Kerry Tribe's new work There Will Be ________. is centered around her 30 minute film Greystone, which walks viewers through the famously mysterious suicide deaths (or was it murder?) at Greystone mansion on the night of February 16, 1929. On that night, at the Beverly Hills abode of oil-baron heir Ned Doheny Jr., he and his assistant and longtime friend (and possibly lover?) Hugh Plunkett were both found shot dead.
Tribe's piece was shot on location at Greystone and wanders through five possible narratives that re-construct what might have occurred that fateful evening. The only words spoken in the piece are appropriated from the scripted lines of films actually shot in the mansion (62 feature films have used the mansion as a set, including There Will Be Blood, loosely based on the life of tycoon Edward Doheny, Ned's father, who had the mansion built). After completion of filming in January, only rough cuts of the piece have been screened so far.
L.A. Weekly spoke with Tribe about the fully-edited version, which makes its Los Angeles premiere this Saturday at 1301PE in Miracle Mile, along with collages, photographs, an annotated script, and other research materials. The exhibit runs until Nov. 10.
I guess you could say this piece is less abstract or cerebral than other work I've done, but really to me it just feels like another tool to use to explore the ideas I've already been looking at for a while in my work.
The twin motivating aspects of my practice for the last 10 years or so have been questions around memory and representation, and which medium can explore those ideas of cognition best. What's always been very central to my work is how it is presented — whether on 16mm film that's fed through two projectors at once or through drawings or a combination of mediums and representational forms. But in my heart of hearts, I'm interested in cinema and I always wanted to do something cinematic.
So when I was invited to do a piece concerning Greystone — and I knew it had this aura of mystery and historic value in Hollywood — I knew that was an opportunity to explore those ideas about how memory is created in the public realm, which is what film does. This piece looks and smells like cinema and that was intentional.
Greystone is the name of the actual film, and I've submitted it to Sundance and other festivals, which is something I've never done before with my work, but I'm doing it because I'm curious to see how it plays for an audience of film buffs.
Tell us about the Greystone mansion itself. How is it a character in the piece?
Well, really the mansion is the main protagonist in Greystone. The mansion already had this bizarre history as a residence and then another bizarre history as a film set after that. It's as if the mansion is trying to tell the story by the pieces of narrative that have been said there before. There are five possible ways those murders might've happened there, the mansion is there in each of those scenarios.
But the constraints of filming at Greystone were unbelievable, and the claustrophobia you might sense in the film is truly there — it comes from having these restrictions placed on [the crew]. Usually it costs ten to twenty thousand dollars a day to shoot there, but since I had been invited, I was able to work there at no cost — that was very lucky.
But the drawback was that everything had to be hand-held, we couldn't bring water onto the set, we couldn't have a generator, we couldn't touch the molding around the doors. All these things a crew needs to shoot a film, we had to do without.
What about the murders? Who did it?
Well, I think Hugh Plunkett was framed. [One theory is Plunkett committed a murder-suicide.] He was misrepresented. Every media outlet in the weeks after the murders published a horrible photograph of Plunkett, with a scowl and a strange haircut — essentially he really looked like a freak. And in the research I did, I came across a photo of the crime scene, and in that photo Plunkett looked so slight, and pale — he also looked like a man who had obviously been brutally murdered.
And, you know, those weren't the only tragic deaths in that house. After the famous murders, a child fell out of an upper story window to their death, and two female servants committed suicide there — one apparently was pregnant, and it's rumored the baby was the child of Ned's widowed wife's new husband — she had married again nearly a year after the murders. Another man servant was murdered in the basement. The place is unbelievably spooky.
How did you go about choosing and re-shuffling the appropriated dialogue?
Well we found that 62 movies had been filmed there, and there's no definitive list, so we had to do that research. Many of these films are out-of print B movies too, so digging up those films was part of the job. Then we transcribed the lines from only the scenes shot at Greystone, and from those films that were shot there, we dumped it all into a 332-page word document that I could search.
That allowed me to could go hunting for double entendre and key words, because I couldn't just use the line I needed, like, “watch out there's a gun!” I had to find a line with some similar intention, or something that could be a coded hint within the collected scripts — it was really like solving a Rubic's cube.
You mentioned The Social Network was filmed at Greystone. I can't remember which scenes exactly?
KT: That's the president of Harvard's office — when the Winklevoss twins go in to speak to the president, and the secretary says something like, “That door knob is older than you two.”
Tribe's exhibit is at 6150 Wilshire Blvd., Miracle Mile, open 11-6 pm Tuesday-Saturday; (310) 938-5822, 1301pe.com.