Saturday, June 30, 2007

Masonic references in cinema: Kubrick's 'Killer's Kiss' and Buneul's 'The Exterminating Angel'

If you haven't seen it, I suggest you take a tour of the excellent Masonic website of the Grand Lodge of British Columbia and Yukon. Bro. Trevor W. McKeown has done an outstanding job over the past several years building "by hand" a treasurechest of interesting Masonic-related information.

One section of the site is devoted to "Masonic references in cinema." So far, he has a list of over 70 films that contain references to Freemasonry, from the blatantly obvious, like National Treasure or From Hell, to the obscure.

In the past couple of weeks, I've emailed Bro. McKeown about two older films I've recently seen that contained Masonic references. Neither film was on his list.

After some discussion, he decided one of the two movies didn't qualify because the two characters I see as Masons aren't identified as such. On the other hand, I see them as definitely being Masons, and perhaps symbolically representing even more.

I noticed this morning that the second film I told him about last week has been added to his list. Good! There's no mistaking the Masonic references in that one! What a movie!

The first movie is Killer's Kiss, from 1955. It was written and directed by Stanley Kubrick, who later wrote and directed such diverse films as Lolita, Dr. Strangelove, 2001: A Space Odyysey, The Shining, A Clockwork Orange, Barry Lyndon, Full Metal Jacket, and Eyes Wide Shut. Killer's Kiss is one of his early films, and it's the first one in which he's credited as writer. It's not one of his best. The story itself is weak and mostly predictable, but his presentation, with voiceovers and flashbacks, is skillful. His use of lighting and unusual camera-angles in this movie foreshadows the excellent films still in Kubrick's future. From our standpoint 50 years later, we know that Kubrick was a master at his work. We couldn't always understand or explain it, but yet we recognized his artistry all the same.

(Spoiler for Killer's Kiss follows.)

In Killer's Kiss, the hero is waiting on the busy city street outside his girlfriend's boss's office for her. Her boss's henchmen are about to be sent out to kill him.

Repeated cuts to two men, billed in the credits only as "conventioneers," show them drunkenly dancing their way along the sidewalks, from city block to city block. Both men wear red fezzes (without words or symbols on them) and black suits and ties. One is playing a harmonica, and both leap and dance like leprechauns, oblivious to the people on the street that they pass.

When the two men approach the hero on the street, however, they turn their attention to him, and suddenly, one of them grabs the hero's scarf from his neck, and both conventioneers turn and immediately run away. They no longer seem drunk. They run away with the agility of athletes.

The hero chases them, and eventually gets his scarf back. He then returns to the "scene of the crime."

While he was chasing the conventioneers, his agent (the hero is a semi-pro boxer) had arrived outside the office, looking for him. The agent, misidentified by the bad guys, was killed in the hero's place.

Thus, the conventioneers had saved the life of the hero.

Coincidence, or by plan? Were the conventioneers just a simple plot device, or did Kubrick have something more conspiratorial, or metaphorical, or allegorical, in mind?

Kubrick appears to be knowledgeable about Freemasonry, or so I like to believe. Eyes Wide Shut was about an elitist conspiracy, of which Masons are often accused. In Lolita, the star was James Mason. And two of Kubrick's films, Lolita and Dr. Strangelove, starred or co-starred famous Freemason Peter Sellers.

As Masons (Shriners must be Masons), were the two conventioneers there to "help, aid and assist" a brother without telling him? The storyline would have developed exactly the same no matter how the hero was temporarily relocated from his position outside the office. He could have been accosted by a street punk, or distracted by a little old lady, or any number of things on a city street. Why Shriners/Masons, er, I mean, conventioneers?

The second movie I saw recently was even more strange and surreal, but the Masonic references were a lot less subtle.

Mexican writer and director Luis Buñuel was known as the "Salvador Dali of Film," according to TCM's Robert Osborne. His Spanish-language El Ángel Exterminador (The Exterminating Angel), from 1962, is perhaps his most surreal and allegorical film.

Snobby dinner guests at a mansion won't go home. They can't leave the room. You get to watch society break down, literally. In Spanish, with English subtitles.

About 16 minutes in, in a crowded room, two characters give each other what might (or might not — I'm not telling) be a Masonic sign.

One of those men then asks the other the name of his lodge, which in English translated to Dawn Lodge No. 21.

Late night/early morning/dawn played a defining part in this bizarre picture.

Around 1 hour 15 minutes into it, one of the men lets out an unintelligible (to me — there was no subtitle given for it) cry that is then explained as the Masonic call for help. (By this time, they needed all the help they could get!) There was no doubt here the references were about Freemasonry; they used the word "Masonic."

The escape from their predicament could definitely be seen as a "resurrection," involving not only literal sacrificial lambs but also what you might consider a "memorized" ritual.

I'll say no more so that you'll enjoy it to its fullest, should you get to see it. I caught it on Turner Classic Movies earlier this month.

Image: Original theatrical poster for Stanley Kubrick's "Killer's Kiss"

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5 comments:

  1. I've always considered the funeral scene at the end of "Being There" as being either a veiled poke at masonry or out-and-out Illuminati reference... A collection of older, powerful men loading a casket into an eye+pyramid crypt and whispering to each other about who they should "make" the next president of the U.S.

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  2. Peggy Sue Got Married, with Kathleen Turner and Nicholas Cage.

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  5. uh... thanks, Shawn, for that most kind demonstration of Christian love and affection...

    you kiss your mother with that nasty mouth?

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