Sunday, September 29, 2013

Room 237(2012): Movie Thoughts

When looking back at film school, among my favorite realms of study, was the one about the art of the hidden theme. Having been taken through films I once understood in one manner, only to come out with a completely new appreciation for it by way of a little nudging via educator, there is a growing number of film lovers who now see themselves playing the game of "spot the hidden symbols". (Occasionally to points of absurdity) And among the first directors that these admirers of the cinema latch onto for subterfuge of meaning, will always be the one and only Stanley Kubrick, who's works continue to invite new boughs of interpretation and criticism. His works continue to inspire and confound, only made so much more inviting by way of the man himself, his perfectionist nature, and almost manic resistance to mainstream culture, particularly of the U.S.

So upon living within this era of post modern film criticism, one might fault the makers of Room 237 to be something bordering on exploitative, as the piece centers on audio confessionals from a group of superfans, with some eye-opening, some not so much assessments on Kubrick's 1980 adaptation of the Stephen King novel. The famed horror tale of a family on the brink of bloody calamity whilst caretaking an isolated mountain hotel, while deceptively simple in plot, carried more than enough mystery, and utter creepiness for numerous movies. Very much like the director's made-up shrubbery labyrinth that makes for center stage of the film's finale, there is so much in the entire piece that never adds up, leading to a disorienting, sometimes nightmare-like aura. So it is no wonder that Kubrick's interpretation of the story has led to such a response, and reappraisal over the decades. In fact, since the advent of the internet, The Shining remains one of the most thematically pilfered, and theorized films of all time. But what Rodney Aschner brings to the debate, is something that is not as often addressed, is perhaps far too little too late.

237's bulk largely consists of mostly cleverly edited and manipulated footage from not only Kubrick's work, but also of other well regarded pieces combined with the voices of the film's core theorists. Each sharing their memories of the film as well as their often amusing interpretations of its symbols and themes. From the half-sensible, to the outright bizarre, the intercutting between each guest, and the footage often creates a sense that we are in the lair of the truly post-modern. That fine line that many a film fan flirts with when they find a work that inevitably gets stuck deep in their craw, unable to leave lest investigation is enacted by any means. And while there is a decent amount to chew on here as we see multiple famous moments at various speeds, and points of high definition manipulation as each theory is mentioned and elaborated upon in hopes of making adequate case. Theories abound include one popular one regarding the film as an allegory for the systematic acquisition of America, and the genocide of the native peoples. It also goes headlong into some strange ones, such as it all being a thinly veiled admission that Kubrick assisted in the fabrication of the Apollo 11 moon landing.

But the commentary that was perhaps the one that spoke the most to this viewer, was more a summation of the film being about how the past impinges upon the present. These moments are dispersed throughout, and are among the most stirring, and truest feeling of them all, and mostly because it truly feels like a thematic that had already been a long shared one by Kubrick in his previous works, only not quite done so subterranean before. As if the genre itself were being toyed with in the name of calling out very real horrors perpetrated by the very people responsible for the world that led to our current one. It's a startling series of revelations and ideas that are both prominent in the visuals, and carefully interwoven into the narrative of Jack, Wendy, and Danny up at the Overlook. And even if it isn't a definitive theory, it certainly is an emotionally satisfying one for one who has long admired the film despite it's often disorienting nature. Whether the film is utilizing the language of subliminal advertising, commenting on the horrors of the holocaust, or just quizzical due to the film's narrative, and physical paradoxes, there are so many threads left lying about some finding far too enticing to ignore.

The public loves a good series of open ended questions, but are also occasionally attracted to hypersimplified answers, especially when considering a popular movie. And while it would be fun to map out what we assume to be the gospel truth of an enigmatic work, especially one made by one of the most mysterious creative minds of a generation, very often the questions are the most attractive element. Much less about the meanings behind one of Kubrick's most accessible, yet divisive films, and more about a growing consciousness of mind regarding the intent of cinema, and what it can do to such a consciousness when the established rules are thrown out. It is a love of pop gone borderline clinical at times, and at others, a telling earful from those unwilling to allow mystery to thrive, even if that was part of a work's special alchemy. While not a thoroughly compelling look at a horror favorite, 237 is that rare celebration of discourse that many fans enjoy after experiencing an effective piece of art. Often fun, frustrating, and occasionally TMI, the rabbit hole is a discovery that simply cannot be denied.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Side Journeys:Objects As Actor in Pasadena

As the summer season eked out what looked to be a convulsive series of death throes that continue slightly into today, I was able to venture out with partner to a local gathering after my own heart. Last Saturday's visit to Objects As Actor, a one-of-a-kind symposium regarding the importance of the tactile in cinema was one akin to a free treasure trove of all things that make the Kaijyu roll over with excitement. Organized by Noam Toran, and taking place over nearly one full day, this diverse celebration of the movie world's use and reliance on vital trinkets, articles, and clutter was one attended by not only many local students here at Art Center College Of Design, but also many film enthusiasts, would be creators, and even science fiction writers/commentators. All in the name of exploring the importance of not only making fictional realms into believable realities, but of allowing viewers to better explore the human role in all of it. And while we weren't there for the beginning, or the end, we caught just enough presentation and discussion to fill a multitude of projects. As direct, as it was philosophical in nature, the welcoming feel of the campus, coupled by some truly interactive guests and attendees made it all worthwhile.

Among the standout guests in attendance, were..

Rob O' Neill - Filmmaker, Designer, Lead Character Technical Developer and programmer over at Dreamworks. His talk regarding the importance of objects as character symbols was good natured fun.

Amy Kane - Foley Artist - A true spiritual blast from my past, as she detailed (with assistance and props including dirt and breakable boards) the still very relevant art of foley sound work for films. Discussed her favorite projects, and the challenges of making sounds that are utterly convincing in both fantasy and realistic worlds. Was happy to hear stories of her entry into the business, as well as her days working on shows such as Deadwood, and big films like Oz The Great And Powerful. We even had a demonstration involving her boot work attuned to Woody Harrelson's character in Zombieland, and some gushing at her new gig with the new series, Masters Of Sex. So many memories of listening to and speaking with multi award winner Solange Schwalbe about the delicate humanness attributed to sound design, and how vital it is for us to not notice it. It's very much the ninjutsu of film post-production. This was the section where I had the most fun asking questions afterward, and hearing of how necessary it still is to the overall process.

(Even when an upcoming guest wondered why this hadn't been rendered obsolete as of yet. Not the most respectful question. But one easily answered, as technology has yet to function as realistically and chaotically as organic beings do. And that the average viewer can very much still tell the difference.)

Following a short break (and cleanup of the stage area..) came a brief presentation by Kane's assistant who's name escapes me unfortunately, who detailed a favorite use of objects as weapon against the Hollywood studio system by none other than Canadian master, David Cronenberg. Through his film Dead Ringers(1988), which was produced shortly after his experience making the 1986 remake ,The Fly, he was able to utilize the psychotic twin characters played by Jeremy Irons to make a thinly veiled jab at the gap between artists, the opportunistic, and the commercial. In the film, Irons plays two deeply troubled, yet, successful gynecologists who become dangerously curious about treating who they see to be "mutant" subjects. Needing new gear to handle the delicate work, and finding no legitimate means of finding it, they seek help from the seedy local art scene. It is here that we are witness to not only the main characters and their disintegrating mindscapes, but of the director's own dissatisfaction with the bottom line. For him, film is a compulsion, and not a mere factory for profit.

For those who have yet to see Dead Ringers, this is yet another means of not only this presenter, but of mine to urge more to experience it for themselves.

Lastly for us, came the presentation by science fiction commentator and writer, Gary Westfahl, who's recent book on cyberpunk luminary, William Gibson, explores the role of design and product in the advancement in speculative fiction. His extended thoughts regarding the changing roles of technology as background to virtual foreground was a largely enticing one, albeit at times lacking in the humanity that had graced much of the presentations that had come before. From mentioning some of science fiction's most memorable uses of objects, and environments, to Gibson's almost all-enveloping dedication to detail, Westfahl's presentation was almost fetishistic in how it saw the role of detailed storytelling in the overall of human existence. While there was indeed much to mine here, there was a significant sense of the post-human happening here that almost echoed Ray Kurzweil for a time. And when considering the art of visual storytelling, such as in film, we remain in an era very much in need of familiarity in hopes of grounding us enough to invest in any wild narrative.

Be it a home upright piano on the soundtrack, to a shot of a character holding an old photo of a loved one, film always finds some thread to the simple in hopes of launching not only our fear and wishes, but our comforts beyond the stratosphere. Film, is a means of filling ourselves into the space in which we are invited by the creators. And in this way, we are bringing in our own thoughts, memories, and feelings into another's headspace. Objects are one important way this connection can happen unabated, often offering us much to consider upon walking out of the auditorium, and back into the world.

They are a link to our more fragile humanity.