Cuba, 1969 – 13 year-old Elena Peralta dances in front of her family’s house on their tobacco plantation. Castro’s soldiers come to arrest her father, Emilio Peralta. Elena and her family hide under the house until the soldiers leave.
That evening, her family escapes to a waiting fishing trawler to take them to Puerto Rico. Along the way the boat encounters a hurricane and heavy seas and their boat is nearly flounders against a rocky cliff at the island of Dominican Republic. Elena’s uncle Tomas greets them on the shore of Ponce, PR. He has found them housing and work on a tobacco plantation. Elena dreams of being a dancer. She and her friends rehearse in her bedroom for a school show, but her father wants her picking tobacco. Elena is not happy.
Elena’s family takes her to church for her Communion where she is rape by Father Rafael, the priest. She is devastated. She hides her shame from her friends and family. Depressed, she quits dancing and avoids everyone. Uncle Tomas loves his niece Elena and senses something is wrong, but can’t get her to talk about it. Her parents also don’t know what’s wrong, but her father insists that she work in the fields with him. She reluctantly cooperates, but hates the work.
The following Sunday when it is time to go to church, Elena runs desperately into the fields to hide. Tomas sees her and tries to get her to tell him what is wrong. Her father, Emilio shouts to her to come with the family to church. Elena must obey her father and comes to him.
She is molested (raped) again. While this is happening, she looks out the window and sees a boy playing a guitar, but he disappears – he is an apparition. She defaults into drowning herself in the river; there she sees an old broken guitar lying on shore of the river. She wades back to it. She arouses from her vision and while Father Rafael sleeps she darts out to find the boy with the guitar. She approaches him and he holds out the guitar for Elena. She reaches for it but it fades away. She dreams again that she is playing it.
Later in the warehouse, Elena hangs tobacco leaves with Tomas. She hears music in her head. He wants to know what’s bothering her. He thinks he knows and relates a story to her that tells her to not give up. She returns to the river and retrieves the broken guitar in her dream, and brings it to Tomas to repair it. He fixes it and gives it to Elena. She tells him she wants to become a master classical guitar player and begins to teach herself to play. She practices at night on the roof of her house, undisturbed. Sunday comes and the priest attempts to rape her again. This time Tomas appears and threatens the priest with his life. The priest goes to prison.
Now eighteen, while her friends listen to rock and roll, Elena studies classical guitar with books and records, but no teacher. She is frustrated. She wants to become a great musician. She slowly improved, playing Bach and Beethoven etudes with ease and facility, yet these were not difficult pieces. Two years passed. Elena is now twenty, quite advanced as a player, but still not happy. She wants to go to school.
Elena walked to town to buy groceries. While she is at the store, a hurricane strikes, blowing out windows. Groceries and magazines fly around the store when a magazine falls at her feet. It falls open to an ad for AMP, a music school in Hollywood. She wants to go, but her father forbids it. He needs her to work on the plantation. Mother insists and father concedes. She leaves for Hollywood.
On board her flight she dreams of being in Hollywood. She wakes up, and is taxied to AMP. She is disappointed. Amp is nothing she had dreamed it to be. She heads up the steps and sees porn studio owner Hector Perez coming out. She is afraid.
She auditions for AMP owner Jack Wells, passes, and Jack’s wife Susanna drives her to a motel. She walks down the boulevard and into a magic shop where she meets Mohammed Ali. She is re-enthused about Hollywood.
Monday morning she checks in at AMP to get her schedule. She enters the student lounge and meets Margie Livingston. They don’t get along.
She returns to Susanna’s office and is sent to classical guitar class elated. She passes Margie in the hall and exchange unfriendly remarks.
Jack remembers Elena’s old guitar and gives her a new Ramirez guitar.
Wednesday morning Elena enters AMP and hears guitars practicing. She passes Margie who needles her for being late. Jack scolds her too. He tells her to come in early. Elena is in her composition class with guest instructor studio conductor Don Contino. Elena is lost, meets Jia, a student from China. Class is over and Jia leaves with Elena. Elena complains to her that she understand composition. Jack shows up and teases the girls. He asks Elena to come to Susanna’s office. Jia offers to help Elena with composition. Jack leads Elena to Susanna’s office. He offers her the opportunity to study with Paulo Goya, a world renowned classical guitarist from Spain here in Hollywood to make a movie. She is thrilled and accepts.
Elena leaves Susanna’s office for class, but curious, she opens a strange door, goes down stairs to 1st floor and sees a young boy going into the porn studio. She peers in the door in the hallway and sees the Mexican man who walked past her on the steps of AMP. Chilled, she returns to class.
Elena is in instructor Carl Simmons’s theory class with Margie. Margie is lost. She is asked questions she has no answer to. Elena feels for her and covertly sends her hand signals saving Margie’s oral test score. They become friends and visit the Wax Museum. Talking about being famous, they leave the Wax Museum and enter Snow White’s café for lunch. Elena hears a Harley roar up. It’s Tom Logan. She is interested.
Margie learns where Elena lives, is envious. Tells Elena where she lives. Elena offers Margie to live with her. She declines. They decide to help one another with their styles.
They return to AMP – Elena sees Perez coming out of the AMP building, reminding her of Father Rafael. Margie knows about Perez.
Susanna meets Elena in the hallway. She has a letter in her hand. Elena follows Susanna into her office. Susanna tells her that a hurricane had destroyed her folks’ tobacco crop, and that no more money for her tuition would be coming. Elena would have to leave AMP.
Elena is devastated. That evening she walks up Sunset Boulevard, depressed, despondent, but determined to stay at AMP. Susanna follows her. She calls out to Elena who stops in front of the Whiskey Sour night club. Elena says she has to work. She says she can dance. Against Susanna’s protests, she walks into the Whiskey Sour nightclub, sees Perez with hard woman and runs out. Susanna tries to stop her, but Elena steels herself and goes back in. She meets Perez and is repulsed, but needs the job.
She gets hired with a condition; she must dance for him now. Perez tells a dancer to get off the stage, and Elena dances to get the job. She dances for drunks and tolerates it to get the job. Susanna is waiting outside and consoles Elena.
Back in the student lounge, she parties with Margie and the students but leaves, upset.
Susanna has no news re Elena’s folk’s money. That night she returns to the Whiskey, sees Perez. He says, “I knew you’d return” – Elena needs money. She says, “I’ll dance for you.
She has to wear schoolgirl costume, refuses but wears it to keep her job. Elena dances for drunks and perverts. She’s a star – and gets a bonus.
Later that night at home she ignores her guitars. She is depressed. She says “I don’t care anymore.”
The next morning in her guitar class she gazes out the window, not listening to her instructor
In the student lounge, Jack and Susanna see Elena staring at the pages of her text book and gazing out the window, not participating with the class.
In Susanna’s office Jack asks if Elena had found work. A terrible argument erupts.
Jack goes down to the Whiskey that night. He watches in disgust Elena erotically dancing. He’s furious. He follows Elena to her dressing room. They argue. Perez enters. He and Jack fight, but Elena remains steadfast. She is not going to quit.
Next morning, Elena slams money down on Susanna’s desk. “That ought to cover my tuition. Elena is angry.
Elena is in her guitar class. She is asked to play. She plays beautifully, then cries.
That evening, Elena leaves the Whiskey for her bus. Perez drives her home, they argue. She quits. Perez rapes her.
She lays unconscious until morning. Showers and walks to AMP.
She listlessly attends classes, and meets Margie in the lounge eating lunch, Margie sees a bad bruise on Elena’s cheek. She wants to know what happened. Elena leans to Marie, buries her head in Margie’s chest. Margie is compassionate, but Elena bolts and runs to her room. She plays a guitar lament. She hears a Sitar playing, and follows the sound. It seems to come from everywhere. Still bewildered, she stumbles into student and Hindu Carmine Coelho’s practice room.
Elena sees things from India. A Sitar rests against a wall. Carmine appears. He comforts her and explains her hearing sitar sound. They introduce each other. She tells Carmine what happened.
Walking his rounds, Jack hears Carmine and Elena arguing in Carmine’s room. Jack enters the room, and confronts them.
Carmine blurts that Elena was raped. Jack goes after Perez in the porn studio, fights Perez and rescues a boy. Police take the boy and Perez away.
Carmine takes Elena to his room and explains Hinduism. He asks her to study Hinduism with him. She declines. She is catholic – then reconsiders and agrees. He teaches her to meditate.
She learns that he drives home with book on the steering wheel. She is afraid for him and offers her apartment.
That night she dreams that Carmine is killed in a car crash. He appears before her and tells her to study Hinduism.
She meets with Jack, learns of Carmine’s death and returns to Carmine’s room tearful. She talks to a picture of Ramakrishna and meditates for several hours.
Jack brings Tony to Elena. Tony is going to introduce her to Paulo Goya to study with him. They meet at the Roosevelt hotel. Paulo helps her, then takes her to his recording date. There she meets Tom Logan, a budding music talent agent. They are attracted to each other. Elena learns that Perez is in prison.
Elena no longer works at the Whiskey. She reads that Perez is in prison.
She finds a job playing her guitar and waiting on tables at a coffee house on Santa Monica blvd. Tom Logan comes in often. They are falling in love. Elena fixes a picnic lunch. She rides with Tom up to Mulholland drive. They find a shaded spot, eat and toast with wine. Tom attempts to kiss Elena. She pulls away, afraid. Tom doesn’t understand, but accepts the situation. They return home.
They are in love, but Elena is afraid of the intimacy. A week later, sipping a glass of wine, Tom waits for Elena to finish her night at the café. He takes her home. Elena is ready for him. They make passionate love on into the early hours. At daybreak he heads for his apartment.
Margie comes to Elena, crying. She has been evicted and her parents disown her, accusing her of using drugs. She doesn’t. Elena takes her in. She wants to help Margie get a tour. They go to school together. Elena asks Jack to enter Margie’s name to audition for MJ’s concert tour. He agrees. She tells Margie that something wonderful is going to happen. Jack shows up the next day and tells Margie she has an audition. Margie is ecstatic. She auditions, but doubts she gets the job.
Elena and Margie go to Paulo Goya’s concert with Tom and Tony.
March 1978 – Graduation.
At Elena’s graduation she receives the “OZ” award, for being like Dorothy and bravely overcoming the obstacles to pursue her calling to reach the Wizard, AMP and receive her diplomas for Courage, Heart and Knowledge. She is stunned when her patents and uncle show up unexpectedly.
In the green room Elena meets Margie’s parents who were not going to be there. Margie announces her concert tour to Super bowl. Tom, Jack and Tony walk in. They embrace and congratulate Elena. Margie thanks Jack and Tony. Elena glances around the room. She thinks she sees Carmine, smiling at her, but he is only an apparition. Still she senses he is in the room with her, for her. She and Elena play a Classical Gas duet. Everyone cheers. Tom comes to Elena. He is an agent now.
He offers Elena a concert date. She confers with Tony and Paulo She is afraid but is told she is ready. She accepts.
Elena studies the mystical teachings of India. She becomes wise and compassionate. Jack hires Elena as female student counselor.
It is evening. At the Pavilion auditorium, Elena rehearses her concert on stage alone, without the orchestra. Jack, Susanna, Tom and Tony are standing in the wings, listening.
Jack tells Elena that they will meet her at the Escoffier restaurant in downtown LA for a celebration dinner. Everyone leaves except Jack and Tom. They remain in the wings. They will wait and drive Elena to dinner.
Elena stops playing and looks up to see the double doors open at the back of the auditorium. The late afternoon sunlight from outside illuminates a lone silhouette standing in the doorway; the figure is a man wearing prison clothes. He walks slowly down the aisle toward the stage.
Frowning, Elena quits playing and stares transfixed at the sight of the advancing figure. Her eyes focus. It’s Perez! Apparently he had escaped prison.
“Hello Elena,” he calls, an evil smile on his face. Elena freezes, terrified.
“I’m here to kill you…”
He continues walking toward the stage, a wild, insane expression on his face. As he arrives at the foot of the stage, Tom and Jack charge out, jump off the stage and tackle Perez. A violent fight ensues. Tom is knifed, lies bleeding on the floor. Jack is stunned. Perez jumps onto the stage and lunges at Elena. She drops her guitar and runs back behind the curtains. Jack looks down at Tom, Then back at Elena’s retreating body, Perez is after her. Susanna hears the commotion and comes back in. Jack hollers for her to call 911 and takes off after Perez. A long chase scene backstage begins with Elena running for her life up stairs and across catwalks among fly systems, rope riggings and scenery. It’s like a maze.
Perez is right behind her, wielding a large bowie knife and yelling, “You’re dead, bitch!” Jack is a short distance behind them. Elena runs into a dead end. Perez has her cornered. He stands next to a railing over a three story drop, and brandishes his knife, smiling. “You die” he says. Jack appears and they fight. Wounded, Jack falls back to the floor. Perez turns back to a frozen Elena, Terror in her eyes, she has her back against a concrete wall. She focuses and hears in her head “Sometimes you just have to put your head down and charge!”
Elena puts her head down and charges full force, into a surprised Perez. He is slammed backwards and over the railing to his death below. Elena helps Jack to his feet. He is not seriously wounded. They descend to the stage as paramedics pick up Tom. Susanna is standing by They follow the rescue men out. They place him in an ambulance. Concerned, Elena rides with Tom and professes her love for him. He smiles and whispers, “I love you”.
They all go to the hospital. After seeing Tom is okay, they head for dinner. Elena is told she must leave. She goes to dinner with everyone. There is a toast to Elena’s success, To “Elena Rising.”
The next night, with a 70 piece orchestra, Elena gives the performance of her young life. She has risen.
Later she and Tom get married. They have a child; Carmine. Tom is her agent. She tours and returns to AMP to play and give seminars. She is a practicing Hindu, seeing Carmine at her side. She counsels female students at AMP when not on tour. Elena sends money home and the tobacco plantation flourishes. The “Peralta Fine Cigars” is now a trade name. Tomas now hand- makes the “Tomas” classical guitar. Penguin rejoins Elena, Tom and little “Carmine.”
Jack and Susanna built AMP into a thriving school with over 1000 students. The school gained international renown. They bought a building in Hollywood and renovated it into a state-of-the-art facility, with a 500 seat auditorium, a 48 track recording studio and 60,000 square feet of class and performing rooms. Margie went on to fame as the top female rock guitar artist.