Monday, 1 November 2010

The Writing on the Wall: Misconceptions in Perception

On the morning of the 30th of September 1888, at about 2.55 am a piece of a woman's apron, wet with blood and fecal matter was discovered in the entry leading to the staircase of 118-119 Wentworth Model Dwellings. It appeared to correspond with the missing part of a recently murdered woman's apron at Mitre Square. She was the second murder of the night. Above the apron was written in chalk:


*

"The Juwes are
The men that
will not
be blamed
for nothing"


*

Upon discovery it was agreed by the police that the graffiti must be removed to prevent a riot. Whitechapel, London was the home to over 100,000 Jewish immigrants, many of them refugees from the recent pogroms in Eastern Europe. Already there had been contentious murmurings as to the identity of the "Whitechapel Murderer" and it had become common currency that the "Jews" were behind it. The writing was recorded as write and a sponge and water obliterated the suspected scrawl of a serial killer that held the East End in horror and would become the greatest unsolved series of killings ever, bordering into the mythic realm of memory.


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But why should the automatic reaction to the graffiti infer that it was anti-Semitic and an attempt to pin the blame on the Jews? Any reading of so-called 'ripperologists' all point to the significance they try to imprint to both the time of writing and whether it is actually the work of the killer. I have never come across a study on the actual text, and by this I mean, a sincere one that took into account both the issues implied in the text and exactly what kind of man would risk capture and scrawl a note to the "world".

*

"Jack the Ripper" has been described as everything from a psychopathic sadist to a social reformer, from the lowest insane imbecile to the highest in the land. Any attempt to place a truth on the perspective of an uncaught killer is lost in idle speculation sometimes of the most absurd kind. As mankind we should be able to learn from patterns that develop subsequently to any problem that raises its head. Since the Whitechapel murders the type of killer that "Jack" was has become a source of hostile debate and cliched racked psychology. Any suggestion that the ritualistic elements to the "Jack" killings hold the key to the kind of man he was usually are downgraded to the most pulpiest of narratives.

*

Besides his victims and the way their bodies and valuables are displaced there is not much we can infer about "Jack" except the obvious from the gall with which he committed his crimes. But the writing is full of evidential leanings. We can surmise first that this is a man who wants to tell us something, be it through his murders or through a politically charged set of words. Not wishing to put the horse before the cart one can wonder if the foresight to write the graffiti is in reality a cover for a subconscious state of mind that refuses to believe in the horror of the crimes they have committed. By legitimising one succumbs to meaning...

Sunday, 10 October 2010

The Brilliance of White Heat

Raoul Walsh's 1949 film "White Heat" is regarded as one of the greatest gangster films of cinema. What truly drives the movie to its classic status, and raises it above the ordinary cops & robbers movie is the central performance by James Cagney as Cody Jarrett. This is no ordinary performance and one needs to take into account the way the subconscious works in the human being, especially in respect to creativity and the process of construction. Jarrett is fundamentally a reconfiguration of Cagney's earlier show-stopper Tom Powers in "Public Enemy", 1931, which detailed the rise and fall of a small-time hood during the Depression. Powers is more of a familiar type of villain, and has redeemable features, with the added pathos of a 'good' Ma, awaiting his arrival back home at the end of the movie. Jarrett departs from the amoral Powers in many ways though, primarily through story and background.

We learn a little throughout the film about his background. There is a strain of insanity that runs in the family. His father ended up kicking and screaming in the mental house. To gain the attention of his Ma, he use to fake headaches and gradually the headaches became real, brought on by moments of doubt and pressure. His wife, played by Virginia Mayo, was once a prostitute whom he appears to have rescued from that kind of lifestyle, but she wants order and the good things of the world, and it is evident there is no true love for her husband just a domicile need to be wanted. When Jarrett ends up in prison she turns her attentions to "Big" Ed, played by Steve Cochran, in a ploy to maintain her level of maintenance and equality with others. One senses her fears of slipping back into the sleazy chaos she sprang from. We even learn about a brother, but he is just mentioned in passing, as if there is a big family secret about him.

The driving impetus of Jarret is his Ma, played by Margaret Wycherly. Most critics see in her portrayal the reasons for Jarrett's psychosis and criminality but closer examination to the script and to the unconscious urgings of the writers reveal a deeper depth and life to this seemingly frail old woman. Her face depicts one who has lived through hard times. It is evident that she has had to make a go of it on her own, bringing up her children the best way she can, by not relying on any others. The hospitalization of her husband is a clue to her stoicism and it is generally viewed as a control device over her son but this is far from the truth. It is true Jarrett loves and idolises his Ma, and rarely queries any of her suggestions. In turn she protects him from his enemies, and when she hears of the plot to be rid of Jarrett she takes action of her own. This is the true indicator of her love for her son. She is a proud woman and sees society at large as the attack on her family, first with the insanity and incarceration of her husband and then with the missing brother. Having only Jarrett left in her old age she treats him with loving care and devotion to the point one may infer that she suffers from a shared insanity, that is tantamount to their very existence.
***
Walsh presents the film in a peculiar style. From the opening train robbery, which is reminiscent of the old west, to the high-tech chemical plant we are meant to subconsciously rediscover something of the truth behind the reality of the characters. Jarrett is an everyman type, and though clearly without conscience and having awful sociopath tendencies it is obvious he is not going to fit to type. To his Ma he is the devoted son, the one who is going to make it to the 'top of the world' looking down on his friends and foes alike. She is Agrippina to Cagney's Nero. To his wife he is the breadwinner, the husband and from a scene later on the wife-beater. She can play games with him but not where his mother is concerned. To his gang he is the Boss. The Big-I-Am. They follow like obedient sheep, except for "Big" Ed who dreams of usurping his boss and stealing his wife. This Othello-like structure is deliberate and Shakespeare's influences rages over several of the character relationships in varying ways.
***
To the undercover policeman Fallon, played by Edmond O'Brien, Jarrett is the target, to be protected, cajoled, and duped into revealing truths about his criminal activities. First Fallon becomes a replacement for Ma during a spell of headaches whilst in prison. Initially one is led to believe that Jarrett sees Fallon as a younger brother, calling him 'kid' at any given opportunity but the role is more like that of father and son, and this induces in the viewer the realisation that for such a family man there is an absence of family. Jarrett's seedless marriage with ex-prostitute Verna has floundered and created a family of a different kind, one that moves underground. When Jarrett realises the betrayal of Fallon at the end is he really that surprised? It is almost as if it is an answer to his existential wanderings and robberies. Never trust anyone.
***
Jarrett represents the kind of career criminal that lives a life on the newspapers, either through lack of conviction, escape or sheer audacity. When he learns, and here there is something Freudian about the message, that his Ma was shot in the back by "Big" Ed he metamorphoses into something else - and there appears an weariness about his rambling old gangster, he becomes his father but without chains. "Big" Ed was ribbed about his 'big' plans and 'big' this-and-that and there is unsubtly an indication here about Jarrett's impotence which can never be given full reign whilst Ma is about. So when he believes, and recall it is actually Verna who gets the old lady in the back, "Big" Ed got her in the back, it is not the death of his Ma that sends him over the precipice of clear reason but the horror of usurpation by a younger and fitter man, so much that when he plugs "Big" Ed in the back he does not wallow in victory but smirks to Verna as if to say, there I can do it to. What punishment he retains for Verna is left to our imaginations but she becomes docile and affectionate.
***
Finally in reliving the 'wooden horse of Troy' story to his gang we go full circle as the father now passes on his wisdom to his 'family'. Walsh has delivered us of the mythos of misunderstanding and we head to the highly advanced chemical factory for the final scene. Here the intricate pipes and tubes, stairwells and huge gas vats seem to represent the convoluted and twisted mind of the master criminal. Reaching the top of a gas tank we are left to ponder the nature of this callous but slightly sentimental individual.
***
In the opening five minutes of the movie we see Jarrett cold-bloodily murder two railway employees. His disregard for human life is hammered home to us relentlessly but still we find ourselves gawking at this crazy apparition of a madman, who could easily be related to us. Fallon, the undercover officer who has no home life to speak of is never judgemental but strictly professional, in many ways as cold and detached as his target. When he pumps two sniper bullets into the raving Jarret he murmurs "What's keeping him up?" and we must ask a similar question. We want to see him go out in a ball of flames, a blaze of glory but why?
***
As Jarrett descends or ascends into omnipotence he begins to talk in the third person about "Cody Jarrett" how he answers with a gun and so on. It becomes clear that his absolute genius for self-determination has become such a dynamic impetus he transcends the meaning of the film and as he deliberately shoots the valves of the gas pipes, knowing the result, he cries out to his Ma about having accomplished her dream for him. The policeman's glib aside does not resonant but only brings us back to reality whereas Jarret has assailed infamy and notoriety, beating the odds stacked against him, albeit in an insane way. His apocalypse of revelatory experience cannot be realised on this earth but must be construed with the total destruction of all around him. Truly Jarrett is the pearl that causes the oyster pain.
***
Cagney's sublime and well-mannered portrayal would not be equalled in parts until Dennis Hopper's gang leader-husband-mother obsessed Frank Boothe rants and raves around a life of meaningless violence. I suspect Lynch gave a nod to the film for in the raid on Frank's place there are scenes of gas canisters and breaking glass, very similar of Walsh's police assault on the Chemical buildings.


Saturday, 25 September 2010

al aqsa : the nearness of contemplation


In riding on Buraq to the farthest house of Prayer Muhammad, peace be upon him, prayed two raka'ah and then Jibreel took him up to Heaven. This bone of contention for those who do not believe is as a matter of sincerity with those who do. When Allah subhanahu wa ta ala instructed His Messenger to turn and pray in the direction of the Masjid al-haram it was to winnow out the chaff. We thank and praise Allah for His mercy and favours on His obedient servants.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Abu Dharr al-Ghifari : Criteria


"May Allah have mercy upon Abu Dharr! Lonely will he live, lonely will he
die and lonely will he be resurrected."


Sunday, 20 June 2010

The Pursuit of Perfection

Eliza Dushku is nearing her thirtieth year and has been in the film and television industry since the age of ten. Her range of roles have limited her to a set menu and it has been noticed how she appears to always be in a wife-beater in several roles but this is actually an illusion. Her real thrust into recognition was as the "bad girl" vampire slayer Faith in Buffy - the Vampire Slayer. Whilst Buffy was the good heroic all clean girl, Faith was portrayed as off-centre and positively charged with sexual energy. This capping and diminishing of Miss Dushku's acting talents have affected her roles as an actress.
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Obviously an attractive woman, Miss Dushku has been blessed with the looks most men would kill for. From the smouldering threat of the black widow to the doe-eyed pouting want of the nymphet she has cornered a certain appeal to the idea of what men want. From all appearances she appears to be an actress full of genuine charm and personality. Divorcing the screen image from the reality is often a problem with the paying public. They automatically type their "heroes" into the roles they think they should operate in.
*
With Miss Dushku, her fan base is broad and varied enough to keep the serious cranks at a low ebb. On closer examination one realises that she is not the perfection that is portrayed as flawed sex goddess. Unblemished she may be a talisman but stencilled on her hip, the words "lead kindly light" by Newman, reveal her to be very much of this world and mortal. It is ever an understanding that the image perceived is rarely the one understood, and this is often the way when a stranger meets a stranger. Over time an opinion is formed of each and this may lead to greater depth of understanding, but until one or the other perceives the tattoo beneath the skin, the idolization of the image will continue and forever ruin any true hope of assimilation.
*
The film actor/actress is forced to submit to a stereotype to achieve greater potential market payback. Miss Dushku is typical of the media and its perverse habit of not truly getting the most out of the female actors. They may be depicted as strong (bitches) but they must also possess one of two qualities - wickedness or loyalty. This subjugation and distortion of the woman is where the sink that is the film world began and it sucks in all the dregs. I look at Miss Dushku, and though I observe an attractive young woman, in reality I see a product stamped and bar coded according to order. Shame.

Friday, 18 June 2010

Oh Well : Self-fulfilling prophetic Cobain


Kurt Cobain was born on 20 February 1967. There is nothing really remarkable in the formative years of his life and no doubt the kind of life he experienced was no different to many others. Around the age of seven his parents decided to seek a divorce, and though this experience too is shared by many young children, with Cobain it seems to have created a schismatic void from which he drew enormous artistic endeavor and creativity but this went hand in hand with a "death wish" that only increased the depths of the artistic expression till the ideal had to be consumed by the submission of the artist to the inevitability of his vision.
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From around the time of his parent's break up he begun to indulge in forceful fantasies where he enabled himself to predict the outcome of his existence. This was fostered on a world view that indicated that creativity with its genius also had a penchant for madness. The self defeating talent of Cobain is testimony to this truth. His desire to "make it" is always kept in time with a desire to destroy the ego. His first notable self-fulfilling prediction is when he reckoned he would become a big rock star and kill himself so that his fame could only increase with his sudden demise. This foresight, obviously engendered by an internal mechanism that blamed himself for his parent's marriage failure, is such a deep seated rut that as time wore on, and Cobain wandered from one disaster to another, in a subconscious attempt to not fulfill the prophecy, it became more entrenched in the inescapable of the fact.
*
Any reading of Cobain would need an understanding of the nature of human contradictions. The rush to be famous and the constant hate of that fame is registered clearly in his poetry and lyrics. His creativity is shadowed by dark images that he intends to shock and appal the observers in a desperate attempt to be loathed by the world, and to be condemned for his crimes. This self-contained hate could often coalesce into a mighty outrage, not unlike the mass shootings at Columbine and other places, as the wishes and misunderstood motives of the assailant decides it is payback time. Cobain was incapable of this. His creativity had succeeded, he had fulfilled his promise to enrapture and capture people with his art, and that is the problem.
*
The art is a desire to escape from the trauma of a boring life, or one that should have been. Cobain's strange drift into the low-life, even whilst wealthy, is a chase after an illusion that the world is a terrible place and should be lived terribly. His constant attempts at obliteration through the use of heroin and those failures could only have secured in his misbalanced mind how a failure he really was. Unable to attack society, except through his art, Cobain, who at heart is a good kid, develops a superego, which generates an internalised emphatic structure towards those he loves, his wife, kid and family, but the struggle to live up to what he perceives to be the true societal mores only leads to him withdrawing into a world where he feels safe from defeat and destruction - himself.
*
There are those who hyperventilate when Cobain is declared a genius, vowing he is nothing but a punk rocker, an epitaph he would have smiled at. But a closer study of his lyrics reveals a true artist in the technical sense of the word. He was forever trying to reach that point of self content with the image/sound he wanted others to hear or see that his ultimate failure as the artist was like many others, and I include van Gogh here, to fail to see his own creative spark as given. The suppression of the ego over the ideal will always lead to this and it is a shame, but without the destructive completion to this misunderstanding, the ego would reign over the art and this only ever leads to mediocrity and vanity. Kurt Cobain died c. April 5, 1994.




Monday, 14 June 2010

ad-dajjal qareeb

When will the Hour be established? When is its time fixed?

An increase in wickedness - a rising of sins - the teeth of hypocrisy are revealed. Whoever washes in these waters find themselves covered with the filth of contamination, with each desperate effort to rid one self of this accumulating corruption, increase follows upon increase. only the true purification will do but by that time only the worst among men will be there to witness such matters. May Allah preserve us from such dread!
*
It is in the shadow of the Liar one is blinded to the truth, for to behind such a man one will be obscured by the truth revealed through the Messenger of God, peace be upon him, and through Allah's book, the Qur'an. Up ahead one can see his form - see the shape of his head - his curly, curly hair - can even recognise him by his broad shoulders as he gathers those who follow him in worship. His shadow stretches far and wide - immediately behind him is the darkest shade - all who stand in it are lost - on the peripheral are those who are misguided but still have knowledge of the truth within. And further back, in the anti-shadow one finds those who have no knowledge of this man. As he increases in strength so the length of his shadow increases - till even those in the dim shade are encompassed by such darkness.
*
The Messenger of Allah spoke, "As for he who hears from the Dajjal, then we are not from him." The believer will approach this man believing himself to be of the faithful but the Liar will stir up arguments within till he becomes one of his followers. This is the argument of religion, and how one follows one's faith without true guidance from the Creator, even though you were warned to obey Allah and obey Allah's Messenger. If you can argue about the message of Allah then you will find yourself arguing with those you are obliged to protect and serve. Shaytaan never ceases to assault the Muslims, as he peels away the skin of disbelief, but have faith, for at the core is the true believers and the rejected one has no power over those who trust in Allah.
*
Is his rule divide and conquer? Does not Shaytaan come between man and God, ceaselessly perpetrating the same old frauds and succeeding with those who have fallen to the wayside, is it not the case that you will find him most prevalent amongst those who claim to be servants of God? What need has he with perverts and sinners who already thresh in his his snare - why waste time hooking fish you already have in your net? - no, strive for the greater produce in the shape of the greater fish - its meat is tender and basted over a cauldron of righteous worship - fried in the name of God - such a delightful meal! Shaytaan was ever the unbeliever - why would any take him as lord?
*
Sulaimaan ibn Shihaab Al-Qeesee said that Abdullah ibn Mughrim - one of the Prophet's, peace be upon him, companions, reported there was nothing hidden about the Dajjal. He would call to the truth and he would be followed. See, how his silver tongue tickles the hearts of those who turn to him> He speaks the truth - he calls to the truth - but this is the Liar! There is no greater fitnah than the Dajjal. This son of Adam announces his intention for all to see, and all know the content of his words, for only those who recognise the truth can see what it is he calls to. Keep away from him - for he is the Liar and with every mouthful of truth syrup he poisons the souls of those who were dutiful to their Lord. This is the root of terror, the trial and affliction of faith, for the heart hearkens to respond to the message and divorces with reason in the worship of the Most High. Resistance to the truth appears to be disobedience - surely the fall of Iblees was the result of not obeying his Lord, surely it would be the defeat of the Muslim. Have wisdom and trust in Allah - there are no gods but He - those who put their trust elsewhere have gone astray and will be found wanting on the Day of Decision.
*
The mother of the believers Hafsah said to her brother Ibn 'Umar that the Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him, had told her that the Dajjal will come out because of something he is angry about.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Jack Nicholson - MasterClass



Five Easy Pieces - 1970 - Bobby Dupea
The King of Marvin Gardens - 1972 - David Staebler
The Last Detail - 1973 - Billy "BadAss" Buddusky
Chinatown - 1974 - J.J.Gittes
One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest - 1975 - R.P.McMurphy
The Passenger - 1975 - David Locke


-----------------------------------------------------------------


Between 1970 and 1975 Jack Nicholson completed 13 movies, one of which he directed. Most of the films are top quality but I have singled out the above for special mention. As an art form acting is often considered to be a bit below par but when we are greeted with virtuoso performers like Nicholson, Brando or De Niro it is hard not to credit the skill achieved in conveying both a sense of narrative depiction and realistic flavour.

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From Brando's sublime performance in 'Last Tango in Paris' to De Niro's Travis Bickle in 'Taxi Driver' the art of portrayal came of age in these years and the definer of these characteristics on a level few of the others achieved with regularity is Nicholson. His subtle portrayal of Bobby Dupea is usually rated as a crystallizing moment in cinematic flow. That is not the only film though where Nicholson manages to rise above the pretensions of a "bogus" profession. The nuances he employs in 'The King of Marvin Gardens' and Polanski's 'Chinatown' are always going to appreciated by an audience who enjoy the tightness of a good script and characterization.

*

What I really wanted to detail was the seeming inconsistency in one or two scenes where the perception of the narrative is open to question and is as a direct result of interplay between director and actor in accord with the script. There is a scene in 'The Last Detail' where the sailors are drinking coffee and it is so obviously cold. Because of set-ups the actors are not acting but the stress on Nicholson's features with regard to the dialogue is as real as you are ever going to get in celluloid. People say De Niro's famous Bickle "mirror" monologue is when the viewer is being asked to see beyond the actor and see that the actor (De Niro) looking into the mirror, threatening apocalyptic violence, has become character (Bickle) in motion. The same could conceivably be said of Billy Buddusky's depiction. Nicholson leads us on a trip where we are infected with the casualness of the character to the extent a lot of viewers have said they too feel the cold and the frustration behind Nicholson's eyes. The actor has ceased to act and has become the autonomous character, with the life of its own.

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The other scene is in 'One flew over the cuckoo's nest'. Towards the end Nicholson is sitting on a bed and we are treated to a few seconds (they feel like a lifetime) where McMurphy is seen thinking to himself. The eyes stray into a daydream and he shakes himself out of his reverie with a knowing laugh as if he was enjoying a private joke. This scene is pivotal in understand Nicholson's approach to the character and indeed to our assumptions about the nature of the film. On the initial viewing one believes this subtle scene shows a certain abnormality in the subject so as to confer our suspicions that perhaps he is actually mad, or that the electro treatment has caused damage. This may not be the case for we all have done what is depicted by Nicholson. Day dream and laugh to ourselves for losing ourselves. The intention may be to convey to the viewer the subjectivity of McMurphy's condition but it actually conveys to us the nature of our own prejudiced views in relation to the subject of mental illness.

*

After these films Nicholson has gone on to greater parts from 'The Postman always rings twice' to 'The Shining' and 'Batman' but he never attained such a concentrated degree of acting in such a short space of time. This is acting of the highest order and any study of the art should begin with a careful evaluation of Nicholson's six films.



Monday, 7 June 2010

The Cinema Show : Reflection & Comment



Scrooge (KS)
Snow White and the Seven Dwarves
Bambi
On The Buses

Carry on at your convenience

The Jungle Book

Old Yellow

Carry on Aboard
Flight of the Doves
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
Steptoe and Son
Love Thy Neighbour
Escape from the Planet of the Apes (CP)
The Aristocats
The Ten Commandments (H)
House on Nightmare Park /One Million Years BC (KS)
Live and Let Die (KS)
Digby-The Biggest Dog in the World/Nothwest Frontier

Diamonds on Wheels (KS)
Gold /Diamonds are Forever (KS)
Shout at the Devil (KS)
The Man with the Golden Gun (KS)
At the Earth’s Core (KS)
Dr Who and the Daleks /Dalek Invasion Earth 2150 (BP)

Shout at the Devil (KS)

The Gumball Rally (HH)
A Bridge too Far (KS)
Star Wars
The Spy who Loved Me (KS)

Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (KS)

The Rescuers

The Island of Dr Moreau (Hen)
Candleshoe (KS)
Dumbo (SC)
The China Syndrome (SC)
The Black Hole (SC)
Warlords of Atlantis (HH)
Moonraker (SC)
Pete’s Dragon (SC)
Superman (ER)
Murder by Decree (HH)
Zulu Dawn (HH)

Beyond the Poseidon Adventure (HH)

The Lady Vanishes (SC)

Porridge (HH)
Animal House

Life of Brian (HH)

Star Trek: The Motion Picture (ER)
Airplane! (HH)

Clash of the Titans (HH)

Saturn 3/Killer Fish (HH)
Excalibur (HH)

When Time ran out (HH)

Raiders of the Lost Ark (HH)

The Empire Strikes Back
The Wall (GG)
Blue Velvet (BP)
Full Metal Jacket (HH)
Bright Lights, Big City (LS)

Dirty Rotten Scroundrels (KP)

Shag (LS)

The Dead Pool (PB)
Nightmare on Elm Street 5 (PB)

Internal Affairs (PB)
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (HH)
Batman (HH)
Cape Fear (HH)
Batman Returns (HH)
Dracula (PB)
A Clockwork
Orange (SC)

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KS - Kilburn State/HH - Hampstead Heath/SC - Swiss Cottage

PB - Putney Bridge/LS - Leicester Square/KP - Kensington Park

CP - Craven Park/H - Harlesden/Hen - Hendon

GG - Golders Green/ER - Edgware Road/BP - Belsize Park

Thursday, 3 June 2010

The Destruction of Novelty : Tamara de Lempicka

Tamara de Lempicka (1898 - 1980) has come full circle as regard to her place in the pantheons of art history. Coming from eastern Europe and descending upon the avant garde of Paris in the mid 1920's, her distinctive art deco style proved to resonant with the new field of flowering modernism. Always controversial she deemed the impressionists bad drawers and unable to steer clear of dirty colours and looking at any number of her works, one will be automatically struck by the sharpness of her lines and the block vitality of the greens, reds and blues. It is understandable why Lempicka fell out of fashion after the late 1940's for the art elite always likes to pride itself on being in the know as to what is new and innovative. To them Lempicka was a victim of her times and the world had moved on . It is ironic to think that the artist she condemned as "the novelty of destruction", Picasso, is touted as the highlight of 20th century art but it is her images that have now begun to flood the subconscious.

Lempicka's use of form, in particular the feminine, against a backdrop of the drive and thrust of a speedily increasing commercial world is relevant to the message she intended to get across I suspect. Her ladies are melancholic, and live in shades, their thick Raphaelite limbs seem to be the drapes around the complicated creased arrangements that appear as dresses but feel more like structures that struggle to contain the volcanic like darkness that one senses beneath the surface of these dainty but fairly Amazonian type women.

Each portrait she painted stresses a message and they are not the simplistic concoctions later critics assumed they were. The colour system is vetted to the background, so the use of green is meant to indicate freshness and vitality and when clashed with the ever-pervasive white innocence. When red clashes with white, the virginal motif is stained with both loss and danger, as in the picture to the left. Her female forms take on the shapes they cling to, whether it is flowers, buildings or automobiles. The invasion of the mechanical over the physical female form is a subconscious reflection on the state of the women in a male orientated world.

Her male portraits were few. Lempicka had a reputation as a lady's lady and her antipathy to men is reflected in the dull colours of her men. They represent the terror of the new and the fear of the unknown. There is a brutish appeal to them and though some are shown in brighter hues this is more in concord with her idealism that bright combinations reduce the man to the feminine and so the shape of these robotic looking men also alters. This is not any less apparent in some of her female compositions. There is a Cezanne feel to a few of her most deliberate works which actually distracts us from her genius for the simple.

The attempt to stimulate the visual field with an assault of line and purpose is perhaps best represented in one of the greatest pieces of art ever. It is often said that Cezanne was the master of the still life, and all artists comment upon his perfection but the final work I wish to display, below, rivals and I believe surpasses anything he ever done. Her use of the plate to mislead the eye from the five lemons is revolutionary, but none more so than the blue and white striped towel. The symbolism is striking. Recently Lempicka can be viewed on the covers of 1920's classics like Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby" and a few of Ayn Rand's works. The association to Rand is unfortunately misplaced, as her works are cold and sterile, but Lempicka's are the opposite. Through a brave use and at times abuse of imaging she achieves to stimulate our pleasure senses just by the subtle arrangement of form over content. To take this kind of novel art form and to teasingly deconstruct it according to the viewer is the height of destruction, and the meaning of art.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

"It's like a bad dream."

Michael Ryan's murderous assault upon the small English market-town of Hungerford on the 19th of August 1987 was attributed to various factors. After the dust had settled new gun laws were brought in to help try and prevent any recurrence because Ryan had an apparently unhealthy obsession with guns. Charges were leveled at his mother Dorothy for spoiling him, whilst the significance of his father's age at the time of Michael's birth, 55, and death from cancer 2 years previous also added meat to the pot. It is true we will never know whilst in the world why Michael Ryan chose to obliterate his life along with 16 others on that hot summery day but we can look close at the likely reasons, and in interpreting the true nature of the reality of Michael Ryan's world, we may even help to prevent such destructive tendencies from amongst ourselves.
***
Because of his size he was tormented at school but refused to fight back. It does not take a genius to see the link with his inability for self-defence and his subsequent hoarding of weaponry. This is common in the "mass murderer" who goes on a rampage of violence. The fact that they often, like Charles Whitman in the 1960's, shoot family members and pets, and also torch their living arrangements does not indicate a hatred against those things but some disturbed psyche that monitors the unreasoning facilitation of the shooter to pack up all he believes to be of true value to him.
***
Ryan's father's death is important but it is only symptomatic and follows in a long line of carefully entrenched chips at the psychic expression of the introverted man. This sense of loneliness and lack of control will manifest in one of three ways. Firstly, like with most individuals, the lack of power is allowed to be repressed and put down to common experience. Any bitterness against the wider society is then processed and exhausted through verbal expression and outrage. Sometimes these individuals will take the next step and become active in the political sphere to try and remonstrate with their low self esteem. This can be healthy. The other two ways are fundamentally more abnormal.
***
If the individual already suffers from a preconception that they cannot accomplish their dreams because of the "unfairness" of the world around them, this low self-regard will fester into a warped attitude towards the society. With some they will target those they consider to be at the core of their own problems. The racially-based urbanite will look upon the "alien" as the result of his own powerlessness and the reason why he is not "topdog". The misfit, or socially inept, with the opposite sex generally follows two paths. One involves the "braggart" who is at heart the typical misogynist and the "shyboy" who appears all gentleman like but conceals a violent hatred of the feminine form, because he believes it is because of their innate womanliness that he lacks the credentials to make him a true man.
***
Type A "braggart" will usually consort, and may even marry but any failure to manufacture a life that brings him a form of self-respect will bring consequences to those immediately around him. Type A is the "Jack-the-lad" type and he is hard to recognise but Type B "shyboy" is harder, and of the two more dangerous. Type B will devolve his character into the persona apparent to all, and the "secret life" one. The secret life of Type B may involve acts of criminality or even a lifestyle at odds with his known persona. Type B may find strength in visiting prostitutes, seeing these kind of women as the excuse he needs to believe that women are at the root of his problems, and since there can be nothing "lower than a whore" he finds it easier to form relations with these women. On occasion Type B will become a killer and will invariably find his victims amongst those he is familiar with.
***
The third manifestation is the "spring exploder". This most dangerous of apparitions is in many ways a condensed form of Types A and B. The potential to be everyone's friend with the gift of the gab is there, but the awkwardness and self observation about his own shyness is intimidating to the extent he can not act on one path or the other. This tightening of the screw without any release of internal tension will cause the psyche and that which it views (the world) to schismatize into a fragmented idealism and this usually takes the form of extension to the property of the individual. In Ryan's case his armoury and car.
***
His rampage begins with a kidnap attempt on Susan Godfrey and her two children. It is believed that his original intention was to rape her at gunpoint to satisfy what he considered to be his main problem - the lack of interaction with females. It was an ill-conceived plan that resulted in Ryan executing her before anything could happen. This intrusion into his secret fantasy world is the first tear in his perception of the unfolding of reality. It does not end until on the phone with the police it dawns on him the enormity of what he has done but even then it is distilled to a degree where he can operate on auto-pilot. The suicide, in practically all these cases, reflects the death wish of the individual who always felt he was of no worth to anyone, and in his self destructive massacre he seeks to realign the world view by disembodying others and peppering his notional state with the physical. Does he succeed?
***
I can remember the strangeness of the news report on that afternoon. About a man on the rampage with an arsenal and with no one being able to prevent him. I felt the power he must have experienced and it is not glib to suggest that during those "bad dream" hours Michael Ryan had idolized himself to the role of a god. Judge, jury and executioner and at the end of his breathing the decision, unhindered, to finish his reality on what he deemed a permanent basis. These monstrous acts that affect all those they touch have a deeper significance for us. From these "aberations" we must seek to peer closer into that forest of green desires and perhaps we may be able to help and prevent such dislocation from ourselves.



Monday, 31 May 2010

Dennis Hopper 1936 - 2010

After having read Alexander Walker's review of "Blue Velvet" for "The Evening Standard" in 1986 I was compelled to go and see David Lynch's praised surreal film about the underside of an American small town. It was not just Walker's reference to Lynch's obsession with the Bobby Vinton song of the same name but the description of the villain, Frank Booth, played by Dennis Hopper that persuaded me I had to see this distilled acting performances that was getting all the rave reviews. I had actually stopped going to the cinema having found it jaded and grotty. I saw Blue Velvet at a Hampstead theatre in London on a late Saturday night and literally fell in love with Frank Booth and the whole Lynch franchise.

I knew of Hopper from other films principally his directorial debut "Easy Rider" but after seeing this movie I sought out all his movies. From "Rebel without a cause" through to the tedious "Sons of Katie Elder" and onto the sublimity that is "Out of the Blue" I found that Hopper had led an interesting life making movies. The drugs and drinks of the late sixties had helped him to
fuse for himself an idealized vision of the film industry that culminated in the brilliant and allusive "The Last Movie" - an exercise in true art-house experimentation that just gets better with every viewing. After that movie the studios decided they could not take chances with the maverick director whose behaviour was described as erratic and dangerous. After memorable appearances in Wim Wenders' "The American Friend" and Coppola's "Apocalypse Now" he completed directing the extraordinary and disturbing "Out of the Blue".


Although acclaimed for his role as the alcoholic father in "Rumblefish" Hopper struggled with his drink/drug problems and checked into a rehabilitation clinic in a final effort to save his sanity. With his role as Frank Booth he reestablished himself as both an actor and an artist and had a further twenty years in the industry albeit not always in top quality material. But his own "Colours" and his scene stealing terrorist in "Speed" remain highlights of celluloid. Both a passionate and ironic man Hopper will be remembered for several roles but for me, sitting in that cinema one April night, as Kyle MacLachlan sends a love letter into Frank's brains and as the curtains drew it is blue velvet that I still see through my tears...

CoverStory - the decline in aesthetics

The art of the paperback novel is fundamental to how one approaches a book and whether the look and set-up appeals to ones own sense of interest. The history of the novel cover is as complex as the actual history of the printing and publication of any novel. Post-war readership increased the demand for a greater yield in "pulp" fiction and so the cover art suffered from an
awful deterioration in the form. Out of this however there emerged in the late 1960's to the mid 1970's a series of covers that became so commonplace to be seen in certain bookshops that the cover actually became synonymous with the text of the book. A prime example is Joseph Heller's "Catch 22" - published 1961 - which with the Corgi edition attracts the contact of the eyes with the mind and the term catch 22. This book always used to assault one upon entry to any bookshop. The combination of gold and red background with black bordering controls the visual senses to focus on the "22" - the book is sold not with an image but with the number. The "catch" is in that and the presentation. It is truly one of the best marketing ploys ever in the history of book selling. Since then (and I am talking about UK editions here) there have been a number of books that have acquired such an iconic status.

Another notable example is David Pelham's exceptional design for Anthony Burgess' "A Clockwork Orange" - published 1962 - from the 1972 Penguin edition. This bold and imaginative abstraction on the droog Alex conjures up the Kubrick film and the imagery is definitely from there, but Pelham has full command of his art. The green shirt banded by the light blue braces is settled by a mid-3rd yellow backdrop, which itself is exemplified by the block orange. The humanoid face is intensified by the cog-toothed wheel eye motif which does not dehumanise the
character but actually strengthens the depth of its appeal. This is all completed and both deepened and projected by the jet black bowler. Recent Penguin covers (2000/2008) by VĂ©ronique Rolland of photographed glasses of the spiked milk have their own appeal, but for personal reasons I find them rather shallow and rather derivative of the plot, for it seems to imply something about the behaviour of the droogs by linking their anarchy with the drugged drink with "knives in it". The Pelham typically stands the test of time because the Kubrick film nails the visual sensation of the book and those who know of both are forced to adapt to this projection of the cover.

"One flew over the cuckoo's nest" - published 1962 - by Ken Kesey is a good example of a book that has become associated to the extent of being homogeneous with the film adaption. The simplicity of the Picador format from the 1970's is in its deliberate selling of Jack Nicholson as the central character McMurphy. Nicholson's Oscar winning performance is next to impossible to remove from the imagination if you read the book after viewing the movie. I fortunately read the book first but the wry-tired-cheeky visage of Nicholson creeps into the cortex so as to become McMurphy in the mental reading of the text. This process is helped by the orange backing. On a side note the Picador edition is not the usual paperback size. Editions of the present are bland and uninspiring, and still they use Nicholson's depiction to help sell the copy. It is really a clever cover because it tricks you by guile into believing you are being allowed in on McMurphy's private war against the system - and he knows you know.

Since the mid 1980's there has been a sharp decline in the cover art as a means to enjoy the book in itself. This is a result of market forces but also a risible attitude on behalf of critics and those who claim to speak for the masses. The common retort is that the cover is not that important but what is between the pages. This is true but it does seem a shame that culture has suffered because of a rather old and jaded view about art. There are fewer noticeable iconic covers these days. If the books sells, the cover becomes familiar to most book readers but that is because of over proliferation and not the art depicted on the surface. The examples beneath are prime examples of this and I am not suggesting they are awful in themselves but that they are deliberately constructed to a market that is vacant of originality.

Stephanie Meyer's "Twilight" is indeed a brilliant marketing strategy. The hands holding the 'forbidden' fruit are evocative and set against the black background a genuine eye-catcher, and I admit that the market is about produce and the making of money, but this is not art even if it is iconic. The tease is directed to the audience - a teenage angst ridden depressed one - and the redness of the apple is a psychological ploy on the undeveloped subconscious and it works but this only helps to demonstrate the downturn in the market. If the cover is just to sell and it is about the text why is "Twilight" so often condemned by critics and readers alike. It has its value as a piece of entertainment - but it is no "Dracula".

"The Da Vinci Code" by Dan Brown is another popular book one will find on book Internet sites. The image is familiar because it is borrowed from the Mona Lisa but there is great tactlessness in the overall structure. It is a potboiler and though it still sells the image is not stationary and quickly removes itself from the memory as the content, not the text mind you, of Brown's book becomes more important than the enjoyment. It is in a similar place as Erich von Däniken's "Chariots of the gods". A flash in the pan that is remembered for the flash - but the pan remains.

The third inclusion is Chucjk Palahniuk's "Haunted". This is how a lot of trendy post-modern books are being detailed. There is a contrived feel to the whole process, and though the Palahniuk may have value as a read, the art is no longer unintentional but enforced. It is as if you are expected to like the volatile approach of this new line. The decline in the love of beautiful things started a while back and death and decay begin to reign supreme. Many will question "so what if the covers are rubbish?" but you see, if the covers have not and do not acquire that cultural significance then we will find that we are expected to enjoy the lesser worth because of it's marketability and not because of its meaning.



Saturday, 29 May 2010

Kiswah - Veiling the Ka'bah


When the caliph Muhammad ibn Mansur al-Mahdi performed the Hajj in 160 AH he was informed about the build up of the previously place kiswahs upon the Ka'bah. From then it was decided to replace the kiswah once a year. The covering of the Ka'bah precedes the message brought by the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, and is thought to have initiated with the son of Abraham, Ishmael, peace be upon them. It was originally clothed in various coverings and during the time of the Prophet at the conquest of Mecca it was decided to leave it as it was but an accident burnt it and it was then clothed in white linen from Yemen. Since then the colour of the kiswah has altered from green to the present black. Around 1340 CE the kiswah began to be embroidered and the present appearance with the intricate gold-weave is what has been the underlying condition of the covering. The cost of the kiswah is estimated at SR 17 million and contains at least 670 kilos of pure silk and 15 kilos of gold thread. In looking up the history of the Ka'bah I was surprised that there was no suggestions as to why the Ka'bah was closed so I started to muse on the subject. This has ranged from the obscure to the curious and indeed whether the expenditure of the present kiswah is a waste of money.

The tradition or custom of clothing the Ka'bah is in itself a strange thing. Modern man can only ever really conceive of painting a building and the idea that a specially constructed "cloak" be made to cover a building causes the mindset of the modern man to freeze in consternation. One automatically thinks it is for the purposes of adoration and ornamentation but this cannot be true. If one goes back and looks at the history of the kiswah it becomes apparent that the cloth was nothing more than a dressing and the decorative scriptural references now adorning the kiswah are an addition but not an essential one. In Islam "innovation" is considered a major sin except if the increase of the "deen" is manifestly enhanced by the obvious good in a new thing. One example of this, and perhaps the best, is the collecting of the Qu'ran to ensure its inseparability over the passage of time. The complex needlework on the kiswah gives praise and glory to Allah, glorify His name and how can one think ill of such beauty.


Aesthetically the present kiswah is pleasing to the eye and one of the most familiar images in history - but only from the perspective of the last 150 years or so, since the invention of photography. Previous to that the record of the the Ka'bah was minimal and was subject to the interpretation of pilgrims and their observations. We conceive of the Ka'bah as we are now familiar with it but ponder this - if the present guardians of the Ka'bah took it upon themselves to revert to how the Ka'bah was dressed during the life of the Prophet, peace be upon him, would such an action incur any unnecessary consequences? Could the site of a white enshrouded Ka'bah cause consternation amongst those who pray 5 times a day in the direction they are commanded to?


The Ka'bah used to be covered on the 10th of Muharram but this gradually shifted to the end of the Hajj, on the 10th. Above you can see the plain bricked structure that is at the physical centre of Muslim devotions. As Muslims we know the Ka'bah is the House of God and was instituted by Him to help us worship Him. When Abraham, peace be upon him, was ordered to erect the house he did so knowing how sacred such an action was. It was here that the direction of prayer to the One God was confirmed. The sacredness of the site does not take away the fact that we, as Muslims, do not pray to the House of God, in truth that is only the direction we are commanded to pray to and to submit to. In this way all Muslims, from any point on the earth turns towards the Ka'bah to fulfil his duty to the Most High. It is a focal point of attention.

The movement of the desert peoples meant that stabilised residences were not high on the agenda and the adapted practise of hauling tents and ones home around with them also meant that any place reserved for worship had to have some significant grounding in either folk or mythic memory. Over the Arabian peninsula you can chart a course between places of veneration, usually to all forms of idolatrous practises but the Ka'bah was the first place where the worship of Allah was centralised into an important fixed point. The building of a structure is actually a physicality of man's obedience to the Will of God and so any worship towards the Ka'bah is never centred on the building but upon the command of He who ordered its raising.

The problems arise with man's intractable sense of the need to believe in something they can see. The removal of the Ka'bah would not affect any true believer for they know that Allah is above all and belief in Him does not require objectification. In other religions the need to have a focus is none the less diminished, be it Christianity or Judaism, and traditionally the direction of worship had been Jerusalem. During the Diaspora worshipping Jews focused their prayers towards the destroyed city of their disgraced nation. In this way they were looking towards a future and the advent, promised them, of the Messiah. Christians use to pray in the same direction but their focus since the middle ages has been more inclined to the self, though the statues and ornament of both Eastern and Western churches show the need for the mind to be able to have something physical to fix on. It use to be that one could pray inside the Ka'bah, hence inside the dressed House of God. We know that when we wash for prayer we are removing that which despoils us and inside the Ka'bah, at the heart of our deen, we find ourselves with nothing to focus on except what is in our souls. That is why the issue of the kiswah is incidental but important in understanding its necessity.

My contention is about whether the Ka'bah truly needs such an elaborate cloth. As depicted by the picture above the barrenness of the structure can be seen to be both deprecating to the serenity of the mind and the aesthetics of the soul but as said a true believer has no need of such things. So is it a case of window dressing? Should the House of God not be regaled by His worshippers in the best manner they see fit? It is no coincidence that the main constituents of the kiswah presently are silk and gold, resources forbidden to Muslims to wear, the idea being that such finery belongs to the residents of al-Jannah, and those who take them now will not enjoy them later, for man falls in love with that which he craves.

In dressing the House with two of the most valuable produces known to man is the Muslim actually directing his love towards that which is clothed in these objects which are 'haram'. Is the kiswah, with its calligraphic pronouncements weaved in gold and silk, hiding that which dwells in the heart of every Muslim? Indeed because of the Muslim's love for His Lord does it not mean that there is a need to lavish on their love the best of things?

The cost of the kiswah spirals with each year and a return to the austerity of the original clothing would save money but is that the point? We known we do not worship the Ka'bah, and the sight of it in newspapers or books should make not one jot of difference if it was clothed as it is now or in plain white Yemeni linen. Personally I go along with the ummah in this matter. When the kiswah is removed and a period of undress, during hajj, begins, the Ka'bah is then re-veiled and the year old kiswah is cut into pieces and handed out to pilgrims. May Allah have mercy on us.






Friday, 28 May 2010

You fat - : Domestic Violence and the descent of comedy

Olive : Arthur why do you let Stan say things like that to me? Arthur : Because I never think of them first.

"On the buses" was a British sit-com from LWT that aired between 28th February 1969 to 6th May 1973 over 7 seasons consisting of a total of 74 episodes. The main premise revolved around bus driver Stan Butler and his job and home life with the focus primarily on his run-ins with his Inspector Blake and Stan's frequent attempts to have sexual relations with the opposite sex. The other characters were Stan's mother, his sister Olive and her husband Arthur. He also had a lecherous friend called Jack.

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Key : Brother - Husband - Others - X


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1. The Early Shift - X

2. The New Conductor - X

3. Olive takes a trip -

4. Bus Driver's stomach -

5. The New Inspector - X

6. The Canteen -

7. The Darts Match - You great stinking-

---------------------------------

8. Family Flu - X

9. The Used Combination - You great steaming nit

10. Self Defence - X

11. Aunt Maud - X

12. Late Again - X

13. Bon Voyage - You big fat-

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14. First Aid - X

15. The Cistern - You silly-

16. The Inspector's Niece - X

17. Brew It Yourself - X

18. Bus man's Perks - "stupid fat"/you clumsy great-

19. The Snake - X

20. Mum's Last Fling - you great lump/you great steaming idiot

21. Radio Control - X

22. Foggy Night - X

23. The New Uniforms - you silly great-

24. Going Steady - you great gumpf/you stupid great-

25. The Squeeze - X

26. On the Make - X

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27. Nowhere to go - X

28. The Canteen Girl - X

29. Dangerous Living - X

30. The Other Woman - "that great fat lump" / "that great fat lump happens to be my wife

31. Xmas Duty - you stupid great big idiot/ you stupid idiot

32. The 'L' Bus - X

33. The Kids Outing - you stupid nit

34. The Anniversary - you stupid great lump/ you stupid great lump

35. Cover Up - you stupid great lump

36. Safety First - X

37. The Lodger - you dozy lump

38. The Injury - you big fat lump/you stupid nit/you stupid great idiot/you stupid idiot/you daft thing/ you stupid nit

39. Not Tonight - X

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40. The Nursery - you stupid great nit

41. Stan's Room - X

42. The Best Man - X

43. The Inspector's Pets - you stupid great nit/ you stupid great nit/ you stupid great-

44. The Epidemic - X

45. The Bus man's Ball - you stupid great lump

46. Canteen Trouble - X

47. The New Nurse - you great guts/ great fat pig

48. Lost Property - you stupid great lump

49. Stan's Uniform - you clumsy great lump/ stupid

50. The Strain - X

51. The New Telly - X

52. Vacancy for Inspector - you great fat pig

53. A Thin Time - you stupid great lump

54. Boxing Day Special - X

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55. No smoke without fire - you stupid great nit/ you greedy pig

56. Love is what you make it - you lazy specimen/ you miserable so&so/ "the old bag"

57. Private hire - you stupid great 'nanna/you stupid great fat incompetent idiot

58. Stan's Worst Day - you stupid great idiot/ oh you stupid-oh you stupid

59. Union Trouble - you stupid great fool

60. Bye Bye Blakey - you idiot

61. The Prize - X

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62. Olive's Divorce - you stupid great nitwit

63. The Perfect Clippie - you stupid great nit you

64. The Ticket Machine - you stupid great idiot

65. The Poster - X

66. The Football Match - you stupid great twit

67. On the Omnibus - you stupid great nit

68. Goodbye Stan - X

69. Hot Water - you great twit

70. The Visit -

71. What the stars foretell - you great lump

72. The Allowance -

73. Friends in High Places -

74. Gardening Time -

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Dreaming of Lara



During 1997 I first saw "Resident Evil", a Sony PlayStation game on their new console. Previous to this the only experience I had was of the old Atari Space Invaders from the early 1980's. I was startled by the sudden advance in both technology and graphics, and indeed in the actual game play. The person who was demonstrating the game to me kept saying how great it was, and how interactive it became, and this I could see quite clearly because behind every door a zombie lurked which caused them to jump out of their skins. He always said that it was advised to only game play for a short while, but did not elaborate on it.
***
After watching him, and not once having the inclination to participate in shot-gunning the undead, I left and made my way home via the overland tube line. The moment I stepped out into the bright light of the afternoon I sensed an alteration in my perspective. Initially I thought it was the effects of the closeted space I had just left and its drawn curtains. Sitting on the station I suddenly realised that I was looking at the reality before me in a funny way. Both movements and colours had changed perceptibly to mimic the game play I had not long witnessed. At first I conceived a slight fright at this situation but reason made me realise that the brain had been reorganised by the projection on the screen and the circuitry that had been invented to help ferment the use of that kind of interactive experience. I was astonished that a televisual image could affect the brain like that, though I was well aware of the effects of flashing lights on epileptics. Was this momentary condition of "distorted reality" an indication as to the nature and structure of this world?
***
Some time later I acquired a PlayStation computer console with a few games. One of these was "Tomb raider" which detailed the exploits of adventuress Lara Croft, a daring archaeologist, as she searched for some kind of treasure. Told from the 3rd person perspective this involved the player having to lead her through a series of levels that become increasingly more complex and dangerous.

***
From the first level it became clear that one must be able to adapt to the controls and this was essential if one wished to eliminate any waste of time, for it was clear that the figure of Lara, in her three dimensional existence, was as fragile as ours in our own reality. The first level was more of a tutorial and involved mild forms of threat to the running girl from bats, to wolves to bears. Adding to these targets was the risk of poisonous darts and the 'fall' - the 'fall' was not a problem in this level but it was an indication that the computer character had default lines she was not able to cross.
***
It became plain after the puzzle solving and need to learn the controls quickly that the figure of Lara was more of a puppet than a "game component". If one desired to kill her and leave her to die at the savagery of wolves one could do so but it was always with the knowledge that time was being wasted. Every moment spent being careful with her and her progress through the game could be dashed in an instant by some new calamity. The need to balance the game action with the blue save crystals scattered throughout the game became one of the most prioritized matters. With Level 2 the exposure to danger increased and it became clear that the eye/hand/brain co-ordinates involved in detaching oneself automatically from thinking about the real world was as important as if one was to become Lara.
***
Her constant brushes with death and indeed numerous instances of finality began to make me feel as if there was something innate in the idea that one could express a mentality within the concept of a screen, thoroughly unreal, character. I knew from her appearance that Lara Croft had excited passions amongst teenage boys across the world and no doubt amongst grown men as well but this fixation never rose in my mind. Lara was merely a means to an end - the completion of the game and the victory over the separate. If I could use her to reach and achieve a state of computer nirvana by control and care in conquering all obstacles presented by the game planners than I would count it as a small victory. This converted eventually into a kind of subliminal concern for Lara, though it had no basis in the emotions but solely in the reasoning faculty, similar to that one has for a guard dog who dutifully keeps watch.
***
After wearily struggling to complete level 2 with help we spent an entire night with no sleep utterly addicted to making our way through the next level, which contained a search for keys and cogs and attacks by raptors and a Tyrannous Rex. The next morning we made our way through level 4, which was one surprise after another ending in a filmed sequence involving a suspect cowboy. We entered level 5 - St.Francis Folly - in good spirits and the first part of that level involved climbing up buildings and pillars and it became obvious that any slip would result in death. Then I was left on my own.
***
There was nothing particularly striking about Francis Folly, and upon entry into its main frame one is give a save crystal. Looking over the ledge one can see it is a death drop and I, like I suspect most gamesters having become inured to Lara's mortality, walk her over the edge. The drop is long and truly (for that very first time) bone breaking. Game over. Reload. One then carefully finds their way around the top structure. The first indication of discomfort is a mild attack by bats. It is manifest that any needless sprints will end in death. Carelessness will end in death. Miscalculated jumps will end in death.
***
St.Francis Folly is mainly a trunk with side rooms full of devastating surprises including killer apes, rolling balls, falling hammers/swords and death by incineration. The trunk is where the save crystals are located but it is not that simple. To collect the keys one is compelled to return upwards and downwards and it is not until one has acquired the skill and knowledge of this simple labyrinth that one can work out the best way to save and attempt the tests in the rooms.
***
Death became normal for Lara, endlessly falling in a scream of despair that could only be equalled by the fate of those who take their own lives in the real world. The repetition and loss of hope at finishing this level began to absorb into my subconscious till I drifted into a most beset sleep that vibrated with the visual imagery of Tomb raider, and was always accompanied by auditory signature. Lara became a demonstration of the fallibility of man in his pursuit to achieve some kind of meaning against the tide of the inevitable. I knew I would finish the level but every death seem to etch a niche in my marrow till I began to loathe Lara Croft.
***
It was the realisation that she was a permanence to the game in that she never truly died for she never truly existed. She had become an existence of my will in much the same way a footballer directing a ball places his will into the foot and connects with the ball hoping it reaches its target. Lara too had become for me a ball to kick. She was no more relevant than that but that was what the dilemma was. If Lara was nothing but a pencil with which to draw the picture why did each death send a shudder through my conscious. This detachment became apparent and I freed myself from the delusion that control was driven by the will. All it required was patience and a significant increase in agility as regards the handset.
***
The computer and its contents was programmed and had a limited density and scope. If Lara took two steps forwards, one to the left, pushed the stone, climbed and handstand! ole! In practical terms it was evident that a child could be taught this form of learning quite easily and it only confirmed my grounded suspicions that driving and anything that followed a strict set of guidelines was capable of the vast majority of people. A recipe followed to the letter with the ingredients of the top quality will always produce the same meal. Why wouldn't it?
***
So St.Francis Folly broke me but I fought back and endured and I no longer dream of Lara for she has returned to that search for the eternal truth that is hidden within the subtext of her game play scenarios.
***