Category Archives: Story

Early Review of NBC’s Siberia

TL;DR Review: Tons of great potential, shaky execution, flat first episode, boring characters, intriguing — though very contrived — plot. Will probably flop. But I want to see it be brilliant.

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NBC, on July 1st, is airing the pilot episode of its new summertime series, Siberia. The official press release describes the show thusly:

In 1908, a meteor hit deep into the remote Siberian territory of Tunguska. Now, more than 100 years later, 16 contestants descend on Tunguska unknowing of the land’s mysterious past. When a contestant is badly injured and no help arrives, the contestants are met with the chilling realization that the strange occurrences are not part of the show. With their safety threatened, competing contestants must band together in an effort to survive.

The pilot episode is now streaming on Hulu and NBC.com, and I checked it out today to bring my thoughts to you guys.

My first thought: these people could be a part of the biggest interdimensional cross-rift since the Tunguska blast of 1909! 

Concept:

My second thought: there is tons of potential here. I was caught up in it the moment I saw the first promo spot on NBC. Perhaps I’m biased because I’ve been playing with a number of concepts about the same kind of idea recently, myself (reality television and, well, reality), but this sounded like a wonderful idea.

See it with me? A reality show that breaks down around the contestants, constantly playing with the idea of whether or not what’s happening is indeed reality, or is indeed reality television set up as part of the game. That tension could go a long way in a series such as this. Especially with the introduction of potentially supernatural elements, we further have play over what is “really” happening.

Here, I’m a bit bummed that the studio didn’t try more to treat the presentation of this as actually real. I think that with a concept such as this is not only a chance to play with fundamental concepts of modern-day television, but also with the modern-day audience. I’m a fan of playing with the lines of reality when it comes to storytelling, of involving the audience as deeply as possible. That’s the heart of post-modernism: breaking the barriers of classical storytelling in order to make some thematic use of that breakdown. If it’s seeing the strings and behind the scenes, use it. If it’s destroying conventions to unsettle your viewing experience, do it.

Leak a news story a couple months early about a reality show going terribly wrong where it was filmed in the remote areas of Siberia. Perhaps a shady article about a cast member who died accidentally, and the fallout from that.

Get some hype for the show before it releases. Get some people discussing the ethical components of airing a reality show where it actually becomes strikingly, and graphically, real.

And then when it airs, let the audience hinge for a while before we come to the realization that it’s a scripted show.

Unfortunately, with most of the press on Siberia, many articles and blogs are quick to jump on emphasizing and underscoring the fact that it’s scripted. In less of a way that’s about reassuring their audiences (which would be missing the point entirely, as I see it), but in a way of chest-thumping: “Ha! Hollywood didn’t fool me with another Blair Witch! I knew all along it wasn’t real! It’s so not real! Ha!” Which feels childish.

Execution:

That aside, the pilot episode itself was a bit dry. I can’t really stand reality competition shows because they feel phony, it’s hard to find likable characters, and the over-produced nature just feels like that fake sugar coating that reeks of distrust. Siberia keeps that sugar-coated feel here, with that kind of Apprenticeesque crescendoed music and the perfectly-staged interview setups. I’d have liked for a bit more of a gritty feel. The candy got too sweet. And making it through the first episode was a bit of work, because I just didn’t care.

That said, I think the show needed to start this way. It needed to get itself grounded in the reality feel. It needed to hit all the mindless reality show tropes that characterize the genre. It didn’t make it much fun, but it all needed to happen.

It’s in the second episode of the show where the real potential will start to unfold. The plot takes off slowly in the pilot, but when it does, it’s compelling and holds my interest. I can only see that such plot will unravel more and more in future episodes. Which makes me want to stay.

This quote, from the producers, also intriques me:

“The concept of survival, when mysterious elements are at play, makes for a compelling show,” said Jeff Bader, President, Program Planning, Strategy and Research for NBC Entertainment. “We believe a scripted series that offers an insightful behind-the-scenes view of how a reality concept comes together – especially when things don’t go according to plan – will connect with our audience in a very satisfying way.”

Lost

Before getting to the good stuff in this quote, I have to talk about Lost. Everyone who knows TV is going to compare this show to Lost. It’s a bunch of stranded people in the middle of nowhere, trying to survive, who begin to interact with mysterious elements (particularly seemingly-large beasts who make lots of noise in the night while everyone huddles around a campfire — familiar?). Indeed, those who really know Lost even know that it’s the same as the original concept for Lost, that of a survivor-type reality show going off the wheels when it comes into contact with mysterious forces.

But this doesn’t bother me. I think that Lost was a different show, with different goals, and a different endgame. However, the one real comparison to Lost here will come in Siberia‘s vision and characterization. What made Lost strong was in making friends with the characters, and trusting the mystery (when we could). We need that here too, or Siberia will fizzle. So far, I’m not seeing much of the characterization yet.

What I am seeing, though, is a feeling of real people in a situation. And that’s important. Playing with the mysterious and possibly supernatural in a way that demands a re-envisioning of both reality, and television, for both the characters and the audience, is very good for dramatic and thematic tension.

There’s always a kind of separation in supernatural horror movies because you know it’s fake. You know, with every camera-shot, that there are people behind the camera. Horror movies try their absolute hardest to make you forget about the cameras and engage with the story. That’s the goal of most classical cinema: to have a good emotional experience.

But Siberia sets itself up to go beyond this classical experience of television. It sets itself up as a way of breaking that fourth wall between the audience and the film. It tries to go to the heart of the experience (the way that Blair Witch Project and the found-footage genre that followed do), in a way that makes it real for the audience.

This is why I was immediately disappointed that the studio couldn’t slip this one secretly in as being more real than we’ve already learned that it is. If they could have, they would have had an even greater play with audience’s experience of the real thrills. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that this was the first and biggest opportunity to recreate the Blair Witch experience here, fifteen years later. It’s already been done in the movies. We’ve already had the experience of a fast-one pulled. But on television? Television is changing so fast that this types of storytelling can still be pulled on us if done properly. And here, it wasn’t. Worse, given that this is the first time this concept will be truly novel, we may never see such an opportunity again.

But away from that, I want to point out what an incredibly difficult task it is to play this line of reality and experience for the audience. We have to trust the actors more. We have to trust the filmmakers to give us both an immersive experience, but also a believably real one, a balance that — if you’ve ever compared novel-dialogue to real-life-dialogue, you know is hard to strike.

But that’s what the show promises. And that’s the bar that it’s set for itself. The comment Bader makes, above, also gives me hope, in that, as they move the cameras back to show the strings of the reality show, they fully embrace showing that behind-the-scenes element that would be so compelling for audiences. The moment at the end of the Siberia pilot — when the producers and other camera guys dragged off the injured camera-man — that immediately captured my interest, and not just because I’ve been on reality television before, where seeing behind the scenes is refreshing. I think the television-watching audience at home wants to see that too. We want something fresh. We want to trust the show by the show trusting us.

The same way that Syfy’s Ghost Hunters got a feel of deeper reality when the normally-very-skeptical camera guys would interrupt with experiences, here, we trust stepping back and showing the strings, because that’s when the audience feels that they’re on the same page with the show, when the show recognizes that it’s a show.

This, in addition to Bader’s promises that this will not only be a behind the scenes look at the making of reality television, but also in the process of executing a concept, we could be in for a meta-aware, metaphysical, thrill-loaded treat.

Given the nature of network television today, I can’t expect that kind of execution. But I can hope for it.

Siberia premieres July 1st on NBC at 10pm EST.

Karl Pfeiffer won the first season of Ghost Hunters Academy and went on to work with the Ghost Hunters International team. He’s the author of the novel Hallowtide, writes for the TAPS Paramagazine and Paranormal Pop Culture Blog, works with investigative teams across Colorado, lectures across America, and leads the public ghost hunts at the Stanley Hotel. More can be found at www.KarlPfeiffer.com

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Man of Steel: Why and How It Fell Apart

So let’s talk some Supes.

I’m going to split this blog into two parts: The quickie review. And the discussion. It’s best if you’ve seen the movie before reading the discussion.

Quickie review:

A thoughtful, fully realized, emotionally powerful, beautiful film that continues to get itself run over by trying to outdo the action and destruction in the Avengers. That said, if you’re not particularly concerned about the emotional and intellectual powerhouse that the movie tries and fails at being, it’s still a BIG, action-packed, beautifully filmed summer blockbuster that finally does Superman right.

I loved Henry Cavill. I loved the way that it at times felt like an alien invasion movie instead of a superhero movie. I loved the beautiful moments.

Like everyone else, if you dig epic action movies; go see it.

But I have to agree with the critics. This movie, despite its list of successes, still fell apart in every emotional and intellectual way it could.

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Let’s talk about this trailer first.

This first trailer was everything that was working for Man of Steel on the most beautiful and emotionally-driving level. Every time the movie went to one of these moments, it was easily the strongest part of the movie. What was working here was on the thematic level. With the help of Christopher Nolan (who worked on the story with David Goyer. Goyer then went on to pen the screenplay), we have again the Batman effect that made the Dark Knight Trilogy (emphasis on the second installment) so brilliant.

This effect is not, I need to point out, the dark and gritty nature of the superhero movie. The effect is infusing the emotional and intellectual themes of the movie into the very characters themselves. (FilmCritHulk discusses this idea–and how the modern blockbusters are failing at this–far more in depth in his recent review of Star Trek: Into Darkness over at Badass Digest, which I’ll be drawing on as I consider Man of Steel. Read it. It’s astounding).

The fully realized and beautiful nature of the Man of Steel was in the way that Nolan and Goyer decided to hone in on Superman as an outcast, as a god-like power who can either be accepted as one of the people or taken away, studied, treated as, well, alien. This point, to be sure, was browbeating us for the entire movie. The overt nature of it did detract, but I still adore thoughtful and thematic movies, so I was willing to let my suspension of critique go for a bit longer.

But the problems come in the manifestation of these themes. What worked for The Dark Knight was in how the very essence of Batman infused his every action. His dramatic and emotional dilemmas came from his thematic and moral stance. And his nemesis, the Joker, stood for the exact opposite, locking them in a morally and thematic tension throughout the movie.

Here though, with Man of Steel, these themes that are stood for are lacking in follow-through. Do we ever see a moment in this film in which Superman must make a decision? Even his decision to turn himself in to the government and General Zod was so underplayed it didn’t even seem to be very important, despite the entire thematic build-up of the first act depending on it. How will the world accept him? Will they reject him or throw him to the dogs?

Um. We’re not really even sure. The only perspectives we get are Lois Lane’s and the occasional high ranking military official. For the entire dramatic tension of the first act, the brilliance underlying Superman’s very character, it’s forgotten, completely overwhelmed by threading General Zod’s plot in to make some sense of the epic destruction to come later.

My biggest letdown keeps coming around and around again to the execution. The themes were there (to which I suspect we have Christopher Nolan to thank). But after that… the script falls apart in the second act. And the filmography?

Director Zack Snyder is a man who loves beautiful filmography on the most epic of scales. And it’s his working of the camera that makes this movie so heartbreaking. In the scenes where we settle down, where we study Clark at his moments of insecurity and confusion, the film work is beautiful. Cranking in with the shallow depth of field and the sunset studies and the way the water crashes and the Alaskan lighting. It was perfection.

It was perfection in every sense. The dialogue was loaded with thematic and philosophical questions that spoke to the heart of our character’s natures: consider Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner) in his encouraging of Clark to make the hard decisions to protect himself as an outsider. (Terrible advice, but deeply consequential and realized). The way the characters were driven by these motivations was genuine and tragic. The moment where Jonathan holds his hand up to Clark to keep him back was a true success. It was when inaction in the most tragic of way was met with the deepest emotional drives of a person. That’s dramatic movie-making on an EPIC scale.

Not crashing through buildings.

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But it seems that these moments were rushed through as quickly as possible to get to the action, especially being presented as snappy flashbacks.

People who love a great action film will disagree with me that this movie fell apart here because, for them, this film was crescendoing.

But seriously. After the flashbacks and the character building seemed to be enough, Superman slapped on the cape and it was all wonton destruction and action footage and how hard two aliens can hit each other. The entire movie got lost in watching Superman rip through skyscrapers.

The core heart of this movie (the emotional tenderness of an alien individual protecting a society he loves, who has rejected him even before he’s revealed himself) is utterly eclipsed by useless, meaningless violence. Now, we can consider the violence as meaningful. These are two GODS fighting it out, right? Humanity will see Superman as a God. That dynamic, of sharing in the human condition and being godlike? That’s equally as ripe and easily piggy-backs off the themes of acceptance discussed earlier. And what a wonderful presentation of this nature of these two gods clashing it out if not with violence so BIG that it dwarfs humanity below it.

Which I’d be on board about, except, well. It went so big that it forgot about humanity at all. The only glimpse we get is Perry White running about down below.

Not to mention, the emotional core of this movie–how much Superman should or shouldn’t care about these people–is totally forgotten as we watch him angrily hurl himself and General Zod through skyscrapers for thirty minutes, killing unknown hundreds–if not thousands–if not hundreds of thousands–in a matter of minutes. And Supes barely bats an eyelash at this until Goyer remembers to put another nod at the end to his human struggles as Supes tries to keep Zod from lazer-eye-cooking a couple folks at a museum.

Now, the scream that followed: oh, that scream was perfect. But so brief. And so overlooked. In that scream, his frustration and his sorrow at the loss and the destruction, his realization of never being included even as he’s the savior, it was all there. But all tacked on. Hardly an afterthought. And it was rushed to get to a moment of romance with Lois Lane (which, let’s be honest. Where did that come from? Love at first sight? They had no back story together. I couldn’t believe any of their romantic moments).

But what most astounded me was the utter obliviousness Snyder as a filmmaker had to the very imagery he was working with. It doesn’t even seem to occur to him that he’s dealing with imagery that’s DIRECTLY the deepest and most culturally resonant for our generation of Americans (if not many other places in the world): the image of the burning buildings toppling.

9/11 was the most horrific thing our country has experienced in half a century, and that was in watching only two buildings burn and finally topple.

The work that can be drawn upon from such a simple image as that, for a filmmaker, should be rich. To take such a simple image and play with what that means to our hero and the cultural zeitgeist. But it’s as if Snyder and the writers said, oh, 9/11, that’s SO ten years ago. Let’s bring down the fucking city

Was it only a few short years ago that masterpiece The Dark Knight made us care about two ferries full of people on a harbor?

In Man of Steel, the destruction was on levels so vast, so mindless, that there was never a moment in which the movie stopped and considered the horror of what was happening. Perry (Fishbourne) was running around, covered in white dust–imagery so resonant that it was hard for me to watch at times–and what does the film do with this image? Nothing, really. They outrun falling buildings and get lucky. There was no emotional resonance there at all.

It was borderline sickening. To so obviously take these images and then give zero consideration to where they came from and what that MEANS is a disgrace.

But let me back up from my rant.

It’s a superhero movies. Stuff blows up. Destruction happens. Somebody had to go bigger than the Avengers, right?

Fine. I’ll let that go, given its genre.

But what bothers me most in terms of filmmaking was that the movie utterly lost itself in such meaningless destruction. It could have worked. If Supes had for more than a second considered the damage. If he’d looked out on the destruction and been overwhelmed by what happened–or worse! that it in many ways ties was because of his very existence–if he’d for a moment had some kind of choice, or realization, or emotional experience other than the one scream, far too late and far too overlooked, I’d have felt more satisfied with the destruction.

To think what could have been done, too. The themes were there. The plot was there. To give Superman a true decision, to encapsulate this idea of saving the very people who rejected him all his life, to put him in a position of godlike power over the people who might not even deserve salvation… I’d argue that such a decision was what the entire movie was building to. And the fact that they overlook this? 

Lazy filmmaking.

Superman just hugs Lois and knocks a drone out of the sky with a chuckle, in a cheap play on recent headlines.

Superman went through a change in this movie. He started as a child who couldn’t handle himself in the world. He couldn’t handle himself against bullies and those who were cruel. And then he went to Alaska, learned of more bullies, and somewhere in between there and putting the suit on, he became peaceful and confident and Zen. He had a journey up there, and it was the truest heart of the movie, and we skipped it. It was about finding his place in the world. But the revelation was that he found his place on another world. How he came to find his place on our own? That was the other core of the movie. And it, too, was utterly overlooked.

I don’t want another Batman Begins. But if we’re rebooting Superman with an origin story, I’ll tell you what: THAT was the story. That change. That need to find his place? That was the heart of this film. And they let it go.

Would it have been so bad–would it have been rejected by audiences–to have in Superman’s origin movie his very enemy being mankind itself? And his victory over it, instead of tearing down buildings, in becoming accepted as the symbol of the truest essence of humanity?

What dialogue! What emotion. What ripeness!

But no. We needed to blow shit up.

SO:

Even as the dust clears on my own rant, I don’t want to hate on this movie. I said the b-word. I called this movie beautiful, and even amidst the clunky, rushed, convoluted pacing of the first half, the beautiful moments were deeply so and spoke to the heart of the film, and that’s more depth than most superhero movies ever achieve.

It just so utterly lost itself in a way that went so big, it squashed the very premise of the movie entirely.

Now, that all said, they finally did Superman right.

Henry Cavill was a WONDERFUL Superman. He stood for everything he was supposed to stand for and didn’t make it cheesy. He was sexy and confident and symbolic and Superman. (And he looked like the perfect Hollywood-levelling-up of Tom Welling–anybody with me on this?)

After the movie, there was a smattering of applause. I very intentionally didn’t join in. But I was glad that there was applause.

If you haven’t seen the movie yet, but you made it this far, go see it. You’ll probably like it. Just don’t think too much.

B-

Karl Pfeiffer won the first season of Ghost Hunters Academy and went on to work with the Ghost Hunters International team. He’s the author of the novel Hallowtide, writes for the TAPS Paramagazine and Paranormal Pop Culture Blog, works with investigative teams across Colorado, lectures across America, and leads the public ghost hunts at the Stanley Hotel. More can be found at www.KarlPfeiffer.com

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Where American Horror Story S2 Went Wrong and Why it Was BRILLIANT

American Horror Story. Season two. Four months later.

I’m happy to say my hopes for this season were for the most part absolutely executed.

What it had going for it again was a brilliant season of discussion about hard modern American issues, everything from religion to the handling of mental patients, to the way we look at people with mental disorders. To issues like abortion and women’s rights and the role of women in society.

The show handles these issues with extremity and the kind of “othering” perspective gained by the horror lens that allows examination of different sides of these issues. Without being too spoilery, take for example, the instance of rape by a derranged serial killer. Is that an okay situation for an abortion? Or on the other hand, as the show demonstrates, what if choosing to do the “right” thing, keeping the baby to avoid more death, winds up turing on its head. By putting emphasis on nature instead of nurture, by studying this idea of essential evil, the show suggests that maybe even in the instance of doing the “right thing”, not the right thing happens.

That’s the real depth of post-modern, horror storytelling: turning issues on their heads, considering things differently and extremely and forcing you to think.

The season played with beautiful dynamics between monsters (traditionally embodying the deeper “American” horrors of the series rather than the purely grotesque ones). Here we have represented: religion and whether there can be such a situation as purity of the human being, and equally the ideas of pure evil in a human being; science as a method of salvation and destruction, embodied in the Aliens, used toward the end (the white light) to contrast the work of religion (the shadows); the masculine, represented by the serial killer Bloody Face, the idea of paternity and motherhood, of power of women, sexuality, and what that means to society.

Studying the play of these ideas is absolutely what makes American Horror story one of the most brilliant shows on television. AHS is the bar I set when I walk into a horror movie.

Now, this season did have some flaws.  I actually stopped watching for a number of weeks because I wasn’t into it. The season felt early on as if it bit off more than it could chew. Throwing in mental patients with deranged killers, with monsters, with aliens, and possession. It was too much. Tack on the upping of the more extreme camera work, action too fast paced to milk the scares, the level of in-your-face gore and horror — it felt that the writers had lost their way from the thematic hearts of the show.

But I returned, watched the rest of the season in two sittings, and was blown away by the end. The threads were brought together, thematically and practically balancing each other out, to arrive at a cohesive whole.

And, upon reflection, the cons wound up supporting the real positive work of the show.

Though the link from the aliens to the demonic wasn’t particularly elaborated on in terms of practicality (a la that god-awfully executed but brilliantly realized Fourth Kind), it was there subtextually and thematically. Aliens as scientific advancement. Religion as archaic advancement. Nazis somewhere in between. The dialogue throughout between the three.

One of my early problems with the season was the real claustrophobic feel. Creators would likely say they were going for that. It’s the idea of an Asylum. You’re cut off from the world. You don’t have a lot of freedom. It should be claustrophobic. They might say then my reaction was a sign of successful execution, where I felt it had more of a feel of being fake.

But this idea of fakery brings up a fascinating angle on it. This idea of what is real and not real. Of Camp. In storytelling, Camp as a genre, or style, is where you can see the strings, where you can see behind the scenes, where you have “reality” immediately presented to you, and you know to some extent what is not real. This places emphasis on what is more important: what’s real: Emotions; Story; Theme.

So in this case, that element of Camp that was played up more this season than last season, worked. I’m more of a fan of uber realism, myself. But here, whether intended or not, it was successful. The whole season we wind up questioning these ideas of reality: what’s real, what’s not real. Right down to the set-work and camera work.

The constant Dutch angles were a little much for me, but they contributed to that over-the-top style of horror that American Horror Story doesn’t shy from. That idea of Camp storytelling and essentially this in-your-face horror, where we’re not afraid necessarily to show the monsters we’ve made. We’re almost proud of them. We like to put them in your face, we want to talk about these issues. The hard issues.

That’s America.

And that I think is crucial and essential American Horror. And it wraps up the real success, even in what I didn’t like about it, for season two of American Horror Story.

Karl Pfeiffer is a writer, ghost hunter, and blogger/vlogger. He won the first season of the pilot reality series Ghost Hunters Academy, and went on to work with the Ghost Hunters International team on the same network. Since then he’s lead the weekend ghost hunts at the Stanley Hotel, studied religion and writing at Colorado State University, and published his first novel, Hallowtide, in October of 2012. More can be found at www.KarlPfeiffer.com

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What’s Wrong With This Place (part 1 of 4)

Read this article today http://www.aikenstandard.com/story/0315Followup-with-school–3862406 over at the Aiken Standard.

Not sure how many of you are familiar with the young adult novel, Ender’s Game, but it’s, in a word, fucking brilliant. (Two words. Sue me). About a kid who was genetically engineered to be a genius, taken from his home to live in a space station and learn how to become one of the greater military commanders of all time.

It’s a book about finding a deep inner will and strength of character when the entire world is out to break you. It’s about cleverness and leadership– in fact, I often argue, it’s THE book on leadership. Hands down, your one stop shop.

Many would disagree with me, finding it difficult to read about children treated in such a way, and that it’s not leadership but barbarism. A debate not for my blog, but I find it wonderful, and at least intellectually enriching.

So I read this article, which has a teacher being investigated by the police and the school board in South Carolina for reading parts of this book to his middle school class.

I’m appalled. This is ridiculous, and speaks not only to the way the school system has been forced to tiptoe around every single word they teach our kids, but in the way that we’re raising our kids to begin with.

They called this book pornography, which are concerned adult-types most favorite buzz-word. Pornography is explicit description of sexual organs or activity DESIGNED TO TITILATE. There are no sex scenes in Ender’s Game. Children run around naked, SO WHAT?

(This post is going to spawn a series of blogs this week, blogs that have demanded to be written and might now see the light of day, and I’ll link them here as I go, if you’re reading this later. But this goes back to these bigger issues of American’s terror about nudity, the way we’re coddling our children and not letting them grow any toughness at all, and the problem with our public school system)

I give you John Green, famous children’s novelist, on a similar situation of his book a few years ago:

We’re conflating minuscule and overblown issues here to instead ban books, and not only regular paper and glue books, but BRILLIANT books too, that teach our children how to be strong in this painful place that is our world. And that’s so inappropriate, it’s deeply offensive to me.

More to come on Saturday.

From the Supernatural to Storytelling?

Tuesday. Need to blog. Just wrote five thousand words through the big climax of Hallowtide and am le tired. But I wanted to get a blog up.

And I thought, I tell people all the time in vague and mysterious (and usually sexy) tangents about how my two biggest passions, the supernatural and storytelling go hand in hand (Yep. Super sexy, that), and I never wind up accounting for this connection. Naysayers say they go hand in hand because the supernatural is just a bunch of made up stories, but I’ll do you one better.

And I’ll explain it in terms of how I arrange part of my bookshelf. Ready? Ready.

Alright, let’s start with Astrophysics. From that we go to Quantum Theory and to parallel universes to a little bit of science and religion to paranormal technology to ghost hunting to GHOSTS to ghost stories to destructive haunting to possession to interdimensional beings to men in black to aliens to crop circles to astrology and tarot to psychics to meditation and astral projection to mystical experiences to philosophy of mysticism to alchemy to Taoism and Buddhism and Hinduism to philosophy of religion to Christianity to Islam and Judaism to Jungian theory to classical mythology to mythological structures, to Joseph Campbell to (side section here on all my research on Hell), to literary theory to deconstructionist theory to WRITING!, books on writing, how to write better, theory of writing, etcetera. (From there to how to write poetry to poetry to plays to canonical literature to fiction and off to all the directions that fiction will take us)/

Paranormal study is connected beyond events simply being odd, I trace through them and then start to make the link to mysticism, which lies at the heart of religions; the stories of religion are myths (which are not, as is commonly believed, necessarily fictitious; see “a traditional story, esp. one concerning the early history of a people or explaining some natural or social phenomenon, and typically (but not necessarily) involving supernatural beings or events”) and from myths we get into storytelling and writing.

Do you have a satisfying collection of paranormal books or theory of how it all starts to link together? Think mine is bunk? Fill me in down below in the comments:

OMG lit peoples are writing SF

This debate is still happening?

If you’re not familiar, the debate is between highbrow academic types who like to pick out canonical works of realism and call it “literary,” of having intellectual merit, and condemning “genre” work, that of horror, fantasy, and sci-fi as being for the masses, moneymakers whose only purpose is to entertain and is so the work of the lesser folks. Which of course is bullshit, always has been, with many “genre” works defined in the canon as literary (see, Dracula, Frankenstein, 1984, Slaughterhouse Five, and more), and many modern “genre” works serving deep, powerful, intellectual value.

It’s a popular argument amongst we college undergrad types who fell in love with the work through such genres and are now met with academic professor types who belittle the works.

Neil Gaiman tweeted today, pointing me toward an Atlantic article on just this distinction.

He linked to this article here; http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2011/10/how-zombies-and-superheroes-conquered-highbrow-fiction/246847/2/?single_page=true#slide3

In this article a highbrow type expresses his surprise at the success of genre and pats us on the head as intellectuals finally branch into these, apparently once hollow genres waiting for fulfillment by the edumacated.

How Zombies and Superheroes conquered highbrow fiction… they’ve always been there.

In the article Benjamin Percy says that of “the best literary fiction, you see three-dimensional characters, you see exquisite sentences, you see glowing metaphors.”

I believer what we have here is a failure of labels.

Wait, labels failing, I’m so surprised.

Literary fiction is not a genre, it’s a way a text functions; in the best of ANY fiction, you see three-dimensional characters, exquisite sentences, glowing metaphors, and should I go so far as to add, a kind of deep running cultural or philosophical commentary that speaks towards the times and the human race, and our existence as a whole.

Literary fiction is then a success, to which any genre can hold.

We fell into a rut of the eighties and nineties where, at least according the article’s author Joe Fassler, realism hit its stride, echoing Hemingway in the likes of Foster Wallace, and the genre, enjoying it’s literary success, became synonymous with its poor label. It’s not.

The best horror novel can be literary. The best sci-fi novel can be literary. And it’s damn presumptuous to say that “literary novels” can still be literary even if they suck.

I propose a redefining of terms, or even better, to throw these labels out entirely. After all, culturally, there is no literary genre, and never has. You walk into a Barnes and Noble and there is no “literature” section. Wallace is found in fiction. A couple aisles down from King. And both are most excellent.

Art in the Future

Friday night. Felt like blagging.*

Just watched a fascinating documentary (appropriately posted over on YouTube) about the future of art in modern western culture, in the face of this exponential technological revolution, the ease with which art is produced by younger, poorer, less-educated people, and what it all means to a whole slew of writers, filmmakers, artists, and musicians.

You can find the video here;

And about halfway through I got all worked up about some of the pretentious things some of these “artistic types” were saying and had to just say my piece.

Which is to say, though there were many positions taken in the film and many issues brought up, my stance on some of the broader and semi-controversial issues is such:

One, art is about the product, and the communication of that product with the audience. Art is communication, usually of an emotion, and so requires two people: the artist and the audience. Many people disagree with this and point toward art as a kind of internal meditation or cathartic process, which indeed it can be, but that’s not art–What that is is either masturbation or therapy.

Art is telepathy, art is discussing those ideas that run below our material world with signs and symbols that speak toward a conversation bigger than ourselves.

And so art is not about process. Process can seek to add a deeper meaning to a work, but that is only one way of critically studying a piece of art, and should by no means be an exclusive explanation to disregard someone’s art. So whether the song is produced on a computer over the course of a day or in a studio over the course of three months, the art should stand regardless.

Because many young people can now access materials for cheap to make music and film, simply because they have the means and produce does not mean that the quality is in any way lessened.

Though indeed, because now everyone can, a lot more people now think they can. Due to this, there is a plague of mediocrity. But this should prompt, not a blanketing of our culture in “gray goo,” but instead a more critical viewing eye on the part of the audience. Which is what I try to do by, frankly, shredding every new horror movie that arrives in theaters in the desperate hope I’ll see something withstand (a la Black Swan or Perfect Sense). Maybe even as a culture we’re being trained to be too nice, too supportive, too open, coddling what’s not quality art. (This could lead to a rant on bullying, but I’ll leave that to another day).

Though, this also leads to the question of what is bad art? If we as a society lower our collective level of critique and are so rewarded with intellectual, emotional experiences from mediocre productions, is that bad? I think so, because I’ve seen some of the crap hollywood produces, heard the music on the radio, and read some of the fiction circulating and I don’t know how we can engage in any kind of stimulating discourse on the matter.

“I don’t think a young Hitchcock or Scorsese would make it in this business. Slap up their early stuff on Facebook, on YouTube, it would get lost in an ocean of garbage. Remember in 2007, Time Magazine gave the award of best person of the year to you, ourselves, you and I. It’s global masturbation.”

-Andrew Keen (who I kind of disagree with everything he says but love to listen to anyway)

But what is overlooked, it seems, is that good art will always transcend mediocrity. If art is good, it is operating on a level that is there awaiting recognition by anyone so prepared to engage with it, and so long as there is an audience, even of only one, there will be a place for good art. At worst, good art will become again elitist, as was suggested in the film.

As for our definitions changing for what kind of forms art will take in a new digital age, there’s an important difference in how it’s distributed; distribution is politics. It’s economy. It’s industry. That’s not art, and while a fascinating topic of discussion, should not influence our reception of art. As far as art taking new forms, new styles, new genres, and new media, HELL YES. So whether it’s dubstep, or stories told through internet websites, or a movie made through a series of vlog-style videos on youtube, whatever it is, that can be art too; so long as there’s an intellectual and/or emotional discourse that accompanies it.

That’s why, if I may rant, I can’t really stand it when people blanket-hate on dubstep. I’ve seen dubstep music infect audiences more than many other kinds of music during performances. I love it because I, myself, cannot help but move when I listen to it. There’s something powerful there, and that’s what music is all about, isn’t it? Who cares if there aren’t guitars and it’s very beat-heavy? What difference do the mechanics make?

Toward the end of the movie, these producers started making distinctions between performance of a song and a digital mp3 file, or the difference between track-based music culture and record-based. What’s the fucking point of making such distinctions and calling one better than another?

Who the fuck cares if you listen to a song for four minutes through an iPod or a sixteen-track record on your turntable. If it’s a musical experience that we’re lost in, what’s the difference?

Concerts, in the film, were argued to be some kind of future of music, because it’s a more immersive experience than plugging in headphones; which is true in some cases, but to compare one to the other is apples and oranges. When it becomes performance and collective-based, it’s a different genre of art altogether.

My point then comes down to this; art is art. And to get fuddled up in the details about media, process, and what the future might look like, is too often (and quite often, as the movie relays in fascinating fashion) missing the point. After that it’s people afraid of change and too caught up in their own pretentious definitions of “true” art that reject what’s happening on the foundational level.

</rant>

Fascinating excerpt from the film that scares the crap out of me:

What are your thoughts though? If you watch the movie or just read my blog? Is art doomed? Is process important? Am I just too bored on a weekend? Sound off down below.

*”Blagging” see, http://xkcd.com/148/

Woman in Black Review

Has it been so long? That I saw this trailer in the early fall of last year, frustrated at the wait through the winter months? And fittingly so, it was nearly a half hour drive through a couple inches of snow across town to get to the theater. While outside the snow painted Colorado Valentines against the trees, inside was a foggy gothic romance of different variety.

Out with it: I was underwhelmed. But that’s not to say it was bad.

The trailer promised eerie mansions, fog-enshrouded countryside, brambly graves, screaming spirits, candlelight, carriages, and heavy doses of shadows thick enough to part by hand and eeriness like blood in Kubrick doses.

And here you get exactly that. Which is really the biggest problem with the movie; it promises a return to the gothic, that brand of horror that seems so forgotten in favor of possessions, shaky found-footage, gore-fests, and teen death-flicks. But the Gothic alone is not enough–

for me anyway.

Which is to say, it’s great fun. We had a great audience, yelping at all the good parts, laughing afterward, and fully embracing the more lighthearted moments designed to lessen the oppressive mood. The first three quarters of the film is a theme park ride. You get about an hour of Daniel Radcliffe wandering the hallways looking frightened finding nothing behind doors but jump-scares. And oh, the jump scares. Entertaining if you treat all horror movies with the entertainment of Paranormal Activity, but doesn’t the Gothic demand something a bit more subtle? A steady building of dread through setting and mood alone? Rather than gimmicks? Add in a good dose of village people forcing shady conspiratorial looks that quickly turn obvious and you’ve got, well… a ghost flick.

The last half hour finally pulls back the curtain for screaming veiled ladies and dark-eyed children, which are well done. In fact, during one of the more climactic finales, I actually got chills–to which I’m not sure a horror movie has ever done before. Past that it’s a glorified episode from first season Supernatural. 

Anything deeper… there’s interplay between women in black and women in white, touches of the emotion of parenthood and the suffering of losing children and loved ones (a touch at best though; indeed for as much loss as there is in the movie, the director seemed to think the brooding landscape alone was enough emotional study than to really dwell on the drama of what any one of these townsfolk or main characters was going through). There’s cinematography that really only leans on the spectacle of the setting. Even the deeper themes were overt, beating us over the head with ideas of lost souls and hope of reunions beyond the grave.

And then there’s Daniel Radcliffe, who though his acting was decent enough, looks young enough to be only parading pretend in his father’s suit, let alone donning period costume and having four-year old children.

Yeah, it’s another horror film giving horror a mediocre name. Yeah, it’s another film that could have done far more, taking the gothic to a new level for modern audiences, playing heavier with themes or emotions or more intensely on the stresses that Radcliffe’s Kipps undergoes in the struggle to keep hold of his son and sanity in the face of constant mortal reminders.. But all we really get of that is longing looks at hand-drawn calendar pages and clumsy hugs.

If you dig the gothic, you’ll go away satisfied. But if it’s an intellectual wine and chocolate course you’re hoping for, looks like you have to settle for Barefoot and Hershey’s Dark this time.

B-

It was just announced earlier today, yesterday, right now if you’re god, tomorrow if you get distracted when you spill your drink in this first sentence all over your computer, that DC comics is going to be releasing prequel comics for Watchmen. Lots of hype about this, whether it’s awesome because more of a good thing is good, or terrible, or because you’re touching a classic and the author isn’t on board.

Indeed, that’s actually a big downfall for many enthusiasts, because writer Alan Moore is not going to have any hand in the matter, in fact condemning DC for being unoriginal and not coming up with fresh material.

I wanted to point out the overlooked point that it’s a comic book, and many comic series are written and re-written by many authors over the course of sometimes more than fifty years. I still adore Batman even if he’s had some bad books written about him (goddammit Joel Schumacher). And I’ve also never been one to have an original work ruined by a lame sequel (see Boondock Saints and Donnie Darko).

So is this a big deal, should DC make this happen shamelessly? Or is it like writing a prequel story to any “literary” modern classics?

Me? I’m a huge Watchmen fan, I think it’s astounding and brilliant and no, I don’t really care for a prequel, but I don’t really mind that it’s happening.

Who’s Watching DC Comics?

Tucker and Dale Vs. EVIL

Landed myself a copy of Tucker and Dale Vs Evil last night after waiting, excited, for the past month or two. Being a smaller release, it’s going through the less conventional not-quite-wide-release On Demand and limited theater release rounds until its eventual DVD break.

But if you can find it near you, WATCH IT.

If you’ve never heard of the movie and want to go check out the trailer, DON’T. I’ll drop a teaser in here, but I’d recommend avoiding much more. It’s one of the best trailers of the year mind you, but only because it shares the best jokes. Which seems to be a trend lately.

The story revolves around two hillbilly gentlemen, their dream vacation cabin, and eight yuppie college students who, despite their tans, don’t get out of the theater much. I say that in terms of their fashion sense as well as their plot-driving paranoia. What begins as two backwoods guys trying to do a good thing, saving the life of Allison (Katrina Bowden, who steals scenes with looks alone), turns quickly misinterpretatied by the seven others, seeing a stuck in the woods esque nightmare, where bloodthirsty roughnecks who missed a link in the evolutionary chain are bent on killing everything in sight.

If I may be so cliche, hilarity ensues.

The setup alone is what makes the movie brilliant. Bear with my English major riff for a moment. Periods of writing history are marked by movements. The latest is one we call post-modernism, which essentially looks at turning on its head everything we once thought about how we see the world. An offshoot within Post-Modernism is deconstructive theory, my favorite. In it, the traditional representations of binary oppositions are reversed; oppositions like good and evil, man and woman, poverty and riches, government and anarchy, you name it. An example of which is good and evil; what if what we normally see as good (the white, the pure, the beautiful) is flipped with what we normally see as evil (the dark, the tainted, the ugly)? You get these nasty antiheros fighting even dark demons (and likely by this new darker, twisted exterior nature, likely some inner demons too that’ll make for some serious dramatic tension). And it’s badass. It’s why I love Batman so much. It questions superficial notions of what we have historically called good or evil.

English lesson aside, that’s what this movie is doing — but not in a cultural or religious critiquing way, but in a comedic one. This movie asks what if the “bad guys” are actually the good guys and the “good guys” are actually the bad guys in the lost-in-the-woods-with-a-maniac-tradition? What if Jason or Freddy wasn’t a bad guy so much as utterly misunderstood? It’d be fucking hilarious is what it would be.

That’s what Tucker and Dale goes after. And the results are fantastic. There’s a cleverness in the writing that spins situations with just enough ambiguity that both parties can continue to misunderstand each other until the very end. There’s enough gore to remind you of the genre that this film is, while twisting, still necessarily has to be a part of. Audiences can get behind it so easily because they know what it looks like, they know why these kids are freaking out because they’ve freaked out in plenty a theater alongside in the past, but the movie is immediately thorough enough to understand Dale and Tucker too, and how everything goes wrong so easily.

Is it on par production-wise with the likes of horror-comedies like Zombieland? Not quite. There’s still something missing. Maybe a couple hundred thousand more dollars and a couple more tweaks to the script, but at the end of the day it might need it to go down in history, but it doesn’t need it to be a fantastic and clever comedy. Is it the best comedy that’s come along in years? No. But it’s refreshing to see (not simply a movie but a comedy at that) finally embrace big themes and big ideas and not quite live up to their full potential, rather than the other way.

I hate stupid comedies but this one is a comedy doing some real work. I’m a huge fan.

A-

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