Artist Talk

I gave an artist talk on my game project, AURA, this summer. I go into binaural brain entrainment, environmental narrative and ECCO the Dolphin's subversive roots.

Play NYC

This past weekend I had the opportunity to show my work at Play NYC, an indie game convention and the first of its kind in new York. For me, it was  about feeling out the scene - I was there showing my first video game project and getting a feel for the scene. I talked to a on of fascinating people and left with the sense that there's a pretty solid community here. The range of what can be done with gamin is massive and people were open to multiplayer party games, VR experiences, mobile games and narrative work like what my friends and I were sowing. It felt nice to have a little island of story based gaming in the crowd where it was hard for people to sit down and take their time with a game (shout out to Charles Hans Huang for his meditative/introspective Reflections at Sunset for creating an actual oasis).

I left feeling pretty good about existing in the indie game world, wether expanding on Aura or moving on to the next thing. I not only feel an excitement for the possibilities of game storytelling, but a great sense of place in a community of makers.

Kids loved it

Kids loved it

Big green box

Big green box

Bathroom lighting was fantastic

Bathroom lighting was fantastic

The Medium is the Message

Last night I re-watched Videodrome as reference and inspiration for a current project. I'm eternally blown away by Cronenberg's work, few other creators balance intellect, craft and horror so successfully. The film is prescient, beautiful and still shocking; the images of the videodrome transmission still unsettle me, and as ridiculous as the images are, Max's hungry, vaginal orifice consuming orders on VHS tapes is shocking and audacious.

Thematically it's a broad movie - desire for something new, living in a plugged in and overstimulated society, higher forces wanting to rid society of "trash." These all lead more specifically to pornography and BDSM used as tools for people living in this over-connected, overstimulated world. This being 1983, the main focus is on television, which works to its favor in a pre-Matrix cinematic world; we hadn't been inundated quite so much with internet conspiracies and alternate reality horror. Cronenberg would rival The Matrix thematically with the under rated Existenz years later, but would never again be as ahead of the curve as he is here with Videodrome.

One of my favorite literary themes is the idea of wanting to experience more than you've been allowed, wanting to feel more than you maybe should and paying a price for it. There's a shared DNA here with Hellraiser, opening Pandora's box, willingly exposing yourself to Videodrome and never being the same. James Woods' Max wants viewers for his tiny TV channel, but he knows to attract people these days you need something shocking. He looks for something new in pornography but it's not enough. Enter Videodrome, a program supposedly broadcasting from Pittsburgh, its frequencies picked up by a pirate sattelite and presented to Max. Against an electrified clay wall (?) women are being beaten and humiliated, It seems real, but can't be. Max needs it. Later, on a talk show, he's interviewed alongside radio psychiatrist Nicki and television religious leader Dr. O'Blivion. He begins dating Nicki, who confesses to living life in a state of constant over stimulation, leading her to masochism in order to feel satisfied; extinguishing cigarettes on her chest and sexually piercing her skin. The pair watch Videodrome on a date (dream date) and Nicki is more than intrigued. She wants to be on Videodrome.

To sum up the plot, Nicki goes missing and the trail leads to O'Blivion, whose Cathode Ray Mission is plugging the homeless into television to reconnect them to society. Max begins having violent fantasies and delusions, he inserts a gun into a gaping wound in his stomach. Turns out Videodrome was a corporate/military invention designed to cause hallucinations and create zombies; the content had two functions - to attract those low enough in their eyes to want to watch Videodrome, and to use violence to open up neural pathways to make them susceptible to the mind control and hallucinations. The only moment where Videodrome  doesn't work for me is when the creators of the frequency tell a brainwashed Max to kill his partners and give them Channel 83, it just feels like having the president murder his partners wouldn't necessarily shift control of the channel to these shady people.

So, what's driving these characters? It's maybe not the most character driven story in Cronenberg's oeuvre, but the story is pushed forward by the desires and decisions of Max and Nicki. Overtly, Max wants an audience for Channel 83, but why is he driven to do this through pornography and shock value? It's a view on humanity and society that this is what attracts people, but also, as Videodrome creator Barry calls him out, a mirror to his own cravings. The porn and BDSM aren't shocking, but the Videodrome frequency seems to awaken a subconscious desire to hurt people, mainly women. A dark feature of this film is that the main character is possibly driven by a subconscious desire to hurt women, manifesting in the attraction to Videodrome and the sadistic role in his relationship with Nicki. Nicki, however, has confronted her desires. She knows she wants pain to feel good and goes after it. It's almost inconsequential though when she does. As far as the audience knows, she's been snuffed out by Videodrome, or perhaps she never existed beyond the talk show, as she largely enters the story after Max begins hallucinating. One could read into her disappearance as cautionary, as she looks for an extreme experience and gets killed for it, but, for better or worse, her disappearance serves to push the plot forward, causing Max to look for her in Pittsburgh. Interestingly, he doesn't seem all that concerned with Nicki (nor does anyone, really) but is looking for answers about Videodrome and O'blivion.

Nicki returns in the end, having transcended the "old flesh," transmitting to Max through a television set full of human organs, where Max will join her in the "new flesh." Wether this is a permanent connection, a final result of our plugged in society or a rejection of it I can't say, but the words ring eternally: "Long live the new flesh."

Rebirth

I went to see the Revenant last night for a second time. A few friends who hadn't seen it wanted to go and I enjoyed it enough the first time to see i another time, the gorgeous cinematography certainly warranted another viewing in a theater.

Second time around, I paid a lot more attention to the theme of death and rebirth in the movie.  There is a real beauty to the way that every time the unstoppable Hugh Glass "dies' he re-emerges from something as if being born again, sometimes totally naked and out of a biological organism, such as the horse he sleeps in for warmth after a fall over a cliff. This is repeated in a hut built by a Pawnee man he meets and earliest when he digs himself out of his own shallow grave.

 

Each time Glass is reborn he's stronger, but less human. Revenge becomes his sole purpose for surviving, his son having been taken needlessly.

The idea of who's good and bad in this film is very black and white, the characters don't have a lot of depth, functioning more as living ideas of intangible concepts. Fitzgerald is greed and apathy towards life personified, Leo's wife and child were all that is good in the world, taken away. Glass functions not quite as good or evil, but a force of nature, fueled by rage.

If I have a problem with this film it's that the only female character exists solely to be kidnapped and raped. I understand this from a narrative viewpoint, and she gets her revenge s well, but I like to imagine we can do a little better with female characters. Obviously there aren't going to be a lot of women in the fur trapping camp, but some of the native American females could have been given some depth. The only other woman in the movie I recall is a survivor of a pillaging that gets thrown a little bit of food by the sympathetic young man passing through.

Knowing that the real life Hugh Glass did not have a son is an interesting thought narratively. A lot of weight is given to Glass's back story as an outsider that made a life of peace with a native American family, creating an emotional resonance to his anger for the audience. In reality, he was pissed that Fitzgerald left him to die, which is a pretty legitimate reason to want revenge, however lacking in altruism and familial bonds. The son was a nice addition to give some humanity to a cold revenge story.

The Revenant presents a Herzog like view of the brutality of nature. The viewer can't help but realize that the typical living human today wouldn't last a few days in the conditions that Glass drudges through. The environment looks huge, and it is, the panoramic cinematography of the legendary Emanuel Lubezki places the viewer in the wilderness, the mountains and valleys so enormous that we feel like dwarves in our seats. This is balanced by an aggressively intimate shooting style during violent scenes. Blood literally splatters onto the camera lens in a visceral shock, creating a phantom twinge of pain. I swear the theater got colder when Glass was wet and freezing in the snow. Iñarritu's signature long fluid moving shots bring the viewer into the frame, creating the illusion that you're the one looking around, moving your eyes back and forth between Glass and his dead son in desperation. Big events for humans in the film are often preceeded by images of pure nature; elk crossing a river or wolves attacking buffalo give light foreshadowing to what  happens next in the world of men.