But there is one more story to tell, of course.
There’s always one more story to tell, even after the last story has been told. That’s the funny thing about stories and their sequels. They find a way to keep existing. I suppose that’s what happens sometimes when a story is worthy—when it transcends its origins and spreads itself over many years, becoming some sort of legend. But really, if we are honest, that’s just the way time and history work. It all marches on, regardless of who is telling the tale. Most people in this world have no idea how special they are—that they are part of that history, even if they are nobody. We are a human race, and that race continues, ever forward, into the mists of infinity. So when we decide to tack an ending on one of our tales, or find a place to fit the fade-out in, at some great and profound moment, it may be some kind of artistic achievement after a fashion . . . but we are really just fooling ourselves.
Because stories never end.
Just like people never end.
This was the first lesson of mythmaking I ever learned.
And now I have come full-circle, to the place where it all began. Muleshoe, Texas. I never would have imagine how it would look now—almost thirty years since the first Julia Starchild film was made. It’s a tiny farmhouse off a rural highway and a rough dirt road. There were once crops in the field. There were one birds in the trees. But most of the trees are dead now. There’s something like a pale fog that seems to loom above the house, which is old wood and nails, arranged like a weird memory that’s been crucified. There’s a vague stench of ammonia and toxins wafting over a stream filled with black muck. I get out of the car and look around and it fills me with a strange, almost-bad alchemy. But the magic of this place is not quite ruined. The sky beyond the house is blue and beautiful. The low ebb of planet earth roils deep beneath my feet, calling the faithful to feel something beyond the failings of man and nature. I can sense so many memories in that, recorded forever. I sense this is the place where a magician was born. The moment is perfect.
She comes to the door before I even knock.
I see her face.
She is beautiful and devastated.
She invites me in and I enter the house and it’s filled with even stranger ghosts. The living room is dusty. I can see whole universes in the dull mists that gather by the windows. She sits in a chair that’s older than I am. She does not offer me coffee. She says to get on with it. And so I do.
I tell her the tale.
My part of it anyway.
I tell her the tale of my father and her son.
. . .
A lot of people think they want to be rich, but they have no idea what it is to be rich—especially when you’re born into it. The first few years of my life that I remember are a weird blur of hotel rooms and gated mansions and all that glitters from a thousand points of gold and diamond. The thing is: none of it is special to me. It’s just the way everything is supposed to be. Doesn’t everyone live like this? I am waited on hand-and-foot by servants and maids and I am doted on my mother, who the most beautiful woman in the world. She is the only woman in the world, really. I have only the vaguest idea that she might be some kind of movie star. My father is a benevolent man on the surface, but he hides his true face from everyone. I know this, even as a three year old child. I sense the true shape of his darkest self, slithering just beyond the diamonds and the gold. Sometimes he makes it known to me, when the cracks in his soul widen, and the rage pours out—never at me, of course, but I see him yelling at men in black suits and talking about things I will not understand for many years. It’s mostly all about money. All about protecting what is his. Protecting his family. I see my mother cry when she thinks she is alone. She never knows I am there to watch her. Her tears are like rain on her face. It’s frightening to see a grown-up cry. But then I move on. There are rooms filled with wonderful toys and books and even friends to share playtime with. Anything I want, I can have. There is no wish I cannot see fulfilled. One day I ask for a monkey riding a tricycle—just to be silly, you know? And the next day a monkey riding a tricycle rolls into our living room, complete with a full compliment of clowns, all dancing because they think it will make me happy. It doesn’t make me happy. It makes me afraid and disgusted. Is this what it is to be human? To wish for anything and have it delivered, all dressed up in funny colors?
I decide that there is a world beyond this gated paradise, and it must be a world ruled by stronger hands. I ask my tutors to bring me new books, grown up books. I read The Scarlett Letter when I am almost four. It blows my mind and changes everything. I look into my mother’s eyes when she tucks me in that night—in a bedroom the size of most people’s houses—and I ask her if she truly loves me. Or am I just a trained monkey?
She cries again and tries to shield it from me.
But this is the moment when I become a man.
I am four years old, but I am a man.
How could it even be possible?
I find out quickly about her Playboy years after that, and about the Julia Starchild films. I am almost four and a half when the truth about everything is made known to me. My father rages when he finds out that I have gone beyond these walls to discover who my mother really is—and for the first time, he punishes me. He tells me I am grounded, whatever that means. He takes away my Master Charge Card.
It is 1977 when this happens.
Like with most children my age, Star Wars has been a revelation. Unlike most children my age, I own every singe piece of merchandise ever created to accompany the film—all in triplicate. And I study it all, right alongside my beautiful, fascinating broken mother—who is just like the characters of Hawthorne and Poe. And then I start reading Shakespeare. It’s hard at first because the language is so weird—but then I get it. Then I see that these universal tragedies and human truths are beyond reproach—and they apply to all of us. It mixes with the dazzle of Star Wars and becomes lasting truth. I see, really and finally, that there are no divisions between anything that calls itself art. It’s like becoming God to know these things. Or at least a really close friend of God.
My father is murdered in his office three weeks after I finish Romeo and Juliet.
And the world becomes different.
My mother becomes cold and distant. She becomes like a haunted character in a passion play. I do not see her for years, it seems—a billion trillion years, as her face hides such awful, terrible, adult realities. I would understand if she confessed them to me. I am wise beyond my years. Really and truly. But she keeps it all inside. She drinks in secret to quell the pain. She is not a monster, but she is lost to me . . .
Until the man from space arrives.
That amazing, fascinating, broken man, who is just like my mother.
I meet him for the first time when he arrives at our house to invite her on a wonderful carnival ride. The fourth Julia Starchild film. He says he is a good friend of the family when I ask who he is. His eyes glow when he looks at me. Later in New York City, when we are on that wild-and-crazy movie set, and everything is magic time, I see the man from space in his natural element. I see him running this awesome thrill-ride and I see the waves of magic pouring off him. I see that he is every character in every work of classic literature I have ever read and tried so hard to understand—yes, he is all of those men and so many more. He is the beginning and then ending of all creation.
His is a film director.
He is my true father.
I want to be just like him—but I also want go beyond him..
When I see Battle Beyond the Planet Of Ice for the first time, I call him “daddy” for the first time. I see his joy fall on his face like the diamonds of my childhood. I am seven years old. Everything is set before me. Everything. I see that mankind is a beautiful, eternal creature and that the stories we make are expressions of that eternity. I know that love is the most important thing in the universe and that we are all born to know and understand that love, through the stories we invent and the magic we make. I believe that with all the heart of a child who has not yet been shown true manhood. I vow to keep it with me always, until the day I leave this world.
Even when my mother leaves this world by her own hand, I do not cry.
I know that she was not long for this earth.
I always did.
I am grateful for the brief moment she allowed us all to know her.
I plunge head-first into my books and my movies. The man from outer space—my true father—dies in his heart a little at a time, but I carry on for him. When I am ten years old, I have aced the entire school system and I’m looking at college now. I will be the youngest kid on earth to enter film school, when I am done studying abroad.
I go to France, where I truly become a man at last.
At age 13, I meet the woman I will marry.
Her name is Sarah, and she glitters with everything that is beautiful. Her smile is sweet and knowing, her hair long and silky. She is seven older than me—a teacher’s assistant—but she is astonished when I tell her I am only 13. I blow her mind with everything I know about the films of Goddard and Antonin Artraud. I recite the poetry of Billy Shakes to her and she is charmed like she never could have imagined. She says I am too young to love her, but I do anyway. I tell her I want her to be my muse. I tell her she must be in my first film. She blushes and it is so, so beautiful.
While I am falling in love, my father, the man from outer space, who gave me everything and fell from grace—he is rescued from his oblivion.
By a man I will never know.
That man comes to my father and says that Julia Starchild was the great light of his life, and that she must return. They do a deal with some Hollywood pirates to make another Julia film—and when I hear about this, I am angry at first. I think of it as a betrayal. But then the man from outer space explains it all to me. His voice is filled with a passion I have never experienced from him before, even back in the Ice Planet days. He says that stories are eternal, which is a truth I have always known. He says that anyone can be my mother, which is a different kind of truth I am just starting to learn. Anyone can be my father, too, he says. Anyone can be anything, so long as they believe in the magic that drives us.
And I believe it.
I come to the States with my beautiful Sarah and we sit in a theater and watch Julia Starchild and the Planet Of Lost Love, and it is truly a revelation. It’s not a great movie—but it is a movie that, like the other Julia films, has great passion. And it speaks to me in ways I find familiar and delightful. My father sits next to us with tears on his face. I know he will join my mother soon.
Jimmy Williams Universe is not at this particular screening because he had somewhere else to be, apparently—and so I never meet him.
Jimmy Williams Universe is the stage name of the man who loved my mother.
My mother who was Julia.
Jimmy Williams Universe inherits everything when my father leaves us.
I am back in France with my beloved Sarah when his happens. I do not cry. I do not return for the funeral. I move on with my own story. In a few more years, I will own the entire empire. And I must be ready when that happens. I must be worthy. I turn 19 the year I finally enter film school at UCLA. I am 21 when I am ready to direct my first feature. Sarah says she will marry me finally, and she will be my muse. I send a telegram asking for six million dollars to shoot it.
Jimmy Williams Universe deposits thirty in my account.
I never even speak to him on the phone.
I make the film in 1993. It is a wondrous blur. I direct with all the passion of my masters and I watch over the special effects guys with all the patience of a saint. Everything comes out beautiful and dangerous. We are changing the world. I am almost 24 when my baby is finally released to the world on June 6, 1995—on home video, of course, because that’s the way of the world now. It has three actual screenings in three actual theaters, and one of them is in Los Angeles, where my benefactor—Jimmy Williams Universe—cries real tears, knowing that stories are everlasting, even after they die.
And the critics finally like us.
“This radically-polarized art film spin off to the trampy Julia Starchild film series is a revelation on all fronts. While misleadingly marketed as an exploitive “cyberpunk” thriller, Starchild Sarah is a thing all its own, following the exploits of a beautiful orphaned theater ingénue as she escapes from her brutal surroundings into a fantasy world, fueled by her lifelong obsession with the character of Julia Starchild. Within wild dreamscapes that jump from planet to planet, Sarah searches for “her better self,” becoming friendly with a variety of wild characters, from scummy street bums in alien back alleys to interstellar pirate kings flying in silver spaceships through “the nebulas of love and happiness.” The silliness of the various science fiction scenarios are virtually sidestepped by a cheeky revisionist approach that crosscuts between the real world and Sarah’s deliriously fragmented fantasies, until finally it all comes to head and the lady must make her choice between “living the dream” and “dreaming the life.” It’s an almost astonishingly mature film for such a young director and the fact that it will probably go unheralded for many years is a true sin in today’s day and age of video-jaded genre product. It is rare when movie this good emerges from such a mire and will serve as a worthwhile and curious footnote in the lurid lexicon of Julia Starchild.”
“Weird and wonderful. Takes schlock and makes it art.”
“Where did this film come from? I want to shake the director’s young hand.”
“The questions of what makes high art and low art and where the line is dawn are all examined in this delightful revisionist thriller-fantasy that attempts a high wire act between thematic expressionism and dueling laser beams. Sarah Starr is lovable, pleasing and excellent as the title character.”
“A movie that will live in infamy and discussion for decades.”
“I hated the Julia Starchild films. This is something else entirely. It forces you to reexamine the very idea of what a story is and how it can be told. It is, indeed, a new kind of film with a different kind of purpose.”
“As Sarah searches for meaning inside her own wasted life—her mother and father both dead in a bizarre suicide pact that has left her at the mercy of sadistic nuns in a government orphanage—the fantasy escape seems somewhat trite at first, then achieves a poignancy and a tenderness that will leave your jaw on the floor and your heart in Sarah’s hands.”
“Imagine Barbarella reimagined by the Brothers Grimm through the lens of some berserk ultra-stylish new wave French Auteur and you start to get the idea.”
“The real world is in black and white, while Sarah’s visions of fantasy are in color—but this is less Wizard Of Oz and more Goddard, as the visions take over the movie and allow the viewer to realize that the only world worth living is the world we make for ourselves.”
And old Roger Ebert?
Well . . .
“This is a film unlike any I have ever seen. I’m not sure I know exactly how to review it. I’ll begin by saying that it’s incredibly violent and confrontational in the starkest sense of reality. But then it becomes something more that reality. And what you takes away from the experience may be what you bring into it.”
It is the work of our lives, father.
I honor you and I honor my mother with this.
Because you never left us. You are here.
And I love you.
. . .
The woman sits in her chair and smiles when my tale is done. She asks me why I came here to tell her this. I say that her son is Jimmy Williams Universe. I say that he died one week ago, peacefully in his sleep. He knew he was not long for this earth—like my father did, like Julia did. I know I am not long for this earth, too. I tell her my son will be born soon, and that he will continue the tale, as we all have, in this family of luminous beings.
But before I am gone . . . before I turn the story over to him . . . and before he turns it over to his own starchild . . . I wanted you to know how much your own son regretted leaving you the way he did. I wanted you to know that he loved you and that he only did what he did to protect you. It was the tragedy of his life that he left and never came back. So here I am, mother. Here I am to right that mistake, in my own way.
Because I know that when my son is born, I will be dead.
It’s the way of the Starchilds, you see?
I’m not sure why that is.
But we cannot stay for long.
When my son is born, you will go to him. You will come away from this half-dead place of poisoned water and looming despair. My son will fill your life with the happiness your son could not, if only for a while. My beloved Sarah will call you mother. My son will call you grandmother. You will be rescued from all this aloneness. You will find happiness in the twilight years of your life. You will be the voice of age and wisdom I could never provide. Because I am, after all, just a young man. But I have my youth to give to you. Please take this gift from me, mother. Take it from me and know that we have always been family. Know that our stories will go on and on, and that those stories will bring others into our circle, and others beyond that. Some of them will be young, some of them will be old. All will be luminous beings. This is how the world is created. This is how creation becomes history. This is how history becomes eternity.
This is how the story never ends.
Peace in the galaxy . . .