Archive for Beowulf

Myth Takes

Posted in FILM, literature, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 11, 2008 by dcairns
A mystery Shadowplayer, who wishes to remain anomalous, dropped in to add some thoughts to the mythic storytelling discussion. We’d been discussing stuff like Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With A Thousand Faces and Propp’s Morphology of the Folk tale.
‘Part of the problem is that both Campbell and Propp have what seem to me v. mechanical understandings of myth (tho the latter is sort of interesting til one gets his point, which happens pretty quick). Compare that to the understandings of roberto calasso (who you shd read), Joyce, Rilke… Jung is more interesting than Campbell and Eliade maybe more interesting still.
‘Victoria Nelson’s SECRET LIFE OF PUPPETS is a plenty intriguing modern study.’
I was promoted to reply, thinking of Campbell:
‘Listing the most common features of world mythology is sort of interesting but does that mean we SHOULDN’T take inspiration from less popular myths? George Lucas would presumably say YES.’
The Mystery Man shot back:
‘Not only that, but the Propp/Campbell (and to a lesser extent Jungian) models all focus on similarities and neglect or shave off difference. Whereas someone like Calasso, in his retellings, makes the crucial point that myths EXIST in their variants, their sum-total of tellings, and resist any “definitive” form. So laying them down on a structural grid, and cutting to fit the pattern, may have some interest, but it’s also a considerable violence.’


And again, it CAN have a rather deleterious effect on the imaginations of those seeking a “mythic model.”


‘It has a “deleterious effect” on EVERYONE.’

I've had it up to HERE with you

This is our fear: that people have a one-dimensional idea of mythic storytelling, in which all the individual quirks and strangenesses are chiselled away, and what’s left is a styrofoam Arnold Schwartzenegger or something.

Or a CGI Ray Winstone.


Off the Map

Posted in FILM, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , on February 11, 2008 by dcairns

City of Dreadful Night

The Sea of Phrenology

Smoke and Mirrors

These imaginary landscapes from Mario Bava’s HERCULES IN THE HAUNTED WORLD, composited in-camera from miniatures, magazine cut-outs, and occasionally some actual life-sized live-action (tiny figures on the cliff on the right of [3]) may not be REAL, per se, but they have a physical existence beyond that of the digital landscapes of Zemeckis’ BEOWULF, and that seems to matter to me.

I hope I’m not a Luddite — I’ve used C.G.I. with pleasure in my short INSIDE AN UNCLE and the TV show INTERGALACTIC KITCHEN. But there’s a tendency to use it to tackle every problem nowadays, when maybe it’s only the right solution SOME of the time. For instance, did anybody find the computer generated bugs-crawling-under-the-skin in Stephen Sommers’ THE MUMMY half as disturbing as the bulges that traverse the body of the hapless inhabitee in Cronenberg’s SHIVERS? The difference is, one thing is incontestably THERE, in front of the camera, and the other, we know, isn’t.


I don’t think I need SAY anything to connect this post to our Nibelungen Week here at Shadowplay. A picture (or two) tells it better:

Cave canem

clan of the cave, bare

Lang’s DIE NIBELUNGEN is a magnesium-tipped arrow fired at the rooftops of epic entertainment, which overshoots and ignites a mausoleum of APOCALYPTIC GRANDEUR.

Bava’s HERCULES IN THE HAUNTED WORLD is a piece of cheeky matinee fun, with a slightly off-colour malaise lurking somewhere behind its Technicolor dioramas. Bava’s dark side always provides a subtly bitter aftertaste, while Lang’s is like swallowing one of those booby-trapped Monty Python chocolates where steel bolts shoot out through your cheeks.

Vindictive Cutlery.

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on December 21, 2007 by dcairns

 The Norse Whisperer.

I was keen to see KNIVES OF THE AVENGER as I’d never seen either of Mario Bava’s Viking mini-epics, and had heard about the Norse ships he made out of pasta. But this movie doesn’t show any sign of linguine long-ships, though there’s an effective matte shot of a distant boat.

I was also very curious to see how Bava’s low-tech, low-budget saga-let would hold up against the C.G.I. 3.D. phantasmagoria of Robert Zemeckis’ BEOWULF. My feeling about that movie, discussed at length in an earlier post, is that the modern technique wasn’t in any way useful in capturing the timeless or ancient qualities of the myth it’s based on.

Bava scores heavily against Zemeckis, and right away. His first images are of sand, sea and stones. Runic-style symbols etched in the shore with a stick. Carved rocks. The pounding of the sea. Simple images, but everything in them is genuinely prehistoric, even older than the story being begun. Rather than distracting us with ultramodern razzmatazz that can’t evoke anything more that the number-crunching of geeks, Bava gives us, as much from necessity as choice, an atmospheric still-life captured by his gliding camera eye.

The film isn’t one of the maestro’s meisterwerks— but it is a pretty good spaghetti western in Scandinavian drag (I think it’s actually better than Bava’s “real” westerns), with a very smart and unexpected plot twist a half hour in, and some beautifully lit cavescapes for the climax. Somebody should, er, borrow that plot twist for a better movie.