December 12, 2010

In Search of Christopher Maclaine 12: The THE END Tour - A Work in Progress 10: PAUL B

This is the 12th of a multipart series unofficially conjoined to the publication of Radical Light: Alternative Film & Video in the San Francisco Bay Area, 1945–2000, and the accompanying film series currently being presented by the Pacific Film Archive and San Francisco Cinematheque (in partnership with SFMOMA).

With my friend Brian Darr, proprietor of the great Bay Area cinephilia blog Hell on Frisco Bay, I’ve been scouting out the San Francisco locations used in Christopher Maclaine’s Masterpiece, THE END. What began as an attempt to identify and document what physically remains of the often mysterious places at which THE END was shot has evolved into a larger project to also analyze the film, and to identify all its many actors and extras, all of whom appear uncredited. To read the full version of these preliminary remarks, including info on how YOU can participate in this project, click here. For further information on Maclaine, check out the intro, which serves as this series’s hub.

NEW FEATURE: A YouTube of the PAUL episode is viewable here.

NOTE: portions of Maclaine’s Voice-Over narration are transcribed in italicized sections. The images, for the most part, are stills documenting many (but by no means all) of THE END‘s shots. Those unfamiliar with this film will probably want to watch the video clip found above first, before making their way through the (hopefully enjoyable) notes and explication.

This post takes up from the end of PAUL A. I reprise half a sentence from the narration to plunge us back into the swing of Paul’s story:

He would go to a leper colony, and attach himself to the most hideous leper on the island as a nurse, a companion, and a lover, asking only that he be given the disease so that he might see …

… whether it was possible for the leper to return that love when Paul, too …

17) This is a slightly complicated shot, technically — PAUL passes a motionless, but somewhat out-of-focus camera, which then makes a right pan to find him going up a flight of stairs in focus. (The latter part of the shot is seen in #19.) In the image above, we see the major subject on view during the right pan: the outer wall of a parapet conjoined to the cliffs at the topmost point of Sutro Heights Park, from which one is presented with a view of the Pacific Ocean and environs.

18) A recent photo presenting the view from the approximate camera position seen in #17, above.

should become a leper, in fact.

19) Continuation of the shot shown in #17. Paul ascends stairs. As readers of the Tour’s previous post know, Paul is played by the patron saint of this series, Wilder Bentley II.

20) In this recent photo, Brian reprises Paul’s ascent 57 or so years later.

21) Paul gracefully glides to the Pacific.

22) In this recent photo, Brian stands in a position possibly approximate to Paul’s. Several of these stone blocks made from smaller carved stones are arrayed in a semi-circle, connected by a metal bar (there were two of these connecting bars circa ’57, as can be seen in #21, above). We decided these two blocks were probably the ones between which Paul stood, but are by no means certain.

If it was possible for the leper to return his friendship …

23) Paul’s POV of the Pacific and horizon. Compared to the previous “Maclaine Men,” he is a spiritually evolved soul, with his eye on the “infinite.”

… then he would know …

24) Continuation of shot shown in #23, above. Mounted on a raised tripod, the camera executes a smooth tilt down, becoming a shot of one of the stone blocks seen (or like the ones seen) in 21 and 22.

… that it was possible for a human being to know love.

25) Maclaine cuts to a hand-held Kodachrome shot of Paul deciding his fingering on his flute.

If it should prove otherwise …

26) Maclaine cuts to a b&w shot of a wistful Paul from a different (but similarly raised) angle from that of 23/24. In the top right corner we see Seal Rocks, commonly referred to in the singular.

27) A recent photo, using a wide-angle lens. To achieve the effect seen in such images as 26 (above), Jordan Belson and Maclaine must have used a telephoto lens (possibly a 50mm, telephoto in the 16mm format), and filmed from a raised tripod.

… then he would not be surprised …

28) From the b&w shot on tripod seen in 26, Maclaine cuts to a continuation of the hand-held Kodachrome shot previously seen in #25: Paul now pipes away on his flute.

… and rotting to the death he had chosen, he would rejoice to know that love, at least

29) And then we are back to the high angle seen in 26. As in #5, Paul delicately covers his mouth with his left hand. What inner-turmoil in one for whom “human love is impossible” is being covered up by this hand?

… was given to one human being: himself.

30) From the shot on view in #29, above, Maclaine cuts to a shot of the sea and seagulls flying above it in the distance. The camera tilts down to reveal Paul positioned in a different spot from that seen in 29, and facing the opposite direction. Maclaine then cuts to:

31) Yet another b&w shot in which Paul’s position and orientation to the camera have changed. Violating one of the cardinal rules of cinematic illusionism, Maclaine and Belson photograph Paul directly facing the camera. This shot might be finessed into the illusionistic paradigm if Maclaine were to cut to the object of Paul’s gaze as apropos to the narrative, but the filmmaker declines to do so, instead forcing his character/actor into a confrontation with camera and audience. (This shot had also been featured as a teaser intro to Paul in the film’s introductory section.)

Let there be rejoicing.

32) We are then taken back to one final view of Paul’s Kodachrome fluting. This flurry of beautiful, yet disharmonious shots (in terms of traditional cinematic language circa ’53) of Paul seen against the sea is both profoundly lyrical and the most sustained attack yet in THE END‘s assault on cinematic illusionism. By means of cutting back-and-forth in time (the color shots of Paul with his flute are clearly unified on one micro-time-continuum, while the b&w shots of him sitting, gazing out to sea are obviously from others) and jump-cutting in space between hand-held, eye-level color shots of his subject with b&w shots from a usually elevated, rock-steady tripod, as well as the face-on shot of 31, above, Maclaine delivers a glorious barrage of those “jolts” discussed in the JOHN section, previously, bringing us “to awareness of participating in both illusion and disillusion, and hence, awareness, conscious or not, of the mystical union of opposites.” The payoff of this volley propelling us into mystical experience is our second hearing of the line shortly to be revealed the film’s key refrain: “let there be rejoicing.” We first heard this at the climax of the John segment, at which time it was delivered in Maclaine’s Voice-Over with the bitterest irony. For the climax of Paul’s brief section of the film, Maclaine delivers the line flatly, with the slightest hint it could be taken in earnest. We are given the first impression within one of the film’s narratives proper that THE END‘s Inferno and Purgatorio could crest in Paradise.

Walking away …

33) Maclaine cuts to this shot, in which Paul has “walked away” from the cliff (or, at least, exited the frame), leaving Seal Rocks to be recast as the “leper colony” to which Paul will “seek passage.”

… from the sea, and the eternal sleep …

34) We see a flash-cut of this reversed, and rendered into b&w, version of the color shot of the Venus de Milo reproduction previously shown in #16 (scroll down), followed by another flash-cut of the shot of Seal Rocks seen in #33 (immediately above). What does Maclaine mean by “the eternal sleep”? As a goddess, Venus is certainly eternal, and all the statuary featured in Paul’s segment, as portraits of animated beings frozen in stone, could be designated “asleep.” Adolph Sutro’s park as a whole might be described as a dreamy “garden of eternal sleep.” But, obviously, by “the eternal sleep,” Maclaine refers not to deities, objects, or places caught up in abstract or concrete states of being, but rather a specific condition of non-being: “eternal sleep” is, of course, a classic metaphor for death. All of THE END‘s previous major characters had been suicidal. Had Paul been considering jumping from the cliff-face? Or perhaps the apparent melancholic peace displayed by Paul on the Sutro Heights Park parapet/cliff is an apathetic state of “eternal sleep,” a form of “frozen suicide”? At any rate, Paul’s walking away from this fate or fated condition, and the taking up of his quest (albeit an absurd, and ultimately fatal one itself, if successful) represents THE END‘s swerve away from immediate, frenzied self-harm in response to the madness of the world.


… he walked back into the city, seeking passage to the islands of disease in the city hall.

35) For the last shot of the Paul sequence, we find ourselves out of Sutro Heights Park, and on the campus of San Francisco’s George Washington High School, near the corner of 30th Ave. and Geary Blvd. The giant facade of George Washington High’s auditorium plays THE END‘s “city hall”, and is well suited to the role: this campus was designed by the great Bay Area exponent of Art Deco, Timothy L. Pflueger, architect of such movie palaces as San Francisco’s Castro Theatre and Oakland’s Paramount, and skyscrapers like 140 New Montgomery St. (the subtly sublime building looming over SFMOMA). George Washington High’s auditorium facade is of a piece with such examples of bold, yet tasteful monumentalism. I spent many years wondering what this massive, yet secret San Francisco building could possibly be. A couple of years ago, while discussing THE END, Brian informed me that “city hall” had been his high school. We both had ideas of what various other locations in Maclaine’s masterwork might be: thus began our first musings regarding what has become this Tour.

36) Despite a few minor visible alterations, Pflueger’s building retains its distinctive character intact. The architect’s methodology typically incorporated the works of decorative artists, and in this recent photo, Sargent Johnson‘s heroic, Olympics-themed frieze, covering the south wall of George Washington’s athletic field, can be seen in greater detail. The auditorium isn’t currently viewable from the street, and isn’t likely to have been at the time of THE END‘s shooting. How Maclaine found it, then cast its facade as Paul’s “city hall” and portal to the “islands of disease” is a tantalizing mystery. The facade and the athletic field’s south wall below it, however, make a much more fitting final location for Paul than San Francisco’s real City Hall would have — this site, evoking Greek religiosity and athleticism on the gargantuan scale, is somehow perfect for this wan figure in the irony-laden Maclaine cosmos.

As Paul walks slowly to the entrance of “the city hall,” Maclaine cuts to black. Paul’s musical theme concludes, and after the ring of a triangle, Maclaine resumes his narration, immediately confirming Paul’s suicidal inclinations, and waxing on his willfully innocent character, and the state of the world. The sub-personality of Maclaine Paul represents was a confirmed millenarian who found the Atomic Age a deal-breaker in assuming the artist’s responsibility to guide his or her audience towards reconciliation with the human condition.

For you see, he cannot die. He must walk on afar away, until the bursting sun of a death they offer him has come about and rendered him anonymous and invisible … forever, along with all his brothers who could never be brothers. For this … this was the world of the Great Disturbance, which threw men against men, and obliged men to hate. Threw men armed and bloody against their brothers, fighting to the death for the piece of bread his brother holds in his hand. In this great human perversion, he had learned that to live on earth, it was required that he hate and murder, and he could neither hate nor murder. But he wanted to live, as all men did. There was no room for an innocent child trying to walk as quietly and as peacefully as possible through all the noise produced by Strong Men fighting for their favorite toys. He wondered if they knew just what a life they were living. He wondered if they knew just what had happened to human dignity when men could not look men in the eye, when there was no longer the slightest pride in being a human being, when one’s personal meaning had suddenly narrowed itself to the least indulgence possible in the rising fear and hate that possessed the minds of men on God’s own earth. He will get about as far as the information desk. Then his time will be over, along with ours.

Click here for the first post to plunge us into the thrilling and disturbing private world of CHRIS!

Click as indicated for the previous post of this Tour. Click as indicated for the intro to this series.

Click here for an interview with Stan Brakhage concerning Maclaine, circa 1986.

If you have any information or (nonpublic) feedback to contribute to the Tour, please click here.

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