PART II: THE LOST AND FOUND WEEKEND // Chapter Eight: How He Found Himself: 1

—It was dark but it was more than that, he realized. Not only was there no illumination, it was as if there were nothing to illum— [Wait a minute… Wait a minute! This is where we came in… Oh… You don’t remember?… Yes, you’re right… It’s been a long time… So, go back to the Prologue… Don’t worry… We’ll wait for you… Okay… You back?… Good… Let’s cut to—] But what really got to him was a photograph just to the right of the poster, a publicity shot of the director on the set of the film. The man in the photograph was standing between his two co-stars with an arm around each and a big smile on his face—Gil Hall’s face. A face which was also his own!

Now totally disoriented and bewildered he nonetheless had one clear and coherent thought: I’ve got to see this film.

Walking over to the ticket window which he noticed was fashionably old-fashioned, he walked boldly up to the girl behind the counter and said, “One, please.”

The girl, who looked to be about eighteen, was indeed a sight to behold. Her hair, what there was of it, was half-pink and half-blue with a raised ridge down the middle. She sported strange nose- and earrings, which seemed to change color every time she moved her head slightly. In a bored voice she replied, “SmartCard, please.”

Gil hadn’t the faintest idea what that might be, but he figured a card was a card so he dug into his wallet and presented her with his FineHall corporate charge card. “Will this do?” he asked in a rather patronizing voice.

In response she grabbed up the card and began studying it, frowning as if she were examining some ancient artifact that had just been dug up. Finally she looked at him and said, “Wow, a real antique. This must have set you back some, huh?” She gave him a grin. “Good joke though. Now let’s see your real SmartCard.”

Now Gil was totally at a loss. “I—I don’t know what you mean,” he stammered.

At that her face took on the expression of someone who had just realized that she’d been taken in by a monstrously clever joke. “Oh,” she said in a sly voice, “you can’t jape me. I know who you are.” She rummaged in a drawer just below the counter and came up with an envelope. “Mr. Hall said for me to give you this. You are Bertie Hallenbeck, aren’t you?”
The hits just keep coming, thought Gil, now thoroughly dumbfounded. He hadn’t been called Hallenbeck in quite some time, let alone Bertie.

But before he could respond the girl continued. “This is your free pass. Just show it to the usher and he’ll tell you where to sit.” She handed him the envelope and then, as if their business was concluded she turned her head and in her previously bored voice said, “Next please.”

Gil, who was an old hand at being summarily dismissed by women, meekly took his cue and turned away from the booth. Intrigued, he opened the envelope. Inside was the expected ticket with a seat number on it that read CC-1. But there was also a piece of paper folded up behind the ticket which he now pulled out and read.

Dear Bertie [it read],

I know you are totally disoriented and confused, but come in, sit where the usher tells you, and enjoy the movie, or your movie, I might say. Meet me after the double feature and all will be explained.

Your older self,
Gil Hall

Jamming the cryptic piece of paper into a jacket pocket, Gil saw no reason not to do as he was told. So, attempting an air of nonchalance but not bringing it off very well, he walked over to the entrance of the auditorium just as the lights began to blink, indicating that the show was about to start. He handed his ticket to a stony-faced usher in full 1930s gray uniform complete with cute little cap. The usher made no verbal response, but flicked on his flashlight and led Gil—or Bertie as we now must call him—down the aisle to his seat.

As he sat down in what turned out to be an aisle seat, he noticed that the seat to his right was occupied by a rather striking woman. As he surveyed her quickly with a practiced eye he noticed that she was slightly above average height for a woman, perhaps five-seven or five-eight and was of that rather indeterminate age that some people call, in a woman, mature—that is, not old or young and definitely not “middle-aged”. She had a head of luxurious medium-length brown hair expensively coiffed in that style which appears so natural that one knows it isn’t. Her face was neither strikingly beautiful nor plain, its best features being large animated blue eyes and soft pillowy lips that made Gil want to make her smile. She was wearing a sheath dress of some shimmery material that changed color as she moved slightly and her long shapely legs were encased in stockings of a similar but differently hued material. Shiny black patent leather low-heeled pumps completed the picture.

As Bertie settled into his seat he turned to her and gave her what he hoped was a winning and inviting smile. This elicited the following response:

“This must be my lucky day,” she remarked, smiling at him in the same manner. “Usually when I come to these things I get saddled with a seatmate who’s either some fat slob who belches or farts every thirty seconds or so, or some twerky young webbie who wants to tell me in far too great detail his analysis of the whole ‘Gil Hall Mystique'”—here she held up her fingers to indicate quotation marks. Then, giving a little snort of mock disgust, “—as if there weren’t enough papers written on the man and his films already. Why, he’s even been the subject of university film seminars for the past twenty years or so.”

This all came out in such a rush that Bertie frankly couldn’t understand half of it but he knew enough to smile and nod, and then thankfully the house lights dimmed to half and a single white follow spot illuminated a wheeled podium that, unnoticed to him, had been installed downstage right. As a tuxedoed gentleman approached the podium Gil had time to notice that, rather than the usual movie theater with a huge screen and a narrow downstage lip, there was no movie screen in sight; rather, the stage extended to about twenty feet and contained what looked like a comfy living room set. Then his attention was diverted back to the podium as the tuxedoed man tapped the microphone and began to speak.

“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for coming, and of course special thanks to the USC School of Cinematic Arts for sponsoring this retrospective of The Films of Gil Hall on the fifteenth anniversary of his retirement from the movie business. Mr. Hall has graciously consented to make a brief personal appearance on this stage during the intermission between the two Gil Hall pictures that we are about to present.”

At this point he cleared his throat and gave a slight chuckle. “For the benefit of any of you who might have just wandered in off the street or who have been Trekking out since the beginning of the millennium, Gil Hall is the noted award-winning and much-celebrated auteur of sixteen films released between 1996 and 2021 when he retired. His many awards include multiple Best Picture and Original Screenplay Oscars, as well as multiple acting and technical Oscars and other awards his pictures have garnered over the years.

“The first picture we are going to show is, fittingly, the first film which he both wrote and directed. This film, Water Over the Bridge, was a surprise winner of five major Academy Awards for 1996, including Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Direction. We are following it up with a lesser effort which, nonetheless, has achieved a cult following in the years since it was released in 2004. I’m referring of course to the film that combines fantasy and magic realism with an homage to German Expressionism, called Smoke and Mirrors.”

He shuffled a few papers on the podium, then looked up and continued. “One last reminder, folks, and then I promise we’ll start the film. Don’t forget this retrospective is running for the entire week, concluding next Thursday night. We will be showing all sixteen of Mr. Hall’s major efforts, though not necessarily in the order of release. We will accomplish this by showing a double feature each weekday night and a triple feature on Saturday, starting at six PM instead of the eight PM start on weekdays. In case you missed of this information or forgot it, there are programs available in the lobby for no extra charge or you can click on the website hallretro36 dot org for any further information about this program. And don’t forget, hold on to your tickets. Next Thursday night at the conclusion of this retrospective we will feature a gala celebratory party right here on this stage immediately after the last movie.” As he said this he swept his hand over the stage. “All you have to do to be admitted to this gala event which will feature beer, wine, specially catered hors d’oeuvres and a special appearance by Mr. Hall himself, is to present all seven tickets at the door showing that you attended all seven performances. This is a free event sponsored by Mr. Hall himself in appreciation for your attendance and kind indulgence. And now without further ado, on with the show.”

With that he exited stage right, pushing the wheeled podium before him. Then the houselights dimmed all the way to black. A few seconds later the follow spot, blue this time, focused a narrow band of light on a narrow but wide panel in the ceiling. As the light focused on it the panel slowly slid back, and when the aperture was completely open a huge movie screen began to slowly descend from the ceiling, the blue follow spot covering it and widening its beam to fully encompass it as it made its way slowly and silently down to the foot of the stage. As it reached the floor, Bertie could see that the screen completely filled the stage area top to bottom and right to left. Then the follow spot began slowly to fade out and once again there was blackness in the auditorium.

After a few seconds the screen itself began to glow and a scene slowly faded in. The camera was obviously pointing at a slate-gray sky filmed in black and white from which a heavy rain was falling. After several seconds of this, sound could be heard slowly fading in and was soon recognizable as the intro to the Doors’ melancholy “Riders On the Storm”. Soon titles began to appear on the screen against the same background. The effect was that of the words slowly swimming in to fill the screen from the background and the letters were of the same color as the sky, only recognizable as letters by the thin black defining lines around each one.

FineHall Productions Presents
A Gil Hall Film
Water Over the Bridge
Produced by Natalie Fine
Written and Directed by Gil Hall
Cinematography/Special Effects by Richard Ellsworth

After the last title faded from the screen the music began to fade out and slowly the rain began to stop and the clouds began to break up and very slowly it merged into a scene of blue sky and bright sunlight in full color. The camera then shifted and Bertie realized that it must be several thousand feet in the air for the scene it was filming was of a small town viewed from high above. The buildings looked like toys and the people scurrying about like ants. Nearby were plowed fields and a large river.

The camera then began to descend slowly towards the surface as bright and cheerful music began to play and soon Bertie was witnessing what appeared to be the normal activities of a small town. As the camera reached surface level, more titles were superimposed on the scene:

Woodbridge, Kentucky — Pop. 2,534
April 1952

For the next thirty minutes the audience was treated to a series of small-town vignettes: scenes with families, tradesmen, professional people—people from all walks of life, each scene presented in realistic period detail.  Interspersed within and between the scenes was a running radio commentary in the background warning of heavy rains and possible flooding. And sure enough, after about half an hour, the movie began to segue into rainy conditions presented once again in black and white that gradually replaced the previous sunny scenes in vivid color. There were a series of meetings with concerned citizens speaking out about the dangers, and then it was down to the river with some of the most realistic scenes Bertie had ever seen of men and women of all ages working to prevent the flooding, first of the fields and then of the town itself. What struck him was the selfless nature of the work itself—the cooperation between people of all ages, both sexes and all stations in life, with workmen barking orders to city councilmen, teenagers directing the local police to pile sandbags. The whole effect was of a town that had forgotten its previous political disagreements, family squabbles, and all other concerns to work together in single-minded effectiveness.

There was one scene in which a great wave washed over a large bridge that spanned the river and the townspeople’s reaction to it. But eventually the fight seemed to be won, the rain began to slack off, the clouds once again broke up, and color returned to the scene. The finale was of the townspeople holding a victory celebration which to Bertie’s mind was as raucous and emotionally heartfelt as the filmed celebrations he had seen commemorating the end of the Second World War. As the credits began to roll they were superimposed on a scene of the townspeople parading down Main Street in a long line, whooping and hollering.

Most of the actors listed in the credits were unknown to Bertie and there was a whole section that thanked the various townspeople who had apparently been enlisted as extras in the film. Of particular interest to Bertie however was the name of the actress who had played the third-billed female role—Rosie Batista. At the end of the acting credits was this announcement:

Special Appearance by Jack Nicholson as Old Man Potter

Then the scene faded completely, the house lights came up, and a loudspeaker voice proclaimed, “There will now be a fifteen-minute intermission.”

Bertie found that he was still staring at the screen and still somewhat dazed. He was surprised that such a simple concept, such a simple story, could have drawn him in so completely. He was shaken from his reverie by the woman sitting next to him who elbowed him in the shoulder and said, “Boy, that was really great, huh? Let’s get something to drink.” As she rose from her seat Bertie was forced to do likewise and as they stepped into the aisle he followed her to the auditorium exit on shaky legs. He obviously had a lot to think about and wasn’t at all sure how to go about it.

But when he reached the lobby he soon realized that he had no chance for introspection, for the woman who had sat next to him was attaching herself to him like a leech.

“D’you know,” she remarked as they went towards the concession stand, “I never get tired of seeing that film. This must be my sixth or seventh time. I think it’s one of his best, don’t you?”

All Bertie could manage was a stammered, “Yeah, uh, it was sure something, all right.”

Seeming to notice his hesitation for the first time she looked him up and down and said, “You look like you could use a glass of wine.” As he began to protest she said, “That’s okay, I’m buying.”

Within a few minutes they had reached the head of the line and she produced a card from her small purse, put it into a slot built into the counter, and said, “Two glasses of pinot noir, please.”

The young man behind the counter pressed a few buttons and what looked to Bertie like a small TV screen emerged from the counter. The woman looked at it then pressed the button on the bottom of the screen and removed her card from the slot. As she did so the screen retracted itself back into the counter and the young man said, “Coming right up, ma’am.” Within a few seconds she took the two glasses placed on the counter and handed one to Bertie.

“It’s stuffy in here,” she said. “Let’s go outside for a few minutes and get some air.”

Taking an unresisting Bertie by the arm that wasn’t holding his wine she moved them both to the nearest exit and in relative quiet she continued. “You know, I was watching you during the film. That really seemed to have some sort of weird effect on you.”

“Yeah,” he said, “I’ve never seen anything quite like that before.”

She looked at him incredulously. “You mean, you’ve never seen Water Over the Bridge before? I thought everyone on the planet had seen that film at one time or another.” Her tone became more playful. “What are you, some kind of hermit or something?”

“Uh, no,” Bertie mumbled. “I come from a small town in uh…uh…Canada. Yeah, that’s the ticket,” he said under his breath. “Yeah, up in the Northwest Territories. We don’t get much culture up there.”

“I guess not,” she said. “So, what are you doing down here, then?”

“Uh, just visiting.” He was searching desperately for some kind of explanation he could give her. He thought about just blowing her off, but she was an attractive woman and obviously interested in him. Then he had an inspiration. “Uh, the fact is, I’m visiting Mr. Hall. We’re kind of related in some way. I think I’m his grand nephew or something. In fact,” he was gaining confidence now, “he left me a complimentary ticket to see the show.”

“Wow,” she said, obviously buying it as Bertie breathed a sigh of relief. “That’s totally amazing. So you know Mr. Hall?”

“No,” he said hastily, “we’ve never met. But he said I should come down this way and visit him if I ever got a chance. So, here I am,” he finished inanely.

The woman looked at her watch and said, “We’d better hurry up. Finish your wine, we’ve only got about five minutes before the intermission ends. Gil Hall’s supposed to be here in person, and I don’t want to miss that.”

They both drained their wineglasses and she took Bertie’s and then stuck out her other hand. “I guess I ought to introduce myself,” she said. “I’m Noreen Warner.”

Bertie took the proffered hand and tried to remember who he was. “Uh, Bertie Hallenbeck,” he managed at last.

“Good to know you, Bertie,” she exclaimed heartily, still holding his hand and leading him back inside. “What do you say we get together after the show? There’s a little place down the street where we can have a few drinks and get to know each other. How’s that sound?”

“Sounds good to me,” Bertie said more heartily, never one to turn down an attractive female.

As they passed the concession stand she put the empty glasses down on the counter and then they strode back into the auditorium and regained their seats just as the lights were beginning to blink, indicating the end of the intermission.

As the house lights slowly began to fade to black, Bertie noticed that the large movie screen had once again been retracted into the ceiling and the same dimly lit stage living room set was once again visible. Then a white follow spot suddenly appeared at downstage right, for the podium had once again been wheeled out and the emcee who had introduced the program was once again standing behind it.

As an expectant hush fell over the audience the emcee began. “Now, ladies and gentlemen, before we start the next movie, it is my great honor and pleasure to introduce the man behind it all, the man who has deservedly been called the father of twenty-first century cinema, Mr. Gil Hall.”

There was a scattering of wild applause and cheers as the spotlight swung away from the podium to an entrance upstage left. Immediately two rather scantily-clad young women emerged from the wings, supporting between them an incredibly old but well-dressed man. Very slowly, and with the support of an elaborate cane and the two young women, he made his way diagonally across the stage toward the podium, the white spotlight following his every move. The nearer he came to the podium the more the applause and cheers from the audience increased until he was finally delivered at the podium by the two women, who then moved away from him, bowed rather saucily to the audience, and then briskly moved offstage in the direction from which they had come.

Bertie looked at the old man, now clearly visible in the intense white light that bathed him. His head was almost hairless, his face incredibly shrunken and wrinkled, but Bertie thought he could still detect a faint resemblance to the man pictured at a much younger age in the lobby posters and indeed, and incredibly, to his present self.

Gil Hall, or so the old man was, raised his left hand slowly in a request for quiet. Then he grinned in a surprisingly boyish manner and held up his right hand with the thumb and forefinger, making a semi-circular C. At this the crowd went wild and gave the sign back to him chanting, “We’re Celluloid Heroes!” Gil once again raised his arms, the palm of his hands outward to indicate another request for quiet. When the audience had once again settled down he began to speak.

“Thank you friends for that wonderfully warm response. I’m not sure I deserve it but,” here he gave a shrug of his shoulders, “it feels good anyway. As you know, USC has kindly decided not only to present a retrospective of my major films but also invite me to give a short talk to you about who we are and what we’re trying to achieve. It goes without saying from that response that most of you are familiar with, and are probably members of, the Celluloid Hero Society, now in its thirtieth year. The Society was formed to fight mainly against the encroachment of digital technology into the film world and it has been, I might modestly add, fairly successful.”

He paused for a moment and then shaded his eyes with his hand as if looking into the distance. “I wonder how many of you out there are either young filmmakers or thinking about becoming one. For those of you for whom this is applicable, please allow me a few minutes to talk about our other and more serious endeavor, the HallWay Foundation.

“As you may or may not know, this foundation, now over twenty-five years old, is dedicated to helping young filmmakers produce the kind of films that we celluloid heroes attend and venerate—real films that say something. For any of you who may be interested, or who may have friends who are interested, you may pick up a copy of the HallWay Foundation’s guidelines, complete with an application form, in the hobby, at no charge. The other part of the HallWay Foundation that I want to briefly discuss is its partnership with theaters like these.”

Here he spread his hand over the stage set behind him. “We believe that the only real way to continue to be able to show true cinematic art and make it financially worth our while is to combine film theaters with legitimate stage theaters. Thanks to modern technology,” here he gave a slight chuckle, “of which everyone knows I don’t wholly approve of, in this case has proved to be quite beneficial. Thanks to the invention of the completely retractable full-size movie screen which you have all seen in action here tonight, we are able with very little time, effort and expense to show you a film program one night and a stage play the next night, neither interfering in any way with the other. We have found that this practice attracts filmgoers to the theater and theatergoers to classically-made films, while at the same time keeping the ticket prices for both down to a reasonable level. And this is where the HallWay Foundation comes in.

“The HallWay Foundation, in partnership with FineHall cinemas, is actively subsidizing the conversion of old vacated single-screen movie palaces—the ones that still exist—to retractable screen technology and legitimate stage accommodations. For a complete listing of FineHall cinemas in the Greater Los Angeles area there is in the lobby a directory, again free or charge, for anyone who is interested in patronizing the true cinematic and theatrical arts as opposed to the commercialized pop culture that unfortunately has predominated in our society for way too long.”

At this another cheer went up from the audience and again Gil waved his hands in an effort to quiet the crowd. “I know I’m running a bit long here,” he said, a note of apologetic modesty creeping into his voice, “but if you will indulge me for a few more minutes, I’d like to relate to you a few facts about the mass corporate entertainment industry that I learned only a few years ago from an acquaintance who is a big shot in that industry. On condition that I would not reveal his name, he confided to me that, of the digiComs and digiDrams that are currently being mass-produced, over eighty percent of the considerable budgets of them are spent on increasingly outrageous fees for the celebrity actors they employ, as well as super-saturation and bombardment of the media in terms of marketing and publicity.

“So little thought is given to any artistry in these productions that they may as well be written by unknowledgeable high-school children. In addition, I was horrified to be told that the corporations who manufacture everything that consumerist America uses heavily influence the making of these productions. And contribute sometimes a major portion of the financing to encourage these productions to feature certain fashions, automobiles, consumable products, in order to encourage their audience to imitate these artificially-presented lifestyles.”

He looked at his watch and said, “I apologize for taking up so much of your time, but I tend to get carried away when I am reminded of the vast wasteland that corporate entities have made of popular culture in America. These digital productions are little more than attitudinally-based soap operas.”

Once again he flashed that boyish grin. “I just want to say one more thing and then I’m outta here and you can enjoy what you came to see—my movies. Remember for all of you that have purchased tickets to all seven shows, either in a block, or wish to do so on a daily basis, you will be admitted to the closing night party next Thursday, which will begin immediately after the showing of the second and last feature in my film oeuvre. You will be treated to donated and catered food and drink from some of the finest Los Angeles restaurants and I will make a brief appearance to answer your questions and just talk with as many of you as my remaining strength permits.” He grinned again. “As you can see, I’m not getting any younger.”

And with that he flashed the Celluloid Heroes sign once again which, once again, excited the crowd. Then as if on cue the two young women came out onto the stage and led Gil off, followed by the spotlight.

Soon the house lights went down and the same procedure was employed as the movie screen once again descended to fill the stage area. When this was complete the screen once again began to glow.

The second film was very much a fantasy called Smoke and Mirrors. It began with a scene that could have been taken in its entirety from an old noir. In black and white there was an aerial shot of a man running down a narrow street in what appeared to be a sparsely-populated small town. As the camera zoomed closer, Bertie could see that the man was dressed in a nondescript fifties-style suit, complete with hat, and carrying a small suitcase or bag. It was a night scene and the only sound that could be heard was the man’s leather-soled shoes pounding on the pavement, and his increasingly heavy breathing and panting as it became obvious that he was running away from something.

After a minute or so of this, the faint sound of faraway old-fashioned sirens could be heard, getting increasingly louder. The man without breaking stride looked back over his shoulder a couple of times and then ducked into a dark alley, which within about twenty yards or so opened onto a large field that, it was soon apparent, contained a small traveling carnival. Satisfied that he was no longer being pursued, the man slowed his pace as he surveyed the various tents and exhibits of the carnival, finally pausing at a small tent on which a wooden sign was hung. The sign in rather crude painted letters read, “The Amazing Professor Caliban’s Wondrous World of Magic Mirrors.” The fugitive ducked inside and was immediately confronted by an older man who looked exactly like Hollywood’s conception of King Arthur’s Merlin the magician. He had on the obligatory black full-length robe, conical black hat, and he sported scraggly long gray hair that complemented his full gray beard.

The man grabbed the older man’s robe and shook him slightly, saying in a panicked voice, “You’ve got to hide me! They’re after me!” Surprisingly, the fugitive handed the old man his bag and, still more surprisingly, the old man took it, saying nothing, but led him to the rear of the tent to where an object about six feet tall could be seen standing in a corner and draped with a heavy black cloth. Without speaking, the old man uncovered the object, showing it to be a large full-length mirror on a stand. The old man then made a few apparently magical passes with his hands and muttered something unintelligible under his breath. As he did so, the mirror began to glow and the old man motioned the fugitive to approach the mirror. As he did so, the mirror seemed somehow to reach out and absorb him, and as the camera followed him in, Bertie saw to his amazement that the scene was now of a small rural seemingly ancient village and surprisingly was now shot in full color.

As the fugitive stared around him in amazement, the doors to the small village huts began to open practically in unison and a diverse collection of people emerged, dressed and coiffed in Hollywood’s idea of typical seventeenth-century peasants.

They all crowded around the stranger and there was a babble of voices as they bade him welcome, speaking in the Hollywood equivalent of peasant English but understandable to the audience. It came out as a weird mix of Shakespearean language with Yorkshire accents. As they made him welcome, he was taken to a small meadow in which rude wooden tables and benches were heaped with all sorts of simple foods—large roasted meats, whole fruits and vegetables, et cetera.

As the movie progressed he became an integral part of village life, many times showing them how to build things and invent things that were not previously known to the people of this village and apparently of this time. The scenes showed the passing of, first, days and nights, and then seasons from summer when he had first arrived, then to autumn with colorful blowing leaves, winter with its picturesque heavy snowfall, then spring again with budding and blossoming trees and flowers, all shot in the most beautiful and bucolic saturated color. Finally the stranger—no longer a stranger—noticed in the same field a shimmering black rectangular shape, about the same size as a normal doorway. Curious, he went towards it and as it seemed to suck him in, the scene then cut to the man, still dressed as he had been in the earliest scenes, emerging from the mirror into the black and white world once again. The old magician was standing nearby surveying his return with quiet complacency, arms folded.

“It’s all right,” the magician said, “I sent the police on their way. They will never find you here.”

Bewildered the man asked him, “How long has it been?”

“Only a few hours,” replied the magician. “Now you must make a choice. Take your ill-gotten gains,” he proffered the bag the man had appeared with, “and begone from here, and take your own chances. Or,” he pointed to the mirror which was still glowing, “go back to from whence you came and emerge no more. “

Here there followed a montage of memory scenes in color in which the man obviously recalled his experiences in the mirror world that had lasted, he thought, for a year. As the montage sequence ended the man shook his head, refusing the proffered bag and said, “No, you’re right. I think I want to go back.” Shrugging his shoulders, but with an amused smile on his face, the magician then repeated his passes and incantations and the mirror once gain sucked the man into it. This time however the magician recovered the mirror as it ceased to glow and then, taking the bag over to the opposite corner of the tent, spun the dial on a small safe and opened its door. Opening the bag, he dumped its contents into the safe, exposing the fact that the bag had been loaded with presumably precious jewels. The safe also revealed a large quantity of jewels and paper money already within it.

Having emptied the contents of the bag, the magician relocked the safe and, with a smile on his face, walked out of the tent and stood at its entrance, arms folded, an enigmatic smile on his face as the camera pulled back away from him and the end and the credits began to roll.

Bertie thought he had never seen a movie quite like it, simple and understated but with a surprising ability to draw one in and to express itself with its own interior logic. But what impressed him the most was the presence in both films of the same ten little words: “A Gil Hall Film—Written and Directed by Gil Hall”. Needless to say, in some kind of time-warpish way, he had managed to thoroughly impress himself.

As he was considering this Noreen began to stir, saying, “Let’s go have that drink, shall we? This bar is just down the street a few blocks.”

Gil began to agree with her, but then suddenly remembered the note he had received with his ticket. He was supposed to meet Gil Hall immediately after the show.

But just as he began to make his apologies to Noreen and before they could get to their feet, he noticed the same stony-faced usher standing at his elbow, obviously waiting to be recognized.

As Bertie turned to look at him, the usher held out an envelope saying simply, “Message for you, sir,” before handing it to him and hurriedly departing.

Bertie looked at the envelope suspiciously as if it constituted some sort of threat, then turning his head to Noreen who was growing visibly impatient, he grinned at her weakly and managed, “Well, well, wonder what this is all about.” He tore open the envelope, which contained a single sheet of notepaper. It read as follows:


My spies tell me that you have made the acquaintance of a lady friend already. My, that was quick work. So, as the pitchman says, tell you what I’m gonna do. I rather imagine you want to go out with her to some bar and get half sloshed. This is perfectly acceptable. So instead you can meet me at my apartment after bar closing. Be there no later than 2:30. Your lady friend will drive you (I assume she has a car. Everyone in LA has a car. That hasn’t changed.) My address is listed below. Come without fail. We have a lot to talk about, all of which is to your benefit.

Signed, Gil Hall

Below as promised was written the address of a West Hollywood apartment building Gil knew was on a fashionable and expensive block.

“Well? Well?” said Noreen, her impatience growing as Bertie had taken his time scanning the note. “Don’t keep me in suspense. What does it say?”

“Oh, nothing much,” said Bertie lightly. “Um, Mr. Hall just said he wanted to meet me after we get out of the bar.” He showed her the part of the note with the address on it. “Here’s where he lives, I guess. Could you drive me?”

Noreen shrugged. “Sure,” she said. “Why not? I’ve got to drive home anyway.”

“Great,” said Bertie. Now vastly relieved, rising to his feet he said, “So, let’s go have that drink, okay?”

Once again she took his arm. “Now you’re talking,” she said with enthusiasm, and then she practically marched him up the aisle which was fast clearing of people, then through the lobby and out of the theater.

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