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O (Omicron) (SHORT FILM)

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?

Centennial Hall after renovation in 2009 and gate to zoo in Wrocław.

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 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.

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

“Reincarnation”: An entrancing experimental video

Find a quiet, solitary environment free of distractions, turn up your speakers or put in your earbuds, and let this thing unfold in full-screen mode. I was mesmerized myself.

The music, not incidentally, is Black Sabbath’s psychedelic and hypnotic “Planet Caravan,” representing a style that is pointedly not what the band is most widely remembered for today.

Light of the night
The earth a purple blaze
of sapphire haze in orbital ways

A Lovecraftian tragedy? ‘Prometheus’ may have finally killed del Toro’s ‘At the Mountains of Madness’

The sad news is currently sweeping through the fantasy/SF/horror community and the movie-oriented corridors of the Interwebs: Guillermo del Toro has publicly announced that his long-anticipated adaptation of Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness is really and truly dead. What’s more, the (unintentional) culprit is Ridley Scott’s forthcoming Prometheus.

Say what? I wrote a recent column for SF Signal about the thematic links between Prometheus and HPL’s ATMOM, but I never expected to hear that del Toro would take the new film as a cue to abandon ship with his own project. So now I’ve written another column to process this information:

A couple of weeks ago, I used this space to speculate about the possibility that director Ridley Scott’s forthcoming Prometheus may prove to be a kind of heady hybridizing of 2001: A Space Odyssey with Lovecraftian horror. Now comes the news that the Lovecraftian elements of Prometheus may be so close to certain key aspects of Guillermo del Toro’s long-planned and long-anticipated adaptation of Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness that they may have killed the project. And this comes straight from the mouth, or rather the keyboard, of the man himself.

…So now we are, I suppose, left with the hope that Prometheus will deliver these cosmic horrific philosophical-emotional goods…But this doesn’t soften the blow of losing del Toro’s take on Lovecraft’s novel, especially since, as The New Yorker‘s Zelewski reported, “Del Toro had hoped that a greenlight for ‘Madness’ would mark a new golden age for horror films” and had been planning to use the project as a cinematic channel for an authentically Lovecraftian sense of cosmic dread: “Del Toro loves the story in part because Lovecraft combines terror — the panicked effort to escape the creatures — with metaphysical horror: ‘The book essentially says how scary it is to realize that we are a cosmic joke.’”

Here’s the full piece: Guillermo del Toro Says ‘Prometheus’ Has Effectively Killed ‘At the Mountains of Madness’

Awesome new NASA video: “The Pursuit of Light”

I’m fairly entranced by this just-released video, and I daresay you will be, too. Here’s a description of it, apparently issued by NASA themselves (although I’m unable to source it):

NASA dreams big science. The Space Shuttles may be gathering dust, but we’re not staying on Earth! In this awesome new short, NASA presents the Earth, the planets, the Sun, and the endless universe beyond. Come for the cool, stay for the music, take away a sense of wonder to share. It’s six minutes from Earth to forever, and you can see it here!

Maria Popova of Brain Pickings offers an on-target commentary:

NASA may have given us decades of cosmic awe, but the agency’s future and thus the future of space exploration are hanging by a thread. Neil deGrasse Tyson has argued that the only way to get NASA back on track is to get those to whom the president is accountable — the electorate, “we the people” — excited about space exploration again, and Pursuit of Light, a beautiful short film from NASA with original music by Moby, seeks to do exactly that. (“Pursuit of Light: NASA and Moby Capture the Magic of the Cosmos“)

Note that the (dazzling, beautiful, hypnotic) musical accompaniment isn’t just by Moby. The opening track is by the amazing Jami Sieber.