Wednesday, October 30, 2013

S. Ship of Theseus: First Blush

While I have read and do read a lot, I own way too many books to ever get to them all. I just picked up S., also known as Ship of Theseus by by J. J. Abrams (Creator), and Doug Dorst (Author). As with all things J. J. Abrams, this is a puzzle. Like LOST, there is likely going to be no easily and comfortably discernible answer, either. Will I get to eventually consume this entire novel/puzzle/art book in its entirety?  I now own dozens of books I had every good intention of getting to, only to have them get swallowed by my shelves. Cream tends to rise to the top, so only time will tell if I actually get to finishing this. I hope to. Even if I never get to finish this, here is my first impression of what this novel is.

As soon as I used a knife to slit off the paper tab that sealed the book in the slipcase, I knew this was going to be something special. It's a book within a book. It is a pseudo novel, like the pseudo found footage film by J. J. Abrams, Cloverfield.  Think of this as a novel within a novel within a novel. Most novels are written by one real person about a fictional tale. This project was conceived by J. J. Abrams. Then Doug Dorst—the actual author—wrote it, but he did so as if the novel were authored by someone else, a fictional author V. M. Straka. Then there is a fictional translator's note and foreword by F. X. Caldeira. Then there are margin notes by two fictional people who passed this copy back and forth. It's complicated.

It's fiction within fiction, with the goal of taking you away from its fakeness and making it seem real—as if you are the one and only person to have stumbled upon this old book, personally notated by two strangers. This aims to make you, the reader, feel like a special part of the next step in this book's journey through the ages.

Aside from all that, if I still have you, there are papers, clippings, postcards, scraps, napkins, photos, and some cypher-code wheel in the back. The second I flipped through the book for the first time I was instantly reminded of Griffin & Sabine: An Extraordinary Correspondence, by Nick Bantock. Like Griffin & Sabine, S./Ship of Theseus has a correspondence inside it too—in the margins of the novel.

I'm reminded of Joseph Cornell / Marcel Duchamp...In Resonance, a fantastic show I saw in Philly once about the collaborative efforts between those two real 20th century artists. S. feels like Griffin & Sabine a bit, which itself feels like it could have come from the mind of Joseph Cornell. I can't help but also think of House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski which is also written as a found manuscript. This is nothing new in the world of writing. Nabokov did this with his pseudo poem, Pale Fire. Edgar Rice Burroughs too, presented A Princess of Mars as the retelling of a found journal.

S./Ship of Theseus looks and feels old. It's meant to appear to you as if you too are part of the chain, the next in line to have stumbled upon this matryoshka/Russian nesting doll of a novel. It's obviously a puzzle. Like The Egyptian Jukebox: A Conundrum, it needs figuring out. How to go about this? Start reading. I questioned how I should do this. Should I just read the novel first and then go back and read the dense margin notes? To do so would almost be impossible. The notes are so obvious and glaring with underlining of sentences, pointing things out, etc, that ignoring them would be an exercise in futility. All the ephemera, too, is stuck throughout the book, begging to be fondled and read.

The back cover of the slipcase—the only part of the novel that attempts to explain itself—states: "It is also Abrams and Dorst's love letter to the written word." It most certainly is that and more. I am sensing this is perhaps the precursor to something else. A film? A TV show? Music? The sky's the limit with J. J. Abrams. He obviously loves the projects he works on and never does a hack job. The projects closest to his heart that come from his mind all tend to be portals of a sort to another time, place, or period. He makes you feel like you stumbled upon an old film from the 80s in Super 8 (with a kids' film within that film). You feel like you somehow managed to survive a plane crash and stumbled upon a secret island facility in the hit TV series, LOST. And you somehow came upon found footage possessed by the government in the monster film, Cloverfield. With S. you are now in possession of a one-of-a-kind book, with handwritten notes by its last owners. You are the next piece of the puzzle. Adding your own notes, art, photos, clippings, and more is advisable. Then leave it for someone else to find. :) It's like an exquisite corpse or the surrealist automatic writing techniques, but produced for the masses.

Dig your nails into it. Smear lipstick on it. Give it to your lover to borrow and make their own notes. Spill coffee on it. Hide money in it. Take pictures of it. Mail it to your elderly neighbor with no return address.

Enjoy it.

Here are some similar bits of art, music, literature to explore in the same or similar vein as S., so have fun...

Griffin & Sabine: An Extraordinary Correspondence by Nick Bantock
House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs
The Egyptian Jukebox: A Conundrum by Nick Bantock
F for Fake by Orson Welles
Outside by David Bowie
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band by The Beatles
Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov
The Blair Witch Project
Beyond the Black Rainbow   Wikipedia
Joseph Cornell / Marcel Duchamp...In Resonance

Similar J. J. Abrams fiction/media to consume:
Super 8

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Another thought I'd like to add is that this pseudo creation of media—created specifically as if it were manufactured in another time and unearthed now—is somewhat akin to what mstrmnd theorised Kubrick was doing with The Shining, creating a new film language that would spur disparate meanings from one film. With S. being presented as multiple levels of fiction, where we are intended as the next participant in the fiction and not just a passive real-life reader, multiple interpretations are sure to arise.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Beyond The Black Rainbow Review

Just because most of the films we watch have easily discernible plots does not mean that films presented otherwise are poorly made. Think of Beyond the Black Rainbow as poetry, not as a novel. If you need a clear explanation for your movies stay away from this film. You'll hate it. If you can enjoy the bizarre, wild mood, and viscerally gorgeous photographic visuals then stick around. If you enjoy films where everything is not spelled out for you then this too might be a sign that Beyond the Black Rainbow is for you. Think of it as the privilege of entering someone else's dream.

In the vein of Land of the Lost, Space 1999, Liquid Sky, Altered States, Coma, Looker, THX1138, Scanners, 2001, and filmmakers like Kubrick, David Cronenberg, Stan Brakhage, Kenneth Anger and dozens of other films and filmmakers I know and don't know from the 70s and 80s comes Beyond the Black Rainbow. It is a fever dream of a film that is more experience than linear narrative. Imagine a B film from the 1980s was lost and never seen. Beyond the Black Rainbow is supposed to be that lost film. It's here as if from a time machine. The film is a homage to low budget gems from the past; something only seen in some off the beaten path theater away from civilization.

Now despite all reports to the contrary there is some semblance of a narrative here. Remember though that what follows is my interpretation of what I saw. The film is open ended enough to serve yours too. The film is carefully and skillfully constructed so I assume if he wanted things explained more, he would have simply done that. Like the famous Kubrick/Lovecraft quote: "In all things mysterious - never explain."

Spoilers / interpretations ahead:

If I had to write one line that summed up this film's narrative that would be that: "The road to hell is paved with good intentions." The film begins with a short film within a film. An idealistic doctor, Mercurio Arboria, introducing his institutions 1960s mission statement about striving to make a better happier you. The Arboria Institute has very noble and altruistic pursuits. Cut to 1983 and we are witness to the tail end of whatever went on there. Bizarre, uncanny, morbid, awkward, claustrophobic, dreamlike, conspiracy, telekinetic, kaleidoscopic, are all words that help describe what exactly is going on deep inside the Arboria institute. Clearly the ideals that started the place have been abandoned or steered the once noble men into dark corners of science and the mind. Clearly as a species any of us can see what horrors human-kinds good intentions have produced. David Cronenberg's early films often showed science run amok. Scanners, Videodrome, and The Fly come to mind where the horrific ends are far from where the science was intended to take the protagonists. This is the crux of what this film is communicating. Human idealism is going to lead us to unexpected places, likely dark, likely far from where we thought we'd wind up. Hence the films title, Beyond the Black Rainbow. Wherever that is, it's far away from where we thought we'd end up.

A lone beautiful girl Elena is catatonic in her cell deep in the Aboria institute. She shows signs of telekinesis. Dr. Barry Nyle keeps Elena under control. Her telekinesis is dampened by a mysterious machine and possibly drugs that keep her powers under control. We eventually learn that she is the probable offspring of her doctor and another woman who was killed to make way for the new age of enlightenment. The 2 doctors have gone mad in the warren of corridors and passageways as they pop pills, drop acid, and shoot up Timothy Leary style. Odd automatons that reminded me of the automatons from The Black Hole or the robots from THX1138 roam the institute too. An ignorant nurse also comes across a compiled medical record of Elena and her powers and the years of insanely odd science that had been applied to her. It served as one of the films most unnerving and beautifully collaged moments.

Barry Nyle clearly has come to the end of his rope and decades of drugs, clinical observations, and hiding his unnatural appearance under wraps with a bad wig and contacts have taken their toll on him. We glimpse the founder, Dr. Mercurio Arboria, deep in the bowels of the institute. He is the shell of his once former self and seems to be on the tail end of decades of drug addiction and watching idealistic nature films. It seems as though Barry wants to ask him for something regarding his increasing fascination with Elena but we are given a flashback that reminded me of the film Begotten. Harsh black and white imagery serves to show us the bizarre science ritual that Barry had to undergo in years past. He emerges from a black pool a changed man and then proceeds to impregnate and/or kill Elena's mother. The child, Elena, is kept alive. Whatever the hell they wound up doing, Elena is the partial result. I was also reminded of Akira too with the telekinesis and I'm sure the homages and influences are endless.

Eventually Elena escapes or is allowed to escape by her doctor. This reminded me of when THX1138 was eventually off his meds and decided to roam freely and explored the odd world he lived in, eventually escaping to the outside world. Elena too escapes and takes us on the wildest ride you are likely to ever be witness to. Again I was reminded of another film, O Lucky Man, where Malcolm McDowell's character is in a hospital at one point and gets up to have a look see and discovers horrors beyond his wildest dreams.

The film ends with a confrontation between Barry and Elena in a field somewhere away from the institute. Two 80s burnouts are unfortunate enough to be in the paranoid path of Barry before he finds her and it's no surprise how the two end up. There is some comedy in here for sure, and again, a nod to many funny awkwardly filmed moments like this from B films of yore.

Elena, no longer under the control of the institute's bizarre machine, and is free to easily tangle Barry's feet with roots and smash him to the ground, his head hitting a rock, killing him. Elena wanders off out of the field to the edge of a neighborhood where we see a TV illuminating one room of a darkened house. We know she is heading there. Then the film ends. After the credits roll we are given a quick shot of an action figure of one of the automatons from earlier. Then a quote from Buckaroo Banzai: "no matter where you go, there you are." Buckaroo Banzai is one of the 1980s more bizarre and odd films to have come out, an odd amalgam of studio authorization of a very bizarre story. It's no wonder the films creator admires this enough to put it in there.

Again, this film is for those who don't mind letting art flow over them and endlessly picking a film apart. It's dreamlike and not easily explained. It needs to be interpreted rather than explained. Despite it being bizarre I suggest you don't shy away from it. There are few modern films out there like this and it's a sheer delight to have experienced.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Throwing Room 237 out With the Moon-Water

Various differences between the maze in the film The Shining
The reaction to Room 237 has been as surprising to me as the many theories within the film itself. Many people do not want to even remotely have themselves tangentially connected to anything dealing with nutty conspiracy theories so they throw out the entire premise that Kubrick was doing anything at all beyond just making a good old fashioned film. Room 237 is a lot to swallow. The many theories are like the many religions of the world—they can't all be right.

***** I'd like to note here that this is my second review/post on Room 237. You can read the first review here. I would also like to add that on the Room 237 DVD/Blu-ray, the commentary by Mstrmnd explains brilliantly that what Kubrick was possibly attempting with The Shining was to create a new film language that would spur disparate meanings from one film. Therefore if that is the case it's almost irrelevant to say the different theories are wacky because despite some of their outlandish claims or untruths that may have been exactly what Kubrick was trying to illicit from people. The fact that The Shining is a supernatural horror film and people are coming up with often paranoid conspiracy theories possibly embedded in the film might just be the point of the film. Everybody got that? *****

Many blogs and reviews just dismiss all of Room 237 as utter horseshit. Wackjobs. Paranoids reading into a film well beyond what any rational person should ever attempt. There is simply nothing there. Right? ZERO! Kubrick was just making a film. Many think Kubrick never intended for people to read into The Shining or for it to hit your subconscious at all. According to them it's just a visual adaptation of the novel, and just a film. The continuity errors are not intentional! THEY ARE ERRORS!  Stop digging you idiot! Right?

How can people be entirely incapable of discerning some truth from out of Room 237 and that Kubrick was doing something with subtext, or subliminal and intelligent beyond what is normal in film? I'm not sure. That people are reacting so skeptically, to me, is almost as disturbing as some of the theories in Room 237. People just do not want to be told they were somehow in the dark about something they never considered. Not even a tiny bit. They just hate that idea and they won't budge even a millimeter on that. Maybe they just can't handle it?

Below I'm just going to stick to many of the "continuity errors" that can be actually seen in the film. 

I'm sorry. I know what goofy continuity errors in films look like. I've seen a lot of films. Most people watch sports. I WATCH FILMS! Continuity errors don't occur with consistency. They are normally inconsistent mistakes, not happening with any regularity exactly as cuts happen, or again and again between jump cut edits. 

Here are a few from The Shining and you judge for yourself if these were mistake or intentional. 

I've already made up my mind. They are intentional. Kubrick did this on purpose. If you think they are just mistakes you might be under the effects of the Ludovico Technique :)

Here we see Dick Hallorann open the freezer door to show Wendy and Danny around. Go put the film on. WATCH. He opens the door with his left hand and grabs the door handle on the right side. The edit occurs and we are inside and the door is opened from the opposite way. He is also holding the door with his right hand now. When they exit the freezer they leave from an entirely different room/freezer.

Nothing? You think Kubrick just fucked up? Didn't care? OK. We'll move on.

Here we have 2 shots of the twins overlapped. look at the chairs and the ashtrays. They have moved slightly. This occurs in the film when a shot of Danny is inserted in between these two shots. 

Twins > Danny > Twins. Stuff moves. Even the freaking handle on the foosball game moves a tiny bit. Remember this is film about a supernatural hotel. Right? We can agree on that. I hope. 

Still nothing? 

Here we see Jack when Danny comes to get his firetruck. The art on the wall disappears. Go watch the film. Why would that be allowed to occur? Kubrick was famous for many takes to get things just right. He screwed up again? Even with all his very intentional use of the mirror and the fact that the art is in the mirror and then it's gone, and you are still not convinced this was intentional? OK. Oh well.

This one we know from Room 237. Kubricks assistant said he just moved shit around. Did not care. So the furniture vanishes and comes back and it's just bad editing. Bad continuity. Nothing intended. Forget that this is a haunted hotel. Kubrick was just sloppy. Right?

Here is another one. The furniture and the stuff on the wall is all moved around from different scenes in the film. Some nutty grip must have been moving stuff around. Kubrick was cool with that sort of stuff. 


Forget the moon landing crap. Forget the Holocaust. Forget the crazy minotaur lady. Even forget the American Indians. Forget it all. Even with all that gone, these very intentional inconsistencies are there in the film. There are more too. The carpet. The impossible window. The maze that looks different in different shots. The disappearing sticker on Danny's door. 

If after having all these things pointed out to you, you still don't want to believe they are anything but mistakes, or Kubrick just being sloppy and just taking his best takes over any care for continuity, well, I'm not sure you and I live on the same planet. 

It sucks realizing that you are not as smart as you might have fancied yourself. It might also be hard to say yes to some ideas that are poorly crowded with many nutty ones in Room 237. I'm sure some of the people that worked with Kubrick might be feeling a wee bit smallish, like say, his assistant perhaps? Kubrick managed to do things that no one picked up on. I myself watched the film countless times and never knew quite what it was in the film that made it so haunting. I was shocked to see this stuff pointed out to me. Obvious and in plain sight, right there up on the screen all along. For all I know there is even more that has not been pointed out to me yet. 

Like this one of Dick Hallorann in his room with his cute wall art above his bed. We cut up close and it's gone. Right as he's shining. That was a mistake right? Kubrick's assistant said so. Kubrick was famous for such mistakes. 

Forgive my sarcasm. I feel perhaps there needs to be another film. One on people who throw the baby out with the moon-water.

And that creepy blowjob bear at the end of the film that Wendy sees has nothing to do with the bear she sees on Danny's pillow earlier on while the nurse is examining him after he blacked out. Because your dreams don't operate that way, right? We don't see odd off putting stuff during the day and then dream about it later that night in some awkwardly bizarre disjointed way. That never happens. I'm sure Kubrick was not doing any such nonsense with his supernatural horror film. He was too simple for tricks like that.