Thursday, August 22, 2019

A Thousand Feet High: Once Upon a Hollywood (2019).

In Citizen Kane, Charles Foster Kane famously mutters 'Rosebud' on his deathbed. Only the audience is given the solution to the mystery: it refers to a sled which Kane played with as a child, long before he would lose himself in the Xanadu of personal wealth, power and ego. In later interviews, Orson Welles often downplayed the significance of Kane's central riddle, labelling it a cheap gimmick and a bad joke. Gimmick or no, Rosebud taps into something universal about life: the older you get, the more the details of your childhood assume a lustrous, irretrievable magic.

In his 9th picture Once Upon a Hollywood, Quentin Tarantino returns to the era of his childhood, to the year of 1969 when the director would have been 6 years old. It is the end of a decade, and in a wider sense, the end of the whole period of bounteous energy, optimism and self-belief which characterised America in the post-war period. The next decade would usher in economic slow-down and the political scandals of the Church Committee and Watergate, and America's image of itself would never be quite the same again. The texture and appearance of 35mm film in Hollywood movies changed notably between the two decades. Up until about the mid-60s, it still had something of the lustre and artifice of the Technicolour era; the movie world looked brighter and prettier than the everyday one. In the 70s, movies adopted a more muted palette, with a softer, hazier visual texture, accentuated by natural light and deepening shadows. Location filming became the norm; the studio backlot became the street.

This loss of innocence, eulogized in Once Upon a Time, was a necessary and perhaps inevitable coming to the terms with the dark forces and contradictions that underpinned the American Dream at its apogee. Nevertheless, even if the innocence itself was built on illusionary foundations, there is no denying the considerable beauty and energy of American culture in its golden age of Pop: the curvaceous, untethered exuberance of Space Age architecture and automobiles, dusk and night-time skies tattooed with a giddy, psychedelic chorus of neon signs, crackling radios tuned to the hormonal teen symphonies of Phil Spector, the Beach Boys and the Shangri-Las. 

Once Upon a Time seeks to bask in the energy and ambience of this era of American pop culture, right at the point where the clock had finally run out on it. America had already lost its innocence by '69; after a series of traumatic assassinations and demonstrations, the country found iself more bitterly divided than it is even today. The Manson Family murders, however, became a symbolical culmination of that loss; they were the harbingers of a bleaker era to come, where optimism gave way to the cold grip of paranoid uncertainty. Tarantino's movie alters the facts of history to create an alternative timeline where that death knell never occurs. Of course, in the real world, had the Manson murders never happened, an appalling tragedy would have been averted , but history in general would progress in largely the same way. In the self-contained fairytale of the movie, however, the magic LA of Tarantino's childhood persists forever. Rosebud again. 
In this sense, Once Upon a Time goes against the grain of historical revisionism as it tends to be practised in movies today. Most contemporary revisionist movies seek to undermine the mythic image of a by-gone era by illustrating its dark undercurrents and contradictions. Once Upon a Time does the opposite: it revises the historical facts in order to restore the mythic image of the period. In many period movies, the period is merely the setting for the story. In Once Upon a Time, creating a meticulously detailed yet ultimately dreamlike simulacra of LA in the late 60s is the central aesthetic purpose of the movie. 
One the things I loved about the first (better) half of Death Proof was its unabashed celebration of American popular culture: jukeboxes, pretty girls, pop records and muscle cars. In Once Upon a Time, Tarantino becomes a fully fledged poet and rhapsodist of Americana in the tradition of Chuck Berry and Brian Wilson. The movie is infused with an obsessive, infectious love for the culture and ambience of its period. Television and radio samples are integral components of the mise en scène and soundtrack, and of the historical dream state that the film induces. A remarkable collaboration between director, cinematographer Robert Richardson and production designer Barbara Ling, its dream LA feels as boundless as a Grand Theft Auto game. Sequences where characters drive at night are transportingly beautiful.

Once Upon a Time feels like a departure for Tarantino, and the emergence of a more mature vision. With the exception perhaps of the first half of Kill Bill, the primary focus and energy of his movies has always been with the speech of his characters. Cinematic technique has tended to be subservient to the dialogue, and he has often been carried away by the enjoyment of his own voice. In Once Upon a Time, he has pared back his verbal exuberance, making the dialogue less showy and more specific to the characters. He has learned the value of silence, of simply watching characters behaving and being, whether it be Pitt's serene Cliff Booth climbing the roof to fix a television antennae, or Margot Robbie's Tate surreptitiously enjoying an audience's enjoyment of her performance in The Wrecking Crew. There are long stretches of Once Upon a Time which are the closest the director has come to making an actual drama. As an artist, Tarantino seems in no danger of becoming a has-been; but the melancholy of ageing has brought something of hum-drum reality into his incorrigibly escapist cinematic world. To my taste, any rate, it might be his best film.

In the devastating conclusion of Lynch and Frost's Twin Peaks: The Return, Dale Cooper travels back in time to prevent the TP world's defining tragedy from occurring. Lynch's vision is extremely dark and tragic: you can't eradicate the trauma of the past; change one thing, and the tragedy will simply re-emerge, perhaps in an even worse form, elsewhere in the karmic ledger. Tarantino has always been a comic rather than a tragic artist, and in Once Upon a Time, history is re-written and redeemed: Sharon Tate survives, and all of the darkness is expunged from the Manson story. Yet Tarantino maintains an awareness throughout of the impossibility of this scenario; it is a fairytale and a magic trick, sustainable only by the illusionary magic of cinema. Rick Dalton plays cowboy heroes and (latterly)heavies, but in reality he is a comic, shambolic figure. The irony is that it is his stuntman, who belongs in the anonymous class of movie performer whose face or name will never be known by the public, who embodies the reality which Rick merely plays on the screen. He is the stoic, indomitable, self-contained archetype of American cinema, embodied on screen by McQueen, Redford and countless others. Carrying Rick's load once more, he is the one who saves everybody from the Mansonoid intruders, leaving Rick to enjoy a hero's welcome in a Cielo Dr residence unscathed by blood and sorrow. 


Postscript: Hippies. Does Tarantino hate hippies? Maybe. Certainly there are enough gratuitous hippie beatdowns in Once Upon a Time to make Joe Friday, Vincent Bugliosi and Bigfoot Bjornsen salivate with joy. Or maybe he's just playing up Rick Dalton's peculiar antipathy for the hippie for comic effect – either way, it is admittedly hilarious.

Iconic Hippie Haters: 


Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Intermundia Airport (Chapter 7).

The foyer of the Overnight, a long, broad corridor that terminated in a pair of elevators and stairwells, was a medley of faded and mismatched patterns. The wallpaper featured a hexagonal motif in pale yellow, white and green; the patterns of the carpet, tan brown and beige, had been rendered indistinct over time. It conveyed an atmosphere which was becoming familiar to Mark in Intermundia: a sense of a past never quite lived in but only dimly and ruefully recalled; a past that lived in the periphery of childhood memory, and was glimpsed occasionally in old magazines and paperback books; the sadness of an impoverished, unsophisticated era whose diminished horizons were embodied in its dreams of leisure and escape.

The reception, located in the centre of the foyer, was studded with brown vinyl. To either side of the counter there was postcard rack, and in the centre a visitor's book and rounded silver service bell. Behind the counter, a tall middle-aged man stood stock still and a woman was seated, smoking a cigarette and reading a paperback novel. Neither showed the slightest awareness of his arrival. Standing at the far side of the counter, a small, broadly built waiter in a red blazer grinned at Mark. The couple behind the counter conveyed a subtle atmosphere of discontent and simmering violence which Mark found difficult to rationalize, but which was palpable enough to make him reluctant to approach them. The waiter's body language suggested a worker standing at a safe distance from a piece of machinery which experience had taught him to regard as capricious and combustable.

To postpone checking in, Mark examined a display panel on the wall inside the door. A banner at the top of the panel read HAPPY DAY, FELLOW FROLICKER! REMEMBERING SHELDRAKE'S SUMMER CAMPS. Sheldrake's, he gathered, was a chain of seaside holiday resorts which specialized in cheerful family entertainment on a modest budget, and its ambience was conveyed in a series of black and white photographs, fliers and assorted paraphanalia. One large photograph depicted a phalanx of Sheldrake's staff advancing towards the camera on a beach. Arms interlinked, they grinned broadly and indulged in such gambolling and capers as the tight formation allowed. With the exception of a couple at the centre, each wore the same red blazer as the waiter, which Mark now noted was emblazed with a heraldic S on the breast pocket. Looking closely at the image, he noted with a start the three figures at the counter among the frolickers, to the left of the central couple. They looked so unabashedly happy – the man and woman gazing at one another like a newly married couple, the young waiter participating unselfishly in their joy - that the image formed a stark contrast to their present incarnation, with its pall of unspoken resentment and dark, seething energy. 

The couple in the centre of the group was an elderly business man in a top hat and suit – Mark took this to be Sheldrake himself – and a beautiful, statuesque blonde. Sheldrake was in his sixties, and everything about him was round and squat. His plump, small face was tanned and pock-mocked, and beneath a thin grey moustache his teeth flashed in a rodent-like smirk. The blonde woman wore a sparkling sequinned jacket, tuxedo top and black tights which amply demonstrated the smooth, supple grace of her legs. Small and indistinct as it was, Mark became mesmerised by the image of the woman, by the overweening perfection of her figure, the gleam of her lipstick and the cold, insuperable distance of her smile. It stirred his first full recollection of lust in Intermundia, perhaps because the image appeared irretrievable in time. Another thought occurred as he stared at the photograph: was there an ocean in Intermundia? With that thought, he heard the swell and ebb of the sea, the timeless respiration of the earth, the call of gulls across the sibilance of wind and water, and the image of the woman became larger in his mind, frozen still but always on the verge of motion and renewed vitality, hair poised to dance in the breeze. 

Started from this brief reverie, Mark scanned some of the other images on the display. In a poster, a disgruntled child sits weeping on his hunches, head in hand. The unhappy boy is accosted by a group of merry children and a large anthropomorphic white rabbit. CHEER UP OR CLEAR OUT! the poster says. A photograph depicts a comedian on stage, a rotund man in a chequered blazer and bow-tie, curly brylcreemed hair and moustache, an expression both jolly and set-upon. Teddy Bilk, the photo reads, Something Olde, Something New, Something Borrowed and Something BLUE! Another photo shows a figure suited up as the Sheldrake Bunny ambling down a deserted lane between rows of chalets. Behind him, an indistinct figure peers around the corner of one of the chalets. Alarmingly, it appears to be a second Sheldrake Bunny, this one pitch black in colour. 
The longer he gazed at the display, Mark found that it produced unnerving auditory effects which he could only account for as a freak of his own imaginative suggestibility. Looking at the beach photo, he heard the ocean. At Teddy Bilk, he heard laughter, clanking of glasses, a ghostly intimation of Teddy's own voice, almost smelt perspiration and perfume, sawdust and seaweed, the dulled charge of a drunken tryst. At the picture of the Sheldrake Bunny, he heard a terrifying sound like a machine that bore into the synapses and caused perception to brake into waves of static. It seemed that he, who could remember nothing of his own life, had a peculiar susceptibility to fugitive memories that belonged only to objects and images. He wandered away in the direction of the reception desk. 

The scene there had scarcely changed since he entered the Overnight. The woman had long fair hair, parted in the middle and flecked here and there with grey strands. She had large blue eyes that seemed turned inward and focused on her own thoughts, in way that made the novel almost a prop. Her expression was patient if a little condescending. Her skin was deeply tanned, and she wore her make-up in the excessive fashion of an attractive woman over-compensating the loss of her prime. She wore a light, figure-hugging summer dress that depicted a peacock fanning its plumage against a dark blue backdrop. She smoked her cigarette through an opera length holder. The novel she read was called PHYSICIAN, a purportedly frank exploration of the life-style of a cynical, ambitious and sexually voracious young doctor. 

The man, whom Mark assumed to be the manager Digsby, maintained his peculiar pose of nervous immobility. He had wispy, thinning brown hair combed to the side, tiny brown eyes under a pinched brow, clean-shaven pale skin and a crookedness about the mouth that suggested the cumulative effects of depression and cynicism. Overall, his features evoked a foraging creature peering reluctantly out of its den in the daylight, starving but fearful of enemies. He wore a cream white shirt rolled up at the sleeves and a green paisley cravat. His trousers, a peculiarly dispiriting shade of brown, were at least a size to large for him at the waist, an exigency he had countered by crudely extending the perforations on his belt with a knife.

Digsby's eyes were fixed blankly on Mark, and his mouth frozen in a toothy and joyless smile. The woman regarded Mark with a warm expression before returning her attention to PHYSICIAN. The waiter tilted his head towards the desk, nudging Mark to initiate the exchange.
'Excuse me,' he said finally.
'Yes?' Digsby barked.
'My name is Mark Smith.'
Digsby looked at him quizzically: 'Is it?'
'I – I have a reservation, I believe.'
'Really? Where?'
The woman glared at Digsby: 'Alan!'
'Well, here of course.'
Digsby leaned forward, sniffing the air around Mark and glancing suspiciously in the direction of the revolving door.
'Do you have a tart waiting out there for the all-clear? Some little check-out girl who couldn't keep her knickers up in a home for the geriatrics?'
Mark gaped at the peculiarly belligerent hotelier. The woman attempted to placate him:
'You're very welcome to the Intermundia Overnight. My name is Janice. Don't mind my husband Alan – he eat something that didn't agree with him when he was a toddler and hasn't really been himself since. Probably his mother's milk. Did you just arrive today? You must be very tired. Would you like us to do you up a nice ploughman's or a corned beef?'
'We're not doing anybody a nice ploughman's – he's not some kind of labourer, fresh from the fields and God's honest toil! He's coming in at all hours, stinking of a brewery! He probably has a tart out there, waiting for the all-clear.' Janice scowled. 'Alan, for God's sake, he's a visitor, they never have tarts. They might as well be monks, for all the interest they have.' She turned to Mark. 'I'll get you your key, love, what was the name again?'
'Mark Smith.'
Janice turned to reach for the key but Didsby barred her, and faced Mark with an expression of unpersuasive regret.
'No checking in after midnight, I'm afraid.'
Janice cast her eyes to heaven. 'Not this again.'
'Where am I supposed to go?'
'Well, it's unfortunate, but didn't you see the sign?' He pointed upward to a sign over the counter that read: STRICTLY NO check-ins after midnight by ORDER OF MANAGEMENT.
Janice addressed the waiter, who had shrugged and smirked at Mark throughout the exchange.
'Freddie, didn't I tell you to take down that stupid sign?'
'I did take it down, love, then 'e told me to put it back up. Then you told me to take it down, then 'e told me to put it back up again. I'm not gonna be up and down like a bleedin jack in the box because the left 'and don't know what the right is doing round 'ere. I don't even like 'eights at the best of times.'
'Alan, just give him his key. How could he have seen the bloody sign until he'd already walked in the door? No point showing him the sign now, he's already here.'
'I know he's here! Where else would he be? But we need rules!'

The continued to bicker, their faces edging closer together, Digsby's eyes becoming pinpricks of febrile hatred. Freddie winked at Mark. In a sudden motion, dazzlingly brisk and graceful, he leapt in behind Digbsy and Janice, snatched the key and resumed his position at Mark's side. 'Let's go', he said, smiling like a clever cocker spaniel. They walked in the direction of the stairwell. Looking back, Mark noted that the hotelier and his wife had already resumed their original stances, she reading her novel and he gazing into the far distance with his rigid and unhappy grin.
'Would you prefer to take the elevator or the stairs, sir?' Freddie asked.
'Well, which would you recommend?'
'Normally, sir, I'd recommend the stairs, because the elevator 'as certain moods and quirks that are best avoided. Only, I've been up and down the stairs so many times today, I'm afraid I'm likely to get the bellicose veins, like me old dad. Me old dad used to say “Don't send me up dem stairs again, love – you won't like me when I'm bellicose - ”'
'Well, how about the elevator then?'
'An excellent choice, me old mucker! I can see that we will be quite simpatico, as the French say.'
As soon as they entered the elevator, and the door shut behind them, Freddie leaned in close and began to speak to Mark in a low, conspiratorial tone.
'Old Digsby and Janice don't mean badly, sir, but there are a lot of problems there, if you catch my meaning.'
'Yes sir. I don't think I would be speaking out of turn if I were to say that their problems, the problems of Old Digsby and Janice, are of a conjugal, or, how should I put it, a sexual nature...'
Mark, unsure how to respond at this point, simply nodded.
'You see, the problem is that whenever Janice reaches out to Old Digsby in the bedroom for 'em to to do his duty, to tune up the old piano, so to speak, he gets his war anxiety. Poor Digsby gets his war anxiety, and he leaps up and jumps in under the bed, cowering, sir, as though the bleedin 'un were about to burst in with their jerry guns blazing! 'E couldn't satisfy a query in that frame of mind, I can assure you. I feel sorry for Janice. She's still an attractive women, only just a tip-toe this side of her prime. And Old Didsby can't get it up without 'earin his drill sargent blow his whistle!'
The surface facing them was a large, grimy mirror, and those at the sides were papered with a puzzling heraldic pattern of scowling lions and griffins. The air was close, and with the exception of a low humming noise, there was little indication that the elevator was moving at all. Mark studied Freddie in the mirror. His thick black hair covered his ears and much of his brow like a helmet. He had small, well-made features, large brown eyes and brows so perfectly rounded that they looked like horizontal parentheses. It was difficult to determine his age as his features were boyish but his expression appeared perennially divested of all of life's illusions and vanities. He was the type of person who might either startle you with a display of sentimental loyalty, or casually lift the wallet from your mortal remains. A thought occurred to Mark as he studied him. 

'Was there a war in Intermundia?'
'Was there a war? Only the bleedin Great One.'
'Was it long ago? Did you serve in it?'
'Nah, not me, sir, it was before my time. When I was a kid, I used to listen to the War every Sunday on the radio. It was exciting for a child, know what I mean? The 'un advancing this way, our boys advancing that, airplane skirmishes, bombs, secret all seems like an adventure when you're a nipper. But one day, I'm glued to the War on the radio as usual, and me old grandad is sitting at the table 'aving his bovril and reading the paper, when they start listing out all the places where last night's bombs fell. All of a sudden my ears prick up 'cause they say the name of our street, and the very number of our bleedin building! I gets such a shock I leap up, put me arms around the old geezer, and say: “Grandad, grandad we're as dead as bleedin kippers!” And 'e gets a fit of laughing and coughing as nearly does 'im in, and then he sits me down and says: “The War ended years ago, you pillock! They just keep playing it on the radio because it's cheaper than a variety show or a disc jockey. Keeps people 'appy, too, son, cause people was 'appier in the War. Gave em something to fink about and do with their time!” So I didn't see none of the War, only what I heard on the radio. After the Great War, sir, they 'ad what was called a Cold War, but that wasn't really a War at all, more like two groups of lads in a pub, looking across at each other aggro like and whispering amongst themelves, but never actually striking a single blow. Everybody was in a tizzy back then about Comrade infiltration. They way they 'ad it in the news-reels, any bleedin person you meet could be a Comrade in disguise. So I ordered a COMRADE DETECTOR KIT from the back page of one of me comics, all excited about 'ow I was gonna smoke out every single Comi rat on the street. But all it was was this picture, sir, that showed some irate chap with a beard shaking his fists, and a magnifying glass and some invisible ink. So that was as close as I ever came to active duty. And the Cold War ended, sir, and there ain't been nothing much as 'appened since. The planes come and go, you people come and go, same thing every bleedin' day. I sometimes think about what me grandad said that day, about people being 'appier during the War cause they 'ad something to do with their time. We was happier, sir, all of us 'ere, back when we was at Sheldrake's. They were better times.' 

'What happened? Why did you leave?'
Freddie's face clouded over, as though trying to retrieve an indistinct memory.
'Well, I don't know, sir, fings change, I suppose. Sheldrake's wasn't quite the draw it used to be. I remember we used to have bus loads of families, but towards the end it was only dribs and drabs. We was trippin' over ourselves with nuffing to do. Then the sightings started, sir.'
'Sightings of the Black Bunny, sir. The thing was, we 'ad a mascot, which was a great big jolly white rabbit, what was called, for lack of imagination more than anything else, the Sheldrake Bunny. It was old Digsby, if you can believe it, in a bunny suit, which Danny Crenshaw 'ad made em do out of spite. The look on his face when that mask came off was priceless – all sweaty, comb-over 'alf way across the channel, blind, murderous rage in his eyes – and Crenshaw and Teddy Bilk rolling around laughing! Anyway, people started to see a kind of sinister twin to the jolly white rabbit lurking around the chalets and in back of the pavilions. Identical, sir, except pure pitch black from 'ead to foot, and also jolly, albeit in a weird and frightening manner. All nonsense, sir, if you ask me, like moving statues and flying spanners. Power of suggestion – mind playing tricks on itself.'
'Anyway, then Sheldrake 'imself disappeared off the face of the mundia. You see, to be a successful man in this world, you 'ave to crack a few eggs, know what I mean? And old Sheldrake had cracked more than his fair share to get where 'e was, and somebody, sir, didn't like the flavour of the omelette. So Sheldrake was 'oled up in his bunghole, some right dodgy sorts was sniffing round the campsite for his blood, half the bleedin' chalets was empty, and there was more and more sightings of the Black Bunny. And that was the last summer we 'ad at Sheldrake's. Now, Teddy always says that Sheldrake will come back one of these fine days, and re-open the camp, and everything will be just like it was. But I dunno, sir, I think that's just wishful thinking, if you was to ask me. Just wishful thinking is all.'
A lull fell over the conversation, and Freddie's expression became quiescent. His eyelids flickered and his head began to droop downward. Mark became aware again of the low hum of the elevator, and the feeling of being completely stationary. Struggling with a peculiar apprehension of being rude or impolitic, he decided to broach the subject with the dozing waiter.
'Freddie, doesn't it seem to you as though we've been in this elevator for rather a long time?'
'Well, yes, sir, but I did warn you that the elevator has certain peculiar quirks, didn't I? It works like normal most of the time, but every so often....well, nobody really understands these elevator shafts, being entirely honest with you sir. There are certain things about this entire building, the truth be told, which are very perplexing. A feeling one gets, from time to time, like a lot of things went on in this hotel before we all arrived, and left, how shall I say it, a kind of residue in the place, like the remnants of an old cup of tea, sir, that won't be scrubbed from the bottom of the cup.'
Freddie's eyes assumed a sober look, and his voice lowered:
'Teddy Bilk told me that one morning 'e was getting the elevator from the top floor. And when the door opened, a figure burst out in great haste. 'E was all dishevelled and dirty and looked like he'd been sleeping in a gutter somewhere. Well, Teddy was a little taken aback, and he makes a beeline into the elevator instead of confronting 'em. Only, when the door is closing, the dishevelled chap looks back, and Teddy nearly 'as a bleeding heart attack, because it's himself that's looking back at him! His identical twin, if you can believe it. Like looking at myself in a filthy mirror, Teddy says. Anyway, the door closes, and poor Teddy is in a right panic – he feels like he's lost every single one of his marbles. A minute later, the door opens and Teddy steps out into the foyer – except it ain't the bleeding foyer of the Overnight. It was a hotel, Teddy says, but not one he'd ever clapped eyes on before in his life. And there was something different about the whole scene which Teddy couldn't quite put his finger on. Just a certain something that was off about everything – the clothes people was wearing, the décor of the foyer, the way people was acting.'
'So Teddy is in a right panic at this point, and 'e just bolts right out the door of this hotel. And fings only get worse from there, sir. Outside, 'e finds himself in this most peculiar place where there ain't a single terminal as far as the eye can see. And stranger still, not a single airplane to be seen in the sky – not one! Only a handful of those critters, what do you call them, what have evolved to imitate the airplanes - '
'That's right, sir, birds. Anyway, it was a really peculiar place, which 'ad everything you'd find in an airport – shops, restaurants, bars – only not a single runway or airplane in sight. Like somebody had put everything in, only forgetting the bleedin maison d'être, as the French say. Teddy was in a right pickle, cause 'e couldn't speak the lingo either. Then it occurred to him that maybe if he went back and used the same elevator in the hotel, it might just bring him back to the Intermundia Overnight. But by that time, sir, he'd rambled quite a distance from the hotel, and couldn't for the life of him find it again.'
'So that was the beginning of a right 'ard time for old Teddy. 'E was there for weeks, living rough on the streets, sir. It was port city, he said, with lots of canals. The buildings was made of stone – tall, narrow buildings, lots of bright colours, looked like they been all squished together. And it seemed to be a place of pleasure, sir, if you catch my meaning. The people there was transients, only passing through to indulge themselves. A little bit like the Greenbelt, if you credit such tales. Teddy said there was streets where sumptuous tarts lounged in windows, waving and winking and showing their all their inducements to the passers by, as openly, sir, as though they was missionaries out to convert the heathen.'
'All poor Teddy could think about was his belly. 'E had to live by his wits – to beg, borrow and steal just to stay alive. And every day, he wandered the streets of that strange city, looking for the hotel, still clinging to the 'ope that the elevator might bring him back to Intermundia. Every so often, he'd hear a familiar sound, look up, and there it was – a single airplane, streaking across the sky – and that made him 'omesick. It made him think that maybe there was some connection between the two worlds – that there must be a way back.'
'In time, he encountered other castaways who'd washed up there just like himself. One gentleman 'ad stepped into a regular telephone box, and when he picked up the receiver, he 'eard a fearful cackle on the other end of the line. Soon as he stepped out again, 'e had been transported to the city of the gaily coloured stone buildings. One, sir, 'ad been on a pier in a disreputable seaside resort, and stepped into a booth which purported to exhibit a certain unnatural act, ingeniously imitated by automata. He stepped out again and – bang – 'e was far away from home. They'd all come via different routes – mysterious booths, elevators, stairwells, dumbwaiters, strange side-streets and alleyways what weren't normally there – and all of em was desperately trying to get back to the part of the city where they'd first arrived, just like Teddy. They drew maps and pictures, sir, what was like the obessesive scrawlings of madmen, to aid their memories, and show to passers-by in the 'ope that they might know the way.'
'Now this put great fear into poor Teddy's heart, 'cause of some of them castaways was old enough to 'ave one foot on the other side of death's door. And there they was everyday, still looking for the way home, still believing they might find deliverance from the squalid and dirty lives they lead, when they should long ago 'ave excepted that life had run its course for them, and they wasn't going anywhere except the wooden box. Teddy despaired. 'E started to doubt that Intermundia had ever existed in the first place. The whole idea – that 'e had a missus, a nice cosy 'ouse, a job serving bitters and tellin' a few yarns – maybe it was just a fantasy he'd made up to make life more bearable. Maybe everybody who'd gone the wrong direction in this life - every tramp lying in a gutter, every villain rotting in a prison cell, every drunk waking up to the horrors – maybe they all fashioned a story just like his, and maybe they all had maps and diagrams, little works of fiction what was designed to lead them to the point where they'd gone wrong, and through the magic portal back to the place where they was supposed to be all along.'
'Well, sir, strange as it is to tell, it was precisely at that point – when old Teddy had abandoned all hope of return, and was just on the verge of resolving to do himself an eradicable mischief – just at that very moment, 'e turns a corner, and lo and behold, a thrill of recognition, a presentiment of deja vu: he is in the vicinity of the hotel! Heart pounding til it feels like it's coming out his gob, he turns down a side street between a wine-bar and a florist, passes through a square where dead leaves and old newspapers gather at the foot of a dry fountain, and onward he goes, every sight chiming out like a deep, resonant bell through the dormant hall of his memory, like a man possessed, he finally finds the hotel in a narrow street where old people sit and watch from the windows of second story apartments, and small group of stooped children trace an image in chalk on the pavement. And 'e dashes into the hotel and makes a beeline for the elevator, with the manager and couple of burly waiters chasing on his heels. 'E presses the button, jumps inside, and the door closes just as the irate mob are about to close in on 'em. Then he presses the button for the top floor, and waits.'
'Finally, the doors open, and 'e lungs out, nearly colliding with somebody on the way in. 'E looks back just as the doors are closing, and realizes, sir, that it was himself he'd nearly banged into. He 'ad arrived back in the Intermundia Overnight, if you can fathom it, at precisely the same moment that he'd left it in the first place.'
After completing his narrative, Freddie fell silent. He glanced at Mark, and then at his own reflection in the mirrored door.
'Do you think it's true?' Mark asked him eventually.
'Well, I don't know, sir. 'E was awful sincere and serious when he told me, and that's not normally Teddy's way. Mind you, Teddy is the kind of fellow who can pull your leg and make you think 'e's fixing your tie. So who knows? But I will tell you one thing. He has never, under any circumstance, used the elevator since. And he told me, sir, on another occasion, that he'd brought something back from the city of the gaily coloured stone buildings. A little trinket which he had placed in his pocket to assure himself in the years to come that it 'ad been a real place. But he wouldn't tell me what it was.'
A sharp bell rang out, muffled female voices announced the second, third and top floors in a jumble, and the elevator gave a little lurch. Mark and Freddie eyed one-another nervously as the doors began to slide open. 

 Continued shortly.  Images from here, here, and here.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Every Kind of Dionysian Thrill: Revisiting the Charles Manson Saga.

(Previous writings about Manson here, here, here, here, and here.)

Many hippies are socially almost dead inside. Some require massive emotions to feel any thing at all. They need bizarre, intensive acts to feel alive – sexual acts, acts of violence, nudity, every kind of Dionysian thrill.
The Hippie Trip, Dr Lewis Yablonsky (cited in Chaos: Charles Manson, the CIA and the Secret History of the Sixties, by Tom O'Neill and Dan Piepenbring.)

He, the god who appeared among men with his ripe intoxicating drink, was the same as the frenzied one whose spirit drove the women to madness in the loneliness of the mountains.
Dionysus: Myth and Cult, by Walter F. Otto.

  1. Infinite Rapture and Infinite Terror.

In the past, it was always a tiny minority of adventurous individuals who sought out the undiscovered corners of the world. Many of them died and many others returned ravaged by extremity and solitude, never quite themselves again. 

The great tumult of the 1960s is a cultural phenomenon without any parallel in modern history, and yet it had innumerable precedents. Its lineage can be traced back to the Romantics, rebels against industrial and scientific modernity who dabbled in mind-altering drugs (Coleridge and de Quincey) and free love cults (Blake). The decadent/symbolist movements of the fin de siècle pre-empted the 60s with their occult obsessions and proto-psychedelic flights of intricately weird fantasy, as did the occult revivalists of the 19th century.

None of these movements, however, adequately adumbrated the scale and intensity of cultural and ontological upheaval which was compressed into the latter half of the 60s. This qantitive and qualitive difference was facilated by advances in pharmacology and communication technology. Enovid, the first contraceptive pill, was approved for use by the FDA on June 23, 1960. Meanwhile, the Swiss company Sandoz had introduced a new psychoactive chemical called Delysid to the research market in 1947. It was LSD, of course, and it had been slowly creeping its way into post-war America via the unlikely route of Project MKUltra, a top secret CIA mind control programme which has been shrouded in infamy, mystery and speculative mythology ever since. 

By the middle of the 60s, telephones, radios and televisions had collapsed the distance between spaces and people, creating a mass culture in which social change happened at larger and much more rapid scales. Either by accident or design (depending on who you want to believe), LSD seeped into this mass culture, and a great chunk of the population went in search of the undiscovered corners of human pyschology and experience. 

Any adventure in transgression, risk-taking and unfettered self-exploration carries with it the underlying fear that, like a policeman, priest or grandiose hangover, some dire consequence looms on the horizon, waiting to pounce. In the aftermath of the events of the night of the 8th of August, 1969 at 10050 Cielo Drive, that fear burst out like a thunderclap through the elite enclaves of the movie and music industries. The mood of biblical panic that engulfed LA's hippie royalty probably had two primary sources. One was just a general superstitious sense that all the freaky hedonism and druggy abandon had gone too far, somehow summoning Manson and his acolytes like demons to turn the Aquarian pool-sides red with blood. Another was perhaps more pointed: the full degree to which the Family had infiltrated the upper echelons of Hollywood babylon remains shrouded in mystery. Researching the article that would eventually blossom into Chaos: Charles Manson, the CIA and the Secret History of the Sixties, Tom O'Neill found that virtually none of the surviving Hollywood heavyweights would speak to him about Manson:
I'd been in touch with Diane Ladd's manager, having heard that Ladd, who'd been married to Bruce Dern at the time of the murders, ran in some of the same circles as Tate and Polanksi. Her manager promised to set up the interview. The next day she called back, saying that Ladd had had an “emotionally visceral reaction.” The manager said, “I don't know what happened with Diane back in the sixties, but she adamantly refused to have anything to do with the piece. She even told me that if her name was in it, she was going to contact her attorney.” (Chaos.)

For conservatives, the horrors of Cielo Drive have alway been codified as an inevitable outgrowth of the 60s counter-culture. This was never entirely convincing: although the saga of the Family could not have occured at any other time, Manson himself was a product of the US penal system and a dysfunctional upbringing in the 30s and 40s. Nevertheless, it may not be entirely wrong to suggest a certain inevitability in the fact that some very dark things slipped through the many doors thrown open in the latter years of the 60s. The term “Dionysian” has been applied so frequently to the decade of the 60s (and the subject of rock music in general) as to border on meaningless cliche. Yet the evocation remains apt, and as we shall see, often unnervingly so in relation to Manson and his followers. 

Dionysus is the most fascinating and puzzling of the Greek gods. His nature is characterised by insoluble paradox and contradiction. He is, on the one hand, the great liberator who awakens all the repressed energies and creative potentialities of the community which has fallen into the cowardice of habit and convention, the stasis of excessive order and control. As such, he is also the conduit of all untrammelled physical joy in being, all ecstatic transport and epiphany. Yet the doors opened by the Dionysian revel are primordial and ungovernable: through them comes all the grandeur of life, but also all its madness and horror. In Dionysus: Myth and Cult, Walter F. Otto evokes the apocalyptic upheaval engendered by the outsider “God who Comes”:
The world man knows, the world in which he has settled himself so securely and snugly – that world is no more. The turbulance which accompanied the arrival of Dionysus has swept it away. Everything has been transformed. But it has not been transformed into a charming fairy story or into an ingenuous child's paradise. The primeval world has stepped into the foreground, the depths of reality have been opened, the elemental forms of everything that is creative, everything that is destructive, have arisen, bringing with them infinite rapture and infinite terror. The innocent picture of a well-ordered routine world has been shattered by their coming, and they bring with them no illusions or fantasies but truth – a truth that brings on madness. 

The ambiguous character of Dionysus is echoed in the drug which fuelled the heightened and fraying ambience of the late 60s. The LSD experience engendered total transformations of reality whose only predictable quality was their intensity: enchanted paradises and looping corridors of madness and dissociation formed a new mental topography which seemed to have emerged overnight around the familiar social mores of the pre-Space Age world:
In the myth and in the experience of those who have been affected by this event, the appearance of Dionysus brings with it nourishing intoxicating waters that bubble up from the earth. Rocks split open, and streams of water gush forth. Everything that has been locked up is released. The alien and the hostile unite in miraculous harmony. Age-old laws have suddenly lost their power, and even the dimensions of time and space are no longer valid.
(Dionysus: Myth and Cult.)
The utopian glow of the 60s had already passed its high-water mark by the beginning of '69. Emerging from their secluded revels in the desert, Manson and his frenzied maenads embodied with an eerie perfection the dark side of the Dionysian myth.

2. Murder and Obsession: The Ecstatic Elusiveness of Truth. 

“One’s file, you know, is never quite complete, a case is never really closed, even after a century, when all of the participants are dead.”
The Third Man, Graham Greene, cited in Why Popular Culture Still Can't Get Enough of Charles Manson, by Ed Sanders.

David Fincher's best movie Zodiac (2007) deals with how unsolved murder can become an all-encompassing obsession. The movie traces an obsession with solving the Zodiac murders as it plays itself out through three separate characters: journalist Paul Avery (Robert Downey, Jr.), detective Dave Toschi (Mark Ruffalo) and cartoonist and later true crime author Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal). Crime holds a peculiar obsessive power over the imagination. As much as it has been derided as exploitative trash, the true crime genre has probably never been as vital.

What accounts for the enduring popularity of sifting through the often labyrinthine minutiae of traumatic and appalling events from the past? Morbidity only accounts for a part of the phenomenon. There is a perennial appeal to the mind of attempting to solve dense, seemingly intractable problems. Mystery captures the mind with an almost erotic ardour, an obsessive passion which is at its height when in a state of irresolution, where the apparent proximity of the solution and the ultimate, ecstatic elusiveness of finality and resolution are equidistant to one another. 

This perhaps accounts for the appeal of the cold case. Sufficiently distant in the past, an old case can rarely be definitively solved – but that those not deter us from chasing after some kind of ambiguous resolution, or provisional certainty that the truth can yet be wrestled from the hazy fog of time's passage. The past, like the truth, plays a game with our obsessive imaginations, appearing one moment within our reach, and the next utterly irretrievable. The investigation of a cold case, whether in fiction or true crime, dramatizes our peculiar relationship with the past. It is at once divorced from the present by cleavage greater than that of the farthest star in the sky, and yet innumerable threads and links remain: a detail in a file nobody noticed before, a witness nobody thought to interview, a memory, a physical trace etched into a wall somewhere – something to restore the past by decoding its unfinished business. 

Of all the twentieth century crimes that have taken hold of excitable and obsessive imaginations, none have enjoyed the same pre-eminence as those which bookend the 60s: the assassination of Kennedy in '63, and the Manson Family murders of August '69. Both had the air of ominous ritual: in the first the slaying of a virile (or, in less flattering language, priapic) chieftan, and in the latter the slaugther of a beautiful and pregnant young woman. In the insuing years, America had careened into a giddy, creative, apocalyptically violent tumult, and latterly walked on the moon, having in the meantime engaged in so much labyrinthine conspiratorial sorcery that a not inconsiderable section of the population would never believe that it really happened. The lasting legacy of the 60s, of brains rewired by drugs, technology and subliminal state coercion, was that nothing would ever be how it seemed any more.

The Kennedy and Manson murders take their researchers into a strange, often scarcely credible world which is more like fiction than reality – more outre than fiction itself, in fact. This is because they occur not in the everyday world, but in worlds characterised by different types of power. To attempt to unravel Kennedy's murder, one enters the complex, compartmentalized and occult (in the sense of “hidden”, and maybe some others) machinations of the national security state, a largely unseen world where real power is exercised through the merging of corporate, military, intelligence and organized crime networks. The Manson saga takes us into a different kind of power – the great power over the imagination exercised by movies and popular music, and by the sybaritic lifestyles of the icons and celebrities who make them – and finally to the power exercised by Manson himself, the power of the mesmerist, the hypnotist and cult leader, the psychopath who we despise, but from whom we cannot withhold our enduring fascination. These are worlds buzzing, almost mystically, with coincidences, connections and secrets.

3. A Story that has Never Been Told in Its Entirety. 

The Manson Family murders are solved, insofar as nobody really debates who actually did the killing. Yet there has always been a sense that the Manson saga is a story that has never been told in its entirety. Going all the way back to Ed Sanders' The Family (the first book on the subject published in 1971), dark rumours and conspiranoid theories have always swirled around the core story. Sanders discussed persistent tales of decadence having run amok in the house on Cielo Drive prior to the grizzly events of August 8/9, and his book positions the Family within a wider matrix of satanic biker gangs, organized crime both petty and more professionally ambitious, and a burgeoning sub-culture of gnostic mind control control cults (including Scientology and the Process Church of the Final Judgement) that makes Panos Cosmatos' movie Mandy feel like the Barry Manilow track of the same name. Pioneering conspiracy maven Mae Brussell argued that the killings were a false flag operation against the counter-culture, and posited Manson as a COINTELPRO patsy. (Whatever the ultimate validy of this theory, her research did highlight a persistent, baffling and disturbing leniency shown to Manson and his followers by law enforcement authorities.)

In 1974, however, vainglorious DA Vincent Bugliosi published his account of the trial in Helter Skelter, and this book enshrined forever the official Manson narrative, with its White Album inspired race war apocalypse as the scarcely credible, but rarely thereafter questioned, motive for the brutal killings. Sanders' book was dismissed as poorly sourced sensationalism, and the weirder backwaters of the case were largely relegated to underground works like Peter Levanda's epic melange of true crime, occult history and conspiranoia Sinister Forces.

What is striking about Tom O'Neill's book Chaos (released fortuitously on the eve of Tarantino's Once Upon a Time in Hollywood) is that it is, to the best of my knowledge, the first mainstream book to really wade into the dark, long repressed undercurrents of the Manson story. This was by no means O'Neill's intention. The whole thing began – it's hard to avoid the movie-like structure of the book – as a routine freelance assignment for Premier magazine, a Manson anniversary piece with a Hollywood angle. Stonewalled by the luminaries, however, O'Neill found himself drifting slowly into the obsessive realm charted out in Fincher's Zodiac. At an early point in his investigations, the recently departed activist/journalist Paul Krassner warned O'Neill “This will take over your life if you let it.” So it came to pass: the Premier piece, its deadline endlessly deferred, became a 20 year obsession. 
There may not be much in Chaos which is completely new to seasoned Mansonoids, but O'Neill has done a heroic amount of investigative legwork, and in many cases provided substantiation for much that has previously hovered in the ambiguous realm of rumour and innuendo. Chaos relentlessly exposes the Manson Family prosecution as riddled with so many improprieties and irregularities that it could have been struck out of court many times over. He mounts a very convincing assault on the legitimacy of the putative Helter Skelter motive, pointing out that Bugliosi stated on two separate occasions that he didn't think Manson himself believed in the coming race war/underground getaway mythos; this is an extremely telling admission, because if Manson didn't believe in Helter Skelter, and ordered the killings, then the race war angle couldn't have been the actual motive, only at best what Watson, Atkins and the other Mansonoids had been told it was. 
O'Neill then makes the case, based on circumstantial but undeniably suggestive evidence, that Manson might have been an asset of some or other of the deeply immoral underground programs the US government had become embroiled in in the 60s (COINTELPRO, MKUltra, etc.) This is by no means implausible. As a COINTELPRO asset, Manson would have been win-win, in the sense that his activities would both inflame tensions with black militant groups like the Panthers and present the 60s counter-culture in general in the most negative light possible. In relation to MKUltra, many have observed that Manson's activities dovetailed precisely with those of the shadowy program, ie the use of hallucinogenic drugs and ritualized psychotherapies and sexuality to create re-programmed and obedient subjects. 
To make the case for MKUltra involvement, O'Neill focuses on Manson's period in Haight-Ashbury, during which the life-long prison inmate very rapidly adopted the newfangled role of acid guru, and particularly on the Haight-Ashbury Free Medical Clinic (HAFMC). O'Neill isolates no less than three figures associated with the Clinic who had academic/experimental interests which eerily prefigure Manson's activities with the Family. Federal officer Roger Smith had studied how drug use precipitates violent behaviour among gangs, often using immersive, observer-participant methods to gather data. Meanwhile, David E Smith, the founder of the HAFMC, had also been studying the link between drug use and violent behaviour in groups, this time amongst rodent populations. The first of the two, Roger, was Manson's parole officer, and his relationship with his charge was unorthodox, to say the very least, and characterised by the kind of bizarre leniency which would reoccur in various departments throughout the ensuing saga. 

Another occasional visitor to the HAFMC was Louis Jolyon “Jolly” West, a psychiatrist and life-long friend of Charlton Heston who once accidentally killed an elephant by injecting it with LSD and antipsychotics. “Jolly” West was also one of the many medical practitioners sub-contracted under the MKUltra program, and O'Neill discovered his direct correspondence with its leader Sidney Gottlieb, known in his lifetime as the Black Sorcerer and the Dirty Trickster. West is one of those figures who constantly shows up in peculiar places. In 1959, he persuaded DJ Peter Tripp to stage the notorious wakeathon, in which the radio personality broadcasted his show from a glass booth in Times Square for 200 hours straight without sleep. In 1964, West privately examined Jack Ruby, declaring him to be “obviously psychotic.” (Incidentally, Ruby claimed to have been taking Preludin at the time of killing Oswald. Preludin was marketed as an appetite suppressant, but it was in fact an amphetamine substitute which the Beatles had taken during their Hamburg days, bringing us back to the subject of amphetamines and violence.) In West we find a link – however tenuous – between the MKUltra program, the JFK assassination, and the decaying Haight-Ashbury hippie milieu that Charles Manson moved in in '68, demonstrating once again the strange dark tapestry and nexus of coincidence underlying America's cultural and political tumults of the 60s. 
Whether or not Manson was an informant, asset or unwitting guinea pig of some government program, one persistent and plausible theory of the Tate-LaBianca murders places them in the more banal realm of dope dealing and petty crime gone awry. The theory posits the murders as the end-product of a sequence of messy, confused episodes which began with Manson shooting (and thinking he had killed) drug dealer Bernard Crowe, and basically having less to do with mind control sorcery, and more to do with small time crime spiralling out of control owing to its participants being thoroughly pickled by isolation and excessive psychedelic drug use. (Read this interview with James Buddy Day for a succinct breakdown of this theory.) This is certainly one way of interpreting the Manson saga – that because of Manson's peculiar charisma, because he had been swept along in the collapsing historical wave of the 60s, because the Cielo Drive victims had been beautiful, famous and well-connected, an otherwise squalid and banal sequence of events became seared forever into our historical subconscious. Bugliosi aided this process by covering up the extent to which Hollywood elites had become embroiled in this small time criminal world, and by crafting the narrative of a master manipulator which put the final nail in the coffin of the revolutionary 60s.

Nevertheless, the Manson story continues to fascinate, because we still have a sense that crucial parts of it remain elusive and deliberately hidden from view. The pointed silence of Hollywood's hip set (in his 1993 autobiography What's It All About, Michael Caine describes encountering a “scruffy little man” - you know who – at a party also attended by Jay Sebring and Sharon Tate), the extraordinary, recurring leniency shown to both Manson and Susan Akins by the authorities (both should have been busted back inside many times over before the killings), the eerie dovetailing of David E Smith and “Jolly” West's research interests with the emerging dynamics of the Manson Family cult – all of these things point to a definite, dark something that remains elusive about the case. Chaos manages to weave a compulsively readable narrative out of O'Neill's dense, diligent, Ahab-like quest to finally bring that something into the light of day. In the end, the book is perhaps inevitably anti-climatic – after all the obsessive excitement, the smoking gun remains elusive, O'Neill refuses to enter the realm of speculation, and the reader is left, like Oedipa Mass at the end of Thomas Pynchon's prescient conspiranoid classic The Crying of Lot 49, on the threshold of a revelation. O'Neill's investigation ends, more by virtue of time and necessity than anything else, its threads still multiplying, and and the Manson case returns to the indecisiveness of history, to the realm of ambiguity and myth, and the fiction of the Tarantino film. 

Continued shortly.


Monday, June 3, 2019

Intermundia Airport (Chapter 6).

Chapter 1 , Chapter 2 , Chapter 3 , Chapter 4 , Chapter 5

Renton placed a leaflet in Mark's hand. 'This should give you the gist, if you want to consult it tomorrow,' he said, a tinge of impatience touching the edges of his smile. The leaflet was headed: “DON'T PANIC – ENJOY THE INTERIM!” It depicted the typical experience of a New Arrival in a series of tersely captioned illustrations. The style of the artwork was crudely functional, suggesting airplane emergency instructions or a road safety pamphlet for children. The first image showed the Arrival, a nondescript Caucasian with fair hair and innocuous features, seated in the terminal with a stricken expression:
Now the Arrival, more relaxed, is lead through a busy underground train station by a comedic duo of mismatched security guards. The Arrival, in the centre, laughs while the guards bicker and scowl at one another:
In the next image, apparently a non-sequitur, the Arrival has joined forces with a group of plucky young adults and a dog to foil some kind of criminal scheme, mastermined by a villian who wears purple robes and a turban with a Uraeus. The gang laugh while the humiliated villian is lead away by the temporarily non-bumbling security guards:
The Arrival is next seated in genial conversation with his Case Officer. The figure of Marlene is represented by a coarse caricature: her breasts spill out over her top, and swimming eyes suggest an alcoholic stupor. An anatomist's skeleton hangs in the far corner of the office:
The next image is the most expansive in the narrative, and depicts the Arrival remembering his last incarnation. His is seated, assumably in the restaurant of the Intermundia Overnight, flanked by a waiter with his head respectfully bowed. The Arrival's hands, palms upturned, lie at either side of the plate. His eyes look aloft, and the open-mouthed, awestruck expression evinces an air of profound epiphany which is peculiarly haunting in the context of the leaflet's drab colours and perfunctionary draughtsmanship. The scenes of his life appear in the form of compressed cliches in a series of smaller bubbles that surround this image. Beaming parents cradle a new-born infant; scenes of a flawlessly happy childhood; the line of trees that mark the edge of the lawn, beyond which a vast world and an endless surfeit of time looms like an extension of the womb; in the afternoon, children's voices soar up from a near-by school, and in the evening the sun sets over hilly meadows and haunted trees; games and high jinks on a muddy field, tears and a grazed knee in a concrete schoolyard; adolescence: a group of boys in an alleyway watch a group of girls walk by, the girls' heads high and aloof, the boy's eyes imploring their receding forms like winsome dogs begging for scraps; college: parents, proud and bittersweet, wave to the young man seated in a train carriage, embarking on the adventure of adulthood; first love, disappointments, challenges; marriage, children, money, time speeding up and space narrowing; now the man sees his own children off to college; aging, struggling with an addiction, hospitals, test results; the autumn of life: a return to the hilly meadows and haunted trees, children's voices rising up from a near-by school, memories and dreams stirring strange echoes, realer than the fading days that surround them; death: his body laid to rest, frail wife and grown-up children by his side; in the final bubble, he has re-awoken in the Intermundia terminal, stark fear and disorientation, forgetfulness once again. These images wheel around the scene in the Intermundia Overnight, the awestruck Arrival and the solemn waiter who is perhaps merely solicitous of a tip:
The final panel is a double image: the Arrival and his Case Officer embrace in the terminal; an airplane ascends into the blue sky:
'Well, thanks, that's a great help', Mark said sourly, stuffing the leaflet into his pocket alongside his passport. Marlene turned briskly from her typewriter, her upper lip curving into an inquisitive pout. Then she lit another cigarette and resumed the trance of her work. Renton gave a final kindly nod, and the door between them closed. Back in the stairwell, the outside world reasserted itself. The boisterous clatter of the bantering guards had risen to a steady hum, beneath which the fountains maintained their placid and timeless falling and refilling. He went gingerly down the stairs, grinning broadly. After all the stresses of the day, the release of the alcohol had turned his mood to that of a carefree, childlike stupor. A woman appeared, mounting the stairs at a reluctant pace. Her body was immobile, like a sack that she lifted from step to step, with the only sign of vitality a spasmodic twitching of her facial muscles. Unable to look her in the eyes, Mark patted her gently on the shoulder as he passed. 

Outside on the concourse, the night sky had grown pitch black, and the primary illumination of the street came from the slowly diminishing droves of airplanes that passed overhead. Unruly stars, they painted the fountains and revellers in an undulating flow of flashing oranges and reds that made the world feel unstable and intoxicated. The strange and indolent loafers remained seated at the terraces. They were now drinking coffees and liqueurs. They watched the scene from the disaffected vantage of some immeasurable distance, and their manners had become so dilatory as to suggest that they were images projected from an entirely separate time-stream. Mark wandered into the crowd, looking for Eddie and Giacomo. He went from fountain to fountain for what seemed like an age. The faces of the security guards were terrifying in their explosive gaiety, and he experienced an unexpectedly poignant longing to see his old companions, to find again those faces which alone had become familiar to him in this strange landscape.
Finally, the duo accosted him. In their tipsiness, Eddie and Giacomo were utterly transformed, to the point that they appeared to have exchanged personalities. Eddie was now the more overbearing and assertive of the two, speaking with a brusque, booming voice. Giacomo, in contrast, had lost all his surly and arrogant demeanour. He smiled placidly, and seemed to follow Eddie like a shy, happy child.
Eddie put two bottles of beer in Mark's pockets. 'We better get a move on,' he said, 'we have to get you to the Overnight.' So the they started the journey back the way they had came, swigging from a bottle as they careened into the dark and chilly woodland, among the last stragglers of the day's Arrivals. The journey back was infused with a new kind of strangeness, for Mark observed the terrain in a piecemeal and impressionistic character, from the elevated and temporary vantage of alcoholic sagehood. Stripped of its frightening and bewildering intensity, Intermundia presented itself as a series of ineffable dream paintings, a nighttime gallery where all the walls and frames had vanished, leaving the artworks to press together into an indivisible sequence of wonders and oddities.
At the newsagents, the journalists were emerging from their hammocks, wiping their eyelids and yawning, preparing themselves for another night of wakefulness in which they would wander about, gathering their trove of fugitive images and impressions to scatter in an altered guise in the news headlines of the next day. The homes of the technocrats were now illuminated by soft, warm lamps and dancing gas fires that gave the surrounding trees a reddish glow. Some of the technocrats reclined in studies, drinking wine from goblets and turning the pages of books while their eyes scanned the far distance. Couples were seated in living rooms, and Mark felt as though they spoke to one-another, but their lips didn't move, and the impression of conversation was conveyed by the intensity of their eye-contact. Others had retired to the up-stairs bedrooms and were sleeping. Above the their beds, flatscreen TV panels played hypnotic sequences of intricate and iridescent gemetric patterns that ebbed and flowed into one-another in slow, musical rhythms. Their colours were unlike any that Mark could associate with any earthly thing, and the casual ingenuity and complexity of their evanescent designs beggared belief. 'Those are the dreams of the Technocrats,' Eddie whispered, 'what strange minds they must have.' 'I had a dream like that once, ' Giacomo said, and Eddie flashed him a quick, troubled look.
As they went deeper into the woods, all the planes had ceased their courses, and the sky was starless and moonless. 'How do you know the way?' Mark asked Eddie. 'I've done it so many times, it's like the back of my hand,' Eddie replied, before colliding with a tree. The still, blank deep darkness of the sky troubled Mark. He realized for the first time how accustomed he'd grown the distant roaring of the airplane engines. 'Here we are, ' Eddie announced, and he crouched down and began to lift the steel covering of the manhole. He motioned Giacomo to be go first, and then it was Mark's turn. Finally the three of them were scurrying down the pitch darkness of the shaft with miraculous alacrity. Back in the strange abandoned work-station, their mood became pensive and subdued. Eddie spoke in a whisper: 'Sometimes I think I can figure everything out – that this world is something I can understand. I get very caught up in that feeling for awhile – the feeling like there is a story underlying all these places, a pattern that I can trace out. But every time the excitement eventually fizzles out, and I go back to thinking about what I'm going to have for dinner when I get home. I often wonder what this place was. It seems like everybody left all of a sudden, in a terrible hurry.'
Giacomo, regarding Eddie intensely , replied: 'I grew up a long way away from here. When I was younger, I hated the airport, and I wanted to get away from it. So one night in the bar I was drinking by myself, and I heard these two old pilots talking about the Greenbelt. My ears pricked up, and it was like a hidden world had finally been revealed to me. So after that, I was always listening, always looking for scraps of information about the Greenbelt. And it was like a secret that I knew, and a place both real and unreal at the same time, and I used to dream about it. And whenever I encountered older fellers, who looked like they'd seen a lot of Intermundia, I always asked them when they had wine glowing in their eyes if they'd ever been as far as the 'Belt. And some of them laughed, and some of them looked at me like I was a criminal. But early one morning, I was drinking with one of the vendors, an ancient, wiry fella who always had a weird, faraway expression, like half of his mind was at a dance with the faeries, and I asked him, and he smiled, and his big, deep smile came from that same faraway place, and I knew I finally had an answer in the affirmative. And I put my hand on his shoulder, and whispered How do you get there? And he raised his long, thin arm, and pointed to the west, and said: Keep going straight in that direction and you'll get to the Greenbelt. You can't veer off course, cause the Belt is vast, so if you keep going that way, you can't fail to wander into the middle of it. But the thing is that it's far, far away. Further away than you can imagine. I looked at him, and around the bar, and I looked out at the runways, at the planes departing and arriving, departing and arriving. And I finished my drink, and I started walking in the direction he'd pointed, and I could hear his laugher behind me.'

'Well, that was the beginning of my quest to find the Greenbelt. I lived as a vagrant, scrounging around for money and places to sleep, always on the move. At first I used to sleep in the parking lots, in back of a truck or sometimes inside a car if the door had been left unlocked. Other times I'd go to an Overnight and try to pass myself off as an Arrival. You'd get away with it in some, and in others catch all kinds of hell from the manager. And I kept moving onwards all the time, going straight in the direction that the wiry old vendor had pointed, counting the terminals that I passed each day, and it was always exactly the same thing, again and again: the terminals, the Overnights, the parking lots, the old estates like the ones that we grew up in, the same thing over and over again. Everybody knows that Intermundia is the same thing everywhere, but I don't think you really believe it unless you spend a long time travelling in a straight line. It does things to your mind, that's for sure. And the more the endless monotony drove me to distraction, the more I dreamed about the Greenbelt – the richer, greener, wilder and realer it became in my imagination. The only thing I really looked forward to was sleep, because every night, without fail, I went straight to the Greenbelt, straight to freedom, straight to a place where you could luxuriate in the unpredictable and the unruly, a place without schedules and repetition, a place where being lost was the normal condition because there was no starting point to find your way back to, where all there was to do was wander about in a wondrous daze, a haunted surrender from one adventure and one inexplicable prodigy to the next.'
'And sometimes I thought maybe that's all the Greenbelt was – the dreams you had while you were trying to get there. But I didn't lose faith and I kept moving – moving all the time. And I often fell into the company of Malingerers, because they were the most sympathetic to a vagrant like myself. They'd give me money or food, or let me have a few drinks on them. The Malingerers had all kinds of strange ideas about Intermundia, and I think part of the reason why they bought me drinks was because they wanted to grill me about what really goes on here. And I always told them that I was as wise as they were, and that only the Technocrats and the Case Officers really knew what Intermundia was all about, and maybe even they didn't know. And then they'd ask me about the pilots, and maybe they knew, and I said no, the pilots don't know anything. I'd grilled the pilots myself about what happens up the air, and they told me that they just fly up and up until they get to the Ovum, and the Ovum is like a blinding ball of pure light, and when they get nearer to the Ovum they start to go into a trance, and the next thing they know they're flying back and the plane is empty except for the stewardesses. And I grilled the Malingerers about the Greenbelt, and a lot of them had fascinating information about it, and one of them told me that Malingerers who stay long enough in Intermundia always go the Greenbelt, and that it was Malingerers who founded the city in the 'Belt in the first place. But to this day, the wiry vendor was the only person I've ever met who said he'd actually been there.'
'And on and on I kept going, passing through the same thing again and again. Every once in a very long stretch, you'd come upon the enclaves where the pilots lived – amazing tree-lined estates with beautiful big houses not like anything you'd ever imagine. And they had swimming pools and beautiful wives and servants, and your eyes would get drunk just looking at the lives they lead – the air felt different there, somehow. But then you were back into the grid – back in the endless succession of terminals and overpasses and Overnights – and it almost felt like the same people, and you'd get the fear that you might run into yourself eventually. It got to the point where I could predict which Overnight managers wouldn't ask questions, and which ones would be loony cases like old Digsby – it was like the different personalities were also laid out in a mathematical grid, like we were the same as the buildings and the lots and the Overnights, the same thing again and again. I don't know how long I was searching for the Greenbelt – three years anyway, maybe four or five. Eventually, I stopped dreaming about the 'Belt, and then my nights were the same as my days, the same grind and repetition. And one day, just as suddenly as I'd started off, I stopped right at our terminal, and the next day they put me working with you.'
The pair fell silent after Giacomo's long speech, and they emerged into the train station in the vast cavern beneath the brooding and inscrutable limestone face.
'What's the Greenbelt?' Mark asked.
Eddie, beginning to sober up, was gruff and dismissive: 'It's supposed be a huge area of parks and woodland, and there is a city in the interior where there are no rules, and every possible pleasure and indulgence and vice is freely indulged. It's a made up place, a tale people have been whispering to themselves all these many years.'
Giacomo seemed unconvinced, and he lifted his arm slowly, and pointed it to the west, into the darkness where the train track receded from visibility.

They sobered up on the train, and Mark watched their reflections in the mirror as each returned to his habitual disposition: Eddie to his harried but cheerful obsequiousness, Giacomo to his sleepy arrogance, and Mark to his own suspicious detachment. His introspective mood was interrupted by the appearance of an old man wheeling a tea trolley through the carriage. The man had a lean, lank frame and a thin, wrinkled face whose expression suggested a choleric and senile disposition. It occurred to Mark that he would like a cup of tea, but as soon as the old man registered their presence, his eyes became livid and a torrent of words issued from his mouth like steam from a boiling kettle: 'I WOULDN'T SPIT ON THEM! I WOULDN'T SPIT ON THEM! TELL ME TO PACK UP MY STUFF AND GO HOME, AFTER I'D ALREADY GREASED ME OXTERS AND PUT ON MY OVERALLS! I WOULDN'T SPIT ON THEM! DISRESPECTED BILLY WHEN THEY HADN'T EVEN PUT HIM IN THE GROUND YET, SAID THE CHILD DIDN'T COME FROM BILLY, THAT IT WAS FROM ONE OF THE CARNY MEN WHO RAN THE WHIRLIGIG OR THE CLAW MACHINE! I WOULDN'T SPIT ON THEM!
He continued past their table, the wheels of the trolley whining and his own limbs creaking as he went, turning back occasionally to glare at them and reiterate his total renunciation of whatever party had been the subject of his vituperative outburst. Eddie smirked dryly: 'Ernie's been on the trolley too long.'

Emerging from the underground station, it seemed at first as though the terminal was completely empty. Their footsteps echoed in the looming silence of its red corridors and vast atriums. A petroleum cathedral of the restless modern spirit, the airport had an eerie beauty in its empty and torpid hours. The windows that overlooked the runways were pitch back, projecting a reflection of the observation decks and their rows of empty seating into the night, and creating the ambience of a structure suspended intact in a great void, its purpose elusive and forgotten. Out on the main floor of the terminal, however, they encountered groups of night workers who had finished their shift. They smoked cigarettes and chatted in little groups, conveying the palpable air of contentment which attends the daily cessation of long toils. The morning staff were also arriving, blear-eyed and withdrawn, embodying the contrary mood of grey lethargy and depression which commences the cycle.
Outside, the motorway was all but silent, and the rooftop lettering of the Intermundia Overnight shone bright red against the blackness of the sky. A handful of the conservatories still had their lights on, and figures sat in the wicker chairs or paced the narrow space back and forth. Mark and his companions reached the front steps of the Overnight, and paused at its revolving door. Eddie looked at Mark with a mournful expression. 'Well,' he finally spoke, 'this is where we leave you. It's not the nicest place on earth. The food is very fresh, though – you can be sure the tin was opened that day! Old Digsby has his moods, but he means well. But anyway, no need to worry – you'll be leaving us in no time, going up there, ' his hand pointed up 'faraway from this place. Its been a real pleasure, and I hope you enjoy the rest of your stay.' They shook hands. Giacomo shrugged and yawned. For a couple of seconds, it appeared as though Eddie was reluctant to go and wanted to say something else, but then he turned awkwardly and the pair sauntered away across the motorway in the direction of the terminal. Mark watched them until they were no longer visible, and then, with little other options, he entered the Intermundia Overnight.

Continued Shortly (Art by George Tooker and Remedios Varo.)