VIII

SOS . . . A wireless code-signal summoning assistance in extreme me distress, used esp. by ships at sea. The letters are arbitrarily chosen as being easy to transmit and distinguish. The signal was recommended at the Radio Telegraph Conference in 1906 and officially adopted at the Radio Telegraph Convention in 1908. (See G. G. Blake Hist. Radio Telegr., 1926, 111-12). The Oxford English Dictionary

Billy Reston glides into frame, paying no attention to the equipment which Navidson over the last few weeks has been setting up in the living room, including though not limited to, three monitors, two 3/4" decks, a VHS machine, a Quadra Mac, two Zip drives, an Epson color printer, an old PC, at least six radio transmitters and receivers, heavy spools of electrical cord, video cable, one 16mm Arriflex, one 16mm Bolex, a Minolta Super 8, as well as additional flashlights, flares, rope, fishing line (anything from braided Dacron to 40 lb multi-strand steel), boxes of extra batteries, assorted tools, compasses twitching to odd polarities in the house, and a broken megaphone, not toe mention surrounding shelves

already loaded with sample jars, graphs, books, and even an old microscope.

Instead Reston concentrates all his energies on the radios, monitoring Holloway as he makes his way through the Great Hall. Exploration #4 is underway and will mark the team's second attempt to reach the bottom of the staircase.

"We hear you fine, Billy" Holloway replies in a wash of white noise.

Reston tries to improve the signal. This time Holloway's voice comes in a little clearer.

"We're continuing down. Will try you again in fifteen minutes. Over and out."

The obvious choice would have been to structure the segment around Holloway's journey but clearly nothing about Navidson is obvious. He keeps his camera trained on Billy who serves now as the expedition's base commander. In grainy 7298 (probably pushed one T-stop), Navidson captures this crippled man expertly maneuvering his wheelchair from radio to tape recorder to computer, his attention never wavering from the team's progress.

By concentrating on Reston at the beginning of Exploration #4, Navidson provides a perfect counterpoint to the murky world Holloway navigates. Confining us to the comforts of a well-lit home gives our vaired imagination a chance to fill the adjacent darkness with questions and demons. It also further increases our identification with Navidson, who like us, wants nothing more than to penetrate first hand the mystery of that place. Other directors might have intercut shots of the 'Base Camp' or 'Command Post'110 with Holloway's tapes but Navidson refuses to view Exploration #4 in any other way except from Reston's vantage point. As Frizell Clary writes, "Before personally permitting us the sight of such species of Cimmerian dark, Navidson wants us to experience, like he already has, a sequence dedicated solely to the much more revealing details of waiting."111

Naguib Paredes, however, goes one step further than Clary, passing over questions conceringing the structure of anticipation in favor of a slightly different, but perhaps more acute analysis of Navidson's strategy: "First and foremost, this restricted perspective subtly and somewhat cunningly allows Navidson to materialize his feelings in Reston, a man with fearsome intelligence and energy but who is nonetheless - tragically I might add - physically handicapped. Not by chance does Navidson shoot Reston's wheelchair in the photographic idiom of a prison: spokes for bars, seat like a cell, glimmering brake resembling some kind of lock. Thus in the manner of such images Navidson can represent for us his own increasing frustration."112

As predicted, by the first night Holloway and the team start to lose radio contact. Navidson reacts by focusing on a family of copper-verdigris coffee cups taking up residence on the floor like settlers on the range while nearby a pile of sunflower seed shells rises out of a bowl like a volcano born on some unseen plate in the Pacific. In the background, the everpresent hiss of the radios continues to fill the room like some high untouch-

Able wind. Considering the grand way these moments are photographed, it almost appears as if Navidson is trying through ever the most quotidian objects and events to evoke for us some senses of Holloway's epic progress. That or participate in it. Perhaps even challenge it.113

Time passes. There are long conversations, there are long silences. Sometimes Navidson and Tom play Go. Sometimes one reads aloud to Daisy114 while the other assists Chad with some role-playing game on the family computer.115 Periodically Tom goes outside to smoke a joint of marijuana while his brother jots down notes in some now lost journal. Karen keeps clear of the living room, entering only once to retrieve the coffee cups and empty the bowl of sunflower seed shells. When Navidson's camera finds her, she is usually on the phone in the kitchen, the TV volume on high, whispering to her mother, closing the door.

But even as the days lose themselves in night and find themselves again come dawn only to drag on to yet more hours of lightless passage, Billy Reston remains vigilant. As Navidson shows us, he never loses focus, rarely leaves his post, and constantly monitors the radios, never forgetting the peril Holloway and the team are in.

Janice Whitman was right when she noted another extraordinary quality: "Aside from the natural force of his character, his exemplary intellect, and the constant show of concern for those participating in Exploration #4, what I'm still most struck by is Reston's matter of fact treatment of this twisting labyrinth extending into nowhere. He does not seem confounded by its impossibility or at all paralyzed by doubt."116 Belief is one of Reston's greatest strengths. He has an almost animal like ability to accept the world as it comes to him. Perhaps one overcast morning in Hyderabad, India he had stood rooted to the ground for one second too long because he did not really believe an electrical pole had fallen and an ugly lash of death was now hipping toward him. Reston had paid a high price for that disbelief: he would never walk up stairs again and he would never fuck.117 At least he would also never doubt again.

111 Frizell Clary's Tick-Tock-Fade: The representation of Time in Film Narrative (Delaware: Tame An Essay Publications, 1996), p. 64.

113 Navidson's camera work is an infinitely complex topic. Edwin Minamide in Ojects of a Thousand Facets (Bismark, North Dakota: Shive Stuart Press, 1994), p. 421, asserts that such "resonant images," especially those in this instance, conjure up what Holloway could never have achieved: "The fact that Navidson can photograph even the dirtiest blue mugs in a way that reminds us of pilgrims on a quest proves he is the necessary narrator without whom there would be nor film; no understanding of the house." Yuriy Pleak in Semiotic Rivalry (Casper, Wyoming: Hazard United, 1995), p. 105, disagrees, claiming Navidson's lush colors and steady pans only reveal his competitiveness and bitterness toward Holloway: "He seeks to eclipse the team's historical descent with his own limited art." Mace Roger-Court, however, finds In These Things I Find, Series #18 (Great Falls, Montana: Ash Otter Range Press, 1995) that Navidson's posture is highly instructive and even enlightening: "His lonely coffee cups , his volcanic bowl

of shells, the maze like way equipment and furniture are arranged, all reveal how the everyday can contain objects emblematic of what's lyrical and what's epic in our lives. Navidson shows us how a sudden sense of the world, of who or where we are or even what we do not have can be found in even the most ordinary things."

114 Ascher Blootz in her pithy piece "Bedtime Stories" (Seattle Weekly, October 13, 1994 p. 37) claims the book Tom reads to Daisy is Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are. Gene D. Hart in his letter entitled "A Blootz Bedtime Story" (Seattle Weekly, October 20, 1994, p. 7) disagrees: "After repeatedly viewing this sequence, frame by frame, I am still unable to determine whether or not she's right. The cover is constantly blocked by Tom's arm and his whisper consistently evades the range of the microphone. That said I'm quite fond of Blootz's claim, for whether she's right or wrong, she is certainly appropriate."

115 See Corning Qureshy's essay "D & D, Myst, and Other Future Paths" in MIND GAMES ed. Mario Aceytuno (Rapid City, South Dakota: Fortson Press, 1996); M Slade's "Pawns, Bishops & Castles" http://cdip.ucsd.edu/; as well as Lucy T. Wickramasinghe's "Apple of Knowledge vs. Windows of Light: The Macintosh-Microsoft Debate" in Gestures, v.2, November 1996, p. 164-171.

116 Janice Whitman's Red Cross Faith (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1994), p. 235.