Friday, 4 June 2010

The Vintigglia Tapes/Chair

Last night I had an absolutely incredible dream. I woke up laughing several times, but forced myself immediately back to sleep because I wanted it to continue. And a couple of times I woke up in my dream just so I could explain the dream to people.

What was the dream about? It was about discovering a strange, rare, semi-legendary film/documentary that was made in the 1960s and worked on “for 30 years.” No official print of it was ever made, so there are only pieced-together versions based on what footage could be found. The film was called, as near as I can tell, The Vintigglia Tapes/Chair, though it was also just called Vintigglia for short.

It was one of the most meta films ever made because it was not only a fictional story, but it was simultaneously a documentary about the making of itself.

I only know the plot synopses because at one point during the movie (in the middle of a scene, no less) an interviewer with a microphone stepped up to the main character, a young man with a crappy 60s mustache, and asked, “What is this movie you’re making about?”

The young man, confused, took the microphone and used it as a pencil to write down the answer on a pad of paper. He wrote this synopsis:

A young man with a crappy 60s mustache searches for a mystical fork/chair combo.

I laughed and laughed. I would NEVER have been able to figure that synopsis out based on the footage I saw. I also loved that the microphone actually worked as a pencil. In fact, the interviewer/reporter tried to ask a few more questions, but the main character refused to answer them out loud; he just kept scribbling the answers on the paper with the microphone.

Let me tell you about the other scenes that I remember watching. First of all, I should mention that most of the movie was filmed in the same room or two of an apartment. It was supposed to take place in several locations, but they didn’t even try to dress up the apartment to make it look different. Also, the “special effects” in the movie were of public access television quality.

Example: Towards the beginning of the film (though I dreamed it towards the end of the dream), the Young Man with the Crappy 60s Mustache and his sidekick, a young man with enormous glasses (each lens five inches wide) whose entire face was one big burn scar (but not in a gross way), set out on their quest. For some reason they had to cover their faces with papier-maché and cross an ocean. There they were simultaneously attacked by a bird, which was played by a store-bought bird pinata, and a shark, which was 2-dimensional and made out of felt and construction paper. The shark ended up “eating” the bird (the pinata was pushed through a hole in the shark’s mouth between its felt teeth), allowing the heroes to escape. This whole scene was filmed in the apartment. The ocean was created by a couple of guys flopping a blue-and-white quilt around on the floor, and no effort whatsoever was made to hide them or the people who were puppeteering the bird and shark. Also, the sidekick kept on accidentally tearing the papier-maché on his face (mostly because it was plastered entirely over his humongous glasses and he couldn’t see at all) and commenting about it. But they kept that in the movie because it was a “documentary” about the “making of” The Vintigglia Tapes/Chair. A narrator, in fact, intruded to mention that the sidekick ripped his papier-maché mask, which was not supposed to happen.

Another scene filmed in the same apartment took place much later in the movie. It was a party of some sort, kind of the rich and snooty type. The host was talking to two guests who were sitting on a couch:

I’m so glad you could come!

Delighted to be here.

(stuffing hors-d’ouvres into his mouth)
Mmm… yes, yes…

(to Man)
I don’t suppose you’ve had time to make that jewelry that I ordered from you…?

(to Man)
Yes, do you think you could possibly finish it this year?

At that point the man and woman were attacked by a horrific, giant bird (yes, I see a theme there)! The special effect of the bird attack consisted of intercutting between the two guests screaming while still seated on a couch, and a still photograph of a bird. Every time it cut back to the bird, the photograph was slightly closer to the camera. Also, to heighten the tension, “¡Attenzione!” was superimposed across the bottom of the screen whenever the photograph was shown.

When the bird finally got close enough to attack (after about three or four rounds of cutting back and forth). It cut back to the screaming guests, who suddenly stopped screaming as an egg dropped in from the top of the screen. The man caught it without breaking it and looked at it, confused. It seemed the bird’s “attack” consisted of it trying to lay an egg on someone. The bird was never seen nor mentioned again.

At that point the main character and the sidekick entered the party. The sidekick went right up to the hors-d’ouvre table to find something to eat. He pulled from a bowl a frozen chicken cutlet. An incredibly befuddled expression came over his burned face, and he slapped himself on his lips with the frozen piece of chicken over and over again, while pleadingly looking at the main character as if to ask, “How am I supposed to eat this!?”

I’m pretty sure I woke myself up laughing at that point.

Some scenes weren’t filmed in the apartment. Some scenes were filmed outside.

One scene took place in a dusty and grassy field. It was filmed with low-quality 1960s film stock. Inside a convertible parked in this field, a greaser with a black leather jacket was having a serious conversation with a girl-next-door type of young woman. The narrator from Beyond the Valley of the Dolls was narrating over them. Without warning, it cut to a woman lying on her back in the field about 15 feet away from the car. She was dreamily rolling the back of her beehive hairdo into the dusty ground as the tall grass around her swayed gently in the breeze. The narrator said, “Sally, meanwhile, was still on drugs.” This cutaway with the exact same narration happened three times during the course of the scene.

Shortly after that was a sequence where a young woman (it could have been the same girl-next-door from the car scene; I’m not sure) and a young man with curly Greg Brady hair and wearing a red flannel shirt were frolicking at the base of a cliff, giggling and chasing each other and hiding behind rocky outcroppings and trees. A soft spring sun shone down around them. It was one of those goofy, innocent scenes that you can only really find in 1960s movies. Plus there was a light, breezy 1960s movie instrumental song playing in the background, the kind of song with violins and an acoustic guitar. But during the whole course of the scene, which was several minutes long, people’s names kept appearing in the lower right corner of the screen in a fancy script.

I was very confused by this, and I turned to Carrie (who was watching the movie with me at this point) and said, “Are those supposed to be credits? I don’t think any of those people are actually in this movie… or helped make it.”

Indeed, they just seemed to be randomly-generated names, or sometimes names of famous actors who clearly were not in Vintigglia. It was also very strange because the scene took place right around the middle of the movie.

Then on the lower left corner of the screen a name that I recognized appeared in sans-serif font: “Brian Michael Bendis.” The Brian Michael Bendis? The guy who is basically responsible for the direction of the Marvel universe for the past decade? I knew that the film was supposedly “worked on” through the mid-90s. Did Bendis have something to do with it?

This got me into research mode, so I decided to see what I could find out about Vintigglia. I discovered a fascinating academic debate as to whether or not the whole film was some sort of a hoax. None of the people who appeared in the film could be identified at all—none of them ever appeared in a single other movie, TV show, or even commercial, and a credit list was never actually written for the film during its production. Nobody had ever been able to match the faces of the actors in Vintigglia to anybody who was alive during its production. Also, nobody had ever been able to find in the real world the locations where the movie had been filmed. There were some scholars who thought there was a good chance that the whole film was relatively modern, and just used props, costumes, and film stock to make it look like it was filmed in the 60s.

Then while Carrie & I were looking through a tiny used bookstore, I happened upon a section of a small shelf that had a bunch of graphic novels and trade paperbacks written by Brian Michael Bendis. And there, nestled among the comics, was a hardback book. The spine read, “Vintigglia – Brian Michael Bendis.”

I eagerly snatched it up and flipped through it. It was an account of Bendis’s own research into the film after he discovered that his name was in it, and how he discovered various fragments of footage and the research that led him to be able to piece together an almost-definitive version (the version, it turns out, that we had been watching). He even believed that he had discovered the man who wrote, directed, and edited the movie, but the man had died the year before Bendis first heard of the film, and had left behind absolutely no records whatsoever so there was no way to verify anything.

The whole movie then began to take on this almost mystical quality. How was it made? Who were the people in the film? Why did nobody recognize any of them? It almost seemed as if it sprung into existence directly on the film itself, like how the creepy girl psychically imprinted images directly onto a video tape in The Ring. It was impossible for Vintigglia to exist, and yet we had watched it.

At several points during the night I “woke up” in my dream and—while still dreaming in real life—found various people I knew and told them how awesome this dream was. There were also at least two times when I “woke up” in the dream and thought, “That had to have been real, right? That movie was too awesome not to really exist!”

This was one of the best, most epic dreams I’ve had in a long time, and it was thoroughly enjoyable the whole way through. There were several points during the film where I clearly read stuff (Brian Michael Bendis’s name, the written-down plot synopses, and the Italian “¡Attenzione!”—I can even see the font for that one), so that whole myth about not being able to read in your sleep is completely busted. But I knew that; I periodically read stuff in my sleep. It was also hysterically funny. I give The Vintigglia Tapes/Chair four stars: ****

Categories: Dreams, Movies.

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