July 9th, 2006


Wow ...

Went off to see A Scanner Darkly tonight ... what a movie! Not that I'm saying that it's a "can't miss" film, but it is an amazing jump into the psychology of Philip K. Dick. Now, it's been a long time since I read the book, so I'm not 100% sure how true-to-source it is, scene-to-scene, but the "feel" of it is amazingly like the controlled slow-burn freak-out one gets in reading PKD's more extreme books.

Unfortunately, I think that this will have a very short life in the theaters ... it's only showing in "2nd tier" houses here, and at the Esquire over on Oak St. the theater wasn't even 20% full tonight for the 8pm showing, having just opened yesterday. I'm glad I got to see it, because I'm guessing it will be gone in a week or two.

Frankly, to really "get" the film, I think one has to either be a fan of Dick's writing, or familiar with the sort of drug psychosis/paranoia that is central to the story. The book came out when I was in college, and I had been a big fan all through highschool, so I'm probably not getting too far into She's Lost Control territory (i.e. "she gave away the secrets of her past and said ...") when saying that I found these depictions gripping, frightening, and very familiar. The "rotoscope" animation especially lent itself to this ... the whole movie lays out like a "graphic novel", but it's not done 100%, the less "in focus" things are, the less they're animated, some things (traffic on the freeway, edge-of-screen parts of rooms, etc.) are almost untouched whereas in-focus areas and close-up faces are almost like chalk portraits (see HERE for a sample).

The one thing that I was not "prepared" for was how they did the "scramble suits" ... I don't recall the details from the book, but what they had on the screen was not how I had envisioned them when I read it 25 or so years back. As I recall, the suits made the people just hard to see, but in this adaptation they were constantly shifting between parts of faces, bodies, clothes, jewelry, etc. ... a very distracting effect, but one that was probably based on what would work best with the animation style used.

Of course, the plot has all sorts of twists and turns, with something of a "surprise ending" (OK, a surprise if one didn't know the details of the book) ... and I won't even try to detail those ... suffice it to say the story is about a guy who is both and undercover cop assigned to try to break a drug operation, and one of the main suspects in that drug operation.

The casting was brilliant, Keanu Reeves makes his weakness a strength as the deeply confused protagonist, and Robert Downey Jr., Woody Harrelson, and Winona Ryder are brilliant as his associates. It's interesting that most of these folks have had "drug histories" and may have been involved in this project for the authenticity that their substance issues could bring to these roles. God knows that they reminded me of folks I knew at one time in my life!

I'd highly recommend A Scanner Darkly to anybody who appreciates Philip K. Dick's works, or who has "a history" with mind-altering substances. For other folks, you mileage may vary ... as Tim Leary pointed out, "the nature of the experience depends almost entirely on set and setting" ... and those without the right "set" might find this a very uncomfortable couple of hours!

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Trailers ....

Speaking of Joy Division (quoted in my previous post), both early New Order and Gang Of Four were featured in the background of the trailer for the new Marie Antoinette movie starring Kirsten Dunst, and I guess the whole soundtrack heavy with 80's punk/goth bands ... how cool is that?

There was also a trailer for an amazing looking film (originally in French) called The Science of Sleep, which, if anything, looks more drugged-out than A Scanner Darkly! It appears to be a bit in the same vein as Big Fish and What Dreams May Come (both of which I liked enough to buy the videos), so I'm looking forward to that as well.

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A poetry meme ...

Snagged from windswept ... the instructions for this one are: "leave me a haiku telling me how you are today. ask your friends to do the same"

Here's mine:

          bored, unmoving,
          dark within depression's grasp
          far beyond all hope

The cool thing about this meme is that you can answer one, and then use that as a "seed" for your own posting! Again, a Haiku is classically a 3-line poem with 5, 7, and 5 syllables (for those non-Literature majors out there!).

Wheee ... what fun.

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or, "Dude, Where's My Car?" by any other name ...

OK, so that's assuming one drives an El Dorado (yuk, yuk, yuk). But seriously, folks ... The Search For El Dorado is a very interesting book. Frankly, I was sort of expecting a "cultural milieu of the Incas" book, but this actually only peripherally touches on the Incas, and looks instead at various cultures which preceded them in South America, plus the Spanish (and others') search for the mythical "City of Gold".

Oddly enough, it appears that there was a "core truth" behind the myth of El Dorado ... only it got blown up way out of perspective in various re-tellings ... there was a South American culture where the King, on certain ceremonial occasions, was coated head-to-toe with gold dust adhered to him with some sort of resin, he would be taken out on a raft into the middle of this lake, and would dive in, washing off the gold, and priests and other officiants would also throw in gold objects and emeralds. Well, this eventually became told as a daily routine, and rather than being part of an otherwise rather ordinary pre-Iron-Age setting, the re-telling built the whole city into gold streets, palaces, etc. The location, amazingly, has even been pretty well determined, and the lake has been drained, dredged, dived in, etc. repeatedly, frequently turning up just enough gold to keep folks coming. Of course, the Spanish fully bought into the "big gold city" thing, and were charging around all over the place, butchering locals who wouldn't tell them where "The Gold City" was, and generally creating massive carnage in the name of their God and Crown.

The first part of the book looks at these various searches, and then it settles in at considering the locals on a rather long scale of 10,000 bce to the 1600's and the post-Conquest chaos. Major sections are given over to discussing the Chavin, the Moche, and the Paracas/Nazca cultures, although attention is also given to the Muisca, the Chimu, the Tiahuanaco, the Wari, and various other groups which preceded the Incas. As much of the traces of these cultures were obliterated by the Spanish, most of what is known of them is pieced together from what burials have not been destroyed by the "professional grave robbers" so prevalent in Latin countries. Fortunately, enough seems to have survived to paint a reasonable picture of each of these groups.

Again, I was surprised by the focus of The Search For El Dorado (I only have 4 of the "Lost Civilizations" series, out of at least 16, and one of the others was about the Incas), and found it very informative in an area that that I had some passing familiarity, but very little in-depth information. These are out of print at this point, so if you'd like a copy, you're looking at the Amazon new/used vendors (or their equivalent elsewhere) ... you can get one for as little as 36¢ (plus shipping) for a copy in "good" condition, and can have a "like new" copy starting around a buck fifty. If this sounds like something you'd like to read up on, I'd certainly tell you to go grab a copy over there!

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