An Unfilmable Conclusion: Joyce Carol Oates at the Movies
Brenda O. Daly
In 1966, three years before the shocking stories of Charles Manson and his "family" emerged, Life magazine carried the story of a murderer named Charles Schmid. 1 With the help of teenage "followers," Schmid murdered three young women and buried them in the desert outside Tucson. "The Pied Piper of Tucson" was later exposed by a sidekick, tried and sent to prison. Locking Schmid up did not, of course, make America a less violent or safer place to live. It was to explore this "senseless" violence in terms of its cultural implications that Joyce Carol Oates wrote her well-known short story "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?," first published in the fall of 1966. In the story Charles Schmid, renamed Arnold Friend, retains his too-large cowboy boots and pan-cake makeup, as well as his "Golden Car" and his habit of using "high falutin' language." But Oates him into a friend/fiend--a harbinger of Death--whose has since been widely discussed in introductory literature classes in colleges and universities.
Twenty years after its first appearance, this widely anthologized story was made into a movie called Smooth Talk, released in 1986. Directed by Joyce Chopra, it stars Laura Dem as Connie, William Treat as Arnold Friend, and Mary Kay Place as Connie's mother. This intense interest in senseless violence--evident in the translations from fact into fiction and film--raises a number of questions: Why, for example, has yet another woman artist resurrected a tale of violence against women? Whose story is being told, and what are its larger cultural implications? Any response to these questions requires analysis of the relationship among many different texts: popular music, magazines, and books (some of which Schmid drew upon to create his persona), as well as medieval art, nineteenth-century American literature, and critical essays on Yeats.