I Would Have Gotten Away With It Too, If It Weren’t For Those Meddling Squids! A Review of Cephalopods: Co-op Cottage Defence

I played this game for one day–just one day–and I hate green Squids.

Not the luminous blue ones, or the black ones. Not even the exploding fiery orange ones. The Greens. Just the Greens.

So I made an unexpected trip to Canzine 2012 this past Sunday: where I was reintroduced to the Comics Vs. Games-premiered The Yawhg, given a paper ninja-star, and talked with a few artists and game creators before finding The Hand Eye Society’s Torontron game cabinet arcade machines outside. I always loved arcade games when I was younger and I never got to play with enough of them. So finding these there was just an added bonus.

My friends and I started to play this game that I later found out was called Cephalopods: Co-op Cottage Defence by Spooky Squid Games. At the time, however, I found myself controlling a 16-bit sprite with a shotgun in a house along with my hammer-wielding friend as we were being surrounded by floating Octopi.

I didn’t have time to admire the Lovecraftian settings of the house’s interior: such as the book with the Squid imagery or the almost Victorian laboratory feel. I also didn’t realize that the hammer-wielding sprite–that the character was a female scientist–nor that her clearly non-human shot-gun wielding companion was a clockwork automaton of her own creation. All of these revelations came later when I looked at them online.

No, instead I was either killing mass-Squids that electrocuted and devoured heads, or hurriedly knocking Squids unconscious with my hammer as I was trying to repair the walls of the house to offer us protection against these tentacle-armed hordes.

This game was fun. I admit, I really liked killing those Squids. I also felt some satisfaction in repairing the walls and seeing those plus numbers come up: which probably represented how much time or durability it had before it fell again. There was another quality to the game in that, aside from the two-player cooperation that is utterly necessary to your survival, you also need a certain amount of coordination as well. Essentially, it is integral that your gun-shooting companion fires as the most of the Squids while you repair the most isolated of the walls: such as the walls that are not being massed by tentacles of doom coming to suck your face in the middle of the night.

However, there is also the option of exchanging tools: throwing your gun or hammer to your friend. It takes timing and coordination and, sadly, we did not manage this. Sometimes the sprite’s maneuverability was a little awkward and stiff. I remember at least a few times I tried repairing a plank and not realizing I had to get very close to it to do anything with it. Apparently, according to the Game Over text, we had something to the effect of having as much coordination and teamwork as a bunch of “golden weasels.” Suffice to say, it wasn’t complimentary, but certainly made us laugh.

But then, as the game went on (after each time we died I mean), it began to occur to me that something was very … eerily familiar about it. It was the Squids that obviously made me start to think this. And I knew I had seen them somewhere before: these 16-bit luminous deceptively cartoonish tentacled monstrosities. I knew it was from some research I did before but I didn’t know the name of the thing. Then much later I realized they were related to this:

Night of the Cephalopods was something I had read about when I was looking at Spooky Squid Games (god I love this studio’s name) for my article Dreams of Lost Pixels and if this is anything like the game I played tonight–and the voice-over narrative actually happens in this game–I may well download it. This is a big thing for me because, like I have said many times before, I don’t often play games. I watch them being played sometimes, and I play a lot of selective games on older Nintendo consoles, but this game makes me happy. In fact, Spooky Squid Games seems to really love H.P. Lovecraft as a thematic influence of theirs and it is one of those influences that makes me want to write a Lovecraftian story tribute of some kind.

My friend today was talking about going to some Indie (Independent artist) Jams sometime: to make ad hoc independent creative collaborations together. I remember Comics Vs. Games and I’d love to collaborate as a writer with a video game artist. I would really love to do a Game Jam sometime. Just as long as it is not a slime. If Cephalopods has taught me anything, it’s that I hate being stuck in slime … and Green Squids.

Oh, and even though I only played the game today and for a little while, I want to give it a five out of five.

Art Consumes Life: The Shadow of the Vampire

I wrote this review in 2009 or 2010 in another Journal while I still lived on campus. I’ll just warn you now that I liked to use big words then: especially back in those days. When I use the word intertexuality, what I’m referring to how different sources and references–like quotations and characters being mentioned in a film, or even how different media–can actually overlap in some really cool ways. I also really love meta-narratives and stories within stories. The metaphor of Achilles’ Shield and its little moving world comes to mind again. Also, it’s the season of Halloween and I feel evil. So enjoy, fellow horror-watchers and blood-drinkers. 🙂

So two days ago I watched the whole of Nosferatu for the very first time. Then yesterday night, I watched Shadow of the Vampire. And then I watched it again in the same night with the Director’s commentary.

There is a lot to be said about this film, and I’m still trying to absorb a lot of what I got out of it. First of all, the blending between Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau’s film and E. Elias Merhige’s creation is almost seamless. Certainly, the scene towards the end of the film where Max Schreck transitions from a black and white scene into the subdued glowing light of colour is nothing short of awesome. I also liked how when they were originally filming Greta Schroeder’s scene as Emma playing with her cat, they mentioned how they had to put it on laudanum to get it to be still in front of the camera.

But that in some ways misses the point of what I really do want to talk about. When I first saw the film without the commentary, I wondered why it was that they had the diagrams at the film’s introduction, and what they possibly meant. The images displayed there made very little sense to me, while at the same time there was a strange … familiarity about them and their arrangements as well. It was only really when Merhige gave his commentary that I started to understand what he meant by making the introduction like this, and what he was attempting to do with this film.

Basically, he explains that the illustrations in the beginning of the movie represent a hybridization of ancient and medieval art along with 1920s cubism. In this way, he attempts to show how humanity has depicted itself and the world around it throughout the millennia, incorporating time all the way to the point of the 1920s and its new expressive medium — namely, film. By the very end of the film, Merhige explains how we have always tried to capture what is around us, what is magical and timeless, on our “cave” — in our cave drawings. We are all mortal, and the materials that we have used to try to capture these moments and life itself are just as frail and brittle.

Enter the camera.

The camera, as Merhige explains, is the new “cave” — the new mechanized interior where we can record these moments for posterity. All moments. It sets a new tone in the world. At the very beginning of Shadow of the Vampire, you see first Murnau’s eye, then the dark lens of a 1920s camera recording Greta’s domestic scene with the cat, and then the crew in the very cool vintage white lab coats and film goggles of that time. From this point onward, this is the entire tone of the movie — this need to capture something in the gaze forever. Once, in a third year University class I watched part of a movie called Ulysses’ Gaze, which I barely even understood. But what I do remember was our professor explaining the idea that through the gaze one attempts to capture everything — to understand and preserve it, and to some extent even possess and control it.

It is, arguably, a visceral and in some ways very patriarchal need. Enter Murnau. As this film would have it, Murnau — played by John Malkovich — is a film pioneer in a medium that is not being taken quite seriously yet. It is still in many ways a novelty. But in his own obsessive and very tightly controlled way, Murnau sees the potential in film and what can be done with it.

Enter the 1920s, a time that I’ve been told I could have fit into rather well. It is 1922, and the first WWI is not that far behind the world, especially not Germany and its humiliating Treaty of Versailles verdict. However, at the same time a whole new decadence and vitality has filled this world, and in this case Berlin. From the culmination of twisted Victorian nationalisms, and the peak of the Industrial Age’s penultimate achievements in creating mechanized death come more advanced pain-numbing drugs, along with looser morals, and social inhibitions.

Society loosens up, but the shadow of death — of the figurative vampire, if you will still lingers. It is a demon that has to be exorcised from Europe and particularly Germany. This much is something you can understand without this film or the director’s guidance. But this is the backdrop of Murnau’s world, and Murnau himself (who was actually a fighter in WWI and needed his laudanum to deal with the physical and possibly psychological pain of his injuries). So there is already this dichotomy between innovation and a new pioneering spirit of the age, of new ideologies and ideas breaking out of social stratification and, at the same time, there is still the dark spirit of the chaos not long left behind. In all of this, a few films are being created to express both principles.

In the film, Greta Schroeder, very much more sassy and sultry than her character Emma Hutter tells Murnau about how much she dislikes film — that while Theatre gives her life, Film seems to steal it away from her. Like a vampire would. But as Murnau very ominously tells her, she will get her chance at fame, and immortality. This is something that can best be expressed from the words of Murnau himself when he says:

“Our battle, our struggle, is to create art. Our weapon is the moving picture. Because we have the moving picture, our paintings will grow and recede; our poetry will be shadows that lengthen and conceal; our light will play across living faces that laugh and agonize; and our music will linger and finally overwhelm, because it will have a context as certain as the grave. We are scientists engaged in the creation of memory… but our memory will neither blur nor fade.”

In essence, Malkovich’s Murnau wants to create an ever-present, something that all people can see happening forever and all be a part of. Of course, there is a price to be paid for this innovation — this enlightenment. The Industrial Age has already cost many lives, and the camera — this neutral dispassionate lens that can supposedly capture everything (including, as some societies would have it, the soul) is but a child of this process. As Merhige attempts to explain again, the old is always replaced or supplanted by the new. And what is the old? The old is nature. It is mystery and magic. It is power, and immortality. It is fear, and it is the unknown.

This is where, finally, the Vampire fits into this structure.

Enter the Vampire. It is difficult to describe all of this without talking about Nosferatu and the novel that loosely inspired it — Dracula. Nosferatu was an unauthorized version of Bram Stoker’s story that his widow did not grant the rights to. She, like many of that time believed that the Theatre was more professional and hallowed than film. This in fact cost Murnau’s company a lot of money in terms of lawsuits, and Nosferatu itself was very nearly destroyed. At the same time, even Dracula is the child of older, much older sources. This is one context of intertextuality that is very interesting to this regard.

In Dracula, the Count is portrayed as a foreign alien menace, something beyond England and “the civilized” world. He is powerful and seductive and almost “Orientalized.” Whereas in Nosferatu and Shadow of the Vampire, the less attractive figures of Count Orlock and Max Schreck respectively live much closer to Germany, and while they do embody something “primitive, ancient and horrible,” they are not so much a foreign terror as much as an old familiar horror just below the collective unconscious of the people living in, or close to the land that they come from. These narratives neither have the luxury of thinking that their monsters come completely from elsewhere, nor that they do not have any role in the human world.

The fact of the matter is that there have always been stories about vampires or things like them — about immortal creatures that feed off of the blood and energies of the living. The analogy between the vampire and the camera can be very apparently seen here. Both feed off of the present and life. Traditionally, a vampire can even preserve a life form in a parody or imitation of the life they once had.

Willem Dafoe’s Max Schreck cannot create other vampires. He is alone and awkward, and twisted. He barely remembers how he became what he is, or what he used to be. He is a monster that unapologetically and unrepentantly feeds off of blood. It is his nature and what he is. At the same time, he is sad, and lonely. This vampire has lived too long, misses the light of the sun, and he reads the poetry of Lord Alfred Tennyson about immortality at the price of always aging. He above everyone in this movie knows how beauty can truly fade and has paid the price for this knowledge just by existing. Of course, every thinks that Max Schreck is merely a character-actor and is always in his role for professional reasons.

To me, in this situation the vampire represents something dark and ugly, but also mystical and incredibly truthful. He does not lie about what he is, or how he feels about what he is. If anyone is the liar, it is Murnau who is willing to risk and throw away all life in order to use this actual vampire in his film — a truth that isn’t revealed until it is all too late. He is the power that Murnau wants to capture, to use a figure of actual immortality to make his film even more timeless. But as I said, there is a tradition to be followed here. Like Grimm’s fairy-tales, like the Germanic folktales before it there is a price for mortals to pay for achieving any form of immortality, for dealing with any kind of it.

A sacrifice. A human sacrifice.

I will not say anything more on that matter, save that despite the theme of the modern overtaking the ancient, there is still a sacrifice — and if anything the modern makes it more clinical, and even more chilling. And the camera lens captures it all. Even as mortal life fades, and immortality ends, and all sanity is lost, the camera continues to take everything in — cold, detached, dispassionate, and hungry. It creates a story for all people to experience for ages to come. Merhige tells us that originally he wasn’t even going to name this film after a vampire: that his film was not about a vampire at all. A vampire is in it, but so are a lot of other people and in many ways they are all equal in how they captured in this narrative. No one escapes it. Not even the vampire. Especially not him.

But after viewing both movies, I felt this deep calm that I haven’t felt in ages. Like it all made sense and something was now gone from me. Perhaps it was catharsis: a powerful combination of pity and fear that are both the essential components of awe. But I wonder — was this ever-present Shadow and all it represented really purged through pity and fear? Was it in fact exorcised or dealt with?

Somehow … I doubt it. Not in the 1920s. Not here. Not now. Perhaps it will never be. But maybe … just maybe, as Merhige stated, through understanding that such living stories could last generations, this is something that can be encountered both consciously and responsibly — through film or any other medium.

Building a Character to Make a World: Our Project Continues

About a month ago, I said that Angela O’Hara and I would working on a comics collaboration together. So here is an update on our Project thus far.

I gave Angela a whole list of comics artists to research in order to get the right aesthetic for our world. The following inspirations were Jonathan Lethem’s Omega the Unknown, Chris Ware’s “The Super-Man” stories, Saint-Exupery’s Le Petit Prince, the rugged elementalism of the anime Gurren Lagann, Sarah Howell, and Neil Gaiman’s run of Miracleman.

At the time, Angela was not completely sure how to go about this: which was fair given the fact that all I had seen of this world I’d envisioned were a few scenes and figures inside of my own head. It’s amazing how something in your mind cannot always be so easily translated into real life.

After a summer of proposing this Project, I was galvanized into action when Angela said she was going to be pursuing her drawing career full-time now: which is excellent because she is a gifted illustrator and a comics-creator. This was when I realized I needed to give her what I had and, once I did, I realized I gave her more than enough to work with at that point.

In the end, I created a fairly detailed back-story (or at least something far more detailed than what I thought it would be), some character outlines and descriptions, and even some notes on the minions that I’m keen on including in this strange new world of ours. So armed with artistic inspirations as well as character descriptions, names, a background story, and a rough idea of the main plot Angela began drawing.

It was when she sent me these first pictures that the challenge really began. As you can see, they are all excellent illustrations of the main female protagonist. Usually, I could have just selected a few and suggested some details here and there, but her features were not as distinct in my mind as I would have liked. Then I started to think about what the world would be like: specifically what we wanted our aesthetic to be.

For two days, I thought about this and luckily Angela and I managed to talk about it. She told me that she wasn’t completely sure what aesthetic–of the inspirations I chose–that she was supposed to use so she decided to draw different pictures of our character in various styles. I felt really torn: because I wanted to see this world as an elemental place of basic shapes but some very realistic elements, but Angela drew all of these really good illustrations. It made me question the fundamental substance of what I wanted our world to look like.

But Angela has a good way of asking the right questions. Not only did I manage to answer some of her questions, but I started to add some details of my own. Another question that really got me was how old our protagonist was going to be and what she would be wearing before she got her costume. These were definitely questions that I needed to answer and in the end we decided on her being twelve or so, with rudimentary clothing that she had been forced to create herself.

Angela was also curious about what costume our character was going to have. She experimented a bit and showed me this:

This is what prompted me to tell her the idea I had with regards to the main character’s costume: and how that was going to fit into the plot. Let’s just say: it’s less than she chooses the costume, but rather that it chooses her … and in unexpected way.

Finally, Angela had an “Aha!” moment and after I chose a few of the profiles that she created and made some suggestions, she managed to mix together something of Saint-Exupery, and something very reminiscent of Mark Buckingham’s drawing style in the illustrated story section of Miracleman #20: Winter’s Tale. As you can see, our protagonist looks like she is painted and has very bright colours. And yes, you’ve seen it right: she is red. 🙂 As of right now, this is the closest working illustration and aesthetic that we have and Angela is still working on it: along with drawing out a few more of our characters. It is just so beautiful, lush, and artful.

Another excellent advantage to having this working model of our whole aesthetic is that I have inspiration. There is nothing more buoying than seeing something you envisioned becoming as close to a tangible image as can be made possible to really encourage you to keep creating. The added bonus of this feeling is that with our last Project, Thebes was supposed to be based off of our re-interpretation of mythology: of stories and characters that already existed. With this Project, we are making something relatively new: something that didn’t exist before quite the way we see it.

I mean, I know: I understand that all superheroes are archetypes and variations of Superman or older mythical figures, but the characters in this story have their personalities and I try to look at the basics of what they can do as much as possible … of which I am now figuring out. It is also very helpful that, right now, Angela and I are on a very similar wavelength in figuring these details out.

In fact, all of this is a process of figuring things out: as though Angela and I are spying on another world and trying to translate it into ours as much as possible. When we’ve done more work on this–and I create at least a rough outline of the booklet–I will start calling the characters and our Project by name. Until then, both will be as silent and as wordless as our comics work itself.

Horror as Collaboration: A Multimedia Nightmare

Just as the creature from Edison’s 1910 film version of Frankenstein formed, as seen in the picture above, I have been thinking about the best way to go about doing a viral creepypasta.

Then I came across this link from a friend of mine to the story of The Dionea House. It has a very epistolary format: in which a story is narrative constructed through what seems to be correspondence or journal entries. In the case of the above story, they even use online journal links and phone texts.

I was so impressed with Candle Cove, that I wanted to do something like that. In fact, it is the model which I want to create a viral creepypasta: a horror story or account that will be posted throughout the Internet. But now I realize how some of the challenges I proposed in my other posts on Horror as a Universal Power: The Function of a Creepypasta and especially Making a Receipe For a Creepypasta With Uncanny Filling can finally be addressed.

Essentially, I need collaborators. I need to engineer a situation where we can go to a board and have a correspondence discussion: an exchange of posts talking about an event that we create. It is kind of like role-playing and also collaborating on a story together. By writing it like this, we can have all the natural typos, grammatical errors, and some natural energies and improvisation come through. We can begin it through talking about fact, and then slowly getting to the emotional creepy parts.

Of course, we would have some challenges. For instance, what Message Board could we take? Should we make our own? And if so, how do we deal with others posting? Or, rather, would be excellent to get them in on it too? At the very least it can add to the legitimacy of it and make it look like a spontaneous thing if other people who don’t know about this potential Project got in on it. If we can make this a great participatory writing project turned creepy meme, that would be excellent: but it has to be unified and coherent while at the same time have an element of the unexplained and horrific in there as well.

All I need is an idea for a story and I have a few. My list might have something or perhaps even one of my dreams from my dream journal beside my bed. If I can get some people to create photographs, graphics, and artwork as well that would just be an added bonus.

Tis the season of Halloween. This might just be interesting.

The Power of the Original, the Creativity of Change

In The Source and Its Creative Feelings, I wrote about the emotions and energy that can power inspiration and ideas. In this article, I’m talking about the material and the quality of it that can fuel that kind of inspiration.

So I was watching the classic 1963 film Jason and the Argonauts last night, and it occurred to me just how much it was tangentially in there in the culture of my childhood. It wasn’t so much the movie itself as it was the aesthetics and the attitude of it. In fact, the only film that really comes to my mind with that same spirit is Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments.

Whenever I thought of the ancient past or mythology as a child, I used the imagery of these movies and others like them to inform myself of how both should have looked like. Then I fast-forward this concept of mine by a few years. I used to think that the fantasy genre were all stories like The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, followed by Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms, and I tried to write exactly like them: especially the latter two series.

I thought that some of my more weirder story ideas–including an alternate storyline with The Ten Commandments–were silly and a waste of time, or at the very least beyond my means and personal faculties to create at the time.

This was before I realized that there was original source material.

Every story ever made is an echo of another story that exists before it, or coexists alongside of it in another form. But every story as a source: a prototype or “Ur-Text” (Ur being a term for the mythical first of something, such as the first ever human city-state) or place that is tapped into.

I believe that every creator taps into that source. However, I also think that the strength of a creator’s link to that source all depends on where and how they tap into it. Originally, I was going to say that a creation inspired by an original source–or the closest known or accessible thing–depends on one thing, but after thinking about it a bit more I realize there are two elements involved.

The first element is, like I said, finding the earliest myths or art-forms that you can read, understand, or learn to understand and take inspiration from them. They are the closest things to the source, or what the famous mythologist Joseph Campbell called “the mono-myth”: the supposed first story that all sentient human stories come from. I feel that once you learn to understand the spirit of the earliest story or source that you can find with regards to your work–and specifically use it to gain your own personal creative slant on it–then you have gained something powerful and you are more than on your way to augmenting or discovering your own creative voice.

But then there is the second element that I thought of very recently: which is that once you gain an idea of the original source material that created the story or story-type you are working on, you must make it timeless in a way that everyone can relate to, and therefore make it relevant. Take what you have learned or understood and apply it to your time and the issues and themes that are important to you as a creator, a person, or even both.

Think about it: before DeMille’s Ten Commandments, or Jason and the Argonauts, all there was to determine how the ancient world was, and how their myths functioned were books, broken sculptures and fragments of art. The creators of both films had to go through all of that material and decide what they were going to use or change. I won’t even go into Ten Commandments, because there have been many other films and stories created from that Biblical tale at different points in time, and even the ancient Greek myth of the Argonauts has changed throughout time and culture as well.

But what I am saying is that the creators of both looked at the original sources as much as they could and made something, and added character and motivations that audiences could relate to. Even J.R.R. Tolkien looked at ancient Nordic tales and history in the creation of his Middle-Earth: which in turn informed how a lot of the fantasy genre derived from it would be for a time.

Like I said, I do think that knowing the original source of something gives you a special insight into that thing and in making something that is either a homage to it, or a unique derivation. This is what I have adopted for a lot of my writing and creation process. It gives you more to work with and more to change should you choose to do. And that is the key here: knowing the closest source gives you more choices … especially with what you want to reveal what is important to you about them and other people.

When I was growing up, I took films like Jason and the Argonauts with its stop-motion clay animation less seriously than I did the developing CGI graphics coming around then. But now, looking back I realize just how much of that influenced the creation of CGI and what film-making could be: as well as storytelling. Maybe it’s because as a culture now almost everything that is “retro” or considered old is popular and new again. Of course, as some other popular cultural articles suggest this could be all be just part of a cycle that happens with every decade or era.

My era of the 80s and onward, as well as the things that inspired them in earlier years, has become a lot of my source material and now I am starting to realize that I can express it. This is a good thing. The possibility that some of the quirky weirdness in some of my stories may have been inspired by Joss Whedon’s irreverent flippant dialogue in Buffy and other shows is an added bonus: from my perspective anyway.

Really, I just like creatively messing around and reading and watching old, good things and good new things for universal and innovative storytelling ideas. I probably could have summarized this whole post into that one sentence, but there you go. 😉

Book Review: Brian Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret

One evening, when I was living downtown, I came across a book in a church-run thrift store. It was this big thick-paged book with a very luminously colourful ornate cover. I’d never ever heard of The Invention of Hugo Cabret before this point, but I saw that Scholastics had published it, and it was about five dollars or so. So I bought it and it sat in a cupboard for a while until I finished my initial draft of my Master’s Thesis. Then a day or so before leaving on a trip, I began and finished reading it.

Hugo Cabret is the story of an orphaned boy of the same name who finds himself operating and maintaining the clocks of a Paris train station while attempting to fix an old and broken clockwork automaton. It is when he attempts to steal some parts from an old man’s toy booth at the station that he reveals a far greater story and his life changes forever.

I really don’t want to spoil this book. I will tell you now, though, that it is excellent. Brian Selznick is not only an excellent writer that knows how to pace and flesh-out his characters, but he is a brilliant illustrator. Hugo Cabret is essentially an illustrated novel: with pages of text inter-dispersed with sequential pages of softly shaded drawings and stylistically-faded copies of sketches and photographs. It basically looks like a notebook or a journal: especially with the image of a lock on its cover. Given that there is a notebook that features somewhat heavily in the plot–once belonging to Hugo’s inventor father–the aesthetic follows the form well.

What I also like about Selznick’s aesthetic form is that it is on that border between an illustrated novel and a comic: in that while there are pages of words, and pages with pictures and words, there are also entirely silent panels that display interrelated sequences. It’s a nice borderline form and it adds to the content nicely.

In terms of content, this book is apparently labeled a work of historical fiction. This is an interesting designation because while there is definitely one central character that is real and historical, Selznick has taken some creative liberties. I also wonder in light of this if the other characters may be conceptions of this particular character’s work made into real personalities in a meta-narrative sort of manner. I love that kind of thing, in case you didn’t already get that, but even if it’s not true there are definitely moments where the concepts of the characters could very well fit into … other conceptual places.

But what really intrigues me about this book, aside from its liberties and ambiguities as “historical fiction,” is how it eventually focuses on the medium of film. In contemporary times, we often take moving film for granted. It had to develop from somewhere after all: both technologically and artistically. Even Hollywood itself was a small independent pioneering workshop studio at one time before it gained more resources and popularity.

While this story seems to take place in the 1920s, it refers after a while to the turn of the century when film was being developed: as well looking at the kinds of people who helped to create it. And who were these people? Some of them were magicians. I am not being figurative here. Some of them, including one of the characters in this book, were artificers, artists, and stage magicians before they became directors and creators. And it makes sense. After all, aside from the fact that vaudeville and its acts, along with theatre, and opera preceded a night at the movies in terms of prestige and guaranteed entertainment, film is kind of like watching a magician’s shadow-play on a thin skein of reality. It is a concept that reminds of Clive Barker’s short story “Celluloid”: where the silver screen is a more permeable layer of existence with our world than we would be comfortable to believe.

I love the image of the magician as film-maker and inventor, and if you read this book I assure you, you will understand what I mean. A friend of mine once said to me that if I embodied any kind of film, it would be the black and white 1902 A Trip to the Moon: something that is extremely symbolic, experimental, even comic, but also parodies and is self-reflexive and aware enough to know that by consciously parodying things, it reveals its opinions on what these things are. I mention this film for a reason that has to do specifically with one aspect of the book. What’s also interesting is that not long after I read this strange and awesome artifact, a film was released based off of it: one I’ve still have yet to see.

That digression aside, I give Brian Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret an unambiguous five out of five. Until next time, au revoir. I seem have something in my eye.

A Thank You to More Followers, and How We Need to Wander When We Learn

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First of all, I just have to step back and take note of a few things. I’ve gotten many “Likes” on some of my posts. I have many more views on my entries as well, and I enjoy looking at the different places that they come from and guessing to myself who is looking at what. I also now have 53 followers.

Fifty-three.

That may not seem like a lot compared to other Blogs and Journals I’ve seen, but bear in mind that I’m still remembering the summer time when I barely had any Followers in the single digits and–as far as I am concerned–the fact that there are even a few of you is still awesome.

Also, I’ve noticed that some people are specifically typing in matthewkirshenblatt.wordpress.com+the article they’re interested in. It is definitely really flattering and inspiring for me to see that. I honestly don’t know where all of you are coming from, but I think it’s safe to say that you are all awesome and that I feel honoured that you like what I have to say: or at the very least what I write.

Adjusting to this new habit of posting every Monday and Thursday–along with finding what images I can use with every post–was a bit of a challenge at first. Sometimes it still is. I used to write a post here every day and then it became every two days and now I give myself more room. I need to in order to work on some of my other creative pursuits. Still, I do get a tremendous amount of satisfaction in pushing the “Publish” button myself these days, instead of regulating each post to the scheduled automation option. that and I like the quotes of inspiration that come up after I do them. I guess I’m a bit of a sucker for those. But that said, I know I’m going to have more things to say and I want to maintain my place to say them.

One thing that this Blog does encourage me to do is to not only keep creating, but also keep exploring and recording my explorations as well. In many ways, whatever I learn adds to the world that I created inside of me. I search for things that interest me and I try to understand them. Sometimes I will mess around with things and make something I didn’t intend to. A lot of the time I use this as a forum to challenge myself to find or make something new.

I take basic research skills and my own interests–and things that I have picked up over the years that fit into both or were passed on to me–and I go into tangents with them. I always have.

If I were, or ever become a teacher, I would be the kind of person that would try to important basic skills like research and some questions of writing. But I think the kind of people I would meet would be those that already have those skills and ones that I can occasionally throw certain books or works at, or talk about things that I love, and basically let them “have at it.” I would “teach them in increments.” I’d mostly be a guide and I’d really step in if someone had a question or wanted my opinion on something.

Other than that I’d most talk a bit, and throw challenges at people while offering constructive criticism and suggestions where needed. I think I would just like to be that person that can work with a person’s skills and interests: honing them further and expanding on them … especially if they coincide with mine.

But I think I’d be a mostly tangential guide: much like I am whenever I write on here or talk to people in general. Your Following and reading encourages me to keep doing this and I hope that we can continue to view some interesting things together: or, like I always say, be entertained. Take care my friends.

What Nostalgia is Made From

It was in the winter of 2008-2009 that I came up with Nostalgia. It was my first winter living on my own and as such I was spending a lot of time in my apartment. This was the point where I was training myself to write something each day–publicly–to put my writing out there and alleviate some of the isolation and loneliness that I was feeling at that time.

Spending a lot of time in such a relatively small space–in a room of my own–gave me time to think. I thought back to the woods behind my old high school of Thornhill Secondary and how a friend of mine and I used to walk through them talking about different things. I had a few key lines of “Nostalgia” written down already at that point, but I needed a context for them.

Originally, I imagined a scenario with two childhood friends–two boys–who meet in the forest. One of them leaves and goes on with his life, while the other one stays in the woods and never ages a day. Then one day, the friend that left returns as a much older adult–having been worn down by time and experience–while the other is still young but in many ways much, much older than the other. I was also inspired by the times when my class in elementary school would go on overnight trips to places like Montreal or Paris, and I’d stay behind in the “skeleton-crew” class. At one point I’m pretty sure I was the only student of my grade in one class.

Sitting in my apartment made me think about a lot of those feelings, and the past, and that essence of it that I wanted to capture in a very precise way: an eternal and universal moment. I’m not sure what made me change the story to what it is, and making it only one central protagonist: one little girl. If I ever knew, I’ve forgotten, but it worked out well.

It is the best vignette I’ve ever made and I am proud of it. It cuts like an icicle into a human heart, and drifts away as transitory as a snowflake … or a shriveled balloon into the distance. It deserves to be seen, and have more company again. One day. Soon.

The Man That Makes Horror into a Science-Fiction of the Ridiculously Sublime

H.P. Lovecraft envisioned a universe where humanity is a small minuscule particle of sanity in a vast morass of evil and madness. In this kind of universe normalcy is an exception and not the commonality: where humanity is either ignored by vast alien intelligences, or horrifically used by malign entities.

Even trying to understand this vastly liquid and alien universe beyond human understanding is dangerous because the person that tries will go utterly insane … or cease to be human entirely. This is a view of the universe created by Lovecraft in his works and you can see how difficult it would be to make a television program out of such a thing or even a movie.

And what’s worse is that Lovecraft was born before the time of Gene Roddenberry: the latter who decreed in his Star Trek science fiction universe that all aliens have to be portrayed as humanoid in order to convey similar human expressions of emotion. Lovecraft’s creatures aren’t even that, and the most polite things you can say about them–when you can envision what they are from how they are described–is that they are the stuff of nightmares. We don’t even have the monster to relate to in this strange place just behind our own existence.

So how can a viewer relate to a universe that is terrifying beyond human comprehension?

I believe that a human answer to a Lovecraftian universe is Doctor Who.

The Doctor is basically Christmas-incarnate with nonsensical wonderfulness, ingenious bluffing skills, and a bad-ass core of fire and ice. And when I say he is Christmas-incarnate, I don’t mean that he’s Christian but that he is just the embodiment of an event that you look forward to at least once a year.

He is a renegade Time Lord on the run that understands time and existence far differently than we do but is light-hearted enough, and wise enough, to appreciate the little things that the grandiose horror of such inhuman non-humanoid horrors like the Daleks miss every time. The Doctor lives in and adapts to an intrinsically frightening, potentially nihilistic universe by being as ridiculous and as tangential as possible: while unifying everything into a haphazard way that–quite miraculously and somehow–works.

It may be that he is insane: and by our human standards he might be. Hell, even by his former fellow Time Lords’ standards, he is probably considered crazy. It doesn’t hurt that he Regenerates into different people each time when he dies, refuses to fight with a gun, and that he travels through time and space, or that he is over eight or nine hundred years old his time. He is the weird. He is the strange. But he is also the laughable: the person the viewer laughs with but also sympathizes with.

The Doctor is the Other with a very humanoid face: but he is still the Other. I appreciate the irony of this statement on at least two levels in that I use the Other as someone who is other than human, and that there is a possible back-story to the Doctor’s character in that he was once an older Time Lord and founder Time Lord society called The Other. But more than that, The Doctor–whose real name we never know and we fear the unknown–is portrayed as the champion of normalcy and sanity against the more destructive and twisted elements of the universe that humanity doesn’t understand.

At the same time though, he challenges normalcy and sanity through his mostly human Companions: changing their lives forever in what they see with him. He shows them that the alien universe, for all it challenges human preconceptions, still has wonders and isn’t always evil. Sometimes, it is quite relatable–the other aliens, worlds, and stars–and although not humanocentric, humanity is definitely a part of the strange and entertaining mosaic.

I’m sure that there have been other articles and essays about The Doctor and the Lovecraftian. Certainly, some older series of books put them both in the same universe: including run ins with the Great Old Ones and so forth. But even if you look at The Doctor’s universe and the villains within as influenced by Lovecraftian literature, I think the thing that really hits home for me–when I look out at how large and terrifying and insensible the world can be–is the image of The Doctor as a hero: armed against all that strangeness and eldritch horror with only his telephone box-fixed TARDIS, his sonic screwdriver, some strange suit, a new face, daring, and a whole lot of curiosity.

And somehow, when I think about it like that, he is one of the few heroes that can make me smile–make me glad to see him–each and every time.

Now, I wonder who or what will be the answer to a Vonnegut universe …