Amoeblog

Horror, The Universal Language 2: The Body in Videodrome (1983) & In My Skin (2002)

Posted by Charles Reece, October 27, 2009 11:51pm | Post a Comment
 videodrome poster french   in my skin poster french

Karen Conterio, founder of the in-patient "A Safe Alternative Program for the Treatment of Self-Injury" at University Hospital in Chicago, describes the average self-mutilator as intelligent and sensitive. She has low self-esteem, comes from a middle- to upper-class economic background, and began injuring herself as a preteen. Her parents are generally high-achievers who have trouble effectively communicating their feelings and often neglect their daughter's needs. -- Teen Magazine

My body is a journal in a way. It's like what sailors used to do, where every tattoo meant something, a specific time in your life when you make a mark on yourself, whether you do it yourself with a knife or with a professional tattoo artist. -- Johnny "not the face" Depp

When it comes to dealing with depersonalization disorders, David Cronenberg was ahead of the curve. He's the undisputed master of the Cartesian horror film, where the self is never wholly integrated with the body. Even his recent crime film, Eastern Promises, shows such a detachment where the Russian mob doesn't trust memory, relying instead on tattoos to signify their identity. Unfortunately for them, anyone with money can get a tattoo, Megan Fox, suburban mall punks, or an undercover cop. Therein lies the problem with trusting the body: it's too easily manipulated and controlled by external forces. As any self-flagellating monk could tell you, the surest way to sin is in reducing self to the earthly constraints of body, the locus of empty spectacle.

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"It's the MOST... jazziest tiiime of the yeeear...!"

Posted by Job O Brother, August 24, 2009 01:03pm | Post a Comment
jazz posterdrums

I know it’s probably plastered all over your calendar already, but just in case you didn’t know, this is Jazz Week at Amoeba Music Hollywood. This means that, in addition to our normal, totally tubular jazz selection, we’ve squeezed in some additional, choice inventory, plus we’re hosting jazz-spinning DJ’s and such. I think I saw a colorful banner with the word “JAZZ” in bold letters somewhere, too. I mean, people – come with your party hats on!

The back room of Amoeba Music Hollywood is what we call the “jazz room”, though it hosts many other genres of music*, one of which is the Soundtrack section, where I’m most oft found. Some well-meaning employees once tried to get people to nickname the room “jazzical” for the large section of classical music that frames the opposite side from jazz, but it never stuck, partially because people were so accustomed to saying “jazz room” and partially, I’m assuming, because saying “jazzical” makes you feel like an effeminate fat kid, which isn’t a fresh sort of feeling at all.

fat
“Can I have some more toffee and McMuffins? They’re jazzical!”

Within the soundtrack section are some great jazz albums, which will be the focus of this blog entry. So for those of you hoping for a 500 word exposé on actress Edie McClurg, I’m sorry but this isn’t the blog for you.

A Few More Thoughts on Technology and Realism: Pac-Man and Surrogates Trailer

Posted by Charles Reece, August 9, 2009 10:16pm | Post a Comment
pac-man game  pac-man skeleton death

I gave up playing video games when I encountered the second button. I was alright with jumping, but combination moves and shit like that tended to take me out of the formal (as in Platonic) perfection of a Pac-Man or Space Invaders. If I want gritty (as in non-Platonic) realism, I'll read Bukowski, or watch a Cassavetes film. I've since played a few of these realistic "moving" games where one drives through a simulated real city, running into other cars or over innocent bystanders (other variations of this game type have the player as a superhero, vigilante, soldier, or cute creature on some ostensible quest -- e.g., killing zombies -- but they're more about just moving through a virtual environment). The only thing they add to the endless struggle (at least, ideally) of a little round guy eating dots is more detail -- the ontology remains unchanged. Pac Man already had the truth of its and the player's existence written into its elegant design. That is, it said everything that needed to be said: keep playing, desire can now be quantified by the score; the goal never changes, nor will you ever get closer to it, no matter how fast things start moving.

Speaking of existence being reduced to the score, the reknowned junkie William S. Burroughs once narrated a video game based on the writings of Edgar Allen Poe called The Dark Eye. Looks interesting, although I hear it bombed:


But back to the yellow fellow: Speed, color scheme and fruit are pretty much the only differences in its levels. The game's "progression" is a matter of pseudoindividuation: slight variation to keep the player committed to/distracted from/entertained by the standardization. The techno-realism of a Grand Theft Auto only adds more complex layers of novelty to Pac-Man, bogging the player down with data (more places to visit, more visual detail, more complex controls), keeping him or her lost in the details. If Pac Man was sortcronenberg existenz poster of an existential map, the purpose of which was to lead us temporarily away from life's troubles, the more realistic derivations seem to be moving us in the direction of cyberpunk dystopias, where the map (virtual reality) is just as convoluted as the mapped (old-fashioned reality), eventually rendering any distinction seemingly useless, like in David Cronenberg's eXistenZ. Most games now have to supply the player with a map, so can the possibility of getting lost "in there" be that far off? And isn't that the fantasy behind realism, to get lost within the simulated reality, to not be able to distinguish the depiction from the depicted? If reality can't be controlled, substitute its image, which (supposedly) can, or, to appropriate Theodor Adorno once again:

Reality becomes its own ideology through the spell cast by its faithful duplication. -- "The Schema of Mass Culture"

I remember a bunch of criticism directed towards the blandness of Cronenberg's design for the gaming environment in his film, that it looked too plain. However, I took his point to be Adorno's: that no matter how much a game (or movie, or any other art) allows us to fantasize about being in control over our surroundings, someone else is doing the programming that sets the rules. The technologically enhanced realism furthers the fantasy, while ultimately decreasing our (the players') control on reality. The endgame of this fantasy -- where reality itself becomes its own simulation for our avatars to play in -- is the conceit of the new Bruce Willis vehicle, Surrogates (adaped from a comic book):


An intriguing idea, even if the execution looks like standard Hollywood sci-fi cheese. I guess what I've been angling for is this: If one of our primary fantasies is being in control, then it would seem that its logical, utlimate, fantastic realm would not look like some weird alien world, or an abstract dimension of colors and shapes (such as Pac-Man or TRON), but exactly like the one we know, only without any of the risks and vicissitudes of the real deal. That's why with all the technological innovations in film production, with a near boundless samuel r delanypotential to create increasingly bizarre (ir)realities, the fantasy genre (in which I'd put science fiction, cartoons and whatever else I've been talking about lately) has been getting more realistic. Barring the occasional fetishist, I suspect most people would have sex with a simulated human on Star Trek's holodeck, not some sentient squid creature. Rather than expanding, or questioning, the predisposed ideas wrapped up in our common conception of reality as a good fantastic yarn can do (e.g., pick one of Samuel R. Delany's books), the realistic capabilities of technology are limiting the possibilities of imagination, of counterfactual situations, to think outside the box, when it makes the fantasy look like reality.