Hell All Up in Hollywood: Michael Jackson’s Ghosts at 20

ghostsMichael Jackson was a shapeshifter, fascinated by musical and visual transformation. Of all his memorable metamorphoses — werewolf, panther, Egyptian mystic — perhaps none was as striking as that in the sequence at the centre of 1997’s Ghosts, in which Jackson’s haunted house trickster faces off against the local town Mayor out to destroy him. It’s a moment straight out of surrealist nightmare: Having taunted the corpulent bureaucrat with a series of increasingly goofy gestures, Jackson’s “Maestro” proceeds to peel his skin back over his head to reveal a demonic, chattering skull, who then holds up the lifeless visage, like some Halloween Michael Jackson death mask, with leering delight. Not quite done, the skeleton Maestro violently smashes his skull to pieces to return to — shamone! — Jackson once more. The permutations of the self are dizzying, to put it lightly, and that’s before the Maestro has bodily invaded his nemesis and forced the white man to perform a possessed dance routine. “Back to the circus, you freak!” the bewildered Mayor gasps, rattled and rhythmically disorientated. Continue reading

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Astral Vision: Amiel Courtin-Wilson’s The Silent Eye

siletneyeAt its most transformative, the camera has the capacity to shape both time and space, preserving a simulacrum of life that will eventually supplant the real with the dream. “The eye,” avant-garde jazz musician Cecil Taylor warbles midway through a performance caught in The Silent Eye, is “the indivisible subterranean matrix.” The new work from filmmaker Amiel Courtin-Wilson is all about that lucid eye, the spectral death dance that cinema orchestrates between the physical and the spiritual. Continue reading

California Dreamin’: High Sierra

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“Guys like you and Johnny Dillinger,” goes the famous line from Raoul Walsh’s exhilarating gangster classic High Sierra, “are just rushing toward death.” The words refer to Humphrey Bogart’s bandit Roy “Mad Dog” Earle, but they could just as easily be hinting at a disappearing America in the grip of change. That same year, the shocked nation would be dragged unexpectedly into a scary new world of old war, its heretofore isolationist policy ceding to the relatively unchartered territory of reluctant heroism. Continue reading

What’s Wrong?: George Lucas’ THX-1138

thxIt’s easy to call a film prescient in hindsight — especially when the filmmaker plays a considerable role in shaping the future their work portends. When it comes to George Lucas, it’s just as easy to succumb to the lazy consensus, which suggests he was a talented young filmmaker who calcified into brand monolith; a pop innovator consumed by the technology of his very own Frankenstein’s monster. But this thinking undersells the idealistic pioneer operating across his entire body of work. Lucas has always been driven as much by his passion to revolutionise the means of cinema as his pursuit of narrative storytelling, a progressive dedication to enterprise that meant merging with his beautiful machine and the money that made it possible. A popular imagination, it turns out, can be an expensive hobby. Continue reading