Sunday, 19 September 2010


On page 367 of his labyrinthine history of film 'VIZ-A-VIZUAL', scholarly Teuton L. Bosch cites a Romanian text written by the shamanic historian Nicolae Nicolescu, who articulated the fate and epitaph of Vincenzo Loao, a local baron of mixed parentage who fell from his horse and died in 1913. Nicolescu centres on Loao as the primary symbol of what he calls 'Tigan tau' (loosely translated as 'gypsy tao'), a minor fad in parts of Eastern Europe during the early decades of the 20th Century.

Loao sustained a head injury in his fall, but lived long enough to insist on a message for his own headstone. It was a mixture of Romanian, Portuguese and indecipherable words. His younger brother, the stout Dmitri, dutifully saw to it that his wishes were adhered to, without understanding the message. Fragments could be made to make sense, if forced- one line that most agreed on was 'the hummingbird cannot be seen to move' although some argued that it was more like 'the hummingbird moves so quickly no-one can see', a subtle difference, but a difference all the same.

Nicolescu, dipping beyond local folklore located a theory, and it centred on what L Bosch described as 'a Twilight Zone dreamache, a Borgesian hello, a whole philosophy rendered so cryptic as to be unseen'. Study of Loao thus far had dismissed his interest in religion, in particular that 'derivation of Eastern transcendentalism fed through a Dead Sea gauze and winged with Romany blood rituals and flower-theory' that Nicolescu calls key to 'his attempts at understanding mortality.' Nicolescu was knee-deep in this when a development came and changed his book.

March 1966: a publican in Bucharest found two reels of film in his basement that could not be identified. Rather than handing them to the authorities, he was persuaded by a patron of his bar to let them be taken to a local intellectual known only as 'Gheorghe'. An acquaintance of Gheorghe's identified the main actor appearing in both films as Vincenzo Loao, the exotic part-foreigner who had died fifty years earlier. His striking black features and his long frame (Loao being, by various accounts, anywhere between six and seven feet tall) was verified by many in Loao's hometown, just twenty miles from the capital. Gheorghe noticed that some locals refused to look at the films, despite them both being only seven minutes in length, and containing only innocuous footage of Loao walking, dancing and performing a quiet array of poses for the camera.

Frustrated by the apparent superstitiousness of the locals, Gheorghe was about to leave when a mute and almost blind man gestured to him from the trees. He led Gheorghe through the woods in near dark until he came to an apparently abandoned barn. He gestured for Gheorghe to go inside, where there was nothing except a pile of wood in the centre of the building, prepared as if for a fire. The old mute walked to the pile, lifted the wood and pulled out a can of film. On it was drawn a small white symbol. He pointed to this carefully, and then placed the film in Gheorghe's hands, gesturing for him to leave quickly.

It was another film of Loao. This time twelve minutes in length. Although slightly deteriorated, the long dark gentleman can be seen throughout, performing several poses that appear to be akin to a slow martial art. It still made little sense.

But then: in 1967, Gheorghe received an anonymous package. It was another film, much like the previous ones. Another arrived a month later, and yet another within two weeks. He received a tip-off of a Loao film turning up in Sarajevo, and retrieved it by train. Another was sent to him by an acquaintance in West Berlin, who had no knowledge of his search. When Gheorghe was interviewed by Filmdat, a Greek periodical later that year, he drew attention to the films, and received an influx of new material. A stockbroker in London sent him a piece from his collection, that showed Loao on a horse approaching a castle; a projectionist at a picture house in Queens, New York sent a film to Gheorghe that had been found amid reels of fading previews and curled B-movies.

In all, there were twenty pieces of film, all starring Loao. Gheorghe pieced them together as best he could, but could make no sense of them. He was convinced of a narrative, but could not recreate it.

Nicolecu writes: 'Gheorghe tried it all; tried plying them in every possible order. Still, they only glowed with suggestion. But then, something strange happened. When trying to change from one reel to another, Gheorghe's projector chewed two reels into its mouth and threw them onto the screen simultaneously; the two images (one of Loao performing an odd karate; one of Loao miming fishing) were combined, and created an entirely new shape: and behold! when Loao moved into a lotus position, and this was now juxtaposed with him riding a horse near a castle, one could see something forming: new shapes, appearing like hieroglyphics, his body shapes forming letters, sentences: there is an A, hard and angular, there is a C, soft but clear. And the Gheorghe remembered Loao's epitaph, regarding the hummingbird, and pondered that the film stock may be wings, which, when beaten together at ferocious pace would cause order to come... and after many weeks of re-watching and watching, Gheorghe discovered the statement that Loao had left and hidden. The sped-up images of contorted body parts combined to spell out the following:

'I have nothing to say... There is no more... my body is dead... I cannot believe in a world that exists without me... therefore I must be alive... forever more.'

Post-script: the identity of 'Gheorghe' has never been fully known. Some postulate that he was in on a hoax, that he was a Loao, or similiar; some suggest he is non-existent, a surrogate created by Nicolescu. Details do not suffice.

Pe Avioanele Invizibile Directed by Dmitri Loao Starring Vincenzo Loao Release Date US/UK: N/A. Shown in its edited Gheorghe inspired form at MOMA in 2001.

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