The script for "Chapter 27" by Jarrett Schaefer — a movie about the man who murdered John Lennon — reads like "Springtime for Hitler," the tasteless, fictitious play that Max Bialystock discovers in Mel Brooks' "The Producers" and terms "the worst idea in history."
And yet, someone is producing "Chapter 27" to make a profit — not, as in "The Producers," to defraud investors by making a turkey.
I read the script over the weekend, or at least the version that got the ball rolling for the production.
The basic story of "Chapter 27" casts Jared Leto as the odious Mark David Chapman and Lindsay Lohan as a minor character named Jude. It follows Chapman's activities leading up to the killing, painting him as a jolly fan who is obsessed with "The Catcher in the Rye."
The Web site for Peace Arch Films describes it as thus: "The story portrays Chapman's mental collapse, which is played out through his obsession with J.D. Salinger's classic novel 'The Catcher in the Rye,' as Chapman's demons win over and persuade him to shoot Lennon on the steps of Lennon's apartment building, The Dakota."
Lohan's Jude is a friend he makes along the way, evidently based on real person Jude Stein, who was hanging around the Dakota with her friend, Jeri Moll.
It's unclear whether Schaefer secured Stein's rights, or renamed the character in the shooting script. In any event, it's a small, insignificant role. It's Leto who's in every scene as Chapman.
Production of "Chapter 27" is the most controversial thing happening on the New York film scene right now. Over the weekend, the company continued to film and make a huge scene, unabated, in front of the Dakota apartment house, where Lennon was murdered by Chapman and where his widow, Yoko Ono, still lives.
I've been critical of Ono in the past about various things, but no one deserves this kind of torture. Schaefer, who wrote and is directing "Chapter 27," has really crossed a line of decency and taste here.
If he had to make this movie, it certainly could have been done elsewhere. Picture that in the version I read, Chapman shakes hands with 5-year-old Sean Lennon in front of the Dakota.
Ono, contrary to some reports, did not authorize this movie. She and her attorney, Peter Shukat, have not seen the script.
A publicist working on the film told me recently that my script is different from the shooting script, and that must be true. But director-writer Schaefer's intentions are here, and they are pretty alarming.
In the version of the script I read, Chapman reads long passages from "Catcher in the Rye" aloud(the movie's title refers to what would be an extra chapter of the novel — Salinger stopped at 26).
For example, Chapman announces on page 43: "I am [main character] Holden Caulfield. I am the Catcher in the Rye." He does this while practicing shooting his gun, studying his reflection in a mirror à la Travis Bickle in "Taxi Driver."
Schaefer's dependence on "Catcher," at least in his original vision, would seem problematic legally.
When Chapman isn't actually quoting the book in voice-overs, he's talking like Holden, punctuating his dialogue with Holden's trademark words "phonies" and "goddamn." Chapman's odyssey in New York prior to the shooting melds with Holden's from the novel: He stays at a YMCA, befriends a prostitute and has a yearning for the ducks in Central Park.
Calls to Salinger's literary agent/lawyer were never returned, but the famously reclusive author could not be happy about his copyright possibly being infringed upon.
If the script has changed, then Schaefer must have done a complete overhaul, because as this version stood, the script could not exist without "The Catcher in the Rye."
Eventually, Ono, Lennon and even their 5-year-old son Sean are recreated in the screenplay, as are Dakota doormen and New York City policemen.
The part with Sean is gratuitous, but then again the whole script is. Jude introduces Sean and his nanny to Chapman in this fantasy. We can only glean from this that a similar scene will be shot in front of the Dakota.
And of course, the worst scene of all is included: a graphic rendering of Lennon's assassination in the doorway of the Dakota. It includes an odd twist on what is considered the conventional story: distraught doorman Jose Perdomo is recorded in history as telling Chapman right after the shooting, "Leave! Get out of here!"
When Chapman doesn't respond, Perdomo shouts: "Do you know what you've done?"
But in Schaeffer's script, Perdomo's quote is different: "Get out of here. Just go. Before anyone sees you."
Schaefer, it seems, is throwing a bone to the conspiracy theorists who like to think that Perdomo, a Cuban exile, killed Lennon as part of some plot.
"Chapter 27" penultimately ends with Chapman in a mental hospital, as Caulfield ended up in the novel.
But Schaefer has a different final ending attached: He uses two newsreel clips.
The first is of a Beatles press conference, circa 1964. It switches to some five years later, again with real footage, but this time of John and Yoko's Toronto bed-in and a discussion with a reporter of the lyrics to "The Ballad of John and Yoko."
Lennon, answering a reporter, gets the final word in the script.
And here's an interesting post-script: Since news of "Chapter 27" has leaked out, Schaefer's name has been excised entirely from the Internet Movie Data Base. There is no longer any mention of him anywhere.
His previous bio, which used to be posted there, listed him as a senior editor at Fade In, a Beverly Hills-based movie magazine. But when I called the magazine, the person who answered the phone said that Schaefer had been a freelancer, and was long gone with no forwarding information.
"He was not an editor," she said.
Schaefer's previous credits include a music video.
The Screen Actors Guild took an interesting turn last night and gave their Best Ensemble Cast award not to favorite "Brokeback Mountain," but to "Crash," the only 2005 movie with a true ensemble.
Is this a blow to Oscar ambitions of "Brokeback?" Maybe. Also over the weekend, Ang Lee won Best Director for "Brokeback." Suddenly the Oscar race — which will crystallize tomorrow morning — is looking a bit clearer.
"Brokeback" will still be nominated for Best Picture, along with "Walk the Line" and "Capote." I do think that three films are vying for the two remaining spots, though: "Munich," "Crash," and "Good Night, and Good Luck."
After last night, the latter suddenly seems the most vulnerable. George Clooney losing the SAG vote to Paul Giamatti is one sign. The "Crash" win is another. SAG membership was blanketed with "Crash" DVDs, and SAG voting is the most accurate precursor of Oscars.
Tomorrow morning, when the titles are read alphabetically, there will be held breaths after "Brokeback" is announced. "Capote" will be next. And then? If you hear "Crash," then either "Good Night" or "Munich" is in. If "Good Night" is in, then say goodbye to "Munich." Of course, if "Crash" was overlooked by the entire Academy, then "Good Night" and "Munich" are in.
There was a bit of tussle over Best Actress last night: Reese Witherspoon beat Felicity Huffman. Don't count Felicity out yet. The SAG membership may have considered that two awards for Felicity — they gave her one for "Desperate Housewives" — was too much.
The Academy is a different story. Felicity still has a decent shot against Reese at the Oscars.
"Brokeback" has lost the Best Actor and Supporting Actress awards, though. It's pretty clear that Philip Seymour Hoffman ("Capote") and dark horse Rachel Weisz ("The Constant Gardener") are locks after the Globes and SAG.
Weisz could still lose to Catherine Keener ("Capote") at the Oscars, but it's unlikely now. Hoffman is all the way home at this point.
The Oscar Best Picture will be a toss up at this point. If "Brokeback" has truly lost momentum, "Walk the Line" would be the obvious new candidate. Witherspoon could help carry it along, too.
On the other hand, "Capote" is helped by Hoffman. My own choice, "Munich," has been so mishandled that I can't in all seriousness think much can happen now. "Crash" is the wild card.
March 5 is a long way away from tomorrow. Look out for two and a half weeks of intense campaigning by some, and apathy from others involved in this business.
It may not matter anyway. Twenty years from now, people are going to think "Cinderella Man" won the 2005 Academy Award no matter what happens.
The invites have gone out to Clive Davis' famous and impossible-to-get-into pre-Grammy dinner. This year it's at the Beverly Hilton Ballroom, and "The Entertainment Will Be Major!" promises the invite.
In fact, the "unannounced" performers definitely include Jamie Foxx and Alicia Keys, and perhaps Santana or Rod Stewart.
The physical invite is a sumptuous thing of beauty, a heavy diploma-like folder dressed in black silk with gold lettering.
It even has a hidden message floating in a buried hologram: "QUITE VIPLY, THE MOST FABULOUS MUSIC EVENT OF THE YEAR." I have no doubt it will be.
But forget the music. Tea leaf readers and Kremlinologists will be craning their necks to see who comes from the Sony side of Sony BMG aside from Sir Howard Stringer. The invite, quite pointedly, is from "Clive Davis & BMG US." Davis and his crew, PS, have the No. 1, No. 4 and No. 12 albums right now.