Take a break from the hectic news of Hollywood with our weekly look into the world of "what if". Fresh fan fiction happens weekly here at Cinema Blend on Short Story Saturday. This is our latest short story entry... "The Last Movie Star".
The last rays of evening sun were beginning to stream through his bathroom window as Dan braced his arms against the sink to keep from falling over. He used to tell himself his legs were unsteady because he was tired, he used to try and convince himself that he just needed to exercise more, but that had been before the walker. Now he knew a wheelchair wasn’t far off and while once the prospect of being rolled around like some invalid child might have pissed him off, these days the idea almost sounded appealing.
Not today, though. Today he had something important to do before he could take a permanent sit through whatever time he had left. So Dan leaned heavily against the sink, balancing on one arm while he shaved, brushed his teeth, and combed his wispy gray hair. He did it all the old fashioned way, not because he had anything against technology, but because it was what he was used to. Besides, he thought, I’m lucky even to have hair. How many other men can say they still have their original follicles at the ripe old age of one-hundred and two? At Dan’s age, you couldn’t afford to take anything for granted.
The car arrived to pick him up at 7:30 and he took a moment to appreciate his driver’s punctuality before allowing the young man to help him in. He must have nodded off in the back seat as they drove, because faster than he could have fathomed the door opened and the young man was there again, offering his hand as a means to lead him to his carefully positioned walker. Dan accepted and, latching on to the infernal contraption, hobbled up the curb and towards a red carpet.
It’d been more years than he could count since he’d last seen an event like this one. People, or at least what looked like people, stood nearby ushering him forward as he moved in his slow, wobbling way up the red, lavish strip of fabric beneath his feet. It seemed to stretch on forever as he moved down it towards the marquee. A crowd huddled beneath the overhang holding antique cameras and firing off antique flashbulbs. It was a show for his benefit. They probably thought all of this would make him feel at home, not realizing his stardom was born in the age of camera phones.
He stopped for a moment and looked up at the glow of once familiar lights above him. His name was there, as it had often been, long ago. “A Tribute To The Life Of Danny Rad” it said in bold, black letters. He still regretted that he’d let his agent change his name, typecasting be damned. Maybe he wouldn’t have had the career he’d had if he hadn’t, but Danny still thought of himself as Daniel, the bespectacled kid who’d waived a magic wand on screen in front of millions. But then no one remembered any of that, at least not anymore.
Dan sighed, taking a moment to long for his forgotten youth and for the friends who’d shared it with him. As he did so, he could sense impatience in the avatar projections, clustering in ever closer. The flashbulbs stopped and a couple of people even flickered into holding patterns. So Dan hunched over and started moving again, following a black-suited man into the bowels of a movie theater that was nearly as old as him. The difference, of course, was that it had been restored. Polish works wonders on brass, he thought, but they’d yet to invent a polish that could do anything for the aches and pains which, despite the best efforts of modern medicine, were slowly crippling his body.
He sat down, painfully, in his aisle seat and watched as the audience filed in. A young couple sat in front of him, oblivious to the fact that they were so near the guest of honor. They couldn’t have been more than twenty-four. The girl’s auburn hair shimmered as she moved and for a moment, just a moment, he imagined it was he and Erin sitting there together, oh so many years ago. Then the fantasy faded and he was left wondering whether this couple was there at all. His great grand nieces and nephews insisted that you could tell, but he’d never been able to figure out when someone was really there or whether they were at home plugged in to their avatar projection. In the end, it mostly didn’t matter.
Banishing thoughts of the one that got away, Dan sat listening to the impatient murmur of the now seated audience, sensing that none of them were quite sure of what they were supposed to do. Waiting wasn’t something people were used to anymore, but for him, those moments of anticipation before the start of a picture were a pivotal part of the experience. It had been his only requirement, before agreeing to drag himself out of his house in a bowtie for this. “Make the audience wait a little” he’d said to the confused holograms who’d assembled in his living room a few weeks ago. And so, wait they did.
Then the lights dimmed and the screen lit up, that old familiar light playing across the crowd in front of him. The words “Danny Rad: International Legend” burned across the screen in a tacky, flaming font before launching into a montage of some of his greatest work. It was all there: Horns, Kill Your Darlings, Captain Courageous, Martian Manhunter, Suspira, his work in the Back To The Future remake as Doc Brown, even Harry Potter. Oh god, Harry Potter. It’d been so long since he’d seen any of this. Had he ever really been so young?
The audience was quiet. Respectful, he supposed, but when he looked around some seemed a little confused. For many this might be their first time experiencing two-dimensional images, let alone actual movie footage.
Then the montage ended and, with a burst of brilliant light an avatar appeared on stage. Dan recognized him as one of the men from his living room and tried to pay attention as he spoke in glowing terms about Danny Rad’s career. Waves of emotion washed over them all, broadcast by the emitters hidden within the man’s projection, carrying the audience along with him as his excitement became a part of their own.
Then it was Dan’s turn.
He rose and hobbled his way towards the stage. There were no steps, which was fortunate since he doubted he could have traversed him. Instead repulsor beams gently lifted Dan and his walker up off the ground, gently depositing him on the platform’s creaky old boards in front of the audience. He cleared his throat and, looking over the group of twenty and thirty-somethings thought about what he’d have wanted to hear from an old fossil like himself when he was their age. Maybe he should have prepared something, but it was too late now.
“Ahem,” he said. “I’m Daniel Radcliffe. Most of you probably know me better as Danny Rad, the stage name I took on as I transitioned into the latter portion of my career. Except I don’t want to talk about my career. I want to talk about movies. About film. About an art form that only lives because amazing young people like you show up to events like this one, to keep it alive.”
He stopped and looked out over the crowd. A few seemed to be fidgeting and there were empty seats where there hadn’t been any before. That was alright, filter out the curiosity seekers, he was here to talk to the real movie lovers in the crowd. So he continued, “There was a time when my only regret was that I never won an Oscar. Now almost no one remembers what an Oscar was. It doesn’t matter. Maybe it never did. What matters to me now is that not only my legacy, but the legacy of my art form lives on. That people like you will remember me, remember all of us long after I’m gone. Thanks to amazing movie lovers like you, no one will ever forget names like Jimmy Stewart, Marilyn Monroe, Sidney Poitier, Paul Newman, Harrison Ford, Julia Roberts, Tom Hanks, Will Smith, Channing Tatum, Selena Gomez… and if I’m lucky, Daniel Radcliffe. Thank you. Thank you for preserving our legacy. Thank you for preserving our art. Thank you, all of you.”
He paused, coughed again, and when he remembered that audiences no longer applaud, shuffled to the edge of the stage to let those insubstantial seeming beams of energy carry him back down.
He’d only been sitting a moment before the lights dimmed again, and the first movie started. The plan had been to make this a double-feature showcasing both his first and final Hollywood films. Sadly no one had been able to find a working copy of either Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone or Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. They’d been forced to settle on Prisoner of Azkaban as the first movie. Dan was secretly pleased. He’d always thought that the best of the Harry Potter movies anyway. These kids were in for a treat.
They’d only made it to the part where McGonagall gives Hermione the Time Turner when Dan noticed the couple in front of him whispering to each other. He had only a moment to wonder what was the matter before they winked out of existence.
Well I guess that answers that question, he thought. Avatars. Not actual people. Not surprising really, most people were these days. Still, it had been nice to imagine they were flesh and blood.
He turned his attention back to the movie, swept away by Gary Oldman’s brilliant performance. How long had it been since he’d last seen this? Twenty years? Thirty? It might have been more. He’d have to ask the event staff for a copy, maybe he could convince his great, great grand niece to watch it with him. She’d always been curious about his work in the movies, or at least she had been when she was a child.
The film played on and, when it was over he sat through the credits, smiling fondly at each name as it went past. Good old Rupert, he’d been the last to go. They’d become pretty good friends too, there at the end. God he was missed, they all were.
When the credits ended he expected the next movie, his last movie, to begin. It was an outer-space remake of Rio Bravo, he’d played the role of Stumpy in the film. Almost no one had seen it, but by then movies were being made mostly as curiosities, not because anyone actually expected to make money off them. He’d financed the entire picture himself, it had bankrupted him. He hadn’t cared.
But Rio Bravo never started.
Instead the lights came up and a very small, very concerned looking group of people walked up the aisle towards him.
“I’m so, so sorry Mr. Radcliffe,” they said. “We… I guess we should have known… we just hoped… you know?”
Confused Dan looked around the room, to see if the rest of the audience was as impatient as he was to get the next feature started, only to discover that the rest of the audience was no longer there. They’d blinked their avatars out of existence and moved on to something more thrilling and interactive, probably around the same time the couple in front of him vanished. He’d been too lost in nostalgia to notice.
Dan slumped down in his chair, as if all his remaining life had been sucked out. The little group of people was still talking, talking about some other ideas they had to try and rekindle interest in his old movies. He heard almost none of it. When their mouths stopped moving he simply said, “I’m not feeling well and I’m not sure I can walk. Can someone bring me a wheelchair? I’d like to go home.”
As they wheeled him out of the theater he knew it was over. It had all been for nothing. They wouldn’t remember. They’d already forgotten. They’d forgotten everything. What had it all been for, in the end? He was the last movie star and there would never be another.
Read more of our Saturday short stories right here.