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Showing posts from January, 2014

The deep above

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The film Gravity ends with a splashdown, as did the American Gemini and Apollo missions, whereas the Soviet space program opted for a dry, bone-rattling landing on the Russian steppe. For NASA, then, the space program is inextricably linked to the ocean. The launching grounds are, of course, on the Florida coast, at Cape Canaveral; astronauts train for zero-g EVAs in a large pool, to simulate weightlessness; and the discourse of space exploration recapitulates that of the maritime, from ‘voyages’ to ‘ships’ to ‘deep’ space to the very names given to NASA craft: Discovery, Endeavour, Atlantis. At the same time, deep-dive films often, perhaps unsurprisingly, echo the cramped, functional interiors of NASA vehicles: sweaty cabins crewed by hard-bitten professionals battling an inhospitable, indeed deadly external environment from within small pressurised canisters.
 In Sphere (1998) and in The Abyss (1989), where ‘non-terrestrials’ are discovered in the ocean deeps, this claustrophobic c…

Musicals, Michael Bay and Utopia

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I met my friend and colleague Bruce Bennett yesterday, and the subject of Michael Bay came up.  Bruce is interested in the excessive hyper-kineticism of Bay’s work as diagnostic of contemporary American culture, and in the course of our conversation, Bruce mentioned Bay’s interest in the musical.  This made a lot of sense to me: spectacle cinema tout court, as is well known, has strong structural affinities with the musical, in its generic ability to ‘suspend’ the narrative and enter into different conditions of cinematic time and space, privileging spectacular and/or performative elements (a song or dance routine, or sfx sequence).  What makes these affinities particularly striking is the spectatorial affect: viewers do not (if trained in the genre’s visual grammar) ‘pop out’ of the cinematic experience when the films shifts into song or dance or effects spectacle, and in fact the ‘wow factor’ of bodies doing impossible or extraordinary things in space is one of the pleasures of thi…

Ball of Confusion

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I was given the latest of Tony Benn's published diaries, indeed the last, A Blaze of Autumn Sunshine, for Christmas, and it dovetails well with my pre-holiday reading, Orwell's Homage to Catalonia. Both are texts that inhabit a sense of political defeat, the defeat of leftist parties and organisations, or in Benn's case, dictated at the time of Brown's tenure as PM in the last Labour government, a kind of self-betrayal. It's strange to read Benn's entries for that time, a period when I was personally deeply unhappy and struggling with difficult things in my personal life, and see how conflicted Benn is. On one hand, he despises New Labour, and is happy to see its defeat; yet  he is far-sighted enough to know that the economic crisis of 2008 would have long-lasting effects, that prognostications of a 'two-year' recession were optimistic at best (delusory at worst), and that the fall-out might well be a shift to the right and a coalition government. Benn…