Decoding the Voynich Script, Continued.

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As I mentioned recently, a curious update to a post I made four years ago, here, had come to my attention. Since 1912, the mysterious 15th-century writing had been the ball of yarn knocked about by linguists, historians and cryptographers alike. But as of last year, writer and researcher Nicholas Gibbs attempted to wrest meaning from the script and make sense of what had until then been beyond common comprehension. As detailed in this Ars Technica article, Gibbs came to realize that the mysterious “code” was medieval Latin abbreviated, in the fashion of medical texts of the day. In fact, he asserts that a great deal of the Voynich writings were copied from older texts, as was common at that time when authors were more concerned with the preservation of knowledge than copyrights and exclusive credits. As the text seemed chiefly concerned with women’s health, diet, and hygiene, Gibbs surmised that it was a personal guide, taking information from past knowledge and applying parts of it for a specific use.

Reaction to Gibbs’ analysis was quickly disputed in this article from The Atlantic, citing that only two lines of the script appear to be actually decoded and that Gibbs had used the illustrations of the book to encourage the majority of his assumptions. Lisa Fagin Davis, executive director of the Medieval Academy of America, notes that the lines Gibbs appears to deciphered do not make grammatical sense. His assertions also seem to rest on the fact that the abbreviations found should correspond to an existing index — one that is not included in the given text.

An attempt by the University of Alberta earlier this year using a wild combination of AI, algorithms, and Google to decipher the manuscript concluded that it was written in encrypted Hebrew, according to this from The Times of Israel. But for the most part, their findings have been received as speculative at best, seeing as how the researchers themselves were unfamiliar with the Hebraic language, historically or otherwise.

Recently I was contacted by a prospective Voynich enthusiast who has been working independently on the script and come to his own conclusions as to its contents. He tentatively asserts that the script is “a kind of encyclopedia of ancient knowledge or a Book of Life of our ancestors. Perhaps this knowledge would be relevant today.” (As an aside Nicholai, if you are reading this I hope you could reacquaint me with your email, as I in my brilliance seem to have lost it. Apologies for my bungling.)

This sort of thing fascinates the hell out of me, being at the cusp of discovery from an ancient font long thought beyond discernment. I’ll be sure to detail more developments as I get them, via personal channels or otherwise.

 

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RED DEAD REDEMPTION II (& RED DEAD ONLINE BETA).

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Back in 2010, I was presented with an itch I never realized I desperately needed to scratch. For years as a kid, one of the few things that ever consoled my stepdad and myself from the inevitable argument when we were in the same room was a good old Western on cable. From Spaghetti Westerns to John Ford classics, the two of us sat in mute adoration to Panavision vistas, glinty eyes and handguns, and un-Godly tense moments resulting in glorious slow-motion violence. And when Rockstar Games released the original Red Dead Redemption after my step-dad’s passing, something welled up in me. Here, at last, was a way to ingratiate myself into one of those old yarns, amid the dust, fading sunlight and red hot lead. If my step-dad could’ve ever torn himself away from the endless series of NASCAR sims he loved to play, it would’ve been the next best thing.

Red Dead immediately became my favorite Rockstar game, even above the later-released Grand Theft Auto V. There was a character to the entire game that seemed to extend beyond simple aesthetic, something that perfectly combined the hardware limits of the PlayStation 3 and the technological limits of the early 20th century that gave the game a depth and quality that made for an unforgettable experience. Along with the usual exemplary Rockstar writing and characterizations, it was simply inevitable that the game would be a hit.

When a sequel was first announced, I was thrilled. I knew it had to be coming, but given Rockstar’s odd development cycles I also knew there might be a considerable wait, seeing as how the first game took five years before it was released. After L.A. NoireMax Payne 3 and the aforementioned GTA V, I experienced a series of peaks and valleys as each title was released, and no mention of a new Red Dead forthcoming. As I’m sure you all know by now, it was a long, painful eight years before anything had been announced. But beginning in the summer of this year, all that changed. Slowly but surely, Rockstar seeped more and more information, be it blurbs, screenshots, or full-on videos and teasers, unfortunately along with the game being pushed back further towards the end of the year. Finally, a release date was made, and on October 26th, Red Dead Redemption II was presented to the world.

I pre-ordered on Amazon and got the game delivered the day it came out. I spent the entire next week doing little other than living the life of one Arthur Morgan, lifelong criminal and right-hand man of Dutch Van Der Linde, the chief nemesis of the original Redemption. But this game takes place some 12 years before the events of the first one and becomes this fascinating look at how all the pieces fit into place to forge the future we as players had already experienced. John Marston, the gravelly-voiced protagonist of the first game is merely a supporting player in a surprisingly large cast of characters, all of which are vividly drawn and given considerable dimension. My favorite is Mrs. Sadie Adler, who starts out a sobbing victim but ends up (no spoilers here, as always) being one of the biggest heroes of the game.

As noted above, the best way to describe Red Dead Redemption II is “overwhelming”. From the scale of the world to the depth of its detail and the amount the player is given to do both within and without its rich and involving storyline. One of the hallmarks for me personally of a great open-world game is that you can completely beg off its storyline and simply immerse yourself in its setting, and not only is this possible with RDR2, but Rockstar has intentionally made it so. With hunting, fishing, games of chance (my fave being poker) and a host of “stranger quests” which open up all kinds of possibilities to the player, Rockstar has eclipsed the likes of Bethesda in the interactivity department.

But the story is the heart of the game, and as always, Rockstar delivers. Not only does the prospective player get to piece together the pre-history of the first Redemption, but a ringside seat to a power struggle within an outlaw band as the conventions by which they live are in turn set to struggle against a rapidly changing modern world. Through the above-mentioned characterizations, deftly written dialogue and even some symbolism, not to mention the moving musical score which changes dynamically to the pitch of gameplay, Red Dead Redemption II has become not only my pick for best Rockstar game but one of my all-time favorite games, period.

Of course, it’s not perfect — no game as ambitious and intricate could be, at least not at initial release. A myriad of YouTube channels are currently full of videos showing glitches and bugs that happen from time to time, most of them absolutely hilarious. But in my play-through, they were highly unusual, and rarely distracted me from staying within the focus of the game’s setting and story. And while some criticisms have been made against the game’s pace, with its intricate animations for just about every action the player makes, I found that not only satisfying but even more immersive, providing a kind of “personal space” as one would have if they truly existed within the game’s environment. It should be noted that I played (and am still playing) it on a PlayStation 4, although I am terribly envious of those lucky XBox One X owners who can enjoy the game in its native 4K state with higher framerates. You lucky bastards.

Then we come to the recently (as of this week) released Red Dead Online, currently in a beta testing state. While it’s obvious that much remains to be implemented, with the towns being in much more of a “bare-bones” state than in the single-player version, and a lurking gold bar (and ultimately real-world cash) economy threatening to overtake what choices a player will have outside of its current ranking system, the current state of the game is surprisingly rich. In addition to the usual competitive events, such as free-for-all and gang matches is a series of story-driven tasks, which a player can accomplish alone or with the help of fellow matchmade players. These plotlines, while completely secondary and non-essential for enjoying the game, are not only a great deal of fun for fans of co-operative play but serve as a quick way for the prospective player to gain experience, which unlocks a number of the higher level weapons, outfits, mounts, and extended challenges.

All in all, Red Dead Redemption II is a master class on what games should offer the consumer — a brilliant, involving story wrapped within a remarkably deep and detailed world, with heretofore unseen levels of immersion and interactivity. Along with the addition of Red Dead Online, which offers a wide array of multiplayer options as well as a number of co-operative missions which constitute an original scripted scenario outside that of the single-player game is genuinely mind-blowing. If you, like me, are a fan of the Western genre, a fan of the original Redemption, a fan of Rockstar’s games in general, or simply someone who really wants to properly invest their $60 in a game that offers hundreds of hours of diverse gameplay enjoyment (unlike some of the other recent releases — I’m looking at you, Fallout 76), Red Dead Redemption II is the bar clearly raised. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m either going to help the sheriff in Tumbleweed online or pop in single-player for another hand of poker…

In Medias Res.

This is the sort of thing I’ll try to plug in for those times in between major or “themed” blogs, where I’ll just shoot a flare up to the horizon and let you know that I’m still out there, hunkered down in the weeds. As you might notice from the new header, one of my major obsessions of the moment (and for the past month, really) is Rockstar Games’ magnificent achievement, Red Dead Redemption II. I will be writing more about it soon, but for the time being, I’m really still processing what all about it appeals to me and why. It’s an overwhelming game, and even though I’ve finished the “story” of the single-player variant of it, there’s still so much to do, see and experience.

Also, I’ve recently received contact about one of my earlier posts on the mysterious Voynich script, mentioned here. It’s left me with a good deal of material to sift through, which I’ll be doing next week, after the Thanksgiving weekend. For me, this is really exciting stuff, especially this sort of thing where so many minds have had differing opinions as to what any definitive position on the subject should be, and to see where I land amid the turmoil.

Finally, the ever-growing Talamor Campaign (as I call it now) has also taken up a considerable amount of my time. I’m currently working on a resource about the city-state of Andlachen, that central point in my map where all things begin. I felt it best to put it under severe scrutinization, not only to the amount of detail such a crucial point of a campaign deserves, but also to set the tone for how I can approach the rest of the major cities within the scope of Talamor. I’ve deliberately kept things as “old school” as possible, not only providing as much detail as I can, but also as many “hooks” for the prospective players to encounter, be they a simple disagreement between NPCs (non-player characters), or something that will ultimately send them to some far-flung location outside the city. It’s an infectious process, really — the more I add, the more I find I have yet to add.

At any rate, this is where I am currently, and I hope to be a bit more succinct in the coming weeks. Until then, follow the advice from the old Nyby and Hawks film The Thing From Another World: Watch the skies.

THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE.

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I’ve referred to this several times before, but a watershed moment in my childhood and appreciating the forms of media that I blog about now was discovering Stephen King’s marvelous nonfiction book Danse Macabre back in 1981. I was 13 years old then, and already an avid devotee of all things weird, fantastic and sinister. By interpreting his own reactions and the inspiration he found within the many selected books, radio programs, motion pictures, and television programs (it handles an awful lot, even for a 400-page paperback) King literally laid a groundwork for me to follow; a course of study that eventually led me to further interpretations of why humans are drawn to such sometimes inhuman things in the works of Nietzsche and Jung. No bullshit. I recommend the book (which recently got an update, need to pick up a new hardback version to replace my tired, old paperback one of these days) yet again, to all students of the bizarre.

Anyways, one of the most quoted and referred-to works in the book was Shirley Jackson’s 1959 novel The Haunting of Hill House, which would eventually inspire King’s own Bad Places, such as the Marston House in Salem’s Lot, the Overlook Hotel in The Shining and especially the subject of his 2002 television mini-series Rose Red. While I have never read the novel (I know, I know, it’s not unlike my strange antagonism about Neil Gaiman noted here), I was an immediate fan of Robert Wise’s 1963 film The Haunting, which is, in my opinion, is up there with Hitchcock’s Psycho and Polanski’s Repulsion for supplying that first turn of the screw (to borrow a fitting phrase) that issued in the era of modern cinematic horror. And yeah, The Haunting was remade in 1999, but the less said about it the better, right?

Now for the other major part of the equation: Mike Flanagan. From Absentia, a desperate tale of a woman coming to terms with the circumstances surrounding her husband’s mysterious disappearance, Oculus (which structurally has many similarities with his take on The Haunting of Hill House), about a family and their doomed relationship with a malefic mirror that twists their lives to horrific ends, Hush, with a secluded deaf writer stuck in a white-knuckled cat-and-mouse with an intruder, to the wonderfully retro Ouija: Origin of Evil, which features a false medium and her family dealing with a very real supernatural presence, Flanagan has simply been knocking them out of the park, one by one. He is certainly overdue a mention here, but I aim to rectify the situation now if I can. Most recently, with his adaptation of the aforementioned King’s novel Gerald’s Game, he has cemented himself as one of the mainstays of current horror films. And I bet ninety-to-nothing he’s got a similarly worn-out copy of Danse Macabre in his back pocket.

To the subject, finally. Needless to say, I was really excited when I first heard Flanagan was taking on Hill House, especially after Gerald’s Game. I didn’t expect it to take on Robert Wise’s 1963 version, which I would equate with Eric Clapton’s opinion of the guitar work of B.B. King: “He can do more with one string that anyone else can with an entire guitar”. Similarly, it was Wise’s use of restraint that made his Haunting all the more horrific. What I did expect was what has made Flanagan’s work stand out all along: well-drawn characters with believable motivations and arcs, and solid plotting with plenty of tension in all the right parts. And some freaky faces. He really digs those freaky faces.

All of this is present in The Haunting of Hill House, and a lot more. Instead of introducing an investigative group of outsiders to the titular house, we have the Crain family, who were the builders and first owners in the novel and previous film adaptations. In Flanagan’s version, Hugh Crain is a regular Fix-It Felix, initially seeking to “flip” or renovate Hill House for a profit. Alongside him is his lovely wife Olivia, and their children, Steven, Shirley, Theodora, Luke, and Eleanor. Note that three of the children (Theo, Luke, and Nell) have names from the novel, and one of its author (Shirley). As for Steven — maybe Stephen is a more appropriate spelling? You see where I’m going here, right folks?

As for the cast, there really are three of them: The younger Crain family, the present-day Crain family, and the remnants of the Hill family that still haunt the place. Among them are many Flanagan regulars, like the lovely Carla Gugino, Henry Thomas, Lulu Wilson, Elizabeth Reaser, Kate Siegel (also known as Mrs. Flanagan), Samantha Sloyan, James Lafferty, and Catherine Parker. Performances are solid across the board, with Gugino and Victoria Pedretti (as the adult Nell) being the stand-outs from my viewing. I was also taken by the child actor performances, the insanely adorable Violet McGraw and Julian Hilliard as the younger versions of the twins Nell and Luke, especially. They seemed to effortlessly portray the way children are able to take horrific events and integrate them into the more imaginative landscape of their interior lives, albeit in Hill House those events lay the foundation for darker developments.

The series (I really want to call it a film — it’s more like a 10-hour film to me, given its solidity) glides from past to present, deeply into the psyches of each member of the Crain family and widely at their reluctantly tethered relationships with each other. Instead of valued and cherished moments, their encounters are painful and mechanical, due to their poisoning from the influence of Hill House. Each character carries their own considerable encumbrance, only learning too late how to lighten the loads by bearing them together. Of course, I will not spoiler here, but the layers of secrets and deceptions put upon the Crains by the House’s evil influence slowly creep at them from the beyond, ultimately driving them back to the genesis of their doom.

Stylistically, Flanagan manages to bridge the gap between what I would term current and classic horror motives. While the overall story itself is a gradual, gothic tale which takes time to fully detail the characters involved with increasing tension, he punctuates the proceedings with several jump-scares (and those freaky faces) to drive each paralyzing moment home. Imagine it as a spider’s web woven between a series of rusted iron nails, and I think you’ll get the idea. Or nails driven into the lid of a bottomless casket? I’m saying too much, I think.

Stephen King, a well-known fan of Jackson’s original novel, recently tweeted to say that “I don’t usually care for this kind of revisionism, but this is great. Close to a work of genius, really.” I’m inclined to agree. It’s a rare moment when a work of such significance can be reworked in such a way that brings forth a new, but true interpretation of the aspects of the original story. But Flanagan has, and this is just a moment. The Haunting of Hill House is a marvelous example of a committed filmmaker taking on the limited series format to craft a classic tale for a modern age.  Let’s hope it sets an example for years to come.

Hereditary.

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Oh, where to begin. As with the film It Follows (mentioned here), Hereditary was yet again one of those films which slipped into the festival circuit and clearly took all who encountered it unawares, prompting them to declare it The Next Big Thing in Horror, even having the cojones to compare it to mine and British film critic Mark Kermode’s cinematic holy grail, The Exorcist. I recently found out via Kermode’s YouTube channel Kermode Uncut that he and I had a similar experience with the film, first delving into the novel by William Peter Blatty (this being many years after the world had already taken this path, albeit without the gift of hindsight) after first being denied viewing it, ultimately delivering a more informed and highly anticipated experience once the film itself was finally seen. He regards the film as a perfect specimen of cinema, and I am inclined to agree with him. Both Blatty and director William Friedkin set the bar so high in 1973 that a handful of films could deign tread upon its coattails. While not necessarily on the same level, Hereditary is damn close behind.

Oh, Ari Aster. You delightful complete nutjob of a filmmaker. Even with your early short films, particularly The Strange Thing About the Johnsons and Munchausen (both of which are available to view on YouTube), you clearly had it in for the whole family dynamic. Leave it to Aster to take that place where we all feel most safe, supported and free to be who we really are, and turn it into a violent and caustic minefield of harrowing fear and trepidation. I wholly encourage anyone who has not seen Hereditary to see these shorts before witnessing his first feature film, for thematically it is the latest product of his grim Darwinian urge. Like David Cronenberg and his early obsession with the individual human body as the seat of all evils, Aster sees the cult of familial relationships as a hotbed of festering fears.

The family of lambs for eventual slaughter in this case are the Grahams, with mother Annie (spec-fucking-tacularly portrayed by Toni Collette, who wholly deserves any and all awards thrown in her general direction for her performance), dealing with the emotional debris (yes, I went there) left behind after her own mother’s death, which sets up the tableau for the film. Along for the grisly ride are Gabriel Byrne (who to me will always be that dastardly Nazi bastard Kaempffer in Michael Mann’s The Keep, hopefully more on that one later), as her dutiful psychologist husband Steve, Alex Wolff (who turns in another remarkable performance) as their son Peter, and the adorably disturbing Milly Shapiro, making her film debut as their daughter Charlie. To go any further would be to spoil the proceedings, which I honestly avoided myself before seeing the film (once the initial trailer had more than piqued my interest), but throw in the always-amazing Ann Dowd into the mix, and we’ve got one hell of a capable cast.

Now, how to spew and squeal about this wonderful film without divulging its contents (not that at this point in time a number of videos and articles already have — bad, bad movie nerds). First, a bit of a forewarning is in order. Hereditary is clearly modeled after the “slow burn” films of the late ’60s and early ’70s. This means it hasn’t leaped into the current fashion of horror films, which typically begin with hinting at the Damned Thing that lies at the center of the story before chucking in the handful of its future fodder for a series of quirky “character moments” before meeting an inevitable demise. As I mentioned above, the family itself is at peril in this film, and Aster first gives us a good deal of time to get to know them all (not to mention subtly clue us into how they may be fodder-ized later on), as well as painting a lovely patina of intangible dread over the proceedings. The difference is not unlike the immediate burger and fries from your typical fast-food restaurant as opposed to the staging of courses in finer dining. We are allowed to sink into the Graham’s particular kind of misery and wholly identify with them in the process — not unlike the compared The Exorcist, where we first get to know the rosy-cheeked and innocent Regan McNeil before her descent into the bowels of deviltry. But, again, as mentioned above, the Grahams are not so innocent, and in fact are generationally the products of familial ills that have become the dark mechanisms of their current existence, which truly adds a great deal of kindling to a fire which takes to blazing glory by Hereditary‘s finale.

Another important point about the appreciation of this film is something that has been brought up in reviews, even the one by the aforementioned Mr. Kermode. While I also am pressed to acknowledge it as a weakness (not necessarily a flaw, since I don’t think it’s fair to make a criticism without providing an alternative that would benefit the argument — and like I’ve mentioned on this blog, I have intentionally removed myself from being a film “reviewer” into the role of a film “appreciator”, since movies like all forms of art are truly subjective). The point is that Hereditary is a film with two distinct halves. Without spoilering the plot, let me say that the film escalates in intensity considerably in its second half (if I had to be more precise, it’s really the end of its second act and the entirety of the third) and the underpinning required to provide a smooth transition to it from the beginning is less than would be expected. I know this is incredibly vague, but bear with me. Many have made the criticism that the events of the second half of the film were unnecessary, and that the film would be all the better for it. While I personally do not agree, I can certainly see why this has often been brought up. But as I said above, I honestly don’t know how Aster could’ve lashed together a stronger bridge between the former and latter ends of the film (that is, without obvious exposition which he tries to avoid, for the most part), so I cannot join in on this as a valid criticism. The truth is he leaves several subtle clues (well, some not so subtle) and does what he can to resolve the issue within the thematic framework of what he has constructed. Like the best of films, Hereditary bears up considerably upon repeat viewings (although so far, I have only seen it twice), and most of these clues are more apparent upon returning to them. One could relate this and the above-mentioned pace of the film as the result of this being Aster’s first stab at a feature film runtime, but I could not blame him for choices he has made. Overall, Hereditary is an absolutely enthralling experience, for those able to be patient and open-minded enough to allow its pace and accept its weaker points.

Now, for the fun part. Hereditary is a tour-de-force of unrelenting emotion, disturbing visuals (all of which amazingly captured by cinematographer Pawel Pogozelski), and superb sound design, spurred on Colin Stenson’s wonderfully weird and amorphous score. Aster, unlike the majority of filmmakers working in the genre, seems to truly grasp what horror is all about — creating a genuine sense of dread where almost anything could occur, all of it with impact (and without the use of jump-scares or blaring musical stings) and guaranteed to make even the most dyed-in-the-wool horror fan a quivering mass of exposed nerve endings by its conclusion. There are moments in the film that truly took me surprise,  and I admittedly jumped an inch or two out of my chair while watching — a delayed jump-scare, if you will. The aforementioned revelatory ending seems to create an eerie calm over the proceedings, and gosh thanks so much Mr. Aster for creeping me the fuck out from now on every time I hear Judy Collins sing Both Sides Now.

To wrap up this monster of a post, I can only say that while it has yet to be seen as any sort of classic or iconic entry in the annals of modern horror cinema, Hereditary has without a doubt made its mark on the current order, and is a great achievement for a first-time feature filmmaker. I loved the two times I’ve gotten to see it and look forward to more, as well as whatever the awesome Ari Aster has in store for us next.

Benson & Moorhead.

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First of all — as always — I have to explain the dearth of posts. I know, I am the absent father of bloggers, but I’ve been somewhat productive, working on a cosmology and early history for my ongoing world setting (detailed from here), and rabidly replaying Fallout 4 with the (finally) growing list of mods available on the PS4 in excitement over the upcoming Fallout 76, in addition to working on a number of Quake texture wads which I’ve been attempting to work into maps I’ve been fiddling with (more on that to come), and writing out a script for my first serious attempt at a graphic novel, but I know that’s no excuse. “Damn you, Mister Blog Author, it’s not like you’re right there on the goddamned laptop the whole time…” Sigh. One of the things you begin to notice as you get older is that time gets sucked through the cracks so quickly you don’t even notice. To quote the great philosopher Ferris Bueller: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look every once in a while, you could miss it.” So very true, and by the way, I hope you feel better soon, Ferris.

But let us sally forth to the meat of this post. About a year ago, I stumbled across a little film on Amazon Prime titled Resolution. I had it for 48 hours on a rental and ended up watching it five times. Why? Because I found it was itching parts of my brain that a film hadn’t done in some time. It was this wonderful combination of buddy movie (the film’s main characters are longtime friends who are brought together when one tries to save the other from drug addiction) and existential horror (the desolate area where the two friends are during this rehabilitation is eventually revealed to be a source of many unexplained tragedies), leading to an ending which forces the viewer to make some kind of judgement about what they’ve just witnessed, for better or worse (hence the title). Yes, it’s a mindfuck movie, and a wonderfully enjoyable one. I’m trying not to spoil anything, but broadly if that sort of film doesn’t appeal to you (I would think anyone drawn to this blog would not be in that number, but instead interested in films that actually encourage you to participate with them on some level), you may not want to take it on. But it’s filmmakers, Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, took a small budget and a bold concept and made a considerable mark on me.

Amazon Prime continued to light the way for me with their recommendation of Spring, the next film by these two madmen. Starring Lou Taylor Pucci (who I finally figured out was the teacher dude in Fede Alvarez’s killer Evil Dead remake) as a young American who leaves his turgid life behind for the romance of Italy, and meets a mysterious, beautiful woman — I know, I know — it sounds like the reverse of the usual romantic chick-flick, but believe me — you ain’t seen nothing yet. Albeit not as jarring, it’s not all that different from Miike’s Audition, with Benson and Moorhead craftily turning the whole expected model on its head. I will say no more, other than the filmmakers’ take on the rom-com genre would really get me watching Lifetime if it were the Movie of the Week.

Finally, we come to the pair’s latest offering, one saw previews for shortly after viewing Resolution — The Endless. In a wonderfully strange way (hope to hell I’m not spoilering, here), The Endless is the first film’s sequel, taking on the bizarre concepts first explored in Resolution, but with curiously mythological detail, as we have more characters to compare our own interpretations with. Benson and Moorhead (using their own first names, Justin and Aaron) portray the main characters of this entry, actually reprising their blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearance in Resolution. They have since taken a sabbatical from the cult, making a furtive stab at a life for themselves in the outside world; but eventually, it becomes obvious to them that in order to move forward in their lives, they must first confront their past. They return to the cult, and oddly find much of it and its inhabitants unchanged since their leaving, the reasons for this becoming abundantly (and horrifyingly) clear.

It’s fair to say these two have something on the ball, in my opinion. Like a small number of upcoming filmmakers (some of which I plan on detailing soon), they have a unique take on conventional genres, imbued with a solid combination of technical skill and invention. I eagerly await what more they plan on showing us.

TWIN PEAKS.

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It began with The Elephant Man. I don’t remember when exactly it hit HBO, but it had to be shortly after we had acquired the network in our home, the other two seminal films playing around that time were Jaws (which we had watched countless times in a weird sort of family after-dinner ritual) and The Exorcist (which I was never allowed to watch, but was forced — by myself, unknown to my parents — to secretly listen to at the top of the stairs to our den, the product of this fused with mine own grisly imagination tortured yet enthralled me for the better part of a couple of months).

The Elephant Man at first reminded me of the Hammer films of my earlier youth (more than likely due to the English cast and the sure hand of Freddie Francis’ cinematography), but it bore a much deeper emotional hole in me than any of those films had managed before. The film carefully examined the extents of what constitutes humanity, and in many ways came to the conclusion that we as a race (at least, in the depicted 19th century) were still a good deal away from achieving that goal. I have seen the film several times since, and cry every time I see it. What seemed to move me as much as the aforementioned camera work or even the wonderful actors’ portrayals (which include those of Sir Anthony Hopkins, later Lynch regular Freddie Jones and the late, great John Hurt in the title role) was what Lynch seemed to bring to the table — an otherworldly existentialist vibe, one that turned into a haven when Joseph Merrick asphyxiates trying to sleep “like other people” and in death is reunited with his mother at the film’s conclusion. It gave a film that could’ve been more traditionally portrayed a shimmering soul at its centre as if to belie its murky and backwards surroundings. Needless to say, this David Lynch guy blew me away even as a kid — and the interviews with him all mentioned the film that marked his professional debut: Eraserhead.

At some point, while in high-school, I had finally managed to rent a copy of Eraserhead, which I found had long been lauded as a creepy surreal manifesto of sorts in one or more of the magazines I had devoured over the years (be it Heavy Metal or SPIN, I don’t know), scoring a major coup in my ever-growing list of films that needed to be seen. I remember being transfixed watching it, feeling as if the floor had given way beneath me as I hung deep into some inky, sweaty, shuddering tomb of industrialised anxiety. Also, I may have been high at the time. I loved it.

Far removed from The Elephant Man, this was my true introduction to David Lynch, and his unique, rather broadly archetypical and intuitive style of storytelling. Like Kubrick and Moebius before him (in my experience, at least), he insisted on showing a story instead of merely telling one, but in Lynch’s case he would even forego the more accessible layers of audience participation and break down the matters at hand in more abstract and imaginative ways. He was making it harder for us but in a way that was enthralling to follow onscreen. In the words of Dr. Thompson, “Buy the ticket, take the ride”, and what a fascinating ride it was.

Meanwhile, Lynch went on to create Dune (which most fans of the book’s author Frank Herbert abhor, but I absolutely love) and Blue Velvet (which I saw while attending college, and praised to my friends as being “truly Lynch”, although the term, for the most part, was lost on them), solidifying him as a go-to source for nebulous high weirdness.

Then, at last (at least for you, Patient Readers), came not only a new font of Lynchian goodness but one that was on television, every week. Yes, I was truly excited when I first heard that Twin Peaks, Lynch’s collaboration with Mark Frost, best known for being one of the head writers of the seminal series Hill Street Blues (not to mention, according to IMDb, the screenwriter of The Believers, one of my fave John Schlesinger potboilers) was coming to TV. It was like a steady diet of manna from heaven.

The resulting series was a phenomenon, which literally dominated popular culture in the early ’90s. It was a careful balance of crime procedural, soap opera, backwoods slice-of-life dramedy and now trademarked surrealism, all overarched by the question that burned at its core — that of “Who Killed Laura Palmer?” It was a show that could literally appeal in some way to everyone, and, at least for its first season, it did. However, the network hosting the show, ABC, pressed Lynch and Frost to reveal who, indeed, did kill Laura Palmer (a question they never planned on answering but leaving hanging as part of the atmosphere of the show), and halfway through the series’ second season they finally obliged. It was revealed that Leland Palmer, Laura’s father — who was possessed by the violent “BOB”, an entity from the Black Lodge, an alternate plane of ultimate evil — had sexually assaulted and slain his daughter. Palmer committed suicide in response to his deeds, and the book was closed on that most prominent chapter of Twin Peaks. Or so we thought.

Despite a love interest for Special Agent Dale Cooper (the wonderful longtime Lynch regular Kyle MacLachlan, who had starred in Dune and Blue Velvet), the series’ main character, and a new antagonist known as Windom Earle (not to mention a transexual FBI agent portrayed by David Duchovny, who would later rise to prominence as the very male Special Agent Fox Mulder on The X-Files two years later), Twin Peaks faced a slow inexorable death soon after its second season. It ended with Cooper being trapped in Red Room between the White and Black Lodges, his evil doppelganger sent out with BOB into the world to wreak havoc whilst he remained a prisoner. The final episode included a mysterious message, with the lost spirit of Laura Palmer telling him that “I will see you again in twenty-five years”.

Indeed, some twenty-six years later (the excess time being drug out by negotiations between Lynch and Showtime, the premium network hosting the new season) Twin Peaks has returned. The network blessed us with four hour-long episodes on demand Sunday, and I for one ate them up like glittering candy. With the series being on premium cable, and Lynch firmly in control, one would expect that this Twin Peaks would be a considerably more unruly beast that the original — and they’d be right on the money. Aside from mentions here and there of returning characters (and some replacements, like Robert Forster as Sheriff Harry Truman’s brother Frank), the first four episodes mainly concern themselves with Dale Cooper’s eventual return from beyond, and the reign of terror created by his doppelganger (mentioned as “Mr. C.” by a backwoods crony at the beginning of the first episode). Each hour is filled with vignettes from a number of places outside the usual mountainous treelines, such as New York, South Dakota and Las Vegas, and no, not much of anything has even begun to be sewn together. I love it and eagerly await more to come next month.