September 2012


“He was a scientist to the end. Even as a paranoid schizophrenic he tried to catalog every little pink elephant he saw and scientifically evaluate it.”

Angela ran her hands over the stack of field notebooks, many yellow with intense age and loving wear. “These?”

“Yeah. Not just his own hallucinations, either; he spent the last few years haunting every internet kookspace he could worm into, trying to get corroboration of what he was seeing and to record things that others had experienced but he hadn’t.” Jacobs tapped one of the books. “Field and collector notes, even a set of nomenclature…it would be a crowning work of scholarship if it weren’t completely insane.”

“Please don’t use that word. He was my grandfather even if he was just another kook to you.” Angela picked up one of the more recent books. “Can I read it?”

“I’m not sure if I would,” said Jacobs. “If you’re worried about preserving any sort of conception you have of him from the past.”

Angela brushed him off and opened to a random page. “Kellisande Lume. Appears as a worm building tunnels out of light in he sky above buildings that face to the southwest. Causes people to look at the pavement when they walk and gradually lose the ability to appreciate natural beauty. Driven away by strong odors of olives, clocks running backwards, and people with a vague sense of empowerment. Collects dried leaves and is 90% constructed therefrom aside from its skin. Only visible to .0001% of the population naturally as well as those who have been blind from birth and recently gained their sight.”

“It goes on like that for 127 volumes,” said Jacobs. “There’s one that lures people to their deaths by painting pictures that can’t be described out of dust motes, and one that lives in melancholy beams of sunlight grazing on the sighs of the brokenhearted.”

“Are…are you sure he was crazy?” Angela said. “Things like that really could exist, if no one could see them.”

“Listen to yourself,” Jacobs said. “Look, we brought you here for insight into your grandfather’s disappearance, not to talk metaphysics. There’s more in here, come on.

He led Angela into the adjacent library, passing through a beam of wintery midday light from an attic window above and shuddering with an involuntary sigh.

Inspired by this page.

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Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt from a November 23, 1975 WHPL interview with French filmmaker Auguste Des Jardins prior to the American release of his final completed film. Des Jardins’ film, Le fantôme de la lande (released internationally as The Ghost of the Moors), was a major success in France and a minor success elsewhere. Critics usually regard it as a “lesser” work when compared to Des Jardins’ other films (most notably his masterpiece Les trois Juliets), but its immersiveness and potent psychological horror profoundly influenced later filmmakers’ own horror efforts. Notable proponents of the film who cited it as an influence include Kubrick, Carpenter, Craven, and King. Des Jardins died suddenly four months after the interview was recorded leaving a number of incomplete projects; it was his last public appearance and one of only a handful of times he was interviewed in English.

INTERVIEWER: You’ve constructed a–such a really effective, one might even say horrifying in the most flattering possible sense, ghost story. So the question, ah, suggests itself: do you, yourself, believe in ghosts?

DES JARDINS: I don’t believe in ghosts. I believe in humans, fantastic creatures who tirelessly search for the answers to impossible questions, who cannot resist a good story, and who are so adept at seeing things that aren’t there they’ve made it a billion-dollar industry.

INTERVIEWER: And yet you’ve created a–well, directed a film which features them–ghosts, that is–in a starring, ah, role. Would you care to speak to the, ah, apparent contradiction of a man who does not believe in ghosts directing a ghost story?

DES JARDINS: You believe the film is about ghosts? Perhaps you should watch it again.

[gentle laughter from DES JARDINS, INTERVIEWER, and AUDIENCE]

DES JARDINS: That knock on the door late at night, that spectral form prowling the ancient halls? They are as much in our minds as one’s imagination, one’s soul, one’s neuroses. Oh, there may well be some slight external reinforcement–a gust of wind here, a reflected shaft of moonlight there–but it’s the human mind that provides the essential pieces.

INTERVIEWER: So the film is, well, about as much about what’s in the character’s heads a-as what they experience supernaturally?

DES JARDINS: It is entirely about what is in their heads, my friend. Think about it: our minds are the lens through which we must experience all the world has to offer. Yet we know from dreaming that the mind has no inherent rules, and that it is certainly not bound to any of the petty laws of the outside world. The central assertion my film makes–that all of my films make–is that we exist in a strata of rules and laws imposed from without. The film, the book, the painting, even the brightly painted schoolbus–all represent chinks through which we can glimpse a purer world from which all constraints have been removed.

INTERVIEWER: So you, ah, see your work as having a somewhat…a somewhat wider context than a single story, is that it?

DES JARDINS: If I can take viewers to a place where, for whatever reason and by whatever mechanism, they are able to make their own laws of nature, motion, and time, then I will be happy.

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I am among the travelers who have crossed over. I listen to their discussions on how to use their ability to alter the natural laws of this world to create beauty, peace, and harmony. But something is wrong.

I’m not supposed to be here. I’m supposed to be watching this as a film, seated comfortably in the world’s most avant-garde digital theater.

One of the travelers quietly slips away from the discussion. I catch a fleeting glimpse of their face and it reminds me of someone I once knew. I have forgotten their name, and everything else about them but I still remember those eyes. I follow, drawn to that stranger who is not a stranger in my confusion.

I find them standing where the water meets the land in a broad expanse of white sand. They turn to me, smile, and suddenly the surroundings are different. We are in a garden of topiary and elaborate sliding metal walls that stretches as far as I can see. It was created by them, that very moment, by bending the laws of the world.

Welcome. The words are not spoken, nor do they need to be.

I don’t understand. I reply. I’m just watching you in the film; I can’t be among you.

A curious thing, isn’t it, plunging into the sacred cenote? There are many chinks between the worlds, after all. Whether you choose to see this as anything other than a trick of dream logic…you are here.

The strange but not strange traveler holds out their hands; what should have been empty air is instead a chess set of frosted crystal with strange and elaborate pieces haphazardly set upon it. Their first move is to bring two pieces, impossibly, into the same spot at the same time.

The rules have been altered by the power of this place: the object is not to kill or capture but to embrace and love.

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“I’m here to see The Sacred Cenote,” but I seem to have misplaced my date.”

“Misplaced?” Marcus laughed. “is that a recurring problem with you?” He meant it as a good-natured jab but it keened a bit.

“Yeah, I think this is the third time I’ve been ditched at the movies,” I said. “I’ll learn my lesson one of these days.”

Marcus shifted his weight uncomfortably, feeling he’d touched a nerve. “So, The Sacred Cenote, huh? I heard the movie took five years to make and that you can only see it as the original dead director intended in New York, LA, and here at the Mackinac. NY, LA, Hopewell…one of those things is not like the other, eh?”

“I think it’s because the new director graduated from the SMU film school,” I said. “I’m certainly not complaining; I’ve never seen the Mackinac this full and I had to buy the tickets online through a lottery. Of course the whole date situation and missing the first quarter of the film already isn’t helping.”

I meant that as a hint that I’d like to slink into the specially modified Marguiles Theatre at the Mackinac and finally take my seat, but Marcus was clearly in the conversation for the long haul, oblivious: “Yeah, I thought about seeing it, but there aren’t any reviews online and I’m more in a mood to laugh today. So I’m going to see Two Brides and a Groom with some friends.”

Enough was enough: I liked Marcus but I was intent on escaping he afternoon with a shred of my dignity intact. “Well, I’m going to the theater to see if my date abandoned me or just went into the movie without me.” My tone (and my past experiences with girls, if Marcus had any inkling of that) made it clear that I strongly predicted the former.

I bid him a curt goodbye and entered the theater, my armful of popcorn and soft drinks (meant for two) shifting and leaking uncomfortably along the way. The theater was very avant-garde, with leather benches almost like pews instead of seats; to my surprise it was lit up and the screen was dark, despite the fact that the movie must have started ages ago. People were milling about, most of them dressed for the occasion like a night at the opera, making me feel very conspicuous in my business casual slacks and polo.

I went to the front of the theater to try and see if my date was in any of the seats, but I couldn’t get a very good look at half of the seats due to a bizarre divider that (I thought) ought to be in the way of the mover projector and cast a giant shadow on the screen (then again, perhaps it was the projector). Disappointed if not surprised that I couldn’t see Aimee, I made my way back into the middle of the theater…only to hear Aimee’s distinctive liting voice call for me from above.

To my shock and extremely pleasant surprise, she had been saving me a spot on one of the upper benches by laying bodily across it, something made possible only by the pew-like layout (I saw a lot of sorority girls in other nearby “pews” doing the same once I knew to look for it). Aimee sat up as I approached; I took in that pretty red dress, the same dress she was wearing when we reconnected. I feel awful for assuming the worst about her.

Turns out that I came in during an intermission. I put the soda and popcorn where Aimee can reach them just as the lights dim. The “pews” all move forward on silent hydraulics as they do so; I realize that everything is designed to move about as the movie plays.

The posters promised a revolutionary degree of immersion at the Marguiles, and they certainly weren’t wrong.

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French avant-garde filmmaker Auguste Des Jardins had committed a script and production plans for his masterwork to paper and blueprint before his untimely death in 1976, but he freely admitted that the technology to bring his rough vision into reality did not exist. Rumors persisted for years that he had actually finished the film but it had been suppressed by jealous peers of censors, mostly begat by a few staged and altered “production stills” Des Jardins had set up as visual aids in searching for investors willing to back a project that, by his own estimate, was “20-30 years from fruition.”

When the American director Anthony Marguiles was poring through Des Jardins’ personal archives in Lyon, looking for notes on his remake of Les trois Juliets, he stumbled across the plans for the untitled project. After Three Juliets swept the Academy Awards and won the Big Five statuettes, Marguiles had the clout to pitch the project. He presented a complete script and production designs in Des Jardins’ hand, written in English, to the bigwigs at RKO Republic, the third largest studio in 2000s Hollywood. The late director had written in English, according to his surviving notes, to achieve the same effect that Beckett had writing in French: an economy of word and style that stripped away all artifice.

The script was simple: a disparate group of people (teachers, students, professionals) found their way to a realm where the ordinary rules of existence no longer applied. The means for doing so varied, from the first journey in a dilapidated old bus to later ones hidden in a grove of orange trees; the script hinted that the world was full of such chinks to a more fluid reality, and that each one had some deep and hidden meaning for viewers to decipher. Once there, danger and freedom seemed to mix exhilaratingly in the script: the characters altered the rules of reality simply by invoking new ones, usually by association with a familiar concept. For example, being underwater and invoking the “power of Poseidon” would allow one of the travelers to breathe there; the production notes contained details of a long, loving tracking shot which started at sea level in a cenote and went straight down hundreds or thousands of feet to where an actress lounged with a mermaid tail, breathing underwater, having invoked the “power of Poseidon.” The shot continued with her awaking and swimming upward as the camera followed, breaking the surface in a flying leap that also dispelled her altered form.

Obviously the introduction of digital technology would greatly facilitate the making of Des Jardins’ film, but there were other considerations that made it astonishingly difficult to realize. There were, for instance, the dark and unpredictable entities with the same power over natural law that emerged later in the narrative, which the script hinted might be anything from natives of the strange land to projections of the sojourners’ hidden fears a la Forbidden Planet. As the tone shifted from liting and verdant to dark and urgent, the darkness was scripted to “be on the verge of escaping into our ordered world.” There were scenes which called for *the environment of the theater itself* to be altered as this came to pass, everything from dimming or undimming the lights to changing the physical arrangement of seats and walls (something which could only be achieved with a Disney-esque level of animatronic sophistication).

Marguilles struggled mightily with the technical challenges, insisting that he stick as closely as possible the Des Jardins’ original designs despite howls of protest from the distributor and theater chains. Eventually they reached a compromise: three theaters would be modified to show the film as intended, with Marguilles’ personally covering half the expense and agreeing to produce documentary films through his company to help the space turn a profit in the long run. The theaters were the IndieTastic Beverly Hills, the Avant-Garden Brooklyn, and the Mackinac Theater in Hopewell, Michigan.

The film, officially the Untitled Auguste Des Jardins Project but referred to in marketing and promotional materials as The Sacred Cenote, opened in those three theaters five years after production began and expanded to 3000 theaters worldwide one week later.

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The human being is a complex machine, the human mind even more so. It’s no wonder that, with all that complexity, thing sometimes don’t line up quite right. And with love as the most complex emotion, it’s no surprise to find that as the very thing that becomes stunted or twisted in a person, leaving them incapable of loving or of being loved in return.

I’m not sure whether to loathe these wretches, or to pity them. Perhaps a measure of both is called for.

Recall, for instance, Alberto Luis Exposito, president and dictator of the República de San Martín from 1960 to 1989. The only son of a cold military man and the formerly vivacious daughter of a major politician, Exposito lived in a household where love was a weapon. His parents, unable to divorce, engaged in and flaunted numerous affairs simply out of spite. At the military academy, his classmates taunted him for his shyness and lack of experience with women, but his superiors respected his drive and lack of distraction.

By the time of the Sanmartíno Coup of 1955, he was a colonel and a member of the junta that seized power from the democratically elected government. By methodically playing his adversaries against one another he became president at the astonishingly young age of 35; Exposito became known as “El Caudillo” after his idol, Spanish strongman Francisco Franco. The República de San Martín ran like a Swiss watch under his regime, with torture and imprisonment alongside urban and rural development (much of it implemented by forced labor).

The inhabitants of Pueblo Navarro, a small city outside the capital, felt Exposito’s wrath more than most. Seemingly at will, he rearranged the city and its people: approving new construction one day and demolishing those same buildings the next, sacking or reinstating or handpicking everyone from the mayor to street vendors. Those who lived along the Plaza de la Revolucíon in particular felt the sting of El Caudillo’s micromanagement, and wondered how a man with 15 million people under his thumb had time to review candidates for milkman.

After Exposito was overthrown in 1989, the American ambassador to the República de San Martín from 1977-1981 confided to reporters what he had been forbidden to discuss: President Exposito, El Caudillo of the República de San Martín, had been madly in love with Maria Ramirez, a stenographer he had met during an official tour of Pueblo Navarro in 1966. Unable to bring himself to approach her, and unwilling to apply the full force of his dictatorial power to force her to his side, Exposito had instead made informants of Maria’s friends and coworkers and used his titanic influences to remove what he saw as annoyances and distractions. It was his vain and twisted hope that Maria would notice the great hand of state at work in her life and reward the president with her love.

There is no reason to suspect that Maria even noticed Exposito’s interest before her 1988 death in an automobile accident.

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“The chronometer can’t be correct,” said Willen.

“Diagnostics show nothing amiss.”

“It can’t be,” Willen snapped. “Run them again.”

“It’ll be the tenth time. You know what they say about the insanity of trying the same thing and expecting different results.” Margot sighed. “What’s so impossible about the reading? We can see just from an elementary once-over that this thing has been out in the void a long time.

“If the chronometer is accurate, it’s been out here longer than the known or observed age of the universe.”

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