Wednesday, 27 January 2016

WOULD YOU ADAM AND EVE IT





















HANS HOLBEIN THE YOUNGER: Adam and Eve (1517)

I was once stuck on a week-long training course during which I became so desperately bored in the evenings that started reading the Bible someone called Gideon had so thoughtfully left in my hotel room. I wasn’t converted, but I was intrigued by just how short the key passages were. The creation of the Earth, for instance, is done in about a page and a half. Adam and Eve (actually, man and woman – the names were added in later iterations) are around for no more than half a dozen paragraphs, even though their story is absolutely pivotal to Western belief systems. For centuries, artists have interpreted this story, not least because it gave them an opportunity to paint nearly naked anatomy, a chance too good to miss in less permissive times. 

Here’s Hans Holbein’s interpretation. Holbein famously painted the ‘too flattering’ portrait that Henry VIII married Anne of Cleves on the strength of. His picture of Adam and Eve, painted over twenty years earlier, pulls no such punches, representing the first man and woman as a somewhat disreputable pair: a swarthy, scruffy bloke with a perm, a stringy moustache and shifty eyes, and a slack jawed, pasty faced child, looking anaemic and inbred, as perhaps befits a person made out of bits of the only ever human being alive. Their collective IQ is probably just nudging triple figures, which probably explains why they have thrown away the chance of eternal life in paradise in exchange for a worm ridden apple. Their hapless expressions perhaps reflect that they are just beginning to realise how much shit they are in.

Monday, 25 January 2016

EVER LOVING SATURDAY






















I am a little bit obsessed with modern religious art, particularly that of the Seventh Day Adventists, which tends to be wonderfully kitsch, and garish as heck. I'm not an expert on their sect, but I know that they have been expecting Jesus' imminent return to Earth since 1844, and have Saturday as their Sabbath. They also believe in a healthy diet, and were instrumental in the creation of breakfast cereal.

Thursday, 21 January 2016

MY CIRCUITS ARE UNOFFENDED





















THE CREATION OF THE HUMANOIDS, d. Wesley E. Barry (1962)

Set in a post-apocalyptic dystopia where 92% of the population have been killed and most of the survivors are sterile, in The Creation Of The Humanoids robots have become essential to human survival, and with technological advances they have evolved into ever more sophisticated androids. Realising that people proper are on the way out, the robots make their play, and start to replace the recently dead with machine replicas, transferring the deceased person's memories and personality into an indestructible metal shell. 

This film might sound like and, to be frank, look like trash, but it is, however, a remarkably thoughtful film, and an extremely verbose one, full of speeches about what it means to be human, what it means to be a robot, and what the real difference actually is. For all its bald wigs and silver contacts, false perspective sets and somewhat wooden acting, this is proper sci fi, a film of ideas and concepts, all of which are debated in quite exhaustive detail. Seek it out of you can, if only for this delightful exchange between a humanoid man who looks like a robot, and a lady robot who, until a moment ago, thought she was human.  









Tuesday, 19 January 2016

THE SOUND OF FEELING



Michael Jackson was a preternaturally, supernaturally talented person. He did a lot of weird things, and was clearly a very troubled individual but, in his pomp (a period of about twenty five years) he did amazing stuff in music and dance that has left an indelible mark on popular culture. 

Case in point: Can You Feel It.

Yes, it’s a fantastic pop record, but its accompanying film (conceived by Michael, and realised in conjunction with computer graphics pioneer, Robert Abel) takes it to an entirely new dimension. In this universe, The Jacksons unexpectedly arrive in a troubled world in a blaze of golden light and glitter. The brothers appear as gigantic, glowing figures towering over the world, but despite being quite able to trash Tokyo, they are smiling, beneficent titans, here to heal the world rather than harm it. Their presence, which is accompanied by whooshing noises and bursts of synth and guitar, brings peace to the world, and a new understanding. By the end of the song, the people of Earth stand hand in hand, their petty differences forgotten, in a scene reminiscent of the idealised pictures found in Jehovah’s Witness leaflets*. All that's missing is a tame lion and some big bowls of fruit.
With any other band, this might seem like preposterous hubris: the brothers as Gods visiting Earth and making it better with their awesomeness. In this film, however, the brothers don’t seem to be imperious, or omniscient, or omni-anything. Rather, their powers seem to be a delight to them, as if they have been suddenly suffused with a divine light, as if they are vessels of a higher power rather than the power itself. There is a lot of pointing in the film – people pointing at the Jacksons and the incredible things they do, and the Jacksons pointing at each other, ecstatically surprised at how divine they have suddenly become.
It’s worth noting the nifty orchestral additions to the track, also written by Michael in a modern classical style reminiscent of the music to Logan's Run. They are mainly buried in the mix of the (otherwise wonderful) version released as a single, and that’s something of a shame. In an ideal world, the sort of world where five cool siblings regularly appear to magically make things better, there is a ten, no, a twenty minute Can You Feel It filled with sound effects and strings and horns and hope and groove which would become a world anthem that every single person and animal on earth could get behind. 
As a final note, it’s worth remembering that the Jacksons went into the studio to record this track (and the album Destiny) in the same month that Michael finished recording Off The Wall, the album that would cement his solo superstar status. Oh, and Michael was still only 20 years old. Incredible.
* The Jacksons were all Jehovah's Witnesses. Imagine opening your door to them.

Saturday, 16 January 2016

A NIGHTMARE






















LESSONS OF DARKNESS, d. Werner Herzog (1992)

In 1992, Herzog took his cameras and a helicopter to Kuwait, and filmed the results of the brief but disastrous invasion of the country by Iraq. We are given two devastating face to face interviews with victims, but most of the film is about the shattered landscape, a place of mud and junk and oil and fire, an utterly alien landscape that is terrifying in both its scale and its intensity. Images from this film haunt me. War may be hell, but its aftermath is also hellish - and hot.

Thursday, 14 January 2016

A NUISANCE







Human beings in Fata Morgana, in descending order of usefulness.

A MIRAGE



























FATA MORGANA, d. Werner Herzog (1971)


In 1969, Werner Herzog took a crew to the Southern Sahara, and spent several weeks driving and flying from place to place and filming everything they came across. It took him a couple of years to make sense of what he saw. Fata Morgana is a film that has no narrative, only movement, and the overwhelming conclusion to be gained from it is that, in the context of the world, human beings are a nuisance, a dangerous anomaly. 
 

We start in the desert, tracking past miles and miles of empty sand. ‘Wilderness’ is an interesting concept: it basically means a great swathe of land that is ecologically balanced, yet inhospitable to man, as if that is the reason the Earth exists. A Mayan creation myth recounts how the Gods are permanently dissatisfied with humans, so periodically destroy them and, occasionally, we see the bones of an old building or the hulks of cars and planes which seem to verify the story.  

In the second part, we begin to see people, mainly weary looking Africans living in scruffy huts and sun bleached sheds. We pass them by quickly, as if they are just another feature of the landscape, although it is notable that where the people are, there is disruption, decay, rust, holes, rubbish, and neglect.  We also see our first white man - like the others we will see, he is strangely dressed and interfering with the natural order.  

In the third part, we are given a number of strange vignettes (a two man band; a Swiss frogman interfering with a turtle; tourists frolicking in black sand), before ending with an aerial shot of what looks like a salt marsh, a completely natural  habitat that, nevertheless, is perhaps the antithesis of what, in human terms, constitutes ‘home’. This strange, alien place is made stranger and more alien by the sun as it passes over it, turning it from black and grey to a dark gold. 

What does this all mean? For me, it is that the human race are pathetic in our delusions of grandeur, in the way that we are unable to see Earth in anything other than our own terms. But we are not the world, we are in spite of it. What do we actually contribute? No matter what we do, what we build, what we destroy, we cannot get past the fact that, ultimately, our planet does not need us in any way, and would flourish in our absence. Some might find that depressing, I find it liberating: I’ve got over myself, and it feels fantastic.

Monday, 11 January 2016

THE WORST NEWS IN THE WORLD















The release of David Bowie’s latest album brought out the experts, the people who haven’t been making the world a better place for 45 years, but have strong opinions on someone who most definitely has. Bowie should retire, they said, or should have left the music business after 1980, or, indeed, not even recorded any music at all. Some hailed the album as a masterpiece, as if their approval made all the difference, as if them liking it was the reason he made it. Typically, Bowie has outmaneuvered them all, and died – without consultation, without approval, without warning, on his own terms, in his own way. It’s so typically Bowie it's almost funny, but instead it feels like the sun has gone out. There hasn’t been a day in my life that hasn’t had some David Bowie in it, and my life has been enriched because of it and because of him. I love you, David. Thank you.

BREAK ON THROUGH

















ON THE WAY OUT (2016)

Friday, 8 January 2016

DANCE CRAZE



























CHARACTER FORMATION IN DIFFERENT CULTURES: TRANCE AND DANCE IN BALI (1952)

The witch, with her trademark hairy legs, long nails and pendulous breasts, is angered by the king's refusal to marry her daughter, so sends forth her disciples to spread plague. There emissary of the king fails to kill her, and is turned into a dragon. The followers of the dragon are thrown into a deep trance by the witch, revived by the dragon into a somnambulistic state, and turn their knives violently against themselves without any apparent harm. The performance ends with ceremonies for bringing the actors out of trance.    

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

MYSTICAL MADNESS




















MYSTICS IN BALI, d. H. Tjut Djalil (1981)

A young woman who wants to write a book about black magic exchanges six bottles of blood for an apprenticeship with a disfigured local witch. She learns how to turn into a pig, a snake and a ball of fire on a piece of wire. She also finds out how to detach her head and vital organs from her body and then fly around the countryside looking for new born babies to bite. When she decides she's learned enough, she tries to withdraw from the arrangement, but the witch has other ideas. 

It's a jaw-dropping film, one of the best things I've seen in years. Some of the optical effects are terrible, but who cares? It's a work of stupendous imagination, and tremendous fun. Clearly too close to the bone, it was originally banned in Indonesia. 

Beware: this film is not for those with a low tolerance for cackling.

Sunday, 3 January 2016

OH, KLAUS!





















This is not from a film, by the way, it's something that actually happened on a 1980 Lufthansa flight. Probably. It sounds like the sort of thing the crazy bastard would do. 

Friday, 1 January 2016

FLAMING KAIJU
























GODZILLA VS MOTHRA: THE BATTLE FOR EARTH, d. (1994)

2016 is here! This IS the future. Appalling, isn't it? Anyway, here are some brightly coloured monster pictures to cheer you all up. Let's draw a burning line under the past and look forward. Is it going to get better, you ask? My most positive response: yeah, why not?