James W. Shoffner
Some things are done for more
Justin Geoffrey, The People of the Monolith (New York, 1923):
The Associated Press, 22 December 1979:
NEW YORK (AP) -- French Director Corman Abbé has joined with Tartarus Productions to film "People of the Monolith," based on the poetry of Justin Geoffrey. The big-budgeted production is scheduled to begin June 2.
Location sequences will be filmed in Britain and Hungary, with interiors to be shot at the Tartarus studies in Hollywood. An international cast of performers will be recruited.
"People of the Monolith" is described as an expressionistic story of mystery and terror. Abbé will produce, direct, and write the screenplay for the film
Cinemacabre (vol. III, no. 2), Spring 1980:
His admirers call him The Priest.
In the last three years Corman Abbé (abbé is a French clerical title, hence the nickname) has shocked and mystified cinema audiences with his darkly evocative adaptations of the world's classic macabre verse. His private studio has turned Shelley's "Ozymandias" and Poe's "City in the Sea" into celluloid visions of haunting beauty unequaled -- according to many viewers -- in the history of filmic art.
The man behind it all is known equally well as a unique personality. Standing six feet seven inches in height, Abbé is completely bald and over his blind left eye wears a fabulous ornament -- an eyepatch of black onyx set in a close-fitting circle of fashioned gold. Born in 1917 of a French peasant girl and an unknown American soldier, Abbé came to the United States as a seaman in the early Depression years and was granted citizenship in 1939. He served in the Pacific during World War II and returned with the beginnings of wealth -- a footlocker and duffel bags crammed with ritual masks, sacrificial robes and lava-carved totems from the islands. With these he set up a small curio shop in New York and, with time, made enough money to open two more locations. In 1955 Abbé shaved his head and became one of the last Westerners to travel in Tibet before the Chinese sealed its borders. In Tibet he acquired two genuine yeti scalps -- later sold to private collectors for undisclosed sums -- but lost an eye at the hands of a cruel Red Guard officer named Tsung Li-Ho (the same Tsung Li-Ho who is now premier). Abbé fashioned the famous onyx eyepatch for himself and in 1962 sold his curio shops and returned to his native France, studying filmmaking at his Linné estate until the release of Ozymandias in 1977. Two years later City in the Sea cemented his reputation as a genius of "cinema fantastique." He opened his house to admirers and researchers, for within its walls was the largest collection of fantastic and macabre films outside the Chaney Foundation archives -- tens of thousands of films dating back to the 1890s, including such priceless items as the notorious Argentine "snuff" movies and the only surviving color print of Hitchcock's Psycho.
Late last year Abbé announced plans for his third film, People of the Monolith, based on the poetry of Justin Geoffrey. He also announced that a major studio, Tartarus Productions, will finance the venture. We visited The Priest at his palatial estate-museum at Linné and secured this interview ...
CINEMACABRE: Mr. Abbé, you have privately financed each of your previous films. Why are you joining with a large commercial studio to produce this one?
ABBÉ: There are two reasons. The first is that People of the
Monolith will be an adaptation of an entire volume of connected verse, and the film will thus require a much larger production budget than Ozymandias and City in the Sea, which were adaptations of short single works. The second reason is that the studio will ensure that the film receives the proper publicity and distribution, both of which I, alone, could handle only in a limited way.
CINEMACABRE: Why have you chosen to adapt an entire volume of verse?
ABBÉ: People of the Monolith is a cycle of poems so delicately interconnected and interwoven that it would be an insult to the poet's memory if only a portion were filmed out of context. Justin Geoffrey, the poet, did not compose his powerful verse to be sampled in single units.
CINEMACABRE: Can you tell us something about him?
ABBÉ: Geoffrey was a poet -- a genius -- in the Baudelairean mold. He experienced a series of frightening dreams as a child and began writing poetry, inspired by the dreams, at the age of eleven. His only two collections, People of the Monolith and Out of the Old Land, are long out of print, but bits of his work can be found quoted by the fantasists Howard and Lovecraft. In 1921 Geoffrey visited the Black Stone in Hungary, and died a lunatic five years later. A terrible waste.
CINEMACABRE: What about his poetry?
ABBÉ: The poetry of Justin Geoffrey is exclusively macabre, dealing with dark gods, forbidden lands, and nightmarish dream-visions from man's past. He was greatly influenced by a German work called
Unaussprechlichen Kulten, which catalogued ancient cult-worships of a particularly grisly sort.
CINEMACABRE: You mentioned that Geoffrey's verse concerned "visions from man's past." What do you mean by this?
ABBÉ: Well, Jung called it the racial unconscious, but whatever the name, it is nothing less than a feeling of psychic familiarity -- kinship, if you will -- with forms and shapes that could have had their origins only in the distant, early stages of our evolution. Geoffrey knew how to introduce and manipulate such shapes so that the reader experiences sudden shocks of recognition, or sometimes feelings of vague uneasiness, at things which have no existence in the modern world. These alien things create stirrings of fear and unease because they are buried in our unconscious minds, left over from forgotten ages as psychic, memory-triggered alarms.
CINEMACABRE: Alarms warning us of what?
ABBÉ: Warning us not to remember too much -- not to remember that we weren't always human.
CINEMACABRE: Why should this memory be dangerous?
ABBÉ: Because most people can't cope with it. Most people simply cannot accept that their own ancestors, however many millions of years ago, passed the nights reveling before strange altar-fires and eating the brains of their fallen comrades. When forced to accept this by memory-jogging images dredged up from the past, the realization is often too much to bear. The insane asylums of the world are filled with crippled minds that know more of man's evolutionary past than you and I, if we are lucky, ever will.
CINEMACABRE: Will these "memory-jogging" images come through in your film?
ABBÉ: That's hard to say. The rule in imaginative cinema is that whatever can be written can be filmed, but the question here is whether it will be filmed. There are limits.
CINEMACABRE: Limits of taste, of shock impact?
ABBÉ: Of shock impact, yes. Movies like Psycho and The Exorcist, and stage plays like marat/sade, gained fame with their ability to raise an audience's hackles, but truly deep psychological shocks have so far been unobtainable in mass-media films. It is true that viewing of certain films had induced labor spasms in pregnant women and has caused emotional damage to already unbalanced persons, but these instances are rare. Even such "sensory enhancement" gimmicks as 3-D and Sensurround, while promising even greater -- though artificial -- audience involvement, have failed to cause significant psychological traumas in the viewing audience.
CINEMACABRE: Such as ... ?
ABBÉ: Such as technical feasibility, the willingness of the studio to cooperate, the problems of censorship and rating-code restrictions, and, ultimately, whether I decide to even try.
CINEMACABRE: Do you think you will want to try?
ABBÉ: I really don't know. Threatening an audience's collective psyche can be a dangerous thing. We don't begin shooting till June, so there is still time to chart a different course for the film. The only definite thing I can say at this point is that People of the Monolith will be worthy of its literary precursor. On points other than that, I can only advise you to wait for the film's release -- probably within three years.
Cinemacabre (vol. III, no. 3), Summer 1980:
I found your interview with Mr. Corman Abbé (Spring '80) very enlightening, but wish to point out that Geoffrey's raving verse may not be a fit subject for a mass-media film production. Mr. Abbé, as quoted in the interview, seems to be aware of the psychologically destructive potential of his material, and this knowledge hopefully will refrain his directorial hand from creating a work so deeply charged that even his prodigious talents cannot control its effects.
It is not comforting to realize that the poet himself died screaming in a madhouse.
Magnon Sanderhan, Ph.D.
The Associated Press, 24 June 1981:
STREGOICAVAR, Hungary (AP) -- Three members of an American film crew were stabbed to death near here Tuesday night. Their alleged assailant died of a heart attack shortly afterward.
Cinematographer Mario Tosci is believed to have murdered Louis Sheaffer, Timothy Blackmun and Armand Lund as they camped on a cliff above this small village.
Tosci and the three victims were members of an American movie crew filming "People of the Monolith" under director Corman Abbé. They were stationed near the site of the Black Stone, an ancient basalt column, to watch over equipment left overnight for location filming this morning.
According to local authorities, Tosci at dawn entered the hotel where the rest of the crew slept and collapsed in the lobby. A clerk said Tosci had muttered incoherently of "dark shapes" rising from the Black Stone.
Abbé and a party of crew members returned to the campsite and discovered the bodies.
Officials speculate that Tosci took advantage of his turn at watch and surprised the others while they slept. Each body had been stabbed repeatedly.
"We are all deeply shocked and saddened at the loss of our fellow workers," Abbé said today, "but we do not expect this tragedy to drastically alter our production plans. We are still filming."
Abbé added that he did not know what might have caused Tosci to kill the three men.
Production memo, Tartarus Productions, 10 September 1982:
FROM: Corman Abbé
TO: cast & crew
Our work on People of the Monolith is almost completed. I have yet to supervise the editing and sound-effects dubbing, but for all practical purposes the film itself is finished.
The recent abolition of the American and British review boards has, as you know, greatly simplified these final stages.
The film's world premiere is scheduled for December 24, at the Palace Theatre in New York City. I have elected to forgo the usual pre-screening for the critics; it is my belief that the reaction of the mass audience will be the best indicator of the film's merits.
Finally, and with the utmost sincerity, I wish to thank all of you for your cooperation in playing down the unfortunate incident in Stregoicavar last summer. Had word gotten out that the bodies bore bite-marks and evidence of cannibalism, our entire film production may have been terminated.
Adieu, and best wishes --
Opening titles, People of the Monolith (Tartarus Productions
NO ONE WILL BE ADMITTED AFTER THE FIRST FIVE MINUTES.
Tartarus Productions presents
PEOPLE OF THE MONOLITH
The New York Times, 25 December 1982:
MOVIE THEATRE COLLAPSES; OVER 1,300 FEARED KILLED
Midtown Manhattan's 55-year-old Palace Theatre collapsed Friday night, burying an estimated 1,300 - 1,500 moviegoers under tons of rubble.
Police officials said today there is little hope of finding survivors among the debris.
Estimates of the number of patrons, who were attending the world premiere of "People of the Monolith," ranged from a ticket-sales count of 1,383 to a seating-capacity total of 1,500. The latter figure includes guest patrons who were not sold tickets.
New York City Police Commissioner Alden McAllen said today the theatre's management was recently warned of weak ceiling beams, and that this structural flaw may have caused the collapse.
Emergency rescue work was still under way at 9 o'clock this morning. At least 790 bodies have been pulled from the wreckage.
Rescue efforts were hampered by a heavy snowfall and subfreezing temperatures.
According to the police, no emergency call was received from the Palace Theatre, possibly indicating that all inside were killed or disabled before such a call could be placed.
Several local merchants, police said, called the precinct fire station about 8:45 p.m. to report a noise resembling a bomb blast. When firemen arrived they discovered the theatre's roof had collapsed. The outer walls were still standing.
Firemen said there was no sign of life from the theatre when they arrived.
Police and firemen evacuated the area and erected roadblocks, then began searching for bodies early this morning.
"We can only be thankful the gas lines and electrical wiring didn't start a fire," Commissioner McAllen said, "or else we might've lost a whole block or more."
Several celebrities and public officials were said to have been attending the movie at the time of the disaster, but their names had not been released at press time.
Corman Abbé, the director of the film, was reportedly in Los Angeles to promote a scheduled premiere there next week. He could not be reached for comment.
Supplement to coroner's report, N.Y.P.D., 30 December 1982:
In addition to the preliminary conclusions given in the official report (PALACE THEATRE/12-24-82), your attention is requested in reference to two facts: (1) all the bodies thus far examined display signs of severe shock and massive cardiac arrest, which appear to have occurred coincident with, or possibly prior to, the time given for the collapse of the theatre; (2) a majority of the bodies thus far examined bear semicircular puncture wounds -- similar to those produced by human teeth -- as if the patrons, at some point, had attacked each other in a cannibalistic frenzy.
It is respectfully recommended that a medico-psychiatric panel be appointed in order to further investigate these matters.
The Associated Press, 31 December 1982:
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Corman Abbé, the director whose "People of the Monolith" was being premiered at the time of New York's Palace Theatre disaster, has announced he will withdraw the film from public distribution.
Abbé said today he plans instead to provide the film at a private screening for Chinese Premier Tsung Li-Ho next month.
"I met Tsung several years ago in Tibet," Abbé said, "and I fell I have a sort of personal debt to repay him."
Abbé gave no reason for the film's public withdrawal ...
Created: August 11, 1997; Updated: August 9, 2004