The harebells are in bloom, and there is a man prancing along, waving a stick. There is phlox and flax, campions, pinks, hollyhocks and bee borage, chrysanthemums and vetch, dahlias, hyacinths and delphiniums, and all the colours seem reflected in the man’s cravat. It is silken, and embroidered with fantastic skill. One admires the casual yet stylish way he has knotted it about his neck. His hat, too, with its elegant angles, is pleasing to the eye. He rounds a pond, still waving his stick. The pond is home to mergansers, teal, and some ferocious swans. The sun emerges from behind an impossibly fluffy cloud, and bathes the scene in light so bright it bleaches the colour from things. The man makes a pause and dips his hand into a pocket of his blazer, from whence he plucks a pair of sunglasses and in one easy movement slides them behind his ears and onto his nose, while still managing that rhythmic wave of the stick with his other hand. A flock of swallows swoops across the sky. The man continues walking, now past a large stone edifice, quite a wonder of masonry. It looks as if it has been plumped down here in this field at random, long ago, for in parts it is crumbling, and it is tilted where the ground has subsided slightly beneath it. Much writing is carved upon one face of it, and the man stops, and stops waving his stick, and reads the words.
HERE LIE THE MORTAL BONES OF THE MIGHTY KING AND CHAMPION VUGLOP THRUST BY SWORD AND FIRE INTO THE ETHEREAL GREY MIST BEYOND WHO IN HIS TIME SMASHED ALL ON EARTH THAT HAD TO BE SMASHED AND IN HIS REIGN SPOKE WITH BIRDS AND IN HIS KINGDOM DID LET GROW TOWERING HOLLYHOCKS AND TREES OF QUINCE HE UNDID HIS FOES AND SPIES AND SCUM HIS HEAD WAS HUGE HIS CRANIUM SOLID AS THE ROCK OF BEDSOE FROM WHICH THIS TOMB HAS BEEN HEWN TO MARK THE SPOT WHERE HE FELL ON THAT AWFUL DAY WHEN PUNY WANKERS THROUGH LEGERDEMAIN AND CONJURING TRICKED HIS MAJESTIC PERSON AND BROUGHT HIS REALM TO RUIN HIS BONES ROT AND HIS FLESH BE EATEN BY WORMS HIS MEMORY HELD IN THE BEAKS OF THE BIRDS AND THE PIPS AND BUDS AND PETALS OF THE FRUITS AND FLOWERS O MIGHTY VUGLOP LET THINE ENEMIES SHRIVEL UP IN TERROR AT YOUR MAGNIFICENCE THIS DAY AND ALL DAYS HENCE UNTIL YOUR KINGDOM IS BUILT AGAIN WITH STONE AND SWEAT THEN BALLOONS AND BIG FLYING MACHINES WILL SOAR ACROSS THE SKY PROCLAIMING ON BANNERS TO ALL ON EARTH YOUR GLORY IT SHALL BE
All of this is in Latin, or possibly Goat Latin, but we are given subtitles. Having read it, the man spits upon the masonry, and strolls on, again waving his stick. Suddenly, in the harsh sunlight, from nowhere, comes a trio of grunting toughs, who maul and manhandle him to the ground and drag him into a pit. The light grows brighter until the screen is completely white, and then appear, in a lovely font, bold and black, the words:
“I Profaned A King’s Tomb” – Peter De Vries, The Mackerel Plaza, MCMLVIII
Thus the opening of Horst Gack’s new film Oubliette Of Fops, the follow-up to his award-winning Het Ontbijt. Where that earlier masterpiece limited itself to a small group of Belgians eating breakfast in a cafeteria, this latest work operates on a much broader canvas, at least in terms of ambition. Granted, after the opening scene the bulk of the “action”, if we can call it that, takes place in the oubliette of the title, a tenebrous hellhole scarcely more expansive than the breakfast cafeteria, in which various semivisible fops and bravos groan and languish. But this is primarily a film of ideas, ideas hatched not by Horst Gack but by his wife and collaboratrix Primrose Dent, international woman of mystery. So what we have, over three or more hours, is a series of meditations upon kingship, temporal power, being eaten by worms, and the desperate quandary of fops consigned to an oubliette for profaning a king long dead. “If we live we live to tread on dead kings” go the words of the song, and this perhaps was the refrain running through Primrose Dent’s head as she wrote the screenplay while jetting between important capital cities, staying in expensive hotels, and sipping cocktails on terraces which, not so long ago, or not too far in the future, ran or would yet run with the blood spilled by revolutionaries or counterrevolutionaries, and in some cases by irredentists. It is this context which makes the film so rich, so appealing, and it certainly compensates for Horst Gack’s trademark cackhanded camerawork and those infuriating longueurs of which he seems so fond. Or perhaps, as the critic Giles Lapwing has asserted more than once, the prizewinning director is simply a hapless incompetent.
Oddly enough, Lapwing himself actually has a walk-on part in the film. In a piece of bravura hyperrealism, Horst Gack shows him being abducted from his Pointy Town pied à terre, bundled on to a rickety cart, and driven by wild horses across a desolate and unspeakable landscape before being thrown by the same trio of toughs into the oubliette. What are Horst Gack and mysterious Primrose Dent trying to tell us here? For if there is one thing the world knows about Giles Lapwing it is that he is the most unfoppish of men. Indeed, such is the general shabbiness of his appearance and demeanour that he has on countless occasions been ejected from sophisticated soirées, much like the Emerald Isle crooner Van Morrison. Sometimes the pair of them have been kicked into the streets in tandem, memorably when trying to gain access to their own joint birthday party at the Grand Metropolitan Palace o’ Fops ‘n’ Dandies on the quayside regeneration zone at O’Houlihan’s Wharf. By all accounts Lapwing and Morrison were pursued by outraged Palace habitués to the end of the pier, whereupon they toppled into the sea and had to swim out to a barnacle-encrusted rock.
Oubliette Of Fops is certainly a challenging piece of cinema, and it will be interesting to see what the critics make of it, if, indeed, any of them get a chance to see it. Word has it that while Horst Gack is preening himself ready for the festival circuit, Primrose Dent is keeping all existing prints of the film under lock and key in one of her mysterious secret cavernous subterranean secure storage facilities. There are at least four of these on each continent, their exact locations of course known only to the international woman of mystery herself. Horst Gack is apparently ignorant of their existence, happily accepting his wife’s increasingly gnomic pronouncements, issued in the form of scribbled notes passed over the breakfast table. It is reminiscent of the scene in Het Ontbijt, where the husband and wife at the cafeteria’s corner table pass coded teabags to each other.
There are at present no plans to release Oubliette Of Fops in 3D, though apparently a Smellovision version is on the cards. The smells will be those of lemon verbena, turpentine, and snackbar fug.
Too Obtuse Piffle !