Category Archives: Cinema Purgatorio
The mind boggles at this stunning animated film, released in summer 2012, that tells “A story about the fire at the heart of suffering. Bringing together dancers, musicians, visual artists and 3d animators, the film takes a critical look at the events of the past decade that have shaped our world.” With a “cast” that includes many massively important figures on the world stage (both ancient and modern, historical and mythological), and featuring a fairly amazing original musical score, the film is replete with mystical, occult, esoteric, and religious symbolism. It’s an instance of politically and religiously charged surrealism of the most edgy, beautiful, and mind-blowing sort.
If you’d like a breakdown of the “plot,” see this review at Greenewave. Otherwise, just open your mind and watch. More than once, preferably, if you want to catch all that’s going on.
The director is Louis Lefebvre. The production company is Heliofant, whose self-described mission is the use of computer animation, driven by art and artists from multiple fields, for explicitly philosophical and spiritual ends:
Based in the beautiful Laurentian mountains just north of Montreal, Canada, Heliofant is a nascent independent computer animation studio focused on creating experimental and challenging content. Bringing together artists from the fields of dance, music, computer animation and visual arts, the company is very interested in exploring the common ground that underlies many spiritual and philosophical traditions in a lyrical form.
Image via Heliofant
It may be giving away too much in advance to describe this short masterpiece of visionary animation as a religious metaphor that channels and encompasses not just the entire history of human civilization but its possible future as well. Or maybe not. Judge for yourself. Indie film site Directors Notes included “The Gloaming” among its official “picks” for June 2012 and accurately described it as an exploration of “planetary birth and the rapid evolution of its populous [sic] into exploitative war mongers.”
“The Gloaming” was produced by Sabotage Studio and directed by Nobrain, which is a pseudonym for a team of three filmmakers. “Saii, Charles and Niko met while they were working for post-production houses in Paris,” they say in their official self-description. “Saii was a compositing artist, Charles a CG artist and Niko a post-production supervisor.” Sabotage Studios is in fact their own creation; they launched it in 2001 as a post-production studio but then gave up control of it “to dedicate themselves to their own creations.”
For the easily offended, beware of not only scenes of (animated) violence but some explicit scenes of (animated) sex and nudity. For everyone, beware of helpless fascination with a piece of cinematic art that channels a disturbing premise into an even more disturbing conclusion.
Shot in a style that renders it both an explicit homage to cinema noir and an exploration of fantasy and surrealism, “Nuit Blanche” (2010) is nothing short of exquisite. The title translates literally from the French as “white night.” The production company is Spy Films. The director is Arev Manoukian. The idea is this:
Nuit Blanche explores an experience many of us have lived before — a fleeting yet powerful connection with a perfect stranger. Set in a dark cobblestone street in the 1950’s, a man catches the gaze of a woman in a cafe across the street. This split-second moment becomes suspended in time, as the two gravitate towards each other in a hyper real fantasy where nothing can hold them back.
The execution is magical.
For the curious, there’s a rather fascinating accompanying documentary detailing the making of the film.
Anastasis is the first new album from Dead Can Dance in 16 years. The legendary musical duo consisting of Brendan Perry and Lisa Gerrard (backed by numerous accompanying musicians) has covered a lot of ground, both musically and geographically, since they formed DCD in Melbourne in 1981, and the appearance of a new album by them represents a musical and general artistic event of considerable significance.
Here are some notes from the official write-up about the album and its background, followed by the just-released video for one of the new tracks.
On the cover of Anastasis [is] a field of sunflowers, ripened, and then blackened, by the sun, standing with sad, slightly crowned heads. Less dead than dormant, the heads and stems will one day be chopped, but then via the roots, will return. For Anastasis is the Greek word for ‘resurrection’ and the seemingly dead will dance again.
… [Brendan Perry] reckons the core of Anastasis can be found “slap bang” in the near-Eastern Mediterranean, from Greece and Turkey across to North Africa: “The music I listen to and research becomes both unconsciously and consciously part of a new project, and for this album, I’ve been fascinated by the classic immutable elements of Greek culture, the depth of their music and their love for song that you don’t get as much in the West; the way they combine philosophy and love songs, and throw a bit of science in there too. I love the eastern influence that comes from being a crossroads between East and West, the kaleidoscopic mosaic of those fused cultures, while the further west you go, the more it’s a mono-cultural society.
… [He describes the track “Opium” as] nihilistic, “that opiate state of mind, a form of depression, that traps you, whether it’s addiction or just circumstances. To not be able to choose a road as they all seem to lead nowhere.”
— Dead Can Dance, official bio page, updated June 2012
Image by Schmutzgetier [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Mesmerizing, beautiful, and even revelatory, this short film effectively does what the time lapse portions of Koyaanisqatsi did for contemporary urban-technological cityscapes and selected portions of untouched nature, only it expands the scope to encompass the planet as a whole — an appropriate ambition for a film titled “Terra Sacra,” Latin for “Sacred Earth.”
“Terra Sacra Time lapses” was photographed and edited by photographer-filmmaker Sean F. White in conjunction with projects he was working on for various high-profile media organizations (e.g., public television, National Geographic, The Discovery Channel), and it features a really fine original score by film and television composer Roy Milner. It also has its own Website, where White offers this evocative description of the project’s spiritual and practical genesis:
An around-the-world journey celebrating our Sacred Earth. Six-years in the making … seven continents … 24 countries.
My life as a filmmaker has been a journey which has blessed me with the privilege of seeing some of the most surreal and timeless places on the planet. These images of our Sacred Earth set to music are my way of sharing some of the magic I’ve experienced along the way … “Terra Sacra Time Lapses” is a short film featuring remote landscapes and ancient monuments from around the globe. These images were photographed between 2006-2012 on personal travels and assignments for Art Wolfe’s Travels to the Edge and Parallax Film Productions. I’ve combined my favourite shots from these trips into non-narrative film that touches on a theme close to my heart: Sacred Earth.
… The six-minute film is a journey through three distinct Acts: (I) Primordial Earth (II) Past meets Present and (III) Eternal Universe. This film is a personal project to share the beauty and awe I witnessed at these locations. I hope viewers will be moved by the intangible power of our Terra Sacra.
For another short film that is formally unrelated but thematically and artistically akin to “Terra Sacred Time Lapses,” see “Within Two Worlds.”
“Within Two worlds” offers another impressive take on a philosophical and cinematographic idea explored in Koyaanisqatsi and “Terra Sacred Time Lapses” — specifically, the idea that unrecognized aspects of reality and nature, including astonishing patterns and motions of beauty, grace, and symmetry, become visible when time lapse photography allows us to view the world at speeds transcending the normal human perspective. “Time-lapse is one of the hottest trends in photography nowadays, thanks in part to the wider availability of high-end cameras, high-resolution video and high production values,” observed NBC News journalist Alan Boyle a little over a month ago. “But you need some high-class talent behind the lens as well … The latest stunner to surface comes from Pacific Northwest photographer Brad Goldpaint. Goldpaint’s three-minute time-lapse, titled ‘Within Two Worlds,’ features three years’ worth of sky imagery collected from a variety of locales — including Tumalo Falls, the Three Sisters Wilderness, Crater Lake and Sparks Lake in Oregon, as well as the High Sierra, Mono Lake and Mount Shasta in California.”
Says Goldpaint himself:
“Within Two Worlds” depicts an alternate perspective by giving us the illusion of time’s movement, signifying a beginning and end within a world of constant contradiction. It appears you are traveling in the midst of a dream, half-sleeping, half-waking, and touching the arch connecting heaven and earth. I discovered my passion for photography shortly after my mother’s passing while hiking the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) 3 years ago. This time-lapse video is my visual representation of how the night sky and landscapes co-exist within a world of contradictions. I hope this connection between heaven and earth inspires you to discover and create your own opportunities, to reach your rightful place within two worlds.
Midway is, or will be, a film from the MIDWAY media project, and its trailer is one of those rare instances of the form that, like the megatrailer for Cloud Atlas, delivers a powerful experience in its own right.
Here’s what it’s all about:
The MIDWAY film project is a powerful visual journey into the heart of an astonishingly symbolic environmental tragedy. On one of the remotest islands on our planet, tens of thousands of baby albatrosses lie dead on the ground, their bodies filled with plastic from the Pacific Garbage Patch. Returning to the island over several years, our team is witnessing the cycles of life and death of these birds as a multi-layered metaphor for our times. With photographer Chris Jordan as our guide, we walk through the fire of horror and grief, facing the immensity of this tragedy — and our own complicity — head on. And in this process, we find an unexpected route to a transformational experience of beauty, acceptance, and understanding.
We frame our story in the vividly gorgeous language of state-of-the-art high-definition digital cinematography, surrounded by millions of live birds in one of the world’s most beautiful natural sanctuaries. The viewer will experience stunning juxtapositions of beauty and horror, destruction and renewal, grief and joy, birth and death, coming out the other side with their heart broken open and their worldview shifted. Stepping outside the stylistic templates of traditional environmental or documentary films, MIDWAY will take viewers on a guided tour into the depths of their own spirits, delivering a profound message of reverence and love that is already reaching an audience of tens of millions of people around the world.
In fulfillment of its description, the film looks to be beautiful, mesmerizing, haunting, and horrifying all at once. Nor is the convergence of these emotional and philosophical resonances an accident; the project’s director, the aforementioned Chris Jordan, is the internationally acclaimed artist and cultural activist whose startling, supersized images of Western culture’s almost inconceivable pollution and wastefulness — showing, for instance, how many paper cups or plastic water bottles we use in a day or a year — have achieved considerable notoriety and visibility in recent years, thanks largely to his widely circulated 2008 TED talk. Philosophically speaking, Jordan’s images
explore contemporary mass culture from a variety of photographic and conceptual perspectives, connecting the viewer viscerally to the enormity and power of humanity’s collective unconscious. Edge-walking the lines between art and activism, beauty and horror, abstraction and representation, the near and the far, the visible and the invisible, his haunting works ask us to look both inward and outward at the traumatized landscape of our collective choices.
Augmenting that description, Jordan’s own words bring out the deep fusion of ecological spirituality and authentic apocalypticism embodied in his work and mission:
I wonder if there may be some value in simply honoring this in-between place, acknowledging the space of open possibility where we stand. This is the moment of dissolution before the new form emerges, the imaginal space of potential from which all else will flow. As the marine scientist Sylvia Earle says: the next ten years are the most important in the next ten thousand.
It may be unnecessary to point out that this all resonates in perfect harmony and synergy with our focus here at The Teeming Brain on the deep meaning of apocalypse in an era of collapse, breakdown, revelation, and renewal by fire.
As with “Sight,” the short science fiction film that we highlighted as one of last week’s video offerings, the best way to watch the wonder that is “O (Omicron)” is probably to go into it “blind,” as it were, without knowing anything about it in advance. Both visually and musically, it’s a dazzling and overwhelming piece of work that demands full, undivided attention, and also a good set of speakers or headphones with the volume turned way up. For a first viewing we recommend simply letting it envelope you, while bearing in mind that there’s a clear guiding vision behind it, and a dystopian SF-influenced one at that. The Huffington Post’s Andres Jauregui captures the general vibe when he asks, “What, apart from visiting the H.R. Giger Museum, could come close to approximating the sublime thrill of running for your life inside an alien space ship? Well, for starters, there’s ‘Omicron’ … Paired with its own soundtrack, the overall effect is immense, immersive, and slightly terrifying.”
Also note that while a person would be forgiven for thinking the environment the film depicts is a purely virtual/CG creation, such a person would be wrong. This is actually a real-world installation, created via projection-mapping technology, that you can visit in person, and this fact makes the whole thing all the more striking (see the notes below).
“O (Omicron)” is “a permanent installation directed by Romain Tardy & Thomas Vaquié,” who explain the project’s inception in a June 18 blog post:
Last year, we were approached to create our first permanent installation for the new museum of architecture of Hala Stulecia, in Wroclaw, Poland. The piece — that we called O (Omicron), is actually the last part of the visit, and a way to create a link between the rich history of the building and the present times, by turning this massive concrete structure into a lively architecture.
They also explain its setting:
When opened, Hala Stulecia was the largest reinforced concrete structure in the world. With a diameter of 65m it was home to the largest dome built since the Pantheon in Rome eighteen centuries earlier. The Centennial Hall was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2006. It is reasonable to think that when Hala Stulecia was built in 1913 Max Berg’s ambition for his construction was to pass the test of time. What could have been his vision of the monument in the distant future? How did he imagine the olding of the materials? The evolution of the surrounding urbanism and populations?
And its conception:
The piece proposed for the Centennial Hall of Wroclaw is based around the notion of timelessness in architecture, and the idea of what future has meant throughout the 20th century. Taking the 1910’s as a starting point (the dome was erected in 1913), historical and artistic references were used to reveal the architecture of the space, its timeless and, more surprisingly, very modern dimension. A deliberately minimalist visual aesthetic allowed to highlight the very architecture of Hala Stulecia’s dome and re-affirm its place at the core of the piece. Minimalism also appeared to be the most appropriate means of conveying this idea of future at different periods of time (from 20’s/30’s anticipation film to more contemporary productions ). But the use of these references was not simply formal: the vision of futuristic totalitarian societies seemed to echo back real moments in the history of the building, warning us against the dangers of an idealized vision of the future.
And its awesome music:
Inspiration for the music composed by Thomas for this project was found in both orchestral work, echoing the colossal size of the architecture, and electronic textures, evoking the action of time. The score also tried and recreate a sense of evolution of the materials used for the dome structure, and their sonic aging.
And its guiding vision:
By using references such as Fritz Lang’s Metropolis or the utopian projects of Archigram to confront the different visions of the future at different times, we were interested in trying to create a vision of a future with no precise time reference. A timeless future.
There’s also a fascinating “making of” film to accompany the main project. If you’re like us, watching it and reading all of the above will make you want to go back and watch the main piece again in order to see its meaning newly illuminated.
Image: Centennial Hall in Wrocław and Zoo Wrocław 1 by Robert Niedźwiedzki via Wikimedia Commons under Creative Commons
Quick: What’s the common theme linking The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Baraka, Koyaanisqatsi, Days of Heaven, Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams, What Dreams May Come, Legends of the Fall, Lawrence of Arabia, El Topo, La Dolce Vita, The Tree of Life, Chinatown, Barry Lyndon, Hero, Kagemusha, The Black Stallion, Vertigo, Manhattan, Apocalypse Now , 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Last Picture Show, Raging Bull, and Brazil?
Answer: They’re all featured in “135 Shots That Will Restore Your Faith in Cinema,” an eight-minute compilation of cinematic paradise edited by Jason Bailey, with music by Clint Mansell (from the movie Moon) for Flavorwire.
Here’s how Bailey explains the origin of the project:
A couple of weeks back, we posed a rather massive question: “What are the most beautiful movies ever made?” We came up with ten candidates of our own, but you, the readers, really stepped up, with over 100 commenters (and counting) offering up their own nominees. There were so many great suggestions, in fact, that a simple follow-up post seemed inadequate; instead, we got our hands on our original list, our runners-up, and your picks — a total of 86 movies — and put together some of our favorite images from them for this week’s video essay, a celebration of cinematic imagery that’s particularly needed in the midst of summer blockbuster season.
We think the result is beautiful, and we gladly direct you to it. Note that there’s also an alternate annotated version that identifies each film.