26 January 2016

A Salute to Frank Capra's "Bitter Tea": Oedipus Ram, Act Seven


OEDIPUS RAM MIDPIECE 5

OEDIPUS RAM
A Toon Tragedy
inspired by Sophocles' Oedipus Rex
Directed, Staged and Written by
DC Hampton Jacobs
Original characters and Archie Fan Art Images
Created and Drawn by
Stuffed Animal

THE PLAYERS:
Donna Dante, the wife
Fay Clitoris, the vocal arranger
Hillary Joon, the mistress
Chaiwat Bunyasam, the sound engineer
Hilo Herbie, the college buddy
Puddy Tat Tambo, the other college buddy
The White Lady
and the star
Ramsay Khalid Sharma

ACT SEVEN:
JEALOUSY

SYNOPSIS:
Former New Archies member Ramsay Khalid Sharma will become an Asian superstar in the mid-2060s. He bounces effortlessly from million-sellers on disc to indie film roles that draw fanatical cult followings. His trajectory looms skyward, but what goes up must always come down! Hastening his downward plunge is cocaine addiction. He alienates colleagues in both the music and movie industry, and undermines his marriage. During the same period, he's rocked by triple tragedy: The death of his mother, Kharis Sharma; the miscarriage of a baby conceived with his mistress, Tempestt Spangler; and Tempie's subsequent suicide! Before he can even process these catastrophic losses, his crooked manager circulates shocking sex tapes of him. The public recoils in horror! Has Ram weathered devastating personal crises only to be undone by scandal?

By 2072, there are few film offers coming Ram’s way anymore. Most of those he gets are from porn producers!  His sex tape images are now as famous as his movie roles, if not more.  "Puchi Schneider is the best promoter an actor could have," he quips bitterly.  "That motherf*cker can get you branded 'box office poison" faster than anybody!"

Ram's wife urges him not to throw in the towel. “You’re a fine actor, and you can still be commercial in the mainstream,” Donna Dante asserts. “We’ll find a vehicle for your talent, if we have to write and produce it our damn selves!” While she searches for a suitable film project, he begins recording the final album due on his Santi Music contract. “I’d like to cut some vintage surf music,” the Bollywood Balladeer decides. “This album will be mostly vocal, but there’ll be some instrumentals, too.”

None of the New Archies are available to help out this time. The Cabaña Boys are also busy, appearing in a big screen version of Hawaii 5-0. Ram reaches out to Japanese Pop diva Fay Clitoris.  Aside from her successful singing career, Fay is the Ellie Greenwich of her era: Babe plays keyboards and sings background on Pop sessions all over the world!  She also has her own Girl Group, which she hires out. Ram specifically requests vocal assistance from Clitoris Club; he and The New Archies will have worked with them two decades earlier.

GIRL GROUP FOR HIRE

Fay writes all the vocal arrangements for her group. She’ll do the same for Ram, and share executive producer credit with him on his new album. Chaiwat is the nominal producer, but Ram works most closely with his new production assistant (and lover), Hillary Joon. Rounding out the studio team is Quincy Zen; Yasmin Rudi will have moved on, leaving QZ as the main sound engineer @ DALEKtable Sound.

The Rad Asian Manchild needs all the vocal help he can get!  His singing voice is ravaged from habitual crack smoking.  It quickly becomes clear that his surf music tribute will, by necessity, be mostly instrumental. All dude can manage are five vocal sides: Four appear on the new album, and one gets saved for QZ's club mix. Even then, Clitoris Club does most of the singing; two of the album tracks, “Lookin’ For Boys” and “Ride The Wild Surf”, will feature their vocals alone.

COWABUNGA BABY LP COVER

Santi Music SM-72945
Wipeout! (The Surfaris) - instrumental
Summer Means Fun (Barri, Sloan)
Surf City (Berry, Wilson) - instrumental
Lookin’ For Boys 
(Feldman, Goldstein, Gottehrer, Martine)
- Clitoris Club w/Ram
Help Me, Rhonda (Brian Wilson) - instrumental
Guitars + Bongos (Christie, Herbert)
Pipeline (Carman, Spickard) - instrumental
No Matter What Shape Your Stomach’s In 
(Burland, Granville, Sascha) 
- instrumental
Don’t Worry, Baby (Christian, Wilson)
The Lonely Surfer (Cooper, Nitzsche) - instrumental
Ride The Wild Surf (Berry, Christian, Wilson) 
- Clitoris Club w/Ram
On The Beach (Marvin, Richard, Welch)
(Theme from) Hawaii 5-0 (Morty Stevens) - instrumental
Cowabunga, Baby!!!
Surf Music Classics
Ram
with Clitoris Club
A Secret Asian Man Production
Vocal Arrangements by Fay Clitoris
Arranged by Ramsay Khalid Sharma
Produced by Chaiwat
Sound Engineer:
Quincy Zen
Recorded @ DALEKtable Sound Studios, Bangkok
Album Coordinator:
Hillary Joon
Executive Producers:
Fay Clitoris + Ramsay Khalid Sharma
released in Asia + Australia
2072

As usual, Ram plays all the rhythm instruments himself; cocaine hasn’t affected his playing nearly as much as his voice. Still, the performances sound uninspired, and Chaiwat has a hard time capturing them. Ram’s behavior is more erratic and bizarre than ever: On one occasion, the production team finds him sitting naked in a corner of the studio, mumbling incoherently; dude is too coked up to do any work, and the session has to be cancelled. On another, they flee the control room in terror when he hurls a saxophone @ the glass partition! Fay Clitoris is so angry, she’s ready to book the first flight back to Tokyo. Apologizing profusely, Ram begs her to stay; she relents, but warns him: “No more drama, dude!”

ABORTED RECORD DATE

Precious little drama ends up on wax.  Without exception, reviewers express disappointment with the new album. “These tired-ass beach party retreads are rarely worth listening to,” Sound Garden’s blogger complains. “Where’s that dark mahogany voice we love? What’s up with this cheezy femme chorus? Has Ramsay Khalid Sharma shot his load?” 

 Chaiwat, Fay and Hillary do a competent job on the production end; they even resort to overdubbing session musicians on a couple of tracks.  Ram is so wasted when he hears the playback, he can't tell the difference!  And it makes no difference:  Regardless of who's playing the music, none of it is up to his previous standard.  Fans feel especially cheated by the dearth of vocals; it all contributes to Cowabunga, Baby!!! being Ram's worst-selling LP. However, it yields one of his signature hits . . .

Santi Music SMX-163
On The Beach (Marvin, Richard, Welch)
Guitars + Bongos (Christie, Herbert)
Don’t Worry, Baby (Christian, Wilson)
Beach Girl (Johnston, Melcher)
On The Beach
Ram
Club Mix XIII
with Clitoris Club
Produced by Chaiwat
Remixed by QZ
released in Europe, Asia + Australia

Hands down, “On The Beach” will be Ram’s biggest hit on the Australian continent. It’s a Top Twenty spin in most of Europe, and gets a fair amount of exposure in North America, too. Only the United Kingdom shuts it out, possibly because Cliff Richard’s original version is still played there. The flipside, “Don’t Worry, Baby” is destined to become a sleeper hit in Japan: In the 2090s, Japanese health officials will feature it in a series of safer sex PSAs.  @ that time, it becomes widely known as “the condom song!”

Ram, Fay Clitoris and her girls fly to Honolulu to film a Polynesian-themed Scopie. Hilo Herbie and Puddy Tat Tambo manage to take part as well; they film their Tahitian dance scenes in the evening after exhausting days on the Hawaii 5-0 film set. “You guys are the greatest,” Ram enthuses. “Anything for you, buddy,” Puddy grins. “After all, you’re the biggest Asian sex symbol on the planet! We gotta keep you looking good.” The Cabaña Boys’ manic hip-shaking (not to mention the bouncing bare breasts of Patti, Sarah and Nona Clit) helps “On The Beach” bag the Best VMA Scopie Award for 2072!

ON THE BEACH SCOPIE

Observing Ram closely, Herb Shawmut senses the presence of The White Lady!  He urges his buddy to go back into rehab. The singer complies, but it ends up being a waste of time: Dude is discharged early for failing to follow rules. 

Still, the Rad Asian Manchild is in relatively good voice when he leaves detox, so The Cabaña Boys suggest cutting some new tracks. He lays down four, including vocal versions of “Ride The Wild Surf” and “Help Me, Rhonda” (heard as instrumentals on Cowabunga, Baby!!!), the Van Halen classic “Dance The Night Away!” and “You Can Count On Me.” 

The latter tune is a vocal treatment of the famous “Hawaii 5-0” theme, originally sung by Sammy Davis, Jr.  Ram dislikes the English lyrics, so Puddy translates them into Hawaiian.  When Hawaii 5-0 hits theatres later in the year, it opens with a Surf Punk instrumental; but in the year 2083, a director's cut DVD of Hawaii 5-0 will feature his Polynesian vocal theme instead.  None of this material will be released in Ram’s lifetime.

PLAYBACK TIME WITH HERBIE + PUDDY

His rehab attempt comes too late for the new, more conservative management team @ Santi Music.  "We're reclaiming our Folk music image," the company asserts in a press release.  "We want to be a family-friendly label again.  The Rock marketplace has grown much too wild!"  The success of “On The Beach” notwithstanding, they don’t want any drug addicts or stars of underground porn videos on the label! 

Yet nobody has the guts to tell him so; Santi executives give Ram the silent treatment, ignoring his calls and text messages. "I used to be their Golden Boy," he grumbles, "but now I'm like a f*cking Dalit stepchild!" When the Bollywood Balladeer's ten-year contract runs out in mid-2072, he finds himself without a recording home.

Dude also lacks a recording studio. From the year 2060, when Donna Dante launches her acting academy, the Sharmas maintain two homes: One in India, where the school is located, and another in Thailand. Ram’s repeated trips to rehab aren’t cheap, so by the early ‘70s, there’s a pressing need to economize! 

The couple decides to sell their Bangkok home. That sale shutters Ram’s famous home studio, DALEKtable Sound: Goin’ Places!!! is the last album tracked there. The Sharmas then convert the top floor of their Mumbai home into a new recording locale. By the summer of ‘73, Rajah Studios is fully operational. This will be the site of Ram and Dody’s most ambitious musical collaboration!

DAWN + DUSK

RCA/Scope 73-9y46937
Power, Fire And Blood (Part Two) - General Yen + Troops
Where Nobody Knows Me - Meghan
Dance To The Rhythms Of Death - General Yen
British Gambler/Chinese Dice - Mr. Jones
Tea For Missy - Mah-Li
The Hourglass - General Zen + Meghan
Power, Fire And Blood (Part Two) - Meghan
Mine For The Taking - General Yen
For Neither Love Nor Money - Mah-Li
The Softness Of Steel - Meghan + Concubines
Bitter Tea - General Zen + Meghan
Face The Rising Sun - Meghan + Mr. Jones
(Dawn, Dusk, Sharma)
Original Soundtrack Recording
Bitter Tea Of General Yen
A Sharmante Production
Music Supervision:
Donna Dante
Score Arranged + Composed by
Ramsay Khalid Sharma
Conducted by Gabrielle Wing Dawn
Produced by Hillary Joon
Sound Engineer: 
Faruk Muhammad
Recorded @ Rajah Studios, Mumbai
released in Indonesia + Sri Lanka
2073

Ram makes a startling request of Hillary Joon. “Let me f*ck you without a condom,” he urges. “I want to have a child with you!” This request is motivated by the triple loss of his mother, his previous mistress, and their stillborn baby. 

Hillary doesn’t ask about his motive, and he doesn’t tell her. They don’t discuss the consequences of conceiving a child, either. A baby will bind them together forever; she’s ecstatic! By now, she’s also deeply in love with Ram. He impregnates her sometime in February of 2073, and his second son Geoffrey Joon will be born that November.

SADDAM SHARMA 2

Hillary is an American pre-code (prior to 1934) film buff. The Bitter Tea Of General Yen, based on a novel by Grace Zaring Stone, is one of her favorites. She and Ram occasionally watch old movies together; one evening after BDSM sex play, she pops it into her DVD imager. 

Moved by the story, and by the performance of leading man Nils Asther, Ram brings the film to his wife’s attention. “A Bollywood producer I know told me about it,” he lies. Upon viewing the movie herself, Donna Dante is thrilled: “We've found our star-maker!” she declares. “This is the story we’ve been looking for, Nipples. It’s a vehicle that could shoot you right to the top!”

Despite their best efforts, the Sharmas can't secure financial backing for the project. Repeatedly they're told: "This just isn't a good investment."  They can't find a "name" actress willing to play Ram’s leading lady, either. “F*ck them all!” Dody declares angrily. “We’ll just finance it ourselves, and I’ll play opposite you.” Taking a leave of absence from Donna Dante Actors Academy, she comes out of retirement to play the role of Meghan Davis.

Ram contacts The Cabaña Boys and asks them to appear in supporting roles; they agree. Herbie and Puddy also act as casting directors, rounding up other actors. The Sharmas rent a Bollywood backlot and spend millions of dollars recreating the city of Shanghai circa 1930. Donna Dante pours her life savings into this expensive production!

The story centers on Meghan Davis, a Christian missionary who comes to China @ the height of its 1927-37 civil war. She is kidnapped by General Yen Tso-Chong, warlord of Shanghai.  At first he pampers her, but later demands sexual favors; dude barely stops short of forcing himself on her!  Subsequently, the lady becomes involved in political intrigue that will lead to his downfall. As the story moves toward its tragic climax (Yen’s suicide), the General and Meghan must overcome racial prejudice and philosophical conflicts; too late, they realize that they’re in love!

BITTER TEA POSTER

The fact that Donna Dante is a multi-cultural woman (African + Italian-American) creates a plot dynamic of Asian/Black racism not present in the original film. The war violence is more graphic, and a seduction dream sequence is far more explicit than Hollywood dared to film in 1932. The most radical change in this new Bitter Tea is Ram’s decision (reluctantly supported by Dody) to re-imagine the wartime drama as a musical.

That decision, more than production cost overruns and Ram’s cocaine-fueled tantrums on the set, is what ultimately dooms the film! The original songs he co-writes with novice composers Vanessa Dusk and Gabrielle Wing Dawn are bizarre: A fusion of Chinese opera, Polynesian Gangsta Rap and avant-garde Indian Raga. Dody is uncomfortable with the material, though she does her best. As for Ram, his vocals are gravelly, pitch imperfect and near-unintelligible at times.

Sensing disaster, Chaiwat steers clear of the project; Ram undertakes to produce the soundtrack himself. Predictably, that plan falls through!  He then floors Hillary Joon by asking her to take over production duties: "I need to concentrate on the score and song arrangements," he insists.  "Don't worry about Dody; she hasn't got a clue about us."  

It’s a sign of the recklessness that’s typical of crack addicts! His shocked mistress complies with the request, but fears the worst. The worst comes to pass!  During the sessions, Ram can't keep his hands off Hillary.  Their love affair becomes glaringly apparent to Donna Dante!

“How dare you bring your slut into our home?” she shrieks. In a roomful of shocked orchestra musicians, the enraged actress lunges @ her husband.  Dude is able to deflect her first blow, but he isn’t fast enough to avoid her uppercut punch: Dody decks him with a walloping left to the gut! Ram lies dazed for a few minutes; when he revives, both Dody and Hillary are gone, and the frightened session crew is milling around, unsure of what to do. Needless to say, the entire production is nearly derailed!

BITTER TEA RECORD DATE

Somehow, it lurches to painful completion, but the writing is on the wall. When previewed @ the Cannes Film Festival, Bitter Tea of General Yen won't attract a single distributor.  Reviewers attack it with claws sharpened! “The worst movie of the year,” declares Rotten Tomatoes film critic Michael V. Skeen, an opinion that’s echoed throughout the industry. The film ends up going direct-to-DVD and sells poorly. As for the discordant soundtrack LP, it even tanks in limited release.

In later years, those who see Bitter Tea give the acting good reviews; but not the script, the direction, the cinematography, and especially not the songs! This ill-conceived musical will be talked about in the same breath as box office bombs like 2013’s The Lone Ranger, 1987’s Ishtar, and the faux Village People biopic Can’t Stop The Music, released in 1980. Not only does Bitter Tea finish Ramsay Khalid Sharma as a leading man once and for all, it also ends Donna Dante’s stellar two-decade acting career on a sour note.

BITTER TEA AFTERMATH

The remnants of the couple’s tattered relationship go up in smoke along with their dream project. Dody tells Ram to move out of their home in no uncertain terms (“hit the road, crackhead motherf*cker”)!  Hillary Joon becomes estranged from him, too:  "Parading me in front of your wife!  WTF were you thinking?" Dude departs India for Europe; during his sojourn there, he meets a Mexican porn star @ a party and begins dating her.