Thoughts On: June 2018

30/06/2018

Greek Myth, Matriarchy, Jung & Social Constructivism

Thoughts On: Robert Graves' The Greek Myth's (1955)

A question of how we may approach Greek mythology.


Recently, I was thrown into a tailspin of thought having picked up Robert Graves' The Greek Myths. I picked up this specific book to come to terms with more Greek myths having read some reviews that suggested that, though Graves' commentary is highly negligible, this is the best place to start. With that and little more in mind I started to read the book.

What I quickly discovered when reading the introduction was that Graves' fundamental purpose for writing this book lies in his goal to reveal the supposed fact that:

Though the Jungians hold that 'myths are original revelations of the pre-conscious psyche, involuntary statements about unconscious psychic happenings', Greek mythology was no more mysterious in content than are modern election cartoons, and for the most part formulated in territories which maintained close political relations with Minoan Crete - a country sophisticated enough to have written archives, four-storey buildings with hygienic plumbing, doors with modern-looking locks, registered trademarks, chess, a central system of weights and measures, and a calendar based on patient astronomic observation.

The first element that jumps out of this elongated sentence is the idea that 'Greek mythology was no more mysterious... than... modern election cartoons'. This, from my position, is a deeply radical position to take, one that implies that ancient tradition and story simply re-represented the political climate - and that everyone who lived in those times knew this. In fact, this seems so radical that I'd be rather comfortable believing this to be utter nonsense.

Without completely dismissing this idea, however, let us look at what is probably the element of this sentence that seems irrelevant:

Greek mythology was... for the most part formulated in territories which maintained close political relations with Minoan Crete - a country sophisticated enough to have written archives, four-storey buildings with hygienic plumbing, doors with modern-looking locks, registered trademarks, chess, a central system of weights and measures, and a calendar based on patient astronomic observation.

In Graves suggesting that Greek mythology was recognised as equal to political cartoons, he is referring to the politics of what we conceptualise now as Ancient Greek culture - the culture that produced Zeus, Theseus, Plato, Aristotle, etc. - replacing what previously existed, one example being Minoan culture. This culture is named after King Minos, who features in many Greek myths - most famously, that depicting the Minotaur - and is believed to have reigned Crete at some point in this era. Graves goes to such lengths to describe the advancement of this culture, firstly, because this is considered historical fact, but, secondly, because he further believes that it is also historical fact that Minoan society was matriarchal.

Graves goes into greater depth across his introduction to his book, and attempts to provide evidence for his claim in his notes on the myths, on, not just Minoan society being matriarchal, but most primordial European societies being matriarchal. His assertion that Greek myth plays as political cartoon then reveals that Graves believes that Greek myths were used to show the transition from a matriarchal society to a patriarchal one, from Minoan and earlier cultures, through to Mycenaean, Hellenic and other Classical Greek cultures.

It is at this point that I returned to the critique many apply to Graves' work. Though it is imaginative and comprehensive, it is generally said to have no scholarly validity. The primary reason for this resides in the fact that, not only is Minoan culture not confirmed to have been matriarchal, but the concept that all primordial societies across the world were matriarchal has been by-and-large debunked in the modern day.

This was a popular idea for quite some time since the 19th century, and gained significant ground outside of academia after the feminist second-wave. However, the assumption is largely evidenced with ruins that depict divine female figures - and such is the case for the Minoans. There are no texts, nor any artefacts that confirm that, because many variations of a Mother Earth were prayed to in cultures preceding the Classical Greeks', societies were matriarchal. Instead, these ruins are interpreted as suggesting this, but, ever since this assumption has been investigated it has proved itself insubstantial.

A much-cited book written on this subject is Cynthia Eller's The Myth of Matriarchal Prehistory (you can read the first chapter here). This book provides an argument against this primordial matriarchy myth, detailing the lack of evidence for it, whilst arguing that 'an invented past will not give women a future'. The crux of this book is then lies in the dispelling of the concept that the so-called matriarchies of the past were better than all patriarchies; fair, egalitarian, progressive, peaceful and generally utopian. This is so important to Eller because this 'myth of a matriarchal prehistory' ironically only impedes future development in favour of a feminist agenda.

Alas, this subject becomes a little more complicated than a busted myth when one actually starts to question what a 'matriarchal society' is. Matriarchy is often defined as a system of government run by women. This is why a modern culture such as the Chinese Mosuo people are questioned as a matriarchy; to simplify, everything is female-centric, but political power is considered to reside in the hands of men. However, one will notice that, whilst, under the definition of matriarchy as 'women-lead government', there is considered to be no matriarchies that do exist, or ever have, there are female-centric cultures, past and present. Cultures that are female-centric in some way may see female bloodlines as primary, the mother as the centre of a household and may worship femininity and Goddesses. There are different names given to these different classes of matriarchy, and often it is the definition of matriarchy itself that is questioned. But, the point to be taken from this is that, whilst the myth of the matriarchy may be false, this does not indicate that the dynamics between men and women have always been universally uniform and simple.

With that said, I'd like to return to our initial Robert Graves quote and look into the last element that we have not mentioned:

Though the Jungians hold that 'myths are original revelations of the pre-conscious psyche, involuntary statements about unconscious psychic happenings'... [they are wrong].

My addition of 'they are wrong' to this quote is, I hope, acceptably reflective of Graves position. After all, it seems very clear that, with his later reference to archaeology, science and politics as superior to psychoanalytical study, Graves is opposed to Jung. Further to this, Graves seems to fall into a category of thought that is what one may fairly name social constructivist. This perspective adheres to the philosophy of culture and all that resides within being able to be explained by the actions and conscious thoughts of people and people alone. Jung was opposed to this. It is hard, however, to label the Jungian perspective; maybe it is a philosophy of social inherency or intrinsicness, but let us not try to coin anything.

The Jungian perspective that Graves refers to is, as is said, linked to the unconscious mind, but I think - especially with Jung's reference to Taoist thought - it goes deeper than this. To Jung, who we are and what we do, which includes our manifestation and structuring of culture and society, is motivated by original revelations of truth by humans who were moving into consciousness and out of unconsciousness. The implication here, which Jung would often refrain from following for the focus he had on scientific practice, is then that unconscious humans had universal truth in them. As we became conscious, we began to act this out, and as we became more conscious, we decided to represent this with story, and in the modern period when we are at our most consciously developed, we are beginning to not just act out or represent those inherent truths, but attempt to manage them. Jung was very sceptical of consciousness, however. Like Freud and other psychoanalysts, Jung believed in the unconscious mind first and foremost; and he believed in this to the degree (or maybe just didn't believe in the conscious mind to the degree) that he didn't think that inherent, intrinsic, natural truth could ever be consciously known and handled. Thus, he developed a therapy and philosophy around interacting with the unconscious, never wanting to completely divorce personal and collective truth from its mystifying waters for fear of misinterpretation - for fear of pulling out a fish and calling it a whale, for fear of capturing a whale and calling it the God of all waters.

Nonetheless, what one finds in the ambiguities of Jung is a belief in universal mimesis; in humans acting out, not just their nature, but acting out the nature given to them by God. And though Jung was religious, he does not describe our 'God given nature' in a manner that was encapsulated by his Christian belief system. Rather, one could substitute for 'God' any other god of any other faith, or, likewise, 'universe', 'nature', 'Tao', 'ultimate meaning', 'the singularity of reasoning', etc.

It is having given my understanding of the antithesis of social constructivism through Jung that we can briefly compare the two. In following the philosophy that all that human outputs are the result of us alone, of individual and joint thoughts accepted as true, social constructivism's core philosophy is that humans create truth. In opposition to this, a Jungian perspective holds that truth is given, resides within and is realised. Further differences between the two perspectives primarily concern relativism; the social constructivist belief is that truth is relative whilst Jungian philosophy leads to the assumption of universal truths.

As you may tell, being a frequent reader of the blog or not, I see most sense in the Jungian perspective. And I bring this up to induce a debate or some thought in you. Given the profoundly fundamental position of the Jungian vs social constructivist debate in one's approach to all art, one can easily understand how differently a Jungian and constructivist will read myth. In regards to Greek myth, gender and matriarchy, I'd then like to ask how one responds to Robert Graves given all that we've discussed today. What role do gender and politics play in Greek mythology? What role does symbolic interpretation and social construction? What role does science and archaeology? How, if at all, are these elements related within the stories of Ancient Greek culture? I end with this quote as an open question:

Though the Jungians hold that 'myths are original revelations of the pre-conscious psyche, involuntary statements about unconscious psychic happenings', Greek mythology was no more mysterious in content than are modern election cartoons, and for the most part formulated in territories which maintained close political relations with Minoan Crete - a country sophisticated enough to have written archives, four-storey buildings with hygienic plumbing, doors with modern-looking locks, registered trademarks, chess, a central system of weights and measures, and a calendar based on patient astronomic observation.


29/06/2018

Raft Of The Medusa - Hope In Meaningless Tragedy

Thoughts On: Raft Of The Medusa (1819)

A look at a Romantic depiction of death and tragedy.


Raft of The Medusa is an iconic French Romanticist painting by Théodore Géricault. This depicts a story of tragic hubris and deception. In 1816 a French colonial ship called the Medusa set sail towards Senegal. The ship, captained by an incompetent Ancien Régime who had not sailed a ship in over 20 years, got stuck in a sandbank, stranding the entire crew of over 150 people. The captain had only brought enough lifeboats for himself and a dozen or so others, and so abandoned the majority of his crew - approximately 150 men. They all attempted to build a raft and save themselves, but, after 13 days of sailing, only 10 managed to survive through brutality and cannibalism.

Géricault's painting captures a moment of hope, the wrought bodies of men rising towards a peak, up towards the sky above, with cloth of red and white, possibly symbolising both blood and surrender. One could also see the representation of red and white as derivative of the French flag, of égalité (equality: white) and fraternité (brotherhood: red). The blue in the painting, as pale and murky as it is, is the sea, and with this as a representation of liberté (freedom: blue), there emerges irony as the sea is death, is the antithesis of how freedom is so often considered to manifest. The greatest irony that emerges from colour is then that brotherhood and equality are represented in this painting, but they are only present because the sailors are about to die - because they are not free.

Though there is hope in the ascending lines of this painting, the composition is crowded and confined; where and who the sailors wave to, we do not necessarily know. (There is a faint silhouette of a ship on the horizon, but this is supposed to have turned away from the raft). Following, not the almost misleading line of hope towards the flags, instead, watching where the light is spilled across the painting, we have to read it from the top right corner, downwards.

As our eyes descend the mass of bodies, we move away from hope, down to faces of desperation and delusion, down to pure agony, down to loss, down to abjection, and then finally down to death. And as we go, the light grows stronger, and so it becomes clear that Géricault wants us to focus on the tragedy at the bottom of the heap; the clouds above the flags of hope and desperation signal all too clearly the lack of hope and darkness that awaits even those who may escape this raft.


The most striking element of this painting to my eye is the separated group of five men, two alive, three dead, at the bottom of the painting.


The central figure here is the only live character who does not face the flag, who does not reach out for hope. He is highlighted by his red cloth, which rests under the dead body in his lap, appearing to be a pool of blood. Furthermore, he is centralised by the darker-skinned sailor to his side and the shadowy deranged figure behind him. It is fascinating that this abject man is shown to be the eldest and the only one who is thinking - all else are in a frenzy. This man clings to a dead body where everyone else tries to escape them - a dead body that is so haunting for the fact that Géricault spent time studying corpses to give this painting a realistic base that could be dramaticised by his exuberant chiaroscuro. This man seemingly symbolises the consciousness of this crew, embodying the wise old man archetype, but manifesting without answers, with nothing to say, hiding from possible (even lost) hope on the horizon under a symbol of blood and ironic brotherhood rather than using the tragedy to call for help.

It is in this man that there appears to be the most devastating commentary provided by Géricault. In telling the true story of the shipwreck, he highlights the folly of the leadership and navy of France, presenting something antithetical and uncomplimentary to nationalist and patriotic sentiments that so often were presented by French paintings of the time and that motivated colonialist endeavours. As a slight side-note, it is worth mentioning that, in the modern day, when one sees a painting like this, it initially appears as similar to iconic symbols of patriotism, such as the picture of an American flag being raised on Iwo Jima:


One may also see similar lines of ascension highlighted to conjure a positive sense patriotism in Eugène Delacroix's 1830 Liberty Leading the People:


In complete opposition to these images, Géricault's depiction of tragedy that is the result of patriotism uses irony with its choice of figures, putting a black man at the very pinnacle of the mass of hope and despair. Remembering that this depicts a raft from a ship sailing to colonise an African country, this man wants to return to France, to his home, to life. However, the old French man at the bottom of the painting has turned away from home and hope.

  

The ironic statement made with this is what lies at the heart of Géricault's stylistic approach and choice of subject. Both the style and the subject matter juxtapose romance and patriotism with brutality and tragedy; the eye is drawn to death through the beauty of chiaroscuro, drawn to tragedy through the hopeful composition. And as a result of this, the emotions and the mind are drawn to the darker side of what was modern French society through a depiction of suffering, which in Christian paintings is always given meaning, that is ultimately meaningless.






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28/06/2018

Subjective & Objective Projection

Thoughts On: Realism, Impressionism, Expressionism & Surrealism

A return to subjective-objective theory and an attempt to expand our view beyond just impressionism.


Recently on the blog I have been sorting through and developing a theory of Subjective & Objective Impressionism. As the theory has developed, it has become mixed into a theory of the cinematic space, of archetypes and the audience and of drama. One of the key questions that has remained since first introducing the concept of subjective and objective impressionism concerned the singular analysis of impressionism and the fact that this limits the theory considerably.

The basis of the subjective-objective theory is concerned with character, symbols and the entities that can appear on screen and the manner in which they are presented and embodied; this can be done by treating the figure as an object or a subjective entity, as something that has consciousness and autonomy or not. To reveal a character or object as a conscious being, a filmmaker has to use cinematic techniques to manipulate a space into having meaning, and so this is where impressionism becomes key. With subjective impressionism, a filmmaker uses cinematic language to impress into the audience, to instil within them, the autonomy of an entity. As implied, this is so often done with camera work that manipulates a space and an entity into meaning something, or that, through montage and the script, associates an entity with meaning. Two examples we have previously given stem from impressionist films from the 20s. In Epstein's The Faithful Heart, we have an example of subjective impressionism:


In this scene the performances, perspectives and bodies of actors as they move through space are emphasised by the cinematic language and sound design. This provides them a subjective perception that permeates through the screen. In opposition to this, we see fundamental impressionism, which is heavily linked to objective impressionism, presented by Kirsanoff in Menilmontant:


Here, violence is impressed onto the audience with focus on montage and not the subjective perception of characters, rather, their material bodies moving through space alone. Thus, characters become objects of sorts, signifiers without real consciousness and autonomy before the camera - this is at least quite true of those engaged in the violence and less true for the girl who witnesses it (she is a more complicated figure more aligned with an object-archetype).

With these as examples of objective and subjective impressionism, we can take a step back and see that, whilst there is a basis of subjectivity and objectivity that all films interact with as to manifest characters, the mechanism of projection can differ beyond impressionism. To better clarify, let us re-introduce the objective and subjective types:


This is an updated version of the objective-subjective type diagram we have been using so far. There is one change, and that is in the top left-hand side. This element used to be 'MacGuffin', but I have since changed this to 'Device'. MacGuffin is a term that implies something similar to Caricature, but not very accurately. Device, I feel, better reflects the simplest object-entity that a filmmaker will engage.

With that said, all that must be realised with this diagram is its categorisation of objective and subjective entities, depicting how, if they are manifested with greater complexity, they will appear to be true characters - imitations of real people. A symbol, on the other hand, is an object with deep meaning. Given mid-level complexity, an object or subject becomes archetypal - a general and universalised representation. But, given the lowest-level complexity a subjective entity will appear as a caricature, and an object a mere device (maybe seen once or twice) in the grander scheme of a narrative.

It is important to outline this, however briefly, as these are the entities that can be projected into and from a cinematic space. And whilst we have explored one method of projection in impressionism, we have already noted that there are more in realism, expressionism and surrealism. I believe that these are the four major means of expression as they map onto a spectrum of verisimilitude:


On one extreme there is the realistic projection of objects and subjects. We can describe this process as objective-subjective realism. Examples of this on film can be seen in De Sica's Bicycle Thieves. Within this film, De Sica's mode of cinematic language is realistic in that it aims to replicate and capture the real world as we so often see it in reality (this entails the camera playing the role of a camera, or, more typically, taking its place as an observer or fly on the wall). As a result, De Sica's style is typified by long takes at eye level, a moving camera, fades and wipes that punctuate cuts between disparate spaces, cuts that imply a long, fluid sequence of uninterrupted events and a cinematic space that is uncontrived; it uses real locations and unprofessional actors.


In this sequence, the camera takes the position of someone walking by on a street, looking down from a window or on from the backseat of a car. These camera positions, along with the setting, give scene this a basis in realism, but it must be noted that some of the montage and camera angles are impressionistic in their manipulation of space and in their projection of perception through POV. (Cinema is fundamentally impressionistic, so impressionism almost always plays a part in a cinematic style). The camera work in this sequence is largely objective - in general, I believe Bicycle Thieves to be a primarily objective film. I believe this to be the case as the true humanity of the characters is not individualised; we never grow to know or feel we know much about who exactly Antonio, his son or wife are. Most of the entities in De Sica's cinematic space are archetypes and devices.

Antonio, for example, is an archetypal father who is bereaved of hope in an impoverished Italy; he is a wanderer. His wife, Maria, is the spiritual centre of the family, sacrificial and understanding, a presence over the entire narrative; she embodies the archetypal Madonna to a degree (something somewhat common in Italian films of the period). Their son, Bruno, is the child of the future, it is he who struggles between his mother's hope and his father's despair; he works, the adult of the family, yet he is lost and helpless without his father. Bruno is the archetype of Italy's future. And so then we have the final object-archetype, the bicycle itself, Fides, which means and symbolises faith. In addition to this, there is the device of Bruno's baby sibling who further represents the future of Italy, but is a fleeting figure seen only once - a little like the theives. Ultimately, however, it is the realistic treatment and contrivance of all of these object-archetypes and devices that we can call objective realism.

To counterpoint this example, we can turn to Chantal Akerman's Jeanne Dielman:


The characteristics of the cinematic language here are bluntly realistic: an observational long take. However, what emerges from this long take, and over the film more generally, is the humanity of the main character and their subjective presence in the realistic frame. This is subjective realism.

With this simple but expressive example, we find a somewhat rare example of subjective-realism. What I mean to imply here is that finding subjectivity with realist techniques alone is not common, and the reason for this is the fact that realism blends into impressionism all too easily. Another example we can briefly look at then comes from Satyajit Ray's Charulata:


Ray's narrative assumes a fundamentally realist approach with its cinematic language. However, the sequences that express the subjectivity of our main character to the highest degree are quite impressionistic. We see this with the swing shot. This is a realistic shot in that it is sustained and observational. However, it is impressionistic in its movement - in its manipulation of the cinematic space behind our main character - especially when this movement is considered as apart of the wider montage.

To move on without delving too deeply into the complexities of the distinguishing lines, let us look past subjective and objective impressionism for the fact that we've discussed these at length already and focus on subjective and objective expressionism.

Expressionism in regards to cinema is so often limited to the short-lived German silent film movement of the 20s that is typified by films such as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Fritz Lang's Metropolis.


German Expressionism in the 20s was distinguished from French Impressionism (a movement that manifested around the same time) via its means of constructing and projecting a cinematic space. Expressionism exudes its space outwardly whilst impressionism places the space within the audience; expressionism is emotionally received, impressionism is psychologically recognised. This is why impressionist films would have you stare at a face and question what thoughts reside within a character's head, or would have you piece together a space through association; the construction of the space and its meaning largely occur within the audience - thus, it is impressed upon us. In opposition to this, expressionism takes character psychology and masks it over the cinematic space. This is what German Expressionist films did so blatantly; one needs to only look at a single frame of Dr. Caligari to see that the torment that resides within characters has literally been painted onto the walls.

Whilst most will take this definition and leave expressionism in the 20s, I believe that expressionism is one of the most popular forms of cinematic projection. Expressionism paints a space in its own meaning and character. Following this logic, most horror films and action films are expressionistic. Let us take a look at one of the best directed scenes of Nolan's Dark Knight:


Inspired by Francis Bacon, the visage of the Joker is so clearly expressionistic in that it takes what it inside and represents it on the outside. Christopher Nolan emphasises the expressionistic characterisation of Joker with his spinning, violently handheld camera techniques. These shots take what is inside Rachel's and the Joker's head - a feeling of chaos and no control - and mould the cinematic space thusly. For this, the expressionism Nolan conveys here is quite subjective in that it is involved with character psychology. Furthermore, the script is subjectively sourcing a backstory of the Joker. However, in the greater scope of the narrative, it seems that Joker is less a subject and more an object - an object-archetype - though, I think there is room for debate on whether or not he is a subject-archetype or an object-archetype.

Alas, through Nolan, we find an example of expressionism in modern cinema; it is not as explicit and pure as it was in the 20s in Germany, but, in my belief, it is expressionistic nonetheless. To find a clear example of objective-expressionism, let us take a look at the cinema of Michael Bay and the dinobots of Transformers 4:


Almost immediately, we can see expressionistic camera techniques used by Bay here; violently moving shots that mean to take the purpose and meaning of a scene and replicate and emphasise it are constant. Thus, when characters fly, so does the camera, when they fall, run, jump, so does the came, etc. Bay is practically a master of expressionism in this respect as he is always seeking to represent the fundamental element and emotion of a scene or moment as violently and explicitly as he can through cinematic language (if one looks to the cinema of Zack Snyder they will find another good example of objective expressionism for the same reason). Alas, the nature of Bay's scripts and characterisation leaves all figures objects: usually archetypes and devices. Optimus Prime and the dinobots are then object-archetypes whilst the screaming bald guy is a device of sorts, all built and projected via objective expressionism.

To make a final point on expressionism, it must be noted that expressionism bleeds into surrealism. And this is so often done in horror.


In this scene from the Babadook we see the psychological torment of characters represented in their costumes, performances and on the set - in the physical cinematic space. But, the nature of the drama and symbology moves so far from reality and so deep into the unconscious psyche that one could easily argue that this is surrealistic before it is expressionistic. In my perspective, however, the story is highly surreal at points, but the cinematic language and general design of the sets across the entire film is expressionistic at its core (in a subjective capacity) before it is surreal.

Let us now then look for clear examples of subjective and objective surrealism. We shall start with an example of subjective surrealism in Tarkovsky's Mirror. (You will have to click through to watch this on YouTube:)


This sequence deals with the personal memories of our unseen main character, representing both his mother and the interaction of elements (earth with water and light; reflections, crumbling material, dripping, the human body). The poetic manifestation of these entities has unconscious logic in that it seemingly depicts feminine elements - water mainly, which doubles a symbol of unconsciousness - crumbling around a feminine archetype - a mother. This scene then contributes to a wider journey into a man's anima. For the fact that it is so personal and involved in bringing about the autonomous nature of the unseen protagonist, this is subjectively surrealistic and creates subject-archetypes.

The next clip I will show is to be expected, an excerpt from Un Chien Andalou:


The surrealistic design of this need not be outlined or analysed. However, what should be clear through a juxtaposition between this scene and Mirror's is the place of a subject. In short, there is no individual perception emphasised or utilised in this short; whose dream this is, we never know. Furthermore, we never get to know any of the characters as more than subject to their own sexuality and impulse. Thus, they become object-archetypes, players in a game of l'amour fou (mad love). The film, in total, is then objectively-surrealistic.

To bring things towards a close having only outlined the different types of subjective and objective impressionism, I must say that there is far more analysis that could be done and more that this theory connects to. So, I'm sure I will be writing about this far more in the near future.






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27/06/2018

The Harder They Come - Crime, Punishment & Insight

Thoughts On: The Harder They Come (1972)


Made by Perry Henzell, this is the Jamaican film of the series.


The Harder They Come is widely considered to be one of the most important films to have come out of Jamaica for the fact that it help spread Reggae music across the world. Despite its acclaim and cult-status, however, I cannot say that this is a particularly good, or virtuous, movie.

The Harder They Come follows an aspiring Reggae artist as he tries to make it in the industry and sell his songs. Along the way he is entangled in a life of crime that boosts his popularity and star power. Juxtaposed with the ascent is then a clear descent, and whilst the relationship between these two contradictory arcs of character embodied by Jimmy Cliff's Ivanhoe is acknowledged by the movie, there is no substantial commentary on it. Instead, Ivanhoe is supposed to be an amalgamation of a Clint Eastwood character and Clint Eastwood himself - killer on the screen, celebrity in the real world - however, the dichotomy is reversed: Ivanhoe is a killer in the real world and a preaching celebrity of sorts in his songs. With this character glorified and painted as a tragic hero, his only apparently redeeming characteristic being the fact that he starts poor and is "oppressed" by religion, law and show business, he becomes the centre-piece of some rather mindless want-to-be entertainment.

Technically, this is a satisfactory movie. In the first act, the direction employs some sharp and persistently interesting montage that gives the movie punch, presence and rhythm. This wanes slightly as the narrative continues, but arises intermittently with the cinematic language using depth of field alongside the fast cutting and zooms to translate information efficiently and effectively. Alas, as the technical work builds towards a more complicated stylistic sensibility, the narrative becomes more benign. Furthermore, whilst the songs are arguably the strongest aspect of this narrative, they all start out in abundance and strongly; however, around the mid-point, this stops being a musical and becomes a crime film, which puts the music in the background where it loops constantly, leaving once catchy songs somewhat annoying.

The greatest failure of this narrative is ultimately not the fact that it is trying to be a crime movie without redemptive character arcs or substantial social commentary. It is more than possible to construct a narrative such as this; we need only look to some of the greatest American crime films in Goodfellas, The Godfather, Taxi Driver and more to realise this. The greatest failure of The Harder They Come is its misunderstanding of how good crime movies operate.

If one looks to the Spaghetti Westerns, a class of film that The Harder They Come seems to resemble to a degree, you often will find stories that glorify the anti-hero. However, the Spaghetti Western's use of style and ambiguous morality so often accumulate substantial meaning, powerful archetypes, iconic characters and investing entertainment. The Harder They Come lacks this.

In the likes of Goodfellas, there is a use of an anti-hero and his life provides ironic, sardonic commentary on the darker side of society without trying to play a victim game. What is more, there is insight given into the 'other world' of crime. We see this, too, in The Godfather: social commentary through the 'other world' as well as insight into it. And so often these two elements accompany minor tragedy in us seeing characters we grow to like (but who are nonetheless amoral or evil) punished. This punishment in The Godfather and Goodfellas is not as simple as death or imprisonment, however. The punishment received in these films is what characters become evil to avoid; Henry Hill is punished by being forced to live a normal life, and Michael sees his family fall apart when all he desired was to uphold his family name. This existential punishment alongside the insight into who characters are and what their world is is not present in The Harder They Come, but it is what makes better crime films entertaining and substantial. The 'tragedy' to end The Harder They Come's narrative is juxtaposed with the success of our singer; the movies final point being that the police are oppressors and the criminal the virtuous entertainer - nonsense.

So, in the end, there is something to learn in watching The Harder They Come. In short, this is not how to construct a good crime film. One may also hear some good music, but you might just grow sick of it after an hour or so.

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Hippolytus - Virtuous Tyranny vs. Compassion

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25/06/2018

Hippolytus - Virtuous Tyranny vs. Compassion

Thoughts On: Hippolytus (Ἱππόλυτος, 428 BC)

Phaedra, wife of Theseus, kills herself for having fallen in love with her step-son, yet condemns him for condemning her, leaving Theseus to curse his son to death.


Hippolytus is a play by Ancient Greek playwrite, Euripides. Often noted as a tragedy, Hippolytus tells a tale of desire, honour and death, but is difficult to pin down as a tragedy because of the relationship between theme and drama. Thematically and in terms of plot, this is a serious story that sees Aphrodite, god of love and pleasure, and Artemis, god of virginity and hunting, attempt to hold influence over a family. Pushing directly into the subtext of the narrative, this is about a family who face a difficult truth that tears them between the sophrosyne and the hedonistic, between moderation and expression, between chastity and pleasure. Aphrodite represents hedonism; Artemis sophrosynity. Aphrodite takes possession of the second wife of Theseus (he who slayed the Minotaur), Phaedra, and has her fall in live with a devotee to Artemis, Hippolytus, who is Theseus' son (he was conceived with an Amazon). There are two other characters who play key parts in this narrative: Phaedra's Nurse and Theseus himself. Both of these characters are tasked with confronting the truth of the love between Phaedra and Hippolytus, of making decisions in face of it, whilst Phaedra and Hippolytus, despite being the primary pillars of the dramatic truth, have to harbour and conceal it; Phaedra is ashamed, willing to die before acting on the lust that Aphrodite put within her and Hippolytus is disgusted, entirely unwilling to engage Phaedra by virtue of his chastity, yet also obliged to not reveal how he learned of the truth for fear of betraying his vow of silence to the Nurse, who reveals the secret.

The plot, with such a description, may seem muddled, but we shall return to a clearer explanation. Before this, it must be noted that, whilst the theme is of a serious nature in this play, the drama is not. Undoubtedly melodramatic, yet possibly satirical, maybe comedic, the action of characters in this narrative is highly contrived so that the characters themselves become symbols, objects possessed by themes so explicitly that one does not feel their humanity. At least, I believe this to be the case with Hippolytus and Theseus in particular. Both of these figures act with incredible hubris, with very basic reasoning, before a character in Phaedra who very much so seems trapped and, though irrationally depressed, rationally fearful. Because Phaedra has more logical reasoning build her character and influence her place in the general drama, she welcomes empathy where Theseus and Hippolytus do not; we understand her actions as she reasons them, yet we see Theseus' and Hippolytus' actions through their misguided sophrosynity; they become the fools who stumble over their own feet once tripped by deception whilst Phaedra is a victim of her own impulse (or, if we read the play literally, of Aphrodite). And it does not help that Euripides opens his narrative with exposition from Aphrodite herself, who speaks with a truthful tone of the gods' pridefullness, yet also of the arrogance of Hippolytus, who is constantly selling himself as one of the most virtuous men who has ever existed. It then becomes easy to lean towards Aphrodite's view and see Hippolytus as more the fool than the tragic hero, the victim of his own arrogance, less of a fate and the gods; furthermore, it is easy to agree with Aphrodite's philosophy over Artemis', to see the value in family and little virtue in simply remaining chaste. Because there is this discord in the drama, because it does not play seriously, and because there is further discord between theme and drama, this does not feel particularly tragic, instead, it feels particularly messy - more funny than catastrophic. And the difference between a tragic mess and a comedic mess is simple: one would rather clean up a comedic mess. So, rather than feel the endless impasse of a true tragedy, one feels that the mess that Hippolytus becomes could have been avoided and sorted through at many points.

To take a step back and look at the plot in better detail, we start again with Aphrodite. She, enraged by Hippolytus' constant hunting, his pride and arrogance, his chastity, his abhoration of family - his lack of honour in her name - has his father's second wife fall in love with him. Why Aphrodite chooses to do this, to destroy a whole family and victimise Phaedra, is difficult to decipher--is probably the most complicated element of the play. However, I believe the answer resides in Theseus and the fact that Aphrodite is not just punishing Hippolytus, but Hippolytus as an ideological offspring of Theseus, who, in connection to the symbol of the bull, is a character that is in significant tangles with his own nature.

To make things more clear, it must be noted that Euripides gives this story many subtle links to Theseus' famous ordeal against the Minotaur and his bond with King Minos of Crete, who, to frame things simply, was considered a 'bad king'. Not only are there then allusions to the Pallentides, but Phaedra also features in this play. The Pallentides were nobles of Attica, which encompasses Athens (which Theseus was prince, later king, of). They wanted to rule Athens and so made many ploys to take the throne. One ploy involved befriending one of Minos' sons, Androgeos, who was killed by Theseus' father to prevent the Pallentides allying with Minos. (It is noteworthy that some stories suggest that Androgeos was killed by the Marathonian Bull ). Another Pallentide ploy involved a battle that Theseus prevented by slaying all fifty of the Pallentide brothers. It is for this that Theseus is said to have been exiled from Athens by Euripides in Hippolytus - how much later Theseus chooses to go into exile is very difficult to tell, but it must have been years or decades after the actual event - and reasons for this, I have not come across. Alas, it is because of the Pallentides that Euripides' play takes place in Troezen and not Athens. So, whilst there is one tie to Minos there, as subtle as it is, there is a far more concrete one in the fact that Phaedra is King Minos' daughter that Theseus encountered (abducted) during his ordeal with the Minotaur, which is the son of Minos' wife, born of a white bull that was gifted to Minos for the slaughter by Poseidon. Because Minos chose to not slaughter the bull, his wife was made to fall in love with it and conceive the Minotaur - which was put in a labyrinth. The Minotaur, symbolic of Minos' greed and power, was used to terrorise the citizens of Athens. For it was because Minos' son, Androgeos, was killed by Theseus' father for his connection to the Pallentides that King Minos decreed that Athens had to give seven of their girls and boys to Crete. These children were sent into the labyrinth and killed by the Minotaur until Theseus one day slew it. Other stories suggest that it was because Theseus captured and sacrificed the bull that Poseidon sent to Minos, and then lost a battle to him over it, that Athenian children had to be sent into the labyrinth. (Sidenote: it is this very bull, the Marathonian bull, that is said to have killed Minos' son after Theseus' father sent him to battle it. Moreover, Heracles also fought this bull as one of his labours).

What one gets from this picture of Theseus' relationship with Minos is that, whilst his kingdom is intimidated and oppressed by Minos', he remains the better king; he who is smarter, who fulfils Poseidon's wish (in a way; Theseus sacrificed the bull to Athena and Apollo, not to Poseidon) and is more just and good. This idea is marked over and over by the image of a bull, which, for Minos seems to be a symbol of virility, and a king's power. However, whilst Minos abuses this power and has his son destroyed by it, in being the better king, Theseus is far more careful with it - at least, before Euripides' tale. After all, it is Theseus who corrects Minos' mistakes in sacrificing the bull sent by Poseidon and in ending Minos' rule of terror by slaying the Minotaur. And it is for this that Theseus seemingly won the love of Minos' daughters, Phaedra being one of them, the one he later married. The bull, to Theseus, then is a marker of his kingly virility that can potentially become tyranny. This is so important to recognise as it is the story of Hippolytus that sees the symbol of the bull become tyranny again; after it all, Poseidon, at the wish of Theseus, uses the bull to kill Hippolytus in the end of the narrative.

To delve a little deeper into the symbology of the bull, it would be important to make account of the story of Zeus and Europa. Europa was a Phoenician princess descendent of Io and Zeus (Poseidon is also in the family lineage; he ravaged Zeus and Io's granddaughter, Libya). Zeus, however, falls in love with Europa upon seeing her, and so decides to disguise himself as a white bull. Europa touches the cow and eventually climbs on its back, at which point it bolts into the ocean and swims away to Crete. On land, Zeus transforms again and sleeps with Europa, making her mother to three children: Rhadamanthus, Sarpedon and Minos.

What we see here is Zeus himself placing the symbol of the bull at the very top our expanded story; it is the bull that conceives Minos, it is the bull that Poseidon sends to Minos to confirm he is king, it is the bull that Minos' wife mates with, it is the bull that one of Minos' sons becomes, that kills another of his sons; it is the bull that Theseus tames and sacrifices in Marathon, it is the bull, the Minotaur, that Theseus destroys in Crete, but it is the bull that kills Theseus' son. The bull in this symbolic lineage remains an image of kingly decision and virility. It is then bound to sexuality, Zeus himself seducing and abducting Europa, yet is also a signifier of compassion, purity and the king, Zeus as the white bull. More than complicated, this symbol bears a dichotomy between tyranny, Zeus abducting Europa, and compassion, Zeus' love for Europa. It then seems to encompass the ancient Greek concept of what a king was; he took what he wanted to posses (most commonly women; this is how Theseus acquires Phaedra), yet could only do so because he was perceived as virtuous. The king as the good bull is loved by his captors. And in the case of Zeus and Europa, this seems to be a comment on Zeus representing the heavens and light and "Europa" being a name connoting the earth and darkness. The bull in respect to this is an agent mediating between light and dark, yin and yang, male and female; if the bull is good, it is pure and loved and brings men and women together, if it is tyrannous, like Minos and his wife's son, the Minotaur, it is dark and feared and so tears families apart. In this, purity lies in a Grecian celebration of the light of the patriarch and a warning of the darkness in the corruption of females - in females aligning with he who is bad. This seems to be why Europa's son, Minos, is initially considered to be good (he is the product of a union between a light patriarch and the obliging, nurturing wife), but, once he becomes bad, produces the Minotaur by turning his wife away from him. The same can be said in regards to Theseus; he is the good bull until he believes that his son slept with his wife, and then a bull emerges to act out his tyranny and kill Hippolytus.

The bull is the punisher and the saviour; he saves women when he initially manifests, but punishes men through women when he is called upon and betrayed. This is true in the case of Minos and, as is seen in Hippolytus, this is true for Theseus too. And so the bull is ultimately an embodiment of both compassion and tyranny; it reveals the nature of a king, good when he is, destructive when he is.

In Euripides' tale Theseus is the good bull to Minos, the bad bull. Theseus' virtue is bestowed upon Hippolytus and so he acts out the virtues of a king in being a great hunter, master of animals - yet, it is noteworthy that he remains chaste and so does not express carnal passion. It must also be emphasised that Hippolytus is the product of Theseus' virility as a king known for his many female captors and lovers, one of which was Hippolytus' mother, Queen of the Amazons. With Theseus embodying the bull to win over the Amazon queen and conceive a child, we start to understand why Aphrodite may overshadow his family.

The Amazons are of a class of mythological woman that we may assume would naturally be enemies of Aphrodite; they hated men, they did not live with them, though they may have used them, and so they were antithetical to Aphrodite as an image of love and marriage. As a result, the Amazons embodied a Greek female archetype of the 'other', of masculine and female, female without the masculine, and the unnatural, a little like Artemis.

The Artemis-Aphrodite dichotomy is one that seemingly represents two female idols; the lover and the virgin. There are many female lovers and virgins in Greek mythology, and so often are they punished, like Persephone or Medusa, for their naivety. (Euripides continues this tradition). However, whilst Artemis is pure, she is also a hunter; she can protect herself and so, like the Amazons, is alien to men, but not prey. Aphrodite seems to represent a more classical order in which women remain idols, but, with duty to procreation and family, do not remain chaste and truly pure. It is because this order is flipped by the Amazons and Artemis alike that they appear incompatible with men, however idolised. This issue arises in Hippolytus - in fact, it is the most central issue of the narrative. The Amazons and Artemis, who both Theseus and Hippolytus are aligned with (Theseus only in the creation of Hippolytus; the Amazon Queen who mothered him died not long after, and then Theseus married Phaedra), are bound to high virtue. To re-introduce the symbol of the bull, it is by embodying this pure image of virulence that both Hippolytus and Theseus conquer nature, yet remain virtuous, that they come closer to Artemis and the Amazons respectively. To rephrase, they act with virtue - power seemingly being a Grecian virtue - by conquering. However, in exhibiting their power, in capturing an Amazon queen or honouring Artemis, both Theseus and Hippolytus aren't necessarily showcasing the virtue of compassion. One could argue that Theseus does in marrying the Amazon, but that Hippolytus doesn't - which is what enrages Aphrodite. And so I believe the conflict of Euripides' narrative is born here. It is because Hippolytus aims for virtue in purity and conquest that he disregards the virtues Aphrodite represents. She sees Hippolytus' quest for virtue, for chastity before Artemis, to be arrogant. This arrogance is born of the shadow-denying individual; he who thinks they are perfectly moral and incorruptible. Theseus is not entirely shadow-denying like Hippolytus, but Aphrodite seems to want to test this, to see if he can believe that his wife could be as impure as he - he who is a murderer and womaniser, yet also considered a good king and father - to test if he could see his son as the virgin he claims to be. In this is a task put to Theseus that asks him to see imperfection with compassion; to see his wife as a liar and son as a virgin (a quality that does not necessarily make a virtuous man - especially if he is to be king; he must have an heir). For Theseus to see his wife as a liar, to either believe that she lies in her suicide letter condemning Hippolytus or believe that she loved Hippolytus, would be to see imperfection in himself; to see that he had a wife that could not speak the truth to him or that his son was more attractive than him. Such is also true in regards to Theseus' relationship to his son; to believe that he denied Phaedra would reveal that Hippolytus was possibly more honourable than he or (in a twisted sense) that Hippolytus, as a fault of character, wouldn't sleep with his wife. (Theseus' logic possibly being: You wouldn't sleep with my wife!? What is wrong with you? What have I raised?). Ultimately, in idolising his wife and condemning his son, Theseus preserves the highest virtue he can - but only to a tragic effect.

What makes Aphrodite's test is so important is that it questions the line between love and virtue; can love make us impure? This is something I believe Aphrodite embodies to a degree, she is love without the pretence of purity; purity is left to creatures such as the Amazons (maybe ironically) who deny men live with them, and gods such as Artemis who commit to chastity. In inducing this tragedy, in having Phaedra fall for Hippolytus, Aphrodite tests Theseus' conception of this, punishing his son and wife who seek purity only, not love, and in turn call out his purity (which manifests as tyranny) and not love. To rephrase, what Aphrodite does in this narrative is attempt to reveal the compassion that may emerge from and embody impurity; the tragedy of the matter is the unmoving, unchanging virtue that characters try to embody, that only becomes more intensely incessant until it emerges as a tyrannical force; Aphrodite shows how an attempt to be pure can only lead to needless suffering.

What we then see play out from after Aphrodite explains her plan to tear apart Theseus' family is Phaedra attempt to remain pure - even if it will kill her, she will not act on her lust and sleep with Hippolytus. In keeping his own chastity, the, what you might call, goody-two-shoes son that is Hippolytus also keeps his purity. Yet he denies Phaedra compassion in doing this, he drives her to suicide (we can return to how later), and so divorces himself from a form of love towards his step-mother. In denying Phaedra compassion because he is so virtuous, he calls out her wrath, which in turn calls out the 'virtuous wrath' of Theseus. Phaedra then writes a letter that condemns Hippolytus before killing herself, which leads Theseus to send his own son into exile where he dies. This is only to Theseus' own pain, however. He acted without compassion towards his son, only sought virtue for himself, and so all that is left is for the pure to weep with Artemis.

The crucial element to emphasise here is that Aphrodite now seems to be representing the truth used well. In being loving, yet impure, Aphrodite has a shadow. Euripides portrays the moral make-up of Aphrodite to be higher than the moral make-up of Artemis, Theseus and Hippolytus. Whilst one could argue against this with their own interpretation of Greek myth and see Artemis and the superior moral power, it stands that Artemis, Theseus and Hippolytus are shown to be fools by Euripides, betrayed by hubris, Theseus and Hippolytus blinded to compassion for others and in turn inviting malice unto themselves. And what ignites this all is a character we have not yet discussed: the Nurse.

Phaedra's Nurse is the most compassionate character in all of the play - at some points, I may have even risked being mistaken in believing she was an incarnation of Aphrodite herself. She cares for Phaedra as she wastes away, refusing to eat, and she wants to find out why. After much pressing, the Nurse is finally told the truth that Phaedra is starving herself to death so that she does not act upon the lust that she feels for Hippolytus. In realising the complexity of the situation and Phaedra's foolhardy sense of love and virtue, she attempts to resolve it, to have Phaedra place love above virtue instead of virtue above love and not kill herself, instead, open up to Hippolytus. She then, against Phaedra's will, who wants to waste away without effect, gets Hippolytus and informs him of the situation, holding him to a vow that he cannot speak to anyone of what she will tell him. (Because of this, Hippolytus, bound by the honour of his word, cannot later tell his father that the Nurse knows that Phaedra never actually slept with him, hence proving his innocence). In meeting Phaedra, Hippolytus laments the entire existence of women, wishing there could only be men in the world and that they could just buy embryos and raise children themselves (this notion is a turning point for his character towards absurdity). He then savagely denies Phaedra when she herself doesn't even want to act on her lust. Furthermore, he vows to bring his father to her and her Nurse and see the two react now that the truth is out. It is this that drives Phaedra to suicide. The Nurse unleashes truth out of compassion - so that Phaedra does not kill herself. However, one act of compassion does not lead to another as Hippolytus is unwilling to make a return, to become impure by keeping the secret of Phaedra's love - even if that means not acing upon it. And so we now see why Euripides holds Aphrodite in highest moral regard; she is willing to be impure, to be proud and even lustful, yet remain compassionate as to not only act out the truth, but promote it. If Phaedra was to follow in Aphrodite footsteps, she would release the truth. If Hippolytus was to follow in her footsteps he would take on the secret of Phaedra's love with compassion and help her live - this is what the Nurse attempts, and for this, she is allowed to exit the tragedy, though a failure, relatively untouched by the chaos. And if Theseus imitated Aphrodite, all would be resolved whenever the truth emerged. One may then have faith in Aphrodite's compassion and hope she reverse Phaedra's affliction.

Alas, what occurs to Hippolytus before the Nurse occurs to Theseus before his son. He does not mimic Aphrodite (as he would have done many times before), and instead of expressing compassion when confronted with his dead wife's body (he doesn't get too choked up about this sight, it must be noted), he decides to act with blind virtue. He then believes his wife's word and will not hear his son; he follows duty without a sign of compassion, and betrays his son without mind; Hippolytus had just done the same thing to Phaedra let us not forget - and just as she died because of this, so does Hippolytus. Theseus curses his son by invoking Poseidon, whose favour Theseus is assumed to have won. He calls for Poseidon to kill his son for betraying his father's virtue as a husband. And so when Hippolytus is sent away and reaches the coast, a bull emerges from the water, scares Hippolytus' horses, who runs, off dragging him, smashing his body against rocks and opening up his skin. What this moment seemingly symbolises is the virtue of the bull, of kingly virulence becoming tyranny: Theseus becomes Minos. Theseus becomes Minos in that he betrays Poseidon, unknowingly using his gift for wickedness. Furthermore, just as Minos probably believed he was doing justice through tyranny by sending Athenian children into the labyrinth to be killed by the Minotaur, so does Theseus think he is doing justice through tyranny by condemning his son to death.

Ultimately, it seems that through Theseus, there comes Aphrodite's punishment of purity. To unpack this, it must be recognised that, throughout this play, purity is linked to naivety; to virginity, to mistakes and unknowing, to animals. We see purity's connection stressed most through the horse. The horse is an animal, and thus it is naive and pure (something that Jung discusses further in The Phenomenology of the Spirit In Fairytales - specifically in the section on Theriomorphic Spirit Symbolism). Particularly bound to the horse are Artemis, the Amazons and Hippolytus - and this is through their characteristic hunting/battle. The horse for these figures represents their strength in connection to their virtuous abstraction from relationships. It then becomes ironic, yet natural that, just as Hippolytus' naivety betrays him, so does his horse - and in spite of the fact that the Amazons are always close to their horses and that Artemis is the goddess of the hunt. The fact that horses kill Hippolytus and the fact that his name is interpreted as meaning, "destroyed by horses," makes the cycle between a lack of compassion and an abundance of virtue producing damning naivety complete.

Bringing his narrative to a close, Euripides inserts some of his greatest irony. Hippolytus, on the brink of death, is brought to Theseus, and there emerges Artemis who explains all. Son and father then console one another, wallowing in the tragedy whilst Artemis tries to provide some consolation - primary of which is her vow to kill he who loves Aphrodite most, hence furthering the cycle of virtuous tyranny. Alas, because Artemis is so pure, she cannot be there at the final moment of death for Hippolytus; her purity has her leave. This lack of compassion from Artemis, her refusal to be tainted by impurity and death, that is embedded into her power as a god says most about this narrative as it is, in many respects, all about not being there for someone as they die. In such, almost all deaths occur out of sight, almost no one willing or able to prevent them, or to make the transition into the other world smoother (all but the Nurse). It is only Hippolytus that dies before his father, though, not before Artemis - but, by the end, Theseus has realised the necessity for compassion, the necessity of imitating Aphrodite above Artemis.

What emerges from this narrative is a ritual. It is said that virgins who are to be married cut off a lock of their hair in the name of Hippolytus. This consolation for the woes of Hippolytus bears a reminder to all of those entangled in compassion as they wed that one looses a part of what is pure and seemingly whole in them when they follow love. Yet losing one's purity, one's virginity and naivety, is not a tragedy as, in losing part of ourselves through compassion, we gain more in the form of another person.

To conclude, I can only say that Euripides' Hippolytus is a simple narrative made difficult by its symbolic place in Greek mythology. However, in trying to come to terms with this symbolic place as we have today, there emerges a definitive story about sacrifice and love through a rather meandering, sometimes ironic and comedic, tragedy. But, I do not want to imply that all to be said about this play has been said. So, have you read Hippolytus? What are your thoughts?







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24/06/2018

End Of The Week Shorts #63



Today's shorts: La La Land (2016), Ali Wong: Hard Knock Wife (2018), The Leopard (1963), The Greatest Showman (2017), From Dusk Till Dawn (1996), It Comes At Night (2017), Amy Schumer: The Leather Special (2017), Amy Schumer: Mostly Sex Stuff (2014)



Some films only really work the first time, and I think this is true of La La Land. Seeing this in the cinema without a clue of what was to come brought out some magic in what a second watch revealed to be a good but mediocre film. I saw fault in this previously; the opening is horrible and the musical side of this, whilst it may be supportive of tone and drama to a degree, is undoubtedly out-shined by characterisation's impact. There remains the strengths in the portrayed vision of imperfectly fulfilled dreams and the memory that a song can hold, but today I found La La Land to be quite a disappointment. This made a case for musicals in modern cinema two years ago, but whilst this film is in no way connected to this, The Greatest Showman made another, possibly greater one. Unfortunately, The Greatest Showman's statement was... let's say not a good one. And for the fact that I saw some elements of both in each, especially in the tone and approach to music, La La Land depreciated further. But, in the end, I'm just disappointed to realise that this doesn't hold too well.



Not gut-bustingly funny, but better than Wong's first stand-up special and still a blast of fresh comedy. The only criticism that I can offer is that this does pick up a lot of the material from the previous special. All of this material is improved upon and built over, but, though a second pregnancy is probably a coincidence that is never even mentioned, there are moments where everything comes near to a gimmick - never is this completely the case though. Beyond this, I'm now a bit too familiar with Ali Wong's inner, upper, inner, inner, upper, right up there, uh-oh it's starting to get dark, is that hair? thighs than I think I want to be... but what can you do about that...

All in all, a good hour; worth the watch if you're into dirty comedy - probably not if you're not.



This is a film entirely immersed in a question of aristocracy's function and sense of purpose. It in turn details the laziness and order of the highest classes, depicting their strata of existence as entirely separate from any lower class and its motivation for being as incredibly unsubstantial.

The only elements of this narrative that hold slight virtue are the fleeting senses of romance and the desires to tell the truth. However, these thematic components fail to build an structure of meaning. Instead, all that one gleans from this meandering glissando through elongated episodes of period drama is a conception of the levity and righteousness that the depicted class float in. And maybe that is all to be said for this narrative. It floats before you for an incredibly long time, posturing as elegant, before dimming, flickering out and drifting away; a generation of aristocracy come and gone. As a result, I just cannot decide if this was worth watching or not.



I didn't like this film the first time I saw it; a bunch of people did. One of these enlightened people commented on the blog:

"Calm your tits. It is for entertainment, music eases our pains. The movie is even inspiring, can give motivation to people. Ha you call it horrific? Your post is even more horrific. What a psycho"

Having been subjected to this an awful lot by younger siblings who, I'm sure, would also tell me to calm my tits, I still think this is a bad movie; and the more I see, the more repugnant it becomes. Cheap, not at all uplifting or entertaining, I don't think this should be motivating to anyone. If you want a textbook example of how Hollywood commodify, yet misunderstand and entirely disregard the value of substantial narrative meaning, just check this out.



Whilst I'm very willing to just say that this just is what it is, I can't say I care much for the neo-exploitation, try-hard-grindhouse flicks. I find them more obnoxious than anything else; the claptrap from the 60s and 70s has its place in film history, but film geeks like Tarantino and, to a degree, Robert Rodriguez (more from this, Sin City and Grindhouse, less for the likes of Desperado and Spy Kids) trying to wack their movie buff wangs onto celluloid just seems cringe-worthy and childish to me.

The virtues of this are its ridiculousness and the fact that, in everyone mind's, this confirms who Tarantino really is deep down inside viz a viz his foot fetish. Beyond that, I've only ever paid full attention to this once. Today, my mind wandered after the first 30 minutes and it did not return.



It Comes At Night is a solid tragedy whose greatest strength is the meeting between theme and plot; the sequencing of events that reveal a world that cannot preserve faith, that makes individuals into shadows, too often the monster they have to be rather than the trusting, loving humans they wished they could be. Alas, whilst this is fascinating and deeply expressive, a re-watch left this feeling as if it lacked heart. This is due to the performances that fail to fully lift the subtle (not lacking, but requiring fulfilment) characterisation on the page. Whilst Edgerton and Abbot are pretty good, they outshine the rest of the cast when they maybe should have been a dark, harrowing backdrop that overlooks stronger, less clinical performances. If all characters were to be clinical, however, this would require more subtlety and silence and greater complexity in character reasoning; less elements of melodrama.

Alas, as it is, It Comes At Night is pretty exceptional; not a masterpiece, but an incredibly well-crafted movie.



Never been a huge fan of Schumer, but, having seen her previous specials, I thought she was quite funny. Having heard this was terrible, I stayed away, but, I've given it a go and... not good, but not entirely terrible.

The problem with this is that it simply lacks a professional quality; you just can't sense that she has worked through these jokes, honed them, and made them the best she could. Almost every 'joke' is an aside within a pointless story, no punch lines, no laughs. Schumer takes on a meek persona that has to be funny by accident, as if she's too dumb to write a real joke, yet too disgusting to not be hilarious. Without any real stage presence, just an awful lot of awkward, shuffling act-outs, Schumer rides on the fact that her audience came to see her and laugh. I'd love to see how this set would go down in an anonymous basement where no one was expecting her. In the end, this is just not a professional's product. I smirked 2 or 3 times.



It's not exceedingly brilliant, but it's a world apart from Schumer's latest effort; the laughs are there, the jokes are working on an audience who aren't completely on her side, she works and gets a response, she's sometimes subtle, has call-backs, solid references, confidence, stage presence, personal insights... it's a world apart from her latest effort.

The main drawbacks of this special are its sometimes clichéd nature, and the pretty transparent character that Schumer has constructed. This character is somewhat mind-numbing when you see it through its current incarnation, but, in its context, it works. Again, this is clichéd and so not that imaginative, but Schumer still manages to catch you off guard and pull out the laughs. For anyone who thinks Schumer's not at all funny, this is worth the watch. It's not the greatest special, it's not very enlightening either, but maybe Schumer needs to return to this base and build again.







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Bleed - The Quintessential Heavy Metal Song?

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23/06/2018

Bleed - The Quintessential Heavy Metal Song?

Thoughts On: Messhaggah's Bleed (2008)

A look at an infamous Swedish heavy metal song.


If I were to describe my favourite kind of music, I'd end up trying to describe Meshuggah's Bleed. Bleed is not my favourite song, but it captures, like no other piece of music, my idea of what great heavy metal feels like. Abstractly, Bleed plays like a feather descending through the eye of a storm. Watching this feather float, you see utter chaos in the background, yet still feel control, bounce and harmony whilst being able to scream. The reason for this is tied to the iconic polyrhythmic drums' relationship with the chugging djenty guitar. As the double bass blisters ceaselessly at the very core of the song, encased and emphasised by the guitar riffs, there floats the back beat crashing smoothly on the cymbals. The joy of listening to the song is then being able to nod along to the simple 1-2-3-4 on the back beat whilst drowning in the indescribable bass drum chaos. It is this brilliant effect that is often parodied, as you can see here:


Here you see the religious group being made to seem like they're moving to the crash of the cymbal whilst the slightly non-sync group coordination, especially in the beginning, suites the underlying bass drum.

Moving away from parody, what Bleed means to capture in its lyrics, as the band have said themselves, is the sensation of having an aneurysm - this was even the original title of the song. Looking at the lyrics knowing that this is about a painful transition into death makes them all the more clearer...

Beams of fire sweep through my head
Thrusts of pain increasingly engaged
Sensory receptors succumb
I am no one now, agony
My crimson liquid so frantically spilled
The ruby fluid of life unleashed
Ripples ascend to the surface of my eyes
Their red pens drawing at random, at will
A myriad pains begotten in their wake
The bastard spawn of a mutinous self
The regurgitation of my micro nemesis
Salivating red at the prospect of my ruin, my doom
Malfunction the means for its ascent
Bloodletting the stringent voice to beckon my soul
So futile any resisting tension
As death-induced mechanics propel its growth
The implement, the device of my extinction
The terminating clockwork of my gleeful bane
The definitive scourge of its mockery
The end-art instruments lethality attained
Heed, it commands, heed my will
Bleed, it says, bleed you will
Falling into the clarity of undoing
Scornful gods haggle for my soul
Minds eye flickers and delegates as I let go
Taunting whispers accompany my deletion
A sneering grin, the voice of my reaper
Chanting softly the song of depletion

The lyrics become further sensical when put into the context of the music video, which, itself, is about a journey into the depths of hell:


Emphasised in the music video is the character of the speaking protagonist in the lyrics. This doesn't seem to be a particularly good person as there is no sense of injustice or tragedy imbued into his descent into hell, his meeting of the demons or his eventual transformation into a servant. The image of clockwork adds an overtone of inevitability to his transformation, at a point or two providing subtle pathos - for instance, when the man reaches for a clock, which implies he wants time to stop or to reverse. However, because there is no real character or reason given in this particular song, what is made central is a sense of unforgiving, meaningless pain that does not cease until you succumb to it.

What the lyrics and video ultimately seem to be dealing with is the embrace of pain and chaos in the world. This is represented by the rhythm and drums with its key juxtaposition of control and bounce and blistering chaos. In listening to the song, we are made to embrace chaos, to accept pain, to nod along to the cymbals, to feel the lamenting lyrics, whilst the double bass tears at our ears. We, in turn, become the character of the song, and the final logic of this piece of music translates an acceptance of one's shadow.

The final demon of the music video is the darkness that bulges within us, the meeting and final death like the bursting of a vain in our head that ends an aneurysm. This demon is the monster you know you can be and sometimes are; the Mr. Hyde to your Dr. Jekyll.


The horror that is embedded into essentially becoming Mr. Hyde, or worse, falling slave to him, is self-evident: we slip into all we know is bad inside ourselves. However, whilst the music video represents this becoming of Mr. Hyde as a horrific failure, enjoying a piece of music like Bleed is not. In fact, anyone who likes this song would likely suggest that, though it is chaotic, it does good for them; it maybe calms them down or helps them process things as other heavy metal does. How do we then understand the becoming of the demon, of Mr. Hyde, as good?

To confront this question, it is important to realise what goes wrong with the character in the music video. He screams out to the demons he confronts, but is eventually silenced and turned into a dog of sorts; he falls prey and slave to the fingers over the lips of what seems to be an asura (Hindu/Buddhist spirit, sometimes depicted as evil). The main character's failure seems to be that he fails to use his speech well and correctly; though he screams and shouts, he cannot say anything to prevent his demise. With that understood, we can infer that the positive becoming Mr. Hyde would involve the enhancement of speech that prevents us becoming a slave to him.

Carl Jung's archetype theory, even presented very basically, provides a more complex answer to the question of a positive Mr. Hyde. Jung describes that negative side of our being as the shadow of ourselves; it is everything we think and do that we deem immoral and wrong, but is nonetheless possibly necessary and part of who we are. The shadow of ourselves may then be our angry or destructive persona. Heavy metal generally, Bleed specifically, plays with our angry and destructive persona. As we see with Bleed in the music video, rhythm and lyrics, this destruction, as represented by a demon in our head that has ruptured, is integrated into a person - and this is the function of heavy metal, one could argue.

Jung sees this becoming of a demon as positive, and the complete person as having integrated their shadow into their self. And so this means that the shadow plays a key role in individuation--in becoming a true individual. And the true individual can speak for themselves; can confront the world and deal with pain. Accepting Hyde as a part of Jekyll positively would then mean Jekyll having a control and understanding of Hyde, the shadow. You will notice that this is the struggle between Bruce Banner and Hulk; the big, green guy isn't bad as long as he is controlled and as long as he serves the real human, Bruce.


We all have a Hulk within us - it may not be as big, strong and impenetrable as the Marvel character, but it is there, and it only emerges when things go bad. Because you cannot get rid of him, because he will only ever spit the bullet out that you shoot into your own mouth, Jung suggests that you have to grow to become him and more; to integrate into yourself and then transcend the shadow you. We see this in Fight Club; Tyler is the Narrator's shadow; the Narrator cannot get rid of Tyler without indulging him via the fight clubs and then realising that it is not the world that they want to destroy when the fight club becomes Project X, but themselves; they just want to be alone in a void of inconsequence. This is the dream of the depressed nihilist. The way to overcome this is not necessarily to shoot yourself in the mouth - the more the Narrator tries to harm himself, the stronger his shadow becomes, and the more pain he endures. This is why, when the Narrator actually tries to shoot himself in the mouth, he fails. Tyler, the shadow, is gone after the Narrator blows his cheek to bits, however, because the he has become Tyler and more, has transcended him, by reaching out to someone just like himself and vowing to be truer to who he really is. Committing to putting a gun and then bullet in his mouth is the Narrator committing to being himself - not two dysfunctional people - no matter how much it will hurt.


What we see emerge from all of our examples is harmony through chaos; romance before the crumbling world and a hero in a broken man. What emerges from this harmony is people being able to be free, to be able to speak out and express truth - unlike the silenced dog that the character in Bleed's music video becomes. For so many people, metal turns this sensation and journey into music. There, on one hand, is utter chaos, yet, on the other is harmony, but, both let us feel and turn our speech, our bellows of anguish, into practical articulations. Bleed is a rhythmical exercise in just this to its very core, which is why I would argue that it is a quintessential metal song that musically captures the positive philosophy of the genre: to breed harmony through chaos and put value in a scream. With that said, however, I'll leave things with you. What do you think of heavy metal and Meshuggah's Bleed?






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