The (p)reconstruction of the Curse of the Phantom Tympanum script is reaching completion; or at least the first stage of completion, after which we’ll have to smash the gaudy monstrosity to rubble again and pick out the bits we want to film. The shape of the residency itself took a little more form as we met with Bandits-Mages boss Isabelle Carlier and project assistant Delphine Robin-Tyrek, who will work alongside tech guru Quentin Aurat to ‘get it all happening’.
Our reunion/introduction meeting painted a curious landscape as conversation drifted from the practicalities of working with Berruyers (as the locals are known, although the term is not without controversy), to the twin regional pastimes of witchcraft and alchemy, to the impending arrival of Boris Lehman, ‘Godfather and filmmaker permanent resident’ of Bandits-Mages, with whom I visited the infamous Bosnian pyramids in 2014, to the idea of a film that encapsulates ‘The French’ – of which our hosts’ surest guess was that it must be Bruno Dumont’s P'tit Quinquin.
|Hipsters put a football through this vintage window just yards from the 800 year old stained glass of the cathedral while we stood and laughed.|
To business, though, and we postponed the local auditions for one week in order to give everyone (not least yours truly) a chance to prepare, and also to try to rouse some more talent on this Sunday’s mysterious social tour of the city (including the epic grid of marshes that bubble away just to the north-east of the alchemy district).
Afterwards, Niemczyk and I finally wandered inside the imposing cathedral, my ears headphoned and wired to the sound recorder, so that I didn’t notice how quiet it was until we stopped recording. While hardly silent, the cathedral turns out to be a cavern of microscopic noises, whispers, hiccups, stumbles, and digital camera shutters; the most prominent sonic motif, a cynic might note, is the jangling of coins.
The well-to-do of the past eight centuries have co-opted various little lounge pods around the insides of the cathedral, each trying to out-do the last in the eyes of god and the Joneses, and as Niemczyk pointed out: probably some serious deals were cut here across the years.
|That feeling when your head's off and it's a bank holiday weekend and there's no way you can see a man about it until Tuesday.|
It suggests a double–purpose for those echoing expanses. Not only must the preacher or what-have-you bellow to be heard, his Latin kumquat-ex-deuses indecipherable in the loud smudgy fear-inducing acoustics of the church, but conspirators must keep their voices low to be intelligible to their collaborators.
Today, a more intuitive use of the premises - in line with the ideal that heritage sites should move - might be as some alien sports venue, the peculiar unreachable balconies, sticky-outy bits and ribbed, phallic columns just waiting to be thrown a dodecadodecahedral ball, a unicorn polo squad, and a book of esoteric rules and rumours.
And that’s just the inside! As we might've noticed during our dehydration-defying crawl past the mighty tabernacle three days ago, the exterior's quite a sight, too. "It’s impressive," mused Niemczyk, "but is it beautiful?"
Personally, I feel some affinity for the medieval wretch responsible. Clearly intimidated by the profile of the job, he threw everything he had at the damned thing.
|When all hell breaks loose around you, what is there to do but shrug.|
|Likely considering a small investment in salvation.|
All photos courtesy of Aleksandra Niemczyk.