Category Archives: Cinema Purgatorio

The Fruits of Dystopia (SHORT FILM)

The present cultural prominence and popularity of dystopian fiction and film, including the newly minted subgenre of young adult dystopian novels (c.f. The Hunger Games), underscores the fact that we’re living in what can reasonably be characterized as dystopian times. Or perhaps, to be more accurate, we’re living in a real-world manifestation of an anti-utopia, a situation in which a society deems itself a utopia when in fact it’s a nightmare.  Fahrenheit 451 and Brave New World are only two of the most familiar examples of this theme in English-language literature.

They’re also two of the works quoted in “The Fruits of Dystopia,” a short film by Cyrus Sutton, Creative Director at California-based Korduroy.TV,”a website spreading digital Aloha. Through video how-to’s, short films, rants and interviews we are creating a new platform for independent surf culture — a place where ideas can be shared that respect self-sufficiency, craftsmanship, and a surfing experience of our own design.”

So what, you ask, is the link between this expressed aim and the theme of dystopia? The film’s short description draws the connection in pithy fashion:

“The Fruits of Dystopia” is a short film about having fun in a less than perfect world. Cyrus Sutton explores an escape from modern trappings through excerpts from classic dystopian novels “1984,” “A Brave New World” [sic] and “Fahrenheit 451.”

In other words, the point — apparently — is to share several darkly dystopian takes on the state of human life and society, and, while basically agreeing with them, to show where and how pleasure and joy can still be found in the midst of such a situation. What’s even more interesting than this inherently interesting premise is that in Sutton’s hands it actually works. The film is rather hypnotic. Watch it and see for yourself.

Also be advised that in addition to Orwell, Huxley, and Bradbury, there’s another writer whose words show up: Alan Watts. “The Fruits of Dystopia” contains abridged portions of an early 1970s radio talk by Watts in which he acknowledged and explored his very deep debt to Jung. Here’s a passage from the talk’s complete transcript, encompassing some of what you’ll hear in the film. It makes for a fine epigraph:

[Jung was] trying to heal this insanity from which our culture in particular has suffered, of thinking that a human being becomes hale, healthy, and holy by being divided against himself in inner conflict, paralleling the conception of a cosmic conflict between an absolute good and an absolute evil which cannot be reduced to any prior and underlying unity. In other words, our rage, and our very proper rage, against evil things which occur in this world must not overstep itself, for if we require as a justification for our rage a fundamental and metaphysical division between good and evil, we have an insane and, in a certain sense, schizophrenic universe, of which no sense whatsoever can be made.

Crossover (SHORT FILM)

Is it a fable or parable, perhaps? About ecology or religion, maybe? If it’s the latter, is it a symbolic statement about the means by which organized/institutional Christianity has historically been disseminated to, and often forced upon, “primitive” peoples?

Whatever it is, it’s a fascinating piece of work that has drawn a lot of attention, and it certainly arrested ours when it was recommended to us by Jesús Olmo. Two months ago the film even made it all the way to the finals in the animation category at the 2012 Vimeo Awards in New York.

The filmmaker is Fabian Grodde, and the film itself was his thesis project at the Bauhaus-Universität Weimar. There’s an official description, but it’s fairly skeletal:

Pictures of an elaborately designed miniature setting of a forest were filmed solitary and combined with 3D animations of firebugs and gardenspiders in post-production. Accompanied with sound effects and appropriate electronic music the bugs are taking action…

A helpful review at Short of the Week gives a more detailed idea of both the technical brilliance and the thematic depth of “Crossover”:

The landscapes Grodde and his team have created for his CGI bugs to inhabit manage to feel grand in scale, despite their restricted size. It is a sense of grandeur that is only multiplied by the cinematography as director of photography Raphael Köhler’s camera sweeps and circles the scenery in a Lord of the Rings fashion. The meticulous detailing isn’t restricted to the film’s surroundings, though, as Grodde’s bugs scuttle and crawl across the frame with a realism that sends shivers down your spine.

Crossover’s powerful imagery is perfectly matched with a fascinating narrative that pays homage to the cinematic great King Kong, whilst also managing to comment on the reach of Christianity across the globe. It’s a combination that results in an enthralling amalgamation of style and story, presenting us with a film that is truly rich in originality and unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.

We heartily concur. Enjoy.

The Tragedy of Man (MOVIE TRAILER)

The movie trailer itself can be a form of art, as witnessed by the just-released mega-trailer for Cloud Atlas, the forthcoming new film from the Wachowskis. Trailers not only advertise a film but, in some cases, can present and possess their own inherent logic, flow, and narrative arc, and can generate a memorable viewing experience in their own right.

This principle is illustrated by the trailer for The Tragedy of Man (2011), a Hungarian animated film written and directed by Marcell Jankovics and adapted by him from the play by Imre Madách. Jankovics spent nearly 20 years (!) making the film, and the fruits of his labor are quite visible in the trailer itself.

Here it is, followed by details about the film’s origin, plot, and production.

Cannes Palm D’Or winner and Oscar-nominated Hungarian legend of animation Marcell Jankovics adapted the script of The Tragedy of Man in 1983 from Imre Madách’s play. The production of the film started in 1988 but only concluded at the end of 2011 after two and a half decades of struggle. The most acclaimed Hungarian play was written 150 years ago, it was translated to 90 languages, being constantly compared to Goethe’s Faust or Dante’s Divina Comedia not only because of its theme but also due to its qualities. The play still lives its life in the European cultural sphere: it has been recently translated to Russian and Italian for the umpteenth time. The film follows the structure of the play: it consists of 15 acts that guide us through the past and the future of mankind.

Greek film reviewer Vassilis Kroustallis gives this informative description and reaction:

[The Tragedy of Man tells] the epic and bleak story of human civilisation, from the Garden of Eden to the chilling humanoid future. Lucifer, the co-creator of the world (according to his statement) tests Adam and puts him to sleep to see his destiny through the ages. The trip is interesting, visually stimulating (but never pretty), and relentlessly repeating. Not a single note of happiness or laughter enters The Tragedy of Man, which proceeds from the Garden of Eden to Egypt and then to classical Greece, Rome, Christianity and beyond. At the some time, even the most shocking scenes (decapitation for instance) are given almost philosophically calm, as a result of the inevitable recurring world press. The choice of the stories to tell is varied and remarkable. Along with the usual historical suspects (Danton and the French Revolution, Hitler and Stalin), the Miltiades story from Greece (a general who becomes a traitor), and the Tancred and Crusades segment — along with the battles on the Filioque — are a treat to watch in this context. Yet, the most dramatic story is the one of Copernicus. In a film that utilizes an impressive array of visual styles, the almost simplistic black-and-white story of a genius who lives by telling the daily horoscope is fascinating and ironic enough to give credit to the insatiable but dooming need of the man to knowledge.

As a bonus, here Jankovics’ complete short film “Sisyphus,” which was nominated for an Academy Award in 1975.

Parasite Choi (SHORT FILM)

For one of this week’s film offerings, we’ve chosen a short piece whose fusion of post-apocalyptic horror, beauty, starkness, and surreality is guaranteed to fascinate and disturb.  And that’s not even to mention the astonishing brilliance of the visual effects and sound design, nor the even more astonishing fact that “Parasite Choi” is a collaborative international project that was created by a team of digital artists working asynchronously from multiple locations.

Directed by French filmmaker Damien Steck and produced by SR Partners (a London-based motion graphics studio) and OUKA Studio (Steck’s own production company), “PARASITE CHOI is a collaborative project including more than 15 digital artists from 10 countries all around the world. This movie was premiered at the famous Offf festival 2012.” The list of contributing artists includes OUKA Studio plus Murat Pak, Tim Borgmann, Gabor Ekes, Andrey Nepomnyaschev, Ben Reubold, CAOH, Chimera Studio, Emrah Gonulkirmaz, Icecream, Kim Holm, Monologue, Tom Waterhouse, and Ihsu Yoon.

The film’s “plot,” such as it is, centers on the world’s last remaining human, who wanders in a kind of trance  through a vast, lifeless desert while undergoing an endless series of simultaneously horrifying and beautiful transformations under the power of some monstrous, undefined force.

“Mossgrove / Bed of Moss” (SHORT FILM in 2 parts)

In distinct contrast to the surreal metaphysical/ontological grunge and horror of “Metachaos,” our other cinematic suggestion for today, here’s a linked pair of positively lovely short films, set to beautiful solo piano music and focusing on certain aspects of the natural world that usually go unnoticed by us humans. The paired title is “Mossgrove/Bed of Moss.” The director is Kurtis Hough. The music is by Rachel Grimes, from her album Book of Leaves. Hough describes the two films together as his “complete two part timelapse/macro art film exploring the lush mossy landscapes of Oregon.” More specifically, they explore the state’s slugs and moss.

Trust us, you’ll be surprised at how hypnotic the whole thing is.

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“Metachaos” (SHORT FILM)

For the first of this week’s Cinema Purgatorio offerings, we’ve chosen a short, surreal experimental film that is, hands down, one of the most challenging, engrossing, and overwhelming cinematic experiences on multiple levels — visceral, emotional, aesthetic, philosophical — that we’ve come across in ages. Like so many other items that we’ll be featuring in weeks and months to come, this one was brought to our attention by video artist and Teeming Brain friend Jesús Olmo.

“Metachaos” is the brainchild and soulchild of Italian filmmaker, painter, and photographer Alessandro Bavari. It premiered in 2011 and won multiple prizes at numerous international film festivals. Here’s the official synopsis, whose heady verbiage and oddly skewed syntax only begin to hint at the power of the film itself:

Metachaos, from Greek Meta (beyond) and Chaos (the abyss where the eternally-formless state of the universe hides), indicates a primordial shape of ameba, which lacks in precise morphology, and it is characterized by mutation and mitosis. In fact the bodies represented in METACHAOS, even though they are characterized by an apparently anthropomorphous appearance, in reality they are without identity and conscience. They exist confined in a spaceless and timeless state, an hostile and decadent hyperuranium where a fortress, in perpetual movement, dominates the landscape in defense of a supercelestial, harmonic but fragile parallel dimension. In its destructive instinct of violating the dimensional limbo, the mutant horde penetrates the intimacy of the fortress, laying siege like a virus. Similar to the balance of a philological continuum in human species, bringing the status of things back to the primordial broth.

… The irrational gesture and action of the bodies, as if a collective form of madness controlled them, are inspired by artists like Bosch and Bruegel who, between the ‘400 and ‘500, produced an iconography where irrational images show sickly madness and pain.

The film was awarded the Golden Nica (the highest prize) in the Prix Ars Electronica 2011, last year’s installment of the prestigious yearly prize in the field of electronic and interactive art, computer animation, digital culture and music. The jury statement from the Ars Electronica does a fine job of describing the film — as fine as one could hope, anyway, for such a virtually indescribable artistic manifestation:

The 8-minute clip begins with a sequence of clear, geometric forms that suggest a serene world. But it doesn’t take long until it’s apparent that this was just the calm before the storm. Shadowy creatures and shockingly grotesque figures intrude into this domain rendered in black & white and sepia tones and rip it to pieces. Using the interplay of light and shadow, intentionally shaky camera movements and quick cuts, Bavari takes us on a tour de force through an unsettling imaginary cosmos that grips viewers and doesn’t let them loose. In addition to its extraordinary visuals, “Metachaos” features an impressive composed soundscape of incredibly concentrated intensity — noise elements paired with driving beats, panic-stricken screams, the rattling of bones and gale-force winds.

While some of as did not necessarily share the apocalyptic view of this film, we found that it left the most indelible impression … What starts as a cinematic, kinetik, yet clean field of geometry and bodies, gradually evolves, or devolves, into the artist’s vision of a nightmarish black-and-white world created by a continual collision of the human and the architectural form. It finally culminates in a screaming dance among the ruins.

Trust us: This on demands full immersion. Find a time when you can fullscreen it and turn the volume way up. Seldom has the apocalyptic undercurrent of human life been so powerfully portrayed.

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“Metamorphosis” (SHORT FILM)

This post will launch our Cinema Purgatorio feature, wherein each Wednesday we’ll share one or more finds from the Internet’s rich trove of cinematic fascination. Whatever else may be true of the current state of our digital media-driven way of life — which flirts in so many ways with dystopian disaster — it’s a golden age of creativity for short films and visual media projects.

For this inaugural entry, we call your attention to “Metamorphosis,” an exquisite short film retelling the Venetian Renaissance master Titian’s series of paintings by the same name. It was produced by writer-director duo Luke White and Remi Weekes, who work together under the name “Tell No One.” They completed the project in association with the new exhibition “Metamorphosis: Titian 2012” from The National Gallery, London, which “brings together a group of specially commissioned works responding to three of Titian’s paintings — Diana and Actaeon, The Death of Actaeon and the recently acquired Diana and Callisto — which depict stories from Ovid’s epic poem ‘Metamorphoses. ‘”

In the story of Diana and Actaeon, the latter is out hunting one day when he accidentally happens upon the secret bathing place of Diana, virgin goddess of the hunt. In her outrage she exacts a revenge that only a god or goddess could conceive and carry out.

The film, in our opinion, is pure myth.

Metamorphosis from Tell No One on Vimeo
Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net