Frederico Passolini made an early silent movie which ran for just twelve minutes and consisted of a single tracking shot across the ceiling of a surgical operating theater (the camera looking down of course).
All that can be seen in this film is a man called Gaston Recherché, strapped securely onto a marble slab, having his appendix removed without the benefit of anesthesia. Gaston was a fellow student of Mr. Passolini’s at the Sorbonne in Paris, although he was studying Metaphysics, rather than The Principles of Light: Fruit Production in Nantes, the course in which Mr. Passolini was enrolled.
The idea for the film had originally been Gaston’s and thus Frederico’s subsequent career as an auteur should really be properly so credited. However, at the time of its production, Frederico had never actually seen a movie camera, much less operated one, and there was thus a certain amount of reading books and asking questions before the event itself could take place.
Further complicating what had initially been a simple if somewhat unorthodox idea on Gaston’s part, was finding a surgical team prepared to take part in the experiment. Both men had to travel some distance into the Parisian suburbs, before locating an abortionist, Andreas Kinword, who announced that, for his usual fee, he would happily remove any single organ of Mr. Recherché’s choosing, although he did mention his preference for working above the waist as far as men were concerned.
Gaston’s desire to have his appendix removed, aside from his decision to have such an operation performed without anesthetics, has often been wrongly reported. With this in mind, I must confirm here that Gaston Recherché was not the originator of the phrase, latterly much-used by mountaineers, “Because it’s there”.
To imagine that Gaston Recherché had his appendix removed simply because he had an appendix to remove, is to do a grave disservice to the life and work of one of the metaphysical community’s true giants (although Gaston himself was a comparatively small man with hands and feet that were remarkably dainty).
Gaston Recherché was, and always remained, a keen student of pointlessness, but not in the sense seized upon and much devalued by the so-called existentialists. Gaston believed that those few things found to be truly pointless, be they an unfinished, atonal madrigal or perhaps the vague idea of going to sleep which becomes forgotten once the bed catches fire, hold a special place in a modern world increasingly devoted to reason, motive, and design.
It was, Gaston suspected, only in things utterly devoid of purpose that the mind could find freedom enough to imagine other things not yet previously considered, and this concept, as simple as it sounds, was the foundation of Gaston’s unrivaled body of subsequently pointless work.
His decision to have his appendix removed—one he later described in an unpublished Paris Match interview as inevitable—was based initially on the fact that he wanted to have a good look at it, believing that such an unnecessary organ, within the otherwise sensibly evolved and purposeful human body, must have some greater, perhaps cosmic, function.
He thought that man in his unconscious conceit (a trait he memorably described as “the almost willful intelligence of stupidity”) always refused to accept that there were those things, for the time being anyway, far beyond our understanding. He was also sure that it would only be through pointless, misguided meditation, by accident even, that we could ever be in a position to receive messages from these other places that existed within dimensions as yet unknown.
It was precisely because he considered the appendix as a possible and fleshy transmitter of some type that he insisted on its removal without anesthetics, a decision he later recalled as being perhaps the most painful of his life, although he also mentioned the night of his wedding to the lovely Annette, who, it transpired, was actually an SS officer called Klaus and Klaus, was apparently quite rough (this was much later and during the German occupation).
Gaston believed that painkillers would deaden the transfer of any information the appendix had to offer and that, possibly, such transmittal itself might take place in the form of what he shouted out during the operation as a result of the intense pain, his rational mind being distracted enough to allow the information space. He realized that this was not a sure thing, but as a good scientist certainly wished his results, whatever they might be, to remain free from the occlusion of morphine or other drugs.
It was thus, on Saturday July 15th, 1921, and when Frederico Passolini, with the assistance of two students from the School of Cantileverage, had finally assembled his upside down camera on tracks screwed into the ceiling, that Doctor Kinword scrubbed the lower portion of Gaston’s belly with methylated spirits and prepared to proceed.
The actual events of that day are, unfortunately, still the subject of much conjecture, and in fact a discipline of study devolving around The Appendix Incident, as it’s now known, fuels a steady stream of academic publishing to this day.
Because, in one of the great tragedies of science, Frederico had had enough trouble learning how to make sure the camera worked properly, he had not had the time (and many would say the forethought) to realize that if transmittal of any kind was going to take place, it would be the recording of the same by sound, not sight, which might prove most useful. Of course the addition of sound to film was at that time in its infancy and also quite expensive.
As a result, posterity is left with the much examined footage commonly known as the Passolini Film which shows Gaston Recherché flailing around on the operating table and opening and shutting his mouth quite a lot.
Of the three men present only Frederico was subsequently able to describe what Gaston said, the reason for this being that Gaston himself became so agitated during the procedure that he has little memory of what he actually spoke of. In addition, and alas, Andreas Kinword was stabbed to death by a woman bitter because of her infertility not three days after removing the appendix, a thing he described in his medical notes as “Smallish. Mostly red.”
Passolini himself maintains all Gaston shouted, repeatedly mind you, was “ Frederico Passolini will become one of the great men of world cinema and also a lover of exquisite talents who will pleasure untold numbers of fortunate women around the globe. Oh, if I were only Frederico Passolini!”
Lip-readers have of course been brought in, and although their analysis seems to contradict Mr. Passolini’s account, they have been unable to come to firm agreement on anything apart from one particularly haunting segment, when the camera was directly above Gaston’s face and he was apparently shouting: “Fuck! You fucking butcher! Give me something for the fucking pain!”
It was, as Gaston Recherché often later remarked, a very pointless exercise, “but also in some ways art, if not science.”
For many years, the appendix itself (having first been thoroughly dried) was kept in a little leather case that Gaston hooked onto his belt as a “reminder of my search for the meaningless truth.”
At the time of his death it was given to the Theosophist Society Museum in New York City, where it is now on permanent display (53rd & 3rd. Tuesday through Friday. Ten to five-thirty).
It is certainly quite small.