I am ten years old when Julia returns.
It is the year 1976.
My mother takes me to see her, of course—like the 5 times before, when I made her sit through the first one so much. She had to because the film is Rated R, and they won’t let even medium-sized kids like me sit through those movies alone—like that’s really a law or anyone gives a shit? My mother doesn’t give a shit. She thinks its cute how in love with these movies I still am and she’s amazed at how I’ve been standing up to all the bullies in school these days—those witless jerks who’ve always picked on me because I read books and do well in class. But I’m a lot bigger than I was last year. I even socked one of the nastier ones in the face the other day and gave him a bloody nose. I was sent home for that. No suspension or anything—this is just the 5th grade, after all—but mom thinks it’s amazing. I tell her she should stand up to her bullies also, that she could take a real lesson from Julia Starchild, and she laughs and says Julia is only a movie and don’t get too carried away, son. My mother is dating a big hairy truck driver from Dallas now. They met at her sweaty job at the greasy diner. The guy looks at me weird. I hear him doing bad things to her in their bedroom at night and always she has lots of extra makeup on at breakfast. At least the guy isn’t beating me, like her other boyfriends did. I’d know how to handle that anyway.
I just think of Julia.
The rest is easy.
Julia Starchild 2 is not nearly as good as the first movie, but I hardly notice—because there she is again. Flying across the starry sky, like an angel sent from the depths of my wildest dreams. She does a very familiar dance. She winks a very familiar wink. It all flashes off the screen and hits me in the heart with supernova force.
And then, something very special happens . . .
Something totally unexpected . . .
Julia comes down to earth.
. . .
What I don’t realize is this:
At the very moment I am having my mind blown for the second time, the creator of Julia Starchild 2 is on the floor of his Los Angeles writing office, with the boot of a very bad man shoved against his face. The man is a scummy caricature of a scummy caricature—a copy of a copy of a copy. Open disco shirt and white jacket. Bald head and a cruel checkerboard of gold teeth. Black skin beaded with sweat, dripping down his chin and falling into Zack’s face, which is bloody and bruised. They’ve just knocked out three of Zack’s upper molars and busted his nose sideways. The floor is pooled in blood. Zack is not crying because none of it hurts. He is totally numbed by a near-lethal dose of Magic Blue, which courses in his veins like living lighting. Only that matters. Only the dope. Not the boot. None of that matters at fucking all.
Anyway, nothing could hurt worse than the last year of his life.
He sees it all like the flickering afterimages of a movie in his tortured brain.
He sees how the original Julia Starchild made its way around the American grindhouse circuit in 1975 and finally hit the Deuce, and became a smash hit in July. How everyone was talking about Julia Starchild and her wild sexy adventures in outer space. How Zack went to nearly every theater in Times Square and watched the audiences laugh and cheer and scream back at the screen. The usual riffraff did their jerking off in the back rows, but that was okay—he liked that because it meant the movie was really sexy, just like all those asshole critics said it wasn’t. But his acceptance in the grindhouses came with a terrible price—a price he never would have anticipated because it just never occurred to him because he was just so damn stoned.
All those guys he borrowed money from see the movie, too.
They see his name on it.
And they come after him with lots of questions.
See, he paid them back years ago but he told them the movie was sunk and they believed him and everybody walked away. Now, most of them realize he was lying and they see this big hit movie and they want their piece of Julia’s pie. He tells them he had to do a deal with the devil just to get it released at all. He says it’s been making just enough money to trickle a few bucks into his pocket. He says he’s just declared bankruptcy and he’s practically penniless—if it wasn’t for selling heroin on the Deuce, he’d be six feet under by now. The scary assholes all say that he’s full of shit and where’s our fucking MONEY, motherfucker? He has to deal with them all, one at a time, and it’s like descending into hell, level by level.
The mob guys sort of understand. They only break his arm. Then they demand every dime he makes from now on off anything called Julia Starchild. This is a big problem. He has no money to give them. Zack is doomed and he knows it.
The pimp who invested a few grand also wants his cut—but Zack is able to buy him off cheap with a few bucks and a rock of pure uncut Columbian blow. It’s more painful giving that away than anything else the guy takes. The dude doesn’t even break any of his bones. Just squeezes his bad hand extra hard when they shake on it—says maybe he’ll be back one day but probably not. Zack’s other investors all slither down the shitter when they realize he’s a stone junkie and a desperate freak and he sure as hell ain’t living high off the hog. He’s still in that crappy apartment on the Deuce. He’s still eating burritos from the food stands on 42nd Street. He’s doomed anyway because the mafia just put a contract out on his life.
Word hits the street fast.
Bad fucking magic, man.
Zack gathers up every scrap of cash he’s got, throws his film cans in the back of a Ford Pinto and hauls ass through the Lincoln Tunnel at five in the morning. At first it’s hard driving a goddamn car with one arm is in a cast, but he totally pulls it off. All he has to do is chase the dragon and swallow a cocktail of speed and angel dust. The rest is damn fucking easy.
He’s bound for Los Angeles, to see his son.
He has to see his son before they kill him.
He looks over his shoulder for a week, driving cross country. He calls his beloved Julia—the real Julia—at the Playboy mansion from a pay phone and they say she moved out months ago. She’s in a nice apartment now, paid for by some filthy rich guy she’s been dating. That’s one of the perks of being in Playboy. You become an object of desire to just about everyone who owns money. So the kid—Zack and Julia’s only son, whom they conceived during Julia Starchild’s first journey across the universe—is being taken care of also. This makes his heart die. Then he snorts some more angel dust, gets back in his car and runs like fucking hell. Runs for the city of angels. Where he arrives, looking like a wasted scarecrow among gods bound to earth.
It is Halloween now.
It is still 1975.
His movie is still playing in theaters here.
It’s in theaters everywhere.
This was the thing he wanted most in all the world—and now it will be his death. It’s only a matter of time. He shoots up in a Denny’s bathroom, goes and buys a nice suit, checks into a motel and gets cleaned up as best he can. The bad arm is a real bitch. Damn clumsy thing. It hurts bad when the drugs wear off. So he just snorts some more. Then he finds the Playboy mansion and explains to the security guards that he’s the director of Julia Starchild. This raises eyebrows. This gets him an audience with Hef. Who tells Zack where Julia lives. The apartment building is in Burbank—really high-class living. His beloved Julia answers the door in a silk robe that flows over her perfect body like mother’s milk. Her face is astonished. Her smile is like the sun. She says she’s amazed to see that he’s so clean looking. She grins at his snazzy new suit. She asks why his arm is in a cast. He says he “fell down some stairs” with a funny little grin and she almost believes him before she realizes he’s joking. Then she lets it go. She introduces Zack to her new husband—a guy named Benny who sits on the couch in an even more snazzy suit, with a bottle of Cristal chilling next to him in a silver bucket. He is gruff and older. Craggy. He is a billionaire in oil. The guy says he can help Zack. Says he knows why his arm was broken. Says he can get the mob off his back. If he’ll just do one thing.
He must put Julia in a new film.
Turns out she doesn’t like being a Playboy centerfold anymore. Turns out she is tired of offers to do porn. Turns out nobody in Hollywood will make a deal right away to do a movie with her because they all think she has the acting talent of a wasted rocketship. The irony is that Julia Starchild is doing well. It has an audience, sort of. But the suits at Universal and Paramount are just laughing. So let’s cut through the Gordian knot. Let’s bypass all these motherfuckers. Let’s make a goddamn movie and make it now. Zack says there’s no fucking way in hell he can do that. Everybody from the last project wants his head. The millionaire says he can make all that hoopla go away and how much do you need to make it happen?
Zack does a double take on that.
How much do I NEED?
Zack shrugs and waves his hand like none of this is possibly real and names a figure out of thin air. Four million. Twice what he spent on the last one. The guy says put me down for six, just to be sure.
Julia smiles. The check clears. Zack is now a millionaire.
He’s worried that he’ll never be able to spend one dime, but Julia’s husband is the fucking Wizard Of Oz. He makes it all go away. Buys off everybody. Even the greaseballs in New York see the light and kiss the ring. The Wizard has doctors fix his arm up better and rents expensive studio space and new offices on Sunset Boulevard. The Wizard doesn’t care if he makes any of his cash back—he pisses six million every other day. He just wants his wife in a new film. Wants her to have a career beyond raising their son.
And that’s part of the deal also.
Their son who is really Zack’s son.
The Wizard Of Oz turns out to be Rumpelstiltskin.
He wants the boy or there’s no movie. Zack must sign off on that. All he has to do to get the money and make another film and save his life from the leather makers of hell is turn over his own flesh and blood to fucking Rumpelstiltskin.
Zack Groove does it without hesitation.
He doesn’t even know the boy.
Has never even seen his face.
And he probably never will.
He signs the papers, then ties off his arm and shoots the best dope money can buy right into the hungriest vein. He writes the script in a two week delirium that seems like a skidmark in his tortured heart. Julia Starchild 2 goes into pre-production three weeks later. They import the crazy Italian guy from NYC to do the special effects and give him a real crew this time. They have sets that are better than cardboard. They can’t afford John Barry again and they’ll have to recycle a few shots from the first picture, and Zack has a plan to save even more money by setting part of the action on present-day earth, when Julia comes through a time-warp and lands on Sunset Boulevard, searching for the Ring of the Five Lost Souls, which is the key to discovering the “Starchild” of her namesake. See, there is a legend among the stars that an eternally infant boy is in the center of all creation, making everything possible—and if Julia can find him and sing to him, her powers will combine with the child’s, and they will save the universe from certain doom. This certain doom, by the way, is all because Drydex has returned through a magical black hole—and is now a woman seeking revenge for the destruction of her former manhood. This is only happening because Rumpelstiltskin insists on a role for Julia’s new best girlfriend, whom she met when she was still living at the Playboy mansion and who is a struggling actress with a shitty management deal she can’t get out of. In fact, old Rumpelstiltskin has a lot of ideas that get into the script—so many, in fact, that he even puts his name on the script as co-writer.
What does it matter?
The entire second act of the film takes place on earth—and it is this section that proves most difficult and fascinating for me as a child.
I will tell Zack this one day.
I will ask him why he brought her down to earth like that and he will have no good answer for me, except that it seemed like a way to save money—but the irony is that shooting all those scenes down on the Sunset Strip and Hollywood Boulevard are really expensive anyway because of all the location permits and shit like that. She stays on earth long enough to have some weird misadventures with the local gangs and a torrid love affair with a hippie guru, who turns out to by a mystic warrior banished from Andromeda—and then, of course, there’s the gypsy fortuneteller on La Brea, who gives Julia the clue to the Darkworld, where the lady Drydex is planning the end of all creation. The climax takes Julia there, in an effects-laden finale between the two warrior women, ending in a great passionate scene of cosmic love—which gives way to the birth of the “Starchild,” when both women reach a singing, galactic orgasm. The message is that all you need is love, I suppose. But it lacks the danger of the original. Julia is never at anyone’s mercy for long. It’s soft. But that’s okay. Lesbian love in outer space is kinda cool too.
The shoot goes by in record time.
He hardly notices that it happens.
He wrote the role of the “Starchild” for his son, of course—his son, who is now Rumpelstiltskin’s son—but Rumpelstiltskin will have none of it. He insists on a baby from Central Casting. This comes close to breaking Zack’s heart, but he just ties off and shoots up. Julia smiles for the camera. She makes out with a woman three feet away from him and gives birth to the universe and he doesn’t even see it. He just yells “CUT!” and suddenly it’s over. Julia kisses his forehead on the last day of shooting and tells him to get some help. The drugs will kill him soon. She can see his soul rotting on his face. Then she is gone.
The effects and the editing, it all goes by fast, too.
It took him three years to make the first one.
Julia Starchild 2 is wrapped in less than six months.
He sits in a real screening room in April of 1976 and watches the final answer print and it feels cold and dead. It doesn’t make him happy to see any of this. Sure, some of it is flashy, and he loves hearing that music again—the John Barry score they recycled from the first picture. But there is no hope in any of it. No heroism. Where did all that money go anyway? Did he shoot it all into his veins? (At least his arm is out of the cast now.) He hates what he’s done so much—both on and off the screen—that he takes his name off the directing credit and replaces it with a really silly fake one. Marie Galaxy is now the director of Julia Starchild 2. They funnel the flick into the Cinerama release pipe for September.
And the critics rave.
“This incredibly unnecessary sequel to last year’s incomprehensible sci-fi Emmanuelle knockoff is even more ponderous than the original. Much flashier visuals cannot save what is obviously a cynically-designed cash-in affair. But what is it designed to cash in on?”
“Okay, I’m confused. Was the first film such a hit that we need more of this garbage? What is even more insulting than the sheer lack of talent on display in the writing, acting, and effects departments is the dimwitted optimism at the heart of the spectacularly bad screenplay, which stoops to so many raunchy exploitive lows that one wonders what horrors could possibly be in store in—god forbid—a JULIA PART 3?”
“Julia Starchild saves the universe and we all suffer.”
“What universe did Julia come from and why is she saving ours?”
“Save us ALL from this dreck!”
“The bad guy’s name still sounds like a feminine hygiene product.”
Even Roger Ebert agrees this time:
“It was maybe fun on the first go-round, but one can feel a marked lack of enthusiasm for the material now. Perhaps miss Marie Galaxy missed the heroic point of Julia’s original campy adventure?”
The funny thing is, money really CAN buy anything.
Rumpelstiltskin buys a New York PR department and pumps all those millions he promised into promoting. The reality Zack is only vaguely aware of is that the film only cost about 900 grand to make. That’s a lot of money in 1976. The other five mil goes out into the world to make a smash sleeper hit out of almost nothing at all. And not a cult hit, mind you. An actual financial hit. It makes its budget back (which was already written off as last year’s tax loss anyway) and travels the world, making even more money. Julia Starchild becomes an international sex symbol. The sexy star of the film goes on the cover of spank books and science fiction mags and gets headlines in scandal sheets. (Hef even talks her into a new spread in Playboy, for a cool million in babysitter money.) More than a few people want to know who Marie Galaxy is, but the studio says she won’t give interviews. Rumpelstiltskin incorporates a production entity in January of 1977 to get Part 3 off the ground and capitalizes for an even more elaborate production this time. Zack can’t believe it’s all happening. It’s like a nightmare version of a life he once dreamed about. Zack shoots up all the dope and snorts all the coke he can find. Zack wonders what he will have to give up this time to make his movie? Rumpelstiltskin says just give me your heart. Let’s keep going. My wife must continue to be a star. The other studios still think she’s a bimbo. Zack says okay, and starts writing the third sequel on February 14. He injects a near lethal dose of Magic Blue one night when the depression is so overwhelming that he thinks his life might be over.
And that’s when the pimp from the Deuce kicks in his door.
Kicks his teeth in.
Slaps him around some.
Puts him on the floor to remind him who the boss is.
I said I might be back didn’t I, boy?
Zack looks right up at the guy and doesn’t gave a shit. He feels no pain. He doesn’t even see the irony because this just so happens to be the last dumb asshole who Rumpelstiltskin never paid off because the guy lives so far off the grid—and this is the guy who will kill him now, because of the money he borrowed almost four years ago. The guy spits on him and calls him names. Says he’s a dirty white honky and where’s my money?
And then the big guy’s head explodes.
Brains go everywhere.
Zack hardly notices that, either.
Hardly notices his life has been saved by a scumbag private detective whom the big money has hired to keep watch on him every day—a hard, tough son of a bitch who used to kill gooks in Nam and now carries a gun in the real world. Zack sits in Rumpelstiltskin’s office three days later, more stoned than he’s ever been in his life, and the big money says it’s all going away. No one will ever hurt Zack again. He’ll even get some nice expensive dental work for those busted teeth. No one gives a shit about a pimp. No one cares about exploding heads, if they are not seen in broad daylight. This is the price Zack must now pay for Julia Starchild 3. He must keep quit about a man’s death. He must be a party to murder.
He wants none of it.
But he goes with it.
Because why not?
. . .
Zack Groove has no idea, of course, that Julia has made me so strong.
Though, even as a 10 year old boy, I somehow can tell his passion has left the art, she is still the most beautiful woman in the universe and she still inspires me to be strong. The thing that has moved me the most is that she’s down to earth in this new movie—literally down on my planet, where I might one day be able to see and smell and touch her. That is so inspiring. It makes me want to create things. Makes me want to be a teller of stories. Julia inspires me so much, in fact, that on the night my mother’s sleazy truck driver boyfriend finally comes for me in my bedroom, with his terrible lusty grin slobbering in the dark like some awful lupine nightmare . . .
Well, you see, I’m ready.
I am no longer a victim.
I do it for Julia.
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