101 Imaginary Nights At The Movies

Eleventh in a series of 101 imaginary moviesCinema of Forgotten Dreams is my attempt to dramatize film history by creating and commenting on a repository of imaginative film viewing. From the earliest days of cinema to the era of blockbusters, my century (plus one) of Movies I Made Up will proceed chronologically through an alternate dimension of films. Will it be allowed? Will anyone read? Though I have no answer to either question, I’m doing it anyway: fortunately, there are no rules in the land of dreams.


(1911, dir. James Montague)

FURTHER NOTE: Although several entries in this series feature a mixture of historical and fictional personalities, the people, situations, and references of this entry are – in their entirety – made-up.

Film, according to the Phantodrome Film Company’s founder and guiding creative force James Montague, was never “a going concern”. The lofty ambitions Montague consistently courted with each self-styled signature of “JAS. MONTAGUE, FILMOGRAPHER”, whether it was visually realizing a dream or dramatically capturing the unspoken desires of his audience, were equally and consistently thwarted as matters both practical and unforeseen threw tumult bordering on catastrophe into each succeeding production.

As a casualty of early cinema, however, very few approached the scale of disaster upon which Phantodrome met its spectacular demise. So much so, one might say, that the nature of its rather wondrous destruction was possibly the Phantodrome Film Company’s greatest artistic statement.

That grand expression of unfettered creativity began in September of 1911, when James Montague commissioned his maternal uncle C.S. (Cyril Standish) Rhodes, the reclusive antiquities scholar and famed horror scribe, to pen a detailed visual outline for a six-reel, tri-partite anthology film dealing with the supernatural. While drawing the contract, which included final production approval, the eccentric writer stipulated the film be shot in his own home. When Montague saw the title of his uncle’s outline, received by carrier pigeon, the producer and writer quickly deduced why: “The Third Story of Glastonbury Inn’, denoting ambiguity on the word ‘story’, obviously referred to the 400-year history of his ancestral home, which his uncle had since transformed into a first-to-third floor, thirty-room library.

Production from his uncle’s quill-on-parchment manuscript began after the bountiful harvest season of the retiring market village of Glastonbury at its re-dressed and re-fashioned, four-centuries-old inn. Excerpts from Rhodes’ MS, excising the psychology and atmosphere but retaining the plot and visuals, commence below:


The Laer running through the streams and tributaries of the ancient village of Glastonbury once again stilled its riotous summer course with the first chill of autumn, the darkening blush of fallen leaves and ripening harvest enriching the crisp air of twilight travel. One such traveler alights on the 300-year-old post-step of the Inn at Glastonbury in the anniversary season of 1811, greeted warmly by the house’s hereditary host with an enthusiasm born of three centuries of such evening encounters. Assuring the weary passenger that the inn’s third-story master bedroom, “seldom occupied in these trying times”, is prepared, the pair pass beneath the wood-carved sign swinging on its visibly creaking hinges – a giant tomb depicting the final resting place of the isle’s legendary founder and first king – into the lamp-lit glow of the inn’s outer chambers.


 On the ascending stair’s landing, ten feet from the entrance, the loquacious landlord pauses to relate the story of his ancestor, the inn’s founder, whose own final resting place apparently occupied the very nether-space directly between the innkeeper and his guest, six feet below the structure. A convergence of shadows and light [achieved through a contraction and expansion of a film iris over the lens] opens on the year 1611, in which the inn’s founder – square-hatted and -moralled – fatally spurned a peasant girl – checker-bloused and -mannered – on this mortally cursed threshold. The preceding tale of sexual betrayal and hypocrisy, visualized in the stage-distorted view of a shadow-play, ends with the ravished maid returning from beyond the grave to visit equally definitive violence upon the complacent innkeeper at the very spot of her spirit- and life-crushing humiliation.


 Ascending to the second landing, the pleasant proprietor again pauses to indicate the Latin legend for Rest In Peace emblazoned in gold- and red-calligraphic relief [many images were originally hand-painted directly on the nitrate film stock] on a chained, bolted, and cross-boarded door at the top of the mid-story stairs. A swirl of deep autumnal tones transitions to the village constable walking towards the inn and ascending its second story in the year 1711, the inn’s centennial, where the brass-buttoned official attempted – unsuccessfully – to serve process papers for “immediate vacancy” to its 100-year occupant at the mysterious creature’s unanswered door-step. A flurry of dark, primary-tinted scenes flash-forward to annual scenes from over the next fifty fall seasons – in which village livestock and unwary children individually meet their deepest and reddest-shaded demise – until the innkeeper’s grandfather grants his unduly violent and virtually unseen tenant an “eternal lease” upon the latter’s grave-chambers.


 At the top of the stairs, a string of wall-emerging and bright-glowing candelabras appear to the guest to successively flicker across the wide expanse of a long hallway towards the three-story structure’s crowning master bedroom. The visual show of light [achieved in-camera by lighting techniques borrowed from spectacle theatre of the period] extends over the open passageway to a massive oil-painting hanging above the doorway. It appears to be an exact copy of the mythical tomb depicted on the inn’s sign-post outside but trebled in size and surrounded in force by a cluster of smaller though no less ornate grave-markers. The inn-keeper begins to explain its import [in inter-textual terms, presumably] as the camera illustrates by dollying nearer and nearer to the painting.


 [numbers and line-breaks indicate four successive intertitles intercut with the film’s final image] [1] The last legend of our quaint roadside inn/has to do with the village cemetery. [2] Travelers are not permitted bodily residence there,/but fortunately our isle’s first ruler/permits those who expire in the night residency/of a more permanent type/in his final resting place beyond the sea. [3] This painting records those passages/for the reassurance of every guest/whose fare is dearly bought/by passing under it. [4] And with that, sir,/I bid you good night,/and as we say at Glastonbury Inn,/God Rest Your Soul.”

 As the Laer’s stilled waters soon froze its seasonal secrets beneath solid feet of ice, the completed The Third Story of Glastonbury Inn received its winter premiere in, appropriately, a screening room fashioned from the Inn of Glastonbury’s third floor. In the waning days between Christmas and New Year’s, the crackling roar of the third-story’s crackling hearth fire warmly greeted the entire creative, production, and financing assemblage of the Phantodrome Film Company. Wearing thick fur coats and fitted with snow shoes – snow-goggles protecting wind-blasted eyes – sheer icicles formed off the handlebar edges of the gentlemen’s mustaches and down the silk-smooth tresses of the ladies’ coiffures began to drip on the hard-scrubbed floor. Taking their seats along the lengthy hallway, the whir and click of the projector threw light and shadows over the hanging screen where the actual oil-painting depicted in the film but formerly lay.

And there, one fears, all accounts of The Third Story of Glastonbury Inn’s sole showing cease. The film, its production company, the inn itself, and the village surrounding it further lay engulfed in their entirety by the Laer’s fourth-dimensional course: lost – or, more accurately, vanished – in the dissolving mists of time. Perhaps it never existed in the first place, but a (possibly) more hopeful interpretation – beyond the portents of doom and despair of similar accounts – might be that James Montague (producer, director) and his uncle, C.S. Rhodes, (author, host) succeeded in fashioning an artistic transport from one world to the next. Transcending space, distance, and time – the essential dimensions of film – The Third Story of Glastonbury bought its fortunate few viewers passage through screen realization of its structure’s 400-year history to a mystical kingdom beyond the sea: the world of film itself.