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Saturday, 03 September 2011 02:00

Feeding Off Glints

By  Darren Tesar
Who knows how long it went unnoticed, a now negative space within one of hundreds of Hollywood vaults. Before it vanished, according to all documented history pertaining to the subject, one can only imagine how those faintly pink scales still shimmered pearlescent when caught in the light of some night shift security guard's torch. Nevertheless, it's all too understandable why these glints, taken off a slightly uncovered section of paw or protruding mass of animatronic tail, have over the years lost attention.

In the beginning there were two different models of the Luck Dragon, which became better known as Falkor.


The first and certainly most imposing model stretched an impressive fifteen meters in length with the tail alone constituting four of those fifteen meters. Even by today's standards, the fabrication of a creature the size of an adolescent sperm whale is worthy of taking note. For instance, the three meter long neck was actually a cantilever on which rested the one hundred kilogram head. Although the credit given to the body's fabrication is vague, the construction of the soon-to-be iconic canine skull was not. Undertaken by Guiseppe Tortura, the frame for the head was constructed from - amongst other things - airplane steel [1].

If the scale of the endeavor does not alone attest to a seduction towards excess, Falkor's skin goes even further. In order to create the fantastical reptilian/mammalian hybrid, the stage designers crafted over ten thousand hand-sized scales and acquired one hundred kilograms of pink angora wool to be applied over the entire fifteen meter mass [2]. Unlike other film sets where everything is built incomplete with the knowledge of a pre-choreographed mis-en-scène, Falkor was completely formed and ornamented without the least bit of frugality.

Like all living things, the mechanisms to activate Falkor's important, albeit limited movements were housed inside the hollow cavity of its body. Instead of a sequence of synapses igniting the twitch of muscle fibers, there were thirty-six control panels prescribed to sixteen life mimicking movements [3]. Also Inside this massive timber structure were several television monitors which the puppeteers controlling Falkor from within could use when orchestrating a perfect wink, roll of the eye, or spreading grin. Only with perfect collaboration did this decadent mixture of airplane steel, angora, and pearlescent scales spring into an existence outside of purely imaginative potential.

The second model was much smaller. In spite of measuring only forty centimeters in length it did not exhibit any other visible differences to that of its original. In order to achieve an immaculate copy the designer, Ute Trinks, exchanged those hand-sized scales for two thousand pinhead-sized scales. In place of the angora wool, the miniature Falkor was covered in a less lavish type of rabbit fur [4]. In short, everything down to the nearly invisible puppet strings, which mimicked the twenty-four memorable motions, was perfectly duplicated in miniature.

Despite the immediate success of The Neverending Story it took six years until a sequel was made during which time the two props lay together, nearly invisible, under a large dustsheet. However, in 1990 when the sequel was given the green light the film's desired image had changed. Recognizing that the sequel had only vague connections with the original novel, the new art director, O. Jochen Schmidt, devised a way to take creative liberties with the land of Fantasia and its inhabitants and Falkor plays only a minor role in the sequel [5]. The labor from the original group of technicians, designers, and puppeteers remained scattered about Hollywood's many humidity controlled warehouses waiting to be picked up by the promise of yet another sequel or purchased by a collector or museum.

Two decades later that promise was answered. Over that span of time the popularity of The Neverending Story grew along with the generation who had first watched Falkor in the 1984 film. Two museums in Germany, one in Babalberg and another in Munich, had the idea to place both Falkor props on display, namely the one from the 1984 original and the other from the 1990 sequel [6]. The plan was to invite the public to perform the fantasy of riding Falkor by sitting on one of the large props while being blasted by a tunnel of artificial wind behind a green screen. A camera would record and playback a video of the participant soaring through the clouds with all the windblown flourishes one would experience at such heights and traveling at such speeds.

But when the time came for the 1984 prop to be delivered it was nowhere to be found. The studio held no record of loaning, selling, or disposing of the original Falkor and with the prop having been in storage for over a decade, clues were minimal. Due to its absence and subsequent worries over the condition of the other prop, the Bavaria Filmstadt went ahead and built another full-scale Falkor to be used for their interactive attraction. Today no one really knows what ever became of the original. As for what can be hypothesized about the physical artifact of the 1984 Falkor three plausible outcomes come to mind.

The first and most outlandish of these is theft. During the years of Falkor's storage someone planned and executed its theft during an average night shift with the help of a willing guard. The production of such a heist would require either owning or renting a large semi trailer and the stage prop in question would have had to be broken into more manageable sections to reduce problems of transportability. A full sized semi-trailer and at least a handful of helpers would have been necessary to carry out the heist. The theft of something so large would take a considerable amount of time. That is unless the Falkor thief was actually a worker who took considerable pains to orchestrate an elaborate and rather lengthy dissembling. Imagine every night a piece of paw here or chunk of angora-covered ear there going out under the radar to some Los Angeles area garage, apartment or storage unit. Falkor, night after night, would slowly dematerialize from its Hollywood home only to be reborn, albeit cramped, in some lifelong fan's very own apartment. Only time will reveal the validity of this seemingly far-fetched hypothesis. Decades from now a news story might headline that a giant dog-like model had been found literally built into some apartment and how it had to be taken apart, piece by piece, in order to get it out of the doorway.

The second hypothesis involves a type of decay. Falkor may have been picked clean for all its usable materials over the span of two decades to the extent that any leftovers were unidentifiable. Hollywood is known to recycle materials and props from one production to the next and this could have certainly been the case for Falkor. Having been constructed from such sensual materials it is easy to imagine other designers plucking a scale or two for their next mermaid or peeling off some pink angora to reuse as added flourishing on a dress for an extravagant period film. After the first and most distinguishable layer was plundered, the next layer would go even faster. All that timber and airplane steel would be unscrewed and turned into anything from incomplete house façades to a heroic shield in any number of medieval fantasies. Over the years, Falkor would not so much disappear as disseminate into finer and less perceptible antecedents seen in dozens of other films. In short, Falkor might have succumbed to a type of Hollywood entropy, not altogether gone but spread too thin to possess any singular presence.

The last and most reliable hypothesis is one of pure negligence: Falkor was thrown away. The disposal was nothing more than a result of daily routine and as the monotonous cycle of props entering and leaving the vaults carried on, it was done with casual forgetfulness. The reason why no one knows what happened to Falkor is precisely because no one cared enough to jot it down or commit it to memory. It is quite possible that Falkor disappeared as a result of a thoughtless act ordered by some employee to simply hack the 15-meter puppet into pieces which were picked up and absorbed into the anonymity of a Los Angeles landfill. Years later and with a fresh cycle of employees, the Bavaria Filmstadt would contact the vault concerning the acquisition of a very particular piece of stagecraft only to discover its seemingly unknown disappearance.

Due to the scant evidence surrounding the disappearance of this icon, the mystery will most likely never be solved. No matter if it is someday discovered in a shed in New York City or a storage locker in China, the 1984 prop has already succeeded in its primary function. The image no longer exists in the realm of the purely imaginary and, no matter how briefly it resurfaces, it is set free to inhabit the collective imagination. Like so much iconography, the image of Falkor only finds endlessly reproduced punctuations.

One doesn't have to look far to find traces, or better yet, glints of Falkor's iconic features being perpetuated in an ever-increasing amount of interpretations. Be it the Internet photo meme comparing Falkor to Posh Spice or to multitude of Falkor themed "LOL cats", these new images make the question of Falkor's whereabouts even more elusive. The image of Falkor has its own autonomy now. Or rather, a pseudo-autonomy fashioned less from any inherent qualities of self-replication than from our inability to aggregate the multiplicity of entry and exiting points when qualifying temporal positions of cultural icons. Like the knotted snakes of the Auryn*, fixed into two perfect infinity symbols, we as a collective are interlaced, in contact, carrying an intimacy that can open our perceptions of distance. It is important to stress the phenomena of sharing in the context of recognizable and enduring cultural forms.


In the case of Falkor the increasing points of entry allowed by the numerous punctuating moments in the life of The Neverending Story are a form of sharing. As with many film adaptations, there are those for whom the book contains a singular and total image that the film disrupts. Likewise, there is a whole generation who gained access to the story via the 1984 film and carry a strong devotion to that image and wish to defend its integrity form subsequent sequels. Finally we have those who, through nostalgic attributions of the story, insert fragments of remembrances into completely unrelated narratives. Each and every one of these access points function as boundaries from which people build their experiences of the narrative. No matter how hard the mechanisms of nostalgia and the power relations of media are critiqued, there will continue to exist heterogeneous repetitions of various, and particular, perceptions.

Poshspice Falkorp

The image of Falkor is continuously resurfaced through generative manipulations such as television sitcom references, personal tattoos, or Internet memes. The receiver of these manipulations accesses an agency to rediscover or reject particularities found in the world they have encountered. In the case of cultural forms, i.e. icons found in television, music, and art, this can be activated by repetition or ruination, which requires a belief in an authentic origin or as a generative potential, which builds off an accepted false origin out of necessity or desire. Repetition in this context can be seen as a condition of denying an absolutely obsolescent singularity in individual experience, an experience not of sharing but of grounding oneself in a false belief derived from a reliable origin. This essay, instead, proposes an acceptance of repetition and a revision of what collective nostalgic experience can reveal about the meaning of origin. The nostalgic disposition discussed in this essay is less a mourning of the past or consumption of things for pastness sake but an unpredictable and seemingly haphazard dispersal of experiences activated by the confrontation of bordering objects or subjectivities; inciting an imponderable rush of one's individual experience played out within a collective.

"This is called finitude in Heideggerian terminology. But it has become clear since then that finitude signifies the infinite singularity of meaning, the infinite singularity of access to truth. Finitude is the origin; that is, it is an infinity of origins. "Origin" does not signify that from which the world comes, but rather the coming of each presence of the world, each time singular" (Jean-Luc Nancy, Being Singular Plural, trans. Robert D. Richardson and Anne E. O'Byrne (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2000).)

  NOTES * The "Auryn" is the magical medallion on the cover of the book The Neverending Story and grants the wearer wishes. On the back of the Auryn an inscription reads: "Do what you wish".
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