Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Til Human Voices Wake Us: THE BERMUDA DEPTHS (1978)

Hurricane Dorian spiraled over the Bahamas over this past Labor Day as I watched the ABC Friday Night Movie THE BERMUDA DEPTHS (from 1978) via Warner Archive DVD-R. Crystal blue skies, clear crystal white beaches, clear turquoise water, coral reef footage humming with moody folk love song theme, beautiful young lovers dripping with salt water, mostly tranquilized sea levels and oceanic temperatures, and giant (and I mean giant) turtle occasionally rising like Moby Dick x Gamera to bump his head on an unconvincing helicopter in the name of Triangle-style Satanic vengeance. After it, before it, during it, I was regularly checking in with the wide-eyed barometrically-hip denizens of 'Weather Underground' on The Weather Channel, to see where Dorian was projected to go next, and gawking at the crazy footage of in-progress devastation. Bahamas in tatters! Will... Bermuda be next?

Here's what you got to know about the Depths... once upon a time, circa 1977-79, the whole nation was "that way" about the Bermuda Triangle. From children upwards, all of America and maybe the world were thinking about that triangle and what might strange star portal, gate or devil might be hoovering up half the ships and planes that dared traverse it. The popular Leonard Nimoy-narrated docu-series In Search of....kicked off the craze with a triangle episode in 1977, Suddenly the book rack at the grocery store was flooded with books about it--including pictures!--the movie marquees flowed with documentaries and fictionalizations. "The Bermuda Triangle"... even today the name carries a sexy sea spray currency, like some cult around a strange expensive boutique water that promotes male potency. But all through those last years of the 70s, it was inescapable. 

Flick the channel ahead now to 2019: meteorologists stand before giant maps, caressing the predicted motion lines of swirling energy, pressure, precipitation like zephyrs in the sparkler air. Electric with apocalyptic anticipation, repeating themselves and their predictions, chanting national scientific barometric readings like druidic incantations and the unholy name -- Dorian... Dorian... Dorian, we worship thee. A thousand Moby Dicks worth of water and air swirl towards the TWC Atlanta headquarters, all so they might stand out in the wind and rain and be lashed while trying to talk to the camera. And all so we--at home--might feel extra dry and cozy. 

When I saw The Bermuda Depths over Labor Day, Dorian was circling around the Bahamas, twirling and whirling as if to bring the island chain to some monstrous extinction level vaginal vortex orgasm, a Cenobite maenad rending. The linked necklace of basic comforts that chokes us in the trap of civilized leisure snaps under Dorian's fury. Dorian leaves drowning souls clamoring at the ark's moss-slick sides. Those who drown don't die for long --but grow Satanic tails and squiggle towards a giant moon/egg/eye in the center of the center of the rift. 

The weather people scuttle over to B-roll of Floridians buying bottled water by the Price Club forklift. 

I hit play on the DVD player at the commercial, back ... to The Bermuda Depths and to.... her. 

Note similarity in outline of the rock to his hatted head as he sleeps,
Jenny emerging from his pineal gland, or where land meets ocean;
maybe the most beautiful photographic image in the history of Jungian archetypal symbolism?
(female/dream/ocean vs. conscious/man/sky.
Jennie Haniver (Connie Sellecca) appears at first like a distant black flame, framed in the picture window of a rocky outcrop (above): walking closer through the eye of the island where Michael Pitt-lipped wanderer Magnus (Leigh McCloskey) naps. She brings her own theme song--the indelible guitar of Vivaldi's "Concerto in D major for Lute and Strings RV:93 Largo"--and gazes down at him with loving eyes. A stirring flashback of their time as children on that same beach, raising a giant sea turtle together, even carving a heart with their initials on its shell, comes hazily out before us. She eventually left, without a word, swimming off on the turtle's back as Magnus slept upon the shore. He almost drowned trying to swim after her. And then, the night, after Magnus is in bed, his marine biologist dad decided to conduct some ominous experiment in a grotto under their beach cliffside house. Something to do with a giant unseen monster! It knocks half the house's foundations on on top of him while Magnus frets upstairs in his childhood bed. So many questions, but save them. It's all in the past, and that's why we're here, and maybe there is a connection and maybe there isn't. First, we got commercials coming.

The music is gorgeous; there are no clumsy voiceovers; no words spoken--nor read at all--anywhere in the first 12 minutes of the film. There is only Vivaldi, and that achingly lyrical folksy theme song (a signature of production team Rankin/Bass)... already burrowing into our souls and leaving us with a plaintive spiritual ache for our own lost ocean animas.. Jenny....

Have I only imagined her?
I still the feel the warmth from kissing her
I'll spend my whole life missing her 

Magnus, now grown, is back in Bermuda. He and Jenny meet again, along the day-for-night shores. We're as obsessed with her flawless raven-haired beauty as he is. She's so ethereal, desirable, anima-like, it's hard not to swoon. But he's only back in Bermuda to do a stint on a marine research vessel helmed by Burl Ives, with Carl Weathers, whose beautiful black muscles glisten in the blazing blue sun as he shirtlessly pilots their vessel out to sea. A marine biologist collaborator with his Magnus' late father's, Ives is researching gigantism in ancient triangle species, i.e. a turtle the size of a football field! But, is this the animal familiar of Jenny, the turtle they raised as children, or is it maybe a guise of the devil, her master, dictating her relentless lure of smitten sailors to the briny depths... of the Bermuda Triangle. Watch out, Magnus! She's a siren. Luckily you have Weathers to cockblock you at every turn.

Ives' wide-eyed black housekeeper (Ruth Attaway) tells Magnus that when Jennie Haniver was alive-- a century ago--she was so vain and beautiful that all the men on the island were in love with her. When her ship was caught in a storm and about to go down in the middle of you know where, she made a deal with "the other god, the one who swims below" to stay beautiful and young forever in exchange for an eternity of 'service' to the leviathan. She lives, notes the housekeeper, "out there" in "what you folks call... the Triangle."  Magnus refuses to believe his Jennie could be a ghost until she reminisces about when her father used to host 'quadrilles.' She invites him to dance to her ever-present Vivaldi soundtrack.... but is it the same giant turtle she swam away on that crushed his dad and house? Let it go, Magnus! And hold on tight!

ABC Friday Night TV movies like Depths made deep and lasting impressions on children like myself (I was 12), who had no voice in the prime time choices. Lucky for me my dad loved this kind of shit (unless football was on). We all loved In Search Of..., so a movie this weird and wondrous couldn't be missed. Somehow, though, it was. I have no memory of it. What else would we have been watching?

After its initial premiere, this weird intensely haunting film lay dormant for decades, gradually considered to be a folk myth told of in reverent hushed tones by the few kids who saw it. But decades later, through the giant claw machine of the Warner Archive, it is dredged from the depths, and it is a treasure. Though it's is a TV movie, its filmed on location and Bermuda has never seemed so beautiful. Jerry Sopanen's brilliant cinematography plus a perfect color restoration results in a blue sky, clear water, white sand, tanned limb clarity that leaves a hole in the heart, evoking among other things, Dali's magical paintings of Costa Brava. 

A kind of oceanic ghost story, Bermuda Depths sails the same currents as Night Tide and even the doomed romance between Bonehead and Lorelei in Beach Blanket Bingo. Maybe it's because I'm a Pisces, but I'm even haunted by Rankin's theme song. I was dissatisfied with the end but, after I switched back to the Weather Channel watched the twirling storm still just hovering over the Bahamas, I couldn't stop thinking about it, and her--Jennie-- with her raven hair, perfect olive tan, waterproof no-smudge eyeliner and the ability to reflect light from her eyes so they glow like a a pair of lighthouses beckoning before an otherwise jet black curtain


It's not an easy role to pull off well, as one needs to be--in a sense--a blank screen, to nudge the viewer's anima into using the coiled energy of the far-off hurricane to fire up its projector and feel once more that sense of hopeless longing that comes from one of Ego and Psyche's all-too-rare reunion. How could I blame the film for being true to the anima's nature, i.e., for all too quickly shutting the projector off again, before we can ever get quite enough? Carl Weathers busting in on us like a big black alarm clock like some resistant superego, we can only pine for her to come again the next time we dream.

And this is--alas--the anima relationship at its purest. The anima appears to us only that her absence may be all the more keenly felt. She does read our letters but doesn't answer. In a way, she even helps us write them - for our (male) ego is a projection of her unconscious as well.

It doesn't matter anymore. I am glad I bought this on DVD, and that the image is so gorgeously clear I can count the ocean's beaded rivulets down Connie Sellecca's luxuriant gamin limbs. I applaud the way the giant turtle is used so sparingly - appearing mainly at the climax, and fading away with an unforgettable dive into the depths and all the ensuing tarot-card ready references that connect The Bermuda Depths with the arcane language of the collective unconscious.

My early childhood anima - the mermaid girl from the old Marine Boy 
anime, from I was around 3-4. I was so
enthralled I think I cried when the show stopped airing. I still
remember her vividly, though not her name.

Though this dream girl aspect ("have I only imagined her?") often irritates me in other films, it works here as there's plenty of evidence she's more than just a male fantasy or a psychotic hallucination. The men who don't believe she's real are--after all--a pair of normal guys on a tiny dinghy who actually believe they'll be able to catch and reel in a turtle the size of a Victorian mansion all by themselves, in a tiny little research vessel not even half its size --and that's way weirder. And besides, Jennie is real to Magnus, and to us, watching. We never see him talking to the air, for example. Though she's never seen by anyone else (except Weathers--at the very end--and then we don't see the version of Jennie he sees, the image that causes him to buckle over in horror, but it's clearly not Connie Sellecca). 

Besides, if the Jennie the Mermaid element of the film was all done as some kind of Harvey-Walter Mitty style fantasy, we wouldn't even be having this conversation. Instead, by reveling nothing whatsoever the Depths delivers the full mythic power of an actual dream, the kind spend the rest of our lives trying to get back to... or forget about. The Bermuda Depths is one of the few films to ever tap fully into the true power of anima projection. The filmmakers know that if there was some big twist at the end, i.e. a mad scientist is behind it all and/or it's a scam and the scammer would have got away with it if not for those rascally kids, or if the film relied on any rational or even metaphysical 'explanation' for the mysteries, it would undo the spell. But the way it's all filmed, the way the story goes down, it never loses its Jungian "on-the-one" beat, where the film itself is a dream from which there is no waking, only a renouncement of one layer of the dream, which may or may not be a transition to adulthood, for another.

The problem is--as besets all young boys once they reach the end of elementary school--Magnus can't get a moment to woo his lady love because of his girlfriend-less rowdy buddies, his shipmates, ie. the Apollonian 'group' of men that lie in dialectic opposition to the male conscious/female unconscious Dionysian pair-bond. Even to a secret, gorgeous grotto Eric (Weathers) knows where to find him. Luckily, in all that time he's been away, no one has touched the wreckage of his family home, nor found the hidden grotto--but again, this all fits the Jungian model.

Why did he not hide from Carl? We did he heed that manly call, that friendly but nonetheless cockblocking Captain Bligh all-hands? He's Fletcher Christian pulled from his languid island hammock with comely Mauatua for another endless slog across the seas. Without a second thought, presuming she'll be waiting when and where he deigns to look for her, Magnus leaves his ghostly love to go fishing with Eric and Dr. Poulis (Ives), as they set about trying to catch a creature so massive that there is no boat big enough to do anything on but drown should they be unlucky enough to hook into it.

Earning his masters in marine biology while spending the summer with Poulis, Weathers' Eric mispronounces "coelacanth" but is otherwise letter perfect as the kind of guy whose energy is like a magnet for lost boys. After pointing out he and his father used to laugh when Magnus as a boy playing on the beach with his "imaginary" girlfriend, he then shrugs it off with a swig of beer, telling his young charge "you're all right, you're home." This brusque fraternal protectiveness is something Magnus is clearly drawn to (or he wouldn't be on the boat at all) and needs on some basic level. And we need it too! So does Weathers! He's clearly having a great time in Bermuda; he improvs freely, cracks open beers that you know are real beers, and struts around loving the sun just as the sun loves illuminating every striation of his rippling shoulder muscles. If Jennie is the anima, then Weathers is the Wild Man, as Ives is the sage. All three offer elements Magnus needs to incorporate in his psyche, but they are not necessarily in harmony. The Wild Man archetype and the Anima, especially, seldom even acknowledge each other, trying to dissuade the hero from hanging out with his other "imaginary" friend.

It doesn't make any sense--that Poulis and Eric would dismiss Jennie but think they can catch a deep sea leviathan with a tug boat and a little net--but that's part of the film's dreamy unease. Even in the safe normal reality championed by Eric and Poulis, things don't add up. Their quest exists as a kind of perennial cockblock. Any young man in the throes of a sexual (but ultimately "dry") dream knows that torturous frustration. Our anima will always be ours, only ours, forever.... but first --before she surrenders herself -- you have to just go do one little thing. The boys are calling you back from the siren's rocky ledge, just as she called you away from their slippery gangplank. Their calling back and forth ensures you are never really with either. "Wait here and I'll be back," you tell her. But of course she's never there if you do return. Either that or you never make it back. Not for years. 

But what does time matter for the unconscious? Time and space are illusions. In reality, there is only waves.

 Magnus, though, too, is an archetype. He's not just some dweeb as so many lesser movies of this sort are saddled with (the sort played by Matthew Broderick or Tom Hanks). He is the Parsifal (and McCloskey does a great job with this vague role); Burl Ives is once again the Fisher King (see #12 of CinemArchetype 24) and there's also Weather moving from Wild Man to the hanged man (literally, in a tarot sense, as man is dragged to the depths by his foot - those are pearls that were his eyes, etc.) - all on the one side; and the alluring anima, her monstrous familiar (in a Gamera-logical sense) and even a wild/wise woman (Attaway's amazing one scene as the black housekeeper / conjure woman / folksy exposition provider) on the other.

It breaks my heart but is because Magnus does leave Bermuda that this becomes myth. If he didn't, he'd be snared in the faerie bower of Eros (1). Aphrodite's scallop shell would close down on the he and Jennie like a submersible honeymoon coffin.  The dreaming ego always goes off with the guys when he can, otherwise there is no myth, only an enchanted knight slowly dying of hunger under the poppy trees, ministered to by a dozen doting fairies til he withers down to a junky skeleton. ++

Some call him Kurma



The production team behind the Depths are Rankin-Bass, names familiar to kids all over the 70s for the puppet-animated catchy tune-spattered Xmas specials we all saw every December, and still do, like Rudolph and The Year without a Santa Claus; and the first two animated catchy tune-spattered Tolkien specials - The Hobbit and Return of the King. They clearly knew a few things about how to tap into the deep strain of Jungian archetypal myth that can structure kids' psyches as they merge into the adult lane. Here they're working with same Japanese crew and director: Tsugunobo Kotani, with whom they'd teamed up with for the more-conventional The Last Dinosaur from the year before. But while that movie stayed a 'boy's life' Hemingway meets Edgar Rice Burroughs dissertation on machismo, The Bermuda Depths is infinitely more even-handed and light in its touch. Trying to talk about its brilliance is, as Tyrone Power says in Nightmare Alley, "like trying to put the ocean into bottles."  Like the waves going in and out on those beautiful white sand Bermuda beaches -- it captures that all things are fleeting.  At best, consciousness is just a skittish series of opportunities to practice the fine art of letting go, for one must let go, of everything, in the end - and the end is soon. It's been real, but now the sea nymph must return to the depths, lest she melt into a skull ala Sandra Knight in THE TERROR (1963) and the Vivaldi concerto end, replaced by... Diamanda Galas...


Enter 3 meteorologists, tracing their batons back and forth around the barometric reading map like junkies combing the carpet after the last grain is licked off the table, or conjure wives summoning demons from the depths of their cooking pots, roiling like coiling clouds over the Bahamas. Gesturing at the mimetic map as if to move the vortex through their swirling mimetic hand magic.

So as the swirling moves across time, space, and the spinning planet surface, is Bermuda's cosmic bill paid or will the hammer come down? No amount of blowing or fanning will change that spiral's mind. 

Up at Niagara, the Native American art museum is shaped like a turtle... It's been vacant for 22 years. I was there in 1989 with my girlfriend when it was open and full of Iroquois turtle imagery. The turtle carrying the world on its back, the incessant Falls, the force from which it gains its mighty roar...... my girl, her raven hair and crystal blue eyes... the turtle with the world on its... 

Am I still there? Am I ghost wandering that stricken empty shell? My ex had crystal Bermuda water blue eyes and raven black hair, pale skin and a lovely lips. But though she was everything I dreamt of, the roar of my band, of whiskey, and of inertia, all came first- no amount of hating myself could prevent it. 

Wait right here, I'd say....  I have a turtle to catch. It took me 20 years to get over her loss, yet I was so glad to be free of her (more of that in My Long Day's Journey into NIGHT OF THE IGUANA

Life was always going to be fleeting. We signed the waiver before we sailed. We're bound to remember we are all just waves that crash on the shore and leave only children, maybe, and photos of ourselves,  and mentions on the web that are only really 'there' if someone reads them. 
see: Godasiyo, the Woman Chief

The Bermuda Depths' theme song knows that horror, yet is sweet as any Rankin/Bass folksy theme. It might be friendly but it knows the power music had in the age of holding tape recorders up to TV speakers. It knows how we were once so anxious to capture any fleeting images of our beloved we would take photos of the TV, to somehow 'own' a reflection, knowing how futile that is. The sadness in the song "only imagined her" knows the almost religious importance we placed on things like 8x10 glossies, trading cards of our favorite movies, bands, and shows, of decals and buttons, of pictures cut out of magazines, traded like furs and guns. 

Now, in this internet age, the anima is harder to find for being so available. We are flooded with potential anima screens now, like the parade of hurricanes rolling out from Africa and around the and up the Florida coast before peeling out east  towards Bermuda or Nova Scotia. The Weather Channel crew traces their path on the empty blue  screen, commenting and gesturing, but there is no making the 'sea wife' come, only letting her go... when she's ready... Until then, she just sits there off the coast, in the deep, twirling in place, grinding the Bahamas down to a treelss, roofless nub. 

 It's only in her absence that she stays forever. That's the anima. 22 years later and the Niagara Great Turtle museum still stands, empty in shell but present in corner real estate. If you see her, say hello, but do not linger, lest your consciousness dissolve in the brine, its husk bobbing up and down in the waves, as she makes way for the next drowning man. 

But isn't that you, too? 

I still the feel the warmth from kissing her
I'll spend my whole life missing her 


Relevant Archetypes:

(Note: the key to this power is the image - Keep the old tactile 'real' photos of her on the beach or in front of the Falls from when you were young. Never look up her virtual pixel image on Facebook decades later, she will not look the same. No empty turtle shell still immortal just absent this time -your anima will shriek as if you caught it in the morning bathroom before it put its 'face' on. The true Jennie Hanniver at last.. Now your old photos just seem 'dead' - the anima has gone from this screen forever. That's Hollywood, and it's your problem. You looked back. And now your gaze itself is salt. 

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