Chapter 12: The Other Side of the Mountain
"So the Pope's in on it, huh? Part of this... what did you call it?"
Elizabeth narrowed her pale green eyes, digging in her sticks and drawing herself to a halt at the verge of the frozen lake. She wasn't much older than me, kind of cute too in a Liv Tyler-ish sort of way, but most of all she was a journalist with time on her hands and credit to burn at TF1. It was the winter of 1990. American forces were standing by off the coast of Kuwait and I was in Switzerland on official business. Hardware was playing in competition at Avoriaz but most of all I was hoping to see Dario, who had promised to come if we could only find some decent smoke to make his trip worthwhile. As we were approximately three thousand meters up a goddam mountain in what were fast approaching whiteout conditions, this was proving to be a tall order.
"And I suppose the Spanish government are in on it too, right?"
"They'd have to be to cede authority to Rome. Franco had a real hard-on for the Black Mother and this Escriva guy..."
"Josemaria Escriva. Founded an order called 'Opus Dei' after experiencing some kind of epithany on the mountaintop..."
"Dei. 'The Work of God' - they're supposed to be dedicated to encouraging lay Catholics to lead a more holy life but they're seriously secretive, mega-rich and have wormed their way right into the police force, army and government, certainly in Spain. Worse still 'they' have an agenda..."
"C'mon, you're making this up! If you want to pitch Dario, at least come up with something commercial. Something a little less 'out there', y'know?"
"But it's true! The whole worlds drifting to the right like we're sleepwalking or something, and these guys are a rear guard action helping tidy us along, a sort of Catholic Taliban..."
"The hard right in Afghanistan. They're supposed to be Muslims but they're backed by Saudi and American money, probably as a check on the power of the warlords but..."
I couldn't see Elizabeth's eyes any more but I could tell from her body language she wasn't buying it. Conspiracy theories don't always go over big with the opposite sex. Like Dario Argento movies.
"Anyway, they're big in Spain. Opus Dei, I mean. Not the Taliban..."
"And you don't think this whole thing is just some sort of conspiracy you’ve unconsciously created to rationalize the chaos, to impose order on otherwise painfully random but essentially meaningless events?"
"Well... yeah. It had occurred ."
"Well you should listen to yourself sometimes."
"That's why I need proof. Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence. That's why I need to speak to Dario..."
"And you smoke too much...both of you..."
The light was draining from the day, the details of the landscape fading into opalescent nothingness. Far out on the ice a shadowy figure lurched unsteadily through the haze, a reeling outline that stumbled forward, slipped, then stumbled again.
"Okay. But I still don't see how I ended up in Montserrat after buying that statue or why the Catholic church is venerating a pagan goddess in the first place! And they're fixing on canonizing this Escriva dude any day now. Just like Saint Ignatius and Saint Dominic and their hearts were'nt exactly overflowing with what you'd call Christian charity. And that process, that whole routine of making someone into a Saint normally takes lifetimes. It requires proof of at least three miracles and that kinda 'extraordinary evidence' is pretty hard to come by, let me tell you!"
"Do you think we should help him?"
"That guy over there..."
The bedraggled figure righted itself, a freezing wind whirling down off the piste, beating against him as he tried to make headway.
"He looks sick..."
"Probably drunk. Or dying. Who cares? We're on a mission, remember! Unless we get back to Dario in the next half hour, there's no way il maestro's getting on that plane, no way in hell..."
The stranger took a half step, then his legs folded and he pitched face first into the snow.
"Oh my God..."
"He'll be fine..."
"It's Michael Cimino!"
The man, who single-handedly brought down United Artists, had been flown in to replace Brian de Palma as head of the jury after de Palma was recalled to LA, following the disastrous reception of The Bonfire of Vanities (1990). Nobody seemed happy about this, least of all Cimino, who had a sort of 'drowning, not waving' look in his eyes as he struggled to regain his footing.
"He made The Deer Hunter!"
"We can't just leave him!"
"And Dario co-wrote Once Upon a Time in the West! Where are your priorities!"
"What about Thunderbolt and Lightfoot! I mean, we have to at least get him back to his hotel..."
"Oh God, okay ..."
"C'mon... Get the other arm..."
So I never did see Dario or give him the statue that waited on the windowsill back at the lodge, watching the snow silently pile against the double glazing.
I had breakfast with Alejandro Jodorowsky the morning the Gulf War broke out. Alejandro was on the jury and avoided contact until after the awards had been announced, but I persevered. In the light of Dario's non-appearance, I was hoping the director of The Holy Mountain might be able to put things in their proper perspective. The storm and the impending Apocalypse, however, had put Jodo' in an unusually bad mood. Worse still, the voting hadn't gone his way. For him, Clive Barker's Nightbreed had been the film of the festival and 'the first gay fantasy movie'.
Instead the vote had been split between Tales from the Darkside and Hardware, which had received a big, jagged chunk of glass called the 'Prix science Fiction', the only major award of its run, the 24/7 CNN news making it seem more topical than it should have been in any sane or sensible world, but possibly pulling Mr. Cimino out of that snowdrift hadn't hurt - not that I was feeling particularly pleased about the decision.
Jacob's Ladder plainly stood head and shoulders above the rest of the competition despite a weak third act but was inexplicably ignored by the panel, possibly because they refused to accept that Adrian Lyne had made a decent movie.
Jodo' was galled by the decision, having reacted with antipathy to Hardware, which he found 'philosophically vacuous' and 'weakly derivative' of American action cinema, a genre he despised. I politely buttered my toast as he dismissed my work in a sentence before launching into a diatribe about the lack of respect shown by the critical community for gay cinema. About halfway through his monologue the Gulf War broke out and any further attempts at conventional conversation were abandoned as all eyes turned to the bank of monitors arranged behind us for the morning press conference. Sometimes in life the esoteric just has to take a back seat. It doesn't do mornings well, I know that much. Besides this wasn't any ol' morning. Tiamat, the Babylonian goddess of chaos, had been let out of her bottle and things were really starting to slip out there. The future had taken root in the past and the rolling news was starting to look more and more like one of my bad dreams. So I sat there watching the same nightvision footage of heavy ordinance starbursting over Kuwait City as everyone else and then reached for a Lucky.
"Why do you smoke?"
I glanced up to find Jodo' fixing me with a withering basilisk gaze.
"You can never hope to be an artist unless you stop smoking. Art is resistance also!"
"Fuck art. That's why I smoke."
Pushing back my chair I said goodbye to the holy mountain and walked.