24th April 1924 (continued)

The Atlas Studio complex was certainly impressive. A large number of huge, white buildings surrounded by a high wall. Pretty much a self-contained town with hundreds of people filling it’s streets all of which bustled about with energy and purpose. It was all a world away from the faded glories of the New York film industry.

We were met at the gate by a guard who gave us a tour of the facilities. We noticed a large, black framed picture of Von Varnstein prominently placed on one wall. As the guard showed us around we were approached by an unkempt, possibly drunk, figure in a stained, beige suit. The guard shooed him on his way but not before we were able to recognise the once dashing and dapper James Raven. However when I asked the guard if it was indeed Raven he told me I was mistaken.

Once the tour was over the guard asked if there was anything else we wanted to see so we asked him to take us to Von Varnstein’s office. The good news was that the former director’s office did not look like it had been touched since his untimely death. The bad news was that it seemed rather Spartan consisting of little more then a desk, a filing cabinet, a couple of chairs and a trash can. Undaunted we set to work searching and were soon rewarded with some interesting finds.

Prof. Deveraux found a scrap of film negative in the trash basket. The film was melted along one side but had “Out-take reel 2 Babylon” written on it.

Tucked out of sight in the desk I found a sheath of handwritten notes. The writing was in German, luckily for me my father had been proud enough of his Germanic roots to make sure I was versed in the language. The writing was plainly Von Varnstein’s. It was not quite a journal more a stream of ideas. It took quite a bit of reading but it soon became clear that Von Varnstein was obsessed with the notion that some supernatural force or entity was disrupting the filming of Prince of Babylon. He believed that this force was effecting the cast and crew, especially Raven (who he described as “weak” and “overrated”). Further Von Varnstein had been experimenting with a combination of exotic lenses and developmental chemicals that he believed would allow him to capture this force or entity on film.

In the filing cabinet Dr. Ewers found thick files bearing the names of several of Von Varnstein’s movies including one labelled “Prince of Babylon”. The file contained production papers; bills of sale, deeds, contracts, etc. While most of the paperwork would only be of interest to an accountant or a lawyer my colleges did find two things of note. One was a contract for the rental of Devil’s Canyon for use in filming. The contract was for 24 months (which meant it was still running ). It listed the owner of the canyon as a Mr Dennis Smith and gave his address in Lucern Valley.

The second document was a receipt for the purchase of “special” photographic lenses from a company called Glendale Photographic Systems.

We believed that we had found all that was of interest in Von Varnstein’s office but before we left the studios we were determined to find a script of The Prince of Babylon. Our guide took us to a rather musty building where an achieve of shooting scripts were to be found. A search soon revealed that there was no script for Prince of Babylon. When we asked our guide about this we were told that director’s like Von Varnstein tended to improvise their films as they went along and scripts were probably not written until the day of shooting and perhaps not even then. There might, he suggested, have been a script editor on set who took dictation from Von Varnstein.

Returning to Mr. Winwood’s home we discussed our discoveries. We were eager to have a closer look at the film we Prof. Deveaux had found. I asked one of Mr. Winwood’s servants if their employer had a slide projector and was directed to his private cinema! Although I had never used a film projector before it appeared straight forward enough and, after an initial hiccup of getting the picture upside down, was able to project the images on to the big-screen. The three images that we were presented with were pretty much identical except for varying degrees of damage.. That wasn’t too much of a surprise, moving pictures run at 25 frames a second so the three frames that we had would have passed before the viewer’s eyes in three twenty-fiths of a second.

They were probably part of what I believe is called “an establishing shot” and depicted a mountain range, some sand-dunes and an exotic looking palace. Both of the professors scoffed at the palace, declaring that it looked far more Arabic then Babylonian.

The day had brought us plenty of food for though and we retired to our rooms eager to continue the investigation in the morning.


Topics: Case of the Prince of Babylon |

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