Friday, January 04, 2008

National Treasure: Book Of Secrets

Like most Masons who got themselves all atwitter when first viewing the Masonic symbol-laden trailer for National Treasure: Book Of Secrets, I was eager to see the final film when it debuted Christmas Week of 2007. Its predecessor, 2004’s National Treasure was the first really fun, escapist entertainment that involved Freemasons without depicting members of the fraternity as bald-headed, cat-stroking criminal masterminds, or serial killers inspired by Aleister Crowley-style sex-magick rituals.

Face it: the image of Nicholas Cage holding the Declaration of Independence in front of an All-Seeing Eye became to Masons what Farrah Fawcett in a bathing suit was to teenaged boys in the 1970s. And if that isn’t creepier than a backrub from Grandma, I don’t know what is.


I really wanted to love this film. I had a goofy warm glow of fun, like after a day in Disneyland, after the first one. And with every trailer for the film sporting Masonic symbolism everywhere, I was prepared for a Masonic Citizen Kane. Or at least a Masonic Showgirls. Besides, Nicholas Cage is my sister's next door neighbor in California. I'd hate to be visiting her and suddenly bump into him strolling down the beach after panning his movie to the Masonic community. Awkward.

Aw, who am I kidding. The picture has grossed $125 million by the end of its second weekend. What's a disappointed Mason or two in the face of that? But at least now I know why the VP at Disney never returned my call before the picture opened.

Unfortunately, Masons are in for quite a letdown with the final released version of Book Of Secrets. Sure, there are a few tantalizing bits of top water bait flung our way, mostly as throwaway snips of dialogue (Albert Pike! He mentioned Albert Pike right there in the movie! Get those petitions, lads! They’ll be knocking our doors down any minute!). But I got the distinct impression that the first edit of the picture was three hours long, only to be chopped down to nothing but breathless car chases, ridiculous plot points and appalling scenes of characters thinking out loud for the benefit of the history-impaired. “Whoa, what, there’s a second Statue of Liberty?” “Yes, Reilly, in PARIS!” Cut to a shot of the Arc de Triomphe with a title card reading Paris, France.

Or my favorite, “I’m gonna kidnap the President of the United States!”

It was too much to hope that it wouldn't be so, well, stupid. Although, with the Wibberley's on board (The Shaggy Dog, Charlies Angels II, I Dream Of Jeannie, Fantastic Voyage), my hopes weren't high. But what do I know? It's the #1 picture in the world right now.

The only two references to Masonry in the original script were cut from the final film:
• Ben Gates is asking FBI Agent Sadusky, about ‘the President’s Book,’ the Book of Secrets of the subtitle. This book supposedly lists secrets only U.S. Presidents are authorized to know. Sadusky asks why Gates is asking Sadusky about this, to which Gates replies, “Because of the 43 men who have ever been President of the United States of America, 15 of them are confirmed freemasons. You’re a 33rd-Degree Master Mason, a Mason of the highest order. If anyone knows if this book exists, you do.”

• At the conclusion of the movie, Ben asks Sadusky why Sadusky helped Ben obtain access to the President’s Book. Sadusky responds: “Well, when you become a 33rd-degree Master Mason, you wonder if half the stuff they tell you is true. I was curious.”


Apparently, the Grand Lodge of New York was hoping there would be more Masonic meat in Book Of Secrets, too. According to an article in today’s New York Times, the Grand Lodge had a public relations firm send out press releases explaining that Masons have nothing to hide (Move along, nothing creepy here). Times writer Jennifer B. Lee seems skeptical throughout, but was nice enough to make up an interactive Google map of NYC’s Masonic sites, while expressing the belief that New York’s magnificent and ornate lodge rooms with candles and no windows “certainly do not help dissuade those looking for fodder for conspiracy theories.”

Yes, Book of Secrets is the very biggest, if silliest, in escapist entertainment. Check your credibility at the door and be prepared to groan as our heroes engage in breaking and entering in Buckingham Palace, the White House, and the President’s private birthday party at Mount Vernon. Just don’t expect any blatant Masonic connection, apart from the lecture hall in the opening minutes being the auditorium of the George Washington Masonic National Memorial. You wouldn’t know unless somebody told you.

Now, if it’s a little digging you’re willing to do, you can find some Masonic nuggets suggested by the film, but never actually explained or explored. Here is a smorgasbord of points mentioned in the film.

In the film, Wilkinson (Ed Harris) claims to be a descendant of Civil War general Albert Pike, and he produces a letter written by Pike to Queen Victoria concerning clues for finding Cibola, one of the seven fabled Cities of Gold, to finance the Confederacy in the waning days of the war. No mention of the fact that, as Civil War generals go, Pike was pretty insignificant, giving up his commission after the disastrous Battle of Pea Ridge in 1862. Pike’s mention in the film seems more like a Masonic Easter egg than a plot point.

The Knights of the Golden Circle get mentioned in the first three minutes of the film, as John Wilkes Booth and his sidekick threaten Thomas Gates into deciphering their coded message. Said sidekick is wearing a KGC lapel badge – a potentially dangerous item to be sporting in Washington DC just three days after Appomattox, but if he wasn’t, we wouldn’t have no picture. Except that they are never mentioned again. There’s a lot of that going on in this movie.

Looking for symbolic numbers? Ben's folks have been separated for 32 years (there's a Scottish Rite gag in there somewhere amidst Helen Mirren's bemoaning of bad Tequila). And that "page 47" stuff - surely that's not a cheap allusion to the 47th Problem of Euclid. Nah. Not "life changing" enough. (Nicholas Cage claims he ad libbed the "life changing" line, making an intriguing but difficult box for the inevitable sequel to fight its way out of.)

Edouard Rene de Laboulaye’s name is what appears on the cipher Gates tries to burn to keep out of the hands of the KGC. Apart from being an excuse for the cast and crew to spend two weeks in Paris to shoot two pages of script, Laboulaye is the first Masonic connection in the film. He was an important French author during the mid-1800s, and an ardent admirer of the United States. In 1865, as the American Civil War was ending, Laboulaye assembled a group of fellow Freemasons, including the grandsons of the Marquis d’ Lafayette, French historian Henri Martin, and a young artist named Frederic Auguste Bartholdi. The idea was to present a monument to the United States to represent France’s friendship (along with being a poke in the eye to Napoleon III’s repressive Second Empire by celebrating American style freedoms the French were being deprived of). The Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World was a Masonic conception right from the start, and the construction of its pedestal on Bedloe’s Island was spearheaded by funds raised by the Masons of New York. Even the statue’s internal structure had a Masonic connection – it was designed by Freemason Gustave Eiffel.

At the statue’s dedication in New York in 1884, the Grand Lodge laid the cornerstone, and Grand Master William A. Brodie remarked, “"No institution has done more to promote liberty and to free men from the trammels and chains of ignorance and tyranny than has Freemasonry." The statue was finally completed in 1886.

The small version of Liberty in Paris shown in the film stands by the Pont Grenelle on the Isle de Cygnes in the Seine, a little downstream from the Eiffel Tower. It was erected in 1889 when it was given to France by America. From everything I have researched, the “quote” of Laboulaye’s supposedly on the base in the movie doesn’t really exist. A smaller version is also in Paris, in the Jardin du Luxumborg – it was Bartholdi’s original model. And there is a third element of Liberty in Paris. A full-sized, gold-leaf copy of the flaming Torch of Liberty stands just north of the Pont de l’Alma, just above the tunnel where Princess Diana was killed in 1997.

Speaking of that torch, it leads to another Masonic connection that wasn’t made in the movie. In 1916 it was decided to “electrify” the Statue of Liberty in new York and make it into a lighthouse. Floodlights were installed at the base, but the gold-leaf copper plates making up the torch had to be chopped out and replaced with glass so that an electric light could be installed. And who did the cutting job on the torch? A gifted artist and Freemason named John Gutzon de la Mothe Borglum. Borglum was born in Idaho and raised in Nevada, but he came to New York and was made a Mason in Howard Lodge No. 35 in 1904, and served as its Master in 1910.

You might know Borglum’s name from two other famous gigantic pieces of sculpture: his preliminary carving of Georgia’s Stone Mountain, featuring the image of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. But a little more famous, Borglum was the sculptor of South Dakota’s Mount Rushmore, the location for the end of the movie, which features the busts of Freemasons George Washington and Teddy Roosevelt.


One final note – the Resolute Desk story is true, except for the Chinese puzzle box malarkey. But there’s no need to break in to the Oval Office and let your girlfriend get mauled by some third-rate G3 wetfart just so you can crawl around under the President’s desk undetected attempting to steal a chunk of the thing. You can buy one of your very own at www.resolutedesk.com. Starting price is $7,500 and goes up to $14,500, if you have stones big enough to sit behind a desk with the presidential seal carved in the front panel.



Sweet.

2 comments:

Nathan Brindle said...

You know you want that desk.

Tom Accuosti said...

I put mine in the garage. It makes a great workbench if you drill some holes and bold a vise to the corner.