Watching Don Siegel’s  Telefon – the movie with the creepie Donald Pleasence in it – I register an anachronism.

Normally when in a movie I find something ‘no good’ it pisses me off. Telefon I cherish for the little misunderstanding detected. Why? Because it shows you that the film-maker could not resist this little falsification of time, simply because it makes his film visually more beautiful.

In his frantic pursuit of a Russian mole, a spy underground in the USA, Charles Bronson – yes, indeed, the casting is good! – enters the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Houston. So it seems. The building which is described as such in the 1975 novel by Walter Wager is in fact not the one Don Siegel shows us.

That Houston building is indeed so dull. Instead Siegel shot these scenes in the building of the Hyatt Hotel situated at 5 Embarcadero Center in San Francisco, suggesting it is in Houston.

More beautiful, because of its elevator system, renowned in the world of professional architects. There are no lift shafts, the elevator cages are suspended, sort of floating in mid-air.




Now here is your problem, or rather mine – here is the anachronism.

According to the story, immediately after the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, when Kennedy outplayed the Russians and forced them to move out from Cuba missiles and launchers, the Soviet Union decided to plant a number of long-term, deep-cover sleeper-agents all over the United States.

These are thoroughly brainwashed, not knowing they are agents and to be triggered by a telephone-call or by being addressed personally with a few lines from the American poet Frost. Once triggered they immediately undertake the act of sabotaging a crucial part of the US civil or military infrastructure. Crucial, that is, only in the first five years after 1962. By the time the movie story runs – 1975 – many of these installations have be become defunct or simply irrelevant.

Bronson finally catches up with this spy-mole, but only after that man has managed to dislodge a large explosive hidden in a concrete shaft in the underground parking garage of what is supposed to be the Houston Hyatt Regency.

Sure enough, the Houston Hyatt was already there when those moles and explosives were planted in the US. However, the San Francisco Hyatt Regency at 5 Embarcadero Center did not yet exist. It was built in 1973, just before Siegel made his movie.

So, how could explosives be planted in 1963/4, in a building that was only constructed in the years 1972/3?

It must have been anesthesia of beauty that made me espy this aesthetical anachronism so late, only after seeing the movie already a few times. Both the flow of the thrill and the beauty of those angel-like elevators must have befuddled the brain.

Sierksma, 8.1.17


Author: rjsiersk

Sierksma was born in Friesland, a 'county' in the northern part of the Netherlands with its own language which he does not speak and with an obstinate population to which he both belongs and does not belong. A retired Professor of Social Philosophy and Aesthetics, as a Harkness fellow he taught at Rutgers and Berkeley Universities in the USA, and at GUAmsterdam and TUDelft in the Netherlands. In 1991 he was awarded his PhD from Leiden University on the subject of 'Surveillance and Task: Labour Discipline between Utilitarianism and Pragmatism'. His books include Minima Memoria (1993), Lost View (2002 with Jan van Geest), and Litter Scent (2013). He has published poems and articles in Te Elfder Ure, Nynade, Oasis and the Architectural Annual. Half the year he lives in Haarlem, the other half he spends in la France Profonde, living ‘in his own words’ as the house out there was bought with the winnings from his essay Eternal Sin, written for the ECI Essay Prize (1993). In this blog, Sierksma's Sequences, written in English, he is peeping round his own and other people’s perspectives. Not easily satisfied with answers nor with questions, he turns his wry wit to a number of philosophical and historical issues. His aim in writing: to make parts of the world light up in his perspective - not my will, thine! Not being a thief, he has no cook, one wife, some children, one lover and three cats.

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