The Secret Sun Best of the Zeros: The Movies

The Zeros were a decade in which memes from the underground bubbled up into the mass media and took over the mainstream in a way I would never thought possible. Twenty years ago topics like secret societies and sacred symbolism were purely fringe stuff. Today, they're kids' stuff. Twenty years ago, superheroes and sci-fi were kid stuff- now they're as popular with adults as with kids.

Of course, by the time a meme reaches the mainstream it's often been drained of any meaning- certainly of any danger. But at the same time, the filtering power of the establishment media has been severely diminished, as the internet creates endlessly mutating microcultures, complete with their own secret languages and symbols.

All of which goes to show that the past ten years have been very interesting ones for those of us interested in looking under the skirt of consensus reality. So many strange memes are floating around out there and bouncing off the walls of pop culture, there's always something to dig into and pick apart. So, let me tell you what flicks buttered my toast in this often remarkably-unpleasant decade, in ascending order...



5. Dagon (2002) - Two of the main themes on my list are dream-reality and commercial obscurity. Dagon is certainly an extremely obscure film, and a lot of people I recommended it to hated it. Too bad- I love this film passionately (see an old rant on it here).

The holy grail for Lovecraft fans is the Great Lovecraft Adaptation, in which the largely-literary power of his writing will be transferred onto the screen. I'm not holding my breath. Lovecraft was a man consumed by the power of his unconscious mind and his dream, and was able to pull his readers into that reality. Tall order, when you think about it. Listening to other people talk about their dreams can often be pretty numbing.

If a great Lovecraft film- meaning one that transfers that improbable power onto the screen- is off the table, then the competent Lovecraft film becomes the next best thing. I'm not sure if Dagon is necessarily a Lovecraft film at all anymore- there are too many attractive women in it, for one thing. But it certainly translates some of the main Lovecraftian bullet points into a modern milieu. Shooting the film in Spain may have been an economic imperative, but it allowed an exotic lost-world feeling you'd never find in modern Gloucester, the town Lovecraft based Innsmouth upon.

The film also nicely encapsulates this process of the old archetypes resurfacing in the culture as the old certainties melt away under the merciless blowtorch of Globalism. What's more we have that aquatic metaphor Lovecraft was so well-known for, something I'm going to be looking for in the culture at large in 2010. And ultimately, of course, Lovecraft's mythos is derived from a AAT variant, isn't it? Maybe this film will resonate a bit more in the future than it has in the past. You could take the same exact plot points in the story and neatly translate them into an alien/ET context. Or an AstroGnostic one, for that matter.



4. Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002) - If you told me in 1997 that in five years an epic trilogy of films based on Tolkien's Rings novels would dominate the worldwide box office and rule the imaginations of a whole new generation of kids, I would have thought you were insane. Maybe in 1972, but 2002? Nah, there weren't enough Rennies out there to ever make that happen. Plus, Hollywood would muck it all up, and cast Keanu Reeves as Aragorn, Verne Troyer as Frodo and Whoopi Goldberg as Gandalf. Little did I know.

There's an old cliche that the movie is never as good as the book it's based on. Not with the Rings. For my money, Jackson transcends Tolkien's wooden prose and cardboard characters and makes you care about these people and their stories. The Rings Trilogy is now his, just as much as it's Tolkien's.

The Two Towers shows us why- the battle at Helm's Deep is practically a footnote in the novel- here it's the Blitz, Pearl Harbor and 9/11 rolled into one and mainlined with steroids and crystal meth. For my money, one of the top three battle scenes in the history of film. The Elizabeth Fraser number in the scene's soundtrack didn't hurt any, either.

Tolkien denied that the war in the Rings trilogy was an allegory, but I never bought that. It's pretty obvious to me that it was about Britain in World War II, and Jackson brings that to life in a way a straight up historical retelling could never do. Jackson took a hoary old relic from the mid-20th Century and fashioned a true mythology out of it, a process that Tolkien could begin but never finish. And for a big-budget blowout, the Rings trilogy really burrowed into the depths of my unconscious mind at times. Not something I normally associate with that kind of fantasy.



3. The Nines (2007) - This is the second-most obscure movie on this list, but it's really gotten under my skin in the way that films like Jacob's Ladder and Apocalypse Now once did. The closeness and intimacy of the story lends it its magic, and makes its big reveal not so much a revelation as a realization. And as with many of my favorite films, the music is an integral part of the storytelling.

There's something about this film that has a lost, archaic quality to it as well- it reminds me of something that Bunuel or Jodorowsky would do in the 60s or 70s. Technically it's a sci-fi film (since it's essentially about aliens) but there's also a very strong current of magical realism here, again more in that arty Latin vein than an modern American indie film. In that it also reminds me of Jodorowsky's comics work- a quiter and obviously more sedate take on ideas explored in The Incal or Madwoman of the Sacred Heart.



2. Mulholland Dr. (2001) - I'm not in touch with my dreams as I should be- or as I once was. There are a lot of good reasons for that, and I don't think of this condition as being permanent. But I've always fantasized about putting the numinous power of dream on film. Of course, David Lynch has that covered. He's been doing it since Eraserhead.

Lynch lost me for a long time- Twin Peaks might be a Synchromystical motherlode, but it wasn't an entertainment motherlode (at least for me) come its second season. Same goes for the rest of it- Wild at Heart and Lost Highway. Hotel Room I blanked out on entirely. I will go back and pore through them again one day, but Lynch's renaissance came with Mulholland Dr., a filmed adaptation of an unsold pilot for ABC. This is a film that is not only about the power of dream, it embodies that power. The film is ultimately about failed dreams, and how Hollywood acts as a conduit/parasite for our collective dreams.

All of which sounds mind-numbingly tedious until you actually watch the film and let it draw you into that reality (it helps a lot if you've been to LA, and have some experience in the industry- but it's certainly not a requirement). The film is like a collection of Lynch's greatest storytelling riffs- it's as much about his command of the medium as anything else. It seems to exist outside of time- it could take place in 1971 as easily 2001 (it's also sexy as all get-out).

It's fascinating that Mulholland Dr.- with its wakeup call theme- came out just as America's dreaming was about to come to an abrupt end, just like Diane's in the film. The mysterious figures behind the scenes who are pulling all the strings in the film make for a nice analog for all of the globalist plutocrats whose work we got to know quite well during the gloves-off Bush era.



1. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) - Not even a contest. This is not only my favorite film of the decade, it's probably my favorite of all time. Again, it's a sci-fi film in disguise, and also trades in that numinous dream reality. It's another film in which the music is crucial to the overall effect of the storytelling- without Jon Brion's score it wouldn't work nearly as well. It's a much more interesting story than Kaufman or Gondry could have pulled off apart (more interesting than their first collaboration as well).

In addition to the score and the brilliant direction and cinematography, Kaufman throws in a whole host of tasty mythological and poetic elements as well. There's also a dark current of mind control and the Montauk mythos to add a dash of salt to the confection. But most of all I love this film because it truly delivers that elusive numinous quality of dream reality - and dream logic - that many films have tried for but have usually failed. The cast is awesome and sync-worthy (note Jim Carrey did a dumbed-down synchro-narrative with The Number 23 a while after), most notably Kate Winslet and the masterful Tom Wilkinson.

I love this film and yet I hate it. Why? Because I'm afraid that nothing will ever recapture its magic again.

RUNNERS-UP: Several films make up my top 30 or so. I Want to Believe was disqualified from the top five since I consider it part of the overall XF canon. Iron Man was one of the best times I've had at the movies, but doesn't really consume my thoughts otherwise. Solaris might well be a glorified music video, since I'm more obsessed with the soundtrack than the film. The 40 Year Old Virgin is great fun and is filled with interesting symbolism, intentional or otherwise.

Donnie Darko I loved (both theatrical and director's) but don't think much about these days. Michael Clayton is great, but is nongenre, so it's not eligible for the top five. Mothman Prophecies, The Ring, Clerks II and X-Men 2 were four more of my favorites as were others not necessarily coming to mind at present. National Treasure was a hoot and filled with a hilarious subtextual thread I can't decide was intentional or not. Star Trek: Nemesis is a great film that got unfairly pounded by the entirely justifiable Trek backlash created by Voyager and Enterprise. Spielberg's War of the Worlds knocked my socks off, but the effect was mitigated by a weak ending. Guilty pleasures- Blade: Trinity, Elektra, Hancock.


Now for the animated films, intentionally in no particular order.




Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker - Being a big Cyberpunk fan from back in the day, I was sold on the Batman Beyond concept from day one. Not only did Bruce Timm and co. ransack William Gibson's ouevre for the series, they also dove into the classic 60s Marvel playbook. Terry McGuinness as Batman had strong echoes of classic Spider-Man, and the villains were often Kirbyesque in the extreme. I loved BB's future spins on the Fantastic Four and the Justice League as well. And to tell the truth, nearly 40 years of reading/watching Batman stories has pretty much satisfied my appetite for the Bruce Wayne character.

Return of the Joker is a great entry in the DC Tooniverse catalog, and has much crisper animation than the series itself. It's also quite a bit darker, though the darkness is leavened with humor (unlike, say The Dark Knight). I'd really like to see more done with the Terry McGuinness Batman, maybe in a more sophisticated direction, like the DVD movies DC/WB has been scoring with.




Doctor Strange: Sorcerer Supreme - This DVD probably got overlooked by most fans and a lot of old school Doctor diehards resented the mythology being rewritten. Not this one. I used to obsess on the old Lee-Ditko Doctor Strange stories like a maniac and I thought this reimagining was totally in the spirit of classic Doctor Strange, adapted for the times. I liked all of the new characters- it's too bad we won't be seeing more of them. And what's more, the animation's a lot easier on the eyes than the Ultimate Avengers films.

Sorcerer Supreme has these same themes of dream reality - the plot is that Dormammu is trying to invade our dimension by invading the dreams of sleeping children. And this Dormammu's a lot heavier- and scarier- than the comic book version. I guess my only criticism of this is that it would have been a great story for a Doctor Strange film, something I don't think we'll be seeing anytime soon (even though there's a film in development with Guillermo Del Toro attached as director).


The Incredibles - I'm not sure I liked The Incredibles more than some of the other recent Pixar films, that is at first. But there's something very deep and numinous about this film that really gets under my skin and stays there, in a way that Finding Nemo or Wall-E did not.

It's obviously a shameless ripoff of The Fantastic Four (Bird would probably prefer you call it a 'tribute'), but exists quite capably in its own reality. I haven't watched it in a while, but I find myself replaying scenes from it in my head, almost like an imaginary ViewMaster. I'm not sure the story matters either -what matters to me is some elusive, numinous quality embedded beneath the story itself. Very similar to the feeling I get from the old Gerry Anderson puppet shows.


Green Lantern: First Flight - This is a recent entry and a great surprise. Green Lantern is a character I always liked more in theory than in practice, so I was a bit mezzo-mezzo about the prospect of a feature. Wow- how wrong one can be. I loved this film as if it were a live action feature. In fact at several points watching it I had to remind myself that I was watching cel animation- that's how seductive the story is. The animation itself is also quite crisp and tasty.

The film also reveals more of the arcane and esoteric streams that inform this character beneath all of the tortured continuity. You get subtle whiffs of Theosophy and Masonry, as well as echoes of the Knights Templar and John Carter of Mars. How much of that is intentional and how much is embedded in the character's DNA is uncertain (maybe the producers read Our Gods Wear Spandex) but either way this is an incredible example of modern mythology. I hope the Ryan Reynolds live action Green Lantern is half as good.



Spirited Away - I'm certain some of you were expecting this one. This film is a masterpiece of dream-reality, from the great master of feature animation, Miyazaki. Japanese dream-reality is quite a bit different than that in the West, but that just served to make the proceedings that much more seductive and unsettling. This film is alien in almost every sense of the word. It's so powerful that I have to be in the right frame of mind to watch it- it can easily overwhelm me since there is so little here which I can orient myself to. We've got a nice selection of Miyazaki films here at Secret Sun Central- they have mastered the art of capturing the wonder and horror of childhood dreaming, and refuse to pander to any adult preconceptions of what is safe and proper for their kids to dream about.

Bringing up the rear were Justice League: New Frontier, Wall-E, Finding Nemo, Paprika and Hellboy: Blood and Iron.


coming up next:

My favorite TV shows of the Zeros

14 comments:

  1. Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,
    Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,
    Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die,
    One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
    In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
    One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
    One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
    In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.

    New World Order...

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  2. It didn't get much good press but The Fountain was my favorite of the decade. I know this movie was back and forth and hard to wrap your head around, but I loved it.

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  3. One of the many, many things about Spirited Away that I love is the translation of the actual Japanese title, 千と千尋の神隠し, which can be, roughly, rendered as "Sen/Chihiro Abducted by Fairies" (provided that one treats fairies in their original sense and status, not in the rather degenerate Victorian sense). It seems to me to emphasize the story as one of a shamanistic-type initiation for the protagonist. She starts as a very dull, boring, bored child, and grows through the influence of the spirits/gods and their occasionally terrifying ordeals (imagine yourself as a child facing down a gigantic, all-devouring monster or a two-ton, petulant, aggressive baby, to say nothing of a power-filled, fire-breathing hag) into a strong, positive girl.

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  4. The zeroes! I was juss thinking how they were goin to refer to this decade and you come up with an answer. Almost instant manifestation.

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  5. The Frogs

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    I1.
    Breathers of wisdom won without a quest,
    .
    Quaint uncouth dreamers, voices high and strange;
    .
    Flutists of lands where beauty hath no change,
    .
    And wintry grief is a forgotten guest,
    .
    Sweet murmurers of everlasting rest,
    .
    For whom glad days have ever yet to run,
    .
    And moments are as aeons, and the sun
    .
    But ever sunken half-way toward the west.1.
    Often to me who heard you in your day,
    .

    With close rapt ears, it could not choose but seem
    .

    That earth, our mother, searching in what way
    .

    Men's hearts might know her spirit's inmost-dream;
    .

    Ever at rest beneath life's change and stir,
    .

    Made you her soul, and bade you pipe for her.II2.
    In those mute days when spring was in her glee,
    .
    And hope was strong, we knew not why or how,
    .
    And earth, the mother, dreamed with brooding brow,
    .
    Musing on life, and what the hours might be,
    .
    When love should ripen to maternity,
    .
    Then like high flutes in silvery interchange
    .
    Ye piped with voices still and sweet and strange,
    .
    And ever as ye piped, on every tree2.
    The great buds swelled; among the pensive woods
    .

    The spirits of first flowers awoke and flung
    .

    From buried faces the close-fitting hoods,
    .

    And listened to your piping till they fell,
    .

    The frail spring-beauty with her perfumed bell,
    .

    The wind-flower, and the spotted adder-tongue.III3.
    All the day long, wherever pools might be
    .
    Among the golden meadows, where the air
    .
    Stood in a dream, as it were moorèd there
    .
    For ever in a noon-tide reverie,
    .
    Or where the birds made riot of their glee
    .
    In the still woods, and the hot sun shone down,
    .
    Crossed with warm lucent shadows on the brown
    .
    Leaf-paven pools, that bubbled dreamily, 3.
    Or far away in whispering river meads
    .

    And watery marshes where the brooding noon,
    .

    Full with the wonder of its own sweet boon,
    .

    Nestled and slept among the noiseless reeds,
    .

    Ye sat and murmured, motionless as they,
    .

    With eyes that dreamed beyond the night and day.IV4.
    And when day passed and over heaven's height,
    .
    Thin with the many stars and cool with dew,
    .
    The fingers of the deep hours slowly drew
    .
    The wonder of the ever-healing night,
    .
    No grief or loneliness or rapt delight
    .
    Or weight of silence ever brought to you
    .
    Slumber or rest; only your voices grew
    .
    More high and solemn; slowly with hushed flight4.
    Ye saw the echoing hours go by, long-drawn,
    .

    Nor ever stirred, watching with fathomless eyes,
    .

    And with your countless clear antiphonies
    .

    Filling the earth and heaven, even till dawn,
    .

    Last-risen, found you with its first pale gleam,
    .

    Still with soft throats unaltered in your dream.V5.
    And slowly as we heard you, day by day,
    .
    The stillness of enchanted reveries
    .
    Bound brain and spirit and half-closèd eyes,
    .
    In some divine sweet wonder-dream astray;
    .
    To us no sorrow or upreared dismay
    .
    Nor any discord came, but evermore
    .
    The voices of mankind, the outer roar,
    .
    Grew strange and murmurous, faint and far away. 5.
    Morning and noon and midnight exquisitely,
    .

    Rapt with your voices, this alone we knew,
    .

    Cities might change and fall, and men might die,
    .

    Secure were we, content to dream with you
    .

    That change and pain are shadows faint and fleet,
    .

    And dreams are real, and life is only sweet.

    Archibald Lampman

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  6. wait wait, cartoons and world politics? wtf

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  7. Hello Chris,
    Some things are better left unseen, but often I wonder how much these painters knew.
    http://www.boingboing.net/BYwAx.jpg
    https://people.creighton.edu/~roc69903/Assets/4creati1_michaelangelo4.jpg


    Merry Christmas and happy new year.

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  8. I'm reading "The Dream Culture of the Neanderthals - Guardians of the Ancient Wisdom." by Stan Gooch. Very interesting book. Just thought I'd share it if you are looking for a read and want a gander.

    Enjoying your posts as usual.

    -John

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  9. i think you'll like this clock

    http://www.boingboing.net/2009/12/24/pyramid-power-classi.html

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  10. Interesting that we share some of the same favorites. "Eternal Sunrise" remains in my top three favorites, exactly for the reasons you stated. "The Incredibles" is pretty high up there as well. I saw "Dagon", good, but I was a little underwhelmed considering it's Stewart Gordon, and I'm a fanatical Lovecraft reader, having read everything, including his poems and essays. It's amazing, considering how Lovecraft's concepts have been so imitated, that the studios seem so disinterested in backing big budget adaptations of his books, crossing fingers that Del Toro pulls off his version of "Mountains of Madness."

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  11. pictus- I always say that I'm allergic to 'One-ness' in any form. One size does not fit all.

    77- Yes, that was an awesome movie. Aronofsky is a great director.

    Faoladh- Wow- talk about lost in translation. And I agree with your interpretation of the film. Similar to Dagon in that way.

    Justie- 'The Zeros' - it says it all.

    Eric- Heavy stuff. Very left-field but timely and fascinating.

    "Anony"- Business as usual here on the Sun.

    Daniel- Wow. That will be showing up here sometime in the future, sir. Cheers.

    John- Thanks for the tip. You know, I'm part Basque and there are theories out there that Basques are the direct descendants of the Neanderthals. It would explain a lot were it true!

    Andrew- Ha! "Pyramid power" indeed!

    X-Files- Interesting? I would think it would go without saying! I wouldn't have Del Toro do Lovecraft though. Someone with a more subtle touch.

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  12. Inland Empire was/is Lynch's masterpiece. He nails it with this movie.

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  13. Chris: yeah, and i could go on about it for hours, really. the aspects of Shinto which infuse that film are instructive.

    Dagon does, i would agree, also touch on similar issues of initiation. Lovecraft, materialist though he may have been, learned a lot from his dreaming life, and let those concepts shine through in his fiction. Gordon's interpretation was excellent. i was fortunate to see it when it first showed at the Lovecraft Film Festival in Portland a number of years back.

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  14. And... what about Intacto?
    Written and directed by a disciple of Jodorowsky...

    Maldoror.

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