven-thirty in the morning. Don't you want to stay up and watch the junkies jet in?"Whistle. "Fuck you, pal, I'm getting some sleep."
A moment's silence for symbolic sleep Marvin closed his eyes and threw his head back against his chair. There was a door at the other end of the living room, opening onto a porch that overlooked the beach. Through the door you could hear the waves hitting the beach, crush, crush,and at this moment, while Marvin pretended to sleep, the morning resolved itself as a melancholy foggy Saturday.
"Have another anchovy, sweetheart," Marvin said, rousing himself at last. He drained the Heineken. "I love them," Michelle said.
"She's been eating nothing but anchovies for the past day and a half," Marvin said. "You know why you like anchovies so much all of a sudden? You're knocked up. You're gonna have a little Lee Marvin."
"Lee!" Michelle said. "You can't say that."
"Why not?" he said. "Put it down: Michelle's knocked up. If you make it good enough, they'll never print it. And if they do print it, and come around and ask me, Did you really say that? I'll say, Sure, I said it.I need another beer."
Michelle got up and went into the kitchen.
"She's not really knocked up," Marvin said.
He threw a leg over the arm of the chair. "I got a haircut before I went to London," he said. "I mean, it got a little ridiculous there after a while. I didn't get my hair cut for two movies, and it got a little long. I'm going back to a...not a crew cut. Back to, oh, about a Presbyterian length. I'm tired of all this horseshit about hair." Marvin sighed, got up, and walked out to the porch. The air was heavy with fog.
"That goddamn buoy," he said. Just down from his stretch of beach, a buoy stood in the sand. "It floated in one morning and they stuck it up there. It's on their property. Christ, I hate the sight of it, but I can't do anything about it. It looks like a phallic symbol. Hell, it isa phallic symbol. You get up in the morning and come out here and there's that goddamn buoy staring you in the face."
He yawned. Down on the beach, a setter ran howling at a flock of birds. There was a chill this Saturday morning, and sounds were curiously muffled. Marvin peered out to sea. "Is that Jennifer Jones coming in on the surf?" he said "No? Good."
Michelle came up behind him with a Heineken. "Thanks, sweetheart." He walked back into the living room and sat down. "What was that we saw? ‘Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice’? What a piece of shit that was. Good performances, but what a piece of shit."
"I loved it," Michelle said.
"You go for all that touch-me-feel-me bullshit anyway," Marvin said. "Esalen. They take your money and teach you to put one hand on two nipples. Big fucking deal, baby."
"It's about love,” Michelle said. "It's looking at people. Look at me with love, Lee."
"Take off your clothes, baby." Whistle. "Who takes the Pill for us now?" Pop! "LaBoo, come in here, you mean black prince." LaBoo came in from the porch and settled down on the rug with resignation and a sigh. "And still she wants to marry me," Marvin said. "It used to be, we'd check into a hotel, it was Mr. Marvin and Miss Triola. So she changed her name to Marvin, to save all that embarrassment. Now it's Mr. Marvin and Miss Marvin...."
He yawned and took a pull of Heineken. Michelle excused herself and wandered down the hallway. Silence. The waves. "I never did read that interview in Playboy," Marvin said. "I read excerpts. It was all a lot of shit. They sent some guy to interview me. I sucked him in so bad. I even gave him the garbage-man story. How do you feel about violence in films, he says. I'll throw you the fuck out of here if you ask me that again, I say."
Michelle wandered back into the room. 'You took some pills?" Marvin said. "How many did you take? Should I call the doctor?"
Michelle smiled. LaBoo, on the carpet, sighed deeply.
"LaBoo," Michelle said, "you're supposed to stand around and pose in a movie star's home. That's what a poodle is for."
"He stands around and shits, that's what kind of star I am," Marvin said. "It's not everybody gets a Jap lighter from Hugh Hefner. Gee, thanks, Hef.” Whistle. Pop. "Well, the royal family seemed to like the movie, anyway. Lord somebody said he liked Jean Seberg. That was something."
"Jean has good insides."
"I said Jean Seberg has good insides," Michelle said.
"Jesus Christ, I'm living with a dyke!" Marvin said. Whistle! Pop! "My ex-wife had something about Playboy when I read it"
"Playboy exploits women," Michelle said. "Women's liberation is against Playboy."
"Against Playboy?" Marvin said. "Whyever more?"
"It exploits women," Michelle said. "It presents women as sex objects."
"Why not?" Marvin said. "Take a snatch away from a broad and what's she got left?" Marvin spread his legs and breathed deeply." Oh me oh my, why must I be a sex symbol? Why won't they let me act?”
LaBoo snorted in his sleep, waking himself. He stood up, made a circle, lay down again and closed his eyes.
The telephone rang. LaBoo growled with his eyes closed. Michelle went to answer it.
"Who's calling?" Marvin said.
"Tell him nothing for you today, Meyer, but call back tomorrow." Marvin finished his Heineken, turned it upside down, watched a single drop fall out. "My agent," he said. "He keeps wanting to know if I've read any more scripts. Fuck scripts. You spend the first forty years of your life trying to get in this fucking business, and the next forty years trying to get out. And then when you're making the bread, who needs it?
"Newman has it all worked out. I get a million. He gets a million two, but that includes $200,000 expenses. So, if that's the game..." Marvin shrugged. "I never talked to Newman in my life. No, I talked to him on Park Avenue once. Only to give him a piece of advice. This fifteen-year-old girl wanted his autograph. He told her he didn't give autographs, but he'd buy her a beer. Paul, I said, She's only fifteen. I don't give a shit, he said."
Marvin whistled. "I think it shows," he said. "With Newman, it shows. Cut to an old broad in Miami Beach looking at his picture in Life magazine. A Gary Cooper he ain't."
Marvin took another beer from Michelle. "I'm waiting for some young guy to come along and knock me off so I can go to the old actor's home and talk about how great we were in nineteen-you-know. Am I waiting for him? I'd hire guys to knock him off. Something the other day really brought it home...."
He rummaged in a stack of magazines and papers next to his chair.
"I lost it."
Michelle held up a book.
"No," he said, "the other one. Yeah, here it is. The United States Marine Corps in World War II. Wake Island. Let's see." He produced a pair of glasses and put them on. "This cat in command. Let's see here...." He paged through the book, looking for something. "This cat -- yeah, here it is. He was defending the island. When the brass asked the defender of the island if there was anything to be done for them, the cat wired back. Yes. Send us more Japs.”
Marvin whistled and squinted down at the page in wonder.
“Send us more Japs. Well, Japs were the last thing we needed at the time. Cut to John Wayne: Yes, send us more Japs! The bitch of it is, not until years later did it come out that it's the decoder's job to pad messages at the beginning and the end. So all the world was applauding this bastard's nerve, and what the world took as a gesture of defiant heroism was merely padding."
Marvin got up and went into the kitchen "Something good about Duke, I gotta admit," he called back over his shoulder. "When he's on, he's on. Send us more Japs."
There was a rattle of bottles from the kitchen. "You stole all the beer! Michelle? You drank it all?"
"We're out," Michelle said.
"Make the call," Marvin said, coming back into the living room.
"It'll take them two hours to get here," Michelle said.
"Make the call. Make the call, or I may have to switch to the big stuff."
"I have other plans for you this afternoon."
"No -- not that!" Marvin fell back in his chair. "Anything but that!" Horrified.
"It's such a foggy, gray old day," Michelle said. "We ought to just sit in front of the fire and drink Pernod I like foggy, gray days...."
"Can the dog drink Pernod?" Marvin asked. "Now why the hell did I ask that? The dog gets no Pernod in this house." He stood up and looked through the window at the surf, his hands in his pockets. "I mean she really could have hurt herself, Jennifer. Came floating in on a wave...What's the number of the liquor store, honey?"
"Oh, nine four six six something. Youought to know."
Marvin went into the kitchen to make the call. "Yeah, hi. Listen, this is Lee Marvin down at 21404." Pause. "Heh, heh. You did, huh? Yeah, well this is me again." Pause. "Heh, heh. Yeah, pal, get anything cold down here. Beer. Yeah. What? Whaddaya mean, light or dark? The green one" He hung up.
"Didn't you order any anchovies?" Michelle said. "It goes back to my Sicilian grandmother."
Another record dropped on the turntable: faint, ghostly harp music. Marvin whirled wildly, looking up into the shadows of the far corners of the room. "Jesus, mother," he said, "will you please stay out of the room? I asked you to come only at night." He hit the reject button. "I studied violin when I was very young," he said. "You think I'm a dummy, right? I'm only in dummies. ‘The Dirty Dozen’ was a dummy moneymaker, and baby, if you want a moneymaker, get a dummy."
By now he was rummaging around in the bedroom.
"Lee," Michelle said, "you're not going to put it on and parade around in it again? Are you?"
"Where is it?" Marvin said.
"I think it's in your second drawer," Michelle said "His cap and gown. He got an honorary degree."
Marvin came out of the bedroom with a pair of binoculars. "Look what I found," he said. He went out on the porch and peered into the mist at a thin line of birds floating beyond the surf. "What are they? Coots, or...are they ducks?"
Marvin's son, Chris, walked into the living room. "Hi, Chris," Marvin said. "Are these coots, or...ducks?" Chris went out onto the porch and had a look through the binoculars "Hard to say," Chris said. He put a leash on LaBoo and took him down to the beach for a walk. Marvin fell back into his chair. The grayness of the day settled down again. On the stereo, Johnny Cash was singing “Greensleeves." The beautiful music of "Greensleeves."
"Do you realize," Marvin said, "that he gets three million a year for singing that shit? I walk the line, I keep my eyes wide open all the time. I met him in Nashville. He said, You haven't heard my other stuff? No, I said, I haven't. He sent us his complete twenty-seven fucking albums. Jesus, Johnny, I like your stuff, but for Christ's sake..."
Marvin got down on his knees and pulled twenty-seven Johnny Cash albums off a shelf.
"He's embarrassed," Marvin said, "I'm embarrassed. We have nothing to say, really. So he sends me all his albums. I tried to listen to all of them. It look me two weeks."
"How old is Cher?" Michelle said.
"We don't know yet," Marvin said. "These glasses are no goddamned good. Where are my glasses?"
"He went out on the porch and stepped on his other glasses." Michelle said. "They didn't break, and he said it was an act of God, telling him not to read any more scripts. So he took the lenses and scaled them into the ocean. Now he can't see."
"Why," Marvin said, "does it take sixty-seven percent of my income to pay the publicist? He says I should take some broad to lunch, right? It costs me thirty-seven dollars to get out of the joint, and then she knocks me. You know what I asked her? I'll bet you've never had an orgasm, have you? I asked her."
"Lee, you didn't say that? Really?"
"I never said anything like that in my life."
Another record dropped on the stereo. "When it comes to 'Clair de Lune,'" he said, "I have to go pass water. Tinkle, is the expression. Oh, sweetheart, do you think this day will soon be o'er? I have a hangover. We had fun last night. Went up to the corner, had a few drinks, told a few lies."
He disappeared down the hallway. Chris, a good-looking kid of sixteen or seventeen, came back with LaBoo, who was banished to the porch to dry out. LaBoo squinted in through the window, wet and forlorn. "Poor LaBoo," Michelle said. “It's the second time he's been rejected today."
Marvin returned. "So what have you decided on?" he asked Chris.
"I was looking at a four-door 1956 Mercedes," Chris said.
"Hitler's car?" Marvin said. Whistle. Pop! "Kid, you deserve the best because you're the son of a star. Why don't you get a job?"
"Chris is working at a record store," Michelle said. "He's working for free right now, until the owner of the store makes enough money to pay his employees."
"Jesus Christ," Marvin said.
"I was looking at a BMW," Chris said "It's $2,100. New, it would be three thousand."
"Why not get new?" Marvin said.
"I don't have three thousand."
"But big daddy does."
"Let's order pizza," Michelle said. She picked up the phone and ordered three pizzas, one with anchovies.
"You're pregnant," Marvin said. "She's got to be. Christopher, you're going to be a grandfather."
LaBoo, who had edged into the house through a crack in the door, walked out of the bedroom now with a pair of women's panties in his mouth.
"Christ, LaBoo, keep those panties out of sight," Marvin said. "Last night, she says, Where'd you get these panties? I dunno,I say. She says, Well they're not mine. I say, Honey, I sure as hell didn't wear them home.” Marvin sighed and held his hands palms up in resignation. "The only way to solve a situation with a girl," he said, "is just jump on her and things will work out."
He took the panties from LaBoo and threw them back into the bedroom. "So what do you think?" he asked Chris.
"The BMW has fantastic cornering, Dad," Chris said. "It has really fantastic quality."
Marvin paused at the door to look out at the surf. "Don't be deceived by quality," he said "Get something you like now, and trade it in later. The car may turn out to have such fantastic quality you'll puke seeing it around so long."
He sighed and sat down in his chair again.
LaBoo jumped into his lap.
"LaBoo, you mean black prince," Marvin said, rubbing the dog's head carelessly. ___________________________________
Originally appeared in Esquire magazine
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