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Author: Connie Willis
Publisher: Bantam Spectra, 1995

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Book Type: Novel
Genre: Science-Fiction
Sub-Genre Tags: Light/Humorous SF
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(71 reads / 32 ratings)


It's the Hollywood of the future, where moviemaking's been computerized and live-action films are a thing of the past. It's a Hollywood where Humphrey Bogart and Marilyn Monroe are starring together in A Star Is Born, and if you don't like the ending, you can change it with the stroke of a key.

A Hollywood of warm bodies and sim-sex, of drugs and special effects, where anything is possible. Except for what one starry-eyed young woman wants to do: dance in the movies. It's an impossible dream, but Alis is not willing to give up. With a little magic and a lot of luck, she just might get her happy ending after all.


House Lights Down


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.

Copyright © 1995 by Connie Willis


Remake -- How much do you love movies?

- Tar Daddoo
Remake is Both Prescient & Dated

- woodmr
Is a cliche of a cliche still cliche?

- couchtomoon


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