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ENTER THE VOID (2009) Gaspar Noe

2 Mar

This movie has found me. Last weekend a man in a nightclub mentioned it, then a striking image included in a digital magazine drew my eye: a still from the same movie. The neon triggered a memory of seeing the trailer and wanting to watch it. I like life in neon.
The guy in the club didn’t say too much about Enter the Void. The movie ends with the words ‘The Void’ as we’re somehow flung into the underlying plot: the self-analysis of our own lives. Some things are best left unsaid. Dazed and Confused gave a synopsis when including it in their article about mind-fucking films. Once I’d read it, I couldn’t wait to see it.

It’s about an American bloke, Oscar, who lives in Tokyo. He smokes DMT, hallucinates and gets a call to go and meet Victor. He walks to the meeting place – The Void – with his mate Alex. On the way there they talk about The Tibetan Book of the Dead and, ironically, what happens to the soul when a person dies. Almost as soon as Oscar walks into The Void club cops descend upon the place. He runs into the bathroom and tries to stall them. They shoot him. He dies.
The rest of the movie is a transcendental vision from the in-between that recounts childhood moments with his sister Linda, the traumatic death of their parents, the events that led to Victor setting him up to get busted. These flashbacks are interspersed with ariel shots taken from above the city. Through these we follow his sister and how she’s coping with life in the world without him.
It ends with a scene where the omnipresent witness has shifted into his friend Alex’s consciousness, while he is making love to Linda; the camera follows sperm moving towards an egg. Then Linda and the protagonist’s mother merge into one while giving birth. It might be a new incarnation. It might be that life is a loop, one long Vine, playing over and over.
The two most outstanding things about this film are psycho-geographic visuals and the experiential gain of having seen it. If you enjoy hallucinating or enticing epilepsy with bright flashing colours, then this will be your kind of movie, even if the pace is a little slow. If you want to know what union with nirvana is about, then you might prefer to look elsewhere. The greatest failing of the movie is that once Oscar is dead an emotional state less concentrated transfers to the viewer.

The night before I watched Enter the Void, I was wandering around Sanchome in Shinjuku, lost, in awe at the neon signs, appreciating the static and thinking about what an animated, trippy environment it is. It’s the only place in Tokyo where I’ve felt surrounded by that criminality associated with cities in Europe. Even the ghettos are fairly smart. The muggings, pickpockets, prostitution, homelessness and all the other joys of urban life are closer to the surface in this area of Tokyo. Yet this is a part of the city that is very different visually to a European city.
Buildings in Japan have a lot happening on all floors, not just the ground floor, like in London. (There is an elevator law that insists upon installing one if the building is seven floors or above. The result is that a lot of buildings have six floors). It’s not unusual to find a nightclub on the 4th floor surrounded by offices, restaurants, boutiques, apartments and beauticians above and below.
To draw our attention to what is going on higher than street level, there are signs that run all the way up and down the building, indicating what is on each floor. In Shinjuku, in Nichome and Sanchome, these signs – along with shop fronts – are very brightly lit and spaced closely to each other, causing a sensation of stepping inside a fruit machine. Being immersed in so much light, coming from so many different angles, is an experience.
I rented the DVD (downloading is illegal in Japan) from the giant Tsutaya shop on Shibuya Scramble, the busiest road crossing in the world. I asked an assistant to help me look. We searched on the computer and it didn’t come up so I said, “Shinjuku”.
“Ah-ah!” she exclaimed, before darting up the aisle and returning with a copy. Obviously.

The headachey static of Shinjuku is more present in the trailer than it is in the film. Not to worry though, it is very psychedelic, disconnected and ambivalent if you like that sort of thing. Today I have an electric sensation of the film as a memory. Maybe the whole thing is an incarnation recollecting an incarnation? Plus from time to time I’ve thought ‘well at least I’m alive unlike that bloke in that film,’ which was slightly shocking to think of as a lot of the movie doesn’t include him at all. Unless the back of his head – on a journey into nowhere – counts.
If you’re interested in the spiritual side of it, psychoanalytical literature often employs allegory to explore ideas of identity. Unconsciousness: it’s worth getting your fangs into. Enter the Void is a psychoanalytical lucid dream. Possibly, even absurdly, a dream untrue.

BRAZIL (1985) dir.Terry Gilliam

25 Aug

 Brazil is named after the song of the same name. It’s a stupid, cheery mindless song that occurs as theme music at moments of dreary monotony, symbolising the totalitarian state. ‘De de der de der dede der…’ insanely colourful in Gilliam’s vision of a grey future, in which a tendency for systems to return to disorder is exaggerated.

The irony of the juxtaposition between ideal and reality are summed up in the billboard we see in the background:

Could anything be more depressing or terrifying than losing your own identity amongst a sea of exacting others? When the protagonist, Sam Lowry, finally escapes from the dystopia he ironically hums Brazil.

The psychedelia of reminding the viewer that they are the viewer has something healing about it, a kind of self-reflexive appeal that releases our inner self, connecting to the universe in a new way. Withnail and I has this ability, The Holy Mountain also, both films remind us that we are watching actors act whilst the world turns around us. All three films are highly re-watchable – the  script has incorporated our contact as viewers, it takes a bit of our soul and we in turn take the message it contains and involve it in our lives, better people for the experience.

Brazil works upon our psyche in a subtle way. The passive theme music – as we are passive viewers – is part of another dimension until Sam hums it. Then he makes the world belong to him rather than submitting to the world. The dream sequences are symbols of his awareness of a dimension bigger than the screen (he has dreams where he is flying and fighting and in love with a woman). When the woman, Gill, comes into his life he must take possession of her. In the same way, the film comes into our sphere of reality and we must give it our attention. The underlying message is to try to make dreams realities: to believe in imagination.

Set in the future, the brilliance of Brazil is down to three things: the casting, the script and the sets. Casting Jonathan Pryce as Sam Lowry was an excellent choice. He is attractive without being imposing, has a lack of self-importance, is believable and likeable. The other stars in the film include Robert de Niro, Michael Palin, Bob Hoskins and Kim Greist as Gill. The script was written by Terry Gilliam, Tom Stoppard and Charles McKeown. It keeps a fast, entertaining pace. The sets are intriguing; the future world, designed in the 1980’s, is filled with imaginary items in a guess at contemporary life in the future.

Of course, much like it really is, the world of gadgets is plagued with malfunction and error. What must have been laughable twenty years ago is in 2012 the way things are. Who would have thought that using a pen and paper, our legs, or just generally doing things the long way could be more efficient than a computer? How many hours are spent staring at the screen while some engineer tries to fix it? Sam’s central heating is on the blink (alongside everything else electrical in his flat). Before Central Services can get an engineer out to him, Harry Tuttle, renegade heating engineer and suspected terrorist, arrives on the scene to work his bravado.

Brazil is full of detail masquerading as normal that is absolutely absurd. Renegade heating engineer? It’s rediculous. Sam’s well-connected mother and her obsession for plastic surgery, her ‘keeping-up-with-the-Jones’ friend, make hysterical viewing. The farce of the bureaucracy, form-filling and procedure. The irony of the child playing in the torture office. Meeting the stranger of your dreams in person and falling in love? It’s so much bullshit, it’s great!

THE ADVENTURES OF PRINCE ACHMED (1926) dir. Lotte Reiniger

15 Aug

When the Aubin Cinema in Shoreditch first opened, back in May 2010, it felt like a special secret. Luxurious, with some of the best acoustics to be found in a cinema, grey velvet sofas and wine coolers, yet to be discovered by a horde. The Adventures of Prince Achmed screened one Saturday morning. There was nobody else in the audience to behold its wonders but one small boy and his father.

 I hadn’t read any blurb about it, just happened upon it (so to speak), becoming utterly captivated by the quality of the animation. It’s lush! In fact, the only thing more beautiful that I’ve seen in a cinema was Voyage de la Lune, with a score by Air, restored in colour. That made me cry, it was incredible, the hairs on my neck stood on end, my whole self trembled. Still, The Adventures of Prince Achmed was thoroughly awe imposing, a sublime endeavour to encounter in the cinema. At the time I knew nothing about it; I supposed it to be a new release.

It’s possible to watch it from the comfort of your laptop via China. I tried it before embarking upon writing this. It’s better to find a copy with the subtitles translated into English (unless you speak German). Otherwise, expect the experience to be lovely and moving but also confusing, like visiting the ballet without first reading the programme, or playing poker without learning the rules. It’s the kind of film a young child might enjoy but you would have to talk them through it. “Now what’s happening? The sorcerer and the witch are fighting each other. Now they’ve turned into a lion and a snake,” catch my drift? (Watch out for the harem scene).

Yes there is a sorcerer and a witch and – in case that wasn’t magic enough –  Aladdin and a goddess called Pari Banu. Outrageous! I probably shouldn’t confess it but the shadowy Achmed is hot! He has a flying horse; it makes me go shivery. Every girl wants to be Pari Banu, let’s face it, she’s the best dressed silloette, even if her clothes resemble creepy doilies. It’s possible to imagine how opulent she would be if she were out of her world and not on top of a light box. Of course, Achmed and Aladdin win in the end. They get the ensorcered lamp back, everyone gets married, but Pari Banu, the shady figurine, has bird-power and settles for nothing less. No pleasing some.

It was a surprise to learn that The Adventures of Prince Achmed is ancient. It has an eternal quality that too few films ever have. Perhaps it is the most timeless film of all time (if some things are more timeless than others). Lotte Reiniger based the story on 1001 Arabian Nights. She worked on the film with other well known avant-garde animators. It was filmed frame by frame. To date it remains the oldest surviving animation. It is remarkable. A more electronic score would probably be of  benefit to the modern ear but the original is fine. The hues of the background linger on the palate with synthesia, sinister characters live on long inside our hearts with exquisite elegance, sixty-five minutes of mystery, silent visual poetry.

PINK FLAMINGOS (1972) dir. John Waters

15 Aug

The video above came in handy a couple of years back when facing corporate interview scenarios. If I supposed I was talking to some power hungry ego-nut, male or female, my mind would scan back to this clip for a fleeting moment. ‘I am Connie Marble’ became a mantra I wrote sardonically on my Twitter page. Anything to survive.

 Less than a month later, I happened to have the pleasure of bumping into John Waters: hero, legend and renegade movie director. I love his style. As you can imagine, meeting him on Mare Street was an unparalleled experience, requiring that I gave him a pencil as a token of my adoration. ”It was a long time ago,” he said charmingly about Pink Flamingos. “Forty years.”

  While decades have passed since Pink Flamingos was made, it still seems fresh, possibly because the acting was stale from the outset. The dialogue is reminiscient of an am-dram pantomime. The lines are read as if on autocue (or acid). The stagnant approach somehow gives the characters an extra dimension in a fictional space. They seem to be themselves playing the role of themselves, in shocking situations that could almost be believeable, too absurd for fiction.

 There are a lot of laugh-out-loud moments where the volume of the background music gives the effect of silent movie slapstick. Mr Marble flashing in a park with a saveloy sausage, for example. There is bestiality, murder, incest, excrement, kidnap, cock and other vulgarity – none of which is as offensive as it is strange. 

 The essence of the story is that Divine lives in a trailer outside of Baltimore with her travelling companion Cotton, son Crackers and playpen abiding, egg-loving mother. She has attracted notoriety as ‘the filthiest person alive’ but Mr and Mrs Marble, who run a baby ring in the city, have something to say about it.

 Determined not to be outdone, they pay Cookie to date Crackers and spy on Divine’s activities. They send Divine an unwelcome present. Divine and Crackers go to their house and unveil the horrendous secret in the cellar. They return home to find that the trailer was sabotaged: dowsed in gasolene by the Marbles. Divine seeks revenge: the Marble’s ‘court appearance’ and subsequent murder.

 Pink Flamingos is one of the wackiest films ever made. It doesn’t take itself too seriously; the costumes and colours are camp and splendid; the music is amazing (Link Wray plays the opening tune The Swag); the plot is bizarre and totally nuts. It’s a classic. The ultimate in bad taste.

 Next time you’re in a formal, intimidating situation, with cold sweaty palms and uneasy silence, or when made to seem a dullard, think to yourself: ’I guess there are two types of people, Miss Sandstone: my type of people and assholes’. You’ll remain poised, for sure!

MAGIC JOURNEY TO AFRICA (2010) dir. Jordi Llompart

15 Aug

I was drawn to this film for the ‘pure cheese’ factor and… I was right it is laughable. It’s a successful contender for the worst movie ever made, perhaps only closely surpassed by Troll 2, but nevertheless beating a majority of all films known to mankind in claiming a stake.

Jana, who lives in the Barcelona hills, speaks with ‘a mouthful of plums’ and is typically inquisitive. I imagine she’s around the age of ten or eleven, at that clever-clogs age where she has the answer to everything and if not the answer, then at least asks a better question than you did. She looks like Alice in Wonderland and is simply perfect in every respect.

One day, when at a restaurant, she meets a dodgy African boy out stealing mobile phones, getting into trouble. We all know that poor children who get into trouble aren’t being themselves. She worries herself about him for days, until a faery in the form of a butterfly appears in her room late at night, with words of wisdom so wise that they don’t make any sense.

The faery tells her that the boy, called Kabbo, is in hospital so she goes to try to make friends with him. When they go back to see him again, they find that he has gone home to Africa, hence the title ‘Magic Journey to Africa’ (bit of a misnomer really, Magic Journey in Africa would fit more accurately). Africa, of course, for the purpose of the film, is a relatively small undiverse place, undeviating from desert and watering-hole.

She mysteriously finds herself amongst the clichéd but beautiful Afrika-ka-ka-ka of fables and folk tales. There’s an enchanted flower for whom she makes it rain. She stops to have a chat to an animated wild-cat who has made a mandala out of sand. He talks to her in a colonial British accent. Their conversation goes something like this:

Jana: I haven’t come alone. My lucky winged horse has come with me.

Wild-Cat: Are you nuts? That’s a stuffed animal. This is Africa not Disneyland!

It turns out that Jana has a flying horse who has wings, a blue mane, wears eye-liner and gives advice, all whilst disguised as toy. Plus she takes a trip on an actual zebra. Some people have it all.

She eventually finds Kabbo in his tribe, talking to the ancestors, talking to the tree in the sky. He’s letting his inner self out. She asks the boy questions about why he wants to live in a place where there is nothing and nothing to do. This made me laugh. It might be the wilderness but try getting out of Barcelona a bit more often. There’s more to life than avoiding pickpockets and lazying in the park, deciding where to go next, in the sunshine during siesta.

Although the extent to which the scenes in the tribe are patronising did make me wonder (or even if the film is offensive full stop), the amazing thing about Magic Journey to Africa is not the acting (young heroine does splendid), nor the edit abruptly ending dialogue, nor special effects. What is remarkable, what gives it must-see charm and attraction, is that it is more or less exactly what you might anticipate a pre-teen girl to write if asked to come up with a film script. It was, in fact, the work of director Jordi Llompart. Morally guiding narration, a psychedelic close-up of an elephant’s eyelid, I expect giggly kids and stoners will love its overly sweet and quotable aura.

Video

ANOTHER EARTH (2011) dir. Mike Cahill

15 Aug

  It seems logical to me that if there were no concept of free will there would be no responsibility taken for behaviour or actions. Whether our choices are erroneous or successful largely depends upon our thinking or attitude. Not looking where you are going, with the result of killing a pregnant woman and her five year old son, is a weighty mistake for a seventeen year old girl driving under the influence. Much worse than stepping into a deep puddle whilst looking at constellations for example. How can Rhoda Williams (Brit Marling, who was also the writer) turn her failure around?
  The accident happened on the night Earth II first became visible in the sky. Rhoda, an amateur star-gazer, simply gets distracted, isn’t paying attention to the road. She spends four years in gaol before serving her sentence and being sent home. By this time Earth II appears larger than the moon. “It’s a real planet” we hear on the radio as she signs her release forms. It appears to be an exact replica of this familiar world.
  Fortunately for Rhoda, life on Earth (the original earth) has continued with the usual inverted apathy, carrying on as anticipated and drying itself off regardless, apparently unaffected by the massive gravitational influence of another version of itself. Like the astronomer learns – when stuck in the puddle in the fable – looking up to the other Earth doesn’t provide explanations to life here on this.
  If I were Rhoda I would hate Earth II, blame it for turning me into a puppet, destroying a promising future in astrophysics. Rhoda, on the other hand, takes responsibility for her actions. She copes with the spilt-ego planet by entering a competition with Space Ventures to actually visit it, whilst tracking down the only other survivor of that fateful night, musician John Burroughs (William Mapother).
  The rest of the film would be predictable if it wasn’t for good story-telling based around a human desire to believe that bad things happen to bad people. There is a scene where Rhoda is puking down a toilet she is so appalled with herself and how she is dealing with life on the outside. Good people sometimes make bad choices – a colleague has chosen, for his own reasons, to eliminate sensory illusions of the external world – necessity is not always obvious, sometimes we are touched by events synchronising into place unnoticed until after the rhythm alters. Maybe actions are determined beyond our own personal influence. Maybe things do happen for a reason.
  Despite that the physical collision of the two earths (alarming aspect to earths-in-sky situation) is overshadowed by the plot putting emphasis instead on the probable cosmic collusion between events, Another Earth – no matter how far-fetched – is weirdly plausible. The score by Fall on Your Sword compliments the shaky indie camerawork.
  The film raises some pertinent questions about existence. What would our reactions be if we weren’t sat in the dark whilst multiplicities of ourselves on identical planets were whirling around somewhere within sight in space? We could shrug our shoulders to metaphysics or, as I suspect, turn our astronomical mimic into another excuse when trying to avoid the gaze of blame. As Rhoda attempts to atone for her mistakes, the ending leaves the viewer to wonder if she has, in fact, been successful.