The Movie Prometheus and Mythology

This blog includes big spoilers for the movie Prometheus.  

I must admit that I am fascinated with the movie Prometheus.  It is directed by Ridley Scott and it is an indirect prequel to the movie Alien.  I saw it twice in theaters and I seem to watch it every time it has come on TV this week.

First, I’m not saying that there are not problems with this movie.  The characters often have lapses in judgment that you would normally see in B horror movies.  Also the end, now that I have seen it several times, is really just a more serious version of the ending of Almost Heroes; yes the movie starring Chris Farley.  In the Farley comedy once the characters, who are racing Lewis and Clark to the Pacific Ocean, reach the Pacific Ocean, they decide to keep walking to Asia.  They decide to do this despite going through 90 minutes of comedy hell. The character of Dr. Shaw in the movie Prometheus, despite having just endured imaginable horrors, decides at the end to go further into the alien world that she has discovered.  They say that comedy is when a hero goes to the innermost cave and learns nothing.

However, I think I like this movie for two reasons.  First is that director Ridley Scott always puts the money on screen.  Whenever you see one of his big budget movies you are seeing something original and unique that you don’t see anywhere else.  Just the design aesthetic of this movie is incredible.  Also the creatures and aliens in this movie are actually really creepy.  A great deal of horror and science fiction are suspenseful only to lose credibility when you actually see the thing you are supposed to be afraid of.  The scene in the sick bay, where Dr. Shaw is trying to get rid of the alien inside her is one of the few times in recent memory I can remember actually squirming in a theater.

Second, I think that they created an interesting and complex mythology for this film.  In movies in the science fiction genre, or horror or fantasy, it is not important that these movies adhere to the rules of reality, so much that they create a unique world with its own rules.  The movie is deep, but not deep in the sense that one would usually use the term.  The movie does ask religious and philosophical questions, but I find them to be somewhat superficial and again that is not really what I’m talking about.  I mean that the film is deep in that its world has many layers to it that make it interesting.  It has a mythology in it to the point that your imagination takes you to places that aren’t being shown on screen.  The movie creates a three dimensional world, that however horrific, is different from our own and is something you can get temporarily lost in.  That to me is entertainment.

Video

Monday Morning Fun

I thought I would provide some fun for those of you that will be reading this early Monday morning at work. I was watching Lethal Weapon and within 30 seconds Danny Glover said the classic action movie line, “I’m too old for this shit.” If you haven’t seen it here is a Movie Supercut showing how many times variations of this line has been used. Tell your boss you are too old for this shit! Enoy…

Under the Skin: A Second Look

Although I can say with all certainty that the new movie Under the Skin is not for everyone, I can’t stop thinking about it.  If you want to know what it is about read my review from a few days ago.  It is cinema at its best, where imagery is painterly and infused with multiple layers of meeting.  One can’t help but look at the world in a new light, at least if you are open to this kind of film.  It is a slow movie, but this pace is rewarding as it causes you to contemplate the images being shown. 

Scarlett Johansson is an alien, but as this character she forces us to see the world in a way that we might not otherwise.  The world, stripped of its context and meaning that we impart on it, is a strange and mysterious place. 

One of the interesting things in the movie is the men that she seduces.  They have thick Scottish accents.  The accents are so thick that at times I had trouble discerning what they were saying.  Here they were speaking the same language as me, but they appeared foreign, as if inhabiting some familiar but parallel universe. 
Also, the natural world is presented as I believe it really is, as a world we rarely seen in nature documentaries that want to explain and categorize it.  Nature is beautiful and enchanting, but it is also dangerous beyond human comprehension on many levels.

Again, this movie is not for everyone.  It requires work out of the viewer.  In some ways it is more like going to an art museum than the traditional Hollywood fair.  However, if you are up to the challenge, you will see something unique.  It is if the director, Jonathan Glazer, opened up a small glimpse to the mysterious heart of the universe. 

Subversive Popcorn Movies

Sometimes popcorn movies can be every bit as stimulating, if not more so, than serious movies.  There are movies that I have seen that try to convey a serious political message, but they end up failing, because they tell a sort of journalistic truth.  They might tell you what happened and when, but they leave out any kind of ecstatic truth of the human condition, and therefore fail to leave a deeper emotional impression on you. 

I remember seeing the movie Syriana and coming away with very little of an impression from it.  It was a movie that tried to convey our political and moral failings in the Middle East.  But anyone with half a brain knows that we acted immorally at times under the Bush administration.  If you are going to make a political film you need one that makes you feel strongly, as well as think.  The purpose of a political feature film is to make you think, but the best ones always draw you in on some kind of deeper emotional level.  At the very least, as film is largely a visual medium, they should have some kind of stark images that imprint themselves upon the imagination. 

Meanwhile, popcorn movies chief concern is to entertain.  If something is entertaining and fun you are likely to come back to it.  The best directors of popcorn movies, like Paul Verhoeven, can paint outside the lines and include subversive imagery and ideas while putting trashy entertainment at the forefront.  The movie Starship Troopers, if you are an action or sci-fi fan, is a great movie to watch every once in awhile.  The movie is, on surface level, about a futuristic army fighting aliens that look like giant bugs.  However, Verhoeven’s movie touches on all kinds of ideas concerning society and how it militarizes itself. 

The society in Starship Troopers is a fascist society.  Only citizens that have performed some kind of government service can vote.  The young good looking actors are often dressed in uniforms that resemble Nazi uniforms of the 1930’s and 40’s.  Often in war we dehumanize our enemies so that we can kill them.  The enemies in Starship Troopers are literally bugs and this is meant as a metaphor for this process of dehumanization.  Almost all of the grown-ups in this movie are scarred or maimed, several missing limbs, and they send the young beautiful kids off to war.  The movie also features several humorous and subversive commercials that are based on old World War II propaganda pieces. (I’ll include an attachment of one at the end.)   

When I would see absurdities concerning the War on Terror, I often think of something like Starship Troopers more than I would think of a more serious movie like SyrianaStarship Troopers is not high art.  But because its chief manifest is to entertain, it pulls you in and you remember it.  It also uses a fantastic setting to create absurdities that point to the absurd in our own culture.  I’m not saying that popcorn movies should have a higher place in our culture than serious movies.  I do think in this case, if you look at what they are trying to achieve, I think Starship Troopers is more successful than Syriana.  However, I’m simply trying to say that you shouldn’t discount popcorn movies as being a place where meaningful social commentary can happen.  There are clearly plenty of movies that are meant to entertain that even fail at that.  But put in the right hands a genre movie can be a great way to slip a subversive message to a large audience. 

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=faFuaYA-daw

 

Notice that there is a guy in the above Starship Troopers commercial that says the, “The only good bug is a dead bug.”  General Phil Sheridan said during the Indian Wars that, “The only good Indian is a dead Indian.”  I also love in this commercial when the kids are stepping on bugs at the end as they are being taught to hate the enemy.  This is good fun subversive stuff packed into an action sci-fi movie.  

The Failure to Adapt

I saw the movie Glengarry Glen Ross last night for the first time.  It was a portrayal of the sales world that, although highly exaggerated in its language, rang too true in many cases.  I worked in sales and customer service for about six years.  My brother, who commented on the film’s depressing outlook, was also laughing at some of the darkly comic dialogue.  Meanwhile I felt my blood pressure going up as I relived certain situations that I have seen.

The movie tells the story of people in a real estate sales office.  In the beginning of the film Alec Baldwin, who plays a character that represents upper management, comes into the sales office and gives them an epic dressing down for their poor sales performances.  This sets the train of events that takes place in the movie and includes arguments, lying, and thievery.

The David Mamet play that this movie was based on was first performed in 1983 and the movie came out in 1992.  I don’t know how offices were in those years, but knowing how they are now, I knew that the dialogue was an exaggeration.  This movie has so many fucks in it that it became known to the cast as “Death of a fucking salesman.” In the neutered politically correct corporate world of today this kind of outwardly expression of vulgarity would never take place.  Sure, it might take place at moments or in some companies, but over all people would not be allowed to talk to each other like that.  However, this does not mean that the dialogue is untrue.  In its absurd exaggeration it exposes the feelings that I have seen in many coworkers and bosses.  It takes what often is going on inside in reality and moves it outside.

Earlier today I read an article about Hirdoo Onoda.  Onada was a Japanese soldier on a remote island in the Philippines that fought World War II for 29 years after the Japanese surrendered.  He believed that the war was still being fought so many years after it was over.  During this time he killed around 30 islanders who he believed to be enemy combatants.

Watching the movie, and watching these alpha males fight over such pathetic rewards, I couldn’t help but think that in our society we often behave in ways that are historically obsolete.  The men in this movie, and so many people in the business world, have some kind of delusion that they are part of some kind of lost warrior clan.  They are fighting and competing in ways that have no basis for what is needed in the modern world.  They are debasing their own and others dignity for nothing more than Willy Loman’s gold watch.  They behave with the ruthlessness of some kind of ancient guerilla general all for a couple extra bucks and a bigger desk.

In a global world with such global problems as climate change we must seek to see each other’s basic humanity.  The competition of tribes and clans, which the unfettered market still fosters in us, is out of date and will lead to our destruction.  Trouble always arises in the world when times change, but people fail to adapt.

Dealing With the Dark

I am in love with the world, yet I often hate what we have done with it.  Film, paintings, music, literature, poetry, architecture, and the best art of all, nature; leaves me filling out the hours of my days until they go by like mere blips.  But why do we often seem so hell bent on destruction and stupidity?  There are so many things to fall in love with and get excited about.  I don’t care if one is interested in sports or reading, how can one be bored?

Yet there are greedy people out there that would be happy to see us all wallow in the mud.  We would be nothing but indentured servants if the politics and markets of the corporations would be allowed to be followed out to their furthest conclusion.

This is not to say that markets are not important.  My brain freezes when things are reduced to simple Fox News propositions like the left is anti-market.  Sure there are those on the left that are.  But most people, left and right, are more complicated.  The TV news is no place for complexities and shades of grey.  We need a combination of markets and safety nets for those markets.  Most of my republican friends are reasonable if only talked to.  Most of us on the left are as well.

I watched Colbert and Stewart last night and was dumbfounded at some of the clips that they pulled up.  I only need to think of the recent past and of things like Freedom Fries to remember how ignorance can take over.  Remember after 911 when any kind of antiwar sentiment was seen as aiding and abetting the enemy?

It helps to remember the beauty of the world, because then you know what you are fighting for.  Don’t ever get completely lost down the rabbit hole of cynicism.  One can love and hate without contradicting oneself.  On the very same day that I hear a melody that fills my soul with wonder, I can also hope to see Ted Cruz go down in a flurry of shame and disgrace.  Don’t forget about the light when dealing with the dark.

Thanks From the Heart of My Bottom

Today the Windup Wire has reached 100 full time subscribers.  There are many others of you that visit this site on a regular basis, and many of you that just check it out from time to time.  I can’t thank all of you enough.  I’ve only been at this for three months and I am extremely happy that so many of you have cared enough to read what I have written.  I promise to always be as truthful as I can be, given one’s own personal limitations and blind spots.  I will write as much as I can, about as many things as I can, for those of you that enjoy coming here.  The world is an incredibly interesting place filled with mystery and wonder.  Being a working musician with an American Studies degree, I hope that I can provide you with a unique insight into politics, literature, film, TV, and music.  I want to examine our culture and look at how all of these various subjects interact to make us who we are.  I am filled with tremendous gratitude to all of you.  We are only getting started.  Onward through the fog…

Monty Python and Black Sabbath

Between our sound check and our show last night, in Denton, we had a couple hours to kill.  We stopped at the amazing Recycled Books there in the town square.  First of all it was bad judgment on my part to even enter the store.  There is no place that will siphon money off of me faster than a book store that also sells records.  While we were in the store I thought about asking Shinyribs if we could put a tip jar out later that night just to even out the damage that I knew I was about to do to my wallet.  For you see there is nothing I love more than books and records.  If someone pulled up in a Lamborghini and someone pulled up in a Pinto, albeit with a copy of The Queen is Dead and A Good Man is Hard to Find in the passenger seat, I know who I would be riding with; it wouldn’t be in the Lamborghini. 

Anyway, I was able to summon up some monumental restrain out of my soul, for maybe the first and last time, and keep it down to two purchases.  I got a book of interviews with Monty Python and the first Black Sabbath album.  Other than the fact that both are from England and that both were ground breaking in their respective fields, there isn’t really a straight line that you can draw from one to the other.  But I believe it is that exact kind of blending of arts and ideas that is important to staying creative and inspired. 

One should be able to enjoy listening to synth pop, heavy metal, and folk music in the same day.  One should be able to watch David Lynch’s Blue Velvet and a children’s movie and be able to pull something meaningful from both.  Especially in this day and age of technology, when so much has already been done, the only chance in hell that you have is of possibly putting two things together that have never be paired off before.  And the truth is I can find nothing more boring that being part of a subculture and living by a set of finite rules. 

When pop music, or any art form, was new, it was probably Ok to sequester yourself in a certain genre as that genre was coming into formation.  The first punk albums were revolutionary, but very quickly became formulaic.  You might need someone with strong beliefs and rules to start a movement, but very quickly those rules become a prison. 

It still blows my mind today when someone is in a country band, or a rockabilly band, or whatever.  That would bore me to tears.  You are basically just recreating a lesser version of something that has probably reached it’s high water mark in years past.  Even the bands that are best at these kind of genre tributes seem to me to be more actors playing roles, than living breathing artists. 

That’s not saying that whatever art form you choose, painting, music, film, doesn’t need some kind of guiding principle.  I am in a rock n roll band and a country\soul band, but even those are starting points and marketing descriptions.  In my rock band we might throw in an African gumboots riff, and in my country\soul band a stray Led Zeppelin riff might suddenly appear.  If you really listen to the great bands, other than the ones that were the initial formers of a certain genre, they are usually way more weird and eclectic than they first appear.  Johnny Marr was throwing in Chic riffs into the Smiths.  The Rolling Stones, what many people see as the quintessential rock band, have done country, reggae, disco, and soul music.  I think it is very important to have a definitive outlook and operating principle, otherwise your art can become bland and have no point of view, but don’t allow that to become so static that nothing new can ever enter the fold. 

The great directors have almost always challenged themselves.  Werner Herzog has done documentaries and feature films.  David Lynch has directed Eraserhead and the Straight Story.  Even though one of those is a horrific nightmare of a film and the other is a G rated Disney movie, you could easily say that both of them had moments that were Lynchian.  Both of those directors have very clearly established identities and personalities, but within that frame they have a lot of room to move. 

There are always those that are the exception to the rule.  AC\DC is a prime example in music.  Larry David’s brilliant comedies always have a certain thread and personality tying them together.  However, even in what they are both doing they are originals.  They are not simply recreating something from the past. 

If I go out to a bar and I see a country band, unless it is the greatest country band in the world, if their fourth song sounds like their first, I usually am heading home for the night.  I understand that having your thing makes it easier to market, and occasionally having your thing means you have done something original, but usually it means that you are unimaginative and boring. 

There is usually always someone that is smart enough to pitch even the weirdest, most surreal, and most complex art to others.  It can often be hard to find that person if you are an artist.  But they are out there and those people are essential.  Artists need people that can translate what they do to get others to seek it out for the first time, as very few artists are good at that sort of thing.  However, usually this pitch is just a starting point, a way to simplify the complex thing that you have made, so that others can find an entry way.  Anyone that has art that really CAN be described in a 30 second sales pitch is probably boring.  A one note song in a symphonic world, full of mystery and wonder.  

Neither Day Nor Night

I work best at strange hours.  I like to be up late at night and early in the morning.  If I could I would sleep a couple hours at night and a couple hours in the afternoon.  I like the hours of the day when there is often a quiet stillness.  Yet at the same time these hours abound with possibility.  They are pregnant with moments waiting to be born.

One of my favorite shows ever is the show Twin Peaks.  This show has endless virtues to talk about.  However, one thing that it got really right was the sense of time and day.  Often in the show, the moments right before dawn were filled with a sense of mystery.  Something was happening.

David Lynch, one of the creators of Twin Peaks, is a master at creating those feelings that we all feel but can’t explain.  He can capture that eerie sense in dreams when it is neither day nor night, the way our brains relate unrelated things in a way that somehow makes sense, the mystery always hidden just behind reality.  He understands that emotions are abstract and can paint pictures of pure emotion.  He uses surrealism, but there is always some kind of unexplainable logic at work.

If you are not afraid of mystery, surrealism, and interpretation, then go down the rabbit hole with him.  He will show you something you have always known, but could never quite place.  He will show you a world full of imagination, and possibly a little sliver of your soul reflected back at you.  His movies are full of both strange horror and extreme beauty.  They are not an easy ride.  But they are worth it if you care to make the journey.

Quote

Killing the Dreamers

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 believed 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.

A quote by Ptolemy in the movie Alexander.  Directed by Oliver Stone.  This is one of my favorite movies of all time.  It got a bad rap when it was first released.  I think it was too complex and too dense in story to be digested in one sitting.  Every time I watch it some new detail emerges.  It is a highly intelligent film.  It also features many entertaining and great scene-chewing performances, in the best sense of the term.  My favorite version is the longest version, The Final Cut.