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A work in progress. Suggestions and comments are most welcome.


Unable to Leave (a place or time)

Alamut entry (trying to leave Villa Fontana) 2 July 2002. We think of Buñuel's 'Exterminating Angel', the end of Bertolucci's 'The Spider's Strategem', Ramis's 'Groundhog Day', the television series 'The Prisoner', and Sartre's 'Huis Clos' (No Exit).

Point: the more "the prisoners cannot see the walls" the better. (Or perhpas the audience-other, who observes the mime walking her hands along an 'invisible wall'.)

To do: watch the film The Cube. It appears that this film is based on a Twilight Zone episode called 'Five Characters in Search of an Exit' (December 22, 1961, episode 79) written by Sterling and itself based on a short story, 'The Depository' by Marvin Petal. All of the above based on Luigi Pirandello's 1921 play Six Characters in Search of an Author (a play within a play!) which inspired Sartre's play 'Huis Clos'.

Rod Sterling's Five Characters in Search of an Exit " which the titular characters -- clown, hobo, ballet dancer, bagpiper, and army major -- are trapped in a giant cylinder, with no understanding of who they are or how they got there."

Another (earlier) 'The Cube' was directed and produced by the Muppet Show's Jim Henson for 'NBC's Experiment in Television':

" In this surreal example of Henson's occasional forays outside the world of puppetry, Richard Schaal stars as a man who finds himself trapped inside a cube with no exit. Henson directed and produced, and he co-wrote the script with fellow puppeteer Jerry Juhl, who later became The Muppet Show's head writer." (1969. 55 minutes)

Also to do: Watch Hitchcock's Lifeboat, a one set film (like 'Rope') based on a short story by John Steinbeck, "which depicts a large group of people trapped together in a small space. In this Hitchcock classic, however, the characters were threatened more by their own fears and prejudices than by storms or a choppy sea."

Premature Burial

Premature Burial might be considered as an example of a locked room. Poe dealt extensively with this theme -- instances being 'The Premature Burial', 'The Cask of Amontillado', 'The Black Cat', 'The Fall of the House of Usher', 'Berenice' .

Resources: A book length study by Jan Bondeson: Buried Alive: The Terrifying History of Our Most Primal Fear (thoroughly reviewed in the Salon article Buried Alive!) and a chapter dedicated to subject in Robert Wilkin's Death: A History of Man's Obsessions and Fears.

"Premature burial has a long literary history, from Boccaccio's Decameron to Romeo and Juliet to Wilkie Collins's Jezebel's Daughter..."

Alamut entry: 4 June 2002

Chris Burden

Several of Chris Burden's 1975 performances might be defined as 'locked room' pieces: White Light/White Heat (duration: 22 days), Doomed (duration: 45 hours and 10 minutes), La Chiaraficazione (duration 1 hour and 30 minutes)...

La Chiaraficazione
Galleria Alessandra Castelli, Milan, Italy
May 5, 1975.

The Castelli Gallery consists of a series of rooms, all of different sizes and configurations. One room was unusual in that it had only one small entrance and no windows. In this room, I placed twenty-five chairs in four rows in the traditional manner of theater seating. I waited until eleven people had entered the room then sealed off the entrance from the inside with particle board. An assistant placed a second panel on the other side which he painted white to match the gallery walls. The majority of the audience, about one hundred and fifty people, was locked out of the room and could only imagine what was happening within. Inside the room, I spoke to the eleven people in Italian and convinced them to stay in the room until someone broke in from the outside. I told them that they were the sculpture and that the responsibility for the success of the piece rested with them. I had provided twelve bottles of mineral water, candles, and a makeshift toilet. After we had been in the room for about an hour and a half, the audience in the main gallery removed the outer panel and smashed the inner panel to gain access to the room. The room was left untouched for the remainder of the show.

(Catalogue: Chris Burden 74-77)

Locked Room Mysteries

An important subgenre of the murder-mystery-detective tale where an event, in most cases a murder, occurs in an hermtically sealed room. Mistery suggests a typology of Locked-Room Mysteries and Other Impossible Crimes.

John Dickson Carr is considered the master of the genre. Other notable exemplars being Poe's 'The Murders in the Rue Morgue' (the first?); Edmund Crispin's 'The Moving Toy Shop' (1946); Anthony Boucher's 'Rocket to the Morgue'.

Dr. Fell's Locked Room Typology (from chapter 11, 'The Locked Room Lecture', of John Dickson Carr's novel, 'The Hollow Man'):

  1. "It is not murder, but a series of coincidences ending in an accident which looks like murder..."

  2. (Examples of this type given by Dr. Fell: Sherlock Holmes' adventure with the Crooked Man, Gaston Leroux's 'The Mystery of the Yellow Room'.)

  3. "It is murder, but the victim is impelled to kill himself or crash into an accidental death..."

  4. "It is murder, by a mechanical device already planted in the room, and hidden undetectably in some innocent looking piece of furninture..."

  5. "It is suicide, which is intended to look like murder..."

  6. "It is a murder which derives its problem from illusion and impersonation..."

  7. "It is a murder which, although committed by somebody outside the room at the time, nevertheless seems to have been committed by somebody who must have been inside..."

  8. "This is a murder depending on an effect exactly the reverse of number 5. That is the victim is presumed dead long after he actually is..."


Buñuel, Luis

The Exterminating Angel. 1962.


Sjowall, Maj & Wahloo, Per

The Locked Room: Story of a Crime.



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