Is This Real Life?

I don’t know what it is about the film or why I like it so much, but I have seen The Truman Show no less than 10 times and that number could be higher. It is just one of those comforting films that I could watch any time. When I was a kid, before this movie came out, I used to think that my life was not real and that in some way I had been implanted into my family. Of course (I say of course as if it is a given that the feelings ever go way, they don’t), I eventualy came to believe that everything that exists around me is authentic, but sometimes everything still feels surreal and maybe that is because it is.

Every detail, no matter how small, in Truman Burbank’s life is scripted, simulated, and manipulated. Truman’s parents, wife, friends, teachers, and clients are all fake (in a manner of speaking). Not only that, his entire “life” is broadcast for the world to see. Given that this film premiered when “reality” shows were on the rise and now “reality” television has literally taken over TVs, I want to focus on what is “reality” relative to our interpretations of it and is Truman’s life more like ours than we may believe.

I find it problematic to assume that Truman’s life is “fake,” because he lives, experiences, and feels the same way anyone does. Is his fear of the ocean not a “real” fear that anyone can have? Does the friendship between Truman and Marlon seems as “real” as any other friendship? Truman’s life is not “fake.” In fact, calling Truman’s life a simulation assumes that there exists a tangible, shared “reality,” which does not exist. Even a pre-digital world had no collective “reality.” Nothing in a conscious society can be real. We can perceive things to exist, but that perception will not produce a true reflection, if one exists at all. Literally, everything we view is a distortion of reflected light and there is no way of knowing somethings true form where there exists an absence of light. That which illuminates also blinds. The same is true with emotions or feeling, because the mind acts as a distortive perception filter, which creates “reality.” Therefore, how can anything be “real” outside of an individual experienced normalization process, which is learned and creates life perceptions. Truman’s experience is exactly like all of our experiences. We are simply unwilling to acknowledge the unreal “reality” of our situations. Now the case of Truman Burbank is markedly different from the cases of an Alice or Bob.

Truman is trapped. He lacks a certain expected freedom that we assume accompanies cognitive ability. He cannot choose, which is a quintessential aspect of humanity. Truman does not live an unhappy life, but his life is a lie, but not really. His life is the show. However, he cannot claim agency within that world. Christof is the only agent in Truman’s life with everyone else acting as vessels, or John Malkovich’s. Therefore, breaking out is his only option if he wants any semblance of agency. Yet, once Truman enters the “real” world with Sylvia he may or may not realize that those of us in this world lack agency as well in many ways. Truman will inhabit another simulation. There is no free choice. Only what we are guided, outside of certain personal choices, to choose  based on corporate entities’ suggestions or based on what cultural perceptions deem to be appropriate or ideal. In our “reality” we are constantly looking up. We search for higher purposes, but in that search individuals are lost in a sea of simulation, an unreality. Truman is merely escaping a simulation of a simulation of something that doesn’t exist. When M. R. Franks said “There is no one reality. Each of us lives in a separate universe… Consciousness is the only reality” he was speaking literally about quantum physics. Yet, it is completely accurate. The only true “reality” that any of us should acknowledge is the one that exists within our own consciousness.

Don’t I Know You From Somewhere or Am I Glitching?

I was never too interested in Battlestar Galactica, but I may have given up on it a little prematurely after the miniseries. The concept of a post-apocalyptic ancient human civilization that created our current civilization on Earth is interesting. I guess part of the reason I became disinterested in the show is because I was tired of all of these shows that were literally capitalizing on the fears and anxieties of people in a post-9/11 world. However, a few years removed I may need to revisit the entire BG franchise, because it seems to be more than just a 24esque show. I have never seen the episode “Downloaded,” but it, along with my general knowledge of the show, helped me realize that the entire franchise is deeper than I previously thought and that it also relies and builds on the idea of copies and the act of copying.

If we step back from “Downloaded” we can see that the BG universe revolves around duplication (the series itself is a duplication, or Döppelganger, of the original series). There exists the Cylon, which are man-made cybernetic beings that become corrupt and enter “DESTROY ALL HUMANS” mode (shameless Futurama reference). As referenced in “Downloaded,” it is impossible to distinguish Cylons from humans and this is what leads to the death of billions of people. These highly advanced “machines” are copies of their human counterparts. They even have the ability to emulate, or possibly “feel,”  human emotions. The Cylons are obvious copies, but the less than obvious copy is the one that leads to the war between humans and Cylons. In the reimagined series the Cylons destroy human civilization, because they believe that humans are corrupt and sinful beings that do not deserve to exist. YES, the Cylons, who are creations of a society of humans who believe that they were created by many gods, believe in one god and deem the human existence as a sin against that god. The Cylons are duplicating and emulating the existence and creation rationale of the humans. Like humans, the Cylons create religion in order to prescribe meaning to their existence. They cannot exist as hollow creations. So, the Cylons create meaning and they become the creators. They have the ability to replicate or destroy. The copies usurp their creators and become the copiers. With regard to the specific episode, “Downloaded,” there are two “rebirthed,” or copied, Cylons, Six and “Boomer.” These two Cylons typify what it means to be the “perfect” replica. They fall in love with humans and they begin to sympathize with the humans. In fact, they both feel more human than Cylon. The two Cylons come full circle to reject their existence as mere copies and objects and embrace “humanity.” BG’s heavy inclusion of duplication actually acts as a mirror that reflects the dangers of duplication in our society.

Why does everything in the BG universe have everything to do with duplication? Because, it is impossible to escape duplication in our world. We create television shows, movies, and robots that are meant to be duplicates of us or our lives, but, as BG shows, these copies soon begin to rule our lives. We become slaves to the duplicates, because the duplicates in the BG universe and our own are created in the image of what humans think they resemble. Therefore, there is a constant struggle to “live up” to the projected duplicate image we create. In BG, the copies become self aware and struggle to destroy the shadow of their creators. The uprising of the Cylons is not surprising, because as copies they are nothing more than the perverse objects of desire of their creators. If this says anything about our society, which it does, we should be wary of creating duplicates that are realistically impossible, because we could soon fall victims to our own unrealistic, ideal duplicates.

Sita Appropriates the Blues

Again with the visually stunning films. When will it end? Seriously though, Sita Sings the Blues is a brilliantly animated and hilarious film, which I thoroughly enjoyed. The blending of two cultures mirrors the personal experiences of Nina Paley perfectly. Everything seems to work, but nothing in the film is new, or is it?

The most intriguing element of the film is that almost every detail, every aspect of the film, even the contemporary parallel, is appropriated from anything. The world, modern culture, ancient culture, 20’s jazz and almost everything was available to Nina Paley and she made magnificent use of each appropriated item. Throughout the film there are small snaps of appropriation in many scenes, but one of the more interesting incidents is Paley’s appropriation of photographs into the cityscapes in the contemporary parallel. With the opening “shot” of San Francisco there are actual house, bridges and trolleys. In all of the cityscapes in the film the mixture of appropriated photos and Squigglevision produces an uncanny type feel to the contemporary story. The story is familiar, but it is kept at a distance so that it merely reflects a distorted “reality” that could easily resemble anyone else’s life as it resembles the story of Sita.

Another interesting mode of appropriation exists in the fact that the story of Sita is used to tell/ re-tell Nina’s personal story. Although the re-telling of Sita’s story is done in a unique way, the story is being “borrowed” in order to prescribe meaning to the “main” contemporary story. Paley could have created an animated story that did not involve the events of Ramayana, but then she would not have been true to herself. She spent time in Indian and Sita’s story became a part of who she is. Therefore, it makes sense for Paley to create a film, which incorporates all of the aspects of her cultural and digital hybridity. As I will talk about in my presentation on the mash-up today, Paley is surrounding by all types of stories and medias, or “noise,” that she must congeal into a manageable story that involves everything important and meaningful in her life, not just one aspect. Even the music of Annette Hanshaw was appropriated into the film in order to progress the story of Sita, a story that happened centuries before the music was produced. Everything is mashed up and blended perfectly to create a story, which is strikingly similar to several, but unlike any. Sita Sings the Blues is an entirely unique and original film.

With all of that being said, the thing I found most important when viewing this film was Nina Paley’s manifesto to her audience, “I hereby give Sita Sings the Blues to you. Like all culture, it belongs to you already, but I am making it explicit with a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License. Please distribute, copy, share, archive, and show Sita Sings the Blues. From the shared culture it came, and back into the shared culture it goes” (Nina Paley). Culture is exactly a shared experience that belongs to everyone, which can be owned by no one. I seem to always get on a soapbox about copyright issues, but the truth is people do not realize that it is impossible to own language, culture, music, literature and anything else. Of course, someone can prescribe value to and claim all of these. There is a reason society is called society and not some term that would suggest we are a collective of individuals, which to a certain extent we are. However, we build, create and learn from each other. The commercialization of the noncommercial has placed a divide between those who create and those who learn. Instead, we are now producers and consumers and none of the products are art and they do not further society. What Nina Paley did with Sita Sings the Blue is create a film that allows the audience to see what our modern culture truly is and she allowed us free access to it, because what is in her film and any film always already belonged to us.

Eastern Django

Painting of the Genpei War

I have to admit that I have not seen many spaghetti westerns (only now do I realize why they are named as such), or at least I do not remember them all too well. However, I “researched” (loose term) the genre and I am fascinated. Due in part to this new found fascination I contemplated writing this blog after watching Django and A Fistful of Dollars as to provide a more in-depth analysis, but that wouldn’t be any fun would it? Sukiyaki Western Django is not a spaghetti western. Sukiyaki Western Django is a semi-historical-samurai-movie viewed through a spaghetti western lens, which is inspired by a movie that was inspired by another movie which was inspired by a book. Therefore, it would not be fair to discuss Sukiyaki as anything besides an independently unique film. Admittedly, doing so is nearly impossible so I will not be following my own advise.

I did not have any overarching complaints with any aspect of the film, nor were there any moments of profound enlightenment. With that being said, it takes a lot for a film to impress me technically, but Sukiyaki is by far one of the best filmed films I have seen in a long time. All it was missing was a touch of rotoscoping, not really. I find it amazing that a film that is “copying”/re-imagining a genre, which itself was originally “copying”/ re-imagining a genre can even make sense cinematically, but Takashi Miike pulls everything together. Not only does the film work it redefines what it means to copy.

If conventional thought does not believe that the remix artist (Girl Talk the prominent example) to be original, or a musician, then Takashi Miike’s Sukiyaki Western Django is not a film and Miike is not a filmmaker, because not one second of his film is “original” (and I don’t mean in the sense that nothing we do is “original,” I literally mean everything is borrowed). Fortunately, conventional thought is wrong. Even when a piece of music, footage, a genre, or an idea is borrowed to become a new object, it must be created by a uniquely creative individual. In a digital and vastly connected world anything and everything can become a note or chord, while at the same time artists are exposed to different texts from all corners of the globe. The conventional methods for “creating” no longer exist. Miike is the typification of the post-modern remix artist and some, when his film projects do not involve dismembered and mutilated characters, and even then he is remixing. Miike is not using anyone’s footage, but he is using and blending concepts, which have never been blended before. Of course, there exists spaghetti westerns, samurai movies and fictionalized historiographies, but there has never been, to my knowledge, a movie that is all three. So how is this film unoriginal? I doubt many people would claim it as such, but I could be wrong. This is what I do not understand about “copying.” Miike copies movies perfectly; the “A Man with No Name” character, and exact situations from Django and other spaghetti’s, with Yojimbo spliced into it, but if Miike took physical footage of Clint Eastwood and digitally implanted it into his film he could be a criminal. However, if Miike had done so he would not be less creative. In my opinion he has created the perfect post-modern film. It is everything and it is nothing all at once. It mirrors our very own ambiguous existence. Sukiyaki Western Django cannot be defined, nor should it be. Artists like Gillis and Miike, and many others, are bending, blending, and distorting the rules, because they realize that within the digital world, and within the mind, there exists no rules. Hopefully, in the future filmmakers and all types of artists will dare to reflect society in such a manner.

Four Rooms: Ted’s Descent

Here is a link to my video. It is not the “final” version I screened in class, but it is close. I was trying to say multiple things with this video. If any of you have questions please ask.

Four Rooms: Ted’s Descent

I Knew Who I Was

I really wanted to like this film and I did. Being John Malkovich is one of the better films I have ever seen. The way it is filmed, the sets, the lighting, the dialogue and the psychological elements all intertwine and create a world of fantasy where two hundreds dollars, or extreme desire, buys an individual power, intrusive, voyeuristic power. Because of the films glimpse into depths of the human psyche, it a tremendous success. With that being said, I would have liked to have had more background information on Dr. Lester/ Captain Mertin and his discovery of the portal, and more about the physics behind the portal, but that is just the nerd in me. However, one element stuck out through-out the film. Every character possesses a lack and fills that lack with something and most of their solutions are grounded in John Malkovich.

I am not a huge fan of Jacques Lacan; I am more of a Judith Butler, Adrienne Rich kind of guy. However, when Lotte Schwartz uttered, “John Malkovich has a portal, y’know, sort of like, it’s like, like he has a vagina,” I began to think in phallic terms, and how could I not? Craig, Lotte, Lester, Maxine, and John (the most “innocent” of the lot) chase and crave a power that can fill their lack. I don’t know what Craig’s lack is exactly (it could be simply a lack of control) and neither does he, but he certainly has a way to fill his lack with Maxine and she fills hers with Lotte and Lotte fills hers with Maxine and John fills his with Maxine and Lester uses John. What I am getting at is everyone uses everyone to fill a void or fear or lack. The vaginal quote creates an opening where all those who enter into the portal of John can be seen as possessing a phallus (as much as I hate the term it seems appropriate) that literally penetrates an unwilling  subject (John being unwilling, because he cannot consent), which grants the holder of the phallus power. Of course, everyone is a puppeteer and wants to be someone else, but it is so much more than just being someone else or seeing the world through another person’s skin. The characters seek out to be someone else and control someone, because they desire to fill their lack and the power of entering John grants them the power of the phallus and the desire to fill the lack is fulfilled, especially in the case of Lotte. Lotte becomes “male” and impregnates Maxine completely fulfilling the female desire to possess the phallus (a symbol of power, which males typically possess). Now this is my biggest problem with the film. It is as if Charlie Kaufman subscribes to the ideals and beliefs of Lacan. The desires of the character’s are extremely phallocentric and their lacks can only be filled by a male vessel. Lotte’s desire, or lack, is to be male, which is a typical psychoanalytic view of females. Originally, Lotte cannot derive power from being a strong lesbian figure. She only obtains power by possessing the phallus (the male symbol of power). Eventually, she accepts her lesbian existence, but, in the terms of the film, only because she obtained the male power and performed a double penetration into to John and then using John to enter Maxine. Her lack no longer exists, because she obtained the phallus.

In a post-modern world the phallus should no longer exist. The power structures of our patriarchal society should no longer exist. The film would have been more effective had the vessel for obtaining power had been a female and the female represented power. However, even then it would be hard to stay away from the imagery of penetration, but it is possible. I realize the film believes it is a progressive film (and yes I mean film not the filmmakers) and I am sure others do as well, but as we progress in society it seems that the typical labels and structures of the past are meaningless. We all exist in a nameless, unconceptualizable realm. We are the vastness of nothing. We are unplottable plots. Therefore, films that acknowledge the structures of the past only serve to perpetuate them. There does not need to be a creation of a new language or structures just a rejection of the old and an acknowledgment of ambiguity. “I knew who I was” is a false statement. None of us can ever utter that statement in earnest. We are ambiguous citizens in a world of nothing that encompasses all.

I look up, I look down: Perfecting the Dolly Zoom

I was looking forward to watching Vertigo for the first time, but I was a little disappointed. Of course, the  Madeleine Elster-Judy Barton-Madeleine Elster shifts and Scottie’s controlling gaze over Madeleine/Judy was interesting, but I have dealt with these issues before. However, the movie itself has several problems. Doesn’t it make perfect sense for a 50 year old man to be the love interest of a 26 year old woman? No it does not, but it may lend some credibility to Scottie’s ability to control Judy.  The plot, I get. Scottie, I don’t. He notices a necklace and all of the sudden he knows that Gavin murdered his wife and that Judy was a double. I can see him having an idea, but it seems that everything falls together so perfectly. Maybe his detective skills are better than we know. However, considering it is a surrealist film everything kind of makes sense. Either way, I do like that this film had close ties to appropriation. There are several instances in the film where situations are being relived or revisited and just like replay, or appropriation, these events cannot be viewed the same way as they were viewed “originally.” All in all, it was a great film. I just don’t think it lived up to the hype. However, I am more interested in the technical aspects of this film.

After watching this movie I became fascinated with Hitchcock’s use of the dolly zoom. This was not my first time to view a dolly zoom. They are everywhere today. However, Vertigo is one of the first major examples of this camera technique and, because I had a slight headache while watching the film, Hitchcock’s dolly zooms elicited a strong emotional response from myself. A quick note on how the dolly zoom works: a camera is moved toward or away from a fixed object while the zoom lens is changed in order the keep the field of view around the object the same. This creates the perception that the background is changing in scale. Besides being an interesting effect, the dolly zoom, most importantly, plays an integral role (particularly in Vertigo) in enveloping the audience with the emotions of the character. Throughout the first long, uneventful half of the movie the audience has little insight as to Scottie’s mental state, besides the first dolly zoom where he is hanging from the roof.  All we know is that he has vertigo brought on by his acrophobia, which is a sensation many of us have likely never experienced. The movie takes a turn for the better after Madeleine dies, because the audience is allowed into the mind of Scottie. First, during the scene where Madeleine dies we get our first glimpse of the famous stairwell dolly zoom. Not only does this take the audience back to the opening scene, it unsettles the audience, making them feel as if they are in Scottie’s position. Essentially, it evokes a stronger fear response from the audience (not today’s audience, but imagine an audience that has never seen this type of technique. It would be slightly frightening). From here Hitchcock uses a dream sequence (above ^ image, click image for gif, please. Unless you want me to post the gif straight on the blog, which may produce headaches) that brings the audience even further into Scottie’s troubled mind. But, more importantly there is a return to the stairwell dolly zoom during “Madeleine’s” second death. The dolly zoom does not seem more important than many of the other techniques of the film. However, the dolly zoom’s primary function is to manipulate the secondary images while the primary image remains to scale. This is precisely what is going on with Scottie. Scottie is our fixed object and the background images that make up his life are constantly being manipulated and warped. Because everything in Scottie’s life becomes warped, he struggles to bring the “images” back to scale, or reality (recreating Madeleine and redoing her death), but this only warps his life, his “reality.” Scottie succumbs to his own dolly zoom and begins to believe the warped images are “reality,” which forces him to neglect the foreground object, or actual “reality.” The dolly zoom shows how Scottie’s acrophobia warps his perception of heights, but it also shows that this perceptional distortion also exist within all aspects of Scottie’s “reality.”

In the end, everything is about perception and it is up to us to distinguish between what images make up the foreground and background of our lives. As well as, which of these images are a manipulated “reality” and which are “real.” In a time of simulated everything, it is becoming harder for us to distinguish the “real” from the simulated. In a sense, the world as we know it will always be represented as a dolly zoom, which forces us to question our entire existence or at least the “reality” of our existence. (last image is also a gif, please click)

A Tyler of Our Own

First things first, a small mental miscommunication caused this entry to be posted  late. My apologies.

Moving on. Hasn’t everyone looked in the mirror before and seen his or herself? Not their reflection. Rather, a separate tangible double of his or herself. A self, often referred to as a doppelgänger, which resembles them, but appears to represent the darker side of the individual. Besides How I Met Your Mother, which is more of a comic representation of doppelgängers, Fight Club exists as a salient example of doppelgängerdom.

Like most people, I have seen Fight Club several times and each time I watch the film I am reminded of the doppelgänger phenomenon. However, upon re-watching Fight Club this past week I came to view the movie in a new light. Maybe it was the Vardoulakis article; maybe it was something else ( it was likely the Vardoulakis article), but I began to look past Fight Club as a film about the doppelgänger of our beloved “Jack.” In fact, I now see the entire film as a doppelgänger to our “reality.” The world we traverse. This may seem a little far-fetched, but after careful examination I believe that this has merit. Who is our protagonist? No one? On the contrary, he is everyone. He may as well be named Jack Everyman. “Jack” represents a generation of consumers; a group of people who’s lives are nothing more than a figure.

However, this is not how most of these people would view his or herself. Many of these people would believe that this is exactly how their life is supposed to be and not be overly depressed about it, but I can only speculate. “Jack” is everyone’s doppelgänger and, because the audience is viewing this film from the perspective of “Jack,” the representation is far from “reality,” but close enough that the film itself is a doppelgänger of our “real” world. Not a realistic view of “reality,” but the “evil twin” of the world. In a sense, Fight Club provides a slightly tweaked mirror view of the world. We can gaze into the frame of the film and see glimpses that remind us of our world, but it is a world that is vastly different characteristically than ours. It reminds us of our own world, because “Jack” exhibits feelings and emotions that are present in most of us, but at the same time these feelings are taken to extremes that are rarely seen in our world. If the events of Fight Club are juxtaposed against our own reality, then the movie can be seen as a warning against the lose of identity in a consumer driven world. The fact that the film serves as a warning fits the doppelgänger motif perfectly, because, historically, when a subject happens to gaze upon their doppelgänger, as we have done with Fight Club, it becomes a “death sentence.” However, it is not my opinion that the film is condemning our societal souls to death by loss of meaning and agency. The film is merely a prophecy of death. Prophecies do not always come true, but without intervention they become more true as time passes. Therefore, Fight Club is our Tyler. As Tyler awakens “Jack,” the film must awaken us and force us to be aware of our existence within society.

Silent Expression

It seems a little sad that our culture is not longer terrified by subtlety. We require lavish special effects and gratuitous amounts of blood and gore to be horrified and entertained. At the same time, gobs of dialogue is required to make a film interesting. I was recently reminded of our modern cinematic prerequisites while watching the classic horror film Nosferatu, which exhibits nothing close to what we call cinema today. I understand that there is a vast technological gap between films of the early twentieth century and today. However, beauty will forever lie in cinematic simplicity. In its day Nosferatu instilled terror not with elaborate effects, but with elaborate imagination. The audience may not have been fully aware at that point in history with what exactly Count Orlok is, which only adds to the illusion. Count Orlok represents more than a visual terror. He embodies the worst attributes of humanity. Where ever he goes death, disease, and decay are certain to follow, but how is this translated on screen? Orlok’s physical attributes are far from human. He movements are stiff. When he enters a doorway it is as if he is a statue, which has inhabited that particular space for centuries. He is the antithesis to humanity. To add to the terror of Orlok, the entire film casts an eerie hue. The long shots of dusk, the castle in the darkness, and the depictions of solitude all force the audience to explore the recesses of the shadow world and acknowledge Orlok-like being’s possible existence. Few films today have the ability to play on the imagination, because they have become bogged down with complexity. The most terrifying aspect of humanity exists within one’s own mind and when cinema plays on the fears that exist within the imagination, as Nosferatu does, true horror is revealed.

Reality’s Shadow

The creature lurks in the dark. It is watching. It is waiting. The mere thought of its existence chills you to the core. The only problem is that it does not exist. Whether it is from the millenniums humanity spent in darkness, or some other factor, people have always been fascinated with the possible terrors that lurk in the shadows of reality. Within the last twenty or thirty years interest in vampires has led filmmakers and novelists to tell and retell the vampire narrative. Interest in the reality of vampires culminates in the film Shadow of the Vampire (2000). What better way of exploring the vampire genre than by adding to the mystique of the original vampire horror film, Nosferatu (1921), and filling the void of its production’s shadow. Shadow of the Vampire is not the typical vampire story. The film takes true events and fictionalizes them in such a way that the original events can no longer be viewed as typical, because the entire production story becomes the vampire story. The dark subject matter of vampires casts a large shadow as does the production of the first vampire film and it is our job to fill that dark void with typical images of “things that go bump in the night.” Of course, Max Schrek was not a vampire, but is it not wonderful to imagine that his vampiric lineage possibly led to all of the major vampire films of the twentieth century. That is, if only every vampire film is about an actual vampire as Shadow of the Vampire alleges of Nosferatu. As much as we would like to think otherwise, there exists a strong desire for there to actually be a monster under the bed or a boogeyman in the closet. Shadow of the Vampire feeds on this desire and provides a story that changes the history of the film that changed the history of vampire horror.