by James Killough
I don’t know if other blogueurs do this, but I dream sometimes about my daily post, and I’m so utterly convinced it’s what I should write about that I sit up in bed and try to make myself remember. More than a couple of posts so far have been written in the middle of the night with a pen and a notebook by my side.
I know that last night I dreamed about director Marcus Nispel, I guy I wrote for and developed films with for a couple of years at the turn of this century. I dreamed I should blog about Marcus and commercials, and the whole thing was brilliant when I was dreaming about it, except not having kept paper and pen by my bed I don’t remember how to reconstruct that brilliance. We’re just going to have to go for something more mundane today, but leading with the same subject.
Marcus is responsible for several of my more memorable Hollywood Moments, the fondest of which is when I played tennis with him at his house in Malibu after a script meeting. He and I were developing a rather genius concept for a biopic about the life and times of his guru, Bhagwan Rajneesh, which he wanted to tell through the eyes of fellow Rajneeshi, Ma Dorothy Moreno, Wizard of Oz writer L. Frank Baum’s great-granddaughter. Ma Dorothy was a “sand-play” therapist, who used little figurines of Oz characters in a sandbox as a form of creative psychotherapy with her patients. You identify with one of the characters — presumably Ma Dorothy’s namesake, Dorothy, which isn’t setting the stage for transference between patient and shrink, no, not at all — and then play with the others in the sandbox, act out your childhood traumas, etc. Always sounded a bit gritty to me, too tactile, not to mention very weird.
But that was Marcus’s world: opulent, because at one time he was the world’s highest-earning commercials director; inspired and creative, because he is an extraordinary visualist; and weird, because he is an adherent of Rajneesh, owns the largest collection of works about his guru in the world; and because you find yourself playing tennis with this bearded German wearing saffron or maroon clothes he has had dyed for him, bestrewn with a large-bead mala necklace with his guru’s image in it, on a court abutting the Pacific, and afterwards he says to you, “I never really thought about the fact you are gay until I played tennis viz you.”
Tennis makes everyone gay. It was once a sport dominated by gheys, until the Agassis and the McEnroes came along and pushed us out of our own sandbox. Tennis is gay because it’s a wrist thing.
For those of you not even vaguely aware of the nightly news when Ronald Reagan and Ed Meese were sweeping up this country, and others, Bhagwan Rajneesh was a brilliant, literally colorful character, most noted for his penchant for Rolls Royces. At one point, he had ninety-six of them. His disciples were not just wealthy, they were extremely wealthy, and they gravitated towards this spiritual genius, who made pronouncements like “I am the opposite of Buddha. I have renounced poverty.” He had more than just that to say, of course. He “spoke” over sixty books, and he was funny, and profound, and right in the early days, and advocated sex as therapy, which is awesome, but which also led to mandatory HIV testing for anyone entering a Rajneesh ashram anywhere in the world. And it’s ambivalent as to where he stood on gheys, but religions generally don’t approve of us because we don’t contribute to the propagation of the congregation.
Troubles started when Rajneesh committed his greatest folly, which was to open a massive ashram on the “Redneck Riviera” in Oregon in 1981. It was a mess, they got into trouble with the locals in a town called The Dalles, and when opposition to Rajneeshpuram incorporating itself as a separate municipality erupted, Rajneesh’s right hand, a crackpot paranoid obsessive named Ma Sheela, to it upon herself to launch a bio-terror attack on The Dalles by poisoning the entire town.
Well, gosh darn it, wouldn’t ya know it, Rajneesh & Company were deported! Him being an Injun, and all. Dot, not feather. And the others weren’t too Amurikan, neither. He lived out the rest of his days in Pune, India, getting high on laughing gas every day in a dentist’s chair in a round, mirrored room. A fitting self-created shrine for the guru of narcissists. He died in 1990, probably of natural causes, but conspiracy theories abounded, as they do around any important person who has himself attempted to poison an entire town.
The biggest conspiracy theory is that Rajneesh was irradiated with a nuclear blanket. On the way to being deported from Oregon, Rajneesh was held overnight in a cell in Houston. When any government deports you, they are not going to treat you like a visiting dignitary. There was a moment when, tired and cold, Rajneesh asked for a blanket from a guard, who gave him an irradiated one allegedly supplied to him by Ed Meese with Ronald Reagan’s blessing. This led to Rajneesh becoming sick and needing laughing gas and things like that for the next six years until he died, from whatever it is irradiated blankets the INS in Houston was dishing out in those days. Nobody is sure.
So, my task under Marcus was to tie in the Bhagwan Rajneesh story with The Wizard of Oz as seen from the point of view of L. Frank Baum’s great-granddaughter, Ma Dorothy. As bat-shit crazy as it sounds, it worked. Really fucking well. It will never be made just because it is bat-shit crazy, and nobody really cares about an Indian guru with ninety-six Rolls Royces on laughing gas, certainly not enough to invest the thirty million plus it would take to make it, at least.
As close as I am to Marcus in spirit as a madman, and as a friend because I have the deepest affection for him, I’ve never seen either of his films, the remaking of Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Halloween… ooops, sorry, Friday the 13th. But as he once said about my kind of film, “I love to watch them, but I would never make them.” So much for two and a half years tinkering with Bhagwan. But back then Marcus hadn’t made up his mind up yet as to what he wanted to do, and he has chosen the right direction for himself. It’s unlikely that I’ll see Conan 3D, either, but I wish him gazillions at the box office. I’m sure it will be packed with some spectacular visuals in there, like nothing you’ve ever seen. Because that is Marcus’s brilliance.
In my desperate attempt to renounce poverty, I am off for a few days to direct a couple of commercials, some worthy scripts, great team, so we hope for the best. It’s because I’ve been prepping for these that I dreamed of Marcus Nispel, I imagine. And, if I think about it, not a few skills I bring to the set were learned at his side, so big deal if I worked on yet another screenplay that went nowhere. Wouldn’t be the first time, or the last.
See you on the other side.