Saturday, 28 March 2015

She Is (d10)


She is there in every fragment of reality, in every plane, on every level, through all the histories and times. Like a fleck of darkness in a gem.

1. Sometimes she is a city of dark pines and darker towers, black iron bridges hung in chains, lit at night by pure white flames burning only on the highest points so that the masked and downcast wanderers below walk in their silver shadows to and fro. Sometimes the wind howls there, piping in the iron links, turning the white fires to blazing pennants and sweeping the robes of the flaneurs into blotches of spilt ink. The people love the wind and storms and racing catastrophic skies. Midnight gales are met by carnivals and wild parades, bone masks switched for harlequin grins, public dancing in their robes, puppeting constructed fantasies about, some lost and pulled from the hand by the barreling clouds, cast up and over the city like lost monsters in a dream, borne up on joyful laughter like the ringing of unexpected bells.

2. Once a dragon writhing in the shadows of a city ruined sunken in the bottom of a lake with water clearer than a cats eye. She nests immune, forty fathoms down, wandering in the markets and the floods of bone. You can see it like a window from the boat, and she see you. Hoards of Jade and Malachite are piled in coliseums and she sleeps blackly like the lines of a drunken script all tangled up in piles of precious stones. The lake is hers, and all the waters to it, and as far as she could reach when dusk or dawn, while the light of the sun is in the sky but its circle was not whole, she flies, taking everything that she desires. Summer is a hated season there, with its easeful shiftings of hourly light, and winter prized for its quick fastening of night. Warmth brings war as nearby kingdoms lose their tithe to her black wings, winter: peace, and a shield of ice upon the lake.

3. On some worlds she is a sybil to the god of visions, hierophant of the imagined thing. On some this leaves her begging in the streets, a faith of one, as all mad people are. On others armies move at her command, janizaries hurl them selves en-masse on pikes to form a road of flesh by which her word may pass. On every world she is alone, silent in the cell, hidden in the corner of the street, burning cities with her glance and whispering to the rats.

4. When she is a star she is alone, never placed in any constellation, and when the story of her star is told then the story stands alone, unconnected to the other tales, spoken as the fire burns down when most have gone to sleep. When written down she is apocrypha. Her star is bright and constant in the sky.

5. Sometimes she is a demigod or daughter of the gods. She knows no fear and walks, friendless and alone but unopposed, in the blackening moors where danger lurks. The brand she carries burns. She comes upon the traveller in the night, as friend if they are lone like her, or scourge if they be cheery, bright and gathered in a group. Heaven help those making noise. All single things attend her and all monsters either fear her brand or bow before her word. Her word is stone, her name applied to oaths to keep them tight, her honour inviolate and world renowned. Her promise absolute. She is a walker in the wilds and symbol of those things seen truly only when we see them on our own. The irreducible experience, the unremarked last stand, the final terrors and the secret joys.

6. When she is a land that land is high and cut by streams, rocks breach through the loam and forests bend and grow like curls of smoke before the infinite wind from the sea.

7. When she is a sea she covers wrecks and casts forth islands of ice like blue-white jewels cast idly on the ground, she mothers ancient serpents and freezes swimmers to death. She is banked with advancing cloud and mother to storms.

8. When she is a planet she is dark, cold and orbiting without a star, yet never still. Curls of rare matter condense in her Jovian skies. Strange gravitys clash through her obsidian continents and frozen carbon dioxide seas. Her moons orbit closely, sending tidal strands of stone and ice tornadoing across her face. She cradles darksome life, wise, ancient and indifferent to the wheeling of the distant stars. Her world goes on unnoticed, hanging in the darkness, far from the stellar empires. They are wise not to investigate too much. This world is not for them.

9. Sometimes she is a thought within the mind or a dream within the sleeping brain. She is a dark idea, not quickly put aside. She is an impulse to wander and walk out into the night alone, to abandon everything and disappear, climbing some forgotten crag or watching from a glass, releasing the tiller and tightening the sail, when the wind is navigator she is there, when the wheel is lose and the accelerator down then she is there. When she is a dream she lingers through the sunlit afternoon and makes you wish for silence and a darkened room.

10. When she is a god she is the last, either death or deaths destroyer. She is will and resolute desire. She gives visions for release and darkens the night sky. She is with the wild things in the woods, the shadow self, unrelaxed, aside from life. She is facing into the dark to see what comes. Her sacrifice is love and what you love. Her protection is absolute and her aegis unbroken by time, you should not worship her in groups. She is chthonic in the sacristy. Dark and mystic. Her testament is sung and never written down.



Thursday, 26 March 2015

from the fuming melancholy of our spleen

Thomas Nashe the 16th century writer, had a lot to say about the social networks of the 21st century

"From this general discourse of spirits, let us digress and talk another while of their separate natures and properties.

The spirits of fire which are the purest and perfectest are merry, pleasant, and well-inclined to wit, but nevertheless giddy and unconstant.
....

Those spirits of the fire, however I term them comparatively good in respect of a number of bad, yet they are not simply well-inclined, for they be by nature ambitious, haughty, and proud: nor do they love virtue for itself any whit, but becasue they would overquell and outsrip others with the vain-glorious ostentation of it. A humour of monarchizing and nothing else it is, which makes them effect rare qualified studies. Many atheists are with these spirits inhabited.

To come to the spirits of the water, the earth and the air: they are dull phlegmatic drones, things that have much malice without any great might. Drunkards, misers and women they usually retain to.
....
To come to the spirits of the air, which have no other visible bodies or form, but such as by the unconstant glimmering of our eyes is begotten, they are in truth all show and no substance, deluders of our imagination and naught else. Carpet knights, politic statesmen, women and children they most converse with. Carpet knights they inspire with a humour of setting big looks upon it, being the basest cowards under heaven, covering an apes heart with a lions case, and making false alarums when they mean nothing but a may-game. Politic statesmen they privily incite to blear the worlds eyes with clouds of common-wealth pretences, to broach any enmity or ambitious humour of their own under a title of their country's preservation: to make it fair or foul when they list, to procure popularity. or induce a preamble to some mighty piece of prowling, to stir up tempests round about, and replenish heaven with prodigies and wonders, the more to ratify their avaricious religion.
....

So that you see all their whole influence is but a thin overcast vapours, flying clouds dispersed with the least wind of wit or understanding.

None of these spirits of the air or the fire have so much predominance in the night as the spirits of the earth and the water; for they feeding on foggy-brained melancholy engender thereof many uncouth terrible monsters. Thus much observe by the way, that the grossest part of our blood is the melancholy humour, which in the spleen congealed whose office is to disperse it with his thick steaming fenny vapours casteth a mist over the spirit and clean bemasketh the fantasy.

And even as slime and dirt in a standing puddle engender toads and frogs and many other unsightly creatures so this slimy melancholy humour, still thickening as it stands still, engendreth many misshapen objects in our imaginations. Sundry times we behold whole armies of men skirmishing in the air: dragons and wild beasts, bloody streamers, blazing comets, fiery streaks, with other apparitions innumerable. Whence have all these their conglomerate matter but from fuming meteors that arise from the earth? So from the fuming melancholy of our spleen mounteth that hot matter into the higher region of the brain, whereof many fearful visions are framed. Our reason even like drunken fumes it displaceth and intoxicates, and yields up our intellective apprehension to be mocked and trodden under foot by every false object or counterfeit noise that comes near it. Herein specially consisteth our senses' defect and abuse, that those organical parts, which to the mind are ordained ambassadors, do not their message as they ought, but,  by some misdiet or misgovernment being distempered, fail in their report and deliver up nothing but lies and fables.

Such is our brain oppressed with melancholy, as is a clock tied down with too heavy weights or plummets; which as it cannot choose but monstrously go a-square or not go at all, so must our brains of necessity be either monstrously distracted or utterly destroyed thereby."

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Mr Turner in 3D

Mike Leigh's 'Mr Turner' is a really good 3d movie.

Turner is continually moving into and out of boxes, and his position in these boxes, or his depth within the box, contextualise, but rarely directly represent, his position in his social world.

The use of depth is not really a symbol on its own, its more like music.

Places this happens

- The big academy arts thing. The walls are tessellated with paintings, the upper walls lean in over the people inside and are also full of paintings laid almost edge to edge like tiles. Perspective leads us to a door at the back of the first room, inside is another, smaller room, also tiled with paintings like the first.

The models for the gallery room
Turner kind of motors around the first room in his introductory scene to this place, nodding to what we assume are the most successful painters in Britain addressing them with grunts or first names.

Then we get taken through into the back room where the characters argue. The back room is explicitly stated as a place of less prestige, so painters can trace the curve of their careers by where they are hung. This is probably the most explicit relation of space to social reality in the film because where you are (where your painting is) is literally who you are.


- A scene in a country house with Mr Haydon. Haydon talks to a bunch of painters (I think he tries to skive money off them), at the end of these conversations Sickert walks off, away from the house, into the meadows.

The camera holds directly in the doorway. The artists indoors effectively frame the shot as they discuss Haydon, disparaging him and pointing out what a fucking drama queen he is. In the centre of the shot, moving in a straight line so that his course deviates neither to the left or right, Sickert diminishes and shrinks as he walks purposefully away from the house, a tiny man growing ever smaller.

This is the same house but hot that scene.
You can kind of see how people are arranged by depth though.

- Turners gallery. Turner has transformed a central, windowless room in his house into a gallery of his paintings. He makes visitors wait outside this place in a darkened room until their eyes have adjusted to that dark, then opens the door to his room of images. The light in this room comes from a glass ceiling covered with what looks like linen, so it is bright, white and diffuse. Inside this room Turners exquisite and carefully made paintings are chaotically scattered on easels and sometimes siply leaning aginst the wall.

I don't know if Turner in real life actually did this sort of thing but in the film it is a powerful piece of stagecraft that makes sense in terms of the character of the man (you believe the Turner shown would actually do stuff like that), and as a simple but powerful piece of symbolism. The bright room of fine beauty, casually strewn, unseen in the centre, hidden by darkness. Pretty much the man himself.


Those scenes have the most distinctive use of depth, the ones in which its use is most clear, but the use of depth in general is a powerful element of the film, usually woven very subtly into its makeup. Turner is continually approaching and receding from us, never, or rarely, directly like Sickert in the example above, but in more deft movements.

In particular, british social life is presented like a kind of stage set or dolls house that we are peering into. On a ferry, Turner makes a kind of hook shape through the crowd, moving right across them, then back into the shot and up some stairs, then, on this higher level he moves left again. As he moves through these people he moves very subtly through some fine divisions of social class, if I remember correctly, even the physical relation of the people shifts a little as their class shifts.


The same is true of a theatre performance in a country house where people are arranged neatly in ranks according to importance, there are lots of neat diagonal interactions across the social space.


Turner goes to a seaside town to paint, he gives a false name to his landlady to avoid attention. This woman lives with her husband, eventually Turner will end up living with her in a different house after her husband dies.

We approach the seaside house from the left, the camera panning right as Turner walks along, he makes and enquiry and disappears inside. Turners relation to the house and to the life he will build with this woman is shown by him moving in and out of the depths of this house, going deeper into hallways, behind doors and cupboards. There are no long shots, there are just layers, layers of physical depth and layers of social presence and familiarity.


This gives us some idea of how 3d might eventually be used in films. Right now its so expensive that the only thing you can do with 3d is big massive stuff in big massive films. Its directly sensory rather than integrated. Like, you are meant to feel the 3d and never forget it really. Since very few films are made to take advantage of the way you can tell a story with actual depth (I think Avatar might be the only one that actually pushed it as a method of storytelling rather than just a cool thing to slather on top) The spectacle isn't that interesting and the number of 3d films is going down.

I think learning to use 3d well will be harder than learning to use colour was. It actually works well when it is quiet, when the visual and emotional volume of a scene is temperate and there is not a lot of brain noise, and the things it does, and the way it feathers, cuts across or inflects the emotional impact of a scene or sequence may be much more powerful when subtle than when made a deliberate artifact to which the attention is drawn.

Which is a problem because it costs a shitload and, even if it cost less you would still need to wear the glasses and I am not sure you could get people to wear the glasses if the 3d in a film did not draw attention to itself. You can't really say to an audience in their mid-40's "Hey put on these 3d glasses, it'll shift your response to this Chekhov adaptation to an imperceptible yet meaningful degree." They won't want to do it.

But if you could deal with the glasses problem and if you could push down the cost of the crap you need to cart around then we could end up in a world where stuff like social drama's and soap operas are in 3d but blockbuster spasgasms are in 2d but with lost of stuff and noise.

And then in 90 years a generation will grow up thinking that we use 'deep' and 'shallow' because the actually refer to the actual depth or shallowness of a piece of media.

(Mike Leigh's 'Mr Turner' was not actually in 3d, but it kind of should have been because it was made with a keen eye to the 3rd dimension. I talked about the film as it should have been, or as I recall it in my minds eye because that was more interesting.)


Friday, 13 March 2015

Opening My Doom-Wings Takes A While

V The Final Frontier



Shatner is directing and the budget has been cut.

It's super short, only five minutes long. It manages to pack and lot of dumb in for its five minutes. The blue space house makes a return with a scotty voice over to introduce the new Enterprise. The little diddy shuttles make a return and they are somewhat awful, buzzing around like shitty little bees.

None of the methods used by previous directors to trick us into believing in the size and mass of the Enterprise are in use now. The lighting is bland, the ship is rarely seen from any interesting or unusual angles, the camera is not interested in her either as an object or as a character. The intro shots have all the dull familiarity of a sitcom scene opening with an exterior of an office building for a bit set in an office. Clearly the script said 'EXT. THE ENTERPRISE HANGS IN SPACE' and thats all it fucking said because thats all they fucking shot.

Last time the Klingons turned up they had a bad guy scene where they blew up a ship made from the gribblies from the model makers buckets. This time they seem to blow up the voyager space probe, considering that the film had budget problems its slightly embarrassing that Shatner spent money on what is, literally, a cheap shot against the first film.

The Voyager space probe makes a little Star Wars style 'sad robot' sound as it get blown up, which sets the emotional tone quite nicely, or accurately anyway.

There it another embarresing scene where a diddly shuttle about to be blown up escapes by suddenly moving superquick, something we have not seen shuttles do so far. It crashes into the landing bay set which looks as if the people building it didn't quite get it finished before the scene.

There is more of the landing bay. The Enterprise feels more like a special effect than she ever has before. There is one scene with a blue space curtain where she simply moves wrong, like an Enterprise cursor being moved against a screen.

Eventually we reach a kind of lava lamp planet wich looks momenarily beautiful. its the only good thing in the film. Klingons shoot god. End.



VI The Undiscovered Country



"After three years I've concluded my first assignment as master of this vessel, cataloging gaseous planetary anomalies in beta quadrant." Sulu made captain and they gave him a shit detail for three years I mean good god.

ok we have a bit more dynamism with the camera here. We approach Space House from below with a shuttle, which is nice.

The lighting and Enterprise shots are slightly better than last time, which isn't saying much.

An old-school bird of prey shows up, we haven't seen those since TMP.

Ahhhh, here we have the in-ship view-screen shot. A shot I think I will come to hate. the camera doesn't place us in the ships bridge, then turn to the view screen as if it were part of the natural scenery, instead it locks us in a static shot facing the view screen, a screen which itself shows only one view, that going directly forward. This is a terrible shot, its like having a scene in a film where you watch someones television in their house, the camera sits in front of the television and doesn't turn. But the television is only showing things directly behind the television. Its like a reality inside a reality and possibly there are cool ways to do that but this film doesn't use them.

Because camerawork and direction essentially creates space and time within the film and because space combat is essentially about space and time, the worse the direction is the more fucking stupid the choices made in space combat are.

Parts of this are not that awful. Space is shadowed again, the Enterprise swoops past the camera so fast the camera has to turn quickly to keep up and loses sight for a second.

We have the pov of a Klingon viewscreen for the first time, and from inside Sulu's ship. Now we can actually see crew members and captains looking at the same screen we are looking at.

A slight resurgence before the end for the TOS crew.



Generations.



A very short 'glory' shot of the new Enterprise. The spot lamps, shadows and skating-past of gantries has returned.

Computers can't simulate weird things in space as well as some ink in a tank, at least not by the time this film was made. The loopy 70's lava lamp space-things from TMP and FF both seemed more real than this CGI space thread.

And we are back with the view screen shots.

The camera is actually moving boldly here, it clings to the hull, allows the ship to drift partly out of shot to indicate size and loss of control. Shadows have been attempted. Yet this still feels like TV. Why does it feel like TV? Is it the strange glimmering of CGI? Yet I am pretty sure that a model is being used.

Slow camera pans treating the ships mass as a landscape and showing azteking and ship damage allowing us to actually see inside the structure with little people there to show scale. These are all good ideas yet, for some reason, I'm not feeling it.

I wish I could explain this more clearly. Perhaps it is the ease with which ships are thrown around the screen, the lightness with which they move. Perhaps some barely-perceptible shift in detail in the move from models to CGI, or the combination of CGI with models. If you just write down what happens in this film, and the techniques and shots used I would be impressed, but nothing feels dramatic. The mass is gone.

I wrote these posts to try to explain things like this but I can't quite explain the loss of feeling in this film. It is a more subtle thing than I first supposed.



First Contact



Picard locked in an infinitely regressing Borg nightmare shown in one shot is something you can only really do with CGI and is conceptually the exact opposite of the V'ger scenes from TMP, in those you are endlessly going into something alien and its dangerous but beautiful. In this you are already trapped there and its endless and consuming. And this is an opening shot I think. So thats good, it shows Frakes is wrestling with the technology, making it do things instead of being lead by it.

This is really a surprisingly good film for Frakes. I keep thinkin 'Johnathan Frakes directed this?'

There is dust in space now and someone has jammed some shots from hubble in the background so its not just stars.

The opening shot for the new enterprise isn't set in space dock but other than that it uses all the classic lighting tricks. There are spot lights from the ship itself, an outside  light source, not vague and polarised, but casting a specific gleam on one section of the ship, pushing the rest into shadow, in the darkness of the shadows the ships widow lights highlight the shape. This means the same mass is created in the eye in two different ways for the same object depending on how dark it is, either as a solid thing, lit from without, or as a 'filled' or 'full' but perforated object with light inside that leaks through. The combination of the two sensations, at once, as an organic whole is very powerful. The ship is moving and turning and the shadow is moving across it. The Enterprise is darker here than I have ever seen it before, almost charcoal grey.

This still feel a bit like TV but it feels like really good TV.

Whatever they are doing to create a sense of structure in the surface of the ship it doesn't quite work, it looks like a render over a 3d frame. Like a very fancy sheet stretched tight over a tent.

The Borg cube might look cool as fuck but it doesn't have James Horner trumpets to remind you that its cool like the Klingons did, and a conventional orchestral signature really doesn't suit the borg. They should have banged in some Aphex Twin.

In the big fight we have more starfleet ships on screen together than ever before, clustering around the borg cube like flies. White on black. The view screen shots almost work well here, the battles are 'loud' and the in-screen shots are 'quiet' which makes them feel sombre and serious.

Seems no one anywhere can make things blow up in space in any way other than the first death star in star wars. Strap it to the ceiling, put the camera underneath pointing up and film it that way, been a classic technique for 20 years by this point.

There are some real bursts of creativity here with the Enterprise seen very far off as if witnessed from the ground, then an elegant camera swoop that turns the ship upside down and shows the little space man figures of the crew walking on it like a white desert, (we are back to the little men from the first few films) then cuts to their point of view in which the hull is literally a landscape to be traversed and walked over. Seriously well done to whoever came up with this part.

It starts looking super-cheap almost right away but its still a bravura concept that knits together a lot of scale-creation techniques from previous films in an original new way.

Then Picard has to blind his own ship because symbolism.

The white swarm motif is repeated by a bunch of escaping life pods.

The rest is a curious mix if filmic and televisual styles. I imagine the supreme effort of will it took to make the ST production team produce anything that doesn't look totally like TV was abating at that point.

Television is about getting something very complex done as quickly as possible, with serious time constraints, and using effects and objects that can be re-used in a useful way. Both as in the models and lighting effects, but also the story telling techniques. In a serial show a nice conservative shot that tells a TV audience 'The Enterprise is here' or 'The Enterprise Is Doing This Now' is financially viable and also lessens the cognitive load required to understand and lets the show do other things with the same brain space: you can see where the Enterprise is and have Picard tell you about some difficult negotiations at the same time and easily get both ideas at once because the shot is like a familiar meal.

In film you are trying to take the same structure of effects and almost make it do the opposite thing. You dont need to worry about the audiences attention so much. They paid money already and are sat in front of a huge screen. You have the take the technology and culture of thought and action you used to make the impossible familiar for a TV audience and use it to make the familiar (another alien world, the Enterprise in a dust cloud) strange and beautiful. You want the shot to require cognitive energy. What was a part in a machine must now become a work of art.



Insurrection


Frakes is back, but not the same.


Ohhhhhh first Enterprise shot is PLASTICKY. My god computers hate shadow and depth.

The hubble space backgrounds mean that for the first time our imagined outer space has its own geography and depth, and that is because we actually know more about outer space, which is interesting to think about.

We have Nimoys clouds back a little. Data has a little-man-in-ship shot that doesn't quite work, or at least doesnt really seem to do much.

Shuttles usually go weeee buzzing about near the enterprise to highlight the fact that the big ship is *not* buzzing about. But now the little diddly ships almost have their own show. They are as annoying as they were before but the CGI gleam has made them even more weightless, and there is a lot of them. They also don't interact with the clouds they are in, or with anything until they hit the ground.

Top Gun is all about making you feel the mass and gravity of men in small things going super fast. Star Trek is not. The Star Trek shuttles are big enough for Picard to have a bonding moment with Wesley in, they are stage sets first, not vectors of dramatic motion, they do not feel good moving fast. The most important thing in a Star Trek shuttle is usually not how fast it is going but the conversation people are having inside.

The organic surface of this world as seen from space is more beautiful than any world seen thus far, and actually feels like a planet rather than the representation of a planet.

Oh god there is a super-long ship-unfolding sequence.

Because data is almost always calm as shit the shots from inside his little fighty shuttle, from behind his head look exactly as if he is playing a computer game on a plasma tv.

There is a tiny flash of the old Trek hippie weirdness as a planetary ring is transformed to cloud, Nimoy and Rodenbaerry would both have liked that.

The Enterprise is bigger and meaner and sleeker than ever in this film and never feels like anything other than a toy being waved about by a child. Sometimes a likeable and energetic child, but nonetheless.

And it is now gery enough that it is dark against space, they need to highlight it against a bright nebulae in order to trace its departure, before it was always white against the dark. Sigh. Dad bought a leather jacket.



Nemesis


aaand the azteking is back in the opening shot. It still doesn't look quite right.

Ah crap there is more shuttlecraft dicking around on-planet. There is at least a half-interesting pov shot. But then an awful stunt.

Shuttles crashing, shuttles being too fast, shuttles having little shuttle adventures, all these are bad signs.

The bad guy ship has the same general format as the classic Bird of Prey, but not as elegantly made. They have just made it bigger, blacker and  more angular. The Enterprise is bigger than a motherfucker now so to be correctly scary the bad guy ship has to be super super big.

It does appear quite neatly with its wing bisecting a planets curve. The death ship has a head-on profile like a friendly woodlouse and some nice ocean-view windows running down its side.

Oh god there is a diddly little ship-INSIDE-ship escape scene. Its more like a computer game than anything has been so far. Why did you put a handy cathedral escape window on your super-black death ship?

A load of vaguely lit, super-light mega ships wail on each other for ages in green space with zap guns. The super weapons of the future feel like they do nothing at all. They boy with his toys has invited friends to play. Its like watching giant wrestlers fight by flicking rubber bands at each other whilst racing around on roller blades.

Hey a guy gets sucked out into space! Thats a first!

The viewscreen shot has now been replaced by a shot through the hull of the ship with a force field providing structure. The tear in the ships hull is exactly the same shape as a viewscreen and the behaviour of the other ship is exactly the way it always is on these situations: perform and almost ritual swingaround and some to a stop directly in front of the Enterprise, facing it dead on, thereby turning the strange dissonance of seeing outside space through a tear in the ships hull into a completely familiar experience.

The Enterprise headbuts they death ship but the death ship was meant to be basically a giant knife and you are not meant to headbut a knife.

For some reason the soft round enterprise has a more powerful superstructure than the black bladelike ship built for WHHAAAARRRRR. Its like watching a hipster with an iphone punch out a squaddie with one blow, you can't quite believe it happened.

This does show massive in-ship damage in a way unlike any other Trek film has, the ship has giant internal spaces that are crushed and there are little alien dudes in the big spaces to give scale to the immensity of the action. Its a brave stab but doesn't quite work, its probably the most interesting shot in the film though.

At 8.36 the death ship starts opening its doom wings, from now until 9.46 when it explodes there are about (I think) 16 separate shots of it JUST OPENING ITS SUPER WEAPON. Thats not the time it takes in the actual film, thats just the effects shots showing the endless unfolding. Roughly one minute and ten seconds

From the blue beautiful self-indulgent 70s mystical V'ger to the clenched, grey-black desperate-to-be-cool CGI of Shinzons hateship, it seems fitting that we end where we began: watching a physical thing unfold for fucking ages.

(We finally end the film with a too-long series of shots of the grey enterprise being greyley repaired in a slightly sad orbital space dock.)





Its hard to kill a dream but they will greyley fade away with the coming of dawn and thats exactly how Star Trek dies in screen, like a dream being forgotten as grey light fills the ceiling and street noise seeps in through the window.

Monday, 9 March 2015

Nimoy's Whales

Thomas Hunt has taken all of the original Star Trek films and cut them down to just those parts that feature ships. So each film is a 5 to 30 minute version featuring just those images of ships or other objects in space.

So its basically storytelling with just complex objects moving through space, so you can see why I liked it.

I watched them backwards, starting with Nemesis and working towards The Motion Picture. It was interesting to see the seismic effect that CGI had on the storytelling of the series.

Short version - it fucked it up.




I - The Motion Picture



My god this is a long fucking film. Its only 20 minutes longer than Wrath Of Khan. The ship bits are over 25 minutes long, that's more than twice as much as any other Trek film.

(The total amount of ship footage goes down after this film to around ten minutes, sometimes more, sometimes less. Which is interesting. It seems that even in a series of films about space, people don't want to actually see that much stuff moving around in space. Budget constraints would be an issue as well, but it also seems to me that for most people, the bit with the ships flying about and interacting with each other is not very informationally rich on its own, it is mainly context dependant on the actors acting in set. Like a kind of shadow play or Masque in the middle of a naturalistic play.)

The film takes a lot of time looking at the Enterprise, then looking again, then looking some more. It likes looking at everything in space for a long time. Some klingon ships, a complex grey station in space. Lots of little men floating about in little suits.

The men in suits are important becasue they being in a theme that carries through the early Trek films and it largely abandoned by the later ones of illustrating scale by including the human form against the size of the ship.

The Enterprise is clean in this film. I didn't see any azteking (I think its called), which is the fine detailing the model makers put on the surface of the ship at tiny scale ti create the illusion that it is a vast thing made of plates and rivets. (Or space rivets or whatever.)

Of course future ships wold very possibly not be made of anything like plates or rivets, even sci-fi versions. So azteking cheats by reproducing the qualities of a modern form, (the aircraft carrier or large naval ship, or the space shuttle) and transposing it onto a futuristic form so we can 'sense' the scale with the subconscious process we use in our present for judging the scale of technologies.

Almost 20 minutes of the 30 minute running time are the enterprise slowly slowly approaching and penetrating the V'ger space probe thing. These segments are probably massively overlong for the film, and still feel so in this clip version, yet, looked at purely as art, they are almost unique in the history of the series.

The V'ger probe is a huge craft, near planet-size, surrounded by a kind of labyrinthine aurara of blue flame that stops you seeing anything within.

The scenes of the Enterprise drifting through this alien/elfin/fairyland gigastructure are really remarkably beautiful. We never see the ship as a whole but only undergo an almost endless series of penetrations and slow unfoldings as more of its landscape is, piece by piece, revealed. Large parts of the first part are spent in building up the scale of the Enterprise in the mind of the viewer, this later part of the film then takes the bold move of pushing the camera right way back, showing the Enterprise as tiny, emphasising its smallness against the blue cityscape of V'ger.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qHWlccpsYIA&t=711

This switching of scale works very well, it shocks our apprehension of size and distance in a way that we expact real space travel would. In space, things are either really fucking far away so that you almost can't see them, or really fucking close an huge. The human-familiar scale of 'things that are reasonable size, a reasonable distance away' really woudn't happen that much. But this is the distance at which human storytelling can carry most information. You can kind of tell the creative courage of the Trek films by the frequency with which they abandon this 'comfort zone' of middle-distance. Good ones are more likely to both push the camera in close and to pull it further away. Bad ones tend to treat the ships as characters in a soap opera, hanging together in vague-space in the middle distance.

The movement through V'ger is a lot like the movement through a sacred space like a church or temple. An endless opening into deeper and deeper mysteries. Then they get to big space valve and chuck Spock through it so that Gene Roddenberry can further exercise his 2001 gland. Which leads to Spock going through yet another series of doors and portals, describing what he sees.

Of all the Trek films, this one seems most like a kind of collage of other Sci-Fi moods. It feels very 60's in some ways. The grey space stations (only the Enterprise is white so far) feel a little Star Wars. The mood is quite decadent and mystical and dreamy in a very 70's way.



II - Wrath of Khan


Shadows and Speech.

Space is more shadowed almost straight away in WOK. The worlds hang half-shadowed in space and the lighting on the Federation ships creates pools of brightness on their surfaces that also (by necessity) makes margins of shadow. We are back with Ruskin and Rodin.

There is a lot more talking over the ship scenes from in-character voices. This almost didn't happen at all in TMP.

There is still a 'hero shot' of the Enterprise where we get to look at her. Despite apparently hanging in the same space dock as in TMP, they seem to have put someone a lot more moody in charge of pointing lamps at the ship. She is not evenly-lit but picked out in soft pools of white light. the lights glowing from within the ship can be more clearly seen in the darkness away from the spot lamps.

Again we have a little diddy squarish shuttle that is clearly never meant to ever go fast or do anything useful. Perhaps another rule might be formulated that the more boxy and shit the shuttles are in a Star Trek film, the more motion and life the Enterprise will exhibit?

And now we see the azteking. This is the archetypal Enterprise-hero scene. Azteking. Pools of shadow. Self-lit enterprise. A little space man actually waving to the ship. Force the camera right in close to the model to highlight its size. Exactly like watching a liner being launched.

Regular One

You can pretty much tell the story of what happens on the Regular One space station just from the outer shots and the voice overs. It starts looking peaceful, speaking with a female voice.

Then the angles shift as the enterprise approaches, the Enterprise speaks with Uhura's voice.

Then silence.

Then the death shot with the station backlit and turning. Now it looks like a grave or a cross. Actually it looks like a cross within a cross.

Almost half of this cut is taken up with the battle in the Mutara nebulae. basically the Wuthering Heights of space. No stars. Space-lightning. Much darker than star-trek space usually is. (Star trek space is lighter and more brightly lit than real space so if they want to terrify you with its darkness and inpenatraibility then they have to invent an new kind of gothic space to be scary in.)

This shot exemplifies the mood



 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3EQ9cFey-3U&t=514

The Reliant difts out of a patch of darkness, only its hull-lights signifying its shape. The camera flips slowly. far close, far close. Ship-in-distance then near-hull shot. then here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3EQ9cFey-3U&t=533
we see the physical logic of the hunt embodied in the shot with the Enterprise rising up, framed by the Reliants superstructure, using the body of the ship as as both character and landscape.

Sometimes space ships are like masks, carrying the information of characters, sometimes as vast-pseudo landscapes to be traversed and sometimes as lonely symbols.


III Search For Spock


Nimoy is on direction and you can tell straight away.

- Enterprise fires Spock's coffin in a streak of light.
- The light curls around a newborn world.
- The light becomes a rising sun.
- The camera turns to the world
(Wrong way round for ST, the camera usually turns from the world to space, but we are with Nimoy now.)
- CLOUDS. Now we are in atmosphere.
(Nimoy loves clouds.)
- Clouds from below opens up into forest.
- We drift through the forest, things are getting mystical.
- Spocks sleek, dark coffin, surprisingly whole in the edenic greenery.


So from the darkness of space to life and living things. This is going to be a hallmark of Nimoy's direction.

The Kilongon Bird of Prey by Nilo Rodis, Dave Carson and William George is here to be evil and it looks raw as fuck. This might be my favourite ship from the series other than the Enterprise. It appears directly above a kitbash victim ship, literally spreading wings, with actual wings painted on its fuselage (because Klingons would do that), and strange wing patterns worked int o its engineering in the topside. If you described this to me I would think it was a terrible idea but it works surprisingly well.

And now the Federation has a big space house to put the Enterprise inside. They must have built that since the last film. The Federations tech is now the creme-white we expect instead of Star-Wars grey. The lights glimmering inside are a soft blue. The Space Dock is a big friendly motherly mushroom made of soft regular curves. A civilised city in space. You can tell they have theatres in there, and an arts programme somewhere. The inside if the space house is a lot less moody than in WOK, there is some spotlighting. No tiny space men or people looking out of windows. Lots of little ships buzzing around.

Previous versions seemed like NASA-Plus. A little tough and scrappy. Now we are clearly in the friendly utopian future.

Later, as the Enterprise escapes, its darker in the space house. The scene is about the Enterprise getting away by stealth so the scene is low lit as if it were night, even though it makes no sense to have a day-night cycle in the working bits of a space dock.

And here we also get a brief comparatively-gentle chase scene with the Excelsior, a ship designed in the early 80's to look more futuristic than the Enterprise and which therefore, to us, seems a bit cheaper since good 60's design ages better than average 80's design.

Nimoy uses some of the techniques of WOK in a reduced way, but doesn't really push them. Space (both outer space and more prosaically, the careful use and management of space in film shots) is not his love.

And this is a film where we blow up the Enterprise, which falls like a dying angel. The Klingon Bird of Prey Escapes and travels to Vulcan to land in some cool spotlights.

From our perspective, we know the Enterprise crew is still alive. But if we look at this series of short films as standalone works of strange art, it looks as if the elemental power of the white ship has strangely been transferred to the violent green ship, which is now peaceful.

IV - The Voyage Home



Now this is a very special case. In film terms TVH re-uses the Big Scary Alien Ship With Mysterious Purpose Strangely Linked To Earths History trope from TMP. (I need to think of a better name for that trope.)

In terms of _objects_ though, we are dealing with a strange and remarkable cylinder. A black ship wielding a shaft of light and a kind of pale nucleus that spins around like a periscope or sensing eye.

The blackness of the cylinder is curious. It is dark, reflective and weathered. The weathering and seeming 'ancientness' works wonderfully. It is a truly gothic ship and it deals with light in an opposite way than the Federation ships. They are white, self-lit to create layers of shadow, with lights within showing through. The Whale-Tube *is* shadow. Its mass is picked out by the gleams of reflected starlight running along its sides, and by the light reflected from its own column of illumination, the only light it gives off.

I could probably write a whole thing on various star ship sounds and how they are used in ST, but suffice to say the WhaleTube rolls in on a chundering 'wub-wub-wub-wub-wub' mixed with electronica whalesong. It has the most unique sound in the series, a powerful element of its identity.

The Whaletube threatens the Federation by approaching the Mushroom Space House from SFS, darkening it, and turning off its soft blue lights.

It also appears directly next to it and is clearly fucking huge.

CLOUDS. We are back with a planetary atmosphere again with the strange sensing of the WhaleTube causing Leonard Nimoy to take a lot of groovy shots of storms and clouds and to reverse or speed up the footage to make them feel weird.

Here, for the first time in a ST film we get an image of a human city. Its the dreamlike POV of the Bird Of Prey flying over modern San Francisco at night. Then a strange chase scene where the Bird Of Prey saves some whales from whale hunters. This is the second time a ship has been used for humour in the film series, the first was Excelsiors failed pursuit of the Enterprise in SFS.

The second half of the edit is made up of the return of the whales to earth. Again, water and cloud play a big part, its rare for them to be in a ST film so much.

The sequence where the Whales apparently communicate with the WhaleTube is shown almost entirely without words or human intervention. Its just movement, shape and sound.

Then we are back in the space house which is once again full of life. We see the Excelsior again, before a new enterprise is revealed.

In terms of the boldness of the use of space and the way the ships are interpreted, nothing Nimoy does comes close to WOK. But, in the way he assembles the film and the way he uses the ships as part of the story, he is unique. The whole of the TVH could be shown as an art film to a bunch of film students who have never heard of Star Trek and it would work.

Nimoy's storytelling is so rock solid you can actually just pull out the effects alone and they still makes an entirely coherent film in which the character, needs and  nature of the objects can be clearly perceived. The whale-hunt sequence works perfectly ian unexpected and charming way and the appearance of the Klingon Bird of Prey looming over the fishing boat it both utterly strange, appropriate, characterful, amusing and heroic. It could almost be a silent movie. And the tone and feel of this sub-movie matches the tone and feel of the film as a whole. Warm, human and funny.



Thats enough for now, I may come back and do the rest later on, including the depressing arrival of CGI. Into Darkness indeed.


Sunday, 8 March 2015

BEHOLD WE VOMIT FORTH OUR LUMINESCENT CHILD


http://www.lulu.com/shop/scrap-princess-and-patrick-stuart/fire-on-the-velvet-horizon/paperback/product-22076186.html


So as not to offend God with the perfection of our work, Scrap and I have deliberately included some tiny errors, see if you can spot them!

We are sorry about how expensive it is but it costs a fucking bomb to print on Lulu. We actually make a bit less of a profit from this than DCO.

we invented a new letter for the alphabet and included it in the book. So technically its written in a new language. Anyway, if you want to know how this new 'Hck-a' letter sounds just click here:





And in addition, to avoid this being a pure pimp-post, we have dual-interviewed each other so you may discern our secret thoughts and gain an entry into the workings of our sexy and glamorous partnership. Here is Scraps interview with me. Here is my interview with Scrap. 

Here are some project-relevant questions:

PS - Was there anything that when you drew it you were like 'yeah, still
got it baby'?


SP - I never really doubt my drawing, well in the way that one wouldn't
doubt the weather. Eventually everything shows up.
But Bedlam bird I was pretty pleased with

PS - Was there anything I wrote where it just mystified or blathered you as
to where I had got the idea from?

SP -No everything comes from england anus of the underworld. No hang on,
Qu@rst. I drew this nice city not even really for the main book idea
you turn it into this Thing. Strangel got all weird too.
Capitaluators. I woulda gone with Bug men who fight you and you
fatalistic apathy assassins who can hide in you in a complete new way
of monsters hiding in people


PS - Was there anything I write that you especially liked?

SP -Thug Bugs. Stegloswan. The Hadeans. The Dreamons for the imagery of
them ripping up the world coming after people. The suggests of
adroable persnicky personality in the cryptospider and discretion
bugs;  "even as big as cats!"

PS - Stats stats stats stats. You know most people reading this will play
Old School D&D? So that is what they are probably going to want.




SP -YEah. 1st /2nd edition has a lot of things that bug me about them that
makes stating hard for me , especially if I want to keep them relevant
to various baseline monsters. Like how say a bear swipe is assumed to
include the strength of the bear in the size of the die, while for
humanoids they will have strength bonus. Armour class not saying which
is due to the hardness of the monster and what is its getting out of
the wayness. And claw claw bite.
Basically if I write stats with the information I want in them its
hard for my own kludge system to not dominate. And playing along with
all the stuff that bugs me, bugs me. Also stuff like remembering that
most systems have saving throws rather than stat checks etc. I'll get
more familiar with Lamentations system soon and maybe I can use that.



PS - Is there anything you would like to see drawn by someone else to see
what they would do with it? Which monsters and what artists?


SP -Zak doing the Strangel off the top of my head. Matthew Addams doing
Thug Bugs. Shoe Skogen doing a meremaid or a monster maiden?
Aaand for someone I'm not friends with umm Unomorale z doing a dreamon
(https://www.google.co.nz/webhp?sourceid=chrome-instant&ion=1&espv=2&ie=UTF-8#q=uno%20moralez)




Aleksandra Waliszewska doing a ZugZug or a Strangel or a Predator Saint

(http://waliszewska.tumblr.com/)




Whoever this is doing Qu@rst http://doumyakutosi.tumblr.com/




PS - Who is the best artist currently drawing that I don't know about?


SP -Did you know those people I mentioned? Otherwise do you know Julia
Gfrörer or dunno, you follow me on tumblr so you'll see whatever
artist I like pretty dang quick.  do you know my friend Renuka Rajiv
stuff? http://pithbull.blogspot.co.nz/






PS - Who is/are a good artist(s) on the internet but unfamiliar to DIYD&D
people? SHOW YOUR WORKING WITH PICTURES.


SP -I just put gave you all the links but this conversation moves strange
in time so you sound dumb mystery interview person

Do people know Alferd Kubin Or Besinski? They must know Besinski.



PS - Who would you get to play Leptoblast, Zenithal and Ashkott in the film
of the book?


SP -I am terrible at remembering actors. Um Leptoblast ; Stephen Fry but
he can't play himself. Get him drunk and maniac and defensive.
Zenithal :  Claire Skinner as seen here
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4kF5f8BPPDU&t=52
Ashkott :  I wanna say Gene Wilder but its a subversive fit, closer
would be .... who played Bubbles in the Wire? ..
Andre Royo
(I wanna clarify my answer about Ashcroft
I chose that guy not because I wanna see him do bubbles
but because I think he would nail the physicality of the character)

PS - What other things are you currently working on that readers might be
interested in fellow human Scrap Princess?


SP -Wide On For Destruction; it's like the mutant dollar store version of Feng Shui.
Islands; its that world is islands thing but with more tables and
drawings of sharks


PS - Should we end up linking our creations into a giant 'shared universe'
Marvel Comics Style?


SP -Fuck no.  But like shit can drift in and out of the cracks. The
borders of everything are both thin and vast.



PS - Are you glad we went for 100 monsters even though it nearly drove both
of us mad?



SP -YEAH

I'm just going to pay someone else to do the final pdf assembling
uploading shit next time


PS - Is the Ungulix real?

SP -Yes. It fears me. It likes you though.


PS - Was there any weird idea you wanted in the book that we didn't get in?


SP -More city stuff? A map? That's not really that weird. The weirdest
idea I might save for the hard cover. There was some kind of city
stalking thing that I can't remember now. I wanted more stuff that
would kill you in cities. There is quite a  bit actually now that I
think about it.

A bibliography/further reading with a bunch of absurd books then.



PS - What is/are the main difference(s) (for you) between a Patrick-lead
project and a Scrap-lead project, both in the working pattern and the
finished result.



SP -I think you stay focused on a particular vision more when you lead the
project. And your ideas go sadder and there is more Horizons went
someplace weird and it took in a lot along the way. Like Horizons was
"go do this thing" and 6 months later its a back with all these travel
storys and parasites and its still drunk.
DCO knew where it was going , went there , and then was silent before
the endless abyss below it.


 Yeah


And here are some questions I asked when I was drunk and tired:


PS - Once you told me that when you were drawing your job was 'to be a good
glove'. What goes through your mind when you draw?


SP - That often I'm watching myself draw, like the drawing is happening
through me, I just happen to be what it wears. Though its more like a
conversation or dance or a argument. So imagine a shapeless thing
wearing squirming gloves that argue with it.
That's me but plus action noises.

Other art forms I do are both more like this and less like this.



PS - Is it good that we are friends? It feels like it is but also you are
almost literally as far away from me as a person can get and we may
never actually spend that much time around each other in the physical
world.

SP - Its good but its weird being friends with someone that you can't test
with the definitive test of friendship , ie showing up at short notice
and staying on their couch. I would love to blithely dismiss the
entire internet and condemn it as good for squirt and pits but there
is no way this alliance would of happened without it. I think 90% of
the reason I bother putting art into the world is to somehow generate
more art that I like. So colabs is good.


PS - Why do you love the things you love?

SP - Mainly because they successfully distract me from wanting to die? I
love art because it I feel the realest when I do it and it makes the
world more like the bits of me I like art. I like nature because its a
horrible endless process of exploitation and grinding need but it
generates complexity and novelty like utterly nothing else.
I love Tiamat because she doesn't care and will destroy us and
everything we hate.
I love not being on fire because all my skin stays on and my lungs
don't blister and burst. I love the existence of life because is force
and result of entropy but manages to be brittle uniqueness in a near
endless nuclear void.


PS - What is beauty to you, how do you see it in the world and how does it
feel when you experience it?

SP - There is beauty that's like deep chemical beauty like a sweet butt or
the flicker of a eyebrow with a twitch of a mouth, and there is beauty
that's like dunno entropy and sublimation. Like a rotting car part in
the shape of a bird god that loses your stuff but cooks dessert at 3
am. There is a beauty of strata and deep forces grinding and becoming
each other like exposed rock war in mountains or the endless
politicking of trees. Beauty in force and power and noise and sweat.
And I guess there is the beauty when you laugh at recognition of
someone doing something that is perfectly them and rare and true?

PS - It feels like I am pushing against something and I don't know what it
is. Sometimes i imagine its the skin of the world, theres no question
there is there?

SP - Like when you go why is all the world not transmuted to my whim? Or
why the fuck is all this stuff so boring why can't we have something
else I will drag this new child in the world and the sight of this
will burn you into stars or ash but either way I wouldn't have to look
at your fucking face anymore?


PJS - Where are we going with this?

SP - Faster. Louder.