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Archive for the month “July, 2013”

Drowning by Numbers

Screen shot

In welcoming the 100th follower to the blog I thought I would share one of my favourite Directors – Peter Greenaway. In his film Drowning by Numbers, the numbers 1 through 100 appear in various guises during the narrative. If ever there were a film maker whose work demanded a large screen presentation [none of this small screen multiplex nonsense – and definitely not TV] then he is your man.

I was thinking the other day about the new landscape of film watching [whatever happened to  Split Screens in movies] and in particular how movies are so often ‘butchered’ by studios, over the protestation of their makers. Time cut out [as audiences won’t sit through longer films apparently – too many to mention], plot explaining voice-overs [e.g. Blade Runner and Dark City], the removal of ‘fancy’ sub titles [one that particularly annoys is The Andromeda Strain. I argue that the ‘ticker-tape’ inter-titles are a crucial foreshadowing element of the plot], anything by Orson Wells.

It has always seemed strange to me that studios hire Directors to do a job, presumably trusting that they will do a good job, but then allow ‘non-creatives’ to make editing choices despite the objections of the film maker. Surely it must be more than a desire to make more money by having a Director’s Cut version to flog later down the line?

All hail the auteur!

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the moment well met

'The Meeting' or 'Have a Nice Day, Mr Hockney' 1981-3 by Peter Blake born 1932

‘The Meeting’ or ‘Have a Nice Day, Mr Hockney’ 1981-3 by Peter Blake

I was thinking about yesterday’s post and the James Joyce version of the Medieval ‘Hail Fellow’ phrase “Hail fellow well met the next moment” from Ulysses, and the Peter Blake parody of Gustave Courbet’s The Meeting (Bonjour Mr. Courbet) (1854) popped into my head.

Surely the reason that [non abstract] figurative paintings/photographs live is that they engender the feeling that some kind of crux is being depicted? And the works that continue to live are those that also feel as if there is some possible continuation of narrative beyond this crossroads freeze-frame of reference? [or ones that create a perpetual falling out and into the loop around the iconic moment of the crux? ie create an unresolvable tension that sustains despite the impossibility of further movement].

If one viewed each and every ‘concept’ illustrated in a story in a similar way, then each narrative instance is an iconic moment pigment fleck that builds up into a complete picture?

This would fit nicely with the notion of a ‘page turner’. Where each word is written on litmus paper that inexorably draws the reader along. Each phrase in effect a micro cliffhanger. So that the aim of good storytelling then becomes a mission to create a domino toppling of ‘the moment well met’.

Sui generis

Who can imagine science fiction without the concepts of faster than light travel/warp speed, stasis/hyper-sleep, teleportation, time travel, laser/ray guns, AI/robots/androids, etc.

Of course not all fictional Sci-Fi worlds have all of these elements present but they have become generally accepted storytelling conventions to the point of becoming mundane and therefore almost invisible. All are also arguably now rather simple mediocre plot device ‘props’? Very infrequently does one encounter anything truly memorable any more [like ‘bullet time’ as popularised in The Matrix].

Some poetic ideas though wheedle their way into your consciousness to the extent that you feel deprived by their absence in the wider field of speculative fiction,

For me one such idea is the floating ‘islands’ beloved of Roger Dean [a similar concept makes a brief appearance in Cameron’s Avatar – Dean is suing] of which he has been trying to make into a film version for 30 years. Another is the idea of ‘slow glass’ as most prominently showcased by Bob Shaw’s 1966 Light of other days and several subsequent stories.

It is difficult to pinpoint the origin of any memorable fictional idea, especially as “good writers borrow, great writers steal”, but perhaps the key to creating stand-out fiction is not necessarily finding that original/unique idea [if that is at all possible] but rather is to somehow string together a series of defining/iconic moments?

Apologies

For the lack of posts on my blogs this week. As a UK TalkTalk user, I along with many others am experiencing WordPress / TalkTalk connectivity issues which mean that being able to post [or even view] my blogs is proving impossible for much of the time …

Retrofitting

Car retrofitted with a scissor lift

So as a completest I will be backfilling in the missed post days holes by trying to ‘Twin’ posts with similar topics. Mostly the older posts will be music videos [risky as YouTube offerings often go ‘missing’] and favourite movie scenes/openings etc.

Twinned with will be the series title.

Cognitive estrangement

Kryten: [Throws a dead battery over his shoulder and inserts a new one]

The Cat: [Still panicking] So what’s the news?

Kryten: Well, if I could just beg your indulgence for a few seconds more, sir, the old 345 takes a little time to warm up. [He shakes it some more] Ah. Now here are the results. Yep. And we’re going to … … live.

Lister: [sighing] We’re a real Mickey Mouse operation aren’t we?

Red Dwarf (TV Series) Quarantine (1992)

original

Finally got around to watching Prometheus last night. And I can see why for many the film sucked. The cinematography, lighting, design, costume, props, etc,  even the acting are all first rate but what lets the movie down is the poorly thought through script. And more specifically the selling of certain key plot devices.

I understand that storytelling convention necessarily takes short cuts with narrative. I understand that actor’s faces need to be seen to make the film entry fee worthwhile. I understand that in this movie’s universe these characters might have visited innumerable different worlds without incident, that they might regard their technology as completely 100% infallible, that is slows story to have characters checking safety readouts every 2 seconds, that as scientists they might be too innocent to recognise that releasing flying mapping projectiles might be interpreted by an alien intelligence as some form of weaponry, and that being all excited about meeting their potential ‘god’ they are all … EXCITED [though there are only two true believers as shown] BUT …

to travel billions of miles across the galaxy, immediately on landing on an unknown planet [after 2 years hyper-sleep] jump into vehicles and hare off across a hostile environment [like out for a Sunday drive], entering an unmapped cavernous structure [in which there may be aliens] an then even though you are supposedly a top scientist in your field [who would surely know about cross contamination of environment], taking off your helmet! REALLY? Sorry at this point my suspension of disbelief crumbled to dust.

Given the ‘I understand’s from above, the main problem is not the stupidity of this move given the character’s motivations or the needs of the plot, but the selling of the need for this action to a modern, savvy audience.

For instance, the whole of the Scream movie series franchise is built upon a self-referential approach to horror [characters aware of the conventions of the horror film genre and able to use them to survive – pantomime’s “he’s behind you”]. Proceeding with the notion that watchers of sci-fi movies are any less aware of the conventions of sci-fi/horror/action narrative is simply insulting your audience. If you are going to use hoary old plot devices you have to find strong enough reasons to make them plausible.

Apparently a large part of the problem might be that the script was rewritten but there were obviously no changes made to crucial aspects of the logic of the story and reasoning/motivation of characters? I at least was left with the same feeling as Ripley in Aliens

Did IQs just drop sharply while I was away?

Dark Disney fake believe

[speaking to Bambi, the host of “University Challenge”]

Neil: That wasn’t in BAMBI, Vyvyan.
Vyvyan: It was in the sequel, “Bambi Goes Crazy Ape Bonkers with his Drill and Sex”
Neil: Is that true Bambi? Did you do a Disney Nasty?

The Young Ones (TV Series) Bambi (1984)

urban-sprawl

Haddonfield, Illinois – Movie town of Halloween?

Perhaps to be expected that a maker of fake habitation, in the form of film sets, would move into the real real estate business? After all as with all mega corporations, the primary business is not the major money spinner [so supermarket chains don’t make the majority of their income from selling food little more than film studios do from making movies].

It has always seemed strange to me that whilst the biggest cold war critic of the USSR and its totalitarian ways was the USA,  at the very same time one of its biggest and most influential organisations was also attending to similar concerns. A case in point [though it took 30 years to materialise] is the social engineering project of the Disney built Florida town of Celebration, based on the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow concept from the early 1960s.

Seen by many as a return to small-town America values, it is equally seen by others as a too-perfect town reminiscent of The Stepford Wives [apparently everything from what kind of garden you must keep, clean car in front of house, population levels, etc are all controlled by enforceable dictate]. One wonders whether Disney had ever watched small-town America episodes of the Twilight Zone [1959-62]? Read Huxley’s Brave New World with its explicit criticisms of constructed utopias via hedonism as driving force [based on a trip to California]?

Perhaps not surprising that an imagination that created virtual worlds [animation/movies] would after moving to simulacra worlds [entertainment resorts based on the virtual worlds] aspire to creating ‘real’ worlds. But as with the city/world building main protagonists of Inception it is all to easy to lose track and confuse ‘reality’ and ‘fantasy’? And as we all know from Lynch’s Blue Velvet the perfect picket fenced abodes of polite society often hide the darkest of intentions.

Celebration, Florida?

Celebration, Florida – real Disney town?

Oblique Strategies

Oblique Strategies are cards containing cryptic phrases and expressions to promote creativity created by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt in 1975. Most famously used by David Bowie whilst recording his Heroes album [alongside Burroughsian cut-up fragmentation of lyrics].

A toy with a similar objective is the Magic 8-Ball. A much more ancient and involved variant is found in the Trigrams of the I Ching. Of course with all such supposed divination methods one has to use any seemingly prophesied outcome as merely a starting point for one’s own intuition, else one is apt to fall into the trap of William Shatner in the Nick of Time  episode of The Twilight Zone [1960] when confronting a mystic seer fortune telling machine in a roadside cafe.

oblique-strategies-en

Does wot it says on the tin

Kevin: Pink Bunkadoo?
Randall: Yeah. Beautiful trees that was. Og designed it. 600 feet high, bright red, and smelled terrible.

Time Bandits (1981)

supremebeing

Naming a band is an art unto itself. Any name needs to be ‘clever’ [whilst not seeming attention-grabbing but with nothing behind it], sum up the band’s sound or style, lend itself to great graphic design and create an interesting, lasting image. For starters.

Just like with book covers many a great musical offering floundered due to being marketed under an awful title. Likewise however, many a fantastic name masked a poor musical effort. Branding is key but content is king.

Some of my favourite band names [in no particular order]:

  • Death in Vegas
  • Rocket from the Tombs
  • Camper Van Beethoven
  • The Flaming Lips
  • 13th floor elevators
  • Godspeed You! Black Emperor
  • Blue Öyster Cult
  • Dead Kennedys
  • Ugly Kid Joe
  • The Jesus and Mary Chain
  • Super Furry Animals

An interesting parlour game then – create the perfect band name.

Using the Band Name Maker link above I will have to start bands called:

  1. Clitoris Standby
  2. Red Herring Detention
  3. Fillip of Eternity
  4. BabyGro Kosher
  5. Licking Maggot and the Exhibit
  6. Tum Tums Informant of the Perfecting Lift

Of course great names can be created from fragments of literature or dialogue from films. From Time Bandits how about Prepare for Mind Control

Cover Story

The recent passing of one of my favourite authors, Iain M. Banks, has had me revisiting some of his later Culture novels that I either started and never finished or have had ready to go for years. The thing that immediately struck me was how good the late 80s/ 90s cover art was [the largely monochrome paintings by Mark Salwowski].

State of the Art cover detail

State of the Art cover detail Mark Salwowski

From my first entering the highly inventive and poetic Space Opera universe of Mr Banks with Consider Phlebas I was hooked. I must admit my most favourite of his novels are Against a Dark Background and Use of Weapons.

In the latter novel what grabbed me was the two narrative streams, interwoven in alternating chapters. One story moving forward chronologically and telling a self-contained story, while the other, in reverse chronology, getting successively earlier in the main protagonist’s life. Further complicating this structure is a prologue and epilogue set shortly after the events of the main narrative, and many flashbacks within the chapters.

Whilst in the former novel I was grabbed immediately by the dense descriptive poetry of the prologue and the rapid paragraphal changes between narrative viewpoints.

She put her chin on the wood below the window. The wood was cold and shiny and smelled. She kneeled on the seat; it smelled too, but different. The seat was wide and red like the sunset and had little buttons that made deep lines in it and made it look like somebody’s tummy. It was dull outside and the lights were on in the cable car. There were people skiing on the steep slopes beneath. She could see her own face looking back at her in the glass; she started to make faces at herself.

After a while the glass in front of her face went misty. She reached up and wiped it. Somebody in another car, going down the hill, waved at her. She ignored them. The hills and the white trees tipped slowly back and forward.

If ever there was an author that deserved their imagery being worked up into movies/computer games/graphic novels …

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