POPULAR CULTURE: Capital opera (the story)

The story below is to feature in my upcoming book: HiStory 2 (stories for History and English for Years 9 – 10).

The camera as all-seeing  City location – studio: bird’s eye view. Wide shot. A line of people stretches from the entrance around the block. Silence, other than the wind.

          And then I lower myself. Tree leaves are the first to achieve clarity, intricate webbing of veins. I could of course dissect them for you – go deeper. But I have another purpose.

          Snippets of conversation. Pull in faces.

“I don’t know if I really wanna be here, ya know…”

“Me neither… morbid curiosity, I guess.”

“He’s guilty, isn’t he?”

“Guilty as hell…”

“At least seven kids – that’s what they’ve proved. I bet there’s more…”

“If ever someone deserved to die…”

          Sound off: “You are the children of Satan. What you are doing is wrong. Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord…”

[I think we should delete that from the release version. It’s contrary to our purpose. Remember our rule: Keep it simple.]


The camera as intimate   Interior. One shot. Ms. Kay is being made up. She is speaking to the mirror; as if there is no-one there, other than…

Me. She is speaking to me and therefore to all of you.

“It was my idea. I must confess at first I was outraged by the fact that my own thinking had taken me there. And then – and this is the key – I realized that I was actually thinking outside the square. That the idea was in fact absolutely right. True justice. The people have decided. Now let the people enact judgement. It’s like solving Hamlet’s dilemma, really. This is right.


The camera as witness   Interior – wide shot. The audience is filling the studio.

          I want to establish that this is representative and truly democratic. A cross section of American society. Faces – no, clothes! –:

Cut to: Armani jacket, full length, and a momentary glimpse of a white-haired gentleman. He may be a judge.

Cut to: Lumberjack shirt, sneakers, young.

Cut to: Woman, forties, lovely pearl necklace.

[Don’t use that one. Her face is too thin. She looks anorexic.]

Cut to: Woman and baby. Clothes are not brand name.

[Pull that woman in with two and three, will you? She’s nicely egalitarian… We’ll run her as a multi shot… no, not too close. I don’t want a recognizable person.]

Cut to: …


The camera as confidante   Tracking shot, following Ms. Kay down the corridor prior to show:

Ms. Kay is directly addressing me. You.

“…need to look at this from a perspective which is not your natural one. I know how this makes us feel initially. Outraged. True, Gavin Barclay Searley is a convicted felon, true, he murdered at least seven children in a most horrific way, true, we want revenge, true, that is the state’s mandate.  But, but, is it fair or just, that a faceless state does the… justice. Is it proper that we are denied what they used to have in biblical times, what they insisted on… When the audience presses the button today it will be a ritual stoning of a true fiend, a monster – and it will be true justice. Mark my words. As a community we will feel good about this.”

          It is her eyes, those lovely jade discs, so disconcertingly honest and cool, that I am giving you at the end of this long shot as we run down the corridor… to establish

Commercial break.


The camera as The Word   Wide shot – a packed studio.

[Okay, we can’t run with the usual upbeat opening music. So we’ll dub in something suitable for the release. I don’t know, something classical.]

          The stage is a mount. Ms. Kay rises when my red light winks at her and stands absolutely still. Then she holds her hands up high, enjoining silence. It comes and I see how serious all the faces are and it is good…

One shot – Kay:

[Cue wide screen shots.]

“On the fourth of January in 1997 seven year old Weldon Maher disappeared…”

[Okay, Maher 1…]

“… a happy child, innocent as the wind. A huge manhunt was raised…. On the eighth of January this is what they found…”

[Okay. Maher 2…]

“Who had done this? What unspeakable dark force had been unleashed? Even in a city like L.A. – a city, let us be honest, with a reputation for its criminal record – people were asking such questions. What had happened to little innocent Weldon was stuff out of some nightmare imagination…”

[Okay, Everrt 1…]

“February the fourth. Melissa Everrt – she was going to be eight in a week – went for a walk in a park across the road…”

The camera as eyes   Close ups on random audience members. Zoom down to extreme…

          Your eyes are windows that I can peer in. Faces I catch, then the eyes. Always the eyes. The stony intent faces then the sudden shock of eyes wide opened.


The camera as voyeur    Two shot – interior jail cell. A priest and a man. Zoom to close up.

          The priest is offering the catechism. The man’s charcoal face is impassive. Inhumanly so. I must stress that. Zoom in on the skin to observe the blue black blood that continues to course and the absence of even a nervous tick of apprehension. Surely this man does not appreciate that he is soon to die.


Commercial break.


The camera as agitator   Cut away to court scene – Ms. Kay provides voice over.

          Let us observe how guilty this man is. See. See his face. Look closer than you’d ever really want to be.

“When sentence was pronounced – a life for seven lives – Gavin Barclay Searley remained impervious to human emotion. Worse, he gloated. Look at that grin.”

[Cue replay…]

“We’ll run that again… See….”

One shot wide on Kay.

“Okay, I know our purpose is not to try Searley. That’s done, that’s done. He’s guilty. There’s no doubt of that and there’s no doubt that the erasure of the seven lives whose faces you’ve just seen caused not one iota of remorse in this monster… There’s no doubt too of how people felt, no doubt that they wanted his punishment meted out.”

[Run jail protest footage.]

“Never has there been such a concert of public emotion. Such a unanimous call for the right thing to be done…

Now, as you know, the state agreed that this punishment needed to be public.”

[Cue headlines.]

“They agreed with my studio that such a thing was not sensationalism”

[Run headlines…]

“but a new awareness and perception of justice in an electronic world. We need our very public stonings. We need to see that we have – let me say that again, we – we have a hand in justice…”

[Are we ready… right? Okay. Take in Searley’s walk. Okay folks, this is live. Be sharp.]


The camera as historian   Track Searley etc. down. Intersperse cut to chair and close up of hood. Take in Searley -shaved arms and head in close up… Kay to voice over

          So I follow the condemned. Note the slight slick of sweat despite the coldness of the day. Is that a stain on his prison trousers, urine perhaps? He seems oblivious. How does he feel, how does he feel? Let me in. Ah, he staggers. They need suddenly to take his arms.

[Great theatre. He’s a natural, this guy.]

“So Gavin Barclay Searley takes his final walk. We wonder what is going through his mind – we know it is not remorse or sorrow, for he’s never shown us a human face. He trips but that is not emotion. Look at those eyes, if you do not believe me…”

“My daughter summed it up for me when she said that he had lizard eyes. The eyes of a chameleon shortly before its tongue flicks out and sucks in its victim. Look at them now, even as his final destination comes into sight…”


Commercial break.


The camera as judge   Exterior death chamber. Zoom into chair through glass.

Let me show you the instrument of justice.

Cut to:

One shot of Ms. Kay

“On your seats ladies and gentlemen – more precisely, on the right armrest of each of your seats – a button will soon emerge. It will pop out. One of those buttons, just one, is linked to the power grid that will feed 30,000 volts of electricity into the chair that holds trapped a monster. That monster will die. He will justly die.”

“Only one of you, of course, will have pushed the button but no-one here knows who that person is. In reality, we all will push that button.”

“But only if we all push the button at the right moment.”

Cut to Prison Warden’s face.

Do I need to further convince you of the rightness of this!

“We will receive a nod from the Prison Warden and commence a ten second countdown. At the precise moment a sign will also flash, announcing our moment of retribution.”

Cut back to Kay:

“Please press the button when that moment arrives. Your seat may well hold the button that sends that charge of justice. If you don’t press your button, a monster that we’ve all found guilty may live a little longer… “

[Cue seven victims’ faces.]

“If you don’t, the world will know that we were found wanting.”

[Okay. Flash them up.

That relay to general screens is still fine? Good.]

“If you don’t, these children still go unanswered.”

Commercial break.


The camera as God   One shot Ms. Kay.

“We await our moment of justice. Shortly, the people will speak and a monster will die at the hands of a proper and functioning democracy. I simply await the word…”

          I will hold this moment dear.

[I don’t know what the delay is, Something about the power grid… Look. Let’s just run that victims’ montage again. Okay, good. Yeah. Just keep flashing them up, over and over… This is good, this is working…Are you getting this Olympia.]

Voice over by Ms Kay: “Seven victims that we know of. Seven bodies we’ve recovered. But were there more? Searley has intimated that his carnage extends much further…Further than just these seven. ”

“Okay, I’ve had word that the prison authorities are ready.”

Cut away to Warden.

The warden’s face is calm. Okay, now you nod. Good.

Cut to Ms. Kay:

          Ms. Kay commencing count, show the screen countdown, show the audience and faces, eyes, mouths counting. Show it all, show it all. Count it down…









[So how many didn’t press the button?

Fourteen – including, would you believe it, the hot seat.


Yeah. Thank God we had that back up.]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s