Monthly Archives: January 2014

Europa Report’s Dark Flirtation With Cosmicism

Retrieved from Huffington Post
Retrieved from Huffington Post

Words by Darren TYNAN

Indie sci-fi flick, Europa Report, may rehash many of the inveterate and tireless conventions associated with science-fiction, but at least it does so in a way that relies less on overdone Hollywood festoonery and focuses more on those gritty, dark avenues of human speculation and curiosity that make the genre worthwhile.

As six astronauts venture into deep space to investigate the possibility of life under the icy surface of one of Jupiter’s moons, Europa, their troublesome journey and subsequent discovery is examined and revisited through non-chronological sequences of ‘found footage’ from the ship. The film unfolds with a documentary feel to it, relying on claustrophobic interior scenes of the space vessel, interactions between crew members that concern scientific and logical data (yet still have an undercurrent of frustration and doubt, the Star Trek equivalent of Spock’s emotional side), capricious interruptions in communication and unnerving silences.

Europa Report begins with a simple but loaded question: ‘What happened?’ Although this dialogue sparks an understanding that the discovery mission of Europa One was a catastrophe, you have to wonder if the film’s director, Sebastián Cordero, gives too much away so early in the film. Is this a tactic that Cordero uses to inform the inevitable catastrophe of a space mission so far-reaching and dubious, the efforts of a vain and grandiose humanity mired in cosmic indifference? Or is it just a directorial decision that was overlooked?

One of the best aspects of the dialogue in this film is the effective use of silence, and the uncomfortable, tedious breaks in conversation that imply frustration where outbursts of language would seem too brazen. Whereas some science fiction works will revel in action sequences showing elite squadrons of laser beam gunmen that gallivant hither and thither about space, complete with technology to create wormholes that seem to suck in all credibility that surround them, Europa Report takes a slower route.

When Andrei Blok, Chief Engineer on the ship, is questioned about his decline of health, he makes the desperate remark: ‘How should I be recovering, exactly?’ It’s not so much the content of the query, which is a rational and inquisitive response, but the wavering tone of it as he comes to accept that potentially, no one can answer him. The pervasive silence that follows exacerbates the crew’s skepticism and bouts of self-reflexive doubt.

As Europa One and its crew deteriorate quicker than you can say ‘ballet and rocket science at 125 000 miles an hour’, the crux of their dilemma and situation becomes quite Lovecraftian. It would seem an immense feat to venture so far into space, to wear such ‘lofty’ human achievement on our shoulders as it respectfully represents the grandeur of human achievement, but the fact remains – despite being hypothetical, what’s been discovered and traveled is such a laughably minute portion of known space that it conjures a sense of giddying isolation and spatial nausea. If it were indeed the single greatest achievement in human history, you may consider why we should even be prioritising finding microbial organisms on other moons, when our own planet requires focus, funding and attention to assure even the most basic elements of our ecosystem are sustained.

To consider the last retrieved footage of Europa One is also to speculate this question – Why should we presume that if there were intelligent, extra-terrestrial life, that they should care about us at all or deem humanity significant as a species? According to Lovecraft, these kind of ‘envisioned beings’ are part of a universe which is cold and mechanical; they exist beyond the thin veil of reality that we as human beings cloak ourselves with, to protect one’s faculties from the sublime terror of the abstract, the alien, the incomprehensible. They are the ‘Old Ones’ who wait in the spaces in-between – they are not spiritually warm as they render humans insane. Another scene in the film highlights this particularly well, and is sure to delight those with a craving for sci-fi terror.

“They walk unseen and foul in lonely places where the Words have been spoken and the rites howled through at their seasons. The wind gibbers with Their voices, and the earth mutters with Their consciousness. They bend the forest and crush the city, yet may not forest or city behold the hand that smites. (Joshi 132)” (Dunwich Horror, H.P Lovecraft)

Lovecraft’s dark world of cosmicism portrays the human species as “nothing but mere insects that plague the surface of this insignificant planet we dare call our own”, and which presents a world “where instead of any heart-warming spirituality there is nothing but the cold dark void between the stars” (Halldórsson 2010). Here, Europa Report’s themes revolve around this Lovecraftian sense of cosmic indifference. And what science fiction film is complete without a “trapped out of the airlock’ situation to conjure such a notion of delectable dread? Unlike the crackling intercom dialogue in Gravity, there aren’t any religious notions of redemption and hope offered as a way of dealing with the rough end of the cosmic stick (which any intelligent space cadet would understand, considering their ventures into unknown territory).

Instead, James drifts away from the ship and receives neutral, paced dialogue from one of his team members: ‘I’m sorry James’, they resignedly state. His realisation of inescapable death becomes frantic and he professes his love for his fellow humans – the only tangible, relatable thing left as he drifts away into a cosmic void. His breathing decreases, becomes muffled and desperate, and the screen is gradually enveloped in darkness as the ship recedes into the corner of his last remaining vision. His final exertions are a series of screams – a raw, human outcry stifled by the unremittingly hostile conditions of space. The scene builds toward a sense of frustration about a doomed search for knowledge that ends in disaster; it offers this yearning and calamitous curiosity as an inherent aspect of human nature that will prevail against all odds.

Links

NASA’s Europa Discoveries

Murals Breathe New Life Into Bunbury CBD

© Darren Tynan 2014.

All images and written articles are the property of Darren Tynan. Under no circumstances can they be reproduced, copied, adapted, manipulated or published without permission from the copyright owner.

Words and photography by Darren TYNAN

In the words of Andrew Frazer, a contributing artist and driving force behind Bunbury’s Re.Discover project, art can translate and express ideas and yearnings where the ‘poverty of human language’ falls short.

Along with Mr Frazer, Bunbury welcomed five Western Australian artists who created murals around the CBD from 15-18 January 2014. Jodee Knowles, Anya Brock, Kyle Hughes-Odgers, Stormie Mills and Tim Howe painted their poetic visions throughout the streets.

Knowles, a practicing artist for nine years, works with Klimt-like patterns that accent the vivid, glazed eyes of her subjects – there’s something beautiful but discomforting about her work. Enter My Void, currently on show at Bunbury Regional Art Galleries, depicts a contorted human body morphing into an animal-like contraption; the use of pattern in this work is particularly symbolic for Knowles.

Observe her mural long enough, and the distance between you and the artwork dissolves – the faces Ms Knowles paints become haunting portraits of self-recognition.

Ms Knowles states that she applies a great deal of research to her creative process, and that her themes are based around the human condition; she is involved in ‘thematically dealing with the feeling of being torn between addiction and satisfaction, between excess and boredom’. She explores how the dichotomies of joy and sadness manifest as beauty in her subjects – her goal is to ‘try to get some of that essence into the face’. It’s relatable, and completely palpable, precisely because it’s so human.

‘We all know sadness, we all know joy’, she said.

Discovering her love for painting while working in the fashion industry in London, Anya Brock has surely created one of the most vibrant and colourful walls in Bunbury.
Subtly muted primary colours and geometric shapes are striking against bold black lines. Ms Brock doesn’t become too excessive or garish with her use of colour; her tones are thoughtfully chosen and complimentary while also being simply inviting. There’s a somewhat ‘care free’ vibe to her mural that also adds to its fun appeal.

Ms Brock explained that she uses courage to paint expressively, and that she doesn’t like to plan murals because it takes the fun out of it. She elaborated that she is careful not to overthink or become too clinical with her creative process.

‘It’s about a multi stage process, being quite messy and rough and painting with a lot of courage’, she said.

Ms Brock mentioned that she was very pleased to be a part of the Re.Discover project, and that her Bunbury mural is the work that she is happiest with from her murals so far.

Complimenting Anya’s colourful palette, local tattoo artist Tim Howe painted an equally vibrant mural that was chosen to compliment the Good Earth Surf Shop that the wall is next to. Growing up surfing, Mr Howe explained that his ‘main interpretation was something colourful and natural’. Howe’s colours literally jump out of the wall; a swirling blue mass of hair is informed by tribal-like line work, which draws the eye down to the excellent use of reflections and shadows in the subject’s face.

Mr Howe’s work, which is currently on display at BRAG, reflects his diversity as a truly talented tattooist and artist–his memento mori sculptures and paintings offer a different approach to his art that explores the macabre side of nature.

‘I don’t really limit myself to anything’.

Mr Howe said that that public reception has been favourable and the contributing artists have been a pleasure to work with throughout the project.

‘It’s probably the coolest thing I’ve been a part of’, he said.

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Benefits of a Wandering Mind

Words by Darren TYNAN

Image: traumalawyer.com
Image: traumalawyer.com

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a daydreamer; ‘He’s off with the fairies’ is what people would say to me when I was a boy. Although I can be very attentive and involved with things, my mind continually wanders and I know I’m not alone.

Clinical Hypnotherapist John McGrail highlights that daydreaming often gets a bad rap because it “represents ‘not doing’ in a society that emphasizes productivity”. It’s understandable why that’s a commonly held belief considering the dominant capitalism of the Western world, but I consider daydreaming to be an entirely positive thing. I’ll explain why in the following story:

I was driving to work for the umpteenth time. I will note, with an absolute empathy for social injustice and poverty, that I was clearly in a privileged position to despise my job, because at least I had one. The fact remained that I still felt utterly empty and unfulfilled. I say this, not in a selfish or tragic sense, but in a state of self-awareness regarding the pursuit of personal goals. Money was intrinsically related, as I had to escape the prison of debt I had set myself, but it wasn’t my sole concern. My concern was one of principality.

Here I was, driving to work, to do something I didn’t care about, to earn the funds, to pay for the new car I’d convinced myself I needed, which I mostly used to get to work. There was an overwhelming predictability to the cycle and I wanted out. I noticed I was squandering a lot of money on booze and haphazard nights in town, partially to numb the inevitability of the cycle. This realisation had a kind of nauseating quality to it. It was as if I had been gradually building a prison around myself, brick by brick, oblivious to the fact, and something suddenly reminded me that I was about to enclose myself within it. I got to work with a chisel.

I’ll never forget the sneer on a past employer’s face as they remarked, ‘You’re a dreamer’. There was a sense off offbeat complacency in their voice, as their eyes darted around for validation and approval in the room. I wasn’t going to incite a debate that would inevitably result in their vehement disapproval. I had been performing my tasks as usual, although my eyes must have noticeably glazed over. Thinking back, I may as well have been disconnected from my physical self. I simply wasn’t there.

I knew this wasn’t a contained example; it had a sense of universality to it. How could we stifle someone’s imaginative integrity, while the monolithic walls of industrialisation close in? Each day, I felt like some kind of mechanical droid; I had become an abstraction of myself; a partial shadow of my own potentiality; a byproduct of introspective negligence.

Looking back, I harbor no resentment toward that person but I know that it wasn’t their intention to reinforce a sense of ‘focus’ on a mechanical task for the sake of business efficiency or to remind me of my safety. Rather, the underlying message was that they truly believed daydreaming to be an indisputably ‘bad’ thing. I now consider that just because imagination and self-reflection are not warranted within the parameters of a specific business model, doesn’t mean that they are inherently ‘unproductive’.

According to psychology professor Scott Kaufman’s Theory of Personal Intelligence, cognitive ability is important in the development and pursuit of personal goals. Kaufman explains that acts such as daydreaming are related to spontaneous forms of cognition, including intuition, the triggering of memories, and introspection. He goes on to say that mind wandering enables, “reflective consideration of the meaning of events and experiences, simulating the perspective of another person, evaluating the implications of self and others’ emotional reactions, moral reasoning, and reflective compassion”.

How can we say these things are unimportant in the development of humanity? Daydreaming enabled me to look within and realise I had subscribed to things I never actually wanted. The specifics of my situation hardly matter. What matters is that you take away a sense of critical-insight from these ideas.

Consider everything that you hold dear. Consider your values, meaningful experiences, personal goals, and ask yourself what actually matters in this world. It’s remarkably easy to forget when we’re shaped and impressed with so much bullshit.

BMX Kids Never Grow Up

BMX Kid
BMX Kid

Words and photography by Darren TYNAN

Local BMX competitor Jacob Cochrane was born into a passion for high energy sports; a love for everything bike related has grown into a lifelong commitment that he promises to keep.

After taking out third place in the men’s 25-29 state championships in 2012, Jacob also competed in the national championships in Brisbane earlier in 2013 and has recently taken the role of Vice-President for the Bunbury BMX club. He looks forward to the future and reminds me of something very important – to never lose our childlike capacity to have fun and aspire to fulfill our dreams; it’s something within us all.

Jacob smiles as he remembers the resourcefulness of his early childhood BMX experiences, saying that it all began as a way of riding around with friends and having fun. In a doubtless display of ability, he even performed a jump over his nana; his tenacity and her trust combined to perform a feat that was both humorous and perhaps anxiety-inducing for onlookers.

Since beginning his riding career at a serious level, Jacob said competing in BMX fulfilled his expectations as something very worthwhile and enjoyable.

‘It was what I expected it to be. I haven’t really stopped since then’, he said.

‘Before last year I was only doing local events. Bunbury on Wednesday nights for something to do during the week. Last year I decided I was going to ride the state titles, which is the WA teams. I rode that and really enjoyed it, so I set my mind to going to the nationals this year’.

Jacob explained that competing at the nationals, an event held earlier this year in Brisbane at an Olympic training facility, was a tough challenge as his debut national event although he didn’t have any expectations.

‘To be there was the first priority. Then I realised when I got there that everything after that was a bonus’, he said.

‘There’s still a level of professionalism where everyone is out to win and does a lot of training before and what not, but it’s still very relaxed as everything with BMX is. It’s very family orientated, no stress, everyone talks to everyone and you feel very welcome’.

Jacob has since taken on his new role at the Bunbury BMX club and will be training hard to compete in the state titles in October, the main event for WA and one of the last events before the Christmas break.

‘I’m looking forward to putting some input into the club. Not many riders are on the committee either so it’s a good chance to voice the riders’ opinions or changes to the track and all that sort of stuff’.

He emphasises that he doesn’t allow the competitive nature of BMX to get in the way of his primary concern – to enjoy himself. When asked how to define his passion in three words, he said it was all ‘too much fun’. His lips turned up again in a knowing smile, mentioning that ‘never grow up’ is another phrase that could describe his BMX experience really well.

Higher Learning is Not a Letter

Image: dtynan
Image: dtynan

Words by Darren TYNAN

While university grades are supposed to be a representation of a graduate’s ability level and knowledge of a specific discipline, are marks arbitrary by their very nature? I take a plunge into the grading pool to examine this question.

Anyone who’s studied in high level academic institutions knows how the system works. Ideally, a mark on a piece of paper acknowledges a student as having a certain amount of competence and expertise in their field of study; these assets can be used theoretically and practically outside of their chosen scholastic institution.

That all sounds well and good, but because there’s no universal grading system that underpins universities as a collective, a high Credit at one university may be considered a low Distinction at another, or a C+ mark considered a C elsewhere. Similarly, lecturers will all grade differently. Even entry level prerequisites are different for universities and are often governed by available places in the given course; it seems like a precarious balancing act hinged on educational inflation and financial profitability.

Every time I hear an overemphasis on marks from my peers, I cringe a little because I know there’s so much more substance to higher learning than an arbitrarily assigned letter on a page. After researching the benefits of higher learning, I found that I resonated with educational theorists Martin Haigh and Dr Valerie Clifford. They suggest that the purpose and goals of higher education shouldn’t be based on students’ employability factors alone, but rather their core competencies and moral values. Moral judgment, critical thinking and global awareness are the ideal skills to create a global and civilized society that promotes tolerance, debate and social responsibility.

Similarly, French Economist Jacques Delors highlights the key factors of higher education in his work ‘Learning: The Treasure Within’. Delors emphasises that graduates will ideally learn skills to comprehend the world, learn competencies needed to interact with people and problems, develop intelligence, sensitivity and aesthetic appreciation, and appreciate the value of all beings.

As a student, if I am to embrace this holistic way of thinking, how then should I feel about that daunting letter assigned to my work? Grading is an inherent quality in academic institutions; it maintains a kind of consistency that enables universities to operate. Without it, there’s no guarantee that students won’t filter through the system and drop out mid-course, squandering the resources and funding that enables educational bodies to exist in the first place. So it would seem that we cant abolish the concept of grading altogether, but merely recognise the requirements of grades and their subsequent limitations.

For many students, good grades are an institutional necessity, in order to transition from undergraduate courses to Honours programs or Master’s degrees. So either grades are emphasised to woeful proportions, or a student is completely passive about grading altogether, scraping by with bare passes. I believe students must find a balance between being obsessive and passive, appreciating and growing using the feedback from their peers and mentors, but also being aware of the limitations of grading.

The more that I consciously think about the holistic experience of higher learning, the more I realise that is not a letter; it is tolerance, growth, persistence, critical thinking, innovation and love. I had this in mind when I recently had a conversation with a fellow student, who was so caught up in potential marks that it had blinded them to the universal beauty of their creative project. The transcendental nature of their creative work, the speculative value, the yearning inquisition, the aesthetic grandeur, all of this seemed to revolve around the arbitrary letter that would be assigned to it. While the project will exist as a cultural artifact for as long as it is preserved, will anyone actually care about the grade percentage assigned to it one year from now? It’s highly unlikely.

Piecing Together Tim Winton’s The Turning

Image: theaustralian.com
Image: theaustralian.com

Words by Darren TYNAN

Based on Tim Winton’s collection of short stories, The Turning is certainly an ambitious cinematic experience. As a standalone work consisting of 17 short films, each has a different director and various actors play the same characters throughout the narratives.

This may sound confusing but the short films somehow work together. It may be difficult to provide a tangible statement about the film’s purpose as a whole, but it views like a cross section of the collective fears and afflictions of its characters, which overlap through a kaleidoscope of cryptic fragments. That’s not to say there isn’t the occasional light-hearted, optimistic moment, but there’s undoubtedly a sense of melancholy throughout. Winding through confronting, charming and meditative territory, the film operates like a jigsaw puzzle; the directors are careful not to reveal too many clues and you feel compelled to work it all out.

Winton’s strong point is being able to evoke a sense of place, and true to his literary style, many of the chapters are effective in the same sense – a bloodstained abattoir and winding road to liberation is shown in ‘Big World’, while an ominous landscape is depicted in ‘Fog’, where a policeman grapples with some rather unsettling recollections.
The film challenges the audience to piece each chapter together as they interlock and shift. A scene often ends abruptly and with a sense of mystery, which carries over to the next short film, as if each were spliced together to form the same kind of enigmatic, meandering journey that is nostalgically depicted in the Australian countryside.
Audiences will appreciate the diversity of these short films. The pivotal piece, ‘The Turning’, uses religious symbolism to guide a sense of hope and redemption during a confrontational scene, while a charming and playful moment of an Australian Christmas plays out in ‘Family’.

A highlight of The Turning is the chapter ‘Long Clear View’, where we are introduced to a peculiar teenager named Vic Lang, who appears in eight of the short films, played by different actors. He is fascinated by whether he may be able to see particles of matter in things around him, practices ‘not looking over his shoulder’ and wakes up during the night to check that he can still see his hands. In a rather amusing scene, he even stares down one side of his glasses, completely detached from his distant mother’s burbling dialogue. As we grasp with the curious but menacing intentions of the boy, the camera pans outward and through a mirror we see three different reflections of him. Perhaps each symbolises an outcome for his future, which is later revealed. As her debut work, director Mia Wasikowska offers some really unique and artful camera work here, as a variety of interesting angles illustrate the quaint and troublesome character arc of Vic.

The Turning is a unique cinematic initiative. As ambitious as it is, there are so many different themes and directional styles covered that everyone will resonate with a particular chapter in their own way. It’s full of skillful direction and acting, and is ultimately driven by mystery – the puzzle pieces are scattered and you move them into place yourself.

Martyrs Burrows Skin Deep

Image: thecinemamonster.com
Image: thecinemamonster.com

Words by Darren TYNAN

For those brave enough to delve into the unremitting terror of Pascal Laugier’s 2008 horror film, Martyrs, the audacious directing and morbid expedition into the outer limits of human depravity makes the film’s content simply unforgettable.

Martyrs begins with a scene showing a young girl named Lucie, who is fleeing from her torturous captors after escaping a disused abattoir where she was held. Bloodied, lacerated and frenetic, Lucie has been subject to extended periods of torture from members of a surreptitious community, who we later discover have their own ideologies and motives, asserting that their actions are for greater philosophical purpose and spiritual insight.

Once I discovered that the tone of the film was bleak, dark and malevolent, I got a sense that the torturous experiences Lucie had endured were not simply physically painful, but psychologically scarring and irreversible. As the film cuts to a scene showing an older Lucie (Mylène Jampanoï), the viewer follows her perspective and walks with her, hand in hand, down a bloodied, traumatic and revengeful path.

We observe Lucie on her murderous rampage, as she wreaks merciless havoc on the entire family of her captors. This is where the daunting presence of ambiguity seeps into plot, as the audience participates in identifying the antagonists and protagonists in the narrative.

From the perspective of the antagonists in Martyrs, there is an ideology involving martyrdom as a means for spiritual enlightenment, which is driven by the classical conditioning method of learned helplessness. Despite the numerous variations of the definition of the word “martyr”, the film offers the original Greek translation as a “witness”, in an inter-title prior to the closing credits.

According to the torture community in the film, as their victims are deprived of their humanity and ‘transcend’ into new states of being, or perhaps into states of ‘not being’, they supposedly become a witness to the afterlife. This is an interesting notion, but the boldness and the vulgarity of the imagery in Martyrs obliterates the effectiveness of this idea.

If this was intended to be one of the primary ideologies represented in the film, the comically tiny explanation into the motivation of the torturers and the overall execution of this idea is practically redundant. Even the character of Mademoiselle (Catherine Bégin), the charismatic leader of the cultist torture organisation, commits suicide after hearing Anna whisper the secrets of the ‘afterlife’ in her mutilated state. Rather than adding a layer of intrigue to the story line, this just comes across as nihilistic and infuriatingly nonsensical.

Despite some of the negative aspects of the film in terms of plot feasibility, there is a question left hanging in the air after the viewing experience. Through all the hideously confronting depictions of hyper-violence – the gut-wrenching bludgeoning, throat slicing and skinning, it forces the viewer to ask the question: “Why am I watching this?”, and really, what is it that is so attractive about viewing horror films in the first place?

For some horror fanatics, the element of suspense and the protagonist’s journey through terror is a drawcard, but in the case of Laugier’s work, there is a focus more so on brutality and cruelty – a focus on direct horror with no real resolve.

Aside from progressing the genre and setting a new benchmark for extreme horror directors to aspire to, Martyrs also operates as a nihilistic representation of how depraved and sadistic human beings are capable of being. Through experiencing the cruelty and suffering of the film’s characters, the viewer can subsequently reflect on and evaluate his or her own values toward humanity.

I wouldn’t wholeheartedly recommend Martyrs because it has its flaws. If you do see it, whatever meaning you extract from this film, I guarantee you won’t forget it overnight.

Elegant Gentlemen Have Comedic Edge

Image: theaustralian.com
Image: theaustralian.com

Words by Darren TYNAN

An Amish I.T consultant, a tyrannical Prius driver and a marginalised zombie cleaner – these are just some of the absurd characters from Australia’s excellent comedy series, The Elegant Gentleman’s Guide to Knife Fighting.

The series is a demented creation from the Jungle Boys Group, the award-winning production company whose directors have created five out of the past seven Australian Film/Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts best comedy series winners. Lovers of offbeat comedy may recognise two of those series as A Moody Christmas and the ABC’s Review with Myles Barlow.

I won’t lie, The Elegant Gentleman is fairly edgy and bold at times, so for newcomers, it may take a few viewings to fully appreciate the blackened comedic styling of the show.

Beginning its life with an online presence, producers Trent O’Donnell, Phil Lloyd and Jason Burrows deliver a hard hitting comedy that is disastrously funny and intelligently crafted. Those familiar with Phil Lloyd’s character in Review with Myles Barlow, a series that pokes fun at the act of criticism itself, know the extreme lengths Phil Lloyd goes to and the bold premises he explores.

In a similar fashion, there is no social taboo, inappropriate act or politically incorrect idea that The Elegant Gentleman doesn’t face; nothing is safe as the blackest comedy ideas are executed with such brilliance that you don’t know whether to cry or laugh. The skits stir up both hilarity and sadness at once, and you find yourself caught up in the tragedy and comedy of life itself. Dialogue and acting is so convincing that you often find yourself cringing and wishing the skit was over, only to reminisce about it and watch it again to appreciate all the subtle nuances. It’s addictive like that.

The series opens with a skit about an Amish I.T consultant named Jacob – that’s right, a supposed professional whose culture fundamentally rejects technology. Sound ridiculous enough? It’s delightfully silly. A frustrated office worker tries to highlight the absurdity that his Amish consultant is incapable of the tasks at hand as he persists with troubleshooting a technological dilemma. Carrying out all manner of approaches with crude rudimentary tools, he even begins drilling a hole into the monitor toward the end of the skit. The unbearable stupidity of this premise is perpetuated by passing office employees that tend to Jacob’s every suggestion. He remains positive and indifferent to any disdain toward his profession – ‘The old ways are sometimes the best ways’, he remarks.

Another favourite skit of mine involves Patrick Brammall as a tyrannical Prius owner named Geoff. Geoff’s exaggerated righteousness is highlighted in a series of uncomfortable dinner party scenes, and as soon as he walks in and begins a tirade of abuse, the tension is so palpable it can be cut with a knife. It plays out something like an offbeat Prius advert coupled with a psychotic egomaniac’s irrational fury; this tension is masterfully controlled as the refrain ‘Prius’ reminds us of the underlying joke. The requests Geoff makes of his dinner party guests quickly become perverted and sick; he threatens two women to kiss while the husband says, ‘You should probably do it. He drives a Prius.’

This blackened comedy series certainly won’t be for everyone. Its subversive characters and heartbreakingly realistic acting and dialogue make a strange balance between being sombre and reflective, and other times maddeningly frivolous.

It’s an edgy, forward-thinking comedy that exploits political incorrectness and inappropriateness while still being sophisticated and offering witticisms and social criticism. The Elegant Gentleman’s Guide to Knife Fighting will hijack your expectations and take you on a wild, demented, infuriating and hilarious ride. 4.5/5 for being refreshing.

Links

Review from The Australian
ABC webpage for the show
Jungle Boys Group

The Lost Highway of Masculine Identity

Image: doubefeatureshow.com
Image: doubefeatureshow.com

Words by Darren TYNAN

David Lynch is the driving force behind the psychological thriller Lost Highway, and his idiosyncratic directing style propels a dark, intriguing and ultimately terrifying journey into the heart of masculine identity.

For those familiar with the latter films in Lynch’s repertoire (Mulholland Drive, Inland Empire), it is at no surprise that Lost Highway is a challenging concoction of film aesthetics. Lost Highway is an artistic meditation fuelled by pensive symbolism, subtle allegories and a non-linear narrative structure.

Despite the relentless ambiguity and moments of surreal confusion (albeit enjoyable) which are somehow conducive to the plot, the multiple threads of the film are woven around the enigmatic character of avant-garde saxophonist Fred Madison (Bill Pullman), who embarks on a journey into the treacherous core of his own sexual anxiety and inadequacies.

Many of the scenes in Lost Highway are explorations of what academic Nicholas Marino refers to as the ‘three metonymic facets of masculinity; body, identity and power’, and there is a sense of dread and uncertainty which binds these facets together within the film.

Lost Highway first offers a glimpse into the main character’s psyche with a series of vignettes which inform the audience of his sexual shortcomings. Fred suspects his wife, Renee (Patricia Arquette), has had an affair, and after the crushing realisation of infidelity sets in, his ultimate lack of virility and disempowerment results in psychological torment and despair.

There is an emotive scene in which Fred is unable to sexually fulfill his wife, and Lynch displays the entwined bodies as a symbolic device, illustrating gender identity in relation to this sexual tension. Juxtaposed with the ebb and flow of their bodies, an eerily ominous soundtrack creates a tone for the scene and signifies the patriarchal dread which the main character is confronted with. Here, Lynch invites the audience on a portentous expedition into the vulnerable aspects of Frank’s masculine identity.

The cause of Fred’s vulnerability is his inability to adequately have an intimate relationship with his spouse. Subsequently, Fred’s failures result in disillusionment, his future is seen to be foredoomed and his sanity becomes questionable as he revels in his inadequacies.

Fred’s internalised feelings of worthlessness are displaced and directed toward his spouse, and he is driven to explosive behaviour as the result of his own abjection, subsequently murdering Renee. Then there’s this complete shift in the film’s progression… there really is no point explaining it as you’ll find out when watching it, but suffice to say there are two seemingly separate narratives that Lynch blends together in a unique way.

Fred goes into state of repression as he attempts to deal with his own psychologically traumatised condition. Symbolically, Fred is protecting his masculine identity by repressing what academic Andreas Philaretou refers to as his ‘physical, emotional, psychological, or sexual weaknesses and shortcomings’.

There is a considerable ambivalence as to whether or not Fred commits murder in a violent frenzy of delusional identity crisis, a kind of ‘psychogenic fugue’ or split-personality disorder. It could also be interpreted that Frank’s dubious mental condition occurred directly after his heinous actions. Whatever the case, the reality of Renee’s demise is overridden by Frank’s denial and the aspects of masculine power and identity are interlinked.

The themes and allegorical representations in Lost Highway resonate within a masculine space, the anxiety-fuelled phantasmagoria of Lynch’s work operates as a terrifying yet intriguing exploration into the portentous aspects of masculine identity. Perhaps the muffled screams of sexual anxiety in Lost Highway are haunting, albeit they are thoughtful, and effectively heard.

The Harmonic Universe of Esperanza Spalding

Image: curtjazz.com
Image: curtjazz.com

Words by Darren TYNAN

There are occasions where language falls short in adequately conveying beautiful experiences. Multi-instrumentalist jazz musician Esperanza Spalding’s sophomore album, Esperanza, is such an aural journey that it defies description.

When prodigious musicians grace the planet, coupling their abilities with a dedication to their art, the world soon knows about it.

Growing up in a multi-lingual household in Portland, Oregon, Spalding showed bewildering talent at an early age, inspired by classical cellist Yo Yo Ma when she was four. It would seem as though this sudden revelation would shape her entire musical career.

‘It was definitely the thing that hipped me to the whole idea of music as a creative pursuit’, Spalding said.

Teaching herself violin, Esperanza had elevated to concertmaster for The Chamber Music Society of Oregon by the time she was 15, a community orchestra open to adults and children. In another prodigious sense, after three years of intense study, she became an instructor at the prestigious Berklee College of Music at the imponderably young age of 20.

Esperanza, a 2008 release, marks her debut as a solo artist, and unsurprisingly, it went on to become the best-selling album by a new international jazz artist in the same year. While there have been three additions to her discography since this release, it would seem a perfect place to begin, as she marks her independence and autonomy as bandleader.

The album is a pulsating soundscape of seemingly endless breadth. As bassist and singer, Esperanza’s multi-lingual approach to singing oozes a warm, hypnotic quality that is matched by her astounding physical beauty. English, Portuguese and Spanish vocals are scattered throughout the album, and it’s undeniable that each musician in the band is virtuosic in their own right. Spacious piano improvisations, spellbinding classical guitar, Brazilian rhythm and gloriously catchy walking bass lines are dispersed throughout the album.

Critic Kevin Le Gendre reflected on Esperanza’s band, saying, ‘There is no end of chordal finesse, finely wrought melodies, subtle but nonetheless hard-edged rhythmic pulsation, and above all a glowing sound canvas’.

Not atypical to the mastery of jazz musicians, the instrumental discourse of the album is never predictable and begs for repeated listening. Unlike the occasionally surging chaos of iconic experimental jazz albums such as Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew, there is a kind of restraint shown which allows for an unpredictable yet structured sense of call and response. While such albums may seem cluttered or dissonant, at times lacking the sense of ‘release’ that allows musical tension to be provocative, the album Esperanza has a perfect balance of harmony and dissonance, instrumental chaos and negative space.

A highlight of the album is the song Mela, a seven minute long display of harmonic richness. Esperanza’s brilliance in jazz scatting is most evident toward the end of the song, and at times you may wonder how such vocal expansion is possible. Esperanza’s abilities show an amazing dynamic range here; she has precise control of phrasing, pitch changes, timbre and an endless sea of expressive qualities. It seems so boundless that it should exceed the capacity of vocal expression.

Esperanza is a harmonically enriching journey into musical sublimity. It exceeds the parameters of simply being called ‘jazz’, because there are so many different influences and genres at work. It is an album that presents so many interesting harmonic ideas that it could easily represent a life-time of listening; each track is a rigorous musical study in itself. Esperanza, now in her late twenties, has already accomplished so much as a musician. What could we possibly expect next?

Links

Live Esperanza – Nourish your soul
Official Homepage – For all your Esperanza needs