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The Jim Carroll Website Home > Background > The Basketball Diaries > The Basketball Diaries Film Guide > Scene-by-Scene Reference

The Basketball Diaries Film: A Scene-by-Scene Reference Guide

This document attempts to link each scene in Scott Kalvert's film The Basketball Diaries to specific entries in Jim Carroll's autobiography of the same title. I have studied Carroll's work for ten years, and after viewing Kalvert's film five or six times, I still could not figure out why it was called The Basketball Diaries or why its main character was named Jim Carroll. Hence, I decided to watch the film a few more times, take notes on each scene, and then track down the diary entries each scene was based upon (if any) to see if it made any more sense. In the process of doing this, I have come to appreciate (somewhat) the screenwriter's and director's ability to merge a variety of characters and events into reasonably coherent composites. However, my scene-by-scene analysis also confirmed my initial suspicion: the film is mostly not based on the facts of Jim Carroll's life, let alone his book. I have tried to point out the major discrepancies, as well as the places where the film adheres to the facts set out in Carroll's book.

All page citations in this document refer to the 1987 Penguin edition of The Basketball Diaries.
indicates differences in the film compared to the book.


Primary Characters in the Film

(and their counterparts in Carroll's book)
Jim (Leonardo DiCaprio): Jim Carroll

Mickey (Mark Wahlberg): composite of all the tough and cool guys--Tony, Yogi, Herbie Hemslie, Danny, Fat Eddie, Marc Clutcher, David Lang, etc.

Pedro (James Madio): composite of all the wimpy, uncool guys--Pedro, Johnny, Bobby Blake, etc. The hat comes from David Lang (p. 87).

Coach Swifty (Bruno Kirby): composite of Coach Lefty, basketball scout Benny Greenbaum,
and Coach Dudley Doolittle.

Jim's mother (Lorraine Bracco):
Jim's mother, much embellished.

Reggie (Ernie Hudson):
There is no character even remotely like "Reggie" in the book.

Neutron (Patrick McGaw):
There is no character correlating with "Neutron" in the book, except in name. One of Carroll's two best friends is "Anton Neutron," but he is nothing like the film's "Neutron."

Diane (Juliette Lewis):
Diane Moody

Bobby (Michael Imperioli):
Bobby Sachs

Scene-by-Scene Reference Guide

PRE-FILM PROMO FOR VIDEO OF "PEOPLE WHO DIED" FOLLOWING FILM: Carroll's name is spelled incorrectly.

OPENING CREDITS: The film is said to be "based on the novel by Jim Carroll." The Basketball Diaries is not a novel. A novel is, according to Holman and Harmon's Handbook to Literature, an "extended fictional prose narrative." Fiction is "narrative writing drawn from the imagination of the author rather than from history or fact." The Basketball Diaries is not fiction. It is an autobiography, "The story of a person's life as written by that person."

OPENING SCENE: Mrs. McNulty performing her obscene Mass.
Fall 1963 (pages 5-6): "They finally took away old Mrs. McNulty today. She was the incredibly nutty lady who lived right across the alley from our window in the building. She had a very scary habit of going to her sink every night in her bra and panties and offering Mass over it as if it were her altar."
This is the third diary entry in the book.
Carroll describes Mrs. McNulty as "sixty-five at least."
Jim does not yell, "Hey lady, shut up!" in the book.

SCENE 1:
Jim being spanked with a paddle by his teacher in the Catholic school, with the suggestion that the teacher is a pervert.
There is no entry correlating directly with this scene. For related entries, see: Fall 1963 (page 18) and Winter 1964 (pages 27-28 and 35-37).

SCENE 2:
Sniffing Carbona cleaning fluid on the Staten Island ferry.
Fall 1963 (pages 4-5): "Just as the boat is pulling out of the dock, Tony takes out a bottle of CARBONA cleaning fluid and a few rags and suggests that we do a little sniffing to get high. . . . I kept it up for about ten minutes, but by then I was getting too dizzy to handle it and I had to fling down the rag and make it to the side rail, sick as possible. I began puking wildly. . . . Tony and Yogi had done themselves int too and they ran over to join in the ceremony. Then we recovered enough to hear shouts from the bottom deck and wiping off our eyes we realized that we had zeroed in over the head of some dude. More unfortunate was the fact that the guy was fantastically huge and looked horribly pissed."
Film: the friends with Jim are Neutron, Mickey, and Pedro.
Film: only Pedro pukes on the guy's head.

SCENE 3:
Basketball game--Pedro steals from other team's lockers; Jim, Pedro, Mickey, and Neutron go for burgers on Swifty; the other team comes after them.
Fall 1963 (pages 8-9): "Carson had snuck into the other team's lockers after he got the boot and wiped out their valuables. . . . [T]here are two things Lefty forbids: using the word 'Motherfucker' and stealing from the other team so long as they're white. . . . Inside the place he made it an order that we get only one burger each but we all said fuck it to that 'cause the burgers were those twelve cent skimpy jobs and you've got to get at least eight or more to get filled at all. . . . 'Face the music, Pricks,' chimed Lefty as he tooled out leaving rubber, leaving us too, running our behinds down Fordham Rd. . . ."
The thief is Carson, not Pedro.
Jim and friends do not fight the other team; they run.

SCENE 4:
Jim, Mickey, Neutron, and Pedro sit on the stoop; Diane Moody comes along, dealing blowjobs; Mickey points out that Pedro's mother is across the street hooking.
Fall 1963 (page 10): "Herbie points across the street where all the whores hang out and shouts to Pedro that his mother is over there with them all and everyone starts to goof on the sap."
There is no entry correlating with Diane's part in this scene.

SCENE 5:
Jim goes to visit Bobby in the hospital and takes him to a strip show.
 
There is no entry in the book correlating with this scene.
The obscene photos Jim shows Bobby are from Fall 1963 (page 7).
The diary Bobby reads is from Fall 1965 (pages 140-41)--about a year after Bobby died, ironically enough.

SCENE 6:
Jim masturbates on the rooftop.
Spring 1964 (pages 42-43): "I love it this way. My feet bare against the tar which is soft from the summer heat, the slight breeze that runs across your entire body . . ."
Comment: This scene is very well done!

SCENE 7:
Jim's mother suggests that he could get his driver's license and drive a taxi this summer; Jim is writing in his diary.
There is no entry in the book correlating with this scene. In fact, the diary only goes up to the summer of 1966, just before Carroll turned 16. Unless New York's minimum driving age was under 16, at no time in the book is Jim eligible for a driver's license.

SCENE 8:
Jim writes in his diary how he fears someone is chasing him; he meets Reggie; Mickey reads his diary and makes fun of it.
There is no entry in the book correlating with this scene. The film makes a mockery of the diary in which Carroll writes about his fear of the Bomb: "Will I have time to finish the poems breaking loose in my head? . . . Or will Vietnam beat me to the button?" See Winter 1966 (pages 150-51). The entry Mickey reads aloud is from Fall 1963 (pages 4-5)

SCENE 9:
Jim, Neutron, Mickey, and Pedro jump into the river from a cliff.
Summer 1964 (pages 47-50): "Every crowd of young punks has its little games to prove if you're punk or not."
Note: this scene was filmed on location, in the actual place where the real event took place.
The characters involved are Jim, Johnny, and Danny. Danny is the old pro who jumps first and beautifully; Johnny is a novice, who does a belly-flop; and Jim is a first-timer as well. He jumps alone, and he does it as well as Danny.
The boys moon the Circle Line tour boat after they make their jumps.
A minor point: the boys put on bathing suits; they do not jump into the river in their underwear.

SCENE 10:
Winkie and Blinkie
Summer 1964 (pages 57-61): "They, Winkie and Blinkie, were exact lookalikes with very sexy Grande Concourse Jewish features. . . ."
If you read the pages indicated above, you will find that the following dialogue from the film does NOT take place in Carroll's book:

Blinkie: Do you have any protection?
Jim: Yes. This one is ribbed . . .
Blinkie: So, what are you waiting for?
Jim: Uh . . .
Blinkie: Take off your clothes.
Jim: Turn off the lights first.

Jim is not exactly a virgin to drugs when he meets Winkie and Blinkie. The film makes it seem that he is trying drugs for the first time. Actually, he comes to Winkie and Blinkie's home stoned on cough syrup, and he has to go throw up in order to be straight enough to get it up. He smokes hash with Winkie and Blinkie.
There is also a scene with Jim writing poetry (I think it's "Blood Bridge") with Blinkie in bed beside him that doesn't appear in the book. I don't think he wrote "Blood Bridge" that early; at least he never published it before its appearance in Living at the Movies. If at that point he was writing poetry, it most likely appeared in Organic Trains rather than Living at the Movies.

SCENE 11:
Jim is raiding the medicine cabinet for pills and cough syrup.
There is no entry in the book correlating with this scene.

SCENE 12:
Bobby's funeral and "People Who Died" scene.
Fall 1964 (pages 67-68): "I went back down the old neighborhood today, had to go to the wake of this old friend of mine, Bobby Sachs. . . . He looked sixty years old, and he was sixteen. I couldn't believe how skinny his arms were . . . it was like having the skeleton of someone you knew put in front of you."

From "People Who Died"
Teddy sniffing glue, he was 12 years old
Fell from the roof on East 29
. . . . . . . .
Bobby got leukemia, 14 years old
He looked like 65 when he died
He was a friend of mine

There is nothing in Carroll's book like the scene following Bobby's funeral, but this is one of the most redeeming scenes in the entire film. I say this because it has Mickey playing devil's advocate, stating the point of view that is more often than not falsely attributed to Carroll in the song "People Who Died." Mickey has lines like, "That kid [Bobby] was in so much pain, it's better that he died"; When Teddy Rayhill fell from the roof while sniffing glue, Mickey says, "It was meant to be." And Mickey repeats, in various ways, the axioms "Let bygones be bygones" and "Shit fuckin' happens." This scene is important because it counters the view that death is not a big deal. DiCaprio's character reacts violently against Mickey's views, and the rock-video-like scene during which "People Who Died" is played emphasizes the life-affirming ethos of that song. It ain't in the book, but this is one terrific use of artistic license in the film.

SCENE 13:
Jim's first shot of heroin.
Winter 1964 (page 30): "I never did write about the time I took my first shot of heroin."
Jim took his first shot of heroin in the cellar of Tony's building, not Pedro's.
I have absolutely no idea where the director or screenwriter got the idea of using a field of flowers to represent this experience. Read the entry and wonder for yourself.

SCENE 14:
Jim, sick in the bathroom, with his mother worried to death.
There is no entry in the book correlating with this scene, but it is good at smashing any illusions one might have about drug addiction being "glamorous."

SCENE 15:
Jim, Mickey, and Pedro go out purse-snatching.
There is no entry in the book correlating with this scene. At no point does Jim or any of his friends beat up an old lady, but Jim and his friends did do some purse-snatching and mugging. Related entries may be found in Summer 1965 (104): "I'd rather go back to ripping off old ladies or something sensible": Fall 1963 (pages 6-8): "All us little crooks down here on the lower east side got one specialty in common: snatching hand bags off ladies"; and Summer 1966 (pages 200-2): "we were up in the park for three hours and the only safe shots we could manage were one lady for five and some other lame for two and change."

SCENE 16:
Jim goes to confession.
There is no entry in the book correlating directly with this scene, but Carroll does describe being forced to go to confession as an eighth-grader in Winter 1964 (pages 25-26): "'Priest, I ain't never done this before because I'm not really Catholic and the Brother out there made me come in but I told him I . . . well, shit' (I really said shit too and then said excuse me and all)." There are important differences, however. In the film, Jim confesses to breaking most of the ten commandments (he does not confess in the book), andthe priest simply tells him to say ten Hail Marys and five Our Fathers, suggesting that Jim's sins mean nothing. Also, when Jim asks the priest why God would let Bobby die (which he does not ask in the book), the priest slams the door shut in his face. In the book, the priest isn't the bad guy. Carroll writes: "The [priest] knew I was shitting in my pants and told me it wasn't my fault and just step out and don't worry about a thing. He was an o.k. mug."

SCENE 17:
Swifty propositions Jim in the bathroom during basketball practice.
There is no entry in the book directly corresponding to this scene in the film, but it is justifiable based on the fact that "Swifty" is a composite character. In the book, Carroll is molested by his Biddy League coach Lefty, and basketball scout Benny Greenbaum makes a habit of propositioning any boy he sees (including Jim). To read about Lefty, read the first entry, Fall 1963 (page 3); to read about Benny, see Summer 1964 (pages 54-55) and Winter 1966 (pages 153-59).

SCENE 18:
Jim fantasizes about storming into his English class, a-la Dirty Harry, and gunning everyone down with a machine gun.
This scene is fairly accurate, with one exception (as noted below). In Winter 1965 (pages 83-84), Carroll writes that in his English class, "I get this complete urge to suddenly take a machine gun and start firing toward my right side." In Winter 1966 (page 150), he writes, "I'm gonna do it soon, if I could only get my hands on one I know I could slip it out of my bag and make Swiss cheese out of this place. I mean my English class. . . ."
However, Carroll states specifically, in Winter 1965 (page 83), that he would not shoot "at anyone or anything unless they got in the way but that wouldn't matter much because I would aim fairly high."

SCENE 19:
Before a basketball game against Harlem High, Jim, Pedro, and Mickey pick pills from Pedro's hat, hoping they are uppers; Neutron is there, but he refuses the pills. Unfortunately, the pills are downers, and the boys are stumbling all over themselves on the court. Swifty pulls them out of the game and lectures them in the locker room, telling Jim he'll never play basketball there again. Jim and Mickey quit the team and drop out of school; Neutron stays.
This scene is quite possibly the worst in the entire film, but it does have some basis in an entry from Winter 1965 (pages 86-89). Before a game against Horace Mann, Jim, Marc Clutcher, AntonNeutron, and David Lang pick pills from a hat (Clutcher supplies the pills; Lang sBupplies the hat). They do blow he game. They do get pulled from the game. However . . . the inaccuracies in this scene of the film are horrifying because they make Carroll look worse than he was and erase some of his important achievements.
Carroll and his friends were not pulled from the team.
Carroll did not quit high school. He graduated with his class.
Carroll was a star basketball player, but one would never guess it from the film. The "downers" scene is the only time we really see Jim playing, and he sucks even before the drugs kick in.
At the time of this entry, Carroll was attending Trinity School, a posh Ivy-league prep school, on a combined academic/athletic scholarship. Judging from the uniforms used for this scene in the film, Carroll never went beyond the Boys' Club or the poorer middle school he started in.
Two chronology problems are reflected in the costumes and soundtrack. First, the uniforms worn by both teams in the film are sort of a mixture of time periods: they wear 60s sneakers and baggy uniforms. The uniforms actually worn at the time were fairly tight-fitting with short shorts (see Carroll's basketball team photo in the Trinity Yearbook).Second, the soundtrack for this scene is The Doors' "Riders on the Storm." The actual event (according to the book) took place in 1965; "Riders on the Storm" was released in 1971. (This stands out because it is the only song on the soundtrack older than Carroll's own "People Who Died" and "Catholic Boy"; I can't help wondering why it was selected.)

SCENE 20:
Jim's mother finds pills he has been taking. She kicks him out of the house for saying "Fuck you." He walks away, tossing his basketball trophy in a garbage can.
There is no entry in the book correlating with this scene, but there are a few related entries. For example, in Winter 1964 (page 37), Jim's mother finds "a nickel bag of grass in my hiding spot under the rug today and flushed it down the toilet. She had a long talk with me and asked me if I was an addict to the stuff." Also, in Winter 1965 (page80), Carroll indicates that he is living at Headquarters "from time when my parents gave me the toss."
At no time in the book does Carroll mention throwing away any of his trophies (and he did have more than one). I do know, however, that he now has only one (from 1962) left in his possession.
The voice-over for this scene is from Winter 1966 (pages 176-77).

SCENE 21:
Jim, Mickey, and Pedro steal a car, which they are supposed to deliver to some guy Pedro knows. When they meet the guy, they realize they have parked the car in a no-parking zone and it is being towed. The guy breaks Mickey's arm.
This scene follows an entry from Spring 1966 (pages 191-93) fairly closely, except for the broken arm part.

SCENE 22:
Jim, Mickey, and Pedro are hanging out at Headquarters. Jim is disgusted when Pedro wipes off the mouth of a bottle of cola before drinking out of it (compare to Fall 1965 [page 142]). The voice-over is a sort-of mixture of entries from Winter 1965 (page 80) and Fall 1965 (pages 127-28). The scene fades into a conversation between Jim and Franky Pinewater, straight from Summer 1966 (pages 202-4).
Comment: This scene is classic, since "Franky Pinewater" is played by none other than Jim Carroll himself.

SCENE 23:
Jim's mother prays for him.
There is no entry in the book corresponding to this scene.

SCENE 24:
Diane Moody shows up at Headquarters, begging for a fix. She finds Jim nodded out and laughs at him for descending to her level.
There is no entry in the book corresponding directly to this, but the scene conveys the general sense of the diaries--although Diane never laughs at Jim for getting strung-out, and he never laughs at her for being a strung-out whore, either. The diary entries are arranged in such a way that out-of-control people like Diane Moody, Freddy C. (pages 31-32), and Bobby Blake (pages 94-96 & 97-98) serve as points of comparison for Carroll's self-control or lack thereof. Diane Moody appears only once in the diary, in Spring 1966 (pages 184-85).

SCENE 25:
Jim, Pedro, and Mickey break into a soda fountain. Pedro makes himself a shake while Mickey plays bandit. When the cops arrive, Pedro gets caught; Jim and Mickey escape.
There is no entry in the book corresponding directly to this scene, although there is one entry about Bobby Blake that is comparable to what happens to Pedro. In Spring 1965 (pages 94-96), Bobby Blake breaks into Gussie's Soda Fountain and can't get the cash register open, so he fixes himself an ice cream soda and grilled cheese sandwich. The cops arrive to find him calmly drinking his soda with the sandwich burning on the grill. Carroll did not participate in this adventure.

SCENE 26:
Sitting in a bar or fountain of some sort, Jim watches a news report about the National High School All Star Game on television. Neutron is featured as a star player, and the report notes he has earned a scholarship to St. John's.
This scene is completely FALSE: Jim Carroll did, in fact, play in the All Star Game. See Winter 1966 (pages 153-55): "We just got into town for the very spectacular National High School All Star Basketball Game. The town by the way is Washington, D. C. . . . I'll be the starting guard" (153); "I read in the Washington newspapers a story about me entitled 'Beatnik Basketball Player' telling all about my shoulder length hair and my strange hobbies off the court" (155).

SCENE 27:
Jim lurks in the alley outside his home, watching his mother carry in the groceries. He returns to Winkie and Blinkie's place, and they claim not to know him. At a pool hall, a guy goes after him for selling him bad dope.
None of the events in this scene can be found in the book except for the part at the pool hall. This part, however, faithfully represents an entry from Winter 1966 (pages 169-70), with one unfortunate departure. In the film, after being beaten almost senseless, Jim says to his assailant, "I told you one of us was going to get hurt." This is straight from the book. . . . but then the other guy replies, "Is that right?" That little line blows the whole thing, since Carroll's diary entry concludes with: "I may get my ass beat occasionally, but I always get the last word."

SCENE 28:
Jim is passed out in the snow; Reggie rescues him and forces him to detox.
There is no "savior" character like Reggie in Carroll's book, as the film so aptly acknowledges when Reggie says, after having read Jim's diary, "Actually, I was a litle hurt I wasn't mentioned." This scene is pretty well done in that DiCaprio's performance of heroin withdrawal seems to reflect Carroll's descriptions pretty accurately; see Summer 1965 (pages 121-22), Winter 1966 (pages 171-72), and Summer 1966 (pages 197-98). Once Jim has detoxed in the film, he immediately begins tearing apart Reggie's apartment to find money for more heroin, and this is where another inaccuracy occurs. While Jim is doing this, the voice over is from Spring 1966 (pages 185-86) . . . about a bad LSD trip. Huh????

SCENE 29:
Jim meets Diane Moody again, who is now straight. He asks if she's holding, or if she has any money. She tosses him some change and tells him to go buy some pretzels.
Yes, Diane got straight, but this scene didn't happen in Carroll's diary. See Spring 1966 (pages 184-85).

SCENE 30:
Jim is now hustling in a men's room, much to his horror--imagining that Coach Swifty is watching and laughing at him.
Yes, Carroll was a male hustler, but there is nothing even remotely resembling this homophobic B.S. in his book. See Summer 1965 (pages 104-6) and Spring 1966 (187-89). There are several passages in the diaries that might be interpreted as homophobic by a less-than-attentive reader, but these cases are consistently about being sexually attacked against his will; his reactions to women who take advantage of him sexually are identical (see Summer 1965, pages 106-7, and Winter 1966, pages 171-72).

SCENE 31:
Jim and Mickey buy bad junk from a Puerto Rican dealer. Mickey chases the dealer across town, up onto a roof, and pushes him off. Mickey runs and is beaten by a gang then picked up by the police.
The exchange with the Puerto Rican dealer draws upon a diary entry from Winter 1966 (pages 173-74): the boys (Jim and Jimmy Mancole) buy "heroin" that turns out to be Ovaltine. The rest is pretty much fictional, with one small connection to reality. Mickey, in pushing the dealer off the roof, is sort of representing Herbie Hemslie's appearance in an entry from Winter 1966 (page 177). Herbie "was in stir on a murder rap. Seems he pushed some guy off a roof when he caught the dude trying to run off with money he sent him to cop a quantity of dope with." This is the same Herbie who appears in Carroll's song "People Who Died," by the way: "Herbie pushed Tony from the Boys' Club roof / Tony thought that his rage was just some goof / But Herbie sure gave Tony some bitchin' proof / Herbie said, 'Tony, can you fly?' / Tony couldn't fly, Tony died."

SCENE 32:
Jim grovels outside his mother's locked door, begging her for money. His mother calls the police.
There is no entry like this in the book. Carroll told me that he did do similar things, but not to his mother.

SCENE 33:
Jim sentenced to six months at Riker's Island for assault, robbery, resisting arrest, and possession of drugs. He does the whole stretch.
See Winter 1966 (pages 178-79): Carroll was sentenced to "three months for possession of three bags of heroin and a syringe." Spring 1966 (Page 183): he served only one month of the sentence because Trinity's headmaster got him out. The voice-overs during this scene in the film are very sloppy versions of entries from Winter 1966 (pages 178-79) and Spring 1966 (pages 183-84)--both of which are actually about his time at Riker's!
Unfortunately, the film makes it appear as though Carroll conquered his heroin addiction while he was in Riker's. He didn't. Although he got clean while doing time, the first thing he did when he was released was shoot up again. As Carroll puts it, "I didn't become pure on Riker's Island" (184).

FINAL SCENE:
Jim approaches the stage door to give his poetry reading. Pedro stops him and, to celebrate his release from Riker's, offers him a bag of dope; Jim refuses. The film ends with Jim reciting his work before an audience.
Pedro's offer is based upon the Spring 1966 (pages 183-84) entry (mentioned above), where Jim writes of his first day as a free man: "Mancole did the honor of preparing me a syringe filled with 'the finest junk in upper Manhattan.' I almost refused . . . it was a moment I had both dreamt of passionately and cursed even more . . . but with the dream in front of me again I found that it was quite easy to curse . . . but so much harder to refuse." The film's resolution is far too simple. Plus, it's not entirely clear in the film whether Jim is giving a poetry reading or attending a Narcotics Anonymous meeting. The diary entry DiCaprio recites in this final scene is from Spring 1966 (pages 189-91).

   

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