In the early 1980s, Madonna optioned American remake rights for Cleo from 5 to 7, and on a French television program years later, Agnès Varda compliments her, describing her as “a natural-born actress” and a “genius at adaptation.”  But the remake never happened.

If it had, Josh would have seen it.  Josh, my best friend, worshiped everything Madonna.  I enjoyed her music but was tepid on her films, whereas Josh owned all her albums and had seen all her movies — even surefire duds Shanghai Surprise and Body of Evidence. When Badlands played its heroic 45-minute marathon of “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina,” Josh danced the entire duration, raising his arms Peron-style during the chorus.

The remake fell through, Madonna says, because Varda wanted to maintain a loose, improvisational style, but the studio demanded a script before they would fund the film.  Madonna says to Varda, “I should have done it the way you wanted to do it.”

For the two years I lived in D.C., Josh and I were inseparable.  He drove a powder-blue Crown Victoria, which he referred to as “the hoopty.”  We lived frugally and wildly, filling up on $1 Whopper Jrs. before wreaking mayhem at Soho Coffee, or Georgetown, or LBJ Park.  Freedom was a parachute, and the real world approached slowly, a dream growing moment by moment.


Josh and I had an ancillary friend, Nicky, who preferred the spelling “Nikki” because he that’s the way a star would have it.  ‘Nikki,’ short and chubby, with curly, dirty blonde hair, liked thin Lycra shirts that, when worn, stretched and became sheer.  I never heard him perform, but he always talked about working with this producer or that producer, and Josh and I humored him, equal parts teasing and exasperation.

At the turning point of Cleo from 5 to 7, Cleo sings “Cry of Love” in the presence of her composer and lyricist.  They appreciate her emotivity while attributing her tantrums and tears to her diva complex, never understanding the deeper currents and fears running beneath.  They might as well roll their eyes:  Women!

One warm evening, the Josh, Nicky and I were walking up 17th on our way to Cobalt, which had an Thursday night 80s dance party.  On the street was a fortune teller at a fold-out table.  Come on, they cajoled, get your palm read.  I relented.  For $5, the woman told me:  You work with computers.  Something with science or math.  I thought:  You’re only saying that because 1) I’m Asian and 2) because I don’t buy your bullshit.

Cleo from 5 to 7 starts with color footage of Cleo getting a tarot card reading.  Varda explains that the color indicates fiction:  trying to predict the future is fiction.  The black-and-white?  That’s reality.  That’s now.

A few years later, Josh sent me a CD.  We’d begun our long separation and estrangement — our lives now in black and white.  I don’t know where he lives today.  He included a note:  “You are one of the lucky people in the world to own this rarity!”  It was Nikki’s demo CD, a splash of past color for lives going forward in real-time.