Death and the Compass. 1992, dir. Alex Cox, starring Peter Boyle, Miguel Sandoval, and Christopher Eccleston.
This film, posted to Dailymotion by the BFI, is an adaptation of Jorge Luis Borges’s short story of the same name. It’s a strange, flawed piece of cinema, and in a lot of ways it’s not very good. The acting can be pretty wooden, and the sound mix is positively dreadful. It’s also stylized to a fault, brilliant with color, packed with beautiful, demented electronic carnival music. (If anyone can help me get a CD of Pray For Rain’s dazzling score, I will be forever grateful.) It’s not pure Borges, as the spare bones of the original short story have been filled out with a bizarre noir sensibility unhappily married to a fantasia of twentieth-century Central or South America (Borges’s own Argentina, perhaps?). But I found that it was worth watching for all that; there’s something compelling about any representation of Borges’s work on screen, even imperfect.
Gibson’s fondness for Borges is well-known, and he wrote a preface to the New Directions edition of Labyrinths published in 2007. And it is perhaps also worth noting, when you watch this film, that its detective-hero Erik Lönnrot wears an amazingly vivid blue suit, and that his downfall can be interpreted as a case of apophenia. I don’t know if Gibson has ever seen this film, so these resonances may all be pure coincidence. For which, as Win Pollard would point out, we must always leave room.
From “An Invitation By William Gibson”, published in Labyrinths, 2007:
I do, however, remember the sensation, both complex and eerily simple, induced by my first reading of “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius” while seated in that green chair.
Had the concept of software been available to me, I imagine I would have felt as though I were installing something that exponentially increased what one day would be called bandwidth, although bandwidth of what, exactly, I remain unable to say. This sublime and cosmically comic fable of utterly pure information (i.e the utterly fictive) gradually and relentlessly infiltrating and ultimately consuming the quotidian, opened something within me which has never yet closed.
Or without me, possibly, I hungrily and delightedly saw, as Borges’ hallmark corridors of mirrors opened out around me in every direction. Decades later, now, I understand the word meme, to the extent that I understand it at all, in terms of Tlön’s viral message, its initial vector a few mysteriously extra pages in an otherwise seemingly ordinary volume of a less than stellar encyclopedia.