Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Miriam's Review of "A Crowded Room"


(As we continue our discussion this week of James Cameron's A Crowded Room, this review comes to us from Miriam Paschal. By the way, today is her birthday! HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MIRIAM!)

Sybil was the original story of MPD and the drama and interest in that made-for-TV movie lay in the discovery of the disorder itself, as well as its cause. Because it was done so well in Sybil, relying on revealing the disease is no longer enough to sustain a sense of drama, and that is what I feel is the weakness of this story. In Identity the drama is generated by setting up the mind and imagination of the MPD as a hotel where the guests are stranded by the rainstorm. The reveal that all of this has been taking place within the mind of the MPD is done near the end of the second act. In A Crowded Room, I think too much time is spent detailing how Billy becomes an MPD and then how the doctors discover it. The story of how the system let him down gets put on the back burner because of it, yet that is where the real drama lies.

I looked up Lima Hospital (pictured above, now a prison) and found the book about Billy Milligan, so I know this is based on real events. However, some of these events play as too melodramatic to be believable by a modern audience. The guards at the jail, the cops who arrest him, and the doctors who treat him at Lima are too evil and too abusive to be seen as real people. My suggestion is to tone it down for the modern audience. The people will seem more evil and the events more frightening if they are subtly presented. As it is now, they seem to come at the audience like a sledgehammer. Perhaps they really did try to exorcise Billy in Lima, but it comes across as unbelievable.

I read "Sybil" the book after I saw the made-for-TV movie. I also read a book called, "When Rabbit Howls," which was written by "The Troops For Trudy Chase." Trudy Chase no longer exists. During therapy her various personalities (over 50 of them) decided not to integrate, but rather to live in harmony. Through therapy, all of them are awake and aware at all times and work together to present a united front to the world. They make committee decisions about how to use the body in which they exist. I've also read a few medical papers I found online. Most experts agree that MPD occurs when the child is exposed to what can only be described as torture during its very early years, usually before age five. The fact that Billy's mind was more fully formed before the period of torture in his life (eight years old instead of the usual six months to three years), makes his MPD break seem less realistic. Until his mother met Chalmer Milligan, Billy had a more "normal" dysfunctional life, not the kind of life that would create an MPD.

But too much time was spent detailing how he became an MPD, and too much was spent detailing how it affected his life after that. The long section that takes up much of the second act should be compressed into short flashbacks. The bulk of the story should focus on the struggle to place Billy in a facility that will treat him rather than re-expose him to more torture (albeit of a different type).

Billy should be both the main character and protagonist, but he emerges as neither. The story starts with the three victims in a rather clever intercut interview and doesn't get to Billy until he is arrested. You should start with Billy and focus on him. Or, if you want an active protagonist, start with Gary Schweickart and make it his story as he discovers the truth about Billy's secret life and battles to see justice done.

I like the imagery of the spotlight that recalls a happier time in his life, but I think you could make more of that if you use it less frequently. As it is, you use it the same way each time. If you use it less often, and expand on it as a symbol by using it differently (very vague, I know, but it's just a feeling), I think it will have more impact.

In Terminator the dramatic impact was the reveal that one of the men chasing Sarah Connor was a machine. But the drama kept building as details were revealed at key points. He's a machine. He's from the future. In the future machines will destroy humans. Your son sent me. I'm in love with you. And finally we discover, almost along with Sarah, that the son sent his own father, knowing that in order to exist he had to sacrifice this man who would give him life. It's this whole Oedipal thing wrapped up in a time travel twist.

In Titanic the dramatic impact was how Jack saved Rose at the cost of his own life. At the beginning nobody loved life more than him, and nobody hated it more than her. By the end he realizes that in order for her to live her life to the fullest, his must end.

So now you must find the dramatic impact of this story. Will it be a tense courtroom fight between rivals as Gary goes toe to toe with Banks? If so, you'll have to set up a history between the two men. Or will it be the human drama of Gary and Judy discovering the life of Billy Milligan and trying to save him? Whatever it is, most of it must take place within the present of Billy's arrest and trial, not in his past, and most of it must focus on what he is now, not how he got that way.

Chalmer's role could be expanded in the present. I didn't make any notes, but I found his speech to the reporters too easy. Break his presence up into shorter moments, and let his evil nature seep slowly into the story as the conversations with Billy slowly reveal what he did. But always keep him and his history with Billy in the background. The larger story is the current fight for justice.

I hope these notes have been helpful. Your work is among some of my favorite. But I'd trade Jack's impassioned speech to Rose for Virgil smacking Lindsey and yelling, "Come on, you bitch. You've never backed down from a fight in your life." It's those short pieces of dialogue that have more dramatic impact.

Thanks for the opportunity.

Mim.

Back to James Cameron's A Crowded Room.

17 comments:

Mystery Man said...

Great review, Miriam. I agreed with you about the cops being a little too evil to be really believable. And there were some sections during that whole flashback sequence that I thought probably could've been cut, like Billy's trip to London.

And I'm glad you mentioned Lima, too, because I meant to make the point that I never felt any dread about Billy possibly being sentenced to Lima, because we never saw Lima in the story and so I had no way of knowing whether Lima was ACTUALLY scary or not. We should've had some scenes in Lima State Hospital first so we could SEE how scary it was and then we could feel the dread at the end of him possibly beings sentenced there, because I just wasn't feeling it. Just because somebody SAYS it's a snake pit doesn't necessarily mean that it really is one.

Anyway, good job.

-MM

GameArs said...

Miriam,

I can see you really gave this your all. An excellent piece of reviewing. I can't wait to get into the script.

Mim said...

Thanks for posting today, and for the comments. In a strange coincidence, today is my birthday and you've given me a wonderful present by showcasing my work like this.

Thanks to both of you.

nena eskridge said...

Happy birthday, Miriam!
Personalities often "fracture" as a result of some sort of sexual abuse, as Miriam mentioned. But this typically happens when the abuse begins during early infancy -- like in the crib. The child can't escape, so the mind leaves the body, so to speak. There's a very good chance Billy simply doesn't remember his first experience.

If Crowded Room is to be a biopic, then I agree, it best be produced as a MOW. But if the writer switched the POV a little -- kind of shifted the intended genre, I think it could work as a feature. But that would probably require taking some liberties with the story -- which might be considered a huge no-no, morally and/or legally.

Billy isn't the only person on the planet with MPD. Most of them are women. And most, I would venture to say, are not rapists or murderers. Should this guy be allowed to roam free? The SP says he has "fused" or integrated, but Billy admits in a recent article that he has not. As MM points out in his review, Billy is still clearly troubled and might very well be out there now committing crimes. I'm not saying he should be locked up in Lima. I have no idea. But perhaps if The Crowded Room focused more on this issue, rather than defending Billy, perhaps it would make the story a little more interesting. As an example (not a suggestion) if the film opened with an "integrated" and "functioning" Billy today. Painting and selling his work. Working at his "Foundation for Abused Children." And then, as soon as we buy Billy as the remorseful and recovered character that MM talks about in his review, insert a scene of his 1996 run in with the law -- his ranting about a judge, wrapped with sticks of dynamite. Maybe include one of the rape scenes. Then slowly but surely slip into the flashback structure that MM mentions. And each time we're about to buy back into the Billy Milligan pity party, throw in another rape. Billy's story is heartbreaking -- monsters aren't born, they're created. By us. But these monsters need supervision. And that should be the moral to this story, IMHO.

Okay, I just realized that the only way this will work as a feature is if the writer parts ways with Billy Milligan and paints a less than flattering portrait of the man. And that won't happen cause surely there is a contract between the two. Hmmm. Forget everything I said. Except for the happy birthday part.

Mystery Man said...

Hehehe...

That was hilarious, Nena. Your review will be posted on Friday. While I don't want to give anything away, I do love the idea about changing the POV.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MIRIAM!

-MM

bob said...

Nice job Miriam. I hadn't thought about using the hospital as a source of fear or antagonism to Billy, but when you think about it, it probably was his biggest external nemesis.

Anonymous said...

Billy Milligan murdered a friend of mine in Bellingham, Washington. I dislike seeing him glorified in any way.

Mystery Man said...

Hey there,

I think there might be a little confusion. The Billy Milligan we studied was only guilty of robbery and a series of rapes in Ohio in the 1970s. He spent a decade in hospitals and was discharged in '88. He now lives in California. I don't believe he ever committed murder nor was he put on trial for murder.

Let it also be said that this is not a story that glorifies Billy. It's more of a cautionary tale about the things that were done to him as a child that resulted in his Multiple Personality Disorder.

Hope that helps.

-MM

Mim said...

anonymous, I'm very sorry for your loss.

Anonymous said...

I’ll add a little more. I was a college student at Western Washing University in Bellingham, Washington in the mid 1980’s. I met a fellow student named Michael P. Madden and became his friend. After I left Bellingham my mother received a call from the Bellingham police. My friend Mike had disappeared and had been murdered. I knew my friend’s father and received this letter, which gives pretty all that I know save form one conversation with the Bellingham police:

Dear R,

Thank you for your nice letter and subsequent phone calls. You didn’t mention in your letter that we had met. I believe we drove you from Bellingham to Seattle with Mike; about August 1986. Mike did mention you to us as a person that visited him and discussed his favorite subject, Biology.

Prior to attending Western Washington University we purchased an AT&T Computer for Mike to assist him in his studies. After Mike disappeared I recovered part of the computer. The display and the keyboard had been stolen (later recovered from the suspect’s brother who lived in British Columbia). I am now writing you on this computer using a word processor that Mike had procured somewhere.

We are sure that Mike disappeared September 15, 1986. That was when the landlady saw him talking to a roomer named Chris Carr who lived upstairs. Chris Carr later turned out to be a mental patient who had escaped from an institution in Columbus Ohio. He had raped three college Co-eds and was found not guilty by reason of insanity. His real named turned out to be Billy Milligan. Billy had intercepted Mike’s disability checks from the government and deposited them in his own account. He also forged Mike’s personal checks and emptied his bank account. Six days after Mike disappeared he sold Mike’s car (recently purchased) to some young man for $600 promising the young man the papers when he got them. He sent a change of address to the Post Office diverting all of Mike’s mail to his Post Office box in Bellingham; presumably to intercept Mike’s checks and car title.

The above is an over simplification of the events as there is much more but we are sure that Mike was murdered because if he decided to leave he would have taken his clothes or survival gear. As it was we figured all that he wore were pants, tennis shoes, and a sweat shirt.

I hate to write depressing letters like this but I thought you should know. Billy Milligan ran away after the police got too close and was picked up in Florida. He is back in the mental institute in Columbus. The Bellingham police can’t extradite him because they don’t have a body.

Thank you again for your nice letter

Warren L Madden

I also spoke to the Bellingham police. They call me. They were sure that Billy Milligan had murdered Mike Madden, but without a body there was little that could be done. The police told me that the day after my friend had disappeared Billy Milligan rented a pickup and bought some heavy chains. My friend’s body was probably dumped in a lake in the Cascades. Warren Madden died within a year of prostatic cancer and I spoke one time to Mike’s mother two years after the murder. I am sure that she’s gone by now as she was in here mid-seventies.

I read that Daniel Keys speculated about whether or not Billy Milligan is a psychopath who lies well, or actually has multiple personality disorder. I don’t know, but his actions show he has psychopathic traits. I’m sure the books about Billy Milligan make one sympathetic to him, but Billy Milligan also murdered a 25 year old college student in Washington sate. Obviously he never stood trial for this murder as he got away with it.

This may be the wrong place to post this, but there really is no good place to put it. If the Bellingham police are helpless in this, nothing can be done.

Mystery Man said...

Well, thank you for your additional thoughts.

You may have read in my own review that Billy's poor behavior within the last few years is a strong reason to not make this film. I would now add that your comments validate even more the position that a movie should NOT be made about Billy Milligan.

I hope you will also accept my sincere condolences for your loss.

-MM

Anonymous said...

Lima State Hospital for the Criminally insane, as it's name was before political correctness invaded our society, was the State of Ohio's dark, dank and bottomless Snakepit.

As a Bedlam for criminal deviants, it was beyond description.
If scenes from that facility had been allowed to be seen early on in the script, it would have posited yet another horror in the viewers' juxtaposition as to the "what should be done with Billy?" question.
The desperation of Billy's situtation would have become even more pronounced.
(imho)

Claimer said...

I ALSO live in Bellingham and was a direct neighbor and for a short time roommate of Carr/Milligan. I oddly enough had the opportunity to read Keyes book PRIOR to our meeting. For those of you who have read it there are photos of Billy in his younger day's. Initially I thought he looked familiar but coudn't place the face. Billy introduced himself to me as Chris Carr, An art professor on sabbatical from Denver Colorado. Mike is not the ONLY person in Whatcom county to disappear. A crooked/customs agent that Milligan shared a home with in Sudden Valley also disappeared.
To Mystery Man. This IS the same MAN. I could go on with tales of Billy for hours. I named my Band after him. After the disappearance of Mike Billy not only cashed his checks and took control of his car he also had an affinity for a sweater and a safari type hat that Mike had owned. He wore them EVERYDAY without exception. The sweater would be on if it was 60 outside or 90. As for his Multiples, I was a Skeptic when reading the book. After the epiphany of his rearrest I RECALL switches that I won't go into detail about. He IS sick. When I met him I was a young man in my first studio apt. As I said I knew him as well or better than ANYONE in Washington State. I'm not proud of this. I could give you a list of people to contact that could verify ANY as well as add their own memories of this. Bellingham has ALWAYS been a hotbed for people on the run. Bianchi was caught here. Bundy was here. Billy left when he became aware that BPD was onto him and fled to FLA where he met the prosecuting atty that had previously incarcerated him and was taken into custody without incident. After he was in custody The Bellingham Herald ran a story on him and his stint in Bellingham, My mother noticed the address and called me knowing it was my block. THIS is when the puzzle formed a clear picture. As for the 2 missing in the Bellingham area. No bodies no murders?????? This ALL unfolded at the corner of E. Myrtle St. And High St.The band was Sweaterman

Mystery Man said...

Wow. How bizarre.

Thanks for that.

-MM

Anonymous said...

untill now I know there's still somebody talking about billy. I just what to say that Mike wasn't murdered.
You guys must know that The Milligan Wars have had published in Japan and Taiwan only. There was really something there. Of course included the truth about Mike's missing.I'v read both of the books. I don't want people still think Billy's a murder.

sorry about my rude and poor english

Y

A said...

I would like to corroborate Claimer's post regarding Billy/Chris' sojourn in Bellingham in Autumn of 1986. Everything he says is 100% the truth.

I lived next door to Billy's apartment that year in a small house and he came over every day that autumn like clockwork. He did indeed call himself Chris Carr and claimed he was a visiting art professor from Colorado. One evening he even came over high on LSD. To be honest, we was actually very mellow and restrained that night. In general however, we all disliked him. He was boorish and racist and really kind of an all around jerk.

He was, however, a very talented artist. When he eventually moved to Sudden Valley, he took a young artist friend of mine under his wing, promising him an art show in Aspen. We visited his Sudden Valley house may times and I saw most of his art, all of which he signed "25." When I asked him why he signed his art such, he replied "You'll find out." His art was surreal and intense- maybe you could call it Daliesque but cruder.

Then one day Billy/Chris disappeared. My friend said he had gone to Florida and he had the key to his house. Eventually, it became evident that he wasn't coming back so we went over to his house and grabbed all his art. During this visit my friend showed me a handgun that he had left in his closet.
Shortly thereafter a Bellingham detective showed up at our door and told us the story of this man and that he was a suspect in the murder of our neighbor Mike Madden. He said that Chris/Billy had cashed his disability checks. We gave a complete account of our dealings with this man.

There is no question that Billy Milligan is a master manipulator. We cannot forget what happened to Mike Madden.

Perhaps this will illuminate you all what the Bellingham police think of Billy Milligan.

http://www.charleyproject.org/cases/m/madden_michael_pierce.html

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