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creature
  • 312354.2046

  • 312348.0758

    Top to bottom: Chou Dynasty Bell (each of the extensions make a different note on striking), Bodhidarma (the blue-eyed Brahmin that discovered the tea plant), Chin Dynasty Seal (showing Taoist spirits in an effort to show allegiances with otherworldy realms), Dragons (of the clouds and the sea), Wish Granting Gem

  • 312336.1338

    Above: A Hopi Kiva's interior screen, with two "Mud People" actors impersonating deities, and puppet serpents that eat ritual corn. Notice the Orabai headress on the left female: it's what Leia's hairstyle is based upon.

    Below: A reproduction of a Shootingway sandpainting, woven for posterity (a western idea of preservation). Notice the milky way's pattern in the night's lower band. A series of white diamonds to the right.

  • 312334.1245

    Paper, printing and binding are killer. Only available as an import.

  • 312334.0521

    “The interesting thing about Star Wars is - and I dont ever really push this very far, because its not really that important - but there's a lot going on there that most people haven't really come to grips with yet. But when they do, they will find its a much more intricately made clock than most people would imagine."
    George Lucas in Vanity Fair

    "My films operate like silent films, the visuals and the music are where the story is." - Lucas

    Lucas in Wired: “[the art is] making the film ‘about’ something other than what it’s really about. Which is what mythology is, and what storytelling has always been about. Art is communicating with people emotionally without the intellectual artifacts of the current situation, and dealing with very emotional issues.”

     

     

    Following this every few weeks will be a series of articles detailing Phantom Menace's visual narrative. Above, the Jedi arrive watching a screen just like the one we're watching in the theater, mashed-up with Winsor McCay's fantasy visual editorial of a massive opera house.

    What if it were evident that children can sense what adults can’t see. What if adults possess a handicap in how they read films, how they assemble the plots of film-storytelling since they depend primarily on what actors say, that dialogue, reliance on spoken word, is specifically a disadvantage in comprehending this series (and other blockbuster films) devoted to a rancorous, deadly pg-war seemingly between good and evil but is actually at second glance much more complex. Phantom Menace and its two follow-ups are detailed illustrations of our Earth's 'human self war,’ a state of political development that we are addicted to, a crisis-conflict as steady as the human heart beat that ensures, or is a by-product of human tribalism. Underneath the sketchy, almost subliminally bland coating that frosts Star Wars Episodes I, II & III, is a probing, visionary, hallucinatory secreting of secrets, symbols (as well as signs, metaphors and allegories): complex storytelling that is completed unconsciously by the viewer, almost strictly through visuals, and is for all practical purposes unrecognized by the audience and characters that inhabit the film (and lay claim to its narrative). Lucas is making films that children perceive more clearly than adults by rendering its actual story entirely through motion imagery.


    The Star Wars Prequel Trilogy ended its run May 2005 and millions of us, believers and non believers alike, lined up to pay homage to Darth Vader and his conversion from the morose Jedi upstart Anakin Skywalker (embodied by dullish hunk Hayden Christiansen). Reviewers slashed the tires of the two first production models and blessed the third. Maybe blessed is going too far, the films all come with reviewer caveats: the Prequel Trilogy employs chilly-stiff acting, plot that runs heavily, couple this with the extensive, hyperaction sequences, the first three episodes seem odd departures from the Original three Star Wars films.  Those were bustling, chaotic, gritty; Episodes IV-VI vibrated with excitable self-discovery, pop-culture found audiences floated through ’77, ’80 and ‘83 summer heat on this mutating blockbuster high, repeating their Star Wars fixes as the first multiplexes began tagging onto malls cross-country. It was Lucas who converted the idea of the 70's blockbuster to mythic from pagan (Spielberg’s Jaws), and rode the wave with intentionally younger and younger audiences. The embodiment, Luke Skywalker, eyes wild with explorer’s mania, seemed pretty-boy thrilled to conquer the Death Star(s). Each pyrotech climax triggered riots of applause. His dad, in his prequel films, gives off a different vibe. Somber. Most adults left the multiplex shaking their heads either in disbelief or in disappointment. For the uninitiated, the films emit a scent of new carpeting; they’re shot in a green screen void leaving the backgrounds to the multi-hundreds of digital modelers and compositers at ILM and the results can be unnervingly perfect. Just go look at battered Threepio as he cons his way through the Death Star in Episode IV, the edge seemed to be missing.  Despite the adult revulsion, the films have filled theaters for the bulk of the summers they’re released, sitting pretty on the all time box office inhalation charts. What's the disconnect between review and result? If you’re convinced something must be going right in the business plan for the PT,  reread Lucas’ quote above. He knows he's built something unusual that an audience can't quite read completely. Strangely confident for films that have been openly ridiculed by adults sitting in his audiences, Lucas even mediates about his actors: “poor Hayden, his performance is great. They just don’t like the character” (or in effect, GET the movie). What is he talking about?

    Blockbuster filmmakers are notorious outsiders to pantheonic art, they appear to be technicians or savvy exploders of mayhem, and Lucas is no exception. He glides under the radar of film-criticism, pretending he’s making candy when the films are really offering 80 course meals. His one ‘art’ film, THX-1138, has been screened repeatedly in global cinecenters, but the Star Wars films, burgeoning with buried treasures for analysis, are left to the mass audience. They’re lowbrow enough to be below the threshold of an adult’s acceptable threshold of artistry. While there have been several biographies of Lucas, there has never been a careful assessment of Lucas’ film manner. He defies it ably, having, like Kubrick, directed in distinctly different genres. A shifting target, he's contorted his films with individual thesauruses, editing rhythms (he co-edited THX-1138, complexly woven from both security camera and film sources), tenses (past, present, future), and even photographic qualities. Taking Lucas on his clock declaration above and looking beyond the perceived flaws in I & II (is the acting manner intentional, is there really a reason they all sound so bored?) a more than cursory, less than total inspection reveals some unusual filmmaking strategies: intentionally dense storytelling that seems to hide an actual plot, paradoxical behaviors from perceived heroes, visuals that echo between imagery both to come and in the film's past. This creates new (for most blockbusters) unseen tensions: colors at war (even differentials between lush color and basic black and white), action vs. inaction, awareness vs. asleep, male vs, female, a symposium of shapes and layers of shapes in a manner of battle for domination, mirrored characters, duplicated characters, mirrored groups, even character behavior patterns all emerge as subtle brushstrokes inside what appears as directorial clumsiness, are these the products of containment or explosion?  Is this the opposite to Kubrick’s austerity but similar to his battleplan in symbolic delivery of film-based philosophic dialogue constructed through visuals?


    The digital effects have changed generational rules. Gone are the constrictions of still frames to employ matte paintings, or the limits of motion-control, or the shrinkage of perspectives with miniatures. Now he has digital rendering and optics, enabling Lucas to ignite his special effects with visions beyond physical lenses, no longer is filmmaking restricted by what light can make way through a glass lens.  In this new age, painterly optics (ideas beyond the physical camera) are now accessible to directors employing computers. Watching the asteroid chase in Attack of the Clones on an IMAX screen and you will see a depth of field, sense of movement and width of scope never before witnessed in optically analogue cinema. And Lucas steals avidly to amp his lush vistas. His are next-gen space arias and epic wars descending from the eyes of Cole, Church, Ingres, Delacroix, Goya, This pressing of rival, descendant styles in two hour running times mean the ability to explore painterly optical tricks is tantamount to a kind of subliminal, visual DJ-ing, the evolutionary move past 'mash-ups,' not necessarily juxtapositional, but something wilder, a comparative progression, a form of language not necessarily different from the ones linguists discuss (from Sapir through Jackendoff), that adds up via visuals.

    These two Trilogies are strange explorations of paths in human cognizance, as metaphors for our experiences on Earth, Star Wars engages in many reflective ideas of humanity that exist here, from class through power structures and their actors: slaves and emperors. They are also companion pieces to the Matrix films (which itself practically borrows a Matrix-like ‘prequel’ from Lucas in THX-1138, even the ethnic-war issue is unusually developed).  Like any myth, the story both underlines and hides intentions. Buried (not so deeply) under both trilogies’ specific moods and flashy surreal ambience (aimed for communing with youngest minds) are complex masterpieces of symbolic imagery and behavior.  This may be difficult to follow but try.  Lucas’ real goals are to unmask humans, to reveal the unconscious manner with which we spread control over each other by illustrating through fantasy the most expansionist power grab by humans over the galaxy (the Republic’s conversion to fascist state). Self-discovery to comprehend the total is available to both audience and character, but rarely either takes notice. One of Lucas’s many goals are to illustrate a symbolic structure to dualism, instigated primarilty by the plot's construction (whose point-of-view we take is subjective at many times).  Star Wars is populated with ‘heroes’ that cannot even 'see' their enemy much less themselves, their behavior, their entitlement, even as members of a religious sect that practices an advanced version of Buddhism, they remain somewhat blind, unaware of their inherent paradox.  Lucas, having immersed himself in mythos, is an adroit strategist of symbols, able to circulate conflict between characters unaware of their role in the story’s vast flowchart.  A Disney without a fear/awe of religion, Lucas wisely weaves paganism/religion and the spawn of warfare, slavery, into the mythology of Star Wars. While Disney kept his paganism mysterious, ethereal, milking evil as a separate, inhuman unknown, dissolved too easily by daybreak, Lucas is much more realistic. His evil breathes, and its even embodied by a temporary vessel: Anakin, allowing the audience to conclude (unconsciously) that we are all dual, two people in one awaiting indoctrination. Forever swaying until we truly comprehend love. Or death.

    To examine the straight line, just peer into Lucas’ films and see they are, at their cores, rich illustrations of societies. Behavior modes, accepted props, uses of speed, love are conditions in this societal balance. Lucas doesn’t simply plot, he creates a world around a story.

    Lucas began making movies in the future. THX-1138 (set in 2187) is an economically unsugared love story, a terse, manic, linear, connect-the-shot collage of glances, screens, noises, voices, POVs, narrated by a voiceover of a chorus of computer voices. His main characters evade a living death by loving. The populous is drugged and white skinned within a nearly monochromatic underground city-state. Blacks are holograms and void citizens that provide entertainment for release and are self described ‘cybernetic’ (in 1972 this word is peculiarly visionary, a hint at future studies of A.I. merged with ethnic war).  This dystopia even employs a phonebooth confessional posing as God, the devolution of HAL: The merging of religion, psychology and mind control is a ‘voice’ of reception; a prompting, elliptically concerned male voice obviously emitting from a central computer menu, it replies “can you be more - specific?” when stumped by human irrationality. An escape from this nightmare is required by any hero. Crucially, great height and high-speed, values essential to the Lucas language, are optically blended by a right angle, a low-cost special effect.  THX escapes first by driving madly through tunnels and then climbing what appears to be a massively deep shaft (the right angle shift makes it deep: the shaft was filmed in the unopened Bart Subway tunnels, the climbing is a physical acting sleight of hand). Later witness depth and speed values endlessly duplicated in the Star Wars Trilogies (and the role it later plays as a value: watch Obi-Wan glance for a second at the shaft around the Tractor Beam control, this momentary pause for a character of great confidence gives the effect its power).  THX was mostly panned.  Its palette rarely moved beyond white, green and atomic yellow with occasional forays into darkness.  The ending is a perfect sentence ending period: the sun setting, the protagonist having fought his way to the earth’s surface, stares at his new source of life. 

    His second film, American Graffiti, begins in the glow of the setting sun that ended THX.  Teenagers on the verge of adulthood are all challenged to make their first decisions with consequences over an entire evening (and Lucas allows them corollary mayhem both onscreen and post credits).  Lucas is warning how good this paradise is, and how temporary it will seem from any point in the future (Graffiti is set in 1962 written from his 1973 vantage, if you search for other films with such a short distance between vintage and sentiment, you can see how difficult the social subtleties are to achieve). His characters choose to convert the night into an adventure to play autocratically with desire, love, fate, law, responsibility, value, and ultimately: speed. The film ends with a drag race and the summary, now copied/parodied coda, shows a plane taking off into the blue of dawn, the engine’s hum drowning out all noise as the characters face a future much less wonderful than the night that just ended.  The main character Curt, one of four characters closest to Lucas’ self, speeds to college (achieving a speed the fastest character, drag racer Milner, can never hope to reach earthbound, Lucas subtly shows the plane's POV overtaking Suzanne Somers's mythic white T-Bird, get the joke? Curt's the one in the real T-Bird).

    Star Wars: A New Hope continues Curt’s flight and begins above a planet. It introduces the audience to a story about good and evil, introduced through black and white (the Blockade Runner’s corridor, the Stormtroopers, Leia, Vader) and then evolves our relationship with this obviously flawed simplicity.  Luke’s consciousness of good and evil stems entirely from his discovery of who is father actually is (two personas, one body). Unlike this basic point in the civil war, when good has a chance to defeat evil (temporarily), the later and earlier films on the timeline eschew this black and white mentality and weave wars in full color, where these values are more complexly hidden. There are heroes on both sides, evil is everywhere is the key sentence.

    Star Wars is an allegorical title, taken literally it refers to an ideal of war, the ultimate weapon itself a Death Star, which rains doom on any solar system. It is the opposite of a sun, a dual counterpart, its inversion, cold, dark, contained, focused. This war it seems is the creation of only one of the galaxy’s citizens: Humans, even though it is fought with and among other sentient beings, humans seem to be both instigator (Emperor: Palpatine/Sidious) and victorious soldiers (Clones). Language is used by Lucas to creatively illustrate allegiance to the ‘human’ way, just listen to who has learned English and why. The Trade Federationists speak English even among themselves, ie: they are slaves of humans, all of Star Wars’ plots seems to emanate from one system, Coruscant, a planet that is one vast city (a geo cyborg-Death Star prototype), all orchestrated around a gigantic Congress of the Republic (modeled on the Mothership from Close Encounters, a kind of frozen, stillborn Death Star trying to reach into space).  It appears humans rule this planet, its political tool, its enforcement arm (the Jedi), and now rule the galaxy by selling the other systems democracy (and its language-tool, English), which in turn rules mobility, value, taxes, law etc. A metaphor that follows from here on Earth. The assurance of law is under the thumb of the Jedi, a brown-clad priest-like group that are dominated by humans and populated multi-specie and apparently are the guardians of 'peace.' In a colorful world, brown is a middle value between white and black. Study the movement of symbolic objects throughout the PT and you'll notice a centerline: the Trade Federation control ship (pictured below), Coruscant, The Congress and a few other large-scale spheres all emerge as sources of the penultimate image in Revenge of the Sith: an underway Death Star, lorded over by a person whose undergone his own symbolic transformation, Anakin (into Vader).  It would be pointless to lead the analysis with the first released film, Star Wars IV: A New Hope (though this link guides you to one and it details the meanings and origins of Star Wars), since once completed the trilogies will be logically viewed in numbered sequence.  It is important to remember that you have forgotten most of the details you are about to read.  Although this is a linear analysis, there is copious overlapping and jumping, the film is made of multiple planes specifically in terms of its symbolic forms.

     

    Above, the fleeing Blockade Runner opening of Episode IV (1977) is inverted as Phantom Menace opens with a too-similar ship approaching a blockade. Lucas spends considerable time mirroring and contrasting his trilogies as if they are eerily both the same and opposites. A continuous hidden visual marvel that tells its own story while reflecting another. To look further: the Republic's Jedi face a screen the same ratio as ours, and like us, they are its audience. Rectangular. The ship and the forms behind the Trade Federationists are curved, a 'first-stage' to the Death Star. A sphere with a ring means many of these ring a planet for its control through blockade.

    To Be Continued (this link will become active when part two is published).

    return to the mstrmnd (b)log

    a sequence of greatest hits from the log

     

  • 312303.1713

    Perhaps the most original character in the Marvel archive is the little understood Howard, who's savage prose and conceptual madhouses mutated per issue. So adult was he perceived, he switched rails into a gray-scale large format to compete directly with MAD, where he died too soon a death. Then came Howard the movie, and despite the mega-budget, dissolved into rigid formula in the form of a special effect.  It was, however, the best idea Lucas ever had after Raiders. Had he pulled off Howard the right way, he could have started a new kind of film only a few years after the breakout in ink, the second generation's greatest superhero was a duck that smoked stogies and always got the girl. And we mean got. He was a talkative duck. The Carter-era was filled with responsive media like Howard: Star Wars, Wizards, Escape From New York, Apocalypse Now, Howard was comic books' answer to the gritty-then-blockbuster 70's.   Action satire that swayed back and forth until the blur never mattered. Raw send-ups of genres and their interiors. Howard is the DEAD opposite of Mickey, and the playbook so to speak knows no end. The smart psychoduck that bluffs and delivers in equal parts. And in terms of the motion: it's the next kind of A meets B action film. It leaves the plateau Inception's stuck on, and dusts off the PG safety harking from Pixar's quality mint.  Done right with satirical lovemaking and lurid, implied gore, pointed physical mayhem, and no in-jokes, not a sly attitude but forward. And you animate it so well it's both photographically 3-D and cel-animated, and that implies a 4th dimension.  Dr. Strangelove meets A Clockwork Orange meets Ratatouille in color widescreen 3-D, amped at this era's speeds, delivery, but darker. much darker (are you laughing at or with Howard, usually both-or you can't tell)  the comedy nobody believes exists until they see it with their own eyes. Let's break out Howard again, George. But this time you have to do it right. Stever Gerber:

    "Howard's world, which would never be depicted visually, was inhabited by other anthropomorphized animals like himself. Like the cartoon worlds of Disney and Warner Brothers, Howard's world probably contained more than one intelligent species. (As Howard was not a vegetarian, I concluded that there must be "lower animals" also in his universe.) Unlike the Disney and Warners worlds, however, Howard's reality was beset with the same plethora of social ills and personal vicissitudes which human beings confront daily. And the same, or similar, laws of nature applied there, too."

    "Look, Howard, the whole town, killed by a projectile at the base"

    "What exactly are you getting at Doc?"

  • 312300.1009

    The most ingenious theory you've never heard of is Susanne Langer's process philosophy. An intellectual descendant of A.N. Whitehead (he was her thesis advisor), Langer blended his views of the mind's power (some of which she later rejected) with myth-symbolist philosophers like Ernst Cassirer, then combined them with advances in the behavioral sciences, cognitive science, neurology, genetics, and evolutionary sciences developed through the second half of the 20th century and arrived at what might be the most articulate view of what DNA and the brain hold dormant for us. Everything. The entire history of our earth's geology and biology may lie hidden in various manners as yet untappable inside its nearly infinite chambers and fluids. Her arguments are compelling and her data ranges from earth science to astronomy to zoology to neuroscience. To sum it up is a pity, it must be experienced to be understood. Although her key text is considered Philosophy in a New Key (and should be read), the true volumes of her revolutionary work are a trilogy called Mind: An Essay on Human Feeling, a strangely titled masterpiece that may have laid the groundwork for the next few centuries' discoveries. The trilogy has been condensed slightly into a single volume now in-print.

  • 312300.0929

  • 312291.0957

    A post industrial-revolution myth, Tolkien's Middle Earth tales are a heavily retrograding lens with which to view his contemporary Great War and its long history looking east (though Tolkien steadfastly denied parallels, as a Lieutenant from the upper-classes he was witness to the horrors of World War I: the wholesale slaughter of his junior warriors). The Lord of the Rings IS a sentimentally hopeful tale of a unified continent. At its core is ethnic warfare that descends from the snowy north that fears the approaching others. A language geek-scholar, J.R.R. retrofitted his long-standing Ottoman enemies into the synthetically simplified lightness/darkness conflict that climaxed in Return of the King. He projects it all into an Iron-age phantasy and amps phenomena into magic. Gone is the Kaiser, the Ducs of France, the Stuarts: he's merged them efficiently along euro-archetypes of nationality into a good side grouping, Elves, Hobbits, "Men" (the middle sized of middle earth), and Dwarves all join the battle. Tolkien seems to be egging on his continental partners, the fight's not here, gentlemen, we are facing a faceless form. An eastern death. Unite against or join their storm. Typed on the U.K.s central island mid-century, the new millenia found us rapt with the film versions of these tales; the Jackson trilogy is the millenium's first billionaire film show, and weirdly, these versions emanate from a vassal of the U.K. found in the east, an island, where they were directed by a man no eastern mythologies have penetrated (as of yet). Jackson's New Zealanded Middle Earth is a direct mapping of English aura, an advancement of Disney's style of grafting, exploded powerfully into WETA's digital construction. These are unusual films in that they eschew paradoxes central to a majority of blockbuster myths. They're played with straight faces and British accents not seen projected this loudly since Lean's Lawrence of Arabia, and as colonial terraforming goes, the WETA Middle-Earth is like a vassal state of N.Z.s, a digital-island underground no doubt millions would travel to see if built physically one day. The most northern form of myth, the LotR are tales POV'd from pre-Christian tree worshippers, fearful pagans that fretted first about Romans and then about Khans. Depending on how you look at it, LotR is a backwards signal now growing backwards: from the north'west' island of England to the south'east' island of New Zealand. But this debate is not about source, it's about meaning. What makes LotR a reckless tool? Its depiction of an evil of eastern origin, showing us the great lengths one must travel to destroy it or face the eventual wasteland (sound familiar?). Myths that grow cosmological widsom are not about destroying a separate, distant evil, they are integrally about evil eventually revealed as a self-value, a father (Vader) or a digital mirror (Agent Smith) or a self. It appears distant but it is you. When we spot evil in LotR it's Jackson's most abstracted moments, the eye is shown miles away. It's inhuman as it remains animate, thinking. Fear without personality.

    Is that now our definition of evil, if a myth alienates the nature of evil, is that evil?

    The smart move was Guillermo del Toro's, avoid the evil. Below is excerpted from Ian Malcolm:

    "Even as a young schoolboy, I couldn't help noticing the uncanny resemblance between the siege of Minas Tirith in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings and the siege of Constantinople. On one side, the beautiful walled city with its ancient nobility and the few adventurers who had come to help in its defence; on the other, evil teeming hordes under a despotic ruler. You had only to look at the map in the end-papers, where the land of Mordor loomed to the east like Asia Minor, to get the point.

    Tolkien even chose the name "Uruk-Hai" for some of his nastiest creations, fighting forces of Sauron who were a cross between orcs and goblins. This was surely borrowed from the "Yuruk", nomadic tribesmen used as auxiliary soldiers by the Ottomans. Few readers would have known that; but most would have got a whiff of something Asiatic here. For one thing Tolkien was outstandingly good at was tapping into the subconscious of our own, European, cultural history."

  • 312286.1004

    Extinct Mammoth tusks were harvested from vast Siberian expanses from skeletons of long ago ice-age hunting. Marketed as ivory, these brittle tusks were sold for maximum sterling by the British. The photo above is of African tusks from hunted elephants. From Verney's Animals in Peril.