Archive for the Mythology Category

Every Speliologist for Himself and God Against All

Posted in FILM, Mythology, Painting, Science with tags , , , , , on September 14, 2017 by dcairns

I tweeted that Werner Herzog’s CAVE OF FORGOTTEN DREAMS was maybe the best 3D movie ever, but maybe I should have said “best USE of 3D”?

I watched this movie with a colossal grin. Almost every shot did something delightful to my brain.

I’ve been waiting years to see it in 3D. Edinburgh Filmhouse took awhile to install a 3D system, and in the end went for a weird one where you need your glasses to be charged with electricity — I think this had something to do with them not wanting to install a 3D screen which would have compromised the picture quality of every flat film shown. And I think the Cameo installed such a screen.

Anyhow, when the Filmhouse installed 3D I was looking forward to finally being able to see Herzog’s film as it was meant to be seen. I’d avoided seeing it flat. But then Filmhouse decided “Our audience doesn’t like 3D” and never showed it. Anyhow, happy ending, they finally did, and got a pretty good-sized audience. Imagine if they’d shown it when the film was new.

But the Filmhouse system has drawbacks. You can’t be sure the glasses are working until the film starts. Fiona’s didn’t, and she had to run and change them. Mine conked out ten minutes before the end and I spent a chunk of the film’s climax running around the whole outside of the auditorium looking for a staff member to open the shutters and release a fresh pair… However, in spite of all that, this was still maybe my favourite 3D experience.

We weren’t totally uncritical of the movie. Fiona pointed out that Herzog kind of distorted what one of his interviewees was saying in order to justify his title. We don’t know that the Chauvet cave paintings have anything to do with dreams. Sure, the nameless cro-magnons who painted the paintings probably dreamed about ibex and horses, but probably the reason they painted them is that they SAW them regularly. Herzog also goes off on a mad spree to a nearby nuclear power station where the water from the coolers has produced a microclimate in which, we are told, albino crocodiles have arisen.

Herzog, of course, can’t help seeing this as some kind of allegory for something. But Herzogian allegories, like albino crocodiles, are strange, mutant beasts. Britta in the TV show Community helpfully defines an allegory as “a thought wearing another thought’s hat” (which is lovely because her definition is itself a kind of allegory) but Herzog’s thoughts always seem to mistake their wives for hats. Like the dwarfs who started small or the man who pulled a ship up a mountain, they never quite translate one thing into another without a lot of leftover bits sticking out. Still, I was grateful for the opportunity to see the pallid reptiles, and stereoscopically too.

Also: our friend Donald was particularly scornful of the way, when a scientist suggests simply listening to the sound of the cave, Herzog can’t resist almost immediately fading up a heartbeat and music. A relatively rare failure of the poetic imagination from the maker of KASPAR HAUSER.

The 3D is gorgeous. I even found it enhanced by the low-quality video from Herzog’s recce. As has often been remarked, the film focusses on flat line drawings, but drawn on the contours of curving walls, so a lot of the movie is looking at fairly subtle spacial gradations — a nice, tasteful use of the medium. But Herzog also had a guy demonstrating cro-magnon weaponry, who sticks a spear right in our faces. Subtlety is most effective when contrasted with its opposite. Ask Ken Russell.

And those cave walls are sometimes very curvy indeed. One daubing of a woman with possibly an animal head encircles a chubby stalactite so Herzog has to stick his camera on a pole to see around it — he’s not allowed off a walkway in the cave — like the time travelers in Ray Bradbury’s A Sound of Thunder. Leaving the path could disturb the past.

Herzog even has fun with the superimposed titles which identify his interviewees. I was amused by the floating subtitles in AVATAR (I guess the filmmaker has to choose a specific depth for them, they simple CAN’T be flat, but it was funny when, in an O.S. shot the foreground shoulder was closer than the subtitle. Don’t move left, Neytiri, we won’t be able to read what Eytukan is saying! When Herzog arrays two interviews at different distances, he does the same with their titles. he’s a puckish fellow, is Werner.

We also get drone shots of the surrounding countryside, but the handheld traversing of narrow paths is even better. Everything about the Cro-magnon lifestyle and environment, it seems, is perfectly suited to 3D, or else to Werner’s eye. I’ve noticed that filmmakers tend to get better at 3D on their second try — I hope we get another in-depth outing from Herzog.

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Just think of BOB and JUDY

Posted in FILM, Mythology, Television with tags , , , , , on September 6, 2017 by dcairns

Preliminary responses…

It’s like David Lynch wanted to give us a penultimate episode that’s pure Twin Peaks and a final episode that’s pure LOST HIGHWAY.

As with that 1997 “twenty-first century noir horror,” you get call-backs in lieu of closure — the names Chalfont and Tremont are significant and suggestive to TP regular viewers, but can serve only as an invitation to make up our own stories about what might be going on at the end of episode 18.

Do I wish there were more answers? Kinda. Audrey Horne’s storyline seems like a prolonged tease without a pay-off, which would matter so much if it were delightful in itself, but quite a bit of it was pretty well the opposite of delightful. It eventually became genuinely intriguing but then… no resolution. Though you might exercise your imagination by trying to connect Audrey’s last scene to the alternative world of the last episode… somehow.

Do I wish the resolution were happier? Yes. Although episode 17 gave us lots of the things we would hope for, episode 18 ended with Agent Cooper lost in another realm much as season 2 had. And we still don’t know How’s Annie?

How do I feel about all the throwaway fragments? Ashley Judd’s entire role… the roadhouse customers and their mini-soaps… the sick girl in the car… Some of them were genuinely crazy, unsettling, amazing scenes. Some of them weren’t. At the time of WILD AT HEART Lynch took to saying that he collected ideas for scenes on index cards, and once you had around 65 cards you had a movie. Not necessarily. WILD AT HEART was a book, first, and many of the bits in it that stem from the book are more satisfying than the bits that feel like interleaved index cards. But I think it’s worth accepting all these scenes, so we get the good ones.

How do I feel about the Twin Peaks story strands? Nadine and Norma and Big Ed added up to, well, not quite ba storyline, but a beautiful end to a story begun back in the original series. Shelly and Bobby and Red and Becky and Steven and Gersten gave us quite a number of terrific scenes but I couldn’t really say it added up to a satisfactory story at all. But if they ever made a series 4 that’s one of the things I’d be keenest to see more of. Ben & Jerry, fine, amusing. James ended up as a tagalong for Freddie Sykes, but that was fine. What a team.

Las Vegas? All that stuff was great fun, and came to a surprisingly satisfying resolution, allowing for about a million loose ends. A lot of those plot strands frayed away to nothing, but in amusing ways. Nothing to complain about there.

Buckhorn? The loose ends far outnumber the knotted ones here. What was going on with Matthew Lillard’s wife and why did Mr. C. shoot her? The caretaker at Ruth Davenport’s apartment building? Why was Dougie Jones’ wedding ring inside the Major’s torso, and why didn’t he have a miniature letter E under his fingernail? Amusing to note that the FBI achieve basically nothing in this show, apart from shooting a tulpa who would have been perfectly harmless if they’d left her alone. All their investigations lead them at last to the Twin Peaks sheriff’s station where they arrive just in time to do… nothing. If they had just taken one look at Ruth Davenport’s head and the Major’s body and concluded, “We’re never going to figure THIS one out,” the result would have been the same.

I would have liked to see Joan Chen and Heather Graham — I particularly wondered how they could do without the character of Annie Blackburn. And it turns out she did leave kind of a hole, since we couldn’t just forget she’d been there. At times Frost & Lynch seemed to be trying to retcon her out of the history, but then they admitted she’d been there.

But I have to say — I will enjoy wondering about some of these mysteries. And Twin Peaks will be one of the main memories laid down for me by summer 2017. It actually slowed time down — a precious thing when one is nearing fifty. Both by durational tricks (take a bow, floor-sweeping guy!) and by making the weeks stretch out like Cooper’s face as it nears that big power socket, as we waited for the next exciting installment.

Fiona, on the other hand, is quite cross. But we still have to watch the last three episodes again (we’ve been watching everything twice) and she may come around.

When I complained about the lack of explanation at the end of Lost (yeah, we watched the whole thing), a very wise friend said, “Well, look at how crummy that show got whenever it tried to explain stuff. Did you really want more of THAT?” Mind you, the same friend insisted the makers had a clear, coherent plan all through those middle series when it turned out they were just winging it. Deduct ten points.

Audrey is the dreamer, it seems. Is her awakening in that white psych ward/UFO interior space linked to the “real” world Cooper finds himself in at show’s end? Audrey has been dreaming the roadhouse, it seems, but has she been dreaming the whole show? If so, it’s really smart that they finished her narrative three episodes early, so rather than being a corny “It was all a dream” cop-out, it becomes one more frustrating/intriguing element.

To the extent that non-diegetic info is admissible to help us understand an artwork, the fact that the “real” owner of the Palmer house we meet in the last scene is played b the REAL owner of that house in our reality does seem to suggest that Cooper/Richard has crossed over into OUR reality, or a version thereof: A world where the essentially Manichean character dynamics of Twin Peaks no longer function, where Cooper has some of the dead-eyed violence of his defeated doppelganger (it makes sense that he‘s somehow acquired the first name of his doppelganger‘s asshole son), where the new Laura Palmer has a sullen, slatternly quality and a chirrupy, girlish quality, and a murdered man in her front room… his arms raised off the armrests, recalling the recalling the uncanny standing, moving corpse in BLUE VELVET.

(Lynch was asked to comment on that guy in BV. “Well, the lab phoned. Normally they’re only supposed to phone if there’s something wrong with the negative. The wanted to know what was going on. Is he supposed to be dead? We see him moving!”)

Okay, a final theory. One of the many frustrations and bafflements is that Cooper receives instructions from the Fireman/Giant/???????, and seems to follow those instructions, but it’s not clear that the result is a good one. In fact, it MIGHT be — Laura is evidently remembering who she is at the end… but everything about the presentation makes this conclusion seem bleak, desolate, incomprehensibly and frightening. Why has Cooper ended up at this terrible outcome? He did as the Fireman advised.

Well, the Fireman isn’t like you and me. I think it’s possible he sincerely believed this ending would make Cooper happy.

Ape Crisis Centre

Posted in FILM, Mythology, Science, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 26, 2017 by dcairns

Sorry for the tacky title, but somebody already reviewed KONG: SKULL ISLAND with the tagline I LOVE THE SMELL OF APE PALM IN THE MORNING, better than which it is impossible to do. It wasn’t the famous Anonymous Wag, it was somebody real with a name, I just can’t recall who and can’t be bothered checking. but well done, Nonymous Wag.

I didn’t see KK:SI but I did see WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES, slightly dragged by Fiona, and it has just probably as many APOC NOW refs as the big gorilla one. There’s even a graffita reading APE-POCALYPSE NOW, so I couldn’t use that as my header either. The Vietnam stuff is a little heavy-handed and dumb, though in a war with the apes Americans surely WOULD call their enemy “the Kong” so I have to grant them that one. (They called their enemy that in ‘Nam, too — I know you know that, but did you know it was actually a made-up name? There was no such group as the “Viet Cong,” the US made the name up because they wanted something that sounded cool and sinister. NOTE: see correction in comments section.)

So, I was glad I saw this in the end — we’d seen  films one and two in the trilogy, and this one does its best to actually be a concluding episode, though I’m sure there’ll be pressure to do more — a reboot, or some kind of sequel that also serves as a remake of the original Chuckles Heston apetacular (still the best in the series/serieses).

DIGITALLY RENDER UNTO CAESAR

The first half hour is nicely directed, though the 3D didn’t add as much as I expected — maybe because the sinuously moving camera does all the 3D’s work for it. But I wasn’t really engrossed dramatically. Caesar (Andy Serkis and his army of animators) is quite chatty in this one, despite Noam Chomsky’s firm stance on ape language, but he apparently has never learned to use contractions. So talks like Data from Star Trek, or like a man in a biblical epic. This is obviously as deliberate as the ‘Nam refs, but that doesn’t make it a good idea. (Notice how Data’s robospeak gradually infected the rest of ST:TNG‘s cast as the writers forgot how people talk).

I guess the biblical epic aspect has always been there, from the casting of Heston to all the talk of a “Lawgiver,” echoing Heston’s role as Moses and eventually embodied by John Huston, director of THE BIBLE (and portrayer of Noah, another man who conserved species from an environmental disaster) in BATTLE FOR, the last of the original series. That movie is referenced here just enough (a single teardrop!), and there are lots of other clever harkenings to the earlier films, which the reboot has always been nicely respectful of.

But the first half hour is also terribly uninvolving. No effort is made to remind us of the personalities of the lead apes from the previous installments. One fellow only gets a little character grace note five minutes before being offed, which retroactively makes said grace note seem like a cynical plant. Inexplicably, the film’s baddie, the Colonel (Woody Harrelson as Marlon Brando as Colonel Kurtz with a side order of Robert Duvall’s Kilgore) shows up out of nowhere to kill some apes and set Caesar on a mission of revenge, then vanishes back to his hideaway — Caesar falls off a waterfall, very dramatically, but in the next scene is back in his (compromised, unsafe) base camp, making plans. It feels muddled, and the emotion is dampened by confusion.

Fiona points out that the film is still afraid of female apes: none of them talk in this film, and they don’t fight, contrary to nature. They don’t have big purple behinds, so the movie resorts to having them wear little hair braids so we know who’s a girl. They make little feminine grunts, the way real apes don’t. I think the rot set in with Tim Burton’s appalling POTA movie, with Helena Bonham Carter and Lisa-Marie as sexy ape-babes. Ugh. That’s the only bit of wrongheadedness from that abomination which has kind of survived and mutated, as if exposed to an experimental gas canister (Burton is getting to resemble an experimental gas canister more and more).

BAD TIME FOR BONZO

There’s also, I would say, a problem with the first half’s post-apocalyptic landscape. Unlike the crumbling cities of DAWN OF, there’s nothing specially evocative about, say, a Snow Cat lying abandoned in a snowy forest. It looks like quite a normal site. I love post-man settings in the same way I love empty set photographs — I’m all about the defining absence, me. So this was disappointing.

But it was in the midst of the snowy rural stuff where the film is aiming to be THE SEARCHERS with even more sign language that it starts to get good. There’s a quite brilliant scene of Maurice the orang (Karin Kanoval and her animators) and a silent little girl (Amiah Miller) which is LOOONG, wordless, quiet, tender and hypnotic. Really unexpected in a summer blockbuster. And the film starts improving right now.

Next we meet Steve Zahn (and his Zahnimators) as the comedy relief chimp (his “Oh nooo…” sounds very Scottish, somehow). Comedy relief characters are primarily needed by films with no sense of humour, or films afraid that a sense of humour will deflate the pomposity that sustains them. Both certainly factors here — any film with a lead who can’t use contractions must be afraid of humour. Get it safely contained in one character and you’ve quarantined it. But Zahn & co create a rather adorable figure here. So appealing, I worried he was being set up for a moving death scene. But the film doesn’t ALWAYS do what you expect.

EMOTION CAPTURED

Now the movie becomes a prison camp flick, and the Colonel shows semblances of another of his rank, Saito in BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI. But it’s a wall he’s building. Yes, this feels like the first anti-Trump blockbuster (or the first I’ve seen — I don’t see many). And it will feature an ape swinging from a Stars and Stripes which is also inscribed Alpha Omega and is also on fire. An image for our times. (Also prefigured by John Huston, this time in WINTER KILLS.)

Science fiction films never accurately predict the future (except BRAZIL, which has all come true) but one hopes this does, just so we can have Don Jr. lose the power of speech and his dad shoot him. Oh, come on. It’d be interesting.

But the movie isn’t as dark and vengeful as that, after all. It has a much more nuanced take on vengeance than, say THE REVENANT, which proved remarkably dumb and unsophisticated. And it even redeems the somewhat fascistic ending of RISE DAWN, which had Caesar depriving his enemy of apehood so he could kill him without breaking the “Ape Shall Not Kill Ape” rule. That climax, which seemed like it was meant to be just cool and bad-ass, is back-engineered to seem genuinely proto-fascist, something that must be atoned for and which leaves trauma for the perpetrator, or maybe this was always part of their plan (the writers of the first film are execs on this, granting a sense of cohesion and trilogic world-building). Caesar feels guilt for killing Toby Kebbell as Koba the bonobo (I just like writing that) and gets a chance to act differently this time.

APE PLURIBUS UNUM

So maybe because I like apes or because I don’t like concentration camps, this movie got quite emotional for me. I seemed to continually have something in my eye (mayve it was the 3D). It wasn’t profoundly moving, because torturing animals always gets a reaction (my friend Alex makes fun of the bit in RISE OF where Malfoy shows up with girlfriends to abuse apes — “No matter how evil you are, it’s unlikely you’d think that torturing chimps would be a good way to impress the girls,” — but in fact, animal abuse is a staple of entertainment, since drama depends on a good bit of unpleasantness to work its magic). Arguably, it was all too easy. But it worked. And it didn’t become so manipulative and Von Trieresque that I resented its effect.

It’s nice to get a proper trilogy. The middle one is the darkest. The first and third are the best. This is as it should be.