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.
Over at The Daily Grail, Greg describes this fascinating and very slick short film as a “fun little superhero story with a Fortean feel to it.” io9’s Observation Deck calls the title character “the creepiest superhero” and concurs about the film’s quasi-Fortean dimension. Both point out that it recalls Mexico’s rash of flying humanoid sightings from several years ago.
In more detail, and as summarized by USA Today‘s Whitney Matheson, The Flying Man “tells the story of a mysterious flying man/being who is taking out unsuspecting citizens. Is he a hero? Is he a vigilante? It’s up to us to decide. Interestingly, viewers are given no background about The Flying Man, and unlike most superhero stories, this tale is told from the scared citizens’ points of view.”
The film was directed, produced, financed, and edited by Toronto-based filmmaker Marcus Alqueres and co-written by Alqueres and Henry Grazinoli. Alqueres has also done visual effects work on a number of A-list films, including 300 and Rise of the Planet of the Apes.
I’m really impressed at the ominous and semi-apocalyptic tone that Alqueres and his team were able to evoke in just nine minutes — an effect that’s created not just by the great visual effects, writing, and actors’ performances, but by an excellent musical score. Seriously, how would we all feel, and how would society as a whole react, if incontrovertible evidence of supernormal powers came crashing at us like a tsunami through our televisions, computer screens, radios, and the rest of the collective totality of our flickering media web? And what if the mysterious individual displaying those powers happened to be using them in a vigilante capacity to commit public acts of mayhem and murder? In the words of The Flying Man’s official press release, the film “depicts the first appearances of a super powered vigilante, his impact in a modern society and its ethical discussion.”
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.
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.
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
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.