Filmmaking Out Of Balance

In 1982 Godfrey Reggio (with the backing of Francis Ford Coppola) unleashed Koyaanisqatsi on the world, the first of a triptych of non-narrative documentaries which convey their ideas largely through images without explanatory narration or dialogue. The rest of the trilogy was filled out by Powaqqatsi in 1988 and 2002’s Naqoyqatsi, the latter of which is rather widely disliked since it consists not of lovingly assembled, gorgeous imagery shot on location but a mashup of cheap stock footage and really badly dated CGI. Indeed, when Arrow Video put out a recent Blu-Ray edition, they left out Naqoyqatsi entirely – but how do the other films hold up?

Koyaanisqatsi

Koyaanisqatsi is a movie keen on showing us a bunch of stuff. A set of pictographs from the Great Gallery in Horseshow Canyon, the depicted figures limbs de-emphasised in a way which makes them look almost mummified. Rockets launching into space – or detonating in midair. Commuters shooting out of escalators like sausages issuing forth from a sausage machine. Mining activities, natural landscapes like Monument Valley giving way to industrial and urban landscapes. The Philip Glass soundtrack saws away at our ears as we are confronted with visual after visual and invited to string them together into some form of greater whole. But is there anything there?

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The Early Herzog

From latter-day hits like Grizzly Man to the occasional surprise acting role in The Mandalorian or Rick & Morty, it seems like Werner Herzog has never been more widely known. This is pretty astonishing considering the bizarre arthouse material which he first made his name with, but on the other hand is a welcome outcome of a long career in cinema in which Herzog was pushing the bounds of the medium from an early stage. With significant blu-ray boxed sets released in both Region A and Region B (and a handy Region-Free blu-ray player), I’ve been able to sample a cross-section of his earliest work.

The Unprecedented Defence of the Fortress Deutschkreuz

In this 1966 short film a group of young men undertake a bit of urban exploration, as a narrator muses on their adventures. We are told that the titular “fortress” has fallen into disrepair; before World War II it was a mental hospital, but after the Russians swept through and took everything valuable it was left deserted. The local authorities can find nothing useful to do with it, and are struggling to sell it.

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Seeking Goblins, They Find the Beast

My favourite televisual junk food recently has been Hellier, produced by the gang at the Planet Weird website and available on Amazon Prime, the Planet Weird YouTube channel, and the show’s dedicated website. It’s centred on Greg and Dana Newkirk, the co-founders of Planet Weird, and their team of fellow researchers as they delve into a paranormal mystery centred on the small Kentucky town of Hellier… or at least, they try to find a mystery.

The narrative begins simply enough: back in 2012, Greg had been contacted by an individual called David Christie, who e-mailed him about small alien creatures allegedly besieging his rural home. The initial e-mails sound a lot like a riff on the letters in The Whisperer In Darkness to me; to Greg, they seemed to be riffing on the decades-old case of the Kentucky Goblins. (Though the term “goblin” wasn’t used in the e-mails, the description of the creatures matched the earlier incident uncannily well.)

At around the same time Greg also got some e-mails from someone calling himself “Terry Wriste”, who seemed to know something about the situation, which made Greg think that there was probably enough to it to be worth looking into – but David didn’t respond to followup e-mails (much as you wouldn’t follow up, say, if you’d just written the original e-mail as a pisstake and were wrong-footed by being taken seriously), and Greg let the matter lie.

Years later, filmmaker Karl Pfieffer found himself drawn into the case through a series of curious synchronicities, prompting the Newkirks to take a second look at the case. Filling out the party with a few other trusted colleagues, the Newkirks would lead the group on an expedition to Hellier itself, where depending on your point of view they find absolutely nothing or absolutely everything.

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3 Alternative Takes On Alternative 3

One of the more interesting categories of conspiracy theory that circulate these days is the set which deal with the concept of “Breakaway Civilisations” – the idea that the conspiratorial elite have access to a bunch of technologies and scientific knowledge which they haven’t shared with us proles, to an extent that our civilisation has essentially bifurcated, with the privileged few living a sci-fi life of leisure – often swanning about in outer space – whilst the less unfortunate don’t get any of the benefit of these technologies. (People who promote these theories seem prone to not noticing that this is actually more or less true of life on Earth, save for the space travel stuff.)

One of the things which is interesting about such theories, aside from the sheer sci-fi imagination involved with them (if you listen to them you could imagine that the action of Star Trek is already unfolding somewhere out in deep space, with crews of humans from Earth having adventures as part of the Illuminati’s space force), is the fact that they’re largely riffs on one iconic conspiracy theory, a shaggy dog story that’s some four decades old but which still manages to fool some credulous folk into thinking there’s something to it. Let’s jump in and explore the strange universe of Alternative 3…

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Digging Up Spooky Roots

“Folk horror” as a subgenre has gained increasing recognition of late, in part because of the efforts of Facebook groups like Folk Horror Revival. The major players in that community operate, among various other projects, Wyrd Harvest Press, a self-publishing umbrella for various folk horror-relevant materials; Wyrd Harvest’s repertoire includes the Folk Horror Revival journal series, of which Field Studies represents the first entry.

Now in its second edition and edited by a cross-section of members of the Facebook group, Field Studies offers a range of essays, interviews, and other snippets on the general subject of the folk horror subgenre, coming across much like a genre-specific take on Strange Attractor.

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Apocalypse Culture

No book provides a more complete one-stop summation of the Feral House publishing company’s ethos than Apocalypse Culture: criminality, avant-garde art, dark musical subcultures, fetishes which range from the unusual-but-consensual to the taboo-and-definitely-not-consensual, extreme politics of all stripes, secret societies, conspiracy theories and cultural meditations all sit cheek-by-jowl in this collection of essays edited by the late Adam Parfrey, founder of Feral House itself.

For Parfrey, it was all about freedom of speech and giving a platform to anyone, no matter how offensive or controversial – if anything, the controversy helped. As Eric Bischoff coined the phrase, “controversy creates cash”, and it’s notable that Feral House’s boom period in the 1990s coincided with an era in which this was never more true. Parfrey’s decisions about what to publish would occasionally spark controversy; Feral House got a tidal wave of condemnation when it put out The Gates of Janus, a meditation on serial killers by Ian Brady, and Parfrey’s pre-Feral publishing venture, Amok Press, put out an English translation of Michael, a novel by Joseph Goebbels.

Apocalypse Culture doesn’t quite include any full articles by authors on Goebbels or Boyd’s level (though Parfrey does quote Hitler at one point), but the material here is pretty extreme. That said, whilst Parfrey himself seems to have particular obsessions and points of focus, at the same time the sheer range of extremist opinion offered here is incredible. You wouldn’t expect many of the authors in here to see eye-to-eye on much, except perhaps a certain disregard both for societal norms (as they existed in the late 1980s/early 1990s) and the centre ground which tends to reinforce them. Indeed, the title of the book comes from Parfrey’s contention that the centre cannot hold, and an apocalypse of bizarre and aberrant behaviours is just around the corner.

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“They’re Rereleasing It… and Then They’re Going To Rerelease Me… OH MY GAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAWD!”

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

The story is well-known, Troll 2 having been skewered on bad movie websites since the early days of the Internet. The Watts family – father Michael (George Hardy), mother Diana (Margo Prey), older teen daughter Holly (Connie McFarland) and preteen son Joshua (Michael Stephenson) – have had a rough time of it, what with Grandpa Seth (Robert Ormsby) having died six months ago and Joshua regularly seeing vivid visions of Seth delivering bizarre warnings about goblins.

These warnings come thicker and faster as the Watts family embark on a holiday trip to Nilbog, a tiny rural town that happens to be the home of a gang of goblins with a remarkable knack for disguising themselves as human beings but absolutely no subtlety when it comes to coming up with town names. (Joshua only figures out the Nilbog/Goblin thing after seeing the town’s name reflected in a mirror, because ultimately he’s just not that clever a kid.) The goblins are strict vegetarians, but also love murder and anthropophagy, so they have a fun little compromise: before they kill people, they feed them an evil potion concealed in ordinary food which transmutes unsuspecting humans into vegetable matter.

There’s a wildcard factor provided by Holly’s loser boyfriend Elliot (Jason Wright) and his loser friends Arnold (Darren Ewing), Drew (Jason Steadman), and Brent (David McConnell) coming along in their RV in the vague hopes of getting laid – but they’re made short work of by the goblins and their leader, the gothy druid Creedence Leonore Gielgud (Deborah Reed). Will the Watts family be able to summon Grandpa Seth back from the dead in a necromantic seance to help out in the final conflict? Will Seth and Joshua be able to destroy the “Stonehenge Stone” which gives Gielgud her powers? And what power lies within Joshua’s special double-decker bologna sandwich?

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