Posts from 13th March 2005

13
Mar 05

The special effect occupies a unique space, albeit an almost always pre-defined one which is rarely deviated from.

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The special effect occupies a unique space, albeit an almost always pre-defined one which is rarely deviated from.
Unlike other constructions of illusion and artifice, the job of the SFX maestro is never to actually trick. Their job is ostensibly to create an illusion as real as possible, yet only for window-dressing fictions which will never be seen as anything but. In the cinema, no right-thinking viewer is going to believe that they’re watching real zombies/murder/hurricanes, even if that was exactly what they were doing. It could be argued that the more convincing the fantasy, the easier to digest and therefore all the less affecting. I think this is because the brain has a smaller distance to travel. Conversely, we often find the cheaper and overtly ‘fake’ effects more unnerving, harder to swallow and ultimately more effective. It’s a crude slight of hand, engineering a situation in which our imaginations do the legwork. It’s Paul McCarthy’s ketchup and mayonnaise, it’s Romero’s orange paint, it’s Dr Who‘s whole menagerie of kitchen-sink grotesqueries.
The Life Aquatic‘s stop-motion sea creatures side-stepped many of the usual pre-requistes of the special effect, functioning as they did as some kind of spectacular non-spectacle. Anderson trod a thin line between creating an (admittedly visually) impressive extension of his film’s (all of his films) shaky internal logic, and violently preventing the audience from engaging with that logic whatsoever (it could be argued that it’s not only the film’s seahorses that are guilty of this). As it’s a Wes Anderson film, my point’s in danger of being hopelessly cluttered by other issues of artifice and fantasy linked inextricably to that director. I just found the creatures interesting as an example of special effects existing outside of their usual parameters. They could be used to pose questions about how and why these things are used – I’d give Anderson the benefit of the doubt (whatever else I think of his latest film) and merit him with tossing them over as well.

The FT Top 25 Animals – 19: Giant Squid

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Who knows the secrets of the giant squid? Nobody! Well, nobody knows all of them – nobody really knows how big they can get or much about their life cycles and habits way down in the ocean murk. What we know about them comes mostly from their carcasses, washed up with scars that bear witness to titanic undersea struggles with other squid, or whales, or who knows what.

This element of mystery is why giant squids are here. They’re a reminder of a time, not very long gone, when the animal kingdom was full of mysteries, when it was all too easy to observe the creatures we knew and imagine larger, fiercer, more freakish and more toothy versions somewhere out there in the unexplored wilds. Now the wilds – on land at least – are well mapped, and mystery is the province of hopeful or desperate Yeti-hunters and bigfoot-believers. The last large mammal to be discovered was the somewhat pitiful Okapi, in 1911, and even he is a cross between two other, better-loved beasts. The okapi was nominated for this list and quickly dismissed. For a taste of the unknown the way our ancestors may have felt it we must look to the seabed, and to the beaches where its monsters sometimes wash ashore.

Why are animals cute?

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Pete’s post on giant pandas reminded me of something I’ve often thought about when contemplating our rabbits, namely: is cuteness an evolutionary strategy? Pete’s right that in every other sense the giant panda seems to be an animal whose survival strategies are doubtful, but it’s also an animal which we’re very keen on preserving for symbolic and aesthetic reasons. It strikes me that in a biosphere which has a single, widespread dominant species, appealing visually to that species is a really useful survival mechanism. In which case perhaps the panda is (as a species) brighter than we thought…

(But everything I know about evolutionary science I learned from comics, so I’m sure this theory is very easily dismissed.)

POPNOSE MP3 OF THE WEEK

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POPNOSE MP3 OF THE WEEK
5. Muumilauluja – “Moron Valituslaulu”

This MP3 comes from the Finnish version of Moomin Voices, recordings of songs co-written by Tove Jansson, creator of the Moomins. A bop in the eye for my shrivelled inner authenticist: the originals were of course in Swedish, Jansson’s first language (though she was a Finnish citizen). Whether the cool, modernist jazz settings on the disc were close to the ‘originals’ I’ll probably never know, but it’s a charming CD anyhow – as wry and somehow elusive as the Moomin books are. This track though is completely atypical, with spooky backing music and a funny deep voice representing the Groke, perennial Moomin almost-villain and bringer of cold and despair.

(I was going to buy some other CDs in Finland – a collection called Suomipoppi 5 caught my eye – but I have a trip to the US to save up for and Nordic prices are on the scandalous side. Recommendations of Finnish pop though are always welcome.)

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Just got back from a brief and very enjoyable holiday in Finland.

Slaine The King

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Slaine The King

Music Zone (there’s one on Oxford Street) is having a sale, and I picked up this nice hardback comic album for under a fiver (they also have the complete Halo Jones at the same price, among many other things, lots of Judge Dredd and so on). I like Pat Mills generally, but the story, of an ancient Celtic warrior, with added druidic magic and monsters, is far from my kind of thing, but it features my favourite British action-adventure comic art ever.

I don’t mean the bulk of it, by Glenn Fabry. He draws very well, and everything looks bright and shiny and bold (which doesn’t feel right for the series, really). His inking is lovely, and he does good faces – but my problem with him is that he is so hopeless on portraying movement and action. I think Mills understood his strengths and weaknesses (I remember him talking to me about it when he had signed up this new artist), so he cut the fights down a great deal. I understand why Fabry has become popular, especially as a cover artist, but I’m not all that keen.

But the first 60 pages or so are by Mike McMahon, at his absolute peak. I find these more thrilling than any other British comics art, produced here or for the US. He had worked in an unusual way for some time: he would take plenty of time designing and composing his pages, then ink them really quickly, his view being that this would give the best of both worlds, care in the layout and fundamental drawing, energy in the inking. I think it worked, and you can see both at work here, in the clarity of his layout, loads of surprising but brilliant compositions (look at the 4th page of the 4th episode of ‘Sky Chariots’ for a dazzling page layout that also features several panel designs like nothing I’ve seen before), and a rough vigour in his rendering that is perfectly suited to this story. He does one other thing here that I can’t remember seeing from any other artist: he uses plenty of heavy black areas, then he puts little white lines over the top of them, which seems to energise what would be solid blacks, making everything seem scratchy and full of life. It’s particularly effective on the scary evil wizard types, wearing costumes of what looks like straw and twigs.