Friday, April 24, 2009

Link Proliferation: Do not drill or dig here before A.D. 12,000.

Disco zombies are coming!

My long-suffering wife had put up with me cryptically reciting, often on the flimsiest of pretexts, the following "poem."

Stevie Washington
Angry youth
Born to die
New York's New York
Turn of the century
All crime

So, finally, she Youtube'd the aforementioned angry young man and found an extended clip that ties together all the tiny MTV station break bits into a single almost-narrative. Bask in the warm glow of the very late 1980s. (The density of the sound work on these things is bizarrely rich for the simplicity of the visuals.)

What's cultier than cult?

NYC's Wooster Group aims at that incredibly tiny demographic that digs Baroque opera and Italio-genre cinema. Until the 26th of this month, they're performing a live mash-up of Francesco Cavalli's 17th Century opera Didone (an operatic revision of the Dido myth – with a happy ending, oddly) and Mario Bava's 1965 sci-fi/horror cult flick Planet of the Vampires. I kid you not.

Make with the click and you'll get a couple of scenes – but you can't control the volume of the music or pause, so don't come crying to me when your coworkers rat you out to the overseer for taking a few minutes of the company's precious time to snag a wee bit of culture.

The poster, shown above, not only references the Bava movie in it's title treatment, but alludes to those bags of brightly colored plastic spaceman figures that one used to be able to buy from the grocery shop for a quarter or two. It makes me giggle and do a little dance every time I see it.

NB: It has come to my attention that some bloggers take offense at my use of the term "cult" – as is in "cult film" – to describe certain subgenres and their fanbases. Some find it carries a derogatory connotation. Others seem to feel I'm claiming that such works are idols at the center of genuine religious cults and I'm asking readers to assume that digging, say, the works of Dario Argento is the exact equivalent of belonging to Aum Shinrikyo.

To the former, I see your point, but I believe the "slur" is – at this point in time – a pretty toothless thing. Like the term "grindhouse," I find the cult thing is more nostalgic than offensive: It alludes to a time when there was something subversive and vaguely illicit about outrageous genre filmmaking. Like "punk," "fauvism," "cubism," "impressionism," and countless other art/culture terms, I feel the word has traveled from insult, to badge, to self-aware camp. Consequently, I'm using it in that spirit. If it's continued use offends, I'm sorry, but at least you know what I mean by it.

To the latter, you're an idiot.

How do you scare people 10,000 years from now?

Last week (I think it was last week) Curt (of the Groovy), I, and several insightful commenters got in a discussion on his site about what we could or could not say about the mental culture of our ancient, prehistoric ancestors.

Curiously, eggheads at the DOE are dealing with a similar problem. But they're doing in reverse.

The U.S. Department of Energy is going ahead with a toxic waste disposal plan – the Waste Isolation Pilot Plan – that, in essence, involves burying in the ground and declaring the area of limits for the next ten centuries.

Here's the problem: How can adequately communicate a message of danger to people who will be living at a 10,000 year remove from you?

To get a sense of that scale, think about how you'd warn people today and trace how old those tools are. Go back just 500 or 600 years and few English-speakers can still easily understand the language that became modern English. Language-based warnings, then, are out. Arabic numerals have lasted a pretty long time – but even then you're only talking about a span of less than 2,000 years for the whole set of nine numerals and the zero. Is it impossible the number system could evolve into something new in a span of years more than five times it's current age? Representing time has it's own challenges. Will they understand the B.C./A.D. split (which is already giving way in some corners to the more secular B.C.E./C.E.)?

On the upshot, visual representations of human fear seem to be fairly universal. Researchers have found notable cultural influences on the interpretation of facial expressions, including the expression of fear. Still, this influences don't change the overriding fact that, regardless of cultural differences, humans can read emotional expressions with remarkable accuracy.

The DOE has proposed the sign shown above, but – more interesting in my opinion – they've drawn up plans to transform the area above the toxic waste into what's essentially a landscaped "stay away" message. The sketch below is one of several artists renditions of their plan.

Movies that stink.

The Philosopher's Magazine has a nifty little article posted on why films won't explore smell, "taken to mean the verb – the act of smelling – more than the noun – the fragrance or stench."

The article stars with a curious declaration by Stanely Kubrick. What book did Stan the Man Kubrick think was unfilmable?

Kubrick did a disservice to smell and to film when he labelled Patrick Süskind’s Perfume unfilmable. If the director who had risen boldly to the challenge of depicting the origins of humans deemed smell an unfilmable sense, there seemed no point in any lesser mortal trying to prove him wrong. Martin Scorsese, Tim Burton and Ridley Scott all followed Kubrick in abandoning the project shortly after they had taken it on. And the situation of olfactory cinema was not alleviated when Tom Tykwer did finally take up the challenge in 2006. His multi-million dollar blockbuster avoided tackling the problem of filming smell at all and so confirmed the audiences’ suspicion that the problem itself was unsolvable.

As smell rises in cultural esteem, challenging the ascendancy of the visual, it seems time to lament that there is no great olfactory film, and to ponder what this tells us about smell itself. There now seems no need to worry about the place of smell in contemporary life. That sense once denigrated by Aristotle as the least distinguished of all now has an assured place in university discourse and drawing-room chatter. We have a distinguished body of smell literature, presided over by Marcel Proust and Patrick Süskind; we have a growing scene of contemporary smell art. Last year Reodorant II: Urban Brain opened in New York, offering a series of multi-sensory installations that attempted to visualise and investigate the brain’s capacity for sense perception, memory, emotion and logic. The thriving state of what will no doubt soon be known as “olfactory studies” was made clear by the publication of Jim Drobnick’s The Smell Culture Reader in 2006, which brought together olfactory work by anthropologists, sociologists, perfumers and cultural critics. Tellingly, though, there was no essay on smell and film, only a brief discussion of smell-o-vision cinema, nestled amongst other newer odorous gimmicks. It is time for a filmmaker to prove Kubrick wrong by capturing smell on the screen.


Shon Richards said...

I just hope that 10,000 thousand years ago the Secret Masters of the Earth didn't think cave paintings of animals dying would sufficiently warn us to stay out of the caves of the Super-Hunter Robots.

CRwM said...

They're like, "This looks enough like a giant vampire bison that nobody would dig around here, right?"