Derick Dupré

Derick Dupré’s work has appeared in publications including NOON, New York Tyrant, Blue Arrangements, and Sublunary Editions. He might be working on a book of fiction.

DERICK DUPRÉ on film with Rebecca Gransden

What film, or films, made the first deep impression on you?

The first movie I bought that didn’t suck was Godard’s Breathless. I was eighteen and deeply into Joan of Arc and other stuff from the Kinsellaverse. I’d read somewhere that they were inspired by his work, so I thought I’d check him out. I went to a nearby Borders and browsed the racks. It was a crappy old edition where the special features were like, “Scene Access” and “Interactive Menus.” I loved it. Then I had the age 18-20 insufferably-into-Godard phase. I remember sort of bragging to my parents’ friends that I had a copy of Masculin-Féminin, and they were like, “What - why? Him? Really?” I get it now. But that was the jump off.

Can you talk about the influence film has had on your writing?

I’ve never written a treatment, nor a screenplay, but usually a first draft of something new will have a sort of treatmentary vibe. Just image after image w/ very little in the way of character or plot. The final draft tends to look like that, too. 

Do you use film as a prompt or direct motivation for your writing?

Sometimes I’ll just write down notes on the thing I’m watching and maybe later transcribe them and alter them enough so they don’t completely resemble the source material.  One thing I published a while back was just prompts for opening scenes of imaginary movies. I’ve thought about going back and expanding it, but that seems like a bit too much of Levé pastiche.

Have you ever made a film? If so, has the process of doing that had an influence on your writing?

I helped make a short film once. I just did the camera work but apparently I wasn’t bad. The film ended up in a gallery. If it had any influence on my writing, it would be that I quit altogether and start working on lo-fi art projects. 

Are there films you associate with a particular time in your life, or a specific writing project

The first story I published was written during an intense period of Marx Brothers and spliffs. I’d been laid off from a state job, had a decent severance, and spent a month getting high and watching torrented movies. I’d never seen the earlier Marx Brothers stuff, so it seemed fresh, and it still is. I think some of that unpredictable humor comes through in the story. It also reminds me of a more productive era of writing, which I can look back on with a small fondness.

Thinking about the places you’ve lived, are there any environments that are cinematic? Have you lived anywhere that has been regularly depicted onscreen? If so, has this had an influence on your perception of the place, or how you’ve depicted it in any of your writings?

Any place can be cinematic if you know where to look, but the most superficially cinematic would probably be my current environment of southern Arizona. The rock formations, the wildlife, the historic buildings, the denizens, the many-layered hues of enchantment, etc. I lived in New Orleans for a while and there were always film crews everywhere due to Louisiana’s film tax credit, and to some filmmakers’ unfortunate penchant for ruin porn. I just watched Angel Heart the other day and felt briefly nostalgic for walking down Royal Street. 

Are there individual scenes that stay with you?

I’ll return to certain scenes more often than I do whole movies, maybe because of dwindling attention span or general cognitive decline. The first processing session in The Master. The duel in The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp. The suicidal penguin in Encounters at the End of the World. The opening scene of Werckmeister Harmonies. Pretty much any scene from Beau Travail. The final scene of Wanda. The doctor’s house call in A Woman Under the Influence, and so on. 

What films have roused a visceral reaction in you? 

I remember becoming fully, inexplicably overwhelmed with emotion when I first watched Cries and Whispers, at perhaps too young an age, when the Chopin mazurka in A minor comes on. It was kind of like the episode of Seinfeld where Jerry finds himself crying and says, “What is this salty discharge?” But now I go hunting for that feeling.

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Dmitri finds himself on a deep south farmhouse tour. He’s not sure of how events have contrived to bring him there. The last thing he remembers is packing a bag, he was folding clothes and packing them, though he’d be at a loss to say where he was originally going or why. Outside the heat is murderous. While walking down a wide hall behind an oblivious but garrulous guide, Dmitri’s distracted by the virtuosity inherent in the hand that made a certain crown moulding, stops to admire it, fails to take his meds as he should every day at this time, and has an episode. He denounces Stalin, Jefferson Davis, and the mother of Jefferson Davis. He is incoherent and has to be restrained. In the ambulance he wets himself. Following a brief chat with a state psychiatrist, he receives a new prescription and is discharged. Once outside, he throws away the prescription, which the lady at the discharge desk pronounced per-skip-shin, and begins a slow walk to nowhere.

Dmitri is now at a Bob Seger show. Again with the uncertainty of being present at this kind of spectacle, but fuck it, it’s Seger, a musician of the people much like himself. After a few of the hits, he panics and flees the arena, perhaps due to the hostile nature of certain members of the Bullet Club, some of whom had arrived in a busted maroon Blazer with a vanity plate that read NITEMOVZ and were more than a little pushy. He’s picked up rambling in the parking lot and is admitted for the second time during his vacation. Being a generally nonviolent, humanity-loving kind of person, he’s released on a promise to stick with his regimen.

Following an interval of unknown measure, Dmitri awakes to the shock of cold water all around him. He’s chained himself to his rental bicycle and has ridden it into the river. As the bicycle’s frame is of an intermediate strength aluminum alloy, it doesn’t really sink the way a desperate type like Dmitri hopes it would sink. He flails among the seethe and gleam of passing ships that stalk through like bright white skyscrapers. He finds his way out, bicycle in tow, and collapses on the shoal.

He hasn’t been the same since his official denunciation, which sort of marked the beginning of this vacation, but he wants you to know that he’s here voluntarily, that he wasn’t dragged here by the authorities, he walked in here after drying off and losing the bicycle.

Here is a double-wide that the state calls an extension of the hospital. An annex of misery and Xanax.

After a few hours he’s familiar with his surroundings. He grabs a handful of riffled and soiled magazines from a small table and shuffles back to the bed, where he applies various fragrance samples to his wrists. He’s pissed because he doesn’t have his composition book nor his teddybear. “I’m righteously indignant and I deserve to be,” he says, rubbing a magazine on his arm.

Arms akimbo now, hands groping the flesh around his hips, muttering: “Doesn’t matter anymore, you made a horrible mistake. I made a mistake before I even knew what it was, okay? Rice-a-roni. That’s what was left of her leaving. I’m back. I have a son. All I know right now is, Al? I would certainly hope so. Get the fuck out of here. One two three really doesn’t work. Black rainbow phoenix.” He stops abruptly as his meandering jowls settle on a rice krispie treat. 

He pads over to the sink and picks up a can of deodorant and begins to spray his underarms, a crystal mist clouding around him, the scent meant to approximate a fine shore breeze, aerosol misting through his spunlace shirt and clouding around him so that he appears to be a figure removed from some faraway moor, the can whistling until it’s empty and the entire room smells like a chemist’s idea of sunset on the beach. He sits on the bed.

“Topamax is what had me in the bed when I couldn’t get out the bed. I don’t know how to prove I’m not crazy. I been taking the goddamn shit they been giving me. I wasn’t acting manic, I was proving a point with the animal police. I’m even off food stamps, I’m copping food stamps from Sergei. I should go to film school. I know how to operate that equipment, I did that shit in high school. I happen to be very talented at film production. In the past two and a half years I can count on one hand the days I haven’t been locked up, creatively speaking. I can blame that on Andrei and on my denunciation. He started playing with cocaine. Feels like I got the whole world against me. But the world’s against everybody. It’s up to me to make it better for myself.”

The doctor nods rhythmically and turns up his hearing aid. “You’ll have to speak up, Dmitri. I didn’t get any of that. Did you mention a history of cocaine abuse, or something about when you first realized that you were Jesus Christ?”

The deaf doctor in a multicolor striped lamé shirt, black slacks and shoes, and beechwood cane whose handle is a sterling silver clenched fist and whose ferrule holds a needle containing an exquisite cocktail, a B-52, a mixture of Haldol, Ativan, and Benadryl intended for the rowdier customers. Dr. Halberd has only used this once, on a customer who had a history of practicing martial arts.

Dmitri jumps to his feet and says, “You don’t know a thing about me, and although I’m willing to play along, it seems you did not read the advance literature about me, you who compulsively laugh when you don’t understand, which makes me think there’s something now a little delusional about this whole thing, like when my holiday place setting is next to a relative my family is ashamed of. The whole time I’m glad that my blood is different, is the iron-rich coagulate I know it to be.”

Meanwhile Dr. Halberd is still nodding like a drinking bird, worrying a spot on the heel of the silver fist, drifting, and begins to analyze his own problems. He wonders if he’s fucked up anybody’s life, if he’s the one somebody blames their moods on, their anhedonic routines, their mistrust of strangers, their pessimism regarding romance. I don’t think I’ve fucked anyone up like that, but it’d be a sort of perverse honor if I did, he reasons to himself. Maybe a customer or a few of the nurses. He thinks about it and taps his cane twice on the floor, says, “Good, all very good, we’re just going to keep you here and monitor your progress. There’s rice krispie treats on the table.”

Dmitri, defeated, sinks back onto the bed and watches Dr. Halberd’s image recede from the room in the small mirror above the sink. He decides that he can safely say this is the worst vacation ever. Hands laced behind his head, he looks out the window at a distant office tower and hears a voice in his head, it’s Bob Seger’s voice, whispering:

“If I ever get out of here, I’m going to Katmandu.”

This piece originally appeared in Neutrons/Protons in 2014.

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LITTLE CACKLES by Derick Dupre

A windy morning outside Denny’s in Carefree. Windshields and gas pumps ping with dust. Rosettes of yucca twitch and sway. Inside it sounds like a light rain passing through. A waitress saunters up to a table where three men sit. Her dirndl skirt swishes in time to the dust, and for a moment it seems like the only sound in the world. The three men are John Huston, Rich Little, and Orson Welles. She recognizes Little right away and fangirls out in front of the two older men.

Oh my god I knew it, it’s him, can I have an autograph Mr. Little? Make it out to Sue. No to Ralph.

Make it out to Ralph. Oh my god. Do Nixon. Do Bing.

Little smiles uneasily, accepting Sue’s pen, knowing that in a just world she should be asking for John’s or Orson’s hasty scrawl, not his, not that of one whose sole talent is sounding like other people. But what do other people know, anyway. The older men fidget on the leatherette. To Ralph, he writes aloud, best, wishes, always. Rich. Little slides the napkin to Sue.

Joan! It’s the man of a thousand voices! Sue shouts to a coworker. Oh my god. Do Jimmy Stewart.

Do Jack Benny. What are you doing in Carefree, Mr. Little?

Little, doing Johnny Cash, says, Well we thought we’d check up on the Carefree sundial. We were driving through and John here wanted to know the time, so I said, let’s make a stop in Carefree.

Johnny Cash! Joan get over here. Oh, we do have quite the sundial, don’t we, Sue says.

Joan saunters up and twitches a hip to the right, indicating Welles, and asks Little, So who’s your fat friend?

Welles, nosedeep in a menu, shifts his glance from Hot n Hearty to Lean n Low to Tempting Desserts.

Little, in a rare moment of speechlessness, slowly widens his eyes. Huston, not known for his whipcrack humor, clarifies: We actually don’t know this man. Wepicked him up on the highway and he seemed undernourished. We were planning to feed him and send him on his way.

Little cackles.

Huston just stares at the menu, forgetting whether or not Denny’s serves scotch. Welles squirms against the leatherette. Huh. I’m not surprised. I used to work up at the Denny’s up in Seligman. All kinds of freeloaders there. So, big boy, what’ll you have? Sue says.

Peaches, cottage cheese, hold the rye wafers, please, Welles says, as though delivering a line he’s waited his whole life to give. His order has the tone of a funeral toll. An atmospheric shift disrupts the dining room, in the way it will if somebody farts or breaks a glass. Other tables are silent. Meandering jowls now pause midchew. The dust outside is again the only sound in the world. After a few moments, Joan breaks the trance. I know that voice. I’ve heard that voice. Mr. Little, who’s this friend of yours?

Little, doing John Wayne, says, This man here is the bravest man I know. This man staged an entire war. This man is as good as any general, the great Orson Welles.

Duke! Joan squeals.

Orson Who? Sue says. Oh my god I can’t believe I’m taking Rich Little’s order. What is your order, Mr. Little?

Little does Cagney, delivering his order and snapping his fingers with immense menace. Jumbo Dennyburger, got it? Hold the lettuce, I don’t wanna see no lettuce at all. Cook it well-done - bravo, you got it? There better be extra ketchup, and a coffee.

Sue can hardly contain her squealing. Extra kitchup! Did you hear that Joan? Jimmy Cagney - she winks at Little - wants extra kitchup! Of course! Well-done!

Huston sighs and says, Is there any chance you have single malt.

We have all kinds of rich and creamy malts sir, yes.

Huston looks at Welles, indicating he’s run out of fucks to give. I’ll just have a coffee, please.

Two coffees all day. And what’ll your fat friend have to drink?

Welles fidgets and thinks of Oja, of her love and cunning, thinks by now she would’ve stabbed one of these women. He thinks of something rich and creamy. A hot tea, please, with a slice of lemon.

Another atmospheric disruption befalls the Denny’s in Carefree, Arizona. The dust sings. Joan says, I don’t know who that man is but he sure knows how to talk.

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