Sunday, August 17, 2008

Scottish Sunday: Over The Horizon Radar

Whatever the Montauk Project became, it started as experiments with OTH , or over-the-horizon radar. The sonic sorcerers known as Boards of Canada gave one of their most excruciatingly beautiful pieces that title and a talented fan made this heart-ripping video for it. This thing hurts like hell, but in a good way. It also takes on an added touch of melancholy as we near summer's end.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Fine Art Friday: Isis in Rome

We often forget that Isis wasn't just an Egyptian deity, she reached her loftiest heights of divinity in Rome. This is an early model, from when Rome was on the march. It wasn't until the empire began to recede that they felt the need to drape her in all of that chaste swaddling.

And, oh, how oddly familiar these words seem to us today...
"I am she that is the natural mother of all things, mistress and governess of all the elements, the initial progeny of worlds, chief of powers divine, Queen of Heaven, the principal of the Gods celestial, the light of the goddesses: at my will the planets of the air, the wholesome winds of the Seas, and the silences of hell be disposed...
Behold I am come to take pity of thy fortune and tribulation, behold I am present to favor and aid thee. Leave off thy weeping and lamentation, put away thy sorrow, for behold the healthful day which is ordained by my providence, therefore be ready to attend to my commandment."
- Lucius Apuleius (c.155 CE)

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Secret Sun B-Side: Deconstruction

The Deconstructionists- people like Foucault and Derrida- gained notoriety in the late 80's and early 90's with the rise of post-structuralism in literary theory. This was seized upon by proponents of multiculturalism as a weapon to unseat the dreaded "Dead White Male" from his place in the ivory tower. I think that Derrida in particular was being misused, but I also think the primary motivation behind all of the controversies was to realign the university system in ways more to the liking of some of the larger foundations.

The reality of it is that many of these radical trends on college campuses actually harmed multiculturalism (surprise, surprise) with the ensuing backlash (the anti-affirmative action legislation can be tied to these controversies) and diminished the prestige and power of the liberal arts programs. The most extreme example of this is Antioch College, where every radical trend dreamed up by foundation warlocks ran amok. If you haven't heard, this once esteemed college, boasting alumni like Steven Jay Gould and Corretta Scott King, closed its doors last month.

But the more I think about what the Deconstructionists said, the more I reluctantly agree with them. Many, many people are no longer interested in facts, unless they bolster their predjudices. Science has become so arcane it's impossible for most of us to understand. The internet now allows people to atomize, and gives people the ability to say whatever they please anonymously. I'm an old fashioned idealist, raised on the afterglow of the New Deal, and it's hard for me to accept these trends.

But I think what open-minded people are doing and what they need to continue doing is what might seem counterintuitive -- organize, socialize, and publicize. We are getting lost in a data fog, and the promise of the Internet is being squandered. Anyone can call themselves anything and say anything and a real exchange of ideas is getting lost. Established fact can be tossed aside at will. You see the debates on political talk shows- no one talks to each other, none of these people are interested in learning or changing their minds. Everything today is politicized and this process is viral, seeping down into day to day conversation.

I've always believed there are other options than the dichotomies that the government, the media, and the religious and academic institutions are constantly forcing down our throats. Underneath it all, that is ultimately what I am trying to explore here. We can understand ourselves by looking at these stories we tell each other and we don't have to look at them the way we are told to by the establishment media or by Academia.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Gone Fishin'

I set out at the beginning of the summer to figure out what this blog was going to be about and what it was meant to accomplish. I got sidetracked by some tangential issues and never exactly went on that light summer schedule I announced. And the reason was that I still hadn't even identified what was bugging me.

You can spend your life finding little easter eggs in every media production you can imagine, and you can probably construct a pretty compelling weltanschuang from that. But that's not what I've been after. What most interests me is pop culture as a form of magic. That term gets tossed around like salad by way too many people, but I've spent my life fixating on movies or records or comics that really flip switches inside me that you're not even supposed to have. We're not talking any kind of Crowley hoodoo-mambo here, we're talking about Art as the activation of the Symbols and how that effects the flow of reality. Which I'm pretty sure you'll agree it does if you're reading this blog.

I've spent the better part of the 21st Century writing about other people's art and producing precious little of my own. But I see it as a kind of apprenticeship, learning the ropes of how the good stuff is made. It's a hell of a lot harder than it looks. I spent a good chunk of the 80s and 90s making mediocre art, aside from the usual commercial art and work-for-hire writing I make my living off of. Things being what they are, I'm going to have to continue with all of that. But I have boxes filled with ideas that I've left rotting and that's just a damn waste. There are little hints of magic here and there- the only kind of magic I really believe in- and that don't come easy these days.

I'm going to take a few weeks off from the blog for real now (my mistake before was being half-assed about taking time off from posting), which will coincide with me taking some time off from work. And in that time I'm really going to determine how I want to proceed. I'm pretty sure I already know the answer- I really don't feel like spending the rest of my life writing about and analyzing other people's creativity.

When I come back it will be on a more sporadic kind of schedule- you guys have no idea how much time I spend just scheduling this damn blog, never mind writing it. And when I come back, it's not going to be a grab bag of symbols and synchronicity- it's going to be about the creative process and the magical properties thereof. Any of you who've pursued the arts- particularly music- will know what I'm talking about. We'll still be looking at all of the same themes we've looked at in the past, but we'll be doing so in a different context. And also some more general philosophy, dealing with the issues raised by art and magic.

What this all comes down to is I'm really itching to get back in the ring. It's going to be a while before I hit that magical motherlode, but if the aliens do come down on 2012 and fry our asses to ashes, I sure as hell don't want to be thinking "Godammit, I shoulda finished that graphic novel!" or "Sh*t man, that screenplay never got optioned!" Joltin' Joe Linsner's been bugging me for years now to stop being such a wuss and get back to work, and I guess a confluence of events has finally gotten the wax out of my ears. I may fall flat on my face, but it's better to regret something you did do than something you didn't do.

Wibbley Wednesday: Schnencky

In Memoriam....

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Gnosis of Pain

A lot of people in the general orbit of the Synchrosphere have been writing eulogies for Kent Daniel Bentkowski, aka Kentroversy. I didn't know Kent and I wasn't all that familiar with his work. But I listened to a conversation between the great Henrik Palmgren and the equally great Greg K of Occult of Personality about the enormous suffering Kent had endured as the result of his hemophilia (which resulted in being HIV+ and having Hepatitis C, apparently because of a bad blood transfusion) and realized Kent and I were members of the same fraternity- The Brotherhood of Pain.

When I was 15 I developed an auto-immune disease called Fibromyalgia, but a certain variety which results in a condition called Myofascial Pain Syndrome. MPS creates trigger points in the nerve clusters in the soft tissue of the muscles, which causes the area to spasm, which in turn creates ropey cords of muscle, which in my case can be as dense as bone when the spasms are particularly bad. There are all sorts of secondary and tertiary effects from Fibro/MPS - sleep disorders, memory fog, succeptibility to illness and infection, digestive problems, intolerance to alcohol and other drugs- but the primary effect is pain. Pain that can be so intense to take you out of your head (and not in a good way), or put you in a hyperaware state that you can almost perceive the air molecules as a crystalline sheet, almost like you are encased in acrylic. The bitch of it is that the pain can outlast any medication you can throw at it. Pain is very patient.

When my symptoms first emerged, my pediatrician said it was just growing pains. Then it was sciatica. Then it was neuritis. Then it was herniated disks. But after several years, two very prominent doctors in the field were able to figure out why I used to come home from work (where I sat at a drafting table all day) in tears.

The disease is not supposed to be progressive, but two years ago entered a new phase. I used to have long, asymptomatic periods, not anymore. I used to do Karate. I used to be able to sit at a drawing table. I can't draw on paper anymore- I can sit for very long periods, but only if my neck is not craned. I spent a long time working out the proper ergonomic setup, and it does help. There are all sorts of ways to manage the symptoms, but the one constant in my life is Pain.

Pain has its own agenda. It forces me to constantly make decisions in order to negotiate daily armistices with it. Going to the beach is usually a bad idea. Any kind of activity that involves standing around- museums, parties, nightclubs, etc- is usually out. Or at least has to be planned for. If I break down and end up having a couple drinks somewhere I need a couple days to put myself out of commission to recover. It also wipes away a lot of the nonsense that most people take for granted. You find yourself having a lot less patience for the silliness that people put up with when you're in pain. You don't suffer fools gladly. When someone tells you of some ridiculous herbal treatment or new massage therapy they read about online for your condition, you just have to smile sadly, knowing that they mean well.

But Pain knows that I am weak and lazy. And it forces me to make decisions on how to deal with it. It makes me look for compelling ways to take my mind off of it. It forces me to me to justify my time- I'm going to be in pain so I need to find comfort in a feeling of accomplishment. There are all sorts of easy ways out that Pain has not allowed me to take- the 9 to 5 job, the usual suburban circuit of wine-tasting parties and backyard barbecues, never mind golf. All of those are completely out of the question, since all would aggravate my condition for one reason or another. But I'm sure I could've accomplished so much more in my life if not for Pain.

I know that Steve Willner is a brother in good standing in the secret society of Pain, and Sharon Gilbert is too. I wouldn't be surprised if some of you were as well. When your daily life experience is outside of those around you, it tends to do the same to your thinking. And unless there is some major breakthrough, I don't really see myself dealing with this crap when I'm in 70s, and I'm sure the stress on my body will prevent me from reaching my golden years, anyway. So if I'm going to do what I have to do, I have to do it now. I can't wait until my retirement to do the things I feel compelled to do.

So, if you enjoy the Secret Sun and wonder where I get a lot of these ideas, at least part of the answer is Pain. And hopefully Pain will appreciate the shoutout and make tomorrow a little easier.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Return of the Joker

I've been stoking my Bruce Timm obsession by watching DVDs of the Justice League and Batman and the like while I work (using my peripherals!). I have to say it again, these cartoons are by far my favorite versions of the DCU. I also picked up the Gotham Knight DVD, and while greatly impressed with the animation, I wasn't as impressed with the overly serious writing. And if you're looking for sync winks, the Justice League cartoons will certainly keep you busy.

As will this cartoon, Return of the Joker. I'm not going to spoil the twist ending here, but I think anyone working on the Heath Ledger/Joker phenomenon might do well to pick this one up. And I must say that I am amazed at how compelling these cartoons all were, seeing how they were ostensibly written for children. It goes to show that good storytelling doesn't always need cursing and maiming and gun-totin' trannie whores to entertain and enlighten. Take a look at this clip and tell me it doesn't get under your skin. Let me add that this version of the death of the Joker is an alternate version. Both are very much worth taking a look at.

UPDATE: Droidy found this clip, syncing up the Joker and the Heavenly Beam. Special guest appearance by Anubis as Batman Beyond's (22) protector. It's a Semiotic Stew!

The Obligatory Southland Tales Post

This is very, very untimely, but it's a movie I've resisted seeing. Donnie Darko is one of my favorite films of the new millennium (particularly the director's cut) and I didn't want anything to tarnish that. Worse, everything about this film set off my personal alarm bells. It's very common for young directors to go over the top with the followups to their sleeper/cult hits (Mallrats, anyone?) and the cast was not over-populated with my favorite thespians. I didn't find any of the Synchromystic Easter eggs I tend to look for and I thought the metaphysics of it were somewhat plodding; about the level of your average mid-70s comic book. But wait, it gets worse. And better, too. All at the same time.

Whatever my criticisms of the film are- and there are lots- it wasn't sandblasted from my memory the day after I watched it. And with the state of cinema being what it is, that's saying a whole hell of a lot. But I think Kelly the writer was not well-served by Kelly the director. Although it has its moments of dark humor, Kelly essentially plays it straight in Donnie Darko. I desperately wish he did the same in Southland Tales. Had he done so, the film could have really stirred something up. Comedy and drama are two separate animals entirely, and the broad, schticky humor Kelly went for here is usually beyond the reach of serious film-makers (meaning makers of serious films). Hiring a bunch of Saturday Night Live veterans isn't going to make your movie automatically funny.

There were a lot of compelling implications raised by the martial law scenario Kelly presents us with, but I felt he was a bit reluctant to follow them to their conclusions. The America that Kelly imagines would be a lot darker and a lot uglier than the one in Southland Tales. That might kill the comedy, but I think an old-school pro like Paddy Chayefsky (Network) or Stanley Kubrick would be able to pull it off. Kelly may have been undone by his youth here- you need a few bad years under your hat before you can really extract laughs from social and political horror.

As to the cast, Kelly gives us a quartet of charismatic and appealing enough leads in the Rock, Seann William Scott, Justin Timberlake and Sarah Michelle Gellar. Though none of them are putting fear in Meryl Streep or Ian McKellan's hearts, I don't blame any of them for their cartoonishly unconvincing performances. I blame Kelly's inexperience and over-ambition. The SNL types running in and out of frame are a wash for me- I can't stand Nora Dunn but I love Jon Lovitz. And Cheri Oteri- whom I also couldn't stand on SNL- is actually pretty good here.

As to the Synchromystic qualities of this film? Meh. Weak tea to my palette. The whole alternate universe bit I've read a trillion times in some really dumb comic books. The whole issue of self-identity as a glitch in our reality consensus didn't tickle my testicles either. We've seen a lot of that in a lot of much better films.

But given all that, I still put Southland Tales in the must-see column. The thing about an important filmmaker - which I believe Kelly has the potential to become- is that even their failures are more compelling than most others' successes. In addition to Kevin Smith's Mallrats misfire, Spielberg followed up Close Encounters with 1941, which actually inspired some critics to write him off as a director.

Maybe that's the necessary arc. You need to do your big, loud failure and get it all out of your system before you can get back down to business. Lest we forget, Kevin Smith (who has a fairly substantial acting role in Southland, almost in some kind of knowing sympathy with Kelly) followed Mallrats with Chasing Amy and Dogma, and Spielberg followed 1941 with Raiders of the Lost Ark and ET. Looking back, you realize that their failures laid the groundwork for their triumphs.

Similarly, I may not have found watching Southland Tales a particularly pleasant experience, but it's certainly on my mind a lot. Hence, me writing this post 8 or 9 months after the film was actually released and several weeks after I got around to watching it. And I was interested enough about what's on Kelly's mind to recently pick up the ST prequel graphic novel as well. Here's hoping Kelly gets the balance right with his next film.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Scottish Sunday: Grant Morrison

Since I'm in the middle of my annual midsummer geek relapse, I thought it would be a good time for Glaswegian Grant Morrison to make an appearance on Scottish Sunday. Also, if we do have any actual Scots reading this (or Ken Loach, maybe), maybe you can translate some of Grant's interviews into recognizable English for us. Very interesting little interview here, though I'm not reading any of the books in question (I'm done with the whole monthlies thing).

This is a short excerpt from the Disnfo extravaganza from a few years back. Here Grant expounds on his chaos magick work, which he incorporated in his landmark series, The Invisibles. My favorite Grant Morrison comic is an odd choice, Batman: Gothic, in which Batsy battles an immortal monk who sold his soul to Satan. My second favorite is the first volume of All-Star Superman, which really plays into the whole sungod mythos.

My favorite single yarn of his is "How I Became Invisible," a terrifyingly believable story of a secret railroad that brings political dissidents to remote concentration camps.

Just to line the syncs all up in a pretty row, here's Morrison speaking on Heath Ledger's Joker diary...

Saturday, August 09, 2008

17 Days in Beijing: Not off to a Great Start

The month of the Olympiad began with a provincial terror attack, continued with increasingly alarming reports of surveillance tactics that make Orwell look like a Pollyanna, and recently saw the murder of an American guest. Now we see the usual Olympic globalist happy vibrations shaken to their core by a bloody border war in Western Asia.

What are we looking at? Psyops? The types of destabilization tactics speculated on by Emory? Karmic chickens coming home to roost? All of the above? Whatever the case, I have a sinking feeling there's more bad news on the way.

UPDATE: A feeling which turned out to be correct...

No Fooling

The always insightful Michael Schact riffs on my recent Dark Knight post with some interesting syncs (kitchen and otherwise) in his latest piece. The Synchrosphere lends itself well to these kinds of remote collaborations, almost a kind of post-modern, semiotic be-bop. Exactly what I unconsciously sensed would become possible in the old 2400 bps days. So get thee hence to Gosporn...

While you're at it, check out some blood-curdling Joker syncs concerning the Greyhound bus murder in Canada at the newly-reactivated Through the Looking Glass. And Michael, get thee hence to a bookstore and take a look at some Sin City volumes. I am very much interested in your insights on them. And Dark Knight Strikes Again, as well.

Friday, August 08, 2008

17 Days in Beijing

I was wondering what kind of symbolism the Chinese would whip up for their big Olympic show and our friends in the People's Republic certainly came through with flying colors. And by 'flying colors,' I mean 'blatant, in-your-face Solar iconography.'

When I say 'rapidly oncoming, worldwide Solar religion,' I do mean worldwide.

"What if God were the Sun?"

Did you know that America's most prominent Spiritualist is also a novelist? John Edward- a onetime TV star who claims to be able to speak with the dead - wrote this fascinating book, which was the basis for a 2007 Lifetime TV movie. My, the man is a veritable cottage industry. Here's an interesting article from 2001- "How the Mass Media Package and Sell Psychic Medium John Edward" - a typical CSICOP bunch of boo-hooing that the media was somehow invested in pushing Edward to the masses. Now that his talk show is cancelled, I wonder if this fascinating novel (which indeed seems to have a Sun worship theme in it) is a harbinger of things to come from Mr. Edward.

It's worth remembering that traveling preachers in the ancient world would perform ostensibly miraculous acts like healing the sick or communicating with the spirit world in order to help sell their religion to the masses. And the same types of hausfraus who tuned into Edward were usually the targets of these itinerant missionaries.

UPDATE: Reader Magnus pointed out that US politician John Edwards admitted to an affair a short time after I put this up...

The Watchmen Effect

According to the latest BookScan numbers, American titles were the majority in the graphic novel category. Interesting to note that three of the titles- Dark Knight, Watchmen (#1 on the charts) and Killing Joke - are over 20 years old and still selling like hotcakes. Mark Millar's Wanted- also recently adapted for film- is also doing well. Funny, the movies don't seem to do much for the monthies, but have a huge impact in the bookchains.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Here I Go Again...

Thor for Thursday, along with Sif and Him!
Just spreading the objectification around!

I've been having a lot of trouble falling asleep every night, so I've been taking the opportunity to meditate. It's been a blessing in disguise (and I believe that that's how all blessings come) and it's also helped me sort through a lot of things that I wouldn't necessarily address in my waking, working hours.

One thing I've been meditating on is where to take this blog. Blogs are a funny thing-a lot of them come and go. If its not a paid gig, a lot of blogs- even popular ones- can sort of fall by the wayside. Hell, a lot of paid bloggers phone it in.

For a few months now, I've been kicking around the idea of getting back into comics somehow, but not doing some story-driven thing that no one will read, but a more documentary type of thing, and something that would incorporate some of the ideas and concepts that get bandied about here on the Sun. Of course, since I'm obsessive-compulsive, I'd still have to post something every day here or I'd go into an elevated state of anxiety. One idea I had is doing a sort of comics version of what Steve Willner does with his videos (and doing so here!)

One thing some of you non-OCD people may not realize - or some of you with a different strain of it- but I sort of rotate my obsessions. Because when I come to one after putting it aside, it's like a shot of pure heroin to all the pleasure-receptors in my brain. And it lasts for weeks and often months sometimes. And when it wears off, I simply focus on another obsession.

Anyone who's had the misfortune to spend any time around me when I'm really on an obsession kick knows how irritating it can be, and when I get going on my Bruce Timm obsession, it can really drive people crazy. But he's like all of my favorite artists- Jack Kirby, Jaime Hernandez and Hank Ketcham, in particular- combined. And his approach to drawing is just so damn utilitarian, which appeals greatly to my inner Protestant-Boy (kudos to Grant Morrison for that great archetypal ID).

So, I've lined up several months worth of Timm for Tuesdays, and spent my time not sleeping working out ways I could somehow get all of my eggs in one basket, and put all of what I've been doing here into comics form (sometimes I wish I did Our Gods Wear Spandex as a comic itself). I may not dig most of what's being published in comics these days, but I love the form. Which is to say, I'm just like everyone else out there.

After all, what I do on the blog is mix words and pictures- it's really just comics by other means.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Watch Out, People - Here Comes the Sun, Part 4

Remember we were looking at how major corporations have been redesigning their logos to incorporate solar imagery? I'd say this is kind of sunny, wouldn't you? And blue and gold, too! Wow.

Interesting, in a funny way it kind of goes well with Target's famous point-in-circle logo...

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

The Only X-Files Review That Really Matters

The new X-Files film got destroyed by Batmania Redux, but at their core the two films address the same root problem- how bad religion, bad politics, radical selfishness and the canonization of materialism have destroyed the heart and soul of Western Civilization, and replaced it with something dead, hard and extremely cold.

The brutal cost-cutting measures at our media outlets have replaced the great movie critics of yesteryear with a bunch of perennial C students willing to work for peanuts- or for nothing. And the appalling mediocrity- and herd mentality- of their thinking has probably steered you towards as many mediocre films as it has with me. And sadly, the ill-informed reviews also steered people away from this film (at least in the theaters, I'm sure this will be well-rented). There are a few real critics (as opposed to reviewers) left, and happily, they have understood a film that isn't about explosions and CGI and car crashes-it's about facing up to the malaise we are all suffering from.

Under the subheadline, "Mulder and Scully aren't just trying in vain to revive a dated franchise. This time, they're in search of a remedy for the spiritual malaise of the West," David Cox writes:

In his film, the message is laid on with what at first seems like excessive and unpersuasive zeal. The wintry Virginia landscape is as unforgivingly frozen as our own faithless world. In enforced retirement, Mulder clings stubbornly to his belief that there are more things in heaven and earth than Horatio dreams of. This leads him to endorse the apparently psychic visions of a paedophile priest, who in turn trusts in God's forgiveness. Scully is the sceptic on all of these counts, but puts her faith in untried medical treatments (she's now a doctor) and the God of the Roman Catholics.

By which of this rag-bag of beliefs are we expected to set store, we ask through much of the action. However, as in the best police procedurals, purport awaits the denouement. It turns out that the priest may be a faker who's in on the crime. Or, he may not. Faith doesn't deliver truth. It doesn't necessarily deliver happy outcomes, either. The fate of the child that Scully is treating remains unresolved.

Where we should actually place our faith turns out to be up to us. The Foxes (20th Century and Mulder) not only challenge the claims of truth, but neglect equally to endorse freedom, justice, religion or the American way. The quest for belief itself, however, is now so serious, apparently, that we mustn't squander it on indulgences, like the extra-terrestrials of the TV show. Faith is the key to fighting crucial battles. We cannot simply duck out of these, since the darkness finds us, not we it. Faith is what preserves our ability to press on in the face of the horror of it all. We must therefore embrace it, not scorn it.

But, of course, I would argue that even Faith itself is no longer useful- we must replace it with Knowledge. Or our civilization is finished.

Entertainment Weekly is getting in on the anti-critic backlash as well.

UPDATE: Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz are not backing down and groveling before the C-Student Mafia for forgiveness.
CARTER: Well first of all we're not a big-budget blockbuster! I mean to be fair, we couldn't have picked a worse week to open in the States. We opened in the shadow of The Dark Knight and so... I mean this is a modest budget movie. It is not a blockbuster movie -- it does not have a lot of the big CG and the big action sequences -- it's a really emotional story that's very, very scary at the same time.

Yahooccultism: Proof of Ancient Exodus?

LOS ANGELES - The Phoenix Mars Lander may have detected perchlorate, a potentially toxic substance used in rocket fuel, in soil samples taken from the Red Planet, NASA scientists said on Monday. The space agency said further tests were required to confirm the presence of perchlorate in Martian dirt and rule out contamination from the spacecraft.- Yahoo! News

Kunstler on Dark Knight

Not a fan...
The most striking thing about the new Batman movie, now smashing the all-time box office records, is its emphasis on sado-masochism as the animating element in American culture these days. It must appeal to the many angry people in our land who want to hurt others, even while they themselves feel deserving of the grossest punishments. In other words, the picture reflects the extreme depravity of the current American sensibility. Seeing it all laid out there must be very validating to the emotionally confused audience, and hence pleasurable, in all its painfulness.

Monday, August 04, 2008

The Obligatory Dark Knight Post

UPDATE: Dark Knight co-star Morgan Freeman in serious condition in a Memphis hospital following an automobile accident.

(SPOILER WARNING: if you haven't seen this film yet... what the hell are you waiting for? I thought I was bad!)

Well, I finally saw it. After all the hype, after all the analysis, after all of the speculation, what's left is a technically-impressive, entertaining summer film that has been hyped, praised and speculated-upon far beyond what is actually on the screen deserves. I did like it a lot better than Batman Begins, primarily because there was a lot more action in this one. But I didn't like it nearly as much as Iron Man (when the hype fades, I think Iron Man will be seen as the superhero triumph of 2008) and I actually liked it a bit less than the new Hulk movie.

And I must say, I was much more excited by the Watchmen trailer (which is saying a lot coming from a guy who was a huge Batman fan long before it was hip, and not that big a fan of the Watchmen graphic novel). Why? Because there isn't a single character in The Dark Knight I found remotely believable. For a film that tries so hard to be over-serious, there really should have been more effort put into characterization.

Worse still, everyone acts with their sphincters clenched in this film, which I blame on Nolan. I think he's a very, very talented guy (Memento is one of my all-time favorite films), but his films are completely humorless. And I can't look at Bruce Wayne without seeing Patrick Bateman. I just can't. Which makes me all the less sympathetic to him.

I'd wager they spent a lot more than the published budget for this film, and you can see every penny of it onscreen. But huge stretches of it were all too downbeat and talky for me. And you really shouldn't be so damn earnest when you have a guy running around in a batsuit in Gotham-frickin'-City, of all places.

But all of that is pretty easy to forgive once the action starts. Even more so than Nolan's first crack at Bats, the action scenes here were pretty damn breath-taking; brilliantly choreographed and staged. I'd go so far to say that we might be seeing the best translation of comic book violence ever put onscreen. The Joker exudes a genuine air of menace and there are plenty of white-knuckled moments of real jeopardy in this film. Though this is probably my favorite film in the entire franchise so far, I'd still pick any season of Batman: The Animated Series over it if I could only have one Batman selection in my library. It's too bad Paul Dini and Bruce Timm were never asked to consult on these films.

Of course, a huge reason this film has been so overhyped is because of Heath Ledger's tragic overdose, which we've all studied in depth in the Synchrosphere. First off, there's no way this is an Oscar-worthy performance. This is essentially a very well-rendered cartoon character. We never get any sense of who this character is or what drives him. The Joker's gleeful, genocidal nihilism is reminscent of Frank Miller's Dark Knight graphic novel, which the Nolan Brothers lift bits and pieces of for their script.

As with the villains in the first Sin City series, Miller's mincing, effeminate Joker is evil precisely because of his sexuality (Miller's work could keep an entire GLAAD office busy if anyone outside of geekdom bothered to read it). By contrast, Alan Moore's Joker in The Killing Joke was driven to psychosis after a botched heist following the death of his wife and child. The Nolans' Joker is a cross-dresser who seems as romantically obsessed with Batman as Miller's version, going so far to tell Batman, "you complete me." Both Jokers seem to engage in mass murder as some weird form of foreplay with Batman.

The Joker is so emotionally involved with Batman that he prevents his "outing" on TV by blowing up a hospital. The fact that Ennis Del Mar is the Joker and that Maggie Gyllenhaal (sister of Ledger's Brokeback Mountain co-star) plays one of the Joker's victims might be telling us something about the character not made explicit in the script. An understanding of symbolic casting is always an important weapon in your semiotic arsenal. (Note: even with the recasting, I still thought the Rachel Dawes character is superfluous. Which is very interesting in and of itself.)

If you've seen Dark Knight already, see if this strikes any familiar chords

There were lots of little Easter eggs for the Synchromystic crowd (all 38 or so of us). The bus the Joker uses to make his first getaway is marked "District 22". This calls to mind the Fool trump of the Tarot (the predecessor of the Joker card in modern playing decks) which is numbered as 22 in esoteric circles. The Joker's apartment is 1502 and 15+0+2=17. Joker's previously mentioned cross-dressing gives us the requisite ritual androgyny elements. I thought it was pretty funny that Aaron Eckhart's character is prosecuting a guy named Maroni, seeing that Eckhart is a Mormon. The coin his character is constantly flipping in emblazoned with the goddess Columbia (aka Ishtar aka Semiramis, etc). Two of the illuminated pyramids we looked at recently make appearances- the one in Hong Kong and the one in Chicago- in pivotal sequences in the film.

As to metatext, the Templar symbology we recently looked at weaves in and out of the plotline. It's interesting to note that the Joker blows up a hospital to preserve Batman's secret identity. The Knights Hospitaller were the Templars' primary rivals. The terrorism/9-11 subtext assigned to the Joker seems to suggest that terrorism is merely chaos for chaos' sake and not the deliberate tool of a political and/or religious agenda. We also are meant to see terrorism as wholly alien, and not part of an assymetrical struggle between competing interest groups, which ordinary people find themselves in the crossfire of.

But if the Joker is meant to be a neo-Assassin, then Batman is by implication a new Templar. So is his sacrifice- to be disgraced to protect Two-Face's reputation- meant as an analogy to the Templars' own disgrace in the eyes of the public? Interesting that both Batman and Two-Face represent duality but the Joker represents singularity. He has no other identity other than as an agent of death and chaos. Not something the Ausur® voters will be drooling over.

All of the mob money being moved to China was a clever commentary on how economic power is being systematically moved from America and the the West in a far-eastward direction.

In conclusion, my response to the film made me realize how much we invest in our cultural icons (though the insta-mourning ritual we see whenever a young celebrity dies always irritates me) and how we make connections of our own and invest meaning into art that may not be inherent in the text itself. I think that's a good thing. Synchromysticism, or whatever you want to call it (and I'm getting ready to not use that term anymore), makes art interactive.

Part of the expansion of consciousness is becoming aware of connections that are not obvious to the oblivious masses, and hopefully, making connections of your own with the kind of art you gravitate towards. There's a reason you are drawn to one film and not another, even past mundane reasons of taste. And by exploring why that is so, I think you can understand yourself and your relationship to your environment. And hopefully, use that knowledge to make things happen.

Note: if any of you have worked on the Heath Ledger syncs I sent, please remind us with links in the comments section.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Scottish Sunday: My Antediluvian Baby

Scotsman Donovan Leitch started his career as a Bob Dylan imitator and then seemed to ingest a huge quantity of mind-altering chemicals, resulting in his subsequent reinvention as the Celtic Bard of Psychedelia. Donovan knocked out a great string of singles like "Sunshine Superman," "Mellow Yellow," and "Season of the Witch" and then retired to Connecticut for several years to raise a family (and count his money). Here he sings his ode to the Lost Continent, a big talking point in the hippie days.

Scotsman Jim Allen has been doing some interesting work in Bolivia and believes that it's a good candidate for Atlantis. Sounds kooky, right? Well, go look at his evidence.

Money quote:
Atl is an Aztec word meaning "water" and the combination of "atl" and "antis" an excellent name for this continent since large parts of it are in fact under water in the wet season with severe flooding throughout Amazonia and Beni regions.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Dinosaur-Throwing Contest

We've looked at the deliriously insane comics of the Silver Age in the context of Jimmy Olsen's erotic wiles, but there is so much more to be seen. I'm actually starting to wonder if there wasn't some sort of outside intervention - possibly alien or inter-dimensional - with these old DC comics. Because at first glance, you think- you know- they are absolutely retarded. But after a while you begin to realize that they might possibly be works of absolute genius. Then you start to wonder if maybe you should be worshipping them.

I think Alan Moore and Grant Morrison are pikers compared to the guys who conjured this madness up from the depths. How can even H.P. Lovecraft's most fevered visions compare to a guy walking around with Saturn at the end of his neck?

This yarn is written by Jerry Siegel, of course. Two full years before Mission: Impossible (which debuted 9/17/66). The blatant phallic connotations here are merely the icing on the cake. Only Siegel could have a Jimmy Olsen puppet show and a dinosaur-throwing contest in the same story.

Dinosaurs. With buzzsaw blades. Growing out of their foreheads.

It doesn't get any better than this.