Category Archives: surrealism

Special Effects Auteurs (and the particular genius of Screaming Mad George)

Freaked (1993)

Watching the documentary Fantastic Flesh The Art of Make-Up FX an idea came to me. When  auteur theory was being developed by film theorists and critics way back when in the 20th century its aim was to have film directors recognised as the true authors of a film even though film production was both a collective and industrial process. Despite these factors the true auteurs voice, style and thematic concerns could, so the argument went,  be discerned in any of their works. I had the idea that this article would present a complex theory of the special effects artist as auteur but on reflection thought it would be more fun to celebrate the work of Screaming Mad George, and watch a bunch of videos of cool special-effects on the way.

Some context wouldn’t hurt though. So it is interesting to consider which special effects artists have become more well-known to the public than others. Certainly other effects artists could recognise certain work. In  Fantastic Flesh Tom Savini (see below) describes going to see films featuring the work of favoured effects artists as, “the lastest exhibit from your favourite artist”. A potted history might start with Jack Pierce (featured in this 1933 issue of Modern Mechanics!). Pierce was in the fortunate position of being head of Universal’s make-up department when that studio inaugurated the first horror film boom of the 1930s. Counting Boris Karloff’s instantly iconic make-up as Frankenstein’s monster and Lon Chaney Jr.’s The Wolf Man (both below) among his creations, Jack Pierce could arguably be said to be the granddaddy of special effects auteurs. In the Fanatstci Flesh documentary dire ctor Frank Darabont describes Pierce’s Frankenstein make-up as, “as iconic as the Empire State Building”. Difficult to argue with that really.

Jack Pierce working on his Wolfman

And working on the Monster

Here I’ve already muddied the waters though. Because Pierce was make-up artist on what perhaps remain the most famous iterations of these monsters, but does this make him a ‘special effects’ artist? Ought we to lump Pierce’s special make-up effects in the same category as, say,  Douglas Trumbull‘s effects for 2001: a Space Odyssey or Close Encounters of the Thrid Kind? And even if we broaden our definition whose Frankenstein are we really talking about? Jack Pierce’s because he designed it? Boris Karloff’s because he performed it? Or is James Whale our classic auteur by dint of directing it? If Pierce is not quite the special effects auteur we are looking for he still possessed the hallmarks of a true artist. According to Fantastic Flesh Pierce was fired from Universal for taking too long to perfect his work.

Continue reading


Joke Writing and the Exquisite Corpse

A few weeks back I wrote a post about applying the cut-up technique to comic books where I mentioned  Robert B. Ray’s excellent book The Avant-garde find Andy Hardy. In that book Ray highlights the surrealist’s use of a parlour game they called Exquisite Corpse,  a method of collectively assembling words or images; the name of which derived from a phrase that was created when they first played the game: “Le cadavre exquis boira le vin nouveau.” (“The exquisite corpse will drink the new wine.” (thanks wikipedia!)

Here’s what they have to say over at exquistecorpse.com:

Among Surrealist techniques exploiting the mystique of accident was a kind of collective collage of words or images called the cadavre exquis (exquisite corpse). Based on an old parlor game, it was played by several people, each of whom would write a phrase on a sheet of paper, fold the paper to conceal part of it, and pass it on to the next player for his contribution. The technique got its name from results obtained in initial playing, “Le cadavre / exquis / boira / le vin / nouveau” (The exquisite corpse will drink the young wine). Other examples are: “The dormitory of friable little girls puts the odious box right” and “The Senegal oyster will eat the tricolor bread.” These poetic fragments were felt to reveal what Nicolas Calas characterized as the “unconscious reality in the personality of the group” resulting from a process of what Ernst called “mental contagion.” At the same time, they represented the transposition of Lautréamont’s classic verbal collage to a collective level, in effect fulfilling his injunction– frequently cited in Surrealist texts–that “poetry must be made by all and not by one.”

The ‘mystique of accident’ was of course explored in the previous post on cut-ups. In this post I want to apply the exquisite corpse technique to joke-writing. That’s just how I roll people. Deal with it!

METHODS

I posted on twitter and facebook for people to give me two nouns, two adjectives, and two verbs. No-one who replied had any idea of the purpose of this exercise. Some participants used the same two words for each category (e.g. crap and shit). Including these repeated words would have lessened the potential for chaos and real chance in the exercise so they were eliminated. All in all I ended up with the following terms 18 adjectives, 18 verbs and 18 nouns. I wrote these down on bits of paper, folded them and sorted them into piles. I then picked adjectives, nouns, and verbs from their respective piles at random and inserted them into the following four classic joke structures. Naturally it would be possible to take issue with or alter which nouns, verbs and adjectives could be replaced in each joke but really? People are starving in Africa you know. Let’s just crack on with this shall we? I decided on the following frameworks:

1.Knock, knock!

Who’s there?

NOUN

NOUN who?

NOUN VERB ADJECTIVE NOUN

2. Why did the NOUN cross the road?

To VERB the ADJECTIVE NOUN

3. How many NOUNS does it take to change a lightbulb?

Two. One to VERB it and one to VERB ADJECTIVE.

4. A NOUN and a NOUN walk into a bar.

The barman says, “VERB ADJECTIVE”.

 

RESULTS

Knock, knock!

Who’s there?

Mahogany.

Mahogany who?

Mahogany running fluffy dwarf.

……..

Knock, knock!

Who’s there?

Dog.

Dog who?

Dog rebuke pensive cat.

…………

Why did the mountain cross the road?

To cry to the mellifluous pig.

………

Why did the corpse cross the road?

To melt the abject raconteur.

………

Why did the apple cross the road?

To wash the scenic house.

……..

Why did the elbow cross the road?

To climax the exquisite door.

………

How many barrows does it take to change a lightbulb?

Two. One to boom it and one to exist wobbly.

………

How many crabs does it take to change a lightbulb?

Two. One to smile and one to rotundly calibrate.

……….

How many tables does it take to change a lightbulb?

Two. One to run and one to flip stinky.

……….

A conker and a music walk into a bar.

The barman says, “Read colourful”.

……….

A thalidomide and a book walk into a bar.

The barman says, “smelly sighing”.

………….

DISCUSSION

As I’m sure you agree, this experiment in surrealist joke writing techniques has resulted in the most hilarious jokes humankind has ever witnessed! Naturally I will now give up writing jokes the traditional linear single-author manner and begin writing all my material in this collaborative, non-linear manner. Next time I appear on stage these are the only jokes I will be telling. Maybe not though (although that might be an interesting follow-up experiment at some point). At the very least we’ve ended up with some interesting poetic non-sequiturs. Who amongst us has not wanted to witness a dog rebuke a pensive cat? Or “cry to the mellifluous pig”? If any comedians reading this are willing to risk it and use these punch lines please feel free. They are a group effort after all, products of the hive mind/nth mind rather than a single author. Personally I would be interested to hear how they went.

In the meantime, if anyone else has any suggestions for surrealist/automatic writing techniques we might apply to jokes then please get in touch. because clearly I have little else to do! Thanks for reading (and to everyone who offered their adjectives, nouns and verbs!) and see you on the other side.