This movie isn’t good at all.
It’s barely even a movie: it’s like a long episode of Batman: The Animated Series feat. an occasional boob plus a soundtrack of angsty, edgy mallcore. Music was shit-awful in the year 2000, and if you need a reminder, the first Slipknot album is shorter by thirty minutes, so listen to that instead.
What connection does it share to the original Heavy Metal? The title.
Instead of being an anthology, it contains a single bad story based on a graphic novel by Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles co-creator Kevin Eastman. The plot (narrated by someone who was definitely making dramatic hand gestures in the vocal booth), involves the Arakacians producing an elixir of immortality and a secret key lost in space and a villainous asteroid miner and a tertiary villain who’s a dinosaur and an xtreme grrl heroine and a second xtreme grrl heroine and a plucky comic relief character who later becomes a sidekick and is replaced by a different plucky comic relief and a plot MacGuffin and Guy DeBord and Roland Barthes and asdf
The film is overloaded with detail and characters, which is usually what happens when you shove a 170 page graphic novel into a VHS player while muttering “fit, damn you. Fit.” The screenplay couldn’t have more holes if it was made of swiss cheese. Where does Tyler get the weapons he uses for the raid on Eden? Why do none of those futuristic space-guns appear in the final showdown, which is fought with spears and swords? Why does becoming evil cause your hair to grow twenty inches?
Action girl #1 is played by Julia Strain. She has boobs. She beats the shit out of people who look at her boobs. What more characterisation do you need? Tyler himself looks like Ruber from 1998’s dose of box office strychnine Quest for Camelot, and exemplifies the problem I have with almost all “crazy” cartoon villains (such as Batman’s Joker): he turns sane and calculating whenever the plot requires him to be. The result is a mechanical artifice of a film where you can feel the interference of the writer on every frame. Why do characters do anything in Heavy Metal 2000? Because Kevin Eastman wanted them to do it.
“Calculating” applies to the film in general. There’s none of the sense of liberty and freedom of the original – it’s a steely-eyed gambler, looking to pull out a cheap score.
Look no further than the film’s SHOCKING ADULT CONTENT…which isn’t integrated in any way to the story! 95% of the film is a bland Saturday morning cartoon, then we get a pointless splash of violence and nudity, then the movie becomes a Saturday morning cartoon again. This is obviously intentional: they set up the movie so they could quickly chop all objectionable content and get a PG-13 rating. The quislings.
The animation is TV quality. Suffice to say that 90s cartoons looked as shitty as 90s music sounded: Heavy Metal 2000 is dark, lacks contrast, and has the palette of an Excedrin headache. Enjoy your browns, grays, and khaki greens. This is like playing Quake, right down to the underwhelming final boss.
This underscores the biggest offense Heavy Metal 2000 commits: it isn’t fun. Ren & Stimpy creator John Kricfalusi once said something (aside from “I thought she was 18, your honor”) that I find profound: animation’s strength is that it creates visuals that would be impossible with live action. If you animate visuals that are even more drab and bland than real life, you’re ignoring the possibilities of the medium. Heavy Metal 2000 doesn’t just ignore the possibilities, it hoists the black flag and directly repudiate them. What an ugly fucking film.
Heavy Metal was only barely successful. Heavy Metal 2000 went direct-to-video, and should have gone direct-to-landfill. It killed off attempts to bring Metal Hurlant to life for nearly another 20 years, before an anthology called Love, Death & Robots appeared on Netflix. I haven’t seen it and probably won’t: it’ll likely be a pandering joke full of references to Twitter and trans issues, with a villain called “Tonaald D’rump” or some shit. Heavy Metal is a nostalgic look at the past. As such, it’s best left in the past. The world did not and still does not need another Heavy Metal.
Drop a stone in a pond. Ripples will spread out. Cultural events are similar, but sometimes the ripples occur before the stone falls. Facebook, iPhones, and The Lord of the Rings are stones. Myspace, Blackberries, and The Hobbit are ripples. Although important in their own right, they had the misfortune to occur before a similar (but much bigger) thing, and have been swallowed by it within the public’s mind.
Cassette tapes (and the culture surrounding them) were ripples: the stone would would fall twenty years later. They were ugly plastic rectangles containing about ninety meters of magnetic tape. Music recorded on to the tape usually sounded hissy and noisy (this itself became an aesthetic), but the tapes were so cheap that it was now possible for the average person to copy music. People would tape songs off the radio (complete with hacky DJ voices and commercials), as well as make illegal bootlegs of live bands. This led to a full-blown kulturkampf between tapers and record labels in the 1980s, culminating in the BPI’s often-parodied “Home Taping Is Killing Music” slogan.
While some labels fought cassette tapes, others embraced them. C81, a compilation cassette released by NME at the start of the tape boom, is an example of the latter. It contains twenty-four tracks of British and American “indie” music, circa 1981. I’m sure that all the bands involved were branded as sellouts until their dying day. The tracklisting is as schizophrenic and scattered as any fourteen year old’s mixtape: legends like Pere Ubu and Scritti Politti are placed cheek-in-jowel with bizarre “art” projects like Furious Pig that seemingly did nothing notable except appear on C81. It’s both ethnically and musically diverse, with funk, ska, reggae, dub and so on. Whoever put this together clearly wanted to fuck Lora Logic, because she’s on here twice.
As with many compilations, it sprays and prays. You won’t like everything, but you’ll probably like something. I enjoyed the apocalyptic mini-epic “The Seven Thousand Names of Wah!”, the histrionic but understated “Shouting Out Loud”, the Scritti Politti song, and “Parallel Lines”, which is a thesis on everything punk should be: taught, fraught, and small.
But the best piece of music C81 has to offer is Cabaret Voltaire’s “Raising the Count”, which initiates the listener into a kind of electronic Satanic ritual: a black mass powered by 200 watts. The song is as bleak and repetitive as a pneumatic drill inside your ear canal, and immediately induces a hypnagogic state. Cabaret Voltaire had existed for most of a decade by the time C81 came out, and would continue to release music for about twelve more years (although I find their later techno/house music to be less interesting than their early experimental work).
So, good music, and good capture of a particular moment in British musical history. C81 is now most easily acquired in digital form, which is the next evolutionary stage of tape culture. Cassette tapes were ripples, and digital piracy was the stone, doing everything cassettes had done (including killing the music business) about 5x to 10x more successfully. The record industry profiting off tape trading seems gruesomely poetic in retrospect. It’s as though Louis XVI, years before the French Revolution, had invested royal money in guillotines.
I decided to watch the 1981 animated film Heavy Metal because of its reputation. Like Vegemite and the chanteuse on the first Velvet Underground album, it doesn’t have a good or a bad reputation; it merely has one.
It has 6.7/10 on IMDB and a 60% Rotten Tomatoes score (critics’ consensus: “sexist, juvenile, and dated”). It grossed $20.1 million on a $9.3 million budget, enough to qualify as a mild hit and not enough for a sequel. It’s based upon the Heavy Metal comics anthology, which in turn is derived upon Métal Hurlant, the legendarily explicit French outfit home to everyone from Paolo Eleuteri Serpieri to Moebius; it adapts a number of stories from the comics, which vary from erotica to science fiction to horror. The art style changes from segment to segment, ranging from itchy rotoscoped Bakshi pastiches to stuff that could be a Saturday morning cartoon.
I watched it once. It made an impression. I watched it again. I decided I really liked it.
Halfway through my third rewatch, I thought this is my favorite movie of all time.
Heavy Metal is spellbinding yet rationally hard to defend. I like it more than any movie I’ve ever seen, but what intellectual case can be made for it? It’s embarrassing. There’s a story about a dweeb who visits a fantasy world, gains huge muscles, and has sex with hot babes. The art is sometimes excellent but more often workmanlike. The “groovy, man” tone of the writing hasn’t aged well. If “auteurness” is important to you, this lacks the personality of a Bakshi film or the polish of a Don Bluth. I have no idea who the individual directors are, or what they did before or sense. So what does it have that makes it special?
It has heart. Sincerity. It throws itself before the mercy of the court, and receives a full pardon. Heavy Metal elicits the nostalgia-drenched emotions of a beloved childhood film that I haven’t seen in twenty years, but I first saw it ten months ago. How’s that possible? How can you be Pavlov’s dog and salivate before you hear the bell?
“Soft Landing” is a stop-motion music video depicting a Corvette falling from orbit and landing in a field.
“Grimaldi” provides the framing device: a glowing green orb called the Loc-Nar (“the sum of all evils”) hypnotizes a young girl and shows her visions of the devastation it has wrought across time and space. These visions form the remainder of the film’s shorts. I hate it when words seem like anagrams but aren’t, and “Loc-Nar” is such a word.
“Harry Canyon” is the hard-luck tale of a New York cab driver in 2031 (ten years away!), driving aliens and vaporising mugs. He gets tangled up with a pretty young moll who’s involved with the local goon squad (representative line: “Here I was, stuck with this beautiful girl. I knew she was gonna be nothin’ but trouble”). Might be mistaken as a parody of noir crime, but Heavy Metal is too earnest to parody anything.
“Den” is an adolescent nerd power fantasy. Describing the plot in detail would cause me to break out in pimples and start expressing strong opinions about D&D 5th Ed, so I’ll just say that it’s charming and pleasant, with a wonderful final shot. Den has the voice (but not the physique) of John Candy.
“Captain Sternn”‘s eponymous hero is in a jam. He’s on trial for 12 counts of murder, 22 counts of robbery, 37 counts of rape, et cetera. He thinks he has a plan to get off the hook (no, it doesn’t involve getting a job in the TRUMP ADMINISTRATION, hurr hurr), but as usual the Loc-Nar appears and ruins everything. An entertaining episode, but lightweight one. “Captain Stern” alone out of Heavy Metal‘s shorts could be cut without greatly damaging the overall product. But it’s cute.
“B-17”, by contrast, is horrific. The pilot of a WWII bomber is flying home after a sortie, only to notice that everyone on his plane has died. Or have they? Gruesome and unredeeming, it’s similar to the Aldapuerta short story “Ikarus”, as well as the Twilight Zone episode “Terror at 20,000 Feet”. Great art, and a sense of doom as thick as squid ink.
“So Beautiful & So Dangerous” is about a babelicious fox/foxelicious babe who’s abducted by aliens and decides that anal probes aren’t so bad after all. I haven’t read the original comic, but there’s clearly swathes context being left on the cutting room floor – we never learn what’s causing the “mysterious mutations”, for example. You have to leave room for tits and drug references, and this one certainly does.
“Taarna” is the epic that closes the film and resolves the story of the Loc-Nar. A peaceful people are on the verge of being slaughtered, and only the warrior maiden Taarna can avenge them. A heavily compressed version of a Moebius story, with continuity errors appearing at a rate of about two a minute (random example: how does Taarna get her sword back after escaping the pit?), all of its flaws are obliterated by its grand sweep and epic heft. The short evokes nigh-apocalyptic size: seeing this on a big screen must have been something. There’s some gorgeous panoramic shots of landscapes where every grain of sand seems to be animated – were computers involved?
Describing anything in Heavy Metal is a waste of time: all I can do is describe my reaction to it, which is beyond positive. Heavy Metal stands alone. It needs every concession ever made, and gets them. It kinda sucks, and I don’t care. Best movie ever.
This HBO documentary has so many creepy moments that it’s difficult for any to stand out. Here’s one that did.
Imagine that your kid brother is living a real-life fairytale: he’s best buddies with with the world’s biggest music star. He hangs out at the guy’s cool-ass mansion, eats ice cream and plays videogames with him, hears secrets that Vanity Fair will never know, and has given your entire family access to undreamed of luxury.
It sounds unbelievable, a fantasy concocted by the biggest bullshitter on the playground (“I’m going steady with Miss America! No, you can’t meet her, she goes to another school!”) but this is actually happening, in real life! It’s enough to make you believe in magic.
Years later, you turn on the TV. A child exactly like your younger brother is accusing the pop star of abusing him.
Wouldn’t your brain…implode? Shatter from all the cognitive rewrites it has to do? The fairytale is instantly gone. All of those years of happiness now have a sinister new context. Was this what was happening to your younger brother? All those holidays and funpark rides…was this the price? Why didn’t you spot it? Are you stupid, a rube?
That’s the situation the brother of Wade Robson (one of the two subjects of the documentary, with James Safechuck being the other) found himself in 1993. It’s emblematic of how the Michael Jackson story has ended: too good to be true. I’ve heard alcohol described as a way of robbing happiness from tomorrow. Michael Jackson was cultural alcohol: the past was fun; the hangover, not so much. Although Michael Jackson may have stolen happiness from some people’s present, too.
I grew up in the 90s, and he seemed terrifying: a raceless, genderless skeleton with bleached skin and a face crafted from paper mache. I laughed when people called him a “sex symbol”. For whom? Department store mannequins?
If I’d grown up in the 80s, I might have had different memories: an impossibly talented vocal acrobat who (along with Quincy Jones) created the 80s. But even then, there was the sense of something odd about him, barely out of sight. In 1984 Michael Jackson won eight Grammy awards for Thriller, which had sold thirty four million copies in twenty months. He was accompanied to the awards ceremony by Brooke Shields, then considered one of the most desirable women on the planet. He spent the entire evening ignoring her in favor of twelve-year-old Emmanuel Lewis, who sat on his lap.
Things only deteriorated after Jones left his life. Ten years later, he had a reputation as a talented but eccentric and even faintly sinister man – Howard Hughes with a surgically reconstructed nose. The tabloids aggressively hounded him, and this formed the basis of the narrative upheld by fans to this day: poor Michael Jackson, harassed by the media. Can’t they all just leave him alone? If even half of Leaving Neverland is true, the media didn’t harass him nearly enough.
It’s a documentary about false and true narratives: it doesn’t hide (for example) the fact that Safechuck and Robson testified that Michael Jackson never touched them during the Jim Chandler trial in 1993. However, it puts this in proper context – they were kids who had been Michael’s favorite. They wanted to be his favorite again. They wanted his approval, his love, and when Michael told them what to say in court, they said it.
The documentary runs for four hours. There’s a lot of biographical detail on two people you’ve probably never heard of unless you’re a hardcore Jacko defender with his entire legal saga pinned on the wall with red tape (in which case, your opinions about Safechuck and Robson are probably negative). At first homespun folksy stories of S&R’s childhoods seem pointless, but they quickly prove their worth: Jackson is such a massive figure that it’s easy for everyone in his orbit to seem like a 2D cutouts, as inhuman as the dancing zombies in “Thriller”. The director wanted to make the accusers seem fleshed out and human.
If so, it worked. I believe them. They seem credible. Misremembering a date or a location is typical when twenty five years have passed. As is feeling affection for one’s sexual abuser. There’s detailed descriptions of sex acts, which gives the documentary a compulsive rubbernecking-the-car-crash aspect. Tip: if you don’t want to hear stuff like “In Paris, he introduced me to masturbation”, maybe watch Regular Show instead.
The balance of evidence appears to lean towards Michael, in fact, being a pedophile. Where does this leave Michael Jackson fans? Is he “cancelled”? Is that even possible? There’s a psychological term called “splitting” – the inability some have of understanding that we are vessels containing both good and bad. Michael’s strongest defenders clearly love his music, and certain aspects of his personality (philanthropy, generosity) inspired them. Claims that he molested children represent a threat to those fond memories. Michael Jackson changed peoples’ minds on many things – it was what he loved to do. Watch Finding Neverland, and let him change your mind one final time.
‘The chain in those handcuffs is high-tensile steel. It’d take you ten minutes to hack through it with this. Now, if you’re lucky, you could hack through your ankle in five minutes. Go.’ – Max Rockatansky
One man chains another to a pipe in a burning building (or some other place that will kill him if he doesn’t escape). He gives the chained man a hacksaw and a choice: cut through the chain, or cut through a limb.
This scenario appears in George Miller’s apocalyptic film Mad Max. It also appears in Alan Moore’s Watchmen (likely as a homage or parody).
Hurling the dogs’ corpses at Grice, Rorschach then handcuffed the man to a pipe and doused the room with kerosene. After handing Grice a hacksaw and stating that it would be futile for Grice to attempt to cut through the handcuffs (implying that he would have to cut off his hand), Rorschach set fire to the room and exited the house. He watched outside for over an hour in the unlikely event that Grice might free himself in time; Grice did not survive. – Watchmen Wiki
It also appears in the first Saw movie.
Adam finds a bag containing two hacksaws inside the toilet, which they try to use to cut through their chains, but Adam’s saw breaks. Lawrence realizes the saws are meant to be used on their feet, and identifies their captor as the Jigsaw Killer, whom Lawrence knows of because he was once a suspect. – Wikipedia
It’s as brutal an act as one can imagine, but it has an element of chivalry (or moral handwashing). After all, you’re being given a chance.
…Or are you? The man who chained you up a) knows better than you how long you have to escape and b) wants you dead. Would he give you a hacksaw if there was any way you could escape in time, however remote?
This is such a common (and weirdly specific) trope in fiction that I started wondering: what’s the absolute first time it appears? Is there an ur-hacksaw scene that predates all others?
I might have found it. Ironically, it might be in a book that was never actually written.
The 120 Days of Sodom is the legendary and never-completed epic by 18th century aristocrat Marquis de Sade. Written on a single roll of paper while its author was imprisoned in the Bastille, its production was interrupted in 1789 by the French Revolution. Only the first part is extant: the second and third parts exist in outline form.
In the third part, we come across this scene:
“He chains one of the girl’s hands and secures the chain to the wall; he leaves her thus, without food. Near her is a large knife, and just beyond her reach sits an excellent meal: if she wishes to eat, she has but to cut through her forearm; otherwise, she dies of starvation. Prior to this he has embuggered her. He observes her through a window.”
This has some interesting parallels to Mad Max.
- The chain
- The cutting instrument
- The “ticking clock” (in this case, the girl will starve if she does not escape)
- The victim must self-mutilate
It has some differences.
- A knife is not a hacksaw.
- Cutting through the chain isn’t suggested as a possibility (although she probably would have tried)
- The girl won’t become free if she cuts off her forearm. She will have earned a meal, and will then be subjected to further tortures.
There’s another big difference between this scene and its later incarnations.
Max Rockatansky and Rorschach are (dark) heroes. Even Jigsaw is given some odd philosophical motivations for his deeds. Nothing like this exists for the barbarous noblemen of Sodom, who have retired to a chateau in Germany to destroy as many young lives as possible. Their evil is a black hole, existing beyond any reasonable motive.
Another Frenchman, Jean-Baptiste Say, once said that supply creates its own demand. In the Marquis’s case, the same holds true for sadism. When men have knives, they use them.
One of the Disney studio’s “fairy tale plus a mouse” efforts, Mickey and the Beanstalk was released with center billing in 1947’s Fun and Fancy Free, and re-cut for TV several times with different narrators, including Ludwig Von Drake, Shari Lewis, and Winnie the Pooh voice actor Samuel Holloway.
“Jack and the Beanstalk” is the American Psycho of fairy tales: the hero breaks into a man’s house, steals his possessions, and murders him when caught in the deed. Most retellings add an exculpatory backstory (the giant killed Jack’s father, or something), but the tale still has enough malevolence to make it an interesting choice for the mid-40s, when cartoons were growing increasingly debauched (such as MGM’s Tom and Jerry and the Warner Bros Chuck Jones/Bob Clampett work.)
The tale begins in Happy Valley, where “all the world is gay”. The gayness stems from a magical harp, which is stolen one fateful night, The crops fail and the river dries up, leaving three unfortunate peasants (Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and Goofy) facing starvation. There’s a hilarious gag involving Mickey Mouse slicing invisibly thin sandwiches from a single slice of bread.
Mickey foolishly trades their last cow for some magic beans, which grows into a huge beanstalk, reaching up into the clouds and a giant’s castle. The giant, incidentally, is one hell of a dude. You’d think merely being a giant would be enough, but he also possesses magical powers allowing him to fly or transform into anything. It’s like the Tommy Lee/Pam Anderson sex tape, where we discover that, in addition to being a millionaire rockstar, Tommy Lee also has a huge penis. Some guys get all the luck.
When a plan to trick the giant into turning into a fly and swatting him fails, Donald and Goofy are locked inside a snuff box. This leads to the film’s most nail-biting moment – Mickey stealing the key from the giant’s pocket while he sleeps. It’s unfortunately necessary to kill the giant at this point, which they achieve through a method that doesn’t make a lot of sense given what we know about the giant.
It’s well animated, well conceived, and has some great laughs. If I had a complaint, it doesn’t find a use for Goofy. Disney’s “big three” are types: Mickey as the straight man, Donald is angry, spiteful, and insecure, and Goofy is the good-natured fool. The latter role is here filled by the giant, giving Goofy nothing to do (although he does get a funny scene where he tries to rescue his hat from atop a giant-sized block of jelly).
There is (perhaps) a deeper level to this film than I initially realised.
In 1913, an aqueduct was built, diverting the Owens River to Los Angeles. This enabled La-La Land to grow to its current size, but it had a dark side: Owens Lake completely dried up, devastating Owens Valley and ruining the livelihood of many farmers. The man responsible for this was William Mulholland.
It might be a coincidence, but the name of the giant is “Big Willie”. I also note that Owens Lake is only a three hour drive from Burbank.
The last bastion for socially unacceptable behavior is when the perpetuator is an animal. They attack us, and destroy our property, and it’s hilarious. If they were capable of speech, perhaps we’d even allow them to make racist jokes and misgender trans people.
It’s not that they lack the intelligence to understand their actions, it’s that their systems of values are fundamentally unrelatable to ours. A human looks upon a carefully laid table and sees effort and organisation. A housecat just sees fun shiny objects to bat and knock around. You get the sense that even if you could explain to a housecat what it’s doing, it wouldn’t care. Misbehaving animals are funny, but also disquietening: as though we’re getting a taste of what an alien invasion might be like.
Untitled Goose Game is an indie puzzle/adventure game where you play as a goose, wandering around one of those insufferably whimsical British towns that have names like Toddlefold or Nippleshire. You have a checklist of tasks to complete, which basically reduce to “annoy as many people as possible.”
You steal laundry, destroy gardens, ruin picnics, and honk at people, The game bears some resemblance to Pulse Entertainment’s notorious 1996 adventure game Bad Mojo, where you are a cockroach, and your objectives are to basically…be a cockroach. Here, as there, you are invited to reject your own species, and view them as the Other. Most humans (with the exception of two women who find the goose hilarious) are enemies, to be avoided or navigated around.
It will take you a couple of hours to beat. When the game is on the verge of overstaying its welcome, it ends.
The graphics are cell shaded or flat shaded (or whatever the fuck the trendy term for it is now), . Environments are clean, while retaining enough detail to have verisimilitude. The human models walk with a jerky, odd gait, but I believe this is intentional: from a goose’s perspective, humans are ridiculous. The music is dynamic, changing to reflect the in-game action, and the sound design is nicely detailed (the acoustics of the goose’s honks change when its beak is inside a glass bottle, for instance).
I grew weary of debates about games vs art a long time ago. Most of the games praised as “artistic” are in fact regurgitations of cinematic tropes. They only seem profound because you’re comparing them with Candy Crush. In a 2010 Cracked column, Robert Brockway praised the “artistry” of a scene in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare where you crawl around and die of radiation burns. Is this the groundbreaking artistry of videogaming? Cultural commentary about how war is hell?
Untitled Goose Game is a clearer statement of videogaming as an art form. It has no story, no “point”, and ludonarrative interaction drives the game. Even title seems more suggestive of a painting (where it’s common for work) than something from Hollywood.
Untitled Goose Game is now in the inevitable backlash stage of its hype cycle, but it’s perfectly good at being what it is, even if it’s something that’s confusing and meaningless to a lot of people. It has an unusual premise, and it’s even a little philosophical. When William Wallace was arrested and charged with treason, he retorted. “I could not be a traitor to Edward, for I was never his subject.” Animals are not our subjects. They exist outside our world.
The supposed eighteenth chapter to Joan Lindsay’s Picnic At Hanging Rock, revealing what happened to the three women.
“Supposed” because the internet is rife with conspiracy theories that Lindsay didn’t actually write this, that it’s a hoax, et cetera.
I’m not convinced. The number of parties necessary to orchestrate such a fraud (Lindsay’s estate, editor, publisher, and so on) would be huge, and the prose definitely seems like Lindsay’s (note, for example, how often the author uses “little” in a diminutive/feminine sense.)
Until someone presents evidence otherwise, I will take Secret at face value: it is the unpublished work of Joan Lindsay.
It’s understandable that people would want to decanonize The Secret of Hanging Rock. Everyone who reads it reacts the same way: with disappointment. I don’t know of a single person who thinks it improves the book. It’s a few pages long, and much of its text was retrofitted into chapter 3 of Hanging Rock. In short, the girls disappeared into a rift in time. There are some allusions to quantum cosmology, as well as Aboriginal “dreamtime” and therianism. That’s it.
It’s a stupid ending. Maybe any ending would be stupid. Hanging Rock was like a crossword puzzle in a newspaper: fun until you solve it: then it becomes a fish-wrapper covered in pencilled-in letters.
Secret was so threadbare and underwhelming that I started pondering other things: such as the ethics of publishing a dead writer’s unfinished work. Nirvana fans are familiar with this song and dance. Every few years someone finds a shoebox of tapes and we get yet another posthumous Kurt Cobain “album”, consisting of unfinished material that he probably never intended the public to hear. Is it right to do this? Release all of a famous artist’s outtakes once they’re too dead to complain?
I can see the opposite argument; authors don’t have unlimited fiat to declare that nobody read their work, particularly for something of public and literary importance (like Picnic at Hanging Rock). If someone wrote the cure for cancer on a piece of paper and commanded the world to never read it, we probably shouldn’t honor that request, either.
At the end, Hanging Rock was about time, and how it seems to blur reality. Reading the book is a maddening experience: you know that whatever happened to the girls, it’s knowledge out of your reach. Knowing what happens yanks the story back down to earth, and destroys its appeal. Hanging Rock left you like Aesop’s fox, snapping at grapes that are just out of reach. Secret cuts down the tree and lets you gorge on grapes until you’re become violently sick. Enjoy your stomach-ache.
Picnic at Hanging Rock is an classic in Australian psychological horror. It’s also a genuinely disturbing book: thinking about it makes me feel queasy and cold. It’s also Australia’s Blair Witch: a metafictional literary stunt that left its own provenance unclear. Many were fooled into thinking the story was a true one, and even today you’ll meet folk who talk about the events of Hanging Rock as if they really happened.
It was written in 1967, but is set over half a century earlier, at a girls’ boarding school in Victoria, Australia. A group of four people (three students and teacher), leave a picnic to explore the nearby Hanging Rock formation. Three are never seen again. The fourth is discovered days later, nearly dead from sunstroke. When she recovers, she has no memory of what happened to the others.
The rest of the book is the community coming to terms with the mystery. A bloodhound fails to find the missing women, as does a local “black tracker”. An army of well-meaning volunteer searchers soon blanket Hanging Rock in spurious footprints and trail-markings, unwittingly destroying whatever evidence might have existed. The final people to see the party report some odd things: the three students were in a trancelike state, with staid mathematics teacher Greta McShaw literally disrobed to her underwear. The reader actually follows the girls until the final moment, and knows some additional facts that the other characters don’t. But ultimately, we don’t know what happened, either. Isolated facts are grains of sand, and we need hard stone.
Whatever happened at Hanging Rock (and there are signs that certain characters might know more than they are telling), the lack of resolution is like a thorn embedded in flesh, driving the community to frustration and then madness and then finally tragedy.
The events of the story bear an odd resemblance to Finland’s Lake Bodom murders, where three backpackers were slaughtered, with the sole survivor possessing no memory of the night’s events. Bodom happened in 1960, but I doubt Joan Lindsay was aware of it. Finland is far from Australia, and in 1967 was even further. And unlike the United States (where a Bodom-style murder would have led to sixteen made-for-TV movies, a Netflix series by Jordan Peele, and teenage girls on Tumblr obsessed with marrying the killer), Finland isn’t culturally fascinated by violent crimes, nor does it possess the regnancy to spread them all over the world.
Like Lake Bodom, Hanging Rock exists in the real world. I learned some interesting things about it on Wikipedia. It’s more properly called Mount Diogenes, after the Greek philosopher who held that civilisation is corrupt and only nature is moral. Geologically, Hanging Rock is a mamelon, after the French word for nipple (is it important that all the main characters are female?)
When you climb Hanging Rock, you ascend a to a sharp point and then descend down gently rolling hills. The book’s structure is a little like that: the climax arrives in the first three chapters. The rest of the book is a gradual come-down. Some readers find this anticlimactic, but to me it adds to the book’s sense of unease. As you read on, you realise you are wandering further from solving the mystery. It’s as if the answer to the mystery is a solid island, and the book is an ocean dragging you ever further away. It’s agonizing, and strangely compelling.
Joan Lindsay does a good job of making Hanging Rock sound old-fashioned. Like any turn-of-the-century novelist, she almost puts on a pair of white gloves and chaperones you through the pages. This is the sort of book where you read sentences like “All this was nearly six years before this chronicle begins”. Only a few anachronistic words reveal the book’s modernity – such as “deadbeat”, an American slang word that entered common usage in the 1940s.
So, do we ever learn what happened? Do we even get a look through a crack in the door? Make up your own mind, but there’s a reason they call it mystery fiction as opposed to solution fiction.
Terry Gilliam’s Brazil explores the often-overlooked fact that George Orwell’s 1984 could be rewritten as a comedy with little effort.
In Room 101, Winston is tortured with his worst fear (rats). Why do this? Do they give everyone in Room 101 a personalized torture? What if my worst fear is something expensive, like having diamonds rubbed on my nipples? Why go to the trouble – wouldn’t a generic but still fearsome torture be equally effective? Why not just shoot Winston? (etc)
Brazil takes this latent absurdity, and focuses on it, enlarging it. As with 1984, absurdity doesn’t damage the film’s integrity at all. The movie’s seriously ridiculous and ridiculously serious.
It is a satire about bureaucracy grown so rampant that it throttles humanity like creeper vines. Paperwork. Chains of command. Spelling mistakes that lead to deaths. Blood-red tape. In Gilliam’s world, the future is a man filling out triplicate government forms, forever.
In real life, bureaucracy serves a valid purpose: it’s a cultural shock absorber. If I have poor impulse control, maybe I’ll think a $30,000 exhaust mod kit for my car is a good purchase. If I have to fill out 20 forms and wait a month, maybe I’ll decide I don’t need it after all. But there’s a dark side to bureaucracy: complex and multilayered systems allow responsibility to be diffused into vapor.
Brazil takes place at the furthest, blackest point of this dark side. A fly jams up a printer, turns a “T” into a “B” on an arrest warrant, and the wrong man dies. It’s not clear who’s to blame. The fly?
Sam Lowry is a low-level drone in a monstrous system. He is unhappy, and dreams of soaring above the world on perfect, tesselated wings. These dreams are the closest he comes to experiencing any sort of power, in a life boxed in and mangled both by a suffocating society and neurotic social set. All of the actors are good, but their main purpose is to stare obliviously at the huge, scary environment that rears up around them like prison bars.
As well he might, because the film gives you a lot to stare at. In fact, the true reason to see Brazil might be to sample Gilliam’s terrifying but strangely wondrous world.
There’s a Perry Bible Fellowship comic depicting far-future cinema-goers watching a film about World War II – full of sailing ships and medieval knights riding zebras into battle, and various other things. It’s a vivid image: all the strata of history collapsed into one because the future no longer cares about their distinction.
Brazil is a like that: it’s as if people from the year 3000 made a documentary about the 20th century. It’s both futuristic and laughably out of date. It’s chic and chintzy and garish and austere. It’s ten decades and several hundred fashions and movements mashed up together. But even this ignores Gilliam’s countless weird, inspired touches, such as the ropey, maggotlike tangles of air ducting inside Sam’s apartment. Everything looks great, with detailed sets and puppetry worthy of the Henson studio.
People in Brazil live weird, pampered lives, catered on by perpertually misfiring machines – we see one pouring orange juice on Sam Lowry’s toast. Everything always happens in the most inefficient way possible: for example, cars can only be exited by lifting up the entire roof. The one person who does his job properly is an unlicensed repairman, on the run from the law.
Brazil‘s ending is more pragmatic than 1984‘s but no less grim. In a world where all your (mis)judgement is done by the cancerous edifice of the state, there is no need to have a brain anymore. Certainly no need to use it.