Un Chien Andalou (An Andalusian Dog) is a 1929 silent surrealist short film by the Spanish director Luis Buñuel and artist Salvador Dalí. It was Buñuel’s first film and was initially released in 1929 to a limited showing in Paris, but became popular and ran for eight months.
The film has no plot in the conventional sense of the word. The chronology of the film is disjointed, jumping from the initial “once upon a time” to “eight years later” without the events or characters changing very much. It uses dream logic in narrative flow that can be described in terms of then-popular Freudian free association, presenting a series of tenuously related scenes.
The film is famous for the scene where a middle-aged man (Luis Buñuel) sharpens his razor at his balcony door and tests the razor on his thumb. He then opens the door, and idly fingers the razor while gazing at the moon, about to be engulfed by a thin cloud, from his balcony. There is a cut to a close-up of a young woman (Simone Mareuil) being held by the man as she calmly stares straight ahead. Another cut occurs to the moon being overcome by the cloud as the man slits the woman’s eye with the razor, and the vitreous humour spills out from it.
A Clockwork Orange is a 1962 dystopian novella by Anthony Burgess. A satire portraying a future and dystopian Western society with (based on contemporary trends) a culture of extreme youth rebellion and violence: it explores the violent nature of humans, human free will to choose between good or evil, and the desolation of free will as a solution to evil. Teenage gangs, enraged by the docile, clockwork society that they find themselves living in, are constantly on the rampage. The main character, Alex, is a fifteen year old boy who revels in Beethoven as much as he loves his nightly episodes of violence and rape. Burgess experiments with language, writing in a Russian-influenced argot called “Nadsat” used by the younger characters and the anti-hero in his first-person narration. According to Burgess, the novel was a jeu d’esprit written in just three weeks. He bemoaned the fact that the book had been taken as the source material for a 1971 film that was perceived to glorify sex and violence.
The brutality and gang violence of A Clockwork Orange was inspired by a terrible incident during a blackout in London at the height of the Second World War, where Burgess’ pregnant wife Lynne (Llewela Jones), was assaulted, raped and robbed by a group of American soldiers. Subsequently she suffered a miscarriage and the couple lost their first child.
The book was written as a form of catharsis and a severe warning about a future where the state controls the way we think, and everyone is turned into good, little citizens . . . without the power of choice.
Battle Royale takes place in an alternate timeline—Japan is a member region of a totalitarian state known as the Republic of Greater East Asia. Under the guise of a “study trip”, a group of students from Shiroiwa Junior High School in the fictional town of Shiroiwa, in Kagawa Prefecture, are gassed on a bus. They awaken in the Okishima Island School on Okishima, an isolated, evacuated island southwest of Shodoshima (modeled after the island of Ogijima). They learn that they have been placed in an event called the Program. Officially a military research project, it is a means of terrorizing the population, of creating such paranoia as to make organized insurgency impossible.
The first Program was held in 1947. According to the rules, fifty third-year junior high school classes are selected (prior to 1950, forty-seven classes were selected) annually to participate in the Program for research purposes. The students from a single class are isolated and are required to fight the other members of their class to the death. The Program ends when only one student remains, with that student being declared the winner. Their movements are tracked by metal collars, which contain tracking and listening devices; if any student should attempt to escape the Program, or enter declared forbidden zones (which are randomly selected at the hours of 12 and 6, both a.m. and p.m.), a bomb will be detonated in the collar, killing the wearer. If no one dies within any 24-hour period, all collars will be detonated simultaneously and there will be no winner.
After being briefed about the Program, the students are issued survival packs that include a map, compass, food and water, and a random weapon or other item, which may be anything from a gun to a paper fan. During the briefing, two students (Fumiyo Fujiyoshi and Yoshitoki Kuninobu) anger the supervisor, Kinpatsu Sakamochi, who kills both. As the students are released onto the island, they each react differently to their predicament; beautiful delinquent Mitsuko Souma murders those who stand in her way using deception, Hiroki Sugimura attempts to find his best friend and his secret love, Kazuo Kiriyama attempts to win the game by any means necessary (stemming from his lack of ability to feel human emotion due to a brain injury sustained in a car crash while in utero) and Shinji Mimura makes an attempt to escape with his best friend Yutaka Seto.
Opening from J.G.Ballards 1977 short story, ‘The Intensive Care Unit’.
Within a few minutes the next attack will begin. Now that I am surrounded for the first time by all the members of my family it seems only fitting that a complete record should be made of this unique event. As I lie here – barely able to breathe, my mouth filled with blood and every tremor of my hands reflected in the attentive eye of the camera six feet away – I realize that there are many who will think my choice of subject a curious one. In all senses, this film will be the ultimate homemovie, and I only hope that whoever watches it will gain some idea of the immense affection I feel for my wife, and for my son and daughter, and of the affection that they, in their unique way, feel for me.
It is now half an hour since the explosion, and everything in this once elegant sitting room is silent. I am lying on the floor by the settee, looking at the camera mounted safely out of reach on the ceiling above my head. In this uneasy stillness, broken only by my wife’s faint breathing and the irregular movement of my son across the carpet, I can see that almost everything I have assembled so lovingly during the past years has been destroyed. My Svres lies in a thousand fragments in the fireplace, the Hokusai scrolls are punctured in a dozen places. Yet despite the extensive damage this is still recognizably the scene of a family reunion, though of a rather special kind.
The film is particularly well known for a single tracking shot that lasts for over 8 minutes. The shot follows a car slowly moving through a traffic jam. After eight minutes, the cause is discovered: a family has been in a car accident and their bodies lie across the road. It is a stark contrast to the beeping horns and frustrated drivers waiting to get by.
As Black Elk, Holy Man of the Oglala Sioux pointed out in his famous quote (see post below), the natural order of the universe is based on a circle. Why then is our civilization being sucked into the vortex of the digital age? It seems very clear that the digital world is completely alien to everything the rest of the universe stands for.
I used to blow-up my 35mm film stills and study the grain structure. Beautiful mappings of colour and detail all made up of circles.
If you were to blow up a digital photograph you end up with pixels/squares, as with the rim of a bird’s nest above.
I often wonder if the many thousands of images we see these days, whether they are on computer or TV screens, are in some way destroying our natural eyesight (eyes being round of course).
Or is the digital age slowly eating away at the very soul of humanity itself?
The story centres on Charles Marlow, who narrates most of the book. He is an Englishman who takes a foreign assignment from a Belgian trading company as a river-boat captain in Africa. Heart of Darkness exposes the dark side of European colonization while exploring the three levels of darkness that the protagonist, Marlow, encounters: the darkness of the Congo wilderness, the darkness of the Europeans’ cruel treatment of the African natives, and the unfathomable darkness within every human being for committing heinous acts of evil. Although Conrad does not give the name of the river, at the time of writing the Congo Free State, the location of the large and important Congo River, was a private colony of Belgium’s King Leopold II. In the story, Marlow is employed to transport ivory downriver. However, his more pressing assignment is to return Kurtz, another ivory trader, to civilization, in a cover-up. Kurtz has a reputation throughout the region.
This symbolic story is a story within a story or frame narrative. It follows Marlow as he recounts his Congolese adventure to a group of men aboard a ship anchored in the Thames Estuary from dusk through to late night. The passage of time and the darkening sky during Marlow’s narrative parallels the atmosphere of the events he narrates.
“It’s about the idea of entitlement; (how) through the ages we enforce our feelings of entitlement in whatever way that age will allow — from Leopold II owning the Congo as a private possession to the corporations involved with blood diamonds. The effects of entitlement have not so much gone out of fashion as out of sight.”
“Heart of Darkness is the most important book in the last 100-plus years not because it’s the best, but because it anticipated how 20th century leaders with visions of bringing light and creating new models for humans beings – Hitler, Lenin, Pol Pot, Mao – all ended up,” he said. “When disappointed by the response of the very groups they wanted to save or help or transform, they, like Kurtz, wish to (and actually do, of course) ‘exterminate all the brutes!'”
The phoenix, or phenix (Greek: Φοίνιξ Greek pronunciation: [ˈfiniks], Persian: ققنوس, Arabic: العنقاء أو طائر الفينيق, Chinese: 鳳凰 or 不死鳥, Hebrew: פניקס), is a mythical sacred firebird that can be found in the mythologies of the Arabian, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Chinese, Indians and (according to Sanchuniathon) Phoenicians.
A phoenix is a mythical bird with a colorful plumage and a tail of gold and scarlet (or purple, blue, and green according to some legends[which?]). It has a 500 to 1000 year life-cycle, near the end of which it builds itself a nest of twigs that then ignites; both nest and bird burn fiercely and are reduced to ashes, from which a new, young phoenix or phoenix egg arises, reborn anew to live again. The new phoenix is destined to live as long as its old self. In some stories, the new phoenix embalms the ashes of its old self in an egg made of myrrh and deposits it in the Egyptian city of Heliopolis (literally “sun-city” in Greek). It is said that the bird’s cry is that of a beautiful song. The Phoenix’s ability to be reborn from its own ashes implies that it is immortal, though in some stories the new Phoenix is merely the offspring of the older one. In very few stories they are able to change into people.
They eventually encounter a subterranean ocean, which they name the Saknussem Ocean, and make a raft from the stems of giant mushrooms to cross it. Somewhere in the middle of the ocean, they pass through the center of the earth and their raft begins circling in a mid-ocean whirlpool. The professor deduces that must be the center of the earth, because the magnetic forces from north and south meeting there are strong enough to snatch away even gold in the form of wedding rings and tooth fillings. They somehow manage to cross the ocean, and, completely exhausted, reach the shore on the other side.
Despite the dangers of their journey, no one has died, but that soon changes. Gertrude, the duck, loses her life to Saknussem, who can’t control his hunger and eats her. Soon after a mild earthquake occurs; Saknussem is buried under a shower of heavy stones, but right behind the collapse the rest of the group comes upon the sunken city of Atlantis. They are now faced with one ominous question: How will they return to the surface?
Solaris chronicles the ultimate futility of attempted communications with the extraterrestrial life on a far-distant planet. Solaris, with whom Terran scientists are attempting communication, is almost completely covered with an ocean that is revealed to be a single, planet-encompassing organism. What appear to be waves on its surface are later revealed to be the equivalents of muscle contractions.
Kris Kelvin arrives aboard the scientific research station hovering (via anti-gravity generators) near the oceanic surface of the planet Solaris. The scientists there have studied the planet and its ocean for many decades, a scientific discipline known as Solaristics, which over the years has degenerated to simply observe, record and categorize the complex phenomena that occur upon the surface of the ocean. Thus far, they have only achieved the formal classification of the phenomena with an elaborate nomenclature — yet do not understand what such activities really mean in a strictly scientific sense. Shortly before psychologist Kelvin’s arrival, the crew has exposed the ocean to a more aggressive and unauthorized experimentation with a high-energy X-ray bombardment. Their experimentation gives unexpected results and becomes psychologically traumatic for them as individually flawed humans.
The ocean’s response to their aggression exposes the deeper, hidden aspects of the personalities of the human scientists — whilst revealing nothing of the ocean’s nature itself. To the extent that the ocean’s actions can be understood, the ocean then seems to test the minds of the scientists by confronting them with their most painful and repressed thoughts and memories. It does this via the materialization of physical human simulacra; Kelvin confronts memories of his dead lover and guilt about her suicide. The torments of the other researchers are only alluded to but seem even worse than Kelvin’s personal purgatory.
The ocean’s intelligence expresses physical phenomena in ways difficult for their limited earth science to explain, deeply upsetting the scientists. The alien (extraterrestrial) mind of Solaris is so greatly different from the human mind of (objective) consciousness that attempts at inter-species communications are a dismal failure.
Crash is a novel by English author J. G. Ballard, first published in 1973. It is a story about symphorophilia or car-crash sexual fetishism: its protagonists become sexually aroused by staging and participating in real car-crashes.
It was a highly controversial novel: famously one publisher’s reader returned the verdict “This author is beyond psychiatric help. Do Not Publish!” The novel was made into a movie of the same name in 1996 by David Cronenberg. An earlier, apparently unauthorized adaptation called Nightmare Angel was filmed in 1986 by Susan Emerling and Zoe Beloff. This short film bears the credit “Inspired by J.G. Ballard.”
The story is told through the eyes of narrator James Ballard, named after the author himself, but it centers on the sinister figure of Dr. Robert Vaughan, a “former TV-scientist, turned nightmare angel of the expressways”. Ballard meets Vaughan after being involved in a car accident himself near London Airport. Gathering around Vaughan is a group of alienated people, all of them former crash-victims, who follow him in his pursuit to re-enact the crashes of celebrities, and experience what the narrator calls “a new sexuality, born from a perverse technology”. Vaughan’s ultimate fantasy is to die in a head-on collision with movie star Elizabeth Taylor.
At the opening of the book, the narrator, an everyman named John (a.k.a. Jonah), describes a time when he was planning to write a book about what important Americans did on the day Hiroshima was bombed. While researching this topic, John becomes involved with the children of Felix Hoenikker, a fictional Nobel laureate physicist who helped develop the atomic bomb. John travels to Ilium, New York, to interview the Hoenikker children and others for his book. In Ilium John meets, among others, Dr. Asa Breed, who was the supervisor “on paper” of Felix Hoenikker. As the novel progresses, John learns of a substance called ice-nine, created by the late Hoenikker and now secretly in the possession of his children. Ice-nine is an alternative structure of water that is solid at room temperature. When a crystal of ice-nine contacts liquid water, it becomes a seed crystal that makes the molecules of liquid water arrange themselves into the solid form, ice-nine.
John and the Hoenikker children eventually end up on the fictional Caribbean island of San Lorenzo, one of the poorest countries on Earth, where the people speak a barely comprehensible creole of English (for example “twinkle, twinkle, little star” is rendered “Tsvent-kiul, tsvent-kiul, lett-pool store”). It is ruled by the fictional dictator, “Papa” Monzano, who threatens all opposition with impalement on a giant hook.
San Lorenzo has an unusual culture and history, which John learns about while studying a guidebook lent to him by the newly-appointed US ambassador to the country. He learns about an influential religious movement in San Lorenzo, called Bokononism, a strange, postmodern faith that combines irreverent, nihilistic, and cynical observations about life and God’s will with odd, but peaceful rituals (for instance, the supreme act of worship is an intimate act consisting of prolonged physical contact between the bare soles of the feet of two persons, supposed to result in peace and joy between the two communicants). Though everyone on the island seems to know much about Bokononism and its founder, Bokonon, the present government calls itself Christian and those caught practising Bokononism are punished with death by the giant “hook.”
As the story progresses, it becomes clear that San Lorenzon society is more bizarre and cryptic than originally revealed. In observing the interconnected lives of some of the island’s most influential residents, John learns that Bokonon himself was at one point a de facto ruler of the island, along with a US Marine deserter. The two men created Bokononism as part of a utopian project to control the population. The ban was an attempt to give the religion a sense of forbidden glamour, and it is found that almost all of the residents of San Lorenzo, including the dictator, practice the faith, and executions are rare.
When John and the other travelers arrive on the island, they are greeted by President “Papa” Monzano and around five-thousand San Lorenzans. It becomes clear that “Papa” Monzano is extremely ill, and he intends to name Franklin Hoenikker his successor. Franklin, uncomfortable with this arrangement, abruptly hands the presidency to John, who grudgingly accepts.
The dictator later uses ice-nine to commit suicide rather than succumb to his inoperable cancer. Consistent with the properties of ice-nine, the dictator’s corpse instantly turns into solid ice at room temperature.
During John’s inauguration festivities, in which the American ambassador to San Lorenzo was going to speak, San Lorenzo’s small air force was supposed to present a brief air show. One of the airplanes crashes into the dictator’s seaside palace and causes his still-frozen body to tumble into the ocean, and all the water in the world’s seas, rivers, and groundwater turns into ice-nine, killing almost all life in a few days.
John manages to escape with his wife, a native San Lorenzan named Mona. They later discover a mass grave where all the surviving San Lorenzans had killed themselves with ice-nine, on the facetious advice of Bokonon. Displaying a mix of grief and resigned amusement, Mona kills herself as well. John takes refuge with a few other survivors (an American couple he had met on the plane to San Lorenzo and Felix Hoenikker’s two sons), and lives in a cave for several months, during which time he writes a memoir revealed to be the novel itself. The book ends by his meeting a weary Bokonon, who is contemplating what the last words of The Books of Bokonon should be. John receives inspiration from these words and the reader realizes he is planning to place his own book—a “history of human stupidity”—on Mt. McCabe (the highest point on the island) as a “magnificent symbol” and then die.
The Voyager 2 spacecraft is a 722-kilogram (1,592 lb) space probe launched by NASA on August 20, 1977 to study the outer Solar System and eventually interstellar space. Operating for 34 years, 8 months and 5 days as of today (25 April 2012), the spacecraft receives routine commands and transmits data back to the Deep Space Network.
Part of the Voyager program with its identical sister craft Voyager 1, the spacecraft is currently in extended mission, tasked with locating and studying the boundaries of the Solar System, including the Kuiper belt, the heliosphere and interstellar space. The primary mission ended December 31, 1989 after encountering the Jovian system in 1979, Saturnian system in 1980, Uranian system in 1986, and the Neptunian system in 1989. It was the first probe to provide detailed images of the outer gas giants.
Each Voyager space probe carries a gold-plated audio-visual disc in the event that either spacecraft is ever found by intelligent life-forms from other planetary systems. The discs carry photos of the Earth and its lifeforms, a range of scientific information, spoken greetings from the people (e.g. the Secretary-General of the United Nations and the President of the United States, and the children of the Planet Earth) and a medley, “Sounds of Earth”, that includes the sounds of whales, a baby crying, waves breaking on a shore, and a variety of music.
As the probes are extremely small compared to the vastness of interstellar space, the probability of a space-faring civilization encountering them is very small, especially since the probes will eventually stop emitting any kind of electromagnetic radiation. If they are ever found by an alien species, it will most likely be far in the future as the nearest star on Voyager 1’s trajectory will only be reached in 40,000 years.
Carl Sagan noted that “The spacecraft will be encountered and the record played only if there are advanced space-faring civilizations in interstellar space. But the launching of this ‘bottle‘ into the cosmic ‘ocean’ says something very hopeful about life on this planet.” Thus the record is best seen as a time capsule or a symbolic statement rather than a serious attempt to communicate with extraterrestrial life.
Anybody who uses the Internet should read E.M. Forster’s The Machine Stops. It is a chilling, short story masterpiece about the role of technology in our lives. Written in 1909, it’s as relevant today as the day it was published. Forster has several prescient notions including instant messages (email!) and cinematophoes (machines that project visual images).