The MacGuffin Library
2008 Polymer Resin, Text, Video
A term attributed to Hitchcock, the MacGuffin is a cinematic plot device, usually an object, that serves to set and keep the story in motion despite lacking intrinsic importance. Famous examples include the statue from The Maltese Falcon, the glowing suitcase from Kiss Me Deadly, the bottle of Uranium in Notorious, and the letters of transit in Casablanca.
Originally commissioned for the exhibition “Wouldn’t it be Nice” at the Somerset House in London in 2008, The MacGuffin Library proposes the foundations for a library of MacGuffins, produced by authoring a series of film synopses which inform a collection of objects (currently numbering 18), addressing themes stemming from a disparate range of interests and inspirations: Re-enactments, Borges and Carver stories, forgeries, urban myths, the defining of high and low brow cinema, counter-factual histories, and the relationship between media and memory.
In collaboration with Onkar Kular and Keith R. Jones. Photographs by Sylvain Deleu.
With all of Europe and England conquered, Adolf Hitler now takes residency in his new home at Buckingham Palace, appointing Princess Margaret his bed warmer and Churchill his butler. Dr. Goebbels’s first priority as minister of the Anglo-Nazi Alliance is to pacify the English population, transforming them from insurgents into ardent supporters of the new Reich. With the Schutzstaffel demanding results, and his American nemesis Edward Bernays airdropping propaganda to undermine him, Goebbels’s only chance is to formulate an audacious public relations program, which if successful, could have the Brits goose-stepping from Brighton to Aberdeen.
In Crown Heights, Brooklyn, during the summer of 1971 and amid a stultifying heat wave, a Jewish orthodox community is terrorized by a string of savage murders. George Sealy, the only black detective on the NY Police force, is assigned the case and finds himself working with a people who despise him. Between a Captain who expects him to fail, and the community thwarting every part of his investigation, Sealy is increasingly alone and frustrated until he detects a mysterious pattern in the mutilation of three rabbis. What appears at first to be a routine murder case evolves into something much more profound: A race to decode the true name of God, and its unspeakable powers.
In a post-apocalyptic future, long after the seas have receded, leaving new continents where oceans once were, a band of travelers wandering across what was once the ocean floor attempt to reach a mythical land known as the Americas. Malnourished, diseased, seemingly lost in the endless dead landscape of the Atlantic basin, the travelers begin accusing their leader of a fraudulent vision. With the threat of mutiny and cannibalism looming, the leader, trusting of his map, severe in his resolve, continues to rally them on toward the chance paradise they seek.
The Rosenberg Passports
July 17, 1950: Julius and Ethel Rosenberg have only hours to flee the United States before they are arrested for treason. Scurrying from safe house to safe house as every police agency in the country hunts them down, the couple prepares to make the ultimate decision: Either surrender to the severity of the U.S. justice system, or escape the country without their two young children, which would mean relying on the handiwork of Joseph Cosey, an infamous forger, drug addict, and occasional FBI informant, who may or may not be sympathetic to their flight.
Here You Leave Today
Long denied the recognition, and corresponding fortune, he thought due him for creating Mickey Mouse, cartoonist Ub Iwerks, with a bitterness turned into bile, strikes back at Walt Disney by encrypting evidence that, if exposed, would damn his boss’s empire forever. Drawing coded messages into the single frames of the popular cartoons he is working on at the studio, Iwerks, fearing he has been found out, manages to send the decoding instrument to his son, just before a terrible accident befalls him while testing the Haunted Mansion ride.
While working at a large aerospace corporation, engineers Will Nicholson and Russell Blant are recruited by the “Enthusiasts”, a wealthy gentleman’s club, to build specialized sections of what its members refer to as “civilian fantasy machines”. Despite their interest in the project, the engineers find themselves unnerved about the increasingly bizarre and intricate components they are contracted to build. Kept blind to the total function of their work, Will and Russell begin to suspect that the parts they are designing have far darker purposes than innocent “Enthusiasts” would desire.
In rapid succession, a score of young women at the Cheltenham Academy are brutally murdered in elaborately diverse ways. The first is cut in half by a sheet of glass, another is impaled on a stick and skinned, the next is repeatedly knifed in the shower, still another meets decapitation by guillotine, and the last is boiled to death in the bathtub. With no leads or suspects, and with seemingly no connection to link the murders, Detective Monty Fry’s only chance in exposing the killer lies in determining the imaginative source of such grizzly spectacles.
Russian history students Katz and Wiseman, while researching the philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin’s Siberian imprisonment, happen upon the story of Sasha Kutsenov, head warden of the notorious Karelia Gulag. Based on fragments from letters Bakhtin wrote in the late 1930’s, they establish that Kutsenov forced inmates to construct, in the middle of the Siberian tundra, a full-scale reproduction of the Odessa steps. Documenting their three-month travels through one of the most remote and austere regions of the world, Katz and Wiseman set out to determine both the ultimate purpose of the Steps, and whether any evidence of them remains.
With the sudden death of her parents, Perrine Delaflote inherits a vast video library which holds a day-by-day documentation of her childhood, taken by her father, an obsessed amateur photographer. Arranged in weeklong segments, and numbering over 300 tapes, Perrine feels compelled to watch them through chronologically. But over the course of her viewing she finds that one tape is missing. Needing the library complete, Perrine, working from vague memories, decides to reshoot the missing footage herself, using her daughter as her substitute. Renting an old video camera, she takes her daughter back to her hometown and dresses her in her old clothes. But what started as a pleasurable return to her youth gradually develops into something sinister as the missing footage is remade.
Koons Balloon Mould
Sue and Rodney Sudgen, dedicated employees at the Barnsley Rubber Moulding Plant, are nearing retirement age with a measly pension looming and their health deteriorating. Determined to play a dignified endgame, they struggle to think up ways for two cottage industry workers to keep their heads afloat. Then one day, while Sue is riding the bus, a stranger accidentally picks up her magazine and leaves his “Art Review” behind. Flipping through it half-heartedly, she stumbles upon a layout that turns her near-hysterical with possibility, grasping instantly that with a little cunning and a lot of overtime at the factory, her and Rodney’s know-how can be put to far more lucrative use.
In a tree-lined suburb of Champaign, Illinois, Jason Ruby returns home with his son after a day at the park to find his wife missing. There is nothing taken from the house, and no trace of her left behind. Months later, a letter arrives in the post containing a photograph of a woman who would appear to be his wife lying face down on the bed of a motel room. He and his son drive days and nights across the American Midwest in search of the motel. Once found, the motel attendant can tell him nothing other than that Jason has been expected and that another letter is waiting for him. Within it, there is another photograph of a woman who appears to be his wife face down on the bed of a motel room, except in this photo something weird, something inexplicable has happened, something which Jason must understand before the next motel room is booked.
A to G
Social climbing, wife cheating, tennis pro Guy Haynes finds himself talking to charismatic but pushy stranger Bruno Anthony on a train. Amid the banter, Bruno boasts that he’s figured out how to commit the perfect crime: An “exchange” of murders between two complete strangers that would leave no evidence and no motive to connect the murderer to his victim. Though unnerved by the conversation, Guy thinks nothing of this chance encounter until his wife is found dead, and Bruno comes creeping back demanding that Guy fulfill his end of the bargain by killing Bruno’s father.
Two rogue documentarists travel to the Bonneville Salt Flats of Utah hoping to find evidence of a secret society of hotrod drivers known as the “550’s”, who, legend has it, orchestrate suicidal “chicken” races in the desert. Desperate to get their story, the filmmakers agree to be initiated into the 550’s, concealing cameras and microphones in their helmets. Thrown into a trunk, they drive for hours across the dark desert to an unknown location. When they emerge, the filmmakers realise too late that one of them will die at the hands of the other, and that the cars they drive are possessed by an evil that craves human blood.