Tuesday 28 July 2020

Room 207 Press Webinars #8: Sex On-Demand – sex with robots in film and TV

Ever since Fritz Lang made Metropolis in 1927, science fiction cinema has been the home of the fembot, the sexualised woman-machine who fulfils heterosexual desires in ways both threatening and unthreatening. As the technology advances, the idea of the sex robot weirdly becomes a possibility – RealDolls are a thing – and in this week's Zoom lecture, I'm going to look at the idea of how the sexy robot has developed in film and TV, and the meaning of them for what it is to be human.

Expect difficult conversations on issues of consent and sexual politics.
(And also some discussion of why I found this so funny)
The talk is as ever going to be held twice, on Monday 3rd August, at 8pm UK time and 8pm Eastern Time (US/Canada). It's Pay What You Want, meaning that although the suggested donation is £5-10 you can if you want come for free, and you are very welcome to do so. If you back my Patreon, you not only get automatic invites to all my lectures, but access to the videos after the fact, early access to my writing and some exclusive content from time to time.

Friday 17 July 2020

The Question in Bodies #21: Lectio Infernalis

Possession (1981)

(This, written in late 2018, is still, in my opinion, the single best piece of film writing I have ever produced. Some things have changed for me since this was written, as I'm sure you can imagine, and I have no doubt things have changed for you too in the last few years. I'm in no worse a place, though, and it's still true. All of it is true. The part about “no masks” holds a weirdly different meaning now, but let's keep it there anyway.)

(OK, look. I'm just going to list the things worthy of a content warning and be done with it. This post includes talk on: suicidal behaviour; self harm; spousal abuse; misogyny; childhood trauma; infidelity; God. Probably some other things too. But that's your warning. Do what you want with it.)

Writing about films saved my life.

That’s a pretty serious statement to make, true, and of course it’s hyperbole, except that it isn’t, not entirely.

Deep breath, then. Over the space of about three years, I underwent what they used to call a nervous breakdown. I’m kind of cagey about talking on this; there’s always the sense that a thing like this is never really in the past tense. And yeah, I had a couple of false starts, and lulls, and times when I was fooled into thinking the fragile flame of a candle was the distant light of the sun at the end of that tunnel, only for it to be extinguished, which is somehow worse than never having had that light in the first place. The extent to which in my adult life I’ve been free of my mental health issues has only ever been a matter of degree, although it's only in the last two years that what I have wrong with me has really been pinpointed in any way that allows me to work with it. Writing about it, as I have increasingly in the last year, as my recovery has been something I’ve gradually become more confident about, has been a precarious, frightening thing.

There is the risk, for one, when you self disclose with any kind of honesty, that you might be revealed as a terrible human being. The risk that your honest appearance to the world might be as prejudiced, or as self regarding and pretentious, or as a navel gazer, or as inflated and pompous, or worst of all, as pathetic and creepy and small. I've been all of them at times, I think. I'll try not to be any of them here and now, but the problem with honesty is that there are no filters. There are no masks.

Wednesday 15 July 2020

Room 207 Press Webinars #7: Lectio Infernalis – spiritual practice, trauma and horror as a healing text

Film writing saved my life.

That isn't an exaggeration, it's not dramatic. A three-year struggle with a precipitous and destructive mental illness whose effects on my relationships and self-identity were profound and lasting was alleviated by the meditative response to horror and writing a 150,000 word book about it.

And I know I'm not alone in that. There's been quite a lot written about the therapeutic – even spiritual – value of the horror movie, and for me, the most curious thing has been that the more blasphemous and traumatic the film is, the more capacity for healing it provides.

In Polish auteur Andrzej Zuławski's one real horror film, Possession, we have a moment where Marc (Sam Neill) is told that there is nothing to be afraid of but God. And he replies, “God is a disease.”

There's so much to unpack there; quite apart from the New Atheist idea of God as a toxic and contagious psychological construct,  a sort of communal mental plague, the idea of God in sickness, as immanent in the illness and the illness itself, challenges us, forces us to confront whether faith has any point at all. And what if anything, can bring us healing when we are forced daily to confront the void.
In Martyrs (2008), a film so extreme the BBFC used it a case study for traumatic violence, the supposed God-shaped hole in the human soul becomes all there is. But when you're living in a state of anxiety, emotional pain and overwhelming misery, while the contenplation of the void seems inevitable, approaching it through stories can help. The extremity of horror can be a release. It's not the cure, but it can be an aid to healing.

The Benedictine practice of Lectio Divina mean “divine reading”; this week, though, I'll be offering some of my own experiences as a way into talking about Lectio Infernalis, a reading in hell, which is, I think, the use of horror as a way of approaching and working through our trauma, anxiety and mental health issues – the things that can parasitise our lives in a way far too redolent of horror – in a positive way, and a lens through which we can explore cathartic and healing approaches to our past traumas.

The Zoom seminar Lectio Infernalis: Spiritual Practice, Trauma and Horror as a Healing Text is ran on Monday 20th July (8pm UK time and again at 8pm Eastern Time US/Canada). My $10+ Patreon backers got automatic access, as well as access to videos of this and all the previous talks, along with early access to my writing, an archive of audio readings and occasional exclusive goodies.

See the whole programme for the rest of the Summer here.

Tuesday 14 July 2020

Cult Cinema #29: The Art of Obvious Wisdom

Seven Stages to Achieve Eternal Bliss by Passing
Through the Gateway Chosen by the Holy Storsh

Yeah, it's a mouthful. Let's just move on from that, except to affirm that Seven Stages to Achieve Eternal Bliss by Passing Through the Gateway Chosen by the Holy Storsh is the sort of movie that would have a title like that, a quirky American indie comedy, which is tonally in the vein of something like Little Miss Sunshine, or Life After Beth, or maybe Being John Malkovich, a film which draws its comedy from eccentric people being eccentric, but not eccentric in that curated, stylised way that Wes Anderson has, more grounded than that. The sort of film that chooses a song by The Flaming Lips to play out over the closing credits.That's what we're talking about.

Spoilers, as usual, from the start.

Friday 10 July 2020

Sects Education #5: Praise Be To He

The Righteous Gemstones, Season 1 (2019)

(This is largely a discussion of televangelism, prosperity preaching and American evangelicalism, using the recent HBO series The Righteous Gemstones as a lens. Needless to say, there are spoilers galore.)

So when I ran with the Evangelicals, I spent every Easter for the six years from 1996 to 2001 as a volunteer steward for the evangelical festival Spring Harvest. Every year for about three weeks, usually either side of Easter, Spring Harvest still takes over the Butlins holiday camp at Minehead (not this year, obviously, but as William Cowper put it, God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform).

Imagine a Christian convention.

Wednesday 8 July 2020

The Room 207 Press Summer Webinar Series – a mid-season relaunch

So towards the start of the lockdown season, I started thinking about what I could do workwise. It's a brutal time for a freelancer. But then I got asked to do a talk for a lovely place in Nashville, and then I thought, you know what, I may not be good at everything but I do have a way with a useless but fascinating fact. So I thought, I'll have an online seminar series. And this has been fun, if exhausting. So far I've explored folk horror, faked ecctoplasm, explained how to brainwash someone and invented a whole genre of horror. But we're not quite halfway through the series, so there's a lot more to come.

The Details

Seminars run on Mondays, and each one runs twice: the first is at 8pm, British Summer Time; the second at 8pm, Eastern Daylight Time (which is 1am BST). If you're in the UK or in a similar time zone, you'll probably want to book for the BST session; if you're in the US or Canada, you'll likely want the EDT session. But anyone can go to either if they can make it.

The seminars are going to run online, using Zoom, because that's what everyone uses, and honestly, it's about the easiest way to do this. Before the talk I'll mail everyone with meeting links and passwords (because there will be passwords).

How much?
Backing my Patreon not only gets you a season ticket to all the talks, but access to videos after the fact, along with all the other benefits. If you don't want to commit to a subscription, each class is available on a Pay-What-You-Want basis (input how much you want to pay in the checkout box), and is limited to 50 attendees, because bandwidth (so please register, even if you decide to come for free). Suggested range for a ticket is £5-10, but seriously, if you can't afford it and you want to come, there's no guilt attached.

Here's a schedule of what's to come. 

Monday 6 July 2020

Room 207 Press Webinars #6: The Color Turquoise

In late 2018, celebrated author Alice Walker was asked by the New York Times to do one of those regular “books I have on my bedside table” pieces that fill a few inches in the weekly book review supplement. And that quickly got weird, because one of the books she waxed lyrical about was by David Icke, and this quickly got picked up by people who pointed out that Icke's book was really antisemitic, in that it blamed all the ills of the world by a conspiracy of Jewish bankers. Who were in fact extraterrestrial lizards who have been ruling the planet for millennia.

And this reminded everyone that David Icke – prophet of conspiratorial, antisemitic extraterrestrial doom – existed. Every so often he pops up and we get that poisonous, vaguely ill feeling that Icke brings with him. Recently, he's been back with the whole “link between the novel coronavirus and 5G” question (spoilers: there isn't a link between the novel coronavirus and 5G), shortly before getting his YouTube removed.
But how do you get a David Icke? Where do ideas like his come from? What is the secret history that causes an idea to metastasise into a state where a professional goalie turned sports commentator turned Green Party politician becomes the visionary king of the conspiracy theorists? 

In my next Zoom seminar, The Color Turquoise, I'll be explaining the strange origin of the ideas that led to David Icke, and the trajectory that led from the early origins of the New Age movement into its wildest fringes, and how a semingly benign New Ager could become one of the most popular antisemitic conspiracy theorists in history.

The talk was held twice on Monday 13th July, at 8pm BST (UK time) and 8pm EDT (Eastern US/Canada time). Patreon backers automatically get in, and get access to the videos afterward, so if you missed it, there's still the Patreon.