Blog Archives

Our Craving for Apocalypse: ‘Dispatches from the Ruins’ (short video)

This brief video essay on the source of our collective craving for “the awful futures of apocalyptic fiction” is really well done. Skillfully executed and thought-provoking. A worthwhile investment of five reflective minutes. Here’s the description:

In the first two decades of the new millennium, stories of the post-apocalypse have permeated pop culture, from books such as Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (2006), Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl (2009) and Emily St John Mandel’s Station Eleven (2014) to films and TV programmes such as The Walking Dead (2010-), the Hunger Games series (2012-15) and Mad Max: Fury Road (2015). While post-apocalyptic fictions of previous eras largely served as cautionary tales — against nuclear brinksmanship in On the Beach (1959) or weaponised biology in The Stand (1978) — today’s versions of these tales depict less alterable, more oblique and diffuse visions of our doom. So why can’t we seem to get enough of humanity’s unavoidable collapse and its bleak aftermath?

Dispatches from the Ruins reflects on what these stories — set among crumbling buildings, overgrown lots and barren wastelands — might be telling us about modern fears and fantasies. This Aeon original video is adapted from an Aeon essay by the US writer Frank Bures. Bures is also the author of The Geography of Madness (2016), a book about cultural syndromes across the world. His work has been included in the Best American Travel Writing and appeared in Harper’s, Lapham’s Quarterly and the Washington Post Magazine, among others.

 

WE SLEEP – John Carpenter’s ‘They Live’ as Prophecy (video essay)

Love this video essay from filmmaker (and former Buddhist Studies scholar) Daniel Clarkson Fisher. Perhaps you will, too. It’s great stuff, excellently conceived and executed. Perhaps I don’t agree with absolutely all of the political statements made in it. But I agree with enough of them. And anyway, it’s about Carpenter’s They Live. So what else matters?

From the included interviews:

Slavov Zizek: They Live from 1988 is definitely one of the forgotten masterpieces of the Hollywood Left. It tells the story of John Nada — nada, of course, in Spanish, means “nothing,” a pure subject deprived of all substantial content — a homeless worker in L.A. who, drifting around, one day enters an abandoned church and finds there a strange box full of sunglasses. And when he puts one of them on, walking along the L.A. streets, he discovers something weird: that these glasses function like “critique of ideology” glasses. They allow you to see the real message beneath all the propaganda, publicity glitz, posters, and so on.

John Carpenter: I was reflecting on a lot of the values that I saw around me at the time, mainly inspired by Ronald Reagan’s conservative revolution. There was a great deal of obsession with greed and making a lot of money, and some of the values that I grew up with had been pushed aside. So I decided to scream out in the middle of the night and make a statement about that. And They Live is partially a political statement. It’s partially a tract on the world that we live in today. And as a matter of fact, right now it’s even more true than it was then.

Jan Svankmajer: “A puppet is a magical object”

A puppet is a magical object. It is not a toy, is it? Here they see it as puppet theatre, as puppets for kids. But it’s just not like that. These native tribes — in Africa or Oceania, etc. — the shamans use puppets in communication not only with the upper world, with the gods, but even in relation when they treat a sick person. Those shamans, when they dress as some demon or some deity, they incarnate genuinely. They are either the totem animal or the demon.

 

Short Film: ‘2084’

Remember: You must conform.

Better yet: Doughnut thing. (Watch for explanation.)

If Thomas Ligotti, David Lynch, and Philip K. Dick made a sitcom: “Too Many Cooks”

In case you missed this when it basically took over the Internet for a couple of weeks last fall (late October to early November 2014), I give you Too Many Cooks, which I think has been described most ably by Simon Pegg: “Too Many Cooks is so deftly engineered to unnerve stoned people in their mid 30s, it might actually have been created by the US government.” Imagine a 1980s/early 1990s American sitcom gone terribly, horribly, cosmically wrong. Then you’ll have the barest inkling of what’s in store.

Too Many Cooks originally played during the wee hours of the morning on Adult Swim’s “Infomercials” programming block, showing up with no warning or fanfare and simultaneously amusing and traumatizing viewers everywhere. I warn you that it’s definitely not for the squeamish, nor for the easily offended. People who enjoy having their reality hacked, however, are advised to watch. And although I basically agree with The Atlantic when it cautions that the less you know about this thing in advance, the better, I’ll issue this one additional piece of advice: that you refuse to give in to the temptation that may arise to stop watching after a few minutes because you think you’ve already gotten the joke and it’s getting boring. Just push on through that feeling if it arises, because after several minutes of a hilarious but increasingly annoying (because apparently endless) parody of sitcom opening credit sequences, the universe itself basically goes off the rails.

I couldn’t stop thinking about Too Many Cooks for days after I watched it. And since you’re somebody who is attracted by invocations of the names of Ligotti, Lynch, and Dick, I suspect the same may prove to be true of you.

‘Woodhouse’ – A short film about the numinous longing for monsters

Woodhouse

The Woodhouse Nature Reserve, South East London. It’s a sprawling hectare of knotted ivy and mossy tree stumps. And while its edges are speckled with rusting tins and damp takeaway boxes, its interior is verdant, untouched. There, beyond the padlocked gates some thing, some creature is living.

This thoroughly riveting short film by writer/director Fred Rowson won Film London’s Best of Boroughs Jury Award and was made with support from Film London, Blink Productions, and the Kevin Spacey Foundation. The writing, acting, directing, cinematography, visual design, musical score, and everything else are quite lush and beautiful. And the concept is quite striking.

Annalee Newitz at io9 describes Woodhouse as “a beautiful, sad short film about a little girl who sees a monster in a London park. But it’s also about why we long to find monsters — and the forces that crush our desires. . . . Rowson offers us a skeptic’s view of cryptozoology, but also mourns the loss of imagination that skepticism brings.”

Greg at The Daily Grail describes it as “A Monster Film That Examines the Interplay between Belief and Skepticism” and says it “shows how marginalised the people studying these topics are by others, from family to media outlets — or at the very least, how modern society tends to suppress non-conforming ideas, imagination and adventure.”

I agree with both descriptions/assessments. But in slight contradistinction to Ms. Newitz’s overall take, I also add that Woodhouse touches the numinous and sublime at multiple points by offering a bit of Fortean, John Keelian, and even Chapel Perilous-type tension between natural and supernatural/preternatural/paranormal takes on life and reality, and by hinting, especially in its final scene and shot (which work in tandem with all that comes before), that the “answer” to this conundrum is both a riddle that defines our deepest selves and, perhaps, an objective reality that can rise up to confront and haunt us.

(If you can’t play the hi-res Vimeo version above, try the slightly lower-res but still nice-looking YouTube version.)

Short Film: H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Hound”

Here’s a short (5-minute) adaptation of Lovecraft’s short story “The Hound,” rendered with CG animation and presented in a really intriguing style. I wouldn’t have expected it to “work” for me, but by Azathoth, it does. The gloomy and intriguing visual conception and the lush sound design all add up to a very effective presentation of Lovecraft’s tale of two men who, craving a sublime experience of darkness and decadence, and having exhausted the available literary and artistic sources for such things, turn to grave-robbing. In short order, they call down a hideous fate upon themselves when they inadvertently wake up an ancient supernatural presence.

The predatory excursions on which we collected our unmentionable treasures were always artistically memorable events. We were no vulgar ghouls, but worked only under certain conditions of mood, landscape, environment, weather, season, and moonlight. These pastimes were to us the most exquisite form of aesthetic expression, and we gave their details a fastidious technical care. An inappropriate hour, a jarring lighting effect, or a clumsy manipulation of the damp sod, would almost totally destroy for us that ecstatic titillation which followed the exhumation of some ominous, grinning secret of the earth.

. . . After that we lived in growing horror and fascination. Mostly we held to the theory that we were jointly going mad from our life of unnatural excitements, but sometimes it pleased us more to dramatise ourselves as the victims of some creeping and appalling doom. Bizarre manifestations were now too frequent to count. Our lonely house was seemingly alive with the presence of some malign being whose nature we could not guess, and every night that daemoniac baying rolled over the windswept moor, always louder and louder.

H. P. Lovecraft, “The Hound” (1924)

‘The Forbidden Forest’ – Short film inspired by Arthur Machen’s ‘The White People’

Forbidden forest-3

Directed, animated, scored, and edited by filmmaker Keith Ronindelli, this amazing short film evokes the dark mystery and sacred terror of Arthur Machen’s classic tale “The White People” in just six minutes. I’m personally struck by the depth and richness of both the vision and the execution, and by the sheer awesomeness of the hallucinatory imagery arising from the young protagonist’s discovery of a pagan shrine in a forest, whose general character is indicated by a line from Machen’s story that appears as an epigraph at the start of the film: “It was so strange and solemn and lonely, like a hollow temple of dead heathen gods.”

Ronindelli explained his intentions and inspirations to Cartoon Brew back in 2011 when the film was released:

The Forbidden Forest is inspired by the work of Arthur Machen, who was a Welsh writer of supernatural fiction from the late 19th and early 20th century, specifically his classic tale “The White People.” I’m also a big fan of 1960s and 1970s animation and cinema, so the impetus for the piece was an attempt to marry the feel of Arthur Machen with movies such as René Laloux’s Fantastic Planet, Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man, and the films of Stanley Kubrick, namely 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Shining.

Outsider art is another longtime love of mine, and I wanted the piece to somehow fuse a 60s/70s widescreen cinematic language with the strange, obsessive imperfectness of outsider artists such as Henry Darger and Adolf Wolfli.

Here’s the high-res version of The Forbidden Forest from Vimeo. Headphones are definitely recommended for catching all the nuances of the soundtrack. If you have a problem with playback, try the lower-res version at YouTube.

RELATED POST: Cosmic Horror vs. Sacred Terror,” a Teeming Brain podcast featuring a roundtable discussion of the comparisons and contrasts between the respective weird fictional visions and philosophies of Arthur Machen and H. P. Lovecraft.

 

‘The Innovation of Loneliness’ – A short film about social networks, society, and the self

Here’s a new must-watch short film about the ironic reality of so-called “social media” that promise to create real community and human relationship but really function to generate a new kind of loneliness.

Beware “liking” or retweeting, which may well unleash waves of paradox that will warp the inner mind, rip a hole in the fabric of space and time, and manifest all manner of daimonic mischief.

What is the connection between Social Networks and Being Lonely?

Inspired by and based on the wonderful book by Sherry Turkle, Alone Together.

Also based on Dr. Yair Amichai-Hamburger’s Hebrew article “The Invention of Being Lonely.”

Script, Design & Animation: Shimi Cohen.

Final Project at Shenkar College of Engineering and Design.

Short Film: ‘The Final Moments of Karl Brant’ – Dystopian SF starring Paul Reubens

In a word: wow. This new short film, released on July 30 and currently receiving enthusiastic praise all over the place, is a beautifully realized piece of short-form dystopian science fiction.

It tells the story of a near future in which, to quote the official press release, “a neurologist and two homicide detectives use experimental brain taping technology to question a murder victim about his final moments.” It stars Paul Reubens (who’s a joy to watch here in a dramatic role) as the neurologist, with the other roles filled by equally impressive actors.

The writer-director, acclaimed graphic novelist M. F. Wilson, invokes the idea of the Singularity, especially in its Kurzweilian iteration, as his main inspiration:

I was influenced by the theories of Ray Kurzweil on the Singularity and digital immortality and curious to see how the law will deal with the situations that arise from it. I’m excited about the idea of copying memories into code. Imagine that after your body dies, you can go on living in a digital state. This technology is in our near future and will challenge the very definition of life and death. It makes a great basis for a high-tech crime story…

Short of the Week offers a nice description of the film’s really impressive style, tone, and production quality:

Visually inspired by Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, one of the directors favourite science-fiction films, the dark, industrial aesthetics of The Final Moments of Karl Brant make the short feel like a cross between Blade Runner and Se7en. With Brett Pawlak’s cinematography, J.R. Hawbaker’s costume design and Level 256′s visual FX all using their extensive industry experience to paint a gritty and uncompromising vision of the future.

Enough with the preamble. Just watch.