The Local Stigmatic
The setting is England.
The two main characters are roomates: Graham and Ray. Cockney men, articulate and intelligent in spite of being considered "lower class". They play games with each other all the time speaking in cryptic language and glances, inside jokes and power plays.
Opening credits: a red screen with the words "Local Stigmatic" in black.
The first scene is at the dog track. The opneing shot is a great closeup of the greyhounds coming out of a starting gate. Graham watches the dogs from the stands as they finish the race. (Al is wearing what looks like the glasses he wore in "Author! Author!" He later wears a different pair of reading glasses seen in the picture here.) No dialogue.
Next scene is Graham and his roomate Ray in their apartment. Graham is standing near a wall and pacing, giving a long angry monologue about a bad tip he got at the racetrack about a 20-1 shot dog. Ray is sitting at a table next to a window with a newspaper pretty much ignoring Graham.
Graham goes on about how he and his friend found the guy and threatened him for giving them the bad tip. The guy made a fuss and they got thrown out of the track.
Ray talks about getting thrown out of bars, once for adjusting the vertical hold in a gay bar, and once because he was reading too much, boring the customers. (those got a laugh)
Ray keeps trying to get him to forget about the dog, but Graham is really worked up about it.
They talk about Ray's girlfriend Sharon.
Graham says he never pays for sex because "Jesus died for our sins."
Rays says let's give her a pass and go to a bar instead. Graham agrees and suggests they go to the bar Ray was thrown out of.
(this scene isn't in the play)
The next scene is the two of them at a newstand looking over magazines. Ray mentions that there is something about one of those people you follow (Graham reads a lot about celebrities).
The guy working at the newstand tells them those magazines are not for perusal. Graham gives him a speech about why fame is the first disgrace. Because "God knows who you are". The says as he walks away, "God knows who YOU are."
The next scene is the two of them coming across an old man who is very drunk. Graham tries to harass him, asking if he's the one that gave him the tip at the racetrack. The old man won't have it though. He tells them to leave him alone. He's tired of being harassed by drug addicts and homosexuals and walks away from them.
Through the whole thing Ray hangs back and watches, leaving Graham to do the bullying. When the old man walks away Graham gets angry at Ray for not joining him. He yells at him that next time "you go along" meaning to join with him in the bullying.
They go into a bar and have some drinks and talk dog racing. Ray reads from a paper what some celebrities would do with their last hour. Graham is still irritated Ray but listens anyway. Ray says there are some people Graham follows in the magazine.
Ray says he sees a guy at the bar that is famous (David). They go over to him and talk and buy him drinks. Graham discusses his career, his job. Graham has obviously read about him. David talks about working with his current director and accepts drinks from them. He is flattered.
While David goes to the bathroom Graham asks Ray if he's going to come along this time, and Ray says yes.
They walk David out of the bar and follow him. As they get further from the bar Graham starts getting agressive, telling David to stop laughing, he sounds like a clam going mad. The streets are deserted and David starts trying to get rid of them.
Graham tells Ray to kick him and gag him and see what follows. Ray does as he's told, following all of Grahams orders while Graham talks to David about fame and why they're doing this. It's because when Ray's in bed with Sharon she's pretending it's really David, and Ray's pretending he's David. Also a lot of other stuff I didn't quite understand. Ray cuts him in the face and they leave.
Some time later Ray and Graham are in their apartment again. Ray says he saw David somewhere and he didn't recognize him. They say David isn't following the rules of the game by not recognizing him. They call him and taunt him to teach him a lesson.
It ends with Graham saying that Ray has been "privately trained".
CAST / CREW
QUOTES ABOUT THE FILM
Before the film the director, Mr. Wheeler, handed us a sheet of paper that said:
THE LOCAL STIGMATIC is a one act play written by an Englishman, Heathcote Williams, when he was 22.
He was an anarchist/squatter/poet in 1964, a time of angry ferment. His plays from that period remain among the most chilling, enigmatic and darkly comic documents of the time.
Williams says "The Local Stigmatic" is about envy. Certainly it is an ambiguous play and its mysteries, wrapped in violence, humor and unexpected poetry, have kept alive our interest for over twenty years and finally brought us to make this record of the play you are about to see.
MY OWN COMMENTS AND NOTES ON THOSE OF THE DIRECTOR, CO-STAR AND PRODUCER
I was fortunate enough to get to see this unreleased film along with a small group of Al fans and Yale drama students. The special screening with permission from Al to see the film was received and coordinated by Joan Eugene Butryn (check out her page on screenwriting).
I'd like to thank Al for giving us permission to view it, and thanks to Micheal Hadge, Paul Guilfoyle and David Wheeler for taking the time to come down and talk to us in person after the screening. Also a big thanks to Joan Butryn for all the hard work she did arranging this wonderful screening for us.
Below is my very subjective comments about the film, and a summary of the plot. You can also read the full text of the play yourself.
The plot is simple, two men, roommates, go out to a bar and run in to a moviestar. They buy him a few drinks, follow him out of the bar and brutally beat him and disfigure his face.
Before I get in to a detailed summary of what happens in the film I have to say something about the unusual nature of it. The main characters speak in cryptic ways and odd looks as if making a reference to conversations they've had before that we don't see. I found this frustrating when I watched it but afterwards Paul Guilfoyle made some comments that made it easier to understand. He said this was intentional and the audience isn't supposed to get the details of all their games, just see that they play at each other in this way. They behave almost like dogs looking for cues about who is dominant. (dogs, dog racing... metaphor anyone?) When he said that a light went on and I wished that I could see it again with this perspective. I suggested afterwards that they make a version of it including interviews in the same format as "Looking for Richard" which would also add the extra hour so they could release it. I don't know if they took this suggestion seriously but I hope so. It's a very interesting film but difficult to get at first. Talking to filmmakers afterwards made it much easier to understand and added a lot to the experience. It will be a great shame if it is never released.
The relationship between the characters is hard to describe. Before we saw the film the director David Wheeler gave us a short talk. He said that Al wanted people to understand that this wasn't a movie about homosexuals. I think the reason he said that is that some of the games they play on the surface are might look like they are flirting or playing with the idea of homosexuality. "They play all kinds of games", Wheeler said. And I think it's an important point. If he hadn't said that I probably would've taken their game literally as a gay man seducing another, but I don't think that's what it's about at all.
It explores male relationships and behavior having to do with who's head of the pack. Paul Guilfoyle noted that it is a very male story, very male behavior. Everyone in the film is male, even the dogs at the racetrack that he bet on.
Graham tries to get Ray to go along with him when he comes across an old man. Graham thinks it's the guy who gave him the bad tip at the racetrack and wants to beat him up. But Ray stands back and stays out of it. Graham can't do it by himself even though physically he could certainly take the drunk old man. He needs to be part of a pack to attack. He wants Ray to follow him and back him up but he doesn't. He says, after the incident, "the next time you go along." And Ray does. When they run in to the movie star Ray finally goes along with Graham and does what he wants. It's Ray who brutalizes the moviestar, while Graham mostly watches. It's Graham who is in control finally. The last line of the film is, "Come on then, Ray. Privately trained, Ray. Huh. Ray." He says that Ray has been privately trained, and is following him now.
They also talked a lot about the ambivilance in the film. The characters and the relationships between them are intentionally ambivilant. Even their sexuality is ambivilant. Nothing is simplified and clear cut as in most movies. The characters have very deep, sometimes disturbing feelings that are confusing and contradictory as in real life. For instance they read all about the famous people, at the same time they are jealous and violent toward the movie star they meet in a bar. Their relationship with each other is never clear, except that they are both nihilists.
In one scene at the bar they are having a conversation with a famous actor (Joe Maher). I remember noticing in this scene that there are several awkward pauses and long silences just as there would be in real life, as opposed to how the scene would usually be played with dialogue quickly back and forth.
The nature of the film is experimental and was treated more as a process than as a finished polished product. Paul Guilfoyle commented that the "whole experience was the experience of exploration."
"The Local Stigmatic" title is a reference to Christ dying for our sins. (In the beginning of the play Graham says about sex that he never pays for it because Christ died for our sins. As Christ died for all sins, the moviestar they come across and brutalize pays for the local sin of celebrity (the Local Stigmatic). In another scene at the newstand (pictured above), Graham flips through magazines filled with celebrities that he follows, then goes on a rant about how "fame is the first sin, because God knows who you are." In another part of the play as they beat the actor Graham says it's not fair that when a woman is in bed she fantasizes she is with the moviestar, not with her boyfriend, and vise versa. Fame distorts our normal need to be accepted for who we are and holds us up to an unreal standard. In an interview the playright said, "Fame is the perversion of the natural instinct for validation and attention." Graham and Ray remove the celebrity from circulation in the film.
It has never been released to the public. Al donated a copy to the Museum of Modern Art with the stipulation that it can only be shown with is permission. They have problems with how to release it because it's only about an hour long. It's also in 16mm which is ok for tv, but not great quality for a big screen release.
It was filmed in 1989 in about 16-17 days.
Paul Guilfoyle, Michael Hadge and Heathcote Williams all appeared in "Looking For Richard".
There are several different versions of the film since they have been re-editing for years. The version we saw was an older one.
They approached the production of the film as if they were staging a play, rehearsing extensively and avoiding making it look to cinimatic. In fact Al too out a scene where the two leads watch a rich person getting in to a Mercedes because it looked too much like a movie.
Al and Paul Guilfoyle let the play develop and perculate between them for years before they decided to make a film of it. When they finally decided to film it they spent four months rehearsing and getting together talking about the play before it was finally shot.
When Al bought the tv/film rights Joe Papp, a famous Broadway producer who had also done the play, was upset with him for getting the rights first.
Al almost released LS when "Pulp Fiction" came out and was a big hit because it is also about two nihilists.
In 1984 Al was doing American Buffalo in London, and they decided to shoot exteriors while he was there and that's how the whole thing started.
Al didn't want to wear glasses, the director wanted him to, so they compromised by having him wear reading glasses. (There are actually two different pairs of glasses. The first only appear at the dog track at the beginning, and looked just like the one's in "Author, Author". For the rest of the film you only see him with the reading glasses he wears in the picture at the top of the page.
Micheal Hadge (the producer) originally acted in the stage version as Ray, along with Paul Benedict as the man on the street. Benedict would costar years later with Pacino in "Hughie". (I met him after the show and he was very nice!)
In the play the Duke of Clarence is mentioned, and Buckingham. Both characters in "Richard the III".
New York Times Review (of the Play), by Clive Barnes, November 4, 1969
A play by Heathcoate Williams; sketches by Harold Pinter, Staged by Arthur Storch; settings by Milton Duke; lighting by Molly Fridel; costumes by Elaine Yokoyame; music composed by Conrad Susa; photographs by Kenn Duncan; production stage manager, Lawrence Spiegel, Presented by Len Gochman, Jon Peterson, James Stevenson; associate producers Lionel Stern and C. Micheal Lane. At the Actors Playhouse, 100 Seventh Avenue South.
While it is not certain that Al Pacino is getting typecast, I personally am positive that I would not wish to meet him on a dimly lit side street.
Mr. Pacino, one of our most charismatic and violent actors, opened at the Actors Playhouse last night in a British play by Heathcote Williams, "The Local Stigmatic." He was ice-cold and savage.
Unfortunately Mr. Pacino has been ice-cold and savage in "The Indian Wants the Bronx" and "Does Tiger Wear a Necktie?" Ice-coldness and savagery are becoming party pieces that producers are all too willing to exploit.
"The Local Stigmatic" is a play that, amplifying the program note, was first produced by Jim Haynes in 1966 at his fascinating Traverse Theater in Edinburgh, and later turned up at the Royal Court Theater in London. It is a half-interesting play-remarkable far more for what it promises than for anything it delivers. Two young men are interested in greyhound racing - and very little else. Except violence. Violence of a strange, almost uncalculated quality. In a London pub they met a famous movie star. They buy him a drink, and walk home with him. On the way home they savagely beat him up, and carve him with a switchblade. Months later they mockingly telephone him. Pretty? Hardly - yet in its dry portrayal of its youthful paranoid terrorists, its laconic viciousness and pain, there is a sort of documentary horror that exerts a detached and wary interest.
Mr. Williams is clearly a disciple of Harold Pinter, and he writes well. But at present he doesn't write well enough. The sudden violence erupting from blind apathy is perhaps convincing, but the act is not given any relevance or, indeed, any connection outside of its own existence.
From a traffic crash on the highway we can deduct that people don't drive carefully enough, or perhaps that highways are not well enough maintained. But seeing such an incident we learn little about people, cars or driving. Seeing this play we can note something of its violence - but we learn nothing of the people, as we did in Israel Horovitz's "The Indian Wants the Bronx," or about the stealthy nature of violence itself, as we did in Harold Pinter's "The Homecoming."
The play, which is in a double bill with a handful of Pinter sketches, was presumably selected as a vehicle for the darkly sinister talents of Mr. Pacino, and Mr. Pacino is- to search for the correct Britishism - perfectly super.
His London accent, offbeat and with gutter undertones, is impeccable, and his whole performance, a steel fist in a rubber glove, has all the authority in the world. However, personally, I would like to see what else Mr. Pacino can do in this world besides scaring babies, old women and me. I wouldn't even dare say he can't do something else - but I just want to see it.
Michael Hadge, as Mr. Pacino's partner in terrorism, was not in the same class, and this detracted from Arthur Storch's otherwise authentic staging. I did very much like, however, Joseph Maher, as the movie-star victim.
(67k) "Fame is the first disgrace... because God knows who you are"
"THE LOCAL STIGMATIC" TEXT OF THE PLAY
I don't want to step on copyright here, but the play was very hard to
find to buy so I've put it up here so people can read it.
If anyone knows where you can buy a copy of it I'll be glad to take down the text and replace it with where to buy it.
Currently unavailable on dvd or video.