Tag 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


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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Laughter on the Outskirts is coming!

Hello Humans.

On Friday the 15th of February, 2013 the world trembled as Laughter on the Outskirts made it’s world premier at the Leicester Comedy festival. A rough beast, slouching towards Edinburgh to be born. Over the course of an hour the charming enigma wrapped in a riddle wrapped in a mystery wrapped in human flesh and skin Woodward and I said things with our mouth-holes and moved our meat-sacks around to entertain the audience. Paradigms were shattered, unthought ideas were thought, the falcon could not hear the falconer, and mere anarchy was loosed upon the world.

At the very least people chuckled and no-one died.

So that was good. I am excited to see how it develops over the course of the Edinburgh Festival in August. That’s right, I said it! Woodward and Jeffery: Laughter on the Outskirts will be playing there every day. More details to follow, but it can’t hurt to start spreading the word now can it? Come along, all of you! It will be free too!

In the meantime I wanted to use this post to talk about jokes. Specifically my joke about the French philosopher Michel Foucault. Not immediate comedy gold, granted. But I was pleased to see th joke finally work properly. or how I’d always imagined it would work in my head even though it never necessarily did.

Michel Foucault

Foucault if he was texting you

So this post will either be an interesting and entertaining consideration of the mechanics of comedy or painfully solipsistic self-examination. Potentially both. But, if you are still with me, I’ll continue. If you’re not with me then I can’t say I blame you, so instead here is a link to a youtube video of giant anconda regurgitating a  cow. It’s pretty amazing. Continue reading


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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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 1: What is Anarchy?

I’m going to go right ahead and guess that for most people (at least here in the UK), anarchy is the video below. According to taste that was easy either loud and scary; scruffy and childish; or an invigorating shot of piss and vinegar. If it was the latter for you then its probable you’ll already be sympathetic to the topic of this post. For the rest, I’m going to try to attempt to appeal to your better senses and paint a picture of anarchy or more specifically, anarchism-that you hopefully won’t find as jaggy and scary. The Sex Pistols are, after all, just the public face of anarchy, but anarchy wears many faces. There are quieter, cosier forms. Anarchy doesn’t mean chaos after all, but freely chosen order. Saying that, an inkling of Pistol’s deep and thorough disrespect for authority will probably help, even if you wouldn’t express it in the same way.

Here’s the nub: even if you have perfectly legitimate intellectual objections to the notion of anarchism it would be difficult to argue with the basic moral position of anarchy. There’s no getting around this. Dismissing anarchism out of hand is effectively saying, “I think its okay for people to tell other people what to do”. Now to be fair, you wouldn’t be alone in that position, but that’s kind of the point of this post. Continue reading


Liquid Sky: Lipstick Traces and Alien Races

Guess who finally watched Liquid Sky? No, not her, she died years ago. It was me actually. As will soon be seen in great detail.

A quick warning from the off, Liquid Sky is an unusual film with some unusual themes and ideas. So there are going to be big swears (like c-bombs and everything), hard drugs, grubby new-wave synth music, a dash of necrophilia, aliens that feed off of the pleasure secretions of the human brain, androgyny and neon lighting-lots of neon lighting-from here on out. It will be worth it, but if that stuff doesn’t sound like your bag then I’d jump ship now. Why not try a taster with the opening minutes from the film? If you don’t like it you can read something else. I won’t mind. The rest of you, see you in five minutes.

INTRO TO LIQUID SKY

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Comics are Magic 4-The Conscious Multiverse: Idea-space and entities

Asmodeus by Alan Moore

In part 3 we delved into the mechanics of comic book continuity and touched upon some of the philosophical implications of such fictional universes  as well as drawing attention to some analogous theories  from modern physics relating to the idea of the multiverse. Come on, you remember. It was fun wasn’t it? In this part I want to explore further the notion that fictions have some sort of autonomy. We begin first by considering Alan Moore’s concept of “idea-space”. In an interview with Arthur magazine Moore explained that the impetus for his concept of ‘idea-space’ stemmed from trying to understand the nature of consciousness and where our ideas come from:

the best model that I can come up with for consciousness is consciousness as a form of space…Most of us never come out of our living room. We’ve got our individual little private space in our head–just like we’ve got a house as a private physical space. But most of us never go outdoors. We stay within our own identity. However: people who are creative, or people who are questing spirits of some sort or other, have to go deeper. I mean, most people don’t really need new ideas as part of their daily round, depending upon what their job is or what kind of people they are. The same ideas that they had yesterday will probably do just as well today. If you’re a creator, or scientist, or any sort of creator, then you have to look deeper. You have to travel further, to find ideas that no one’s come across before. Rarer ideas.

Moore naturally wonders if such a space would be inhabited; would it contain its own unique ‘flora and fauna’? In Comics are Magic Part 2 it was seen that Moore makes no distinction between art and magic. Both involve accessing, exploring and navigating this ‘idea-space’. As such the demons , angels and other entities encountered by the artist-magician can be understood as living ideas. Or as Moore said in an interview  for Blather in 2000: “entities are a kind of compound idea, at least as far as I see them”.   Continue reading