Tuesday 24 October 2017

The Question in Bodies #5: eXistenZ (1999)

In Summer 1999, The Matrix came out, and that's pretty uncontroversially one of the most culturally significant films of the last two decades, if not the most culturally significant, period.

The Matrix changed the way mainstream films were made and watched, and its iconography is a shorthand now for the campaigners in a war against everything that many of us, including, lest we forget, the makers of The Matrix itself, stand for. But as important as The Matrix is, the thing that it isn't is prescient.

As far as its relationship with culture goes, it's mainly a set of commonly scrambled symbols, part of our cultural lexicon. It's not half as profound or coherent  as it thinks it is, and its images, which are powerful, exciting images, are more or less without any real anchors of meaning, and lend themselves to being appropriated by any number of functionally illiterate Agent Smiths. In hats. And that's how the world's most influential white supremacist can bang on with the rest of them about using the Red Pill and no one really goes, wait a minute here. But The Matrix, while absolutely a film that helped to get us where we are, was never a film that told us where we were going.

On the other hand, the second half of 1999 also gave us another VR Movie, David Cronenberg's eXistenZ, which did not gain an enormous following, did not transform cinema, and did not become part of the cultural lexicon. But of the two of them, it's eXistenZ that hasn't dated. While The Matrix looks now like the most 1999 film imaginable, eXistenZ is a film that feels like now.

Friday 20 October 2017

We Don't Go Back #69: The Pied Piper (1972)

The story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin was very much part of the fairy tale repertoire when I was a kid. I remember seeing Cosgrove Hall's animated adaptation as a kid, had at least one book of fairy tales that included a retelling, heard it at school. One of my dad's Prediction magazines had a typically unsettling piece (for a kid) about the history and folklore of the story (March 1982, "Who was the Pied Piper?"). Although it goes back to the fourteenth century, it was retold by the Brothers Grimm and Robert Browning, among others, and so you'd think its entry in the canon is assured.

None of my children had heard of it before I asked them yesterday.

It isn't one of the stories they were told at school and thinking about it, of the multitude of fairy tales I read to my kids, or saw with them adapted on TV, it was absent. They know the stories of the Three Little Pigs, Red Riding Hood, Aladdin, Snow White, Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty, all present, all correct.

But no Pied Piper.

Monday 16 October 2017

Catullus LXXXV

odi et amo. quare id faciam fortasse requiris?
nescio sed fieri sentio et excrucior.
— Catullus
It is the prerogative of first-time lovers
To claim yourselves the creators
Of the language of romance. I know that.
And yet, if in singing to uncomprehending Latins
About things that did really did not as yet have names,
If in locating the precise intersection
Of friendship, obligation and desire,
If in explaining what it is to find yourself
One of many and only one of many
And never more than one of many,
If in curdling inside and
Calling her obscene and calling worse things
And yet still closing my eyes and seeing
That full red lower lip, that cream-white throat,
Those soft pale upper arms around which
I could close my fingers without hurting her,
If in remembering her salt and wit and filthy lovely laugh,
If in being crucified across loathing and wanting
I failed to see that I was a true pioneer of heartbreaks,
What difference will it make?
You will be able to invent all these things yourselves
Perfectly well without me.

Friday 13 October 2017

Room 207 Press Weekend Flash Sale

Just until Monday, all of the digital books I have listed at the Room 207 Press store at DriveThruRPG and DriveThruFiction are at a 60% discount.

Which include: 

Chariot and its supplement Cosmic Memory, still the best RPG I have ever written;

MSG™, the game of corporate irresponsibility that io9 described as "Stuffed to the gills with black, black humour".

Inner Worlds, my monograph on relationships in gaming;

and this is not a picture, a ghost story collection.

Find them at my storefront here.

Wednesday 11 October 2017

We Don't Go Back – Guest Post: The Turin Horse (A Torinói Ló) (2011)

So it's Guest Post Week, and the second post of this week comes from esteemed colleague Daniel Pieterson who wrote this fabulous piece on Bela Tarr's 2011 The Turin Horse (A Torinói Ló).

Tuesday 10 October 2017

We Don't Go Back – Guest Post: Ravenous (1999)

I've known Craig Daniel for a few years now as part of a loose collective of colleagues and friends who talk about games and politics. We were talking the other day about backwoods horror which Craig, who lives in rural North Carolina, naturally has strong feelings about. Too often, poor rural people are demonised and othered, and we were talking about films that might buck that trend. Anyway, Craig mentioned Antonia Bird's 1999 blackly comic cannibal horror Ravenous, to which I enthusiastically assented, but which I haven't seen for, oh, years. 

The 90s were a weird time for media. I think it was the first time that media really exploded, that you no longer had a hope of catching a general idea of the shape of pop culture. And at the same time, it was the birth of the internet, and I often feel that there was this assumption that people didn't necessarily archive and record things the way that they pretty much automatically do now, because they just assumed that it was, you know, on the internet. Does that make sense? I think that there's a lot from the 90s that's nearly forgotten, which, if it had been made a decade earlier or a decade later, wouldn't be, and Ravenous falls into that bracket. Which is a crying shame.

Here's Craig on Ravenous.

Monday 9 October 2017

Res Gestae

He called us to his bedside.
We brought our dictaphones,
Batteries refreshed
Ready for our Master's Voice.

He said, erect these words
On pillars of brass and stone
In every city of My empire:
“I changed the world forever.

I shut the gates of war, and three times
Peace achieved by force of will
And simple force whose equal none
Will see again for centuries.

These have been My times:
I already have a month of My own
And one day I know the years shall be counted
Beginning with the day I was born.”

He spoke for an hour or more,
listing the things he had achieved.
(I cannot remember them.)
When he was done, he closed his eyes.

He exhaled, and I thought
how frail and used-up he looked
And wondered if, when he had died
And had achieved his promised godhead,
I would think of him, the man deified,
As old and hoarse and dying.

Saturday 7 October 2017

We Don't Go Back #68: The Falling (2014)

1. The word hysteria comes from the Greek word for womb; the medical profession, or at least the documented part of it, the part that was controlled by men thought that the menstrual cycle – the "disordered womb" – inclined women to be irrational, prone in numbers to wild behaviour.

2. Men historically have been thought to be inclined to magic, the stuff of ritual and study; women meanwhile have been given to witchcraft, the traffic with spirits and dreams, the work of the irrational.

3. The maenads, the crazed worshippers of Dionysus, who tore the grieving Orpheus to shreds when he would not play with them, were of course women.

4. How do you write about something that's so personal, so centred on the secret solidarity of women, so based around womanhood, when you're a man?

5. A friend promised to do a guest post about Carol Morley's 2014 The Falling but life got in the way for her, as it does, and I hope that she'll still write a piece about it for me one day because she's a good writer and I am positive she could get things from it that I couldn't (and it's not like there's no precedent, since several films have had more than one post now) but the book has to get finished, so. Here I am.

Friday 6 October 2017

We Don't Go Back #67: The Village (2004)

For me, the gauge of how well a film's plot twist is executed is how easy it is to talk about said film without giving it away; you can for example say a lot about Get Out, The Wicker Man or Robin Redbreast without spilling the beans. Likewise, if a film is still good once you know the shock ending, still good the second time round, you know you're on to a winner. Psycho is full of twists and turns but it doesn't matter, it's still a nailbiter. And the final twist in Planet of the Apes enriches the world it creates sufficiently that eight more films have been made, all of which don't just depend on that twist, but rest on it, have all of their weight defined by the gravity of that one bonkers, histrionic final moment.

On the other hand, a bad twist can be really disheartening. I'm not even talking about predictable twists here, because a good film can have a predictable twist and that's OK if the story is strong enough. It might even be a good thing. For example, one of my favourite things about Get Out is that there's one reveal that's obvious right from the beginning, and you know the other shoe is going to drop, but you don't want it to, even after we see conclusive proof that this is what the case is, and we're still caught when the mask finally comes off.

A terrible twist, on the other hand, grabs you by the shoulders just a bit too hard and yells GOTCHA! from like three inches away from your face so that your head rings and there's a bit of spittle that went up your nose and you feel betrayed and angry that you wasted your time when this was the result, and the culprit is standing there with this vague expectant grin and pointing both fingers like a three year old gunslinger and looking really bloody smug.

Some of the very worst twists I've ever seen are the ones that turn the film they're in into a pointless shaggy dog story that you're not just unable to watch again, but that you're sort of angry you saw in the first place. Samuel L Jackson isn't the mentor, he's the maniac that made all this happen! All Mel Gibson needs to kill the aliens is a glass of water! It's the actual trees that want to kill us! They're not granny and grandad, they're a pair of escaped maniacs who killed the grandparents and hid the bodies in the house! Bruce Willis is one of the dead people and always was! GOTCHA. 

And I'm playing the game now too, because that little rant carries an all-too predictable twist in itself. Because I was talking about M Night Shyamalan all along!

Cue dramatic music.

Tuesday 3 October 2017

We Don't Go Back #66: Suspiria (1977)

Look, no one who loves Dario Argento's Suspiria (and a lot of people love Suspiria) loves it for the plot. Or the performances. Or for the dialogue, for that matter. I want to get that out of the way from the start. But if you care about the history of genre cinema it's completely essential. In a lot of ways it's an aesthetic motherlode, which taps into the exact period it's a part of. It looks beautiful, and its soundtrack by prog rock act Goblin goes from tinkly and unsettling to screaming walls of noise, and is one of those legendary film soundtracks that you'd buy in its own right (also, it helpfully hisses "WITCH!" at strategic points, just so you know what you're watching). While Suspiria's storytelling is, to put it mildly, somewhat disjointed, it has this solid cultural grounding, in both the 70s witchcraft boom and the way in which European cultural insititutions have these occult foundations that we take for granted. Suspiria doesn't take this stuff for granted.  

But bloody hell.