Download: ‘The Killer Podcast’
Every few years hollywood is shocked by an utterly predictable success. Some startling maverick producer actually markets a movie to an underserved audience. The flick makes major bank, and a mad scramble begins, as studios line up to cash in. Five years ago it was the grey dollar, as the critically acclaimed Kings Speech dragged in sexagenarians who’d drifted away from the action packed vacuity of the block buster era. Our screens are still filled with it’s predictable follow ups, from Cannes darling Amour to The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Five years before that it was kids movies; as a series of franchises, from Harry Potter to Spy Kids proved that tweens had a powerful grip on mammy and daddy’s credit card. Now another, arguably more sinister trend has taken hold, as Hollywood seeks to cash in on a long ignored and even disdained audience. Mel Gibson might be persona non grata, but his 2004 spatterfest The Passion of the Christ nailed a market so lucrative even progressive, secular Hollywood could no longer ignore it. Ever since, the Jeebus movie has edged towards becoming a box office mainstay. Contemporary Christian movies religiously follow a variety of tropes. They exist in a post racial America of prosperous, hard striving, counter-culturally embattled Christian families, whose faith sets them at odds with a world literally in thrall to the devil. Their production tends towards the almost pornographically chintzy, and they’re most often staffed from a self contained stable of avowedly Christian actors.
Most of these movies – like the flurry of wide release Bollywood flicks current aimed at the Indian diaspora – appeal exclusively to their target audience. But breakout hits like this years ‘War Room’ prove that even ‘the lost’ (as evangelicals refer to their secular brethren) are no longer allergic to holy fluff. ‘War Room’ depicts a particularly pentecostal version of Christianity, in which the almighty can be compelled to intervene in ones career and marriage, but only if the lowly penitent rolls up her sleeves and really squeezes out an old prayer. This world view, with it’s sinister implication that misfortune is the deserved result of insufficient faith, ties into the evangelical belief that prayer is a weapon of mass demonic destruction. To a conservative America, still in the grip of a variety of wars on abstract concepts, from terrorism to the gay agenda, the idea holds a powerful appeal. To this view, the social ills of our time are not so much the result of economic inequality, or a history of prejudice, as the active intervention of Satan and his minions. The heavens fight a proxy war on earth, intervening in daily life for good or ill, much like the Gods of the Greek pantheon. With mortals as their emissaries, empowered to perform magic, good and evil battle in our daily lives.
The War Room’s setup exemplifies this narrative. An elderly magical black woman ‘Miss Clara’, played by Karen Abercrombie, helps repair the failing marriage of a wealthy couple, by her ‘war room’, essentially a closet full of prayer paraphernalia. Making her own Christ closet enables the young wife Elizabeth (played by Priscilla Shirer) to battle the demons threatening her marriage. Notable incidents in the film include a mugger fleeing, after a verbal slap down, ‘in the name of jesus’, and a alluring temptress defeated from afar by the power of prayer.
Producers, the Kendrick brothers, have created a slew of ‘educational materials’, to accompany the film. This merch includes a bible study kit, a branded teen prayer journal, the original War Room novel and a ‘battle plan for prayer’ which exhorts the reader to build a magic prayer room of their very own. This rather lucrative package, marketed directly to evangelical churches, along with suggestions to block book tickets, invites comparisons to George Lucas’s galactic scale entrepreneurship.
Fireproof, The highest grossing independent film of 2008, set the kindling to the current round of Christian flicks. The film – which in a deeply Freudian moment begins with a small child asking her mother if she can marry her father, is a romantic fantasy in which an inattentive fireman follows a forty step programme encouraging him to smash his porn riddled computer, and love his cheating wife unconditionally.
Despite their increasing ambition, relatively high budget Jeebus movies are not yet guaranteed success. The formula to reach a wider audience seems to require an Oprah style appeal to the power of positive thinking. ‘Yellow Day’, which opened to minute box office last month, features a glossy combination of animation and live action. The film imagines a kids camp where once a year on the mysterious ‘Yellow Day’ God ‘bestows incredible visions and miracles’ on the faithful, like a narcissistic santa claus. Perhaps the movies failure lies in it’s emphasise on the more feverish, fantastical aspects of evangelicalism.
Last years creepy ‘Heaven is for real’, recounted the story of a four year old boy who has a near death vision of heaven. This trip includes meeting Jesus riding a rainbow coloured stallion, and hanging out with his own miscarried sister. The film based on a purportedly non-fiction new york times best seller, as been labelled ‘heaven tourism’. Its 12 million dollar budget (huge in Christian cinema terms), grossed over 100, 000, 000 world wide. Heaven is for real doubtless owes part of its success to its promotion by media titan, Sony Pictures. Signalling increased investment in the segment by mainstream studios. But also to it’s marketing as a chilling M Night Shyamalan style mystery.
Whats concerning about the rise of such films is not their proselytisation of a belief system, but rather their sanctification of prosperity, their replacement of the vacuity of consumerism, with a kind of sinister conformity – predicated on a just world in which pain proceeds according to a plan. If there is a more malicious machine than the cynical dream factory of hollywood, it’s the the Christian Industrial complex. A hope franchise, with thousands of branches, that ensures capitalist conformity across the economically blighted flyover states. The evangelical block, wilfully courted by post Goldwater Republicans, upheld by Conservative Christian radio, televangelism, Christian publishers, Christian rock, and increasingly Jeebus movies, are selling a very particular kind of celluloid opium. One that appeals to the vulnerable, even as it forestalls any effort to challenge their circumstances.
Download: ‘Jeebus Movies’
The ‘Death Cafe‘ movement invites us to discuss death over tea and cakes. For Culture File, I visited the death cafe at The Irish Hospice Foundations’ Forum on End of Life. Chatting with people approaching the end of life, and others working to make its passing less painful, inevitably made death for a moment more difficult to ignore. It’s almost a year since a close friend of mine, a wonderful charismatic, hilarious, talented man, took his own life; and with it a kind of innocence amongst our group in college. A kind of certainty that we were immune from futile injury. My childhood was shaped by the death of the woman closest to me, my nana Kate. Shortly after school I lost two friends, one to a still unsolved murder, and another to a still incurable illness. Death is something I think about often, but rarely discuss. In a sense, whats the point? But perhaps there is a reason to talk about it after all. ‘Think Ahead‘ is a pen and paper form that lets us write down how we’d like our send off, what our wishes are around our treatment at the end of life. While Irish law still criminalises assisted dying, thinking about how we want our lives to be celebrated, and how we want to be taken care of when we cannot express our wishes, can perhaps insure we live our lives a little more, while we still have them.
Voices include Mrs Justice Catherine McGuinness and Sarah Murphy of Think Ahead
Download: ‘Death Cafe’
A few months ago, Irish company Immersive VR education ran a successful kickstarter to create a virtual reality simulation of the Apollo 11 journey to the moon. Put like that it sound kind unbelievable – we actually built a craft that travelled to the moon! Sure, we haven’t gone back in forty three years, but it’s damned impressive all the same.
If you’re lucky enough to own one of the oculus rift developer kits (consumer versions still haven’t hit the market), you can download a demo of the experience at Immersive VR’s site.
I sat down with Immersive’s founder David Whelan to try out this epic voyage, all from the comfort of a swivel chair in his Waterford based home office.
Download: ‘Immersive VR Education’
Kino is an international filmmaking movement that’s been running in cities around the world since 1999. The concept is simple – aspiring filmmakers of all levels of experience, meet over a weekend; write, direct, edit and screen films all in a two day blitz. Over time the movement has expanded to included week long ‘international kabaret’ events. The next of these is planned from July 12th – 19th in Dublin. I’ve participated in two Kino events, doing everything from writing / directing to sound, acting and even craft services. What’s unique about the event is the openness to filmmakers of all levels of experience and none. Camera people who work professionally in the industry, rub shoulders with first time actors and vice versa. It’s a full immersion introduction to the minimum viable product of a film. If you’re interested in taking part, you’ll find all the info you need at Kino’s facebook page. Back in March I attended one of the Dublin Kino D weekends, and spoke to Kino D founder George Hooker, as well as a bunch of enthusiastic attendees. Take a listen.
Download: ‘Kino D’
Xiu Xiu – Clowne Town
Jason Shaw – Thingamajig
Megs Moorley at IMMA, image copyright Catalyst Arts Gallery.
Meg’s Moorley’s ‘artist led archive‘ is a wonderful storehouse of the wisdom and work of numerous art collectives over the last four decades. The archive, which tours as a series of exhibitions and discussion events, is part of the permanent collection at the National Arts Visual Library at NCAD. I spoke with curator and artist Megs Morley, at the recent Artist Led Archive exhibition at IMMA.
All tracks used in this piece were from CD’s included in the Artist Led Archive (complete list below). Many of these works were included on the incredible ‘The Sound We Are Now‘ release from 2007, featuring some of the most beautiful and evocative sound artists working in the last decade. The Sound We Are Now is available from Farpoint Recordings, the label which curates a panoply of incredible sound artists and experimental musicians.
Download: ‘The Artist Led Archive’
The Sound We Are Now – Anthony Kelly & David Stalling – Powerstation 3
The Sound We Are Now – Thea Herold – Same Same but different
Gary Phelan & Mark McLoughlin – Random Access Soundworks – Kevlar Second Chants
The Sound We Are Now – Johannes S. Sistermanns – to disappear / appear
The Sound We Are Now – Alan Lambert South Shore
David Stalling and Anthony Kelly – Urban Utopias – Ghost Signal
The Sound We Are Now – Jürgen Simpson – Kepler
Alan Lambert – The Man Who Cycled To The Moon – Tiny Tiny
Perhaps you’ve seen it. One of those instantly recognisable meme images, that neatly confirm our prejudices with a concise and tweet ready bon mot. The image shows a young man, trendily emaciated and nebbish, Brooklyn casual in navy and white stripped boaters, below his aquamarine shorts and Warby Parker goggles. He sits on a park bench, oblivious to his anachronism, pecking away at an analogue typewriter. ‘You’re not a real hipster’, the text smugly asserts, ‘until you take your typewriter to the park’.
Quoth another readily shared bon mot, ‘Christ what an asshole’.
As with so many pieces of received wisdom, this one is a primary source only about the beliefs of those who spread it. Look we say, as we reblog, tweet and post it to Facebook, ‘I spurn the ironic adoption of outmoded technologies, for I am unpretentious’. Unhappily for the hipster cliche, it turns out that our sartorially stereotyped analogue aficionado is in reality a writer ‘The Roving Typist’, making what must be an agonisingly modest living selling custom hand typed short stories, written one at a time.
I came of age, just as the typewriter was becoming obsolete. Say what you will about the destructive impact on concentration, artistry and erudition the computer hath wrought. For me, the spellchecker made writing possible. I remember the sinking feeling, just before my junior cert, on being instructed by a particularly pernicious crone, only ever to use words that I could spell. Well thats it, I thought. I’ll be handing up a blank English paper. I’m not actually dyslexic, the technical term is subclinical auditory working memory difficulties. But without the smooth forgiving inline recommendations of autocorrect, I’d be at sea with two es.
But that doesn’t make me immune to the allure of ageing technology – the pleasing hum of a vinyl record enticing you to listen all the way through. The pen gliding over paper, devoid of the distractions of the internet. Working with clay, or paint, in a tactile medium, making things that exist even when the power goes out.
The typewriter is something different, a tool that attained a mythology inseparable from it’s use. The iconic silhouette and the clammer of it’s chattering teeth are endlessly evocative – inseparable from the toiling writer, the sweating journalist, the bun mopped ladies of the secretarial pool. It is at once feminine and brutish. A tool which cracked open the workplace for women as it subjugated them into mere transcribers. As Friedrich Kittler, in his meditation on technological media ‘Gramophone Film Typewriter’, called the typewriter a ‘discursive machine gun’, ‘Typescript’ he wrote ‘amounts to the desexualization of writing, sacrificing its metaphysics and turning it into word processing.’
The permanence of typing, the ink spilled like blood, the trees felled and boiled to make the paper – has the quality of murder. Typing prose is a kind of creative destruction – connected to our colonisation of nature. The writer as a one man printing press, a wild egoist making permanent his thoughts. How strange that this machine, with it’s digital keys, engineered to bureaucratise and mechanise the act of writing, seems romantic to us. Will future generations eulogise the laptop, collecting battery heavy early models, propping them up on park benches to pay homage? I doubt it. There is something unique about mechanical machinery – something at once unearthly and comforting. The typewriter a beast that comes to life, only at our touch – magnifying our strength and dexterity. It is vulnerable to injury – clogging with paper, teeth knotting together. It hungers for ribbon.
It is not purely analogue. Florian Cramer in his essay ‘What is Post digital’ argues that the type writer, with it’s keys chopping information into ‘discrete units’ can be considered digital. And yet, each tap bears the mark of our fingers varying pressure. As a child I used to practice typing without ink. The slalom of my dancing fingers, marking the paper like footprints in snow. Hidden messages that could be uncovered like grave rubbings.
For some writers this physical connection, the hypnotic rhythm of words on paper, is a self conscious escape from the ferocious intangible. Words become real, only when spoken or written. And it’s here that the digital realm is a deadly peril. The computer lets us to reedit at a moments notice. The internet leaks endless accelerating accretions of material – reference and competition, distraction and response. So many voices, drowning out our own. So many screaming certainties, making certainty suspicious. The world becoming software dissolves our words.
The typewriter is a cathect, a storehouse for our feelings about the past. If the act of writing changes what is said, then writing on a machine purpose built and laden with history cannot help but shape our words. Taking the trouble to type, mastering the mechanical spider, binds our ideas in paper. A single vulnerable edition, peppered with human mistakes. A naturalised piece of the world, ready to blow away in a slapstick breeze. Perhaps it’s this image, the loose leaves of a novels single copy escaping it’s author, colliding comically with a street full of machinery, that captures something of the draw of the typewriter today. For a writer, the maelstrom of words which pours from the screens around us, can be overwhelming. A break is needed, a discontinuity, writing as retrograde amnesia. One word at a time.
Eric Satie – Parade – Performed by Griffyn Ensemble
Leroy Anderson – The Typewriter
Kishore Kumar, Asha Bhosle – Typewriter Tip Tip Tip
Liars – They Threw Us All in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top – The Garden Was Crowded and Outside
Billy Fury – Gonna Type a Letter
Alicia Keys – Typewriter
Type of Music (featuring a typewriter) – Jon Brooks