The Mystery of Twin Peaks

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One of the most wonderful universes that you can get lost in is Twin Peaks.  It takes you into the mystery of the world.  It’s strange, but not any stranger than real life.  It’s just that the strangeness of real life is heightened so that it is brought to the forefront.  One of the things that David Lynch does so well is to create strong emotions.  He knows that emotions are abstract, you can’t explain sadness or pain or happiness so much as you can feel it.  Through abstract visuals and sound design he creates cinema of intense feeling.  

The trick to what he does is that he often allows you to feel two different emotions at the same time. The end of Fire Walk With Me, the movie that takes place in the Twin Peaks universe, is one of the most horrifying sequences I have ever seen in film.  It is also beautiful.  The fact that it is beautiful doesn’t make it any less horrific to watch.  In fact in might make it more so, because it opens you up emotionally to it in a way that no straight horror movie or documentary ever could.  David Lynch isn’t afraid to make you feel uncomfortable, but you never ever get the sense he is trying to shock you just for the sake of it.  

The TV show Twin Peaks is a combination of different genres.  There are characters that could have come out of a film noir and there are characters that could have come out of a soap opera.  These more traditional genre elements are laced with episodes of the surreal and uncanny.  At the core of Twin Peaks is a murder mystery.  However, the TV show especially also features many moments of light comedy.  It is again the fact that it is combining different elements that make it so unique.  

But I think one thing that truly makes Twin Peaks special is that in watching it, we not only recognize feelings and emotions from reality, but the show somehow heightens the viewers reality as well.  When we enter the woods after seeing the show we may notice how dark and mysterious they are in ways we might not have payed attention to.  Entering a diner we may notice details and the behavior of people in ways in which we didn’t before.  Twin Peaks is great entertainment, but it is also something more.  It is a fictional world that makes us aware of the mysteries in our own.  

Kinski on Herzog

He should be thrown alive to the crocodiles! An anaconda should strangle him slowly! A poisonous spider should sting him and paralyze his lungs! The most venomous serpent should bite him and make his brain explode! No — panther claws should rip open his throat — that would be much too good for him! Huge red ants should piss into his lying eyes and gobble up his balls and his guts! He should catch the plague! Syphilis! Yellow fever! Leprosy! It’s no use; the more I wish him the most gruesome deaths, the more he haunts me – Klaus Kinski on Werner Herzog

One of the greatest directors of all time is Werner Herzog.  Whether making documentaries or feature films his movies are full of original ideas and images.  When you watch one of his films you are guaranteed to see something you have never seen before.  His films are often filled with ecstatic fever dream imagery.  Even his documentaries allow you to experience the world in a new way. 

Over the course of his career Herzog made five feature films with volatile actor Klaus Kinski.  A completely insane and often hilarious film is the director’s documentary on Kinski, My Best Fiend

The above quote is from Kinski’s autobiography Kinski Uncut, which is also known as All I Need is Love.  It is probably the most perverse and batshit book I have ever read.  It was as if he was daring the world to hate him. 

In the movie My Best Fiend Herzog claims that he and Kinski sat around trying to think of the most vile terms to describe the director in.  The above quote always provides me with a good laugh when I need it. 

The Beautiful Strange World of Hayao Miyazaki

Don’t call him the Walt Disney of Japan: How animator Hayao Miyazaki became a cultural icon by doing everything Pixar doesn’t http://www.salon.com/2014/06/23/dont_call_him_the_walt_disney_of_japan_how_animator_hayao_miyazaki_became_a_cultural_icon_by_doing_everything_pixar_doesnt/ via @Salon

The above article is a really interesting one about the famous Japanese animator.  His films can appear very strange to the Western eye.  After traveling to and reading I have learned about how the Japanese are more comfortable with abstractions.  Abstractions are part of their everyday language.  Because of their complex social behavior they often speak in abstractions and convey certain nuances through how things are said and facial expressions. 

I love Miyazaki’s beautiful and surreal movies.  They are art and entertainment all in one.  If you are looking to go someplace you have never been give his films a try. 

My Computer Dumped Me and I am OK

My computer is down at the moment which is making it infinitely harder to post.  I have written the last three posts on my phone.  I just ordered a new battery and I am hoping that fixes the issue.  I will pray to whatever strange god necessary to make it so!  If my proofreading becomes even more dodgy than usual, at least now I have an excuse!

A week ago I watched Spike Jonze’s excellent movie Her.  I am not a huge Spike Jonze fan as I feel like his movies are often clever, but rarely land any kind of emotional connection.  I feel this may be his best film to date as it was full of ideas, visually stunning, and emotionally compelling as well.  There were several scenes which didn’t ring true, but I put this down to the aesthetic of the film, which felt to me like sort of a strange fairytale for adults. 

The movie takes place in the near future. In the movie the main character, played by Joaquin Pheonix,  falls in love with his computer operating system, voiced by Scarlett Johansson.   The movie deals with our obsession with technology, mortality, and what it is to be human.  There is a scene where Pheonix has tremendous anxiety because his operating system is temporarily down.  In one way this plays like a romantic problem as it reminds you of how you feel when you desperately want to reach someone you love, but can’t.   However it is also a metaphor for how tied into our technology we are.  We depend on things which only years ago didn’t exist.  So many of the things that occupy our time seem essential, but that is just a fabrication. 

I was exasperated when I couldn’t get my computer to work.  But then I just read a book and the morning slowly faded from existence,  all the same…

Postscript: However, if my ipod breaks down the streets will run red with blood.

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.

Changing the Future and Redeeming the Past

I cannot stop thinking about The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology starring Slavoj Zizek.  It’s such a fascinating intelligent film.  Even if you don’t agree with some of his ideas, this film will make you think.  I will admit that this film is not for everyone.  Although he talks about subjects like philosophy and other topics in an incredibly accessible way, this movie is still pretty intellectual.  He uses films to dive into big ideas surrounding our culture.  However, if you are open minded and hungry for new ideas, you can’t go wrong with this film.

One of the interesting points he makes is how revolutions not only can change the future, but also redeem the past.  Revolutions, even ones that fail, leave a lingering energy around.  I am going to use the example of the Spanish Civil War as documented by George Orwell in his incredible Homage to Catalonia.  In the book Orwell sees a socialist revolution that actually works for a little while, until it is eventually crushed by Franco’s regime.  On one hand you could say that the revolution failed.  On the other, you could say that in living on in Orwell’s book and other places, it still provides inspiration for people.  The ideas from that revolution are still out there floating in the ether.  So any progressive revolution that happens will not only make a different future, but will also redeem that revolution and others like it that still lingers in people’s minds.

I think this can also be used to talk about political songs.  In some ways we can look at the protest songs of the 60’s as having failed.  Although they might have succeeded in helping along certain things like Civil Rights, it is pretty clear that there was no large lasting leftwing movement that came out of the 60’s in any real sense.  Although certain aspects of our society are more tolerant, our country is still pretty centrist as a whole, especially compared to Northern European countries.  In fact economically we have moved to the right.  One only has to look at the politics of Richard Nixon compared to the politics of our current right wing.  However, those songs continue to inspire people to this day.  You could see 60’s anthems as having an influence on Occupy Wall Street.  The Occupy movement may have fizzled, but the next time people try to take on the entrenched economic power I would bet anything that these anthems are somewhere in the mix.

Even if you sing something or write something and it doesn’t have the desired political effect, it is still worth the effort.  You may not see the promise land, but someone that you inspire years down the road may reach it for you.

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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…

God is (Not?) Dead

While I was looking through movies to possibly go to tonight I happened to notice a movie with the title God’s Not Dead.  The movie is about a person of faith that has a college professor that asks his class to write God is Dead on the first day of class.  If they will not do this they face a failing grade.  As you can predict the student of faith challenges his professor and apparently this results in a movie that ends in a face off between the person of faith and the college professor.  I haven’t seen the movie so I am not going to criticize it.  Maybe it is even an interesting intellectual debate, but I doubt it.

However, it made me want to convey several ideas.  Let’s say for sake of argument that there is a God.  If he/she is all powerful and created the entire universe does he/she need mere mortals defending him/her?

Also, again if he is all powerful and created everything doesn’t that mean he created humor and insults too?  Can he not laugh at him/herself and take some insults?  Is he/she really going to get their panties in a bunch if I say he/she doesn’t exist?  Is his/her ego so big that they need to constantly be praised all of the time?  Wouldn’t a truly enlightened being much rather see us treat the poor and weak among us kindly, rather than use all of our energy building shrines and praising someone that already has unlimited power?

I think our purpose here on earth is, like Kurt Vonnegut says, “to help each other get through this thing, whatever it is.”  If there is nothing after this world than we have defiantly been kind in the face of nothing.  I would say that is pretty noble.  If there is a god then hopefully they are a kind enlightened being that will judge us for how kind we have been, and not based upon if we observed a bunch of superstitious rituals.  If he/she isn’t so kind then maybe we will need to help each other in the next world too.

There is Always Something Worth Seeing

I watched the movie The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology for a second time tonight with my brother.  Wanting to learn a little about the film’s star, philosopher and narrator Slavoj Zizek, I read several articles about him.  This is one that appears in The Guardian:

www.theguardian.com/culture/2011/jul/15/slavoj-zizek-interview-life-writing

I am linking to this one not because it is the best, I am just discovering this subject, but I really like the last paragraph.  Here it is quoted in full:

It is time for him to leave. “My son and I are going to see Transformers.” He means the third and final installment of the dismal film franchise. It’s apparently terrible, I warn him. “I have been to terrible films before. There is always something worth seeing.”

There are good and bad movies.  However, all movies say something about the society in which they are created in.  This is not to say that I don’t personally try to avoid bad movies, but that in seeing them, if I get stuck in a theater watching something I realize I shouldn’t have gone to, there is usually some idea to be gained from watching them.  Although movies might have several layers to them, the explicit and the implicit, they usually either champion or subvert the dominant culture in some way.  It may be scene by scene even, but there is something to take away from every film experience. 

The last movie I saw in the theater was Godzilla. (Spoilers to follow.) I didn’t enjoy this movie in any kind of entertainment way.  I kept remembering I was in a theater watching a movie instead of getting lost in the world the film created.  On a level of entertainment it failed for me.  However, it had much to say about the culture we live in.  It was a technical marvel that also seemed to me to be largely empty and meaningless.  So much of the modern world is like that.  We can be wowed by our technical achievements, but also feel spiritually empty much of the time. 

The movie was also a piece of military propaganda in some ways.  It did acknowledge our mistake of dropping a bomb on Hiroshima, but it seemed to say that the new military establishment had corrected its ways and that our commanders, represented by David Straithairn, would do the right thing when necessary.  It also painted the average soldier as always being brave and intelligent, when we know better from incidents like Abu Ghraib to not always be the case. 

The movie also had a very slim environmental message, although one that was diluted by Godzilla saving our civilization at the end.  The movie contained the idea that nature is larger than us and that we were arrogant to think we could control it. 

Both of these themes, a sort of subtle catering to both the right and the left, take place while untold carnage and destruction happens, because of the monsters that have been released.  However, even this destruction is rendered largely meaningless as there is great amount of destruction and death without there being any real carnage.  The violence is never made horrifying or visceral.  Our government does its best to prevent images of the violence that we perpetuate from reaching the general public.  We may see a building exploding, but true human destruction is often kept slightly out of the frame.  The movie did this to earn a PG-13 rating so that it can gross as much money as possible, but it is telling of our times that we cannot confront violence head on in any realistic way.  If we were to do so in reality we would surely not let the military industrial complex get away with as many of it’s recent past and current sins as we do, at least I hope so. 

Anyway, I’m not telling you to seek out bad movies looking for meaning.  I am only hoping that if you do find yourself in a movie that you are not enjoying, it may be worth more of your time than you realize.  Often low brow movies can reflect who we are as much as high brow movies.  Keep your eyes open. 

The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology Review

The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology is an incredibly powerful film.  It is somehow able to pack in all of the ideas of a great book or the best of a college course, while also being highly entertaining.  It combines films, philosophy, religion, psychoanalysis, history, and politics.  Although the film was directed by Sophie Fiennes, whose visual mastery should not go unnoticed, the film belongs to the narrator and star Slavoj Zizek.

Zizek uses films such as They Live, Full Metal Jacket, The Sound of Music, and others to dive into big ideas.  Clips from the films are shown interspersed with shots of Zizek appearing on recreations of the sets of the same films.  Zizek’s narration is powerful because he is able to make even the headiest of ideas understandable.  The movie is so packed with interesting ideas that I feel that I would be doing the film a disservice without watching it again, or several times, before I tried to list all of the things it covered.

One of the biggest ideas in the movie is that all power, whether that is in the form of religion or even totalitarian atheism, drives from peoples’ belief in the Big Other.  The Big Other could be God or history or any idea that exists outside of the self that allows people to follow orders without questioning them.

He also talks about having the right and wrong dreams.  We often dream of an idealized version of the reality that is presented to us, a dream which would not make us happy if achieved.  In order to make the world a better place we need to change the kind of dreams we have.  An example is our common thinking that we would just be happy if we had more money, etc.; when it is very possible that the organizing principles of our society are what bring about so much unhappiness.  He focuses on ideology because from the very beginning he talks about how trying to see outside of ideology is painful and we often resist it.

He also talks about capitalism vs. environmentalism.  He asks the question why is it easier in some ways in our existing order to imagine the end of life as we know it rather than make a few small adjustments to our economic system.

Even if you end up not agreeing with Zizek, if you are the kind of person that welcomes big ideas this film will leave you with plenty to chew on.  I feel as if I am not doing this film justice.  This is a subversive, intelligent, entertaining movie that should be watched if you are looking for something stimulating.

P.S.  Make sure that if you watch the film that you watch through to the end of the credits.  This film is available for streaming on Netflix currently.