I suppose I wrote the previous post about ennui and waystations, etc, due to my part-time job being at a kind of ennui-ridden waystation (a satellite campus of a school located in a rural part of the county); even this blog site doesn't seem to get much traffic, making it a kind of cyber ghosttown. These places, real and virtual, analog and digital, fascinate me. There's a British site online that documents decay in the physical world, and online sites that explore derelict, abandoned web sites. Sand scrapes away the physical world, flowers and vegetations and animals bloom; bytes pile up in the cyber ghost worlds, a mountain of information overload, a refracted funhouse of confusing authenticities, an ever-growing organism of electricity and data whose derelict and abandoned areas grow alongside the new material added to the web every milisecond.
The place I work at is largely uninhabitated (though infrastructure is present); I've seen a number of businesses come and go. It's not the most expansive place, acreage-wise, but in its little way is bordering on being a ghost town (or, if you look at it differently, is bordering on booming). The place I work at is like the "anchor" business; people come to us regarding the overall site but we are only leasers, we are only one business -- but since there's no central management office onsite and infrastructure maintenance and cleaning seems sporadic and part-time, people assume we are the place to go. The overall site has no food service, not even a vending machine, no wifi, not much of anything but empty schoolrooms. We have a water fountain and restrooms. There's an abandoned chicken coop and overgrown organic garden. A nice big oak tree in a parking lot that isn't used much, but is home for bees, for birds. I contributed my own microwave oven to the office I work in. I like this outpost nature of things; "satellite" isn't just an analogy but quite literal: we're a skeleton crew with only the basics of survival (restroom, water, light, HVAC, power, parking, etc), a shadow of the larger entity we represent, a lost kingdom in the empire.
We have extremely busy times, but there is much downtime. (It is, I imagine, akin to working at a fire station in a small town; but, then again, small towns often have volunteer firefighters.) People coming in have noted the quietude in the air, found it palpable -- objectionable, even; the light hum of computer brains, the tapping of keys and clicking of mice. The unpredictable thermostat and HVAC like a character in a Tom Waits song about a drunk piano. Our sign blows over outside, and none of us rush to right it. Someone stirs and fixes it. The other day I saw a man smoking a cigarette and trying to secretively piss in the bushes of our parking lot.
I like boredom and ennui and satellite situations. But it takes a certain character, because one has to be okay: with quietude, with one's own mind, with minimalism.
Thursday, 23 June 2011
I've been fascinated lately with a little corner of the world in southern Africa, the country of Namibia and its forbidden diamond-mining zone near the its southwestern, aka Skeleton, coast.
I first learned about this area from the film The King is Alive, which was filmed there (and a film which I recommend). I thought that the film The Bird Can't Fly was filmed there, too, but with a little research found it was filmed in the Atlantis Dunes about 25 miles north of Cape Town, South Africa. Unlike ...King..., The Bird Can't Fly (also recommended) was filmed on a rather brilliantly-constructed set of mainly the tops of buildings placed atop the sand, giving the illusion that the fierce desert sands had swallowed a whole town.King was filmed in an actual abandoned/ghost mining town where the desert sands are overtaking the decrepit structures, in some cases filling rooms of buildings to the ceiling with drifting sand. King is a dark film made under Dogme 95 rules/auspices; Bird is a tad lighter in spirit.
Another similar area in a significantly differently part o' the world (hell, another continent) is the Lencois Maranhenses of northeastern Brazil's coast. This is a unique desert that at certain times of the year has lakes. I learned about this area from a worthwhile film, again:The House of Sand (Casa de Areia). I suppose what all three films do so well is use the desert environment as a tangible character in the films' narratives (much like the Nostromo spaceship was such a character in Ridley Scott's Alien), while also being so stark and barren that the human characters really stand out more than they would in other contexts or settings.
On the documentary front, the excellent Arlit: Deuxieme Paris is desert-set (Sahara in Niger, Africa), and, again, there's a mining connection (uranium). As in the three fictional films previously mentioned, this documentary captures the ennui and existential angst that ghost towns and desert settings with small groups of people seems to bring out so succinctly. In the case of the Sperrgebiet (forbidden area) in Namibia, it's interesting that the colonizing country (Germany, Holland, whatever) tried to recreate the architecture and general way of life they were used to in Europe in the completely different ecology of a desert, often with haunting results.
There's also a cool ghost town scene in an abandoned or un-completed hotel in my friend Ryan Harper's film Circulation, which was filmed in Baja, Mexico.
Monday, 20 June 2011
I'd like to dispense immediately with any connections of these terms to the American tradition of Halloween. I don't mean "creepy", "spooky", or "haunting" in any kind of semi-silly way or as words to promote a Halloween spookhouse or something. I mean these terms in their most serious incarnation, in which someone feels genuinely "creeped out", spooked, or haunted by something. My take on it is completely subjective -- especially what, in the world (or my mind), I find creepy, spooky, and/or haunting.
Here's what I came up with:
Creepy: having to do with a person or people making one uncomfortable in a significant or memorable way. A person who's a "creep." A person lacking social or interpersonal boundaries in a dangerous, dark, or unsettling way. Sometimes sexual; violence, stalking, torture. There is a certain cleverness in creepiness on the creep's part, a twisted intelligence. Weird in a bad way. Something, to me, specifically human, although it could be the Flying Monkeys in film The Wizard of Oz. Parasites, bot flies, the smell of maggots, even ants. Stockholm Syndrome. Any of the various things one can find without too much effort in a few mouseclicks on the internet.... (these internet discoveries can also be haunting.)
Spooky: Having more to do with internal mental confusion in a bad way. An uncertainty about reality in a not good way. Altered states of consciousness that are not necessarily positive mind expansions, but darker. Spookiness isn't altogether unpleasant, like a marijuana experience that's not a "bad trip", but nonetheless..spooky. Animals who get spooked, if only momentarily. An acid casualty whom I met and knew before and after the acid damage occurred.
Haunting: Sad, indelible, emotional, lasting, an image that burns in the mind. A single shoe on a road. A ratty, frayed rocking chair. A blind, featherless baby bird I once found that'd fallen out of the nest too soon. Genocides throughout history ; cannibalistic infanticide in chimpanzees; frightening childhood experiences; etc. A haunting piece of music. Things that are hard to "unsee." There of course can be a beautiful or sublime aspect of something haunting.
The below I find haunting.
Spookiness is a bit more difficult to capture, especially visually (unlike the above three examples), but I find some of the more unusual experiences of sci-fi writer Philip K. Dick to approximate spookiness.
Or, someone's drug anecdotal experience of a novel hallucinogenic compound, described thusly:
Specifically, there was one substance that nobody had ever tried before. It was something completely new, and what I experienced on it was above and beyond anything I can describe. Because it was like looking... It was like it turned reality into this whole… I mean, it was reality, but like a layer over reality. It’s hard to explain, but afterward I felt like it taught my brain that there was a neurological switch I could just flip and enter an altered state at will.
(Source: LIFE IS A COSMIC GIGGLE ON THE BREATH OF THE UNIVERSE - A Tour of Gordon Todd Skinner’s Subterranean LSD Palace - Vice Magazine)
An example of something that combines all three elements of creepiness, spookiness, and hauntingness might be:
The famous riverboat sequence in the film Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, especially in its context as a musical, G-rated children's film. "Willy Wonka was ranked #74 on Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments for the "scary tunnel" scene and, in fact, the whole movie." (Wikipedia.)
A Clockwork Orange.
The film Session 9 and specifically the jar of peanut butter scene in the abandoned (haunted) asylum.
Pogo the Clown (John Wayne Gacy; see painting at top). His crimes are haunting, his personality creepy, and the fact that he appeared to be one thing (friendly clown), but actually another (serial killer), spooky.
David Lynch's Rabbits.
As I said, this is just my take on these three concepts, and I was even thinking of doing a Venn diagram for them, but that's probably overkill. And to some extent, all three of these word-concepts overlap, can be synonymous. And there can even be an element of humor, absurdity, or enjoyable ambiguity and provocativeness/evocativeness to these rather weighty concepts, such as some of the humor of Andy Kaufman, Tim & Eric, a performance artist such as Chris Burden (notably "Shoot"), or John Waters' Pink Flamingos, which certainly, at times, touches on the creepy, the spooky, the haunting!
All of this was sparked by my posting a photo I took and placed on Facebook of my stepdaughter's (unintentionally) creepy doll that my stepdaughter had placed in her bed, lying on its back, its body under the covers, before leaving for school; I was in the apartment alone and the doll startled me for a moment. Someone found it noteworthy that I, who gravitates toward, and is fascinated by, the creepy, spooky, and haunting, found it creepy. This got me thinking....
I don't know. Just thinking aloud, as blogging largely is. Your thoughts?..