The link above is to a Cracked article that has clips from old horror movies from early in movie history. The title is theirs. However, I think the clips are interesting. They are visually striking and some of them are quite artistic. Plus, in looking at them you realize that there is this whole world of lost history out there, things that many people saw that you aren’t even aware of. It’s like looking through a portal into another time and place.
The above article is an interesting read if you are fan of The Walking Dead, as I am. It’s an article that tries to get at why the show has such a hold on the popular imagination. It also examines the show, and zombie stories in general, for there political and cultural messages.
In one of my earlier blogs today I briefly mentioned Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita. It is one of my favorite books. I thought about writing a review of it, but truth be told it is a complicated book and I read it several years ago. I searched the internet and found a pretty comprehensive overview of it. What is really great about the above overview is that at the bottom it provides links to even more information about the book. There are some spoilers in this overview, but a book this original, where so much of the magic comes from the world that the author creates, I don’t believe spoilers apply in the way they do to most books.
The book is a complex and fascinating read. It is partially set in Moscow in the 30’s when many people were “disappearing”. It is part fantasy, part political satire, full of dark humor, and at times creates scenes of chilling horror. Any book that features Satan and a talking cat as two of the main characters is not going to be your typical novel. If you love the power of language, poetry, and how words can impart strong images on the imagination, than this is a book that you will love. And although the two authors are very different, I think anyone that likes the dark humor and haunted language of someone like Flannery O’Connor will also love this book. There is really no way that I can do this book justice. It is one of those reads that simply must be experienced in full. A truly unique and captivating read, and an absolute masterpiece of literature.
As I have said in prior posts, I’m watching Ken Burns’s The Civil War. As a point of entry and an overview, I think it is outstanding. I think it is an extremely well done documentary series that includes an incredible amount of information in an easily understandable way. It is great TV. I think it is good history too, as long as you view it as an overview. One could make a documentary series just about the battle of Gettysburg, or any number of things that this covers.
I can’t help but feel watching parts of it though, that it is sanitized history. I don’t necessarily mean this as a dig against the series. When I was a history major in college I realized that the larger the period of time that you covered, the more the class was only going to deal with surface events. If you took European History you would get names and dates and a couple of overreaching themes. I took a class on just the years of the Third Reich leading up to World War II, for instance, and you got much deeper into the human mud of what was going on in that time. So I think that in dealing with a subject as epic as the Civil War, only having eleven and a half hours to tell it, they did about as good as anyone could.
Let me diverge for a minute. In the TV show Deadwood, which is a western TV show that takes place in the town of Deadwood, there is a scene where the army comes to town. The commander of the army makes a speech that is the kind of speech you can imagine a commander making. Meanwhile a deranged looking soldier mutters things like, “We ate our horses.” In one scene you are getting the noble version of a story and the less noble truth at the same time.
Now before I go any further I want to make something clear. I am not saying that people shouldn’t believe what they read in history books. I’m not saying that every event has a conspiracy behind it and that traditional history is a deception. In fact many history books are brutally honest. But one should always read history with a critical eye. Most of the time historians are doing their best to get at the truth. But everyone has certain biases, only certain information might be available at anytime, or they just might have real world issues like certain time constraints upon their work. Some people are just better writers than others. As with most things in life approaching something from multiple viewpoints is the best way to get a well rounded portrait of something. I read two or three books on Custer last year, I honestly can’t remember, and each book made the picture a little clearer.
But by sanitized history I mean that something paints a narrative that, while telling the truth, doesn’t challenge the existing order of things. I mean Lee is constantly treated as revered. It’s always mentioned that he had time for privates, that he was a good man at his core, that he was a brilliant general. But he fought for Virginia because he believed that is where his duty lay. He let duty lead him to fight on the side of slavery. Now I understand, and I myself risk simplifying things, that slavery at the start of the war, wasn’t the only thing that people were fighting over. I also understand that you have to try to look at things in the context of their time. But at the end of the day he did do just that, he fought on the side that wanted to protect slavery. And while he was no doubt a brilliant general in a lot of ways, he sent many troops to their slaughter at Gettysburg in a terrible blunder. Stonewall Jackson, in the book I am reading, is often sweet and good natured in his private life, but could commit acts of war with bloody ferocity. Both his private kindness and his public savagery were allowed to exist because he, and many in the Civil War, believed they were instruments of God. Well it would be a an incomplete picture to not present them as complicated, fully realized humans, that had both good and bad qualities, too often often history does not lay it out bare that these people were emotional mutants. They could play with children and then send those children’s fathers to die for state pride at best, and the right to maintain slavery at worst. It is true that Grant could also send large numbers of troops to die, but at that point emancipation was on the table, and that was something morally worth fighting for.
I think the show Deadwood, a work of fiction based on reality, does a far better job than a lot of history in terms of exposing the ugliness, and sometimes the human grace, in our past. I mean these Civil War battles were truly things of the utmost horror. Thousands of people were often shot down in mere minutes. These were battles of butchery and savagery. The documentary series shows dead bodes, and uses words like butchery and savagery, but I don’t think it makes it vivid enough how truly horrible these battles were. They too often seem like things of the past, safe from the modern world. These were our ancestors, only two human life spans away, that were dismembering each other in the most horrible ways imaginable. This wasn’t the middle ages. There was a scene in the episode last night where white and black Union troops were fighting the Confederates. The Confederates were saying, if there were captives to take, “Take the whites and kill the niggers.” That’s somebody’s great great grandpa! I mean slave owners were selling people’s children off. People that did that shit helped build this country! Again, all of this stuff is talked about in the show, but there it seems to be treated almost too reverential at times. While the show often acknowledges the horrible, it often doesn’t acknowledge the absurd, and these things are often disconnected from our present.
I actually think this is a great documentary series, despite my criticisms above. My point is not to disparage the show. I think, again, given the amount of material they had to cover in a given time, they did so in a truly extraordinarily way that is a great overview of this time in history. But I think one can hold the contradictory opinion of acknowledging someone’s achievement while also criticizing it. The filmmakers did an outstanding job, but the viewer must now do theirs in thinking critically about the information presented.
One of the most wonderful universes that you can get lost in is Twin Peaks. It takes you into the mystery of the world. It’s strange, but not any stranger than real life. It’s just that the strangeness of real life is heightened so that it is brought to the forefront. One of the things that David Lynch does so well is to create strong emotions. He knows that emotions are abstract, you can’t explain sadness or pain or happiness so much as you can feel it. Through abstract visuals and sound design he creates cinema of intense feeling.
The trick to what he does is that he often allows you to feel two different emotions at the same time. The end of Fire Walk With Me, the movie that takes place in the Twin Peaks universe, is one of the most horrifying sequences I have ever seen in film. It is also beautiful. The fact that it is beautiful doesn’t make it any less horrific to watch. In fact in might make it more so, because it opens you up emotionally to it in a way that no straight horror movie or documentary ever could. David Lynch isn’t afraid to make you feel uncomfortable, but you never ever get the sense he is trying to shock you just for the sake of it.
The TV show Twin Peaks is a combination of different genres. There are characters that could have come out of a film noir and there are characters that could have come out of a soap opera. These more traditional genre elements are laced with episodes of the surreal and uncanny. At the core of Twin Peaks is a murder mystery. However, the TV show especially also features many moments of light comedy. It is again the fact that it is combining different elements that make it so unique.
But I think one thing that truly makes Twin Peaks special is that in watching it, we not only recognize feelings and emotions from reality, but the show somehow heightens the viewers reality as well. When we enter the woods after seeing the show we may notice how dark and mysterious they are in ways we might not have payed attention to. Entering a diner we may notice details and the behavior of people in ways in which we didn’t before. Twin Peaks is great entertainment, but it is also something more. It is a fictional world that makes us aware of the mysteries in our own.
This blog includes big spoilers for the movie Prometheus.
I must admit that I am fascinated with the movie Prometheus. It is directed by Ridley Scott and it is an indirect prequel to the movie Alien. I saw it twice in theaters and I seem to watch it every time it has come on TV this week.
First, I’m not saying that there are not problems with this movie. The characters often have lapses in judgment that you would normally see in B horror movies. Also the end, now that I have seen it several times, is really just a more serious version of the ending of Almost Heroes; yes the movie starring Chris Farley. In the Farley comedy once the characters, who are racing Lewis and Clark to the Pacific Ocean, reach the Pacific Ocean, they decide to keep walking to Asia. They decide to do this despite going through 90 minutes of comedy hell. The character of Dr. Shaw in the movie Prometheus, despite having just endured imaginable horrors, decides at the end to go further into the alien world that she has discovered. They say that comedy is when a hero goes to the innermost cave and learns nothing.
However, I think I like this movie for two reasons. First is that director Ridley Scott always puts the money on screen. Whenever you see one of his big budget movies you are seeing something original and unique that you don’t see anywhere else. Just the design aesthetic of this movie is incredible. Also the creatures and aliens in this movie are actually really creepy. A great deal of horror and science fiction are suspenseful only to lose credibility when you actually see the thing you are supposed to be afraid of. The scene in the sick bay, where Dr. Shaw is trying to get rid of the alien inside her is one of the few times in recent memory I can remember actually squirming in a theater.
Second, I think that they created an interesting and complex mythology for this film. In movies in the science fiction genre, or horror or fantasy, it is not important that these movies adhere to the rules of reality, so much that they create a unique world with its own rules. The movie is deep, but not deep in the sense that one would usually use the term. The movie does ask religious and philosophical questions, but I find them to be somewhat superficial and again that is not really what I’m talking about. I mean that the film is deep in that its world has many layers to it that make it interesting. It has a mythology in it to the point that your imagination takes you to places that aren’t being shown on screen. The movie creates a three dimensional world, that however horrific, is different from our own and is something you can get temporarily lost in. That to me is entertainment.