Every writer, every actor, every director, every poet--in short, everyone who has ever tried to do anything creatively--has a dirty little secret. It's something the "artist" did, probably in his/her youth, that is without question the worst piece of writing/acting/directing/poeting that has ever existed on the planet. It is a source of embarrassment to the point of humiliation, something so execrable it must never be seen by the public lest the creative type be banished from doing anything other than working at a Goodyear Tire store for all eternity.
Mine is called "Marriage Contract."
The most amateur of all possible amateur films, this was a movie (on Super 8 film--remember that?) made by my best friend Jeff Pollitzer and I (and a whole bunch of "volunteers" we recruited) just as Jimmy Carter was giving way to Ronald Reagan, for you history buffs. It was, truth be known, our fourth film, following the classics "The Yeoman", which was made about 20 minutes after "The Omen" was released and had nothing to do with that film, "Lust in the Dust" (which contained a film-within-a-film called "Unseen Enemy" because we didn't have enough people to show an enemy) and "House of Halvah" (the first--we believe--detective-horror-musical-comedy).
We made these things for the sheer joy of it, although in retrospect the process was rarely joyful. I did the writing, if you want to call it that and Pollitzer, who actually understood mechanical stuff, ran the camera, the lights, the sound equipment and did the editing (with a pair of dull scissors and a light bulb). We shared director credits, although there is no evidence from the finished films that there was any direction going on at all.
"Marriage Contract" was going to be our next step up. It would be an original story and not a series of skits based around a theme. I wrote an actual screenplay (arguably my first of many unsuccessful ones) and was told by Pollitzer that this time, I would be the director. I tried to protest, but was outvoted by Pollitzer, who is twice my size and therefore gets two votes to my one.
The premise is terrible, but not incredibly terrible. A woman breaks off a relationship with her boyfriend because he's too timid and conventional. He decides to show her how dashing he is by hiring a hitman to ALMOST kill her, so he can rescue her and be seen as a hero. That doesn't work out so well and pretty soon an actual assassin and the police are involved.
Hilarity, theoretically, ensues.
We cajoled and begged pretty much everyone we knew into playing the characters involved or helping out in some other way. The budget was a hefty $1000, most of which went into buying a sound projector and processing sound Super 8 film. The stakes were high.
And the film was, objectively, awful.
It would be easy to blame the cast, none of whom even wanted to be an actor. But they are so ineptly directed that Dame Judi Dench, Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks would have ended up looking downright foolish in these roles. It didn't help that the screenplay was pretty horrible as well, so even with a good director, there would have been little for the actors to do.
That's right. I wrote and directed, and did both very badly. Just be glad I didn't decide to act in it as well (as I had in the previous three movies) because I would have been much, much worse than anyone who was brave enough to stand in front of cameras and recite this drivel.
Don't even start. You haven't seen this thing. I'm being easy on myself.
We "premiered" the film at my "Cousin" Ken Cohen's (Kenny was the "star" of the film) house sometime in 1980, I think. We invited virtually everyone any of us had ever met, and many of them, alas, showed up. The film unspooled and I began to realize--despite the crowd whooping and hollering, mostly at seeing people they knew on screen--exactly how hideous a thing I had made.
I still wake up screaming thinking about "Marriage Contract" (for which I had also written and performed the title song, a source of sufficient mortification all by itself). But over the years, I had managed to mostly forget about it. I wrote many, many more screenplays that weren't produced, all of which were better than that one. Pollitzer and I stopped making movies even as our next epic, "Far Trek," was in pre-production, because he had the audacity to get married and actually wanted to spend time with his wife and new daughter.
Unfortunately, I had not burned the only existing print of "Marriage Contract" when I had the chance. For 35 years. Because Ken called me up a number of months ago asking if I knew where it was--and since it was about three feet from where I was sitting, I told him I did.
He wanted to have the film converted to DVD, he said. My stomach dropped into my shoes, and I argued vehemently, against doing so, asserting that humans have done enough to foul the environment and there was no way seeing that thing again was going to help. But he called Pollitzer, they had the temerity to recruit my wife to the cause, and by then it was a done deal. I had only one unbreakable provision: They could have the film and do with it as they pleased as long as I never, EVER, had to see it again.
They agreed and I, idiot that I am, believed them.
A couple of months ago, we all got together for dinner--Pollitzer and his girlfriend (following divorce), Ken and his (see previous parenthetical expression) and my wife and me. And the looks being passed around the table by anyone who wasn't a small bearded Jewish man alerted me to the danger. Ken had received the DVD of "Marriage Contract" and they wanted to go back to Pollitzer's house after the check came to watch it.
I refused. Unconditionally. This was a violation of our agreement, I was not in any way prepared to be absolutely disgusted with myself, and besides, our dog needed to be walked. I was out. Definitely.
So later, back at Pollitzer's house, we all sat down to watch "Marriage Contract." And I want to tell you, the terror I felt was absolutely unfounded. The script had some laughs, the direction didn't get in its own way, and the performances were at least adequate.
That's what I want to tell you.
The truth is, it was every bit as horrifyingly bad as I remembered it, and that was almost exclusively my fault. But we--or at least I--found a blessing in one thing: The sound transfer was not very good at all, so much of the film was inaudible. It added to the experience tremendously, in my opinion.
My point here is: Everybody who has ever had a creative impulse has done something just godawful. Everybody. The Marx Brothers made "Love Happy." The Beatles let "Revolution 9" appear on an album bearing their name. Alfred Hitchcock made "Jamaica Inn." Bugs Bunny made "Space Jam." Probably Picasso had a day where he put eyes on either side of the subject's head.
What you do is twofold: You try to learn from the experience, and then you do your level best never to see that horrid piece of humiliation ever again.
I wish you better luck than I had.