Category Archives: video

Transcendental style in film Part Two: The Ecstatic Aesthetic

Part one introduced the concept of ‘transcendental style’ in cinema. It showed how various critics- most prominently a pre-filmmaking Paul Schrader- described a formal style in the works of Bresson, Ozu, and Dreyer designed to put the viewer into a contemplative state. In short: films that are really slow and no-one explains anything and so that makes you think about the spiritual meaning of the film instead of how shitty the CGI is and whatnot The key stylistic choices of this mode of transcendental style are slowness, stillness and precision.

I am going to argue that a second mode of transcendental style in film exists. Why am i going to argue that? A) because I think it might be interesting and B) because I don’t get out much anymore. But anyway, much as in religious practices there are many roads to transcendence, so in cinematic style. The films of Ozu, Bresson and Dreyer might perhaps be likened to the spiritual practices of the monk or nun. An “ascetic aesthetic“. a slow life, based on contemplation, quietness, simplicity. In the history of spiritual practices this ascetic trend was countered (complimented isn’t quite accurate) by those schools which emphasized states of ecstasy as the road to enlightenment. In cinema this ‘ecstatic aesthetic‘  repeatedly manifests itself in psychedelic vistas of the cosmos. A Dionysian alternative to the Apollonian order of the first style. If Bresson, Ozu and Dreyer want to open your mind, the film makers who use the second mode want to blow it. It’s probably worth noting that this is not a clean break from the other style. Jonathan Rosenbaum cites a few letters and interviews in which Dreyer, responding to criticisms that the miracle that ends Ordet was simply a retreat into archiac religiosity, mentioned,  “recent psychic research, represented by pioneers like Rhine, Ouspensky, Dunne, Aldous Huxley, and so forth,”  and elsewhere stated that

The new science that followed Einstein’s theory of relativity had supplied that outside the three-dimensional world which we can grasp with our senses, there is a fourth dimension—–the dimension of time—–as well as a fifth dimension—–the dimension of the psychic that proves that it is possible to live events that have not yet happened. New perspectives are opened up that make one realize an intimate connection between exact science and intuitive religion. The new science brings us toward a more intimate understanding of the divine power and is even beginning to give us a natural explanation to things of the supernatural.

This melange of science, psychical research, higher dimensions, Ouspensky, Huxley and so on points towards the counterculture of the 1960s and the  emergence of new age spiritualities which sought to reconcile science and religion. Also, they did a shit load of psychedelics. As such, the ecstatic aesthetic, our second mode of transcendental style, works by trying to immerse the audience in the transcendental experience itself. Continue reading


Transcendental style in film Part One: The Ascetic Aesthetic

I know, I know, that’s the least inviting title to a blog post ever but don’t go! There’s videos and everything!

Still here? Okay then. First of all you should know that  I adopted/poached/stole the term ‘transcendental style’ from the great Paul Schrader‘s only kind of great book Transcendental Style in the Films of Bresson, Ozu and Dreyer. The term ‘the Ascetic aesthetic’ is all mine though, which I guess is something of a Pyrrhic victory but anyways, the point is that there exists a kind fo religious film that exhibits a certain style suited to religious topics. Sure, movies about religion and religious topics have always existed but no-one is ever going to mistake the films of Bresson, Ozu and Dreyer for this thing, for example:

Or even for that weird-looking Heaven is For Real movie that was the number 2 box-office film in America after Captain America: Winter Soldier but not even released in cinemas here because of the UK’s general, if diminishing, trend of not being insane.

Also, I’m not arguing that there is a definitive, objective thing that we can call ‘transcendental style’ and then piss our pants when a film does or does not conform to that particular style because A) who gives a shit? and B) there already exists some debate as to the merits of Schrader’s analysis and its efforts to produce what Colin Burnett calls an, ‘hermeneutical monopoly’ which leaves no room for other interpretations. And the last thing any of us wants is to accidentally create a hermeneutical monopoly. No sir.

However,  ‘transcendental style’  seems like a useful model or metaphor for considering how certain films choose to present  spiritual and religious themes. It also gives us a way of suggesting a link between the films of Bresson, Ozu and Dreyer that Schrader analyses, with the more recent films such as Darren Aaronofsky’s The Fountain (2006) , Gasper Noe’s Enter the Void (2009) and Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life (2011). The bridge between them being, I want to argue, Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). More on all that in part two. In these posts I’m going to suggest that the different forms of ‘transcendental style’ in these films is akin to the differing approaches to transcendence in various mystical and religious schools. One is ascetic, based on self-control, abstinence from sensual pleasures and deep, quite contemplation of the ineffable. The other is ecstatic, finding transcendence in sudden ego-loss, immersion in sensual pleasures like sex or drugs, and the experience of cosmic consciousness.

Continue reading


What’s the point of big ideas?

Scott Jeffery (noun):  Carbon-based biped of Earth. Has a PhD and teaches sociology. Often wonders how this happened.

First things first, I never expected to become an academic. When I was young I was told I was smart, perhaps very smart, but that never really translated into academic achievement. What I did know, even as a very young kid, was that I loved big ideas. Give me a big philosophical concept-Why are we here? What is reality? What is the purpose of art? – And I was happy as a pig in shit. If the shit was made out of abstract philosophical concepts. (Feces – Antifeces – Synfeces. The Hegelian Diarrhoealectic)

To me, knowledge was a kind of food. An idle thought, that’s like a starter, and then a theory, that’s your main course. For pudding I might have a hypothesis. Notions and conceits, they’re like a light-snack, something you might have for supper. The point is I dug philosophy and art and poetry and foreign films and just thinking and talking about big ideas. I didn’t JUST like those things, I liked a lot of stupid, ephemeral shit as well, but my favourite thing was when those two worlds collided. Really smart, stupid shit. Like Monty Python or Woody Allen or that Daffy Duck cartoon where he’s talking to the animator and keeps getting rubbed out and redrawn (by the way, it’s called Duck Amuck and you can watch it here).

My point being, I loved all that shit already. In my own time. For fun. School wasn’t a place where you learned, it was a place that distracted you from learning.

(I’m being overly emphatic by the way. I did have good teachers, great teachers even, but this is a blog post not a peer-reviewed journal article so get off my back, lady!)

So I didn’t get school. School, as any sane child knows, is boring. My entire early education was marked by could-try-harder syndrome. I don’t know if that’s a real thing, I just made it up. If I liked a project and wanted to do it then I would produce outlandishly detailed presentations like a ten-page critique of the history of censorship when I was thirteen. Of course, it helped that I had a love of horror movies, so I had an emotional stake in whether the British Board of Film classification wanted to stop me seeing splinter go into someone’s eye (which I totally did) but still, this was in the days before the internet, so a guy had to go out of his way to research that shit properly, dig? Continue reading


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.

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Reclaiming psychedelics for the intelligentsia…

There used to be a time, not too long ago, when psychedelic drugs were a subject of fascination among intellectuals. This of course was before they became adopted by the sixties counterculture and swiftly demonized and legislated against. It’s no secret that I have a soft spot for the sixties counterculture and the psychedelic philosophies of people like Leary and Wilson. However, in our rose-tinted nostalgic fascination with the sixties the earlier intellectual interest in these drugs is often forgotten. This is not to say that thinkers such as Leary and Wilson weren’t intellectuals, in fact I would argue that they are two of the great philosophers of the 20th Century. They were just a little early. What I mean to say is that prior to that movement there was a time when people who were effectively buttoned-up were experimenting with these drugs. There was a time when the media reported on psychedelics with a measured and fascinated tone. There was a time when discussing the psychedelic experience was inches away from being an acceptable activity.

It was in 1954, a decade before the Summer of Love, or the Beatles White Album, or Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters, that the author Aldous Huxley declared in The Doors of Perception that:

To be shaken out of the ruts of ordinary perception, to be shown for a few timeless hours the outer and the inner world, not as they appear to an animal obsessed with survival or to a human being obsessed with words and notions, but as they are apprehended, directly and unconditionally, by Mind at Large—this is an experience of inestimable value to everyone and especially to the intellectual.

Now this is not only beautifully written but it is also a world away from sixties sloganeering “Turn On, Tune in, and Drop Out” (valuable as that advice might also be). The notion that such an experience might be of “inestimable value to everyone and especially to the intellectual” seems downright radical in the modern era which is sadly lacking intellectuals willing or able to articulate the value of the psychedelic experience never mind arguing for its adoption on a wide scale (bar a few notable exceptions we will address later on). If Huxley’s book introduced the psychedelic experience to a serious, literary audience a widely read 1957 article in Life magazine published by the ‘New York banker’ Gordon Wasson entitled Seeking the Magic Mushroom (available here) introduced it to a wide popular readership. As Wikipedia points out, this article had repercussions far beyond the edification and entertainment of the general audience it was intended for:

In 1957, R. Gordon Wasson, the vice president of J.P.Morgan, published an article in Life extolling the virtues of magic mushrooms.This prompted Albert Hofmann to isolate psilocybin in 1958 for distribution by Sandoz alongside LSD in the U.S., further raising interest in LSD in the mass media. Following Wasson’s report, Timothy Leary visited Mexico to experience the mushrooms.

To get an even clearer idea of how psychedelic drugs were an intellectual-dare we even say ‘middle class’- object of fascination in the fifties there is no more convincing (and retrospectively amusing) evidence than the video below from 1955 of Conservative (!!!) MP Christopher Mayhew under the influence of 400 mgs of mescaline for BBC’s Panorama. For anyone wanting to follow this up this version of the clip is taken from the longer BBC documentary Hoffman’s Potion, which can be watched here.

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Man, if only there were a list of Posthuman Documentaries…

I thought it might be useful and entertaining to compile a list of documentaries that deal with posthumanism/transhumanism. Being absurdly busy with finishing up the PhD and gearing up for the Edinburgh Festival I haven’t bothered with any commentary on them but hopefully its useful to have them all gathered in one place. Suffice it to say that naturally they vary in detail and focus but never the less anyone wishing to know more about the subject might want to start with these. Especially if you are too lazy to read a book. Most of them are available online so links are included. Continue reading


New Stand-up Video and a New Date

Haven’t posted for a while. The siren call of my thesis deadline has most of my attention right now. So this is just filler really. This is the video footage of me at Red Raw@The Stand, Glasgow, 26/06/2012. Hope you enjoy it. Anyway, sometime soon I will be posting the dates I’m doing spots at the Edinburgh Festival. Got around twenty so far, with more to come. I’ll also post some recommendations for things to go and see if you are there. Things that don’t involve me. You know, funnier things. But that has to wait, academia beckons. See you anon.

 

Coming up…

JULY

Monday, 30th-Red Raw@The Stand, Edinburgh

Tuesday 31st-Red Raw@The Stand, Glasgow

AUGUST

Watch this space…


Stand Up Shamanism Part 2: Shamanic Comedy vs. Fascist Comedy

Gotcha.

To be fair that title is deliberately provocative and designed for optimal attention-grabbing value. So lets say right off the bat that I am in now way suggesting that any of the comedians talked about here are actual fascists. This is just for fun and because I like being overly analytical about comedy. Also, there’s a built in double bind which means if you do get offended by my lighthearted assertion that certain forms of comedy and comedians are ‘fascist’ and think I shouldn’t be saying such things then that would indeed make you look like a fascist.

So I’m just going to start and if you are the kind of person who has an irony deficiency (seewhatIdidthere?) then you should probably look away now. Unfortunately, if you do suffer from an irony deficiency then the chances are you will not know this. That’s one of the symptoms. For the rest of you, what follows is an irritatingly contrived attempt to come up with a theory of comedy I will no doubt simply discard and disown as soon as I’ve written. For I am a multiplicity damn it!

Hopefully the writing won’t get too florid and the theory too abstract but it is me writing this, so you can’t say you weren’t prepared if it does. Luckily I’m going to whack a load of videos of comedians in there to illustrate the argument so that should take the edge off things. Basically, the question I want to ask here is, “what is the point of comedy”?

The answer seems obvious; to make people laugh. But that’s a deceptive answer isn’t it? Because Bernard Manning made loads of people laugh and the general consensus at this particular historical juncture is that he was a fat racist cunt. Albeit a fat racist cunt with good timing. So it can’t be that the role of comedy is simply to make people laugh. There seems to be what we could call a moral hierarchy.

Enter Micheal McIntyre. Continue reading


City Cafe Gig 09/04/2012

Haven’t posted anything recently as the thesis has been eating up my time so this is a bit of filler. Here’s the video from the City Cafe  09/04/2012. Still very much a work in progress this one, although I am quite happy with the final couple of minutes. And it’s nice to have a new set. Meanwhile, I have been  working on polishing the five minutes I will have to do at The Stand on the 21st of this month. Very exciting, so I’m determined to make it the tightest, shiniest five minutes I can. Nothing new, just tried and tested stuff for the most part. But in a different order. Saying that, there’s a fair bit of it that has never been caught on film so there should be few surprises if you have had the misfortune to see me before! Come along, bring your friends, etcetera. Upcoming dates can be found below the video.

MAY

Monday, 7th-  Comedy Variety Show@City cafe, edinburgh

Monday, 21st- Red Raw@The Stand, Edinburgh

Monday, 28th- Comedy Variety Show@City cafe, edinburgh

JUNE

Monday, 11th-  Comedy Variety Show@City cafe, edinburgh

Tuesday, 26th-Red Raw@The Stand, Glasgow


Anarchy and Posthumanism Part 3: Anarchist Superhumans

In my thesis I have made a distinction between the types of posthuman body found in comic books and how these relate to various other versions of posthumanity in philosophy and transhumanist texts. Of particular interest in terms of posthumanism and anarchy is what I call the posthuman Cosmic Body (more detail can be found by clicking on the link). This final post on Anarchy and Posthumanism (part 1 is here and part 2 is here) will consider how anarchism has been presented within superhero comics and note how these representations usually chime with this vision of the ‘Cosmic Posthuman’. Continue reading