Sunday, August 22, 2010

Coppola made his name by writing the script to Pataphor, a biopic of Alfred Jarry (Bram Stoker's Dracula, Break Time, Breakthru)

Bram Stoker's Dracula, in truth, refers to Francis Ford Coppola's 1991 film of Dracula, which was titled Bram Stoker's Dracula. I will therefore indulge in a moment of elision. This is a rhetorical technique, in which two things, because they possess a connection, are interchangeable. Used poorly, elision generates homeopathy and water memory. Used well, it generates art. Elision is fundamental to the notion of the Nintendo Project. It is only because of elision that it is conceivably possible to encompass the entirety of my being and existence in a discussion of a finite set of video games.

Given, then, that Bram Stoker and Francis Ford Coppola are the same person, we can imagine Coppola, drinking the wine of his vanity, and dying of syphilis. His great late career work, Peggy Sue Got Married, is wrongly misunderstood as being incomprehensible due to the onset of his disease. In fact, it is an excessively brutal editing job that cut about half of the end that rendered it impossible to follow.

The proper cut of the film is notable for the fact that it was accompanied by illustrations by Pamela Coleman Smith, better known as the artist who worked with Arthur Edward Waite to produce what is often (and inappropriately) called the Rider-Waite Tarot. The Rider-Waite Tarot is, for the most part, the definitive Tarot deck, though this is in many ways arbitrary - the deck's trump cards borrow most primarily from the Marseilles Tarot. Waite and Smith's primary invention is switching to including symbolism in the minor arcana, but if Waite's definitive book on the Tarot, The Pictoral Key to the Tarot, is to be believed, he assigns minimal mystical significance to these cards - their fuller development was left to Aleister Crowley and Frieda Harris, with their Thoth Tarot, generally referred to as Crowley's Thoth Tarot, because a woman's place is off the title of things.

The Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot's Sun card forms the logo for the production company The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. This company is best known for the AMC's drama series Mad Men, a historical drama about Bram Stoker dying of syphilis in the 1960s. The television series does not focus on Stoker's best-known years, in which he writes the novelization for Konami's groundbreaking Castlevania series of video games. The novelization, in this case, takes on a life of its own, in no small part because Stoker had apparently never played Castlevania, and so replaced the game's character Simon Belmont with his own far more interesting Van Helsing. His introduction of a strong female character in Mina Harkness also significantly improved the story, such that Konami shelved Castlevania for decades and sold the rights to the novel to the Rider corporation, by then called Sony, which contacted Coppola, by then syphilis-ridden, to help make a film adaptation.

Ironically, this film adaptation was eventually released as a video game, well after Konami had dusted off the Castlevania games and released them. The video game was, functionally, a poor imitation of the Castlevania games, creating a strange sequence of debts and homages.

Stoker, then, was always steeped in a certain level of mysticism - indeed, it is possible he was one of the primary backers of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. What, then, do we make of his use of orange symbolism in his Godfather trilogy. In these films, based on the occult novels by Shigeru Miyamoto under the pseudonym Mario Mario Puozo, the appearance of oranges as a fruit signifies imminent death.

Given that we know Coppola was a devout occultist, we should look to the Kabbalistic significance of this aesthetic choice. Although the orange as a fruit does not appear in Crowley's definitive table of correspondences, 777, although the clever student can use the gematrial technique to discern that the fruit corresponds most directly to the Tarot Card for the Lovers, more normally associated with orchids. (This truth is reaffirmed by column XV of Crowley's tome, although an alternative reading would suggest an equivalence to Tiphireth, which has its own connotations in relation to death)

More normally, however, orange is associated with the sephira of Hod. How, then, does Stoker, a savvy occultist, turn it into an omen of death? The answer requires a conclusion not normally treated as orthodox in the Hermetic tradition - the fact that Hod, being the primarily intellectual realm, is well associated with air, represented in the Tarot by the sword. The evolution of the suit of swords points towards this, with the Ten of Swords, which is, as Crowley puts it, reason run mad, ramshackle riot of soulless mechanism.

(A gap here - as can be expected, the game of pool contains considerable occult significance, particularly given the creation of a pyramid to rack up, and its considerable color symbolism. I have largely opted to ignore this line of thought, in no small part because my copy of the game Break Time is defective and could not be loaded.)

Fred Saberhagen, who wrote the novelization of Sony's video game adaptation of Coppola's film adaptation of his own novelization of Konami's Castlevania series, is well-known for his lengthy epic fantasy series about swords, thus confirming the logic of this connection. His last name, of course, is a portmanteau of a type of sword and Hagen, Robert Duvall's character in The Godfather. Duvall also appeared in THX 1138, 1138 both containing the number 13 and summing to 13, the Tarot card for Death. Duvall further appeared in Network, written by Paddy Chayefsky, who also wrote the script for Altered States, directed by Ken Russell, who penned the novelization of Peggy Sue Got Married. (Russell took Altered States in a considerably more symbolist and occult direction than Chayefsky's bland satire, introducing the famed White Worm sequence to the proceedings)

Swords, then, suggest the hidden meaning of war. (Geburah, the Martian realm, is associated with the number 6, further cementing the connection to oranges) A film about war made by an American in 1992 (Such as Aleister Crowley's Dracula) could only be about the Persian Gulf War, just as Oscar Wilde, writing in 1892, could only have written Lady Windermere's Fan about the Falklands War (with Lady Windermere being an obvious stand-in for Margaret Thatcher). The great Argentinian writer, Jorge Luis Borges, whose description of the Falklands War as two blind men fighting over a comb (a description made in an interview with the Artful Dodge, a magazine I briefly worked upon) was almost Wildean in its wit, returned the favor, writing his short story The Aleph about Wilde, a fact obscured from most accounts of the story, although it is absolutely crucial to any understanding of the topic of this present entry.

Breakthru, released by Data East in 1897, is thus necessarily about the Persian Gulf War, given that it also came out in the same year as Dracula. In it you navigate an armed vehicle through scads of enemy lines to recapture a stolen airplane. (Air, the element of swords) The game is pleasantly finite - infinite lives capture the spirit of war well, and allow infinite copies of the vehicle to be thrown at the lines of defense until one makes it through to the plane.

(This mode of attack has a biological precedent - a vast number of sperm are ejaculated with the full expectation that at best one will survive to reach the objective. The rest fall at various lines of defense, or discover that their princess is in another fallopian tube. This interplay of wand and cup produces, as Crowley observes, the lesser creation of air)

For my part, I remember with tragic vividness the buildup to the Gulf War. I had never experienced a war in my lifetime, and perversely rooted for one, understanding war merely as a major historical event ending in American triumph as opposed to a brutal slaughter of thousands of young men like I would someday be. My mistake was one of interpretation, falsely thinking that Break Thru was about the vehicle that reached the plane, and not the multitude of sperm that merely existed to die. (How could I be so naive? Hadn't I eagerly collected my Gulf War Trading Cards, including the valued Card #1 of President Bush, learning all I could about the war? What error could I have possibly made?) I had, of course, never played the game until the year 0012, bringing my handheld system with me as my legion stormed the Atraxian Empire while they were distracted recapturing Prisoner Zero (The Fools).

I remember staring at the sky as green streaks of light rained down on a city in the cradle of civilization. I had no idea this satisfying light show was not a victory, but a peal of lightning decimating the Tower of Babel, scattering the unity of thought into messy, signifying language. Suddenly gaps opened in words, Enki, the great phallic water god of language, taking hold. In these gaps was all sorts of unspeakable, incommunicable meaning, never said, only slid over as word linked to word. Meaning came to be not figure but ground, the words merely eliding over the space where once the sacred had been.

But at the age of nine, of course, I had no words for this.


  1. If someone does a freudian plot analysis of this post, witty literature humor will reach critical mass.

  2. His last name, of course, is a portmanteau of a type of sword and Hagen, Robert Duvall's character in The Godfather.

    Hagen is of course also the warrior who kills the sword-wielding Siegfried.