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MEETING THE MAGICIAN
by Jonathan Fencefive
Now living on the Isle of Wight, former Hollywood screenwriter Cansa Varley sounded cheery enough on the phone. He was now working part time work and living off occasional royalty cheques, he told me, for work done “in another life,” and trying to stay “out of harm’s way,” but he had some information he needed to communicate to me. He couldn’t do it on the phone, he said. It was important, I had to come and see him in person.
Hoping that the “important information” he had might mean pages of the script for the legendary “lost” movie that he had been working on with Harry Rubik, I confess that he didn’t have too much trouble in persuading me to agree to go. Len Valentino, Rubik’s old assistant and the man who had the goods on the guy, still wasn’t talking to me. And I also wanted to know how Varley had gotten hold of my number, but in my excitement at the follow-up call I had forgotten to ask him on the phone.
The next day I took a ferry from Southampton.
The old American lived in a flat above a convenience store above one of the central streets in Ryde. The island, with its cricket pitches and red phone boxes, always feels to me forty years behind the times, like things stopped in the 1960s with The Prisoner. An exaggerated somewhat priggish vision of englishness that makes me rather uneasy whenever I go.
“My external brain,” Varley explained, gesturing at the chaos around him when I met him at his home. He was a tall, monkish man of around sixty or so who seemed to be outgrowing what was left of his hair. The room into which I was ushered reminded me of nothing so much as one of my lecturers’ rooms at Canterbury, with piles of printed paper and magazines being loosely what might be termed “organised” around a central computer.
His “external brain,” as he called it, was a formidable feat. Here he produced his “educational films” and books which he would send out to subscribers all over the world. Just keeping it all organised must have taken up a good amount of the man’s time. Even so, it was unmistakably the room of a single man. I wondered if he had some kind of mental disorder.
“Maybe I am what you would call a little kooky,” Varley said, over coffee and biscuits, “But I am not a kook. Most people gravitate towards doing something in life that suits their interests. Why wouldn’t you?”
“I don’t know; perhaps because our interests, whatever they might be, might become obsessions?” I said.
He appeared to ignore me.
Cansa put the coffee cup down and cracked his knuckles. He was a man with mischief in his eyes, and yet there was something that said he was completely serious. I could see he was about to come out with something that would test me in order to guage my reaction, and see how much he could trust me, before he chose to confide in me. He was probably concerned that I would do some kind of hatchet job on him when I wrote my article.
I decided to go along with it for the time being and try to convince him I was on his side.
“Of course, life would be boring if we didn’t pursue our interests, I said.”
“Many of us believe that Harry Rubik was an initiate of an esoteric school,” he began, “who had something to say in his movies for anyone with eyes to see it. He must have known as early as making Time And Stars, his breakthrough film in the 1960s, that a video player would be in every home some day. And he put messages into his movies that no one else would spot without a pause button. He did so knowing that, given enough time, someone would spot them there – maybe not in his life time, but one day.”
“A hidden message?” I said. “Who would do something like that?”
“Probably he was hoping that the people who financed his movies wouldn’t spot them there. A good example would be that if you watch the film Supernova: Of Time And Stars, you can see an IBM computer logo on the astronaut Peter Stillman’s helmet. This is despite the fact that Rubik always denied that the computer, Shogun, trying to murder the crew of the starship ”Commerce” in the film, was supposed to be any kind of comment on real life events. But Rubik was a Jew, of course, and IBM helped to make the machines the Nazis used to organise their program of racial ‘purification.’ Well, it’s not a huge leap to think… a coincidence? You decide.
“But it’s not the only one. Not by a long way! Did you know Harry Rubik died six hundred and sixty-six days before the first day of the new millenium?”
“Did he?” I asked, a little doubtful. “So you suspect foul play?”
“The most far-out theory about Rubik’s death is that he died of natural causes. He was not an old man… Sixty-nine years old. Not that ancient in the present day and age…”
He looked out at the rolling waves that were visible beyond the windows of the small apartment. He seemed to be looking for something out there.
“So you’re saying that Rubik knew Century would be his last film, that maybe he went a little further than he otherwise would have done, revealing secrets that he knew could get him into trouble? That maybe he took his own life because he was somehow worried about what might happen to himself and his family?”
“Or someone else did. Either way, it makes little difference. Or the whole thing was just a cosmic coincidence! Take your pick. But you have to admit, Century shows a kind of preoccupation with cults. And one of Rubik’s daughters is in the Scientologists now, from what I’ve heard. Whether he himself had any connection with them, I can’t say.”
“Ugh.’ I shivered a little bit at the mention. To think that a man who had influenced so many people, whose films were watched around the world, might be something to do with a brain-washing cult made my nerves judder. “I hope not! But you said that you called me here to tell me something. You must have some good stories from working with Harry Rubik. I’m writing a piece about him, the man and his movies, as you must know. If there’s something you can tell me that I can put in…”
“Don’t,” he said.
“I beg your pardon?”
“Let me speak frankly with you. Don’t write the article, Mr Fencefive.” He became suddenly serious. I could have sworn the light in the room got a few lux dimmer.
“People in positions of power have a habit of being dangerous. Harry told me that, Mr Fencefive. And there’s been a million critical theories written about the films of Harry Rubik already. Let the film buffs think what they want to think. But don’t go raking over the man’s past. Let sleeping dogs lie. Many of those who knew him are still alive. They might not like what you uncover.”
“I know you were working on a film with Harry at one point. Why did it never happen? Was there something else that Rubik felt like he had to do?”
“Don’t,’ he said, turning pale, ‘Don’t write the book, is all I can say to you. Talk to Leonard Valentino, if you must know. He’s the only one who may be able to help you.”
“Thanks. I will. And you’ll help put me in contact with him?”
“I can’t,” he said simply, “I’m afraid I’m not a close personal friend of Mr Valentino. In fact I’ve never met him, and I don’t know too much about him. He can be a difficult man to get a hold of, from what people have told me – a little bit like his mentor, in that regard. If he wants to talk to you, no doubt he’ll contact you.”
“What does that mean?” I asked him, but he said nothing.
On my way out, back down the narrow stairwell, I decided to chance my arm: “Those books you put out,” I asked him, “what exactly are they about?”
“You wouldn’t find it interesting,” he told me.
As a matter of fact I well knew that Cansa Varley, the one time Hollywood scriptwriter, was now a new-age guru, of sorts: a prophet of various esoteric ideas about everything from alien visitors to the power of medicinal marijuana and a supposed conspiracy of central bankers to enslave humanity through something called the Federal Reserve system (look it up), promising illumination for the new internet generation. From the backlog of orders stacked up in envelopes upstairs waiting to go out to locations as far afield as Mingeborough, Massachusetts, I guessed that he must be doing well out of it.
Varley had been in Hollywood at the same time as the Manson family had been active in LA’s canyons, and perhaps being there had taxed his brain to the point where it had broken. For some reason he had retired here, by the sea. Maybe working with the notoriously awkward and truculent director, Harry Rubik, was enough to drive anyone insane? Although that would have come later, once he’d returned to England, wouldn’t it? Rubik, an Englishman by birth, had made his first films in The States, but had come to England after his initial success and seemingly disappeared into the studios where he had shot all the principal footage for his movies ever since. A noted control freak, he had been creating his own malleable reality on soundstage ever since. Rubik had married, and the rumoured homosexual affairs of his earlier life had been all-but forgotten (see page 103)… Different standards in those days, but still… From time to time people had wondered about what other secrets he might be hiding. since that time until the end of his life Rubik had lived in seclusion, remaining behind the gates of his vast country estate, venturing out only to make his films in the controlled environment of a London studio, sending crews to get what location shots he needed and building vast sets behind closed doors in which he could control everything, his own life-sized fantastical playroom.
From my research I’d already guessed that Varley was a classic paranoid, a bit like Rubik himself had become in his later years. And with good reason it seemed: if a half of what he told me was true, then by exposing our ‘secret masters’ he could be putting himself at risk. Although he didn’t seem to have any problem with putting his face on a the cover of a magazine or touting his books for sale online or on US cable networks.
I think people like Varley are kind of attention seekers – people who have the desire show how clever they are whilst talking about something that can’t ever be completely disproved, the more unlikely and controversial the better. Seing as you can’t prove a negative, the things that they conspiratorially suggest sinister people don’t want us to know continue to haunt our nightmares. It’s kind of like a 21st century religious mania. I think that paranoia and conspiracy theories have replaced the hole once reserved for religion in people’s thought, in the same way that 21st century ‘brain-washing’ and conditioning through the media have replaced old-fashioned structures of control.
“Just one more thing,’ I asked as I was leaving, as he was closing the door behind me: ‘What do you know about alien skulls?”
“Oh no,” he said, “I had to stop telling that story long ago. I am not touching that one with a long pole. But if you manage to get any change out of that old bastard Len Valentino, come back and talk to me. I’d love to put a few questions to him. If anyone can help you learn anything about the old man, he can.”
“You don’t think he’ll talk to me?” I asked him.
“He doesn’t talk to anyone. Just the occasional interview about 5.1 transfers and aspect ratios, technical stuff,’ he told me. ‘Still, if we want to get to the truth about things we can but try – people like you and I.”
* * *
The newspaper page was an old article by a reporter who had gone to talk to Cansa himself as part of a larger piece on “The Legacy of The Films of Harry Rubik.” I took a look at who had written it: Jonathan Fencefive, was the guy’s name. I had never heard of him, although that hardly seemed surprising. His prose was turgid, full of run-on sentences, and seemingly ignorant of journalistic convention.
At the top of the crumpled piece of newsprint Cansa had scrawled “cease your investigations, they can do you no good.” Any clues as to the publication where the article might have originated had long since been torn or rubbed off.
At the end was a piece taken from another article as a footnote.
It said that Jonathan Fencefive had disappeared…