In the short film Staunch the Bleak Flow, former Gisborne man Bill Pauly played Mr Death.
Sadly, Bill’s character came for him in March last year. He died of a heart attack in his Wellington flat. He was not found for a few days. He was generally reclusive and, it’s fair to say, non-mainstream.
Bill was articulate, sometimes anarchic, mostly broke. He had a degree in semiotics, the study of signs and symbols, but he lived eccentrically. His talent never really found a home.
We called him Bill on the Hill while he lived in Gisborne. He lived with his cats at Acton Estate, a mansion on the back Ormond Road.
Bill had a drum-kit and a huge billiard room with a bar on the ground floor. A small circle of mates regularly took out guitars and amplifiers and liquor to join Bill in face-melting jam sessions. Bill’s ability to fluently free-associate into the microphone seemed to me to tap into a kind of genius.
His ideas were often well outside the box.
One of those ideas was for a game.
The game was Bill’s life’s work, it was going to make his fortune. He developed it in the out-of-bounds rooms on the first floor. He told no one what it was about or how it worked. We only knew it as Bill’s Game – and now he’s gone, Bill’s Game has gone with him.
As far as I know he left no designs or notes. We will never know if Bill’s Game was to be a cognitive or physical challenge with rules, equipment and winners and losers.
A couple of brief encounters with the game suggest it was mostly conceptual and involved chaos theory.
The first glimpse I caught of Bill’s Game was when I dropped in to see Bill at Acton one day. He had lodgers. This was unprecedented. What’s more, the rooms that housed Bill’s Game were open to view.
Reams of paper spiralled around the floors. At the heart of one spiral was a globe. Other props like islands of coloured glass or cartoons were placed strategically at other points in the rooms but gave no clue as to how the game worked.
Bill gave me a lift back in to town. For some reason I had to sit in the back. Papers littered the seat. I pushed them aside.
“Don’t touch those,” said Bill.
“They’re part of the game.”
I put them back in the rough order I’d thought I’d seen them in and squished into the space between the edge of the seat and the door.
Somewhere up in his rooms the game went on without anybody watching.
Another time at Acton, Bill gave a couple of mates and I cards with cartoons on them. They could have been pictograms, they could have been clues in some kind of quest.
“They’re part of the game,” he said cryptically. “You’re in the game now.”
We had no idea of the rules so there was no sense of change from what we already doing. Maybe we’re still in the game. Maybe that was the point of it. Maybe Bill forgot to switch it off before he returned to his planet for permanent repairs.
We’ll never know.
Bill is immortalised in Staunch the Bleak Flow which film-maker and former Gisborne man James Anderson shot in and around the back Ormond chateau. I played Van Man, a shaven-headed, Vietnam War veteran turned assassin and diaper delivery man.
Bill was Mr Death.
He stayed in his turret during the filming of a banquet scene. Extras – in Victorian costume for some reason – sat around the long polished table in dining room. When Bill finally made his entrance he was fully in character. The Victorian ghosts were shocked. Not only had Bill had cut off his ponytail, he had shaved his head. He wore a white suit and in his heart was judgement on Van Man’s dark deeds.
Mr Death’s legacy was to leave Van Man cold and alone for all eternity in the dining room with nothing but a pistol and a mirror, the end.
Bill also lives on in his bolshygreatyarbloggo blog. The title is drawn from the teenage argot used by young Alex and his droogs (friends) in Anthony Burgess’s dystopian novel A Clockwork Orange.
Known as Nadsat, the language is mostly a mash-up of corrupted Russian and English from London’s underbelly.
Bill’s last blog is headed with the greeting “yarbles, droogs” (bollocks, friends) and was posted in November. In this final entry, Bill’s doppleganger, his double, visits Bill’s flat while the occupant is out.
No obvious lifestyle changes, observes Bill’s paranormal counterpart in a voice that sounds like terrestrial Bill.
“New cobwebs, big bottle bank out back, papers everywhere with list after expired list… Still not sure what this guy does for a crust.
“Maybe he is some kind of academic. He does have some well thumbed books on a range of subjects, all of them dense and intensely dull. Which is why I have been mainly using his TV and Internet. And his canned goods, which he has extensively restocked. Lucky for me.
“This could be a long stay.”