Streetlight Cinema

 

DETAILED SYNOPSIS OF MEETING VAN GOGH

 

Rufus Hockenberry is thirty-six, a mixed-lineage mongrel American. His passion is to paint. Painting is an act of passion, of love, of living. He resides in an old ballroom in a gritty Los Angeles neighborhood invaded by crack. He's on the verge of success, about to complete his most powerful painting of his first and only love, Sophie, when she's killed by a drunk driver. His grief overwhelms him, and he ceases to paint. The unfinished portrait that includes the dress he gave her on Christmas two days before her death, is an object of morbid mourning that has dominated his life for six years.

 

To make ends meet, Rufus works as a flower delivery driver. In the process of delivering wreathes for a funeral, Rufus stops to rescue an old lady who's stranded in a crosswalk. During the rescue, a hit-and-run vehicle strikes the company van. Rufus calls in the accident to Carlos, the dispatcher -- who commiserates with his bad luck, then assigns him to make a last minute delivery to the Cosmos Gallery where Rufus once had a show.

 

The crowd for the opening spills onto the sidewalk. Rufus arrives to discover the opening is for his old friend Dan Fremont, who's made it big time.

 

Rufus makes his way through the crowd to deliver the flowers. Dan recognizes his ex-studio-mate and introduces him to Nora Hampton, British-Ethiopian employee of the upscale Cosmos Gallery. Dan waxes nostalgic about the "old days" when he and Rufus shared the old Paradise Club down in the ghetto. Dan gestures to Cindy Mu, one of the catering hires, and asks her to relieve Rufus of the bouquet.

 

Cindy Mu is thirty-five, first generation Chinese-American, and a struggling actress who wonders if she'd better give it up. Rufus becomes instantly enchanted -- and requests permission to paint her portrait. Cindy dismisses his offer as just another come-on and turns her attention to an amusing gay actor she once worked with in an episodic television show. Rufus hangs in the background drinking wine. He does a quick sketch of her, leaves the sketch with his number and takes off. Cindy picks up the sketch, starts to trash it, instead tucks it in her purse.

 

When Rufus starts the engine of the company van, he realizes he's in no condition to drive. He calls in to ask Carlos to do him a favor. His boss answers, is enraged about the earlier accident, fires him on the spot.

 

Rufus leaves the van as instructed, takes the bus to his studio. He reaches his stop just as a quartet of gangbangers is spraying graffiti over the outside of his studio.

 

As Rufus is unlocking his door, Leo, a local crack addict, lopes past with a stolen battery. Rufus attempts to buy the battery with hopes of returning it to the owner. Leo -- with his pale face, his tattoos, and his enraged street fighter's stance -- refuses to sell "nothin' to a fuckin' faggot." Rufus gives up, climbs the stairs to the old ballroom -- gazes at the chaos of his studio, realizes his life is out of control.

 

Rufus wakes to the sound of rooster crows and the saxophone noodling of Henry Hollins, wino street musician. Rufus goes out to paint over the graffiti, buys some street kids ice-creams from a pushcart, and notices Leo has company, an innocent named Lily, Mexican-German, barely eighteen, freshly addicted to crack. When he tries to speak to her, she flees.

 

Cindy Mu is working her "day job" at the Cafe Bagatelle. She leaves a message asking Rufus's how much he would charge to paint a portrait of her father. Then she proceeds to the hospital where her father lies in a semi-comatose state watched over by Cindy's mother.

 

Rufus rushes to the Cafe Bagatelle only to discover, from Cindy's Vietnamese friend, Tiffany, that Cindy is at the hospital visiting her father who's suffered a stroke-induced coma.

 

Rufus lies in bed listening to Cindy's voice on the answering machine over and over while Cindy rehearses at a small equity waver theater far into the night. She's so exhausted her director questions whether she should continue in the role.

 

Rufus meets Cindy at the Bagatelle. She explains she has to cancel her plans for the portrait because she's too broke to pay him. Rufus tells her he was planning to do the portrait free of charge. Cindy refuses, still assuming this is only a come-on. Then Tiffany tells Rufus flat out that Cindy is only interested in girls. Rufus assures them his only motive is simply to do what he was born to do -- paint. A skeptical Cindy agrees to provide him with photographs of her father.

 

The following day Rufus arrives at the cafe to collect the photos just as Cindy is leaving to visit the hospital. Rufus persuades her he should see her father in person. Cindy reluctantly agrees and Rufus follows in his old blue pickup.

 

Rufus meets her mother, makes a quick sketch of her comatose father. Back at his studio, Rufus works like a man possessed. Cindy agrees to visit the studio and give her opinion. Rufus cleans up the place as best he can. Cindy refuses his overtures of hospitality, but duly impressed by the sensitivity of the portrait. She suggests a "ridiculous spiritual" gesture: they'll take the painting and "show" it to her comatose father anyway.

 

As Cindy is leaving, Lily observes Rufus's soulful gaze as Cindy's old Volkswagen disappears down the boulevard. Lily declares he's in love. Rufus scoffs. He invites Lily to share the supper Cindy refused -- but she's afraid Leo will beat her if she has anything to do with him.

 

Rufus and Cindy carry the portrait to the hospital. Rufus lifts the painting onto the foot of the bed -- and to everyone's astonishment, a miracle: Mr. Mu's eyes open. Then, another miracle: he speaks. He's sure Rufus is Vincent Van Gogh whom he dreamed would paint his portrait.

 

Cindy and Rufus share a celebratory supper at his studio. Rufus suppresses his amorous impulses. Cindy is softening, but does nothing to relieve him of Tiffany's myth that they are lovers.

 

Cindy takes her father home from the hospital while Rufus adds finishing touches to the portrait. As he works, he observes a terrified Lily get into a car -- her first drug trick.

 

Cindy arrives to view the finished portrait. She's astonished, moved, grateful -- but feels "too much in debt" despite Rufus's declaration that letting him do the portrait saved him. As they eat, they tell life stories, polish off a bottle of wine. After supper Rufus can't stop himself from a few more "finishing touches." While watching him work, Cindy spontaneously agrees to model as a way to "pay" for the portrait.

 

As Rufus is preparing his canvas, Cindy, assuming Rufus would want to paint her nude, undresses. Rufus is astonished, nervously begins a portrait that parallels the unfinished portrait of Sophie. His inspired trance is broken by the sound of shattering glass. He rushes out and discovers Leo has vandalized Cindy's car.

 

A crestfallen Rufus apologies to Cindy, and takes responsibility for fixing everything. The situation forces her to spend the night. Rufus gives her the bed, he sleeps chastely on the sofa. Cindy wakes to find a note promising her car will be back by noon. Rufus is good to his word -- her car is restored. Cindy gives him tickets to her opening night performance.

 

A full house gives Cindy a standing ovation, including Tiffany and Rufus, both in love with its star performer.

 

Rufus looks for a job at the unemployment office, then heads out to work on his epic panoramic landscape of Los Angeles. While he's "on location", his old pal Henry Hollins, the street musician, happens by. They catch up on their lives, and Rufus gives Henry a last few dollars to help bail his sax out of hock.

 

Rufus returns to the studio, finds Cindy waiting. Her new agent has given her a cellular phone. Rufus is upbeat, his painting is flowing again. After a happy supper, Cindy undresses to model. Rufus works and Cindy poses in the same chair Sophie sat in years before. She drinks wine, passes out. For the first time Rufus studies her beauty with unabashed arousal. Cindy wakes, doesn't seem to mind his closeness. Suddenly there's a downpour.

 

The leaky roof sends them both scurrying around putting out drip pans. The leaking-roof "dance" ends with them tangled in a kiss after Cindy confesses to a perplexed Rufus that Tiffany's story about her only liking girls was a protective myth. Cindy encourages Rufus to make love to her -- but only if he first agrees they will remain "just friends."

 

Cindy and Rufus continue to be "friends." A week before Christmas, her agent shows up with the opportunity of a lifetime -- a featured role in a major series to be shot in Vancouver, Canada.

 

Rufus trades a painting for a Christmas tree and is busy decorating when Nora Hampton, now the curator of the Cosmos gallery, arrives to tell Rufus they want to arrange for a Hockenberry one-man show over the summer. Rufus can't believe his luck. His high spirits infect Cindy, and fearful of hurting him, she neglects to reveal her own good news. Nora thanks Cindy for inspiring him and departs. Cindy suggests Rufus should paint Nora -- and take advantage of Nora's attraction, then gives him her Christmas gift -- five Windsor - Newton brushes. Rufus is moved to the core -- and gives Cindy his gift -- the beautiful flower-print dress that had once been Sophie's -- thus completing his mourning.

 

Cindy is flattered, but uneasy. Rufus persuades her to try it on. As she changes, Rufus puts on his costume for his temp job as a mall Santa. This leads to a discussion of children that ends with Cindy and Rufus agreeing they would be hard-pressed to be responsible for another life. Rufus takes off to work without Cindy ever telling him about her great fortune that will take her away from him.

 

Cindy calls Tiffany and asks her to come to Rufus's studio to help decorate the tree while Rufus is at work. Tiffany arrives, breaks down at the thought of Cindy leaving for Vancouver, asks how Rufus took the news. Cindy confesses she hasn't had the heart to tell him. The two women polish off a bottle of wine and end up passed out together in bed.

 

Rufus returns from work, is met by Leo and Lily -- both high on crack. Leo makes sarcastic jibes, calling Rufus the "faggot Santa." Rufus confronts Leo, telling him to take his act to another neighborhood and leave Lily be. Lily is grateful, but too afraid to take Rufus up on his offer to come inside.

 

Rufus enters the studio, anxious to know the "news" Cindy had promised to tell him upon his return. He observes the empty wine bottle -- sees Cindy and Tiff asleep together. He's both aroused and touched. As he's retiring on the sofa, Cindy wakes. She calls him into the bed, tells him not to worry, Tiffany sleeps like a log.

 

Cindy insists on making love beside the sleeping Tiffany, and during their quiet joining, Rufus persuades Cindy to tell the news. She tells him only that she's won the part of Lieutenant Detective Woo, star of "Naked Streets" -- but still fails to tell him they'll be shooting in Vancouver. As they consummate their lovemaking, Tiffany snuggles against them both as if endorsing their togetherness.

 

While the trio of friends sleep, Leo and a pair of fellow addicts, vandalize Rufus's truck despite protests from Lily.

 

In the morning Rufus wakes beside the still sleeping Tiffany -- finds a note from Cindy telling him she's delivering presents to her parents. As he's preparing coffee, Tiffany awakes and immediately gets teary. Rufus wonders why and Tiffany reveals Cindy is going to Vancouver. Rufus is shocked, tries to dismiss the distance as he comforts Tiffany.

 

Closing night of the play. Cindy is showered with accolades, already a "star." When Rufus finally has a moment with her, he offers her the portrait. Cindy reminds him she's leaving, has no place to put it. Rufus quickly bows out.

 

Rufus can't help himself, he goes to the airport on the day of her departure. He watches the studio limousine drop Cindy off. He starts to chase after her -- at the last second, he turns away just as she turns in his direction.

 

Rufus tries to lose himself in work. As he continues with his gigantic cityscape, Henry the Wino happens by with his fresh-out-of-hock saxophone. They sing their little blues ditty, "all situations are temporary."

 

Back at the studio, another lonely night of wine with the dying Christmas tree. Rufus speaks to his portrait of Cindy, as if she could hear him. In desperation, he bribes Lily to come up to model for him. Lily assumes this is just a ploy for sex and confesses to Rufus she would love to do it with a "nice guy" for a change. Lily keeps making overtures, until Rufus gently explains he's "engaged." Lily assumes that Rufus really must be gay, like Leo says, because no one in their right mind would pay her just to sit in a chair.

 

Meanwhile in Vancouver, Cindy is sitting in a chair as well-- in the lobby of an abortion clinic. She reads the literature, signs the forms. The doctor is late. Cindy suddenly changes her mind -- leaves.

 

Months later. Rufus returns to his studio with his gigantic cityscape making slow progress. He makes another appointment with Lily, heads upstairs. The Christmas tree is still up, his studio a shambles. Rufus listens to a message from his landlord agreeing to trade the portrait of Cindy for three months rent.

 

Cindy's father dies. Rufus goes to the Wong funeral home to pay his respects. Cindy is happy to see him, tries to give him a check. She tells him it's from her father, payment for the portrait. Rufus refuses it, reminds her she paid for it already by modeling for him. Cindy wants to tell him she's pregnant, but is fearful his sense of responsibility will be a terrible burden to him. Instead she invites him to the funeral diner. Rufus declines knowing he would embarrass her with his longing. They embrace, attempting to suppress their emotion during what seems a final goodbye.

 

Rufus struggles to paint, clinging to his last bit of sanity. He's outside working on the giant landscape, when civil unrest breaks out. He escapes the riots and returns to his studio where Leo has forced Lily into helping him ambush Rufus under the mistaken impression that Rufus must be a middle-man drug dealer. Rufus invites Lily to come in and Leo hits him from behind with a tire iron, knocking him unconscious. Lily is horrified, tries to stop Leo -- but he forces her at gunpoint to come up and show him where the "stash" is. Lily has no idea what he's talking about. "All he does is paint pictures," she tells him. Leo refuses to believe it. He threatens to kill her. Lily bites his hand, manages to escape with Leo firing at her.

 

While Rufus lays unconscious, Leo continues his search. He finds uncashed checks sent by Cindy, proof in his mind Rufus was part of a Chinese drug ring. The electricity goes out. Leo lights a fire in a trash can to use as a torch. He continues his made search, comes up empty. Enraged, he kicks the basket. It rolls against the dead Christmas tree which bursts into flame. Leo panics, flees.

 

The city burns. The fire department rescues the unconscious Rufus from the alcove of the Paradise Club. He's transported to County hospital where he lays in a coma for three months.

 

Mr. Lee, the landlord, finds mail addressed to Rufus that includes letters from Cindy and Nora Hampton dumped inside the security door of the burnt-out brick shell that was once the Paradise Club.

 

When Rufus regains consciousness, he isn't quite all there. But he convinces the social worker that he'll be fine, his only wish is to return to his studio.

 

Rufus gets off at the familiar bus stop -- but is baffled to find the Paradise Club nothing more than a cement slab in a vacant lot. He sits on the bus bench staring into space, paralyzed by indecision. A john drops Lily off by the bus stop. She thinks she's seeing a ghost, as do the two little kids Rufus used to buy ice creams from the paletas.

 

Lily invites Rufus to come to her garage-apartment for something to "make him happy." Rufus explains "that part of me" doesn't work any more. Another one of Lily's john pulls up, and a wistful Lily says goodbye to Rufus.

 

In Vancouver, Cindy gives birth to their son she names Vincent. Tiffany is in attendance. Cindy reminds her she must never tell Rufus -- and that she Tiffany is the surrogate "dad."

 

Rufus works as a shopping cart jockey at a big mall. He's pushing a huge line of carts. A late model Jaguar pulls in front of him. The driver is Gloria Steele with Dan Fremont as her passenger. Both Dan and Rufus are sufficiently changed that they are unsure they recognize each other. And Gloria squelches any possibility of further communication.

 

Rufus settles into a small oceanside apartment and does quick sketches on the boardwalk, providing a low-budget living. He has inherited a white rat, the pet of a boy who died in a swimming accident whose mother adores Rufus.

 

Several years pass. Rufus gradually regains his faculties and settles into a happy enough existence as the primo beachfront quick-sketch artist -- back where he started. Henry Hollins often sets up and plays his sax nearby, passing the hat.

 

One day, a boy about seven runs up to his easel and asks if he can draw something. Rufus happily consents, aroused by the boy's enthusiasm. The boy's mother calls to him. It's Cindy Mu. Her hair is short, but she's as radiant as ever. She instantly recognizes Rufus whom she had thought had disappeared off the face of the earth.

 

Rufus is dumbstruck -- and joyous to see her again. He tries to disguise his emotion by offering to do a quick sketch of mother and her son. As he works, under Cindy's questioning, he reveals the tragic loss of his life's work. Tears stream down Cindy's face. Rufus remembers seeing her on TV, makes a joke about her "kicking derriere" as a tough cop. They share a laugh and Cindy, despite herself, reveals to him that the boy who is happily drawing away beside them, is their son she couldn't bear to tell him about. Rufus is dumbstruck -- fearful and happy. The trio falls into a happy communion as they walk off together with a sense there could possibly be a life together as a family ahead.

 

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