Having finally watched the review DVD of Bloodline--The Movie, I think I can now guess why the traditional complimentary promo copies of this film are as rare as hen’s teeth. Fundamentally, the ability to rewind and freeze-frame the action provides an informed viewer a degree of scrutiny that instantaneously annihilates a large degree of the sensationalistic claims made in the movie, which obviously isn't in the best interests of Bruce Burgess and Rene Barnett's promotional campaign at this early stage.
Presumably the strategy to encourage screenings in isolated "boutique" theatres (see Mania's review of the LA "premiere"), whilst simultaneously promoting the movie to uninformed mass media reviewers as a serendipitous "grail quest" documentary, conveniently sidesteps pesky little issues like the ability for knowledgeable researchers to independently verify the film’s claims in context.
Therefore it's ironic that the film begins with a quote from The Gospel of Thomas, "Do not tell lies, for there is nothing that will not be revealed."
Having said this, let me make it clear that I'm not accusing Burgess and Barnett of proliferating deliberate deceptions... I simply want to publicly echo the wailing and gnashing of teeth in the underground Priory of Sion research community that here, for the umpteenth time, is yet another missed opportunity to make a truly meaningful documentary exposé in the popular Da Vinci Code genre. If only the producers had conscientiously done their homework...
Instead, they fell into the trap so eloquently described by Genoa's Cardinal Bertoni in the film's opening voiceover montage that, "you would learn more about genuine history and theology by watching Monty Python and the Holy Grail."
Bruce Burgess' first serious mistake, just six minutes into the film, was to base the entire premise of Bloodline on the erroneous proclamation that, "Back in 1979 the Priory's grandmaster, Pierre Plantard de Saint Clair, claimed that the early Merovingian kings of France had married the descendants of Jesus and Mary Magdalene, creating a "sangreal", a royal bloodline, the true Holy Grail." Burgess then goes on to infer that Plantard's sensational claim is what led to the success of the best seller Holy Blood, Holy Grail, which in turn inspired Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code.
But, unfortunately for Burgess, most serious researchers worth their salt know that it's completely untrue that Pierre Plantard himself made these claims.
As we all know, Baigent, Leigh, and Lincoln tacitly report in The Messianic Legacy, their follow-up to HBHG, that when they presented their conclusions to Plantard at a meeting in April, 1982, Plantard would "neither confirm nor deny our thesis that the Merovingian bloodline was descended from Jesus. There was no evidence either way, he said non-committally. It was 'all too far in the past', all 'too long' ago'. There were no reliable genealogies. Besides, Jesus had brothers."
In fact, this matter was at the very crux of Baigent and Leigh's infamous lawsuit against Dan Brown - the whole point being that Jesus and Mary Magdalene's Bloodline is not proven historical fact, and wasn’t related to them by Pierre Plantard on behalf of the Priory of Sion, but was their own copyrighted hypothesis based on years of personal research.
Therefore, I was so exasperated to see the same old bovine excrement about Plantard's own bloodline proclamations recycled yet again as indisputable fact, that I decided to go to the horse's mouth and spoke to Michael Baigent, one of the authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail, to get his take on Burgess' claims.
I knew that Baigent had been asked to participate in Bloodline but had diplomatically "declined any involvement", so I wasn't surprized when, after reading my transcription notes of Burgess' assertions to him, Michael indignantly declared, "This is an outrageous statement and completely wrong."
Granted, there are people out there who claim to be members of the Priory of Sion (or, in “Nic Haywood's” case, "friends" of the Priory), and there are people who will happily sell you a membership to the Knights Who Say Ni! for a significant sum of money, complete with expensive robes with re-usable tassels and an impressive certificate. But they are nothing to do with the group which Plantard claimed to represent, which in turn had nothing to do with guarding the Bloodline of Jesus and Mary Magdelene.
So, it seemed pretty clear to me, just from listening Burgess' own words with as open a mind as possible in the circumstances, that the Bloodline team been prankstered right from the get-go.
Most of you probably know by now that the gist of the film is based around the discoveries of a treasure hunter who goes by the pseudonym of Ben Hammott, which itself is an anagram of "The Tombman". He claims to have deciphered clues encoded into the statues and murals of the Church of Mary Magdalene in the tiny village of Rennes-le-Château in the South of France. These clues were allegedly incorporated into the renovation of the church in the late 1800s by the incumbent priest, Berenger Saunière.
According to Hammott, the clues led him to four distinct nearby landmarks which were all cleverly depicted in the decoration of the church. In turn, Hammott found parchments containing clues allegedly written by the Abbé Saunière, buried in bottles near each location. Deciphering these parchments eventually led him to the discovery of a chest containing so-called relics from the 1st century and thence to a tomb in a cave containing a shrouded skeleton surrounded by other wooden chests apparently containing treasures of various descriptions.
The "drama" of the treasure hunt is interspersed by interviews with a gaggle of “experts”, most of whom I either know personally or have had personal experiences of in my own investigations, thereby embuing the production with an air of a high school reunion, complete with silly notes and in-jokes, from my perspective.
Consequently, I spent most of the time groaning out loud as prank after prank was unraveled against a background of cinema vérité camerawork with corny lighting and somber incidental music.
The inevitable element of danger was introduced by recounting the old chestnut of how all three authors of the secret Priory document Le Serpent Rouge had all died within twenty-four hours of each other. However, most researchers believe that the Priory prankster Philippe de Cherisey had cleverly embroidered their identities into his performance art piece after reading the story of their curious demise - from memory it had something to do with a love quadrangle concerning a girl and three soldiers - in a local newspaper, while visiting his parents at their home outside of Paris one weekend.
But, possibly the most award-winning humorous moment of the film was when well-known local character, Alain Feral, was filmed leading Bruce Burgess through the church at Rennes-le-Château by flashlight one night (why on earth didn't they just turn on the lights?) to show him the false door in Sauniere's church wardrobe. This led into a room that everyone and their dog knows about, while Feral repeatedly assured Burgess in hushed tones that "never" had anyone seen this "secret room" before.
Then there was the dramatic discovery of the rock at the Source Madeleine with the initials BS (either for Berenger Saunière or "bullshit", you decide which) etched into it, which had been long rumored to have been carved and buried by Priory pranksters Pierre Plantard and Philippe de Cherisey as a joke in the early 80s, intended to be discovered sometime later by gullible treasure hunters.
The clues themselves were written on the usual style of "notepaper" that looked like it had been cut out of the blank front page of a Victorian dated book, mostly in a bright red ink which hadn't faded the slightest bit over time. Most of the "clues" contained well-known glyphs and symbols which any Priory of Sion enthusiast who had done even a modicum of research would instantly recognize, without even having to bother to decode the "ciphers".
However, being of a delicate nature when it comes to oenological matters, it was Hammott's handling of the bottles containing the clues that I found most painful to watch... especially his maltreatment of what looked like champagne bottles. These, I would guess from a distance, could probably be identified as Saint Hilaire Blanquette de Limoux bottles if anyone had been astute enough to analyse them before they were cruelly demolished.
But someone really should tell Monsieur Tombman that the correct etiquette for a gentleman to break open a sealed champagne bottle is to carefully score the neck with the blade of his sword and then gently tap the neck just above the score with the sword's hilt. The result is a clean break with the bottle (and cork) intact. (Note to chivalric wannabes: I can personally attest to the fact that this is an excellent seduction technique, especially when performed with a full bottle of vintage Dom Perignon.)
The most obvious "clue", which was blatantly identifiable before Hammott had even finished unrolling the parchment, displayed a diagram of an alignment from Saunière's infamous Tour Magdala, or Magdalene Tower, to the Cave of the Magdalene on the opposite cliff across a ravine. Many a treasure hunter has searched this cave, as a result of long-circulated rumors that a box or wooden chest had been buried there.
Nevertheless, in spite of years of careful examination by a succession of explorers, Hammott was able to immediately unearth the buried box - containing a parchment, the ancient perfume jar of Mary Magdalene and the cup of Jesus from the Last Supper, no less - with the aid of a friend with dowsing rod!
All that was missing from this Monty Pythonesque scenario was the body of a dead parrot... which elegantly brings us onto Hammott's alleged discovery of the tomb of Mary Magdalene.
The PoS researchers grapevine has been buzzing for well over a decade with rumors about secret discoveries of the tombs of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and Joseph of Arimathea, among other colorful historical personages.
The tomb that Hammott apparently discovered is said by insiders to have already been known about for decades and the clues seem to have been retrofitted by relatively recent pranksters, to lead to its location. Some say that Hammott’s tomb is a Red Herring diversion away from a "real" tomb, and some say that this location is only the Son of the Red Herring tomb, not even the Red Herring itself.
Whatever truth about this "tomb" emerges in the end, it was actually Michael Baigent who spotted the unmistakable error as I described the scene where Ben Hammott remotely films the dramatic moment the "shroud", resembling a Templar banner with a red cross, is ripped open to reveal the partially mummified corpse underneath.
Michael correctly pointed out that, although the Knights Templar sported a splayed red cross on their mantles, their actual banner or flag, known as the Beauseant, consisted of a black square atop a white square (evocative of the black and white chequered floors of some churches and Masonic temples).
As the design on the “shroud” clearly wasn't a Beauseant and wasn't even a splayed red cross pattée, Michael speculated that it might be, at best, a lowly crusaders flag but most probably was a bog-standard flag of Saint George, the patron saint of England.
And, sure enough, when I went back and reviewed that segment again, it looked to me like Baigent was absolutely right.
So, where does this all leave us?
To my mind, Professor Robert Eisenman sums up the dilemma most succinctly during his interview at the end of the Bloodline, where he advises a downcast Bruce Burgess, "You have to be really, really careful... I've been involved in things that ultimately turned out to be frauds and forgeries and things like that, and these things can be very clever and very, very crafty."
But I think a wry anecdote from Michael Baigent provides us with an even more poignant perspective to contemplate.
The story goes that during his most recent visit to Rennes-le-Château, a restaurateur told Michael over lunch, "So far this season we've had three Mary Magdalenes and two John the Baptists visit us for a meal. It's been a good year..."
That just about says it all.
[Happy Summer Solstice to everyone and special thanks to Michael Baigent, and Herrings Jason Rhodes, Guillaume de Gogol, and Soph for additional input.]