An episode of Sticks by the Brothers McLeod for BBC Comedy.
Adam Curtis makes fascinating documentary films for the British Broadcasting Corporation. This one is about the manipulation of memory, or the attempt to manipulate it, by governments during the Cold War era. It features several scientists and psychology experts who worked for either the U.S. or Soviet governments trying to figure out how to control minds.
I post the work of Curtis because his filmmaking is actually quite a lot like my own in several ways. This film bears a relationship to my latest film, Yellow Plastic Raygun, which is also about memory and how it influences the future. Curtis dwells in the domain of documentary, a form that I have serious misgivings about, while I dwell in the domain of art – or direct mind control if you will! I like Curtis’ use of corporate, military, instructional, and entertainment films as his raw visual material. He mixes it up with what is actually a rather simplistic script relating information that is not especially insightful. The film seems to suggest something more under the surface because of its imagery which often bears no relationship whatsoever to the information being related by the voice-over. This is a tricky area for documentary that brings it perilously close to the realm of art. You don’t quite know what it is that you are actually watching. I like that but I also distrust it. But Curtis appears to me to be making a documentary about his own feelings and artistic interpretations of the factual material. He is not trying to teach or inform at all. He is simply trying to create an impression. The words of the documentary could be replaced with gibberish. In fact, it would probably be a slightly better film if they were!
The Living Dead – Part 1 (watch the next 5 parts after the jump)
Memory is perhaps the single most important quality of existence. We are simply memory machines walking around and recording. All of our activities point toward an ever-increasing ability to record and remember. We are building memory. The idea, pursued in the first half of this documentary, of wiping out unpleasant memories that are assumed to be destroying the health of an individual, seems to me to be misguided and foolish. I have always viewed it as the job of every human to be able to stare straight into the most horrific scene, remember it, and not allow it to take control. Very simple. You must be able to look at anything… and continue to eat your ice cream.
If you live in Los Angeles you’ve probably seen it many times: the caravan of white trucks parked along the block and around the corner, diesel generators roaring, cables strung along the gutters, piles of lights, rolls of cables, racks of costumes, makeup trailers, bored extras, bored crew members, bored motorcycle police, and fascinated passersby.
That’s all you need to see to know that something mainstream – feature film, TV show, or commercial – is being made.
But what’s an underground film?
Bad Lit, my favorite site devoted to underground film, has an article about the problem of defining something as slippery as ‘underground film’ in which several definitions are offered by different people. Mike Everleth, the site’s editor, defines underground film this way:
Essentially, I believe it is a film that is a personal statement by one person and a film that dissents radically in form, or in technique, or in content, or perhaps in all three. However, that dissension can take on any number of forms.
I agree with that, but would add the requirement of hostility. There should be an element of combativeness which attempts to counter a much larger established force. There must be some rebellion in the work. It can be very subtle – nearly imperceptible – but it’s usually there somewhere. In fact, I think the hostility should even tend to include the general culture surrounding the filmmaker/s. Dissent, by itself, can be rather subdued, soft-spoken and shy. I think underground film requires a willingness not only to dissent but to kick apart.
While thinking about all this mainstream versus underground stuff, I went searching around on YouTube for something that might fit the discussion. I found this peculiar British documentary film about filmmaker Donald Cammell who co-directed, along with Nicolas Roeg, the 1968 film Performance. The film is one of those odd mixtures of underground and mainstream. It features Mick Jagger and involves a lot of mind-bending drugs, sex and criminal underworld shenanigans. It’s actually impossible to forget once you have seen it.
This film contains adult subject matter, language, nudity and sexual situations.
The documentary, Donald Cammell: The Ultimate Performance, describes a time when a group of intensely creative artists from various disciplines could operate on the fringes of the mainstream to create an essentially underground film with something resembling support from a mainstream production company. It’s a scenario that does not exist today. If you watch all 7 parts of the film, you will be immersed in that strange hybrid world of the ‘popular underground’ that defines much of what was happening in the 1960s and 70s. Today, if it cannot be jammed into a mall and sold with Sour Patch Kids, it won’t get any money. That holds as true for ‘independent’ films as it does for summer blockbusters.
Watching this documentary makes me wonder why so many filmmakers seem to have such trouble making the films they really want to make. After all, one can purchase a cheap camera and make exactly what one wants regardless of what one’s career and money-earning responsibilities might be. Tormented filmmakers who are battling studois for creative freedom should simply make films with video cameras during their spare time. This would not only foster a healthy underground, but it would quite possibly prevent a few tragic endings.
Shakespeare: The Animated Tales was a BBC television series of the 1990s that produced 30-minute versions of Shakespeare’s plays with animation done by well-known Russian animators at the Christmasfilms studio. This version of ‘The Scottish Play’ stars Brian Cox.
Click the continue reading link for parts 2 and 3.
This is a film made in a workshop run by Quirky Pictures for the BBC Children in Need at the Downsview Special School in the U.K. It’s just insanely beautiful. These kids are learning to be free with various artistic modes and they have made something that is mysterious, magical and wonderful. They are 9 – 12 years old and they make all their paper cutouts, puppets, and props. They storyboard and watercolor and narrate. They have their own little movie studio going into operation. These workshops must be something to see because these results are something very rare. I think the BBC should put together a television show and get all these things on the air.
Shaun Clark and Kim Noce at Mew Lab made The Magic Fish for broadcast on a BBC television show for children. It’s an Italian folk tale about a couple who have very little but get some assistance from an ancient chestnut tree and a magic fish. The animation is full of mixed media painting, paper, and photographs. My favorite part is the ocean with the little boat near the end.