IT’S WELL KNOWN among those who follow the lives of the Great Directors that, from 2005 to 2011, Blut Branson was dead.

 

Though no one knew where his body was, exactly, no one, not even Big Pharmakos, was optimistic or superstitious enough to consider him still-living. All anyone ever told me was that one day he stormed out of Dodge City, echoing David Lynch with the claim that “Movies aren’t really my bag these days,” and sent no further signal.

 

I’ll admit that I’ve had a similar thought on occasion, what with today’s seemingly infinite, and infinitely disposable, online content streams competing endlessly for our diminishing attention … it’s almost enough to motivate one back into literature, a party that, poorly attended as it’s been since the end of the 19th century at the latest, hasn’t grown any more poorly attended in recent years, contrary to claims made by certain experts between 2008 and 2012.

 

Anyway, the set of the film Branson had been working on became a paralyzed village on the outskirts of Dodge City, the cast and crew hanging around, eating craft services until they were all gone and then beginning to eat each other, waiting for instructions, refusing to accept their project’s demise.

 

*****

TO BACK UP, in fall 2011, I was in my apartment on Dana St. in Cambridge, MA where I lived before moving to Dodge City, listening to Fresh Air when a Q&A with Branson, whose films I’d discussed in my college thesis, came on. Believing him to be dead, I snapped out of my slight torpor, becoming for once in my life fully alert.

 

The first thing I noticed in this new state of attention was that the broadcast was structured like an old-school audience call-in radio show, where Terry Gross kept stopping to announce the phone number, inviting listeners to call in with “those burning questions you’ve always had for Blut but never known how to ask.”

 

Various people from around the country called in to ask “where do you get your ideas?” and “who the heck was that guy behind the dumpster?” And one woman who wanted to know if 35 was too late to embark upon a creative career (“You’re still a baby!” enthused Branson, his tone unusually warm) — until, strange as it seems now that I’m writing it, I heard my own voice come on the air.

 

I perked up even more, checking myself for signs of splitting or doubling. “What about your unrealized Zoos of the Infinite Blue Horror Hole script? Any chance of that seeing the light of day?” I asked.

 

“Well,” Branson began, as Terry Gross coughed politely in the background, perhaps aware that we were straying into uncomfortable territory, “now that you mention it, I have been thinking that maybe …”

 

Thus began a long, sometimes frightening discussion of Branson’s great unrealized project. The thing I didn’t understand until much later was that this broadcast was actually from 2005, the year before his supposed death, and that it had come back on the air in 2011 to cover a rare medical absence on Terry Gross’ part.

 

So, in 2011, I ended up re-listening to my 2005-self discuss the legendary “lost Branson masterpiece,” which in the intervening six years I’d come to think of as my own idea, one of what has often felt like an infinite number of unrealized projects, riding with me from town to town.

 

Listening to the broadcast in Cambridge in 2011 provided a much-needed jolt of fresh air, no pun intended, into what, I’ll admit, had become a fairly stagnant period of time.

 

“The idea,” Branson explained, “is to consider an infinite recurrence of zoos: endless sets of higher, or supposedly higher, species watching the behavior of lower species, while one of them is imprisoned and the other is free. Each zoo spectator is the zoo animal for the next-higher species, so that each is at once knowing subject and unknowing object … but what’s interesting to me is the idea that it’s not the behavior of any given species that entertains the next higher species (and by proxy the film’s eventual viewer, if it were ever to be made), but rather the attention that each species pays to the lower species … the mode of attention, if you will, the specific qualities of it, the nature of each species’ prurience and perversion when it comes to the lives of those less fortunate  … do you see?”

 

“Yeah,” I heard myself say, Terry Gross coughing again in the background.

 

 

“Of course, stories where characters believe they’re the zoo visitors only to discover they are in fact the zoo animals are a dime a dozen, but what sets my idea apart is its infinitude … how the pairs magnify out, across spacetime, to a dizzying level of complexity, as the creeping suspicion that there can never be an end of zoos begins to dawn on the viewer.”

 

I sat on my bed in Cambridge nodding, listening to my 2005-self wait for Branson to continue.

 

“The only real problem,” he continued, after a lengthy pause, “is that I don’t yet have a suitable linking concept … nor any real characters to speak of. But the set in Dodge City is built and ready to go.”

 

“Then how will you work through the next phase?” Terry Gross interjected, a tad confrontationally, probably attempting to regain control of her interview subject.

 

“That,” said Branson, his voice harsh and defensive again, “is the kind of question that can make a filmmaker disappear.”

 

Which, of course, is exactly what he did, not long after.

 

*****

AT THIS POINT the broadcast went dead, but no matter — I was already scribbling in my journal:

 

Patchwork of childhood influences — all the fairy tales I absorbed as a child were, for me, literally true — my parents and teachers were trying to make me into what I needed to become in order to take Branson on, the minotaur in the labyrinth of my own influence … the giant between me and my becoming.

 

Now I’m liberated, on the prowl, like a samurai hero figure who doesn’t yet know his own power, or his own freedom to wield that power … Somehow I need to create for myself an avatar within Branson’s world, a better self to be as I explore his baroque imagination …

 

And thereby eviscerate him from this inside out …

 

The last line in that journal entry was: “Looks like I’ll be moving to Dodge City to take over the set Branson abandoned.”

 

Little did I know then that he’d come back from the dead barely a month after my arrival, but oh well. At least I shook off the torpor of Cambridge, and academia generally.

 

*****

NOW, THE DAY BEFORE HALLOWEEN 2015, with Branson having been back from the dead for four years, I happen to reread this journal, which I’d forgotten about until now.

 

Taking a beer from the fridge in my Room — where I’ve been deposited after my return from Kazakhstan — I walk out to the balcony and look across town, all the way to the lights of Branson Industries … and I wonder if the set he abandoned when he supposedly died is still there, out in the desert …

 

 

Stuffing my notebooks into a backpack and finishing my beer, I decide to find out for myself.

 

As I ride the elevator down to the lobby, I try to tally up all the time I’ve wasted here, and decide, as the elevator doors ding open, to make the film myself. Whether or not it’s exactly what I’ve always imagined myself doing, it’s what I’m going to do right now, I decide, trying to make my voice sound non-negotiable in my head.