How Apocalypto Relates to the News

When I watch the news I often think of the movie Apocalypto.   This is a Mel Gibson directed movie that deals with the Mayans.  The movie is an insane spectacle filled with ideas and blood.  The characters speak in ancient Mayan dialogue, but the movie is brilliant because it manages to tell the story in ways that are mostly visual.  It is an extremely intelligent piece of entertainment, an action movie with ideas.  It is barbarous, batshit insane, kinetic entertainment.  

Now why do I think of this movie when I see the news?  This is not due to the themes of the movie.  The Mayan empire is depicted as a civilization on the verge of collapse due to environmental calamity and human exploitation.  It came out during the Bush years and the Iraq War.  Gibson even commented that the Mayan rulers were very similar to Bush in his boys.  Sure, the invading Europeans put the nail in the coffin of the Mayans, but the Europeans are aided by the Mayan leaders’ tyrannical rule.  That is not to say that is true in history, but Gibson is trying to draw a parallel through art.  He is saying if we don’t quit oppressing people, if we don’t protect the environment, history shows that we and our way of life is in trouble.

However, none of that crosses my mind when I watch the news.  The greatest emotional quality of Apocalypto is insanity.  When I watch the news and they focus on the trivial and ignore the important, I feel emotionally like I do when I watch Apocalypto.   When I see war and oppression trumpeted as normal, when I see global warming treated as not real, when I see celebrity eclipse the common good, I feel the same as when I watch Apocalypto.  

There is intellectual truth and emotional truth in art.  Even if you argue that the movie doesn’t have the former, it has the latter in spades.  It feels like what happens when the world turns upside down.  It’s why the movie makes me happy, even though it is largely an action movie and a quite dark one at that.  Someone connected to an emotion that is all too common in the modern world.  It’s always uplifting to know someone feels like you do.  If there are others, you might just stand a chance. 

Dock Ellis As Icarus

The truth is never simple and yet it is. The truth is we did kill him. By silence we consented… because we couldn’t go on. But by Ares, what did we have to look forward to but to be discarded in the end like Cleitus? After all this time, to give away our wealth to Asian sycophants we despised? Mixing the races? Harmony? Oh, he talked of these things. I never believe in his dream. None of us did. That’s the truth of his life. The dreamers exhaust us. They must die before they kill us with their blasted dreams. – Old Ptolemy, regarding Alexander the Great, in the movie Alexander

Last night I watched No No: A Dockumentary, a documentary about the baseball player Dock Ellis.  He was famous for, among many things, throwing a no hitter on LSD.  The documentary was worth watching, really good even, but not exceptional.  The footage and the interviews were fantastic, but something about the way the different pieces were put together, the narrative arc, seemed a little loose and unfocused.

One of the things that I found disappointing, but did not take away from my enjoyment of the film, was the end of the film’s focus on Ellis getting clean and teaching prisoners how to reenter life.  Now this is true to life. I also don’t wish to discount what is obviously a noble pursuit for anyone.  But for most of the film Ellis is Icarus before the crash.  You know, because he is mortal, that his wings will melt, but you can’t help but enjoy watching him fly to close to the sun.  So often society wants the outcome of the Icarus myth.  They show a brief shot of his obituary and the newspaper’s headline says something about how he overcame drugs.  For much of his life Ellis was the black ball player that, during a time of extreme racial prejudice, refused to keep his head down.  He not only was a physical mutant, succeeding in MLB while being extremely high, but also quite fearless in his behavior.  When black ball players were expected to keep their mouths shut, enduring things that can only be seen as outright ignorance, Ellis refused to play by the rules of society.  He was never one of the silent masses, guilty by consent.

Early in the movie the film talks about how black ball players, in certain parts of the country, were supposed to stay in different hotels than the white players.  This is obviously insanely stupid.  Black ball players also had to deal with everything from racial epithets to threatening letters.  Ellis never let this kind of discrimination water down his personality.  He was bold and proud when the world wanted him to be meek, quiet, and safe.

Society, even today, wants people to know their place.  I don’t even necessarily mean this in a racial way.  It wants people to tow the line.  It wants people to apologize for their personal transgressions.  But the world needs people like Ellis.  It needs freaks and mutants that by design or will can’t conform.  Although there are many ways to challenge the absurdity of the world, one way is to match its absurdity blow by blow, to refuse to bend to the will of the ignorant.  For a longtime Ellis out-crazied the whirlwind.

He eventually takes it too far.  As one ages their body can no longer handle the excess of youth.  Society is more powerful than the individual and it eventually will take the edges off someone or destroy them.  Very few, like George Carlin, actually get bolder with age.  Even if you refuse to bend to the will of society, life will eventually defeat you.  But for a little while he was out their defying the powerful, even defying the gods.  He was up there in the clouds, free and beautiful, a mythic character in the flesh.

I’m not saying his later deeds do not deserve commendation.  His work with those on the outskirts of society were noble, good, and worthy of respect.  But don’t for a second discount his earlier accomplishments.  He was a heroic mutant, momentarily shaking off the shackles of the mortal.  I’m glad he was out there, for a little while…

Mad Max: Fury Road Getting Rave Reviews

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Vanity Fair Mad Max Fury Road Review

Vanity Fair and just about everyone else are raving over the new film Mad Max: Fury Road.  It is currently at 98% over at Rotten Tomatoes.  I simply can’t wait to see it.  Here is a sample from Vanity Fair:

Fury Road feels brand new. In a movie season exhaustingly cluttered with never-ending superhero sagas and reboots, Fury Road arrives, despite its pedigree, as a daring, fascinating, thrilling jolt of original energy. It’s invigorating the way a big cinema spectacular should be, reveling in the medium’s towering possibilities, and transporting us to a thoroughly realized world that’s wholly unlike our own.

Over at Huffington Post Marshall Fine raves as well:

Here are some of the names that came to mind as I watched Mad Max: Fury Road:

Federico Fellini. David Lynch. Pieter Bruegel. Ralph Steadman. Stanley Kubrick.

Black Death

“As sure as the sun rises and falls, witches will burn.”Black Death*

Tonight I had a couple good laughs watching the medieval horror/thrill Black Death.  The movie was not an intended comedy, nor do I mean to make light of the film or to say that it was intentionally funny.  But once you have seen Monty Python and the Holy Grail, it is hard not to remember it when there is anything to do with the Black Plague or witch burning.  This is not the fault of the filmmakers.  The movie itself is unique, interesting, and gritty.  Although it pulls from other films like The Wicker Man, it puts things together in an original combination.

The film stars Sean Bean and Eddie Redmayne.  Redmayne plays a young monk during the bubonic plague in the 1300’s.  His monastery is wracked with the dead.  He has a secret love of a girl in the local village.  Due to this he secretly wants to leave the monastery and the death that surrounds him.  When Sean Bean, who is a knight in service for the church, says that he needs a guide, circumstances drive Osmund, Redmayne’s character, to lead Ulrich, Bean’s character, on a journey.  They are searching for a village that has not been touched by the plague.  They believe it has made it untouched by the plague due to a necromancer and black magic.

The movie treats the situation as realistic, from the viewpoint of the people that are living in that time and place.  The viewer does not know until late in the movie if there is any supernatural element to the movie, or it is just the superstition of a backwards religious people.  This is a dark film, with gritty violence and all manner of barbarism carried out in the name of religion.  It is suspenseful and bleak.  Torturing and many forms of dismembering take place throughout the film.

However, Hannah Arendt once said, “that the horrible can be not only ludicrous but outright funny.”  As Monty Python demonstrated, through the clarity of hindsight, the beliefs of those times are completely absurd and ridiculous.  Although the characters may or may not be dealing with the supernatural, I don’t want to spoil anything, you know that they are largely on a fools errand.  When local villagers want to burn a woman at the stake for supposedly putting a curse on the local water supply, one can’t help but feel, knowing such things happened, as being a complete folly.  The actions of many of the people in the movie are so absurd, yet realistic, that is somehow passes through the looking glass and becomes somewhat of a comedy of human behavior.  I don’t want to portray the movie as a farce.  I’m not even saying that the movie depicts the actions of these people with anything other than serious.  However, it is because it is so straight that you realize just how absurd this behavior is.  When a character is drawn and quartered it is completely horrific.  Yet once upon a time our ancestors did that kind of thing.

Watching the film I couldn’t help but wonder why this time period is depicted in more movies.  It is strange and horrifying enough to be almost fantastic, yet interesting because it is not fantasy.  This movie takes liberties with the time period, and the story itself is fiction, but many of the things that people do to one another, many of the beliefs, are real.  I found this movie to be entertaining, gripping, interesting, and yes funny at times.  It is also batshit insane.  When they are venturing out to find the possibly supernatural village they come across men walking down a stream whipping themselves and carrying a large cross.  These people are punishing themselves to make penance with God.  They warn the main group not to go any further.  If these are the people warning them, what kind of further insanity waits down the road?

Although this movie is first and foremost a horror movie or thriller, it does ask questions about the nature of evil, religious belief, and human nature.  One can’t help thinking about what is going on in the world currently due to religious strife while watching it.  It is entertainment with intelligence.  It looks and feels differently than the typical Hollywood movie and that is because it was filmed in Germany, even if it has several stars in it.  The camera work and art direction is gritty and realistic, though gothic in fitting with the time period.

Tragedy plus time equals comedy.  While I watched this film I couldn’t help but wonder what actions of modern times will look completely ridiculous to those hundreds of years in the future.

The famous witch scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail:

* This quote may be slightly paraphrased.  It was late, we were already watching something else, and my internet searches came up empty.  If not exact it gets close enough to the original’s intent.

Mad Max: Fury Road – Official Main Trailer

I heading out to play a gig in Amarillo in about an hour.  It’s Saturday night so I thought I’d post something fun. I’m really looking forward to seeing the above movie.  George Miller, who created Mad Max and directed the first two movies, and co-directed the third, is back at the helm. He created a world so vivid in the original trilogy that it is still with us, despite there being a mountain of post-apocalyptic movies, books, and TV shows that have come out since.  The Road Warrior, especially, is more than an action movie, as it touches upon the primal.  Hopefully this new film will be batshit insane.  The trailer makes it look like it is full of strange, brutal, and original imagery.

Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter First Response

Tonight I saw the excellent new movie Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter.  It is going to be a little while before I can write a review, as the movie defies easy description and categorization.  I was pleasantly surprised that the creators of the movies, the Zellner brothers, were at the screening and did a Q & A after.  I had no idea that they were from Austin or that they would be there.  I think anyone that enjoys seeing something unique and dreamlike at the movie theater would like this film.  Although one could draw comparisons to other directors and films that came before it, it was its own thing.  It was an art-house film, but one that had a story captivating enough that I think even a certain percentage of people that aren’t interested in those kind of films could be swept up in.  However, it was interpretive and requires the viewer to think, unlike a great deal of mass entertainment. Anyway, I will write more at some point.  I really liked the film and wanted to get something up about it.  I didn’t want my silence, since I posted I was going to see it, to be taken as dislike.