Entry Level Movie

In a cineplex world ruled by mega-corporations, how much damage can one man do?

Vivian Stephens, the romance editor, served as the Galactic Judge, but she had no power. Her part was filmed in less than a day, and after each scene, she would say, "Rick, I'm really not satisfied,' and he'd say, 'You might not be, but I am. We're done."'

Seanna was cast as a space cadet. At one point, she is supposed to receive a kiss, "but for some reason, I kept giggling and turning my head, and he'd get a mouthful of hair." That, too, was a take.

It went on like this every weekend for five months. Perhaps Rick Harrington's most amazing achievement was that he was able to hold so many people together for so long. He made it look easy. Except for some grumbling about Sharron's vegetarian meals, said Seanna, everyone was generally like, "Oh goody goody goody. Can I sweat some more?"

After they were gone, Rick and a wild-haired Panamanian named Pat Coakley sat down at an ancient editing table. One of the belts broke. Then another one broke. Eventually, they had to replace more than 50 belts.

Rick's son died of a heart attack, and grieving, Rick worked on. After he underwent prostate surgery, Rick worked from his bed. Two and a half years and more than $100,000 of Joel Carroll's money later, Entry Level Male was ready for its debut.

"I'm looking forward to getting a good review from Public News," Rick said in September. "You might say, 'Well, Rick, you're a dreamer.' But who knows?"

All those who came for previews were led up the studio stairs into a small viewing room. Rick would sit down beside them and watch his movie for the nine-trillionth time, laughing at all his jokes and checking to see if the critics were laughing, too.

"This isn't a kids movie," he warned. "You gotta think a little bit." Rick called the film E*L*M for short, because he thought it looked kind of technological and futuristic. The movie is set in the present and flashes forward to a story told in flashbacks. Some of the flashbacks are lies, and you're supposed to know to disregard these. If you pay close attention, you come to understand that women have taken over the future world, and that men, because they "are almost entirely ruled by their penises," exist only in harems. The single exception is Roger W. Rigian, the only man with a job, and a man on trial now for "machoism," letting his penis lead him astray.

If there is a theme to Rick's work, he said it is "feminist issues." He truly does believe that women are much stronger than men and are destined to take over, but his film is not an effort to convince or persuade, and it's hard to tell what kind of effort it is. At first, you figure that Rick has dipped his Star Trek into the peanut butter and emerged with a sci-fi romance. But then, moving back and forth in time, you realize you're not going to get any sex or violence, dammit. You find yourself running into Clinton and Rush Limbaugh and a young Einstein, and someone named Cherry Apple-Day and all those "Media Maniacs." None of these people says or does anything especially significant, and you don't understand why they've appeared, and the movie begins to feel kind of random, kind of like a dream.

"I don't know exactly what I'm getting at here," but is was meant as a parallel to the modern male-dominated world, said Rick.

He had just delivered his film to Baybrook Mall, when he stopped on the way back to pick up a copy of Public News. Michael Bergeron's review was on page six. Read it, he said.

E*L*M may be the most inexpensive feature film ever shot on 35mm film stock ....

The premise ... is something that a writer could take and really run with. But scripter/helmer Rick Harrington only walks with this idea ....

In its attempts at political and sociological humor E*L*M is just plain sophomoric. Acting is generally abysmal, with few exceptions ....

It would be nice for a locally made film to put Houston on the map, but E*L*M is not that film.

By then, Rick had parked his Ford back at the studio. He sat stunned, staring out the window, talking as though to himself.

"Well, Michael chose to say what he chose to say, didn't he? Oh my. It was a hell of an effort. We did it, and we just go on with the next one .... Wow. That poor guy. He really didn't like it too much .... Well, a review is what it is -- a guy with an opinion .... God, didn't even mention Jeanne -- she's a good little actress. And the lighting .... the poster ....' "

"Do you know that saying by Sartre about the flower in the dung heap?" Sharron asked. "Well, Rick has always had this thing that if there's a pile of shit in the barn, there must be a pony in there somewhere."

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