In recent issues of Scene4, I presented a sequence of scenes from my screenplay THE GODDESS IN EXILE, a fictionalized account of the brief life of Cuban born artist Ana Mendieta (Elvira) that deals with themes of wife murder, the natural versus the man-made world and the mythic feminine. Ana Mendieta’s death at age 36 became a scandal that rocked the art world at its zenith making headlines. My screenplay adapts the basic story of her alleged murder by her husband, prominent minimalist artist Carl Andre (Hans), who was acquitted by a judge without a jury and explores the premise ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’. The action takes place in the vivid milieu of the New York City art scene in the 1970's, capturing the excitement of the elite intelligentsia with character vignettes from the highest echelons of American artists and
art world doyennes.
In these scenes Elvira returns to her home in Peru to visit her father feeling that her husband Hans has betrayed her after he destroyed her sculpture of a pregnant woman. When she walks in the countryside with her father, she cries when she discovers the grave of her beloved maid Maria who was killed in an earthquake. Her father’s friend Roberto visits them and offers to take Elvira on a trip up the Amazon River where he has been scouting for drug traffickers disguised as an academic. When the oarsman on their small boat gives her a dose of Ayahuasca she lies on a rock and has a powerful vision.
Ayahuasca is a native wood vine that grows on trees in the Amazon used by native tribes as traditional spiritual medicine in sacred rituals. Once an esoteric phenomena, jungle retreat centers are now promoted as tourist destinations for Westerners seeking a psychoactive cure for physical and psychological problems. After drinking the Ayahuasca brew boiled over a fire accompanied by a Shaman singing icaros, a person goes through violent physical purging and emotional turmoil accompanied by mystical psychedelic visions. Experiencing a soul journey with cosmic insight many have life changing experiences that result in profound enlightenment. Most are aware that serious health conditions may result and are willing to take the chance.
In Elvira’s vision she first sees horizontal bands of colored light that correspond to the Inca belief in the three cosmic worlds - the world above – the blue world of the gods, the red world below and the green world of the earth plane. These realms of color swirl in a vault under the piercing light of the sun and the moon. As she lies on a rock in the river, she re-experiences the myth when the daughter of the sun was raped by her father and his brother the moon as planetary forces to impregnate the primordial woman. When Elvira returns to New York she decides to transform her art to become an expression of the divine feminine within natural elements.
THE GODDESS IN EXILE
112 - EXT. ELVIRA HOME IN PERU - AFTERNOON
ZOOM OUT from ELVIRA'S dark jacket. SOUND of ELVIRA breathing heavily, excited. ELVIRA, carries a large travel bag, walks quickly towards her house in PERU. DR. OLMOS walks off the porch towards her. She runs towards him and jumps on him hugging him. He takes her bag and they walk arm and arm through expansive landscape. They pass a makeshift graveyard filled with many simple crosses. [On Good Friday in 1981, a devastating earthquake occurred which was centered in Ayacucho, about 60 miles from DR. OLMOS's home.]
Three years ago, the earthquake killed thousands of people. I treated as many as I could. They government now gives me more supplies - they care more for the simple man.
DR. OLMOS turns to face ELVIRA.
How is your marriage to Hans? From your letters, you do not sound very happy.
I'm so confused. I don't trust him, but it wouldn't be easy to make a good life without his help.
If you are not happy with him, you should leave. You are always welcome here.
I have become too used to living in his world.
ELVIRA notices a grave that is more carefully constructed then the rest. She looks at the fresh flowers in a glass on the ground and the same relics that the maid, MARIA, had once put on her altar. She looks at her father and cries.
Maria was visiting her sister in Ayachuho - the earthquake destroyed everything - she felt no pain. I couldn't tell you.
ELVIRA lies on the ground weeping and kisses the grave three times.
113 - EXT. ELVIRA'S HOME IN PERU - LATE AFTERNOON
ELVIRA and her father relax on the porch. Between them is a table with bottle of wine, fruit and glasses. ELVIRA squints, looking at her favorite mountain in the beautiful Andes foothills that spreads before them. DR. OLMOS laughs at her.
Well, Elvira you left enough clay in her so that she still stands.
In the distance, the SOUND of a pick-up truck bumping and beeping becomes louder. The truck pulls up several yards in front of the porch and ROBERTO [who looks robust wearing an open shirt with Indian Shaman pouch on a leather thong around his neck.] ELVIRA runs to greet him. They hug. ROBERTO pulls her ponytail and ELVIRA touches the pouch. They walk towards the porch.
A charm from an Indian shaman. I am traveling to the Northwest Amazon next week - the Papuri River. Do you think your father could part with you long enough for you to explore the Amazon?
ELVIRA, her father and ROBERTO relax on the porch, drink wine and look at the Andean foothills.
Now Professor Roberto, is le grand explorador...
I was approached at the University. Linguists are known to study Indians first hand. The government wants to know more about the drug traffic on those rivers - so much cargo is leaving Columbia and transported to Manaus. They want to know what part Indians play - of course I made friends. The Indians trust me now. So, Elvira, how is your great art career in New York?
Maybe I'm reaching a dead end. Just when people are starting to appreciate my work. My work reflects Christian images - but the Spanish raped our continent. Perhaps I should look beyond European forms and find some that are part of my Indian past.
ELVIRA'S dairy narrative is read over SERIES OF SHOTS depicting ELVIRA and ROBERT'S journey to the PAPURI RIVER. ROBERTO'S truck crosses the Andes Mountains from HUANCAYO to LIMA. At LIMA they fly from the airport on a plane to IQUITOS. (IQUITOS is a river/jungle city in northern Peru that was once the center of rubber manufacturing.) At IQUITOS they fly on a water plane to the PAPURI RIVER that is a tributary of the RIVER NEGRO. In the AMAZON, ELVIRA and ROBERTO board a small riverboat oared by a native Indian.
ELVIRA (voice over)
It meant so much to me to see father again. I never knew it would mean I'd explore the Amazon - travel the mother river - sleep in the jungle - meet Indians and experience the breath of foliage, animals, fish, birds and insects, each forming a pattern of survival depending on the other to form a great re-cycling life - so powerful and so delicate at the same time. This part of Peru - the ancient dark sister of the great white Andes I never knew. It is the subconscious of my country. All people's blood are mixed and traced back to these unknown roots. This trip would change my art forever. The image of a solitary female body can be destroyed - by merging her with nature, she will be renewed. I will create woman's body as part of a larger whole - emerging from leaves, carved in the ground - bound to animal shapes.
114 - EXT. AMAZON RIVER - DAY
As the small boat meanders through the river whose banks are draped in rich green, the waters become rougher and become rapids. The Indian oarsman is confident. ROBERTO and the INDIAN talk in the native language. ROBERTO translates for ELVIRA.
Do not be afraid of the rapids. Machos knows them well. They will bring us to a sacred rock. Their myth says that the daughter of the sun was raped here by her father and then her brother, the moon. The sun in revenge stole the moon's feather crown. So ashamed, the moon hides for three nights every month.
The small boat hits the rapids and is brought ashore on a large slab of rock by MACHOS. As ROBERTO pulls to boat further up the rocks, MACHOS sits with ELVIRA and offers her some Ayahusaca (a bitter hallucinogenic brew.) After ELVIRA drinks the brew she has this vision.
As ELVIRA looks at the foliage above her, the leaves merge into natural female forms. She looks at the sun. The sun circles and swirls in the sky - first one way, then another, then remains still. The sun then splits into 4 parts horizontally on the screen that divides into 4 equal horizontal bands, each with its own sun. The bottom band is green, the next red, the next blue, and the last a yellow/white. The bottom layer seeps out of its border to form a swirling circle around the other layers going from East to West.
From the swirling green emerges black. At first stars shimmer in the black then fade. A yellow band enters a black swirl, then red. These colors obliterate the sun. The red swirls into the center from which ELVIRA'S naked body slowly emerges. She lies on the rock with her arms flayed by her side. The sun forms an orb in her chest then spreads like a scarf across her chest. (This image is meant to be reminiscent of her sculpture of MARY in which she holds JESUS' shroud across her chest). The scarf then revolves into the sun that rises from her chest towards the sky.
The scene becomes real as ELVIRA'S body lies on the rock with the sun above her. The sun sends out strong rays like knives and ELVIRA wrenches as though being raped by the sun. After a flash of intense white light in the sky the sun is joined by the moon - which is a smaller orb but whose light is just as intense. The moon attacks ELVIRA in the same way as the sun. After the attack ELVIRA lies on the rock with what appears to be menstrual blood under her hips. When the moon ascends it is stained with ELVIRA'S blood.
The screen then becomes red and ELVIRA dips her fingers in the blood-like paint and paints a rock with a primitive form of a woman.
As ELVIRA comes out her vision, the leaves above come into focus. ROBERTO is standing over her worried. He splashes water and her face and she smiles. He is relieved and they all laugh.
115 - INT. GODDESS LECTURE HALL - NYC - MID-AFTERNOON
ZOOM OUT from ELVIRA'S primitive rock drawing on the wall of a lecture hall in a liberal church in the West Village. About 15 women sit in a circle and on the walls is an array of pictures of Goddesses throughout history: the Venus of Willendorf, Roman, Egyptian and Greek Goddesses. ELVIRA sits next to JOANNE at a Goddess Circle service. [Both women wear turtleneck sweaters and blue jeans.]
Why did you drag me here now? I'm so tired. I have my period.
Stop complaining. When Goddess Shaman is finished, you'll feel like a new woman.
In front of the hall, GODDESS SHAMAN [a large imposing woman wearing an ornate ensemble with a collection of silver chains and spiritual crystal charms] welcomes the women to her circle.
Welcome, Sisters to our Moon Goddess Circle. We will begin our healing meditation that will bring us to the center of ourselves and the Goddess temple within. When you arrive, the Goddess will offer you three gifts that will remain in your lives forever.
The women close their eyes and fall under the spell of the SHAMAN'S soothing voice. As SHAMAN speaks, the SISTERS' faces relax in serene meditation.
As you enter the great round mountain you sense the smooth cold rocks as you descend deeper and deeper into its tunnel. As you enter the inner sanctum a silver/blue light beckons you. Now bathed in her beams, you become aware of the presence of the Goddess mother. Looking up, an opening reveals the full moon shining in a star-studded sky. Rest and feel the Goddess' love. She calls your name and offers you three gifts. Think carefully about what you wish to receive.
116 - INT. FANTASTIC MOUNTAIN
As ELVIRA and JOANNE listen, we see them standing together in the center of darkness. Suddenly they are lit by a beautiful, silver/blue light that illuminates their forms with sinuous bands of smoke. They embrace in friendship.
I receive clay, tools and a Goddess body to turn into art. My art will live forever.
The Goddess will give me a leather bound book, a mission and faith.