Tuesday, July 31, 2007

GODZILLA VS. THE SMOG MONSTER: Greatest Godzilla Movie Ever!

One in the eyes of God is a majority.
- Anonymous religious fanatic

I blogged the other day about a YouTube clip of the "Save the Earth" song from my favorite Godzilla film of all-time, Yoshimitsu Banno's formula-breaking 1971 masterpiece Gojira tai Hedorah (Godzilla Vs. The Smog Monster). I love this film because it is unlike any other in the Godzilla canon. It has a European feel that is almost what I would call "artsy." It had hot young Japanese babes gyrating to psychedelic music in discos, hallucinatory scenes of people's faces tranforming into fish heads, Godzilla fire-propelling himself backwards (for the first time ever!). And, more importantly, it featured a little Japanese kid (Hiroyushi Kawase, who previously appeared in Gozilla Vs. Megallon) going "Bang! That's wild!" after his scientist father explained nuclear fission - a video clip that I never tired of using ad infinitum on my old public access show Atomic TV. I love this movie so much that I have at least 5 versions of it, including a Spanish-only dub because I wanted to hear what "Bang! That's wild!" soundly like en Espanol.

Little Hiro says "Bang! That's wild!"

An Inconvenient Truth: Smog Monster Rules

But that clearly disturbs some Godzilla purists. And there is no G-fan purer than John David Cawley, erstwhile rock star with Garage Sale, Berserk, the Nu-Beats, Order Now!, The Lumpies and (much to his shame) The Young Prufrock Alliance (who - besides everyone - can forget their magnum opus "I'm In a Study Group"?).

In fact, my affection for this film irked Big Dave Cawley (Founder, Godzilla Purists Preservation Society) so much that he left this message on my answering machine last night.
"Hey I was reading your blog today and, I'm sorry, but you walk in darkness! Godzilla Vs. the Smog Monster is, like, the worst one! What's wrong with you? Get with the program! Almost every other Godzilla film is better than that one. I mean, the only one that possibly comes close is Godzilla's Revenge, but, c'mon. Ugh. Smog Monster is so lame!

And I'll have you know that Toho's head Ishiro Honda told the director of Smog Monster, Yoshimitsu Banno, that he would NEVER direct another Godzilla film for him!

You're the only one I know who likes that one. C'mon man, THESE THINGS ARE IMPORTANT! You have to stop! You can't champion that film! They're so many other worthy contenders!"

I obviously struck a nerve. There are just certain lines you don't cross with Dave. Like The Clash. Cilantro. Frank Zappa. And Michael Bolton. The untouchables. Like the Israelis when it comes to talking to terrorists, these are non-negotiable subjects.

After posting this blog, I ran across an album cover that probably best explains Dave Cawley's Hedorah loathing. It's Frank Zappa's Sleep Dirt (aka Hot Rats III), and it features a creature looking very much like Hedorah on the cover. An unholy union?

Related Links:
Hedorah(Wikiepdia entry)

Sunday, July 29, 2007

The Pear

An Old School Ode Upon a Cute Bottom

I like big butts and I cannot lie.
- Sir Mixalot, "Baby Hath Back"

Like Sir Mixalot, I cannot lie about a love I have that darest not speak its name. Well, not in front of my girlfriend, anyway. Blame it on Rio, or more specifically on Brazilian bombshell Keity Ines.

Keity Ines defines the form

Or blame it on her neighbor, comely Colombian cutie Lucia Tovar.

Lucia Tovar rests her case

Or blame it on rudely robust Romanian pornstar Sandra Romaine.

Sandra Romaine shows off her assets

Or blame it on any number of well-rounded women whose pear-shaped bottoms (perhaps definitively defined in the textbook photo below) have inspired me to take pen to paper and write these lines in tribute to their haunty haunches. For these women's forms give substance to the idea that there may be a divine designer who shapes our "ends" (rough hew them though we may).

Herein is my poem about the pear-shaped bottom and why it appeals to the baser instincts of men like me who slavishly follow the biological imperatives of their genetic code. For like Andrew Marvel, I believe a woman's beauty is equal to the sum of her parts. But some parts are more equal than others.

An Old School Ode Upon a Cute Bottom

by T. S. Warner


I am The Dreamer who dreams The Dream
I am The Weaver who weaves what is with what it seems
I am The Poet whose lofty thoughts would take wing
Invoke me, milady, and to thy wonders will I sing


I would like to say that I fell in love
With the first glance of your fair face
But in truth your wonder was revealed to me
As was the Nightengale to Keats, perched in a tree
But my bough bore fruit, a most perfect pear
I mean, my lady, your lovely derriere


Like Eve you tempted me to taste forbidden fruit
And with hungry eyes I consumed you to the core
And found not, like Adam, a rotten apple
But a glutton's craving for yet more


For every action there's an equal and opposite reaction
States Mr. Newton's Third Law of Motion
Thus the hypothesis of your undulating perfection
Finds its proof in my corresponding emotion

Yet the buoyancy of your ripened mounds
Would cause Newton to question his own sanity
For he tells us an apple is inclined towards the ground
While your hanging fruit defies gravity


So if, as the Bard of Avon claims
A divine hand shapes our ends
Then I'll devoutly worship yours
And cry to the Heavens, "Amen!"


Yes gladly would I forsake the world for you, mon amour
As did the Lotus-Eaters, who vowed to sail no more
Content to worship a magic fruit the remainder of their days
So I remain entranced by your soft-skinned pear in its hypnotic sway

Save the Earth, Godzilla Style

After watching the Live Earth telecast, I ran across this techno remix of "Save the Earth" from my favorite Godzilla movie, Yoshimitsu Banno's 1971 magnum opus GOJIRA TAI HEDORA (aka GODZILLA VS. HEDORAH and GODZILLA VS. THE SMOG MONSTER). Once again, Godzilla proves his timeless relevance!

Of course you can't improve on the psychedelic original:

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Artscape 2007 - Pt 3

Saturday, July 21. We worm our way up Mt. Royal to see Artscape proper, our mission to see the Maryland Film Festival Films-in-a-Tent, the Laure Drougoul-curated Ceci n'est pas exhibit Foodcourt performers (since Amy hasn't seen them), MICA's Decker Gallery and Fox buildings to see the the art displayed there.

Mission was accomplished. But the fun was getting there. Here are my remaining pix from Artscape 2007.

Ashes to ashes, sawdust to sawdust. Outside the Lyric.

The Tomb of the Unknown Artist.
Wakes held nightly at the Mt. Royal Tavern

Mission Statement for all artists. It's all about the Benjamins!
Become an Artist and never work again!

The Nay-Saying Neo-Cons Kiosk

Art without wine is like sex without the masks.
Beautiful Babs and friend get fortified with Sangria

Rugrats try to turn Squirrel Statue into roadkill

Art solves the parking problem

Chicks love phallic monoliths

Arty combo rocks out in the Food Court

Senior Moment: Amy spaces out in front of an exhibit in the Fox Building

My impression of the Bengies Drive-In during a meteor storm

Amy interacts with art

Who Needs Cable?: Video Installation at Fox Building

Frosted Strawberry Pop Tart face video installation

"Whatever you do, don't look down!": Chris the Plumber of Jensen Plumbing talks his girlfriend Shannon through a Spot-a-Pot plumbing crisis in the Artscape Food Court

Decoding the Codex

Resources for the World's Weirdest Book

My friend Steve Intlekofer turned me on to two books for which I'm eternally grateful. One was Klaus Kinski's fascinating autobiography, Kinski Uncut, a brisk read whose 322 pages are filled with the horny Hun's accounts of (by my meticulous count) 135 documented sexual conquests - from Inge on page 39 to Carmen, Moravia and Chloe on page 320. (And that's not including alleged trysts with his mom and daughter Nadia!)

The other was Luigi Serafini's Codex Seraphinanus (first published in 1981, first American printing 1983), a 190-page book that was written entirely in an unrecognizable language and illustrated with the most bizarre images this side of M.C. Esher or Hieronymous Bosch. It is the very definition of "curi-oddity." According to Wikipedia, "The Codex Seraphinianus is a book written and illustrated by the Italian architect and industrial designer Luigi Serafini during thirty months, from 1976 to 1978...the book...appears to be a visual encyclopedia of an unknown world, written in one of its languages, an incomprehensible (at least for us) alphabetic writing." Another source claims that "Seraphinianus" is an acronym for Strange and Extraordinary Representations of Animals and Plants and Hellish Incarnations of Normal Items from the Annals of Naturalist/U nnaturalist Luigi Serafini.

Steve actually owned this amazing book (as did another friend/colleague/collector of rarities, Marc Sober). Luckily for me, the library where I work owns this exhorbitantly priced rarity (used copies of which go for $300 and upwards on eBAY to $4,000 for a publisher's First Edition).

I had almost forgotten about this madcap manuscript until my artist friend Sook stopped by work the other day and, given that she is always enthusiastic about discovering new wonders, I put the book before her and asked her if she had ever heard of it before. She was fascinated by it, especially by Serafini's imaginary language in which the entire book is written, and said she was going to try and incorporate its themes into her paintings.

The Codex’s only real precursor in terms of invented languages is The Voynich Manuscript, which was allegedly discovered by Polish book collector Wilfrid M. Voynich in a wooden chest at an Italian Jesuit college in 1912. According to an article in the magazine The Believer, the profusely illustrated manuscript was worked on by top code-breakers during World War II who were unable to fathom it.
"They failed. It’s never been deciphered. Theories on its origin and significance abound, including the theory that the manuscript is a fraud perpetrated by Voynich himself, but the most popular and conclusive theory attributes the work to Roger Bacon, the medieval Franciscan friar who, in his Letter Concerning the Marvelous Power of Art and Nature and the Nullity of Magic, noted that “certain persons have achieved concealment by means of letters not then used by their own race or others but arbitrarily invented by themselves."


The Website Codex Seraphinianus Solved claims to have solved the mystery by consulting various Rosetta Stone language CDs:
The writing system used in his book appears to be modelled on ordinary Western-style writing systems, but with letters that curve into each other in patterns that cryptologists and linguists have been unable to break.

However, the number system used for numbering the pages has been cracked by a Bulgarian linguist, Ivan Derzhanski of Sofia, Bulgaria ( his web page may be seen at http://www.math.bas.bg/~iad/serafin.html ).


Can't afford to drop $300-$4,000 for Codex Seraphinianus? Well, you don't have to. Somebody named cottoncandyhammer uploaded scans of the entire book to Flickr:



Or check it out of your local library, if applicable. Luckily, it's owned by a number of academic libraries; I won't name them here, because I don't want it to go on "permanent loan."


In 2003, I saw the Lyon Opera Ballet perform a surrealist ballet based on the CODEX SERAPHINANUS at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. It was the greatest thing I ever saw - like Cirque de Soleil choreograped by Salvador Dali based on designs by Timothy Leary! It was called TRICODEX and was created by French choreographer Phillipe Decoufle, who had previously tackled Luigi Serafini's creations two earlier dance performances, Codex and Decodex. It had people dancing on stilts and trampolines - and the mind-blowing costumes! I remember being particularly taken by Carrot Bottom (the polar opposite of ginger comedian Carrot Top, I suppose), a half woman/half carrot creature. Though critics pointed out that it didn't have as much dancing as one would expect from a ballet company, that was probably because of the zany Dr. Seuss-like costumes and devices the dancers were required to wear and navigate around. I wish a had an all-region DVD players so I could see the French PAL DVD of these performances. Luckily there are some YouTube and other clips posted on the Internet.

This is the description of the performance from CLC Productions' 2005 French DVD release of Tricodex:
Tricodex is the fourth step in a process going back almost 20 years. The trigger was the Codex Seraphinus, an encyclopaedia of an imaginary world, written in an unknown language but, fortunately, copiously illustrated.

Philippe Découflé created Codex, his first choreographic version, for seven dancers in 1986, following up a year later with a filmed rendering bearing the same title. Some years later he felt compelled to rework the theme, the outcome being Decodex, for 12 dancers. The most recent manifestation of this recurring urge is today's Tricodex, for 30 members of the Lyon Ballet troupe.

Like Picasso, who sometimes produced fresh versions of the same subject years apart, Découflé likes to run the original idea through the filter of his current concerns.
The agenda, however, remains unchanged: a meticulous, probing, zanily poetic exploration of this imaginary world that draws on many facets of a vast choreographic vocabulary.

Tricodex Still Pix

I also have included some TRICODEX pictures from the Kennedy Center's Website:

Codex, Decodex & Tricodex Videos

YouTube has a number of clips of various productions of the Codex dance trilogy listed under "Philippe Decoufle."

Here's a Codex1 clip from YouTube:

Here's a Codex2 clip from YouTube:


Coded9 clip is pretty wild:

Here's a Tricodex clip from YouTube:

And here's a clip from iPEXTV:
TRICODEX Live Performance


Anyway, here is some more information on the book and its author, Luigi Serafini.

This web site is dedicated to giving information (what little there is) on the weirdest book in the world, the CODEX SERAPHINIANUS.

CODEX SERAPHINIANUS: Visionary or Hallucinatory Encyclopedia?
Good site...it has lots of pictures that can be enlarged or saved to your computer.

Related Links:
The Unofficial Codex Seraphinianus Web Site
Codex Seraphinianus: A Librarian's Point of View (blog)
Codex Seraphinanus (Wikipedia)
Codex Seraphinianus: Visionary or Hallucinatory Encyclopedia? (Archimedes' Laboratory)
Images of Codex Seraphinianus
Codex Seraphinianus (Believer Magazine review)
Flickr Codex Photoset
Codex Seraphinanus Solved
Codex Decoded?

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Face Off

What's Behind the Mask?

"The face is the door to the soul. When the face is closed off, so too is the soul."

"Some masks come off, some don't."
- Okuyama, The Face of Another (Hiroshi Teshigahara, Japan, 1966)

Last night I watched Hiroshi Teshigahara's 1966 cult film The Face of Another (Tanin no Kao). I have been waiting for years for somebody to release this film on DVD, and the good folks at Criterion finally did, as part of a 3-film box set of Teshigahara films that also includes 1962's Pitfall (Otoshiana) and 1964's Woman in the Dunes (Suna no Onna). I had been obsessed with seeing this film ever since Planet Records at Westview Mall went out of business years ago and I picked up this cool looking CD of film scores by Toru Takemistu, the cover of which featured a still of a bandaged face, a la The Invisible Man, from The Face of Another:

The image was very DEVO, and it stuck with me for years. Imagine my surprise then when I saw it last night at Video Americain. The Face of Another was the third of four collaborations between director Hiroshi Teshigahara, writer Kobo Abe and composer Toru Takemitsu; the trio are best remembered for their collaboration on 1964's Woman in the Dunes.

Teshigahara, whose films reflect his fascination with architecture, also made a documentary about architect Antonio Gaudi. Nowhere is this interest in design more evident than in the doctor's office, which was created by Arata Isozaki, the architect responsible for designing LA's Museum of Contemorary Art and the Sports Hall for the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona. It's looks like a dreamscape created by a collaboration between surrealist Salvadore Dali and poetic realist Jean Cocteau circa Blood of the Poet. Notice the tiled walls of ears, for example:

Okuyama is all ears

I'm too lazy to describe the film or why it's an amazing visual feast containing every film technique of its day and how it's an obvious influence on future Japanese auterurs like Kiyoshi Kurosawa. That's why Criterion got film critic/programmer James Quandt to do commentary. Suffice it to say, it's mind-blowing and essential viewing.

For what it's worth, here's Criterion's capsule review, though it only scratches the surface of all the film has to offer:
A staggering work of existential science fiction, The Face of Another dissects identity with the sure hand of a surgeon. Okuyama (Yojimbo’s Tatsuya Nakadai), after being burned and disfigured in an industrial accident and estranged from his family and friends, agrees to his psychiatrist’s radical new experiment: a face transplant, created from the mold of a stranger. As Okuyama is thus further alienated from the strange world around him, he finds himself giving in to his darker temptations. With unforgettable imagery, Teshigahara’s film explores both the limits and freedom in acquiring a new persona, and questions the notion of individuality itself.

Yup, The Face of Another is an existential reflection on identity, right up there with the best of its celluloid brethen like Georges Franju's Eyes Without a Face (Les Yeux Sans Visage), Rouben Mamoulian's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, James Whale's Frankenstein and Ridley Scott's future noir update of the Frankenstein myth, Bladerunner, to name but a few.

Thanks to a new face mask, Okuyama is able to reinvent himself. But what he does with his new freedom is a wasted opportunity. He squanders his newfound freedom on seducing (in the guise of a total stranger) the wife who rejected him. Even with a new face, Okayama can't escape from himself and who he is, a petty, bitter salaryman. It reminded me of Sam Spade's story about Mr. Flitcraft in Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon. Walking by a construction site at lunch one day, Flitcraft narrowly missed being killed by a falling steel beam; given the opportunity to analyze this near-tragic incident and the vicisitudes of blind chance, "...he felt like somebody had taken the lid off life and let him look at the works." Flitcraft decides to abandon his job, his wife and his family and move from Tacoma to San Francisco, a free man. But instead of embracing his newfound freedom and choosing a new life in new city, he creates the exact same life, willingly putting on the shackles of conformity with a carbon copy wife, family, and job that hold him down every bit as much as the previous one. As Sam Spade observed, "He adjusted himself to beams falling, and then no more of them fell, and he adjusted himself to them not falling." In other words, the same old same old. Or, as Okuyama concludes, "It's always lonely being free,"

And though the disfigured Okuyama thinks his wife can't relate to his woes, it is her discussion of Japanese women historically using makeup as a mask to hide their shame that leads to a profound meditation on self-worth and the Oriental concept of respect (as in "giving face" to The Other).

Fittingly, the wife is taking a gemstone class. Gemstones have facets, presenting different surfaces or "faces" to the world based on their state of refinement - the mineral element equivalent of makeup - leading Okuyama to ponder "I wonder if we see the true face of a gem when it's polished, or in the rough."

Okuyama clearly doesn't see his wife's true face (was she the one seduced or seducing?), and hence misappraises her value.

Anyway, all this meditation on faces, masks and makeup got me thinking about films that are obsessed with faces or masks (real or imagined). Like this image from Jean Herman's Actua-Tilt (1960, France, 11 minutes, b&w), a rare film that Enoch Pratt Library owns a 16mm print of.

Still from ACTUA-TILT

This film combines cartoons and archival footage of war and natural disasters to present a fable of contemporary life. In a Paris bistro where no one feels or communicates, the faces of patrons are intercut with those of mannequins. When men press the triggers of pinball machines, "real" airplanes explode, battleships sink and cannons wreak destruction. Tres Francaise.

Another classic "mask" image was from William Castle's Mr. Sardonicus (1961):

How about Lauren Bacall keeping escaped convict Humphrey Bogart under wraps in Dark Passage?:

In "Fall Out," The Prisoner finds a masked No. 1:

Who wears a gorilla face beneath his mask:

"Put the Mask on now!"

Anyway, that's today's rumination. I started a short list of films that involved masks. I welcome your thoughts and comments.

Films involving masks, facelifts, disfigurements etc.:

Eyes Without a Face
V for Vendetta
Dark Passage
Phantom of the Opera
Hannibal Lector films Silence of the Lambs
Road Warrior's Ayatollah Rock and Rollah
Star Wars: Darth Vader, Storm Troopers and more
Batman and Robin
Masque of the Red Death
Jason and Friday the 13th
Ned Kelly
House of Wax
The Face Behind the Mask
Mr. Sardonicus
The Abominable Dr. Phibes
Murders in the Rue Morgue
Doctor X
Blood and Black Lace
Phantom of Paradise
The King of Masks (Chinese film)
Black Mask 1 and 2
The Mask (Jim Carey version)
The Mask (cool 1961 version)

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Spirit of the Beehive and Jan Vermeer

I was watching Victor Erice's 1973 masterpiece Spirit of the Beehive (El Espíritu de la Colmena) the other night and was once again struck by Luís Cuadrado's honey-colored cinematography that evokes the paintings of Dutch masters like Jan Vermeer. Or, as DVD Journal's Mark Bourne describes it, "his church-window lighting and magic-hour landscape portraits of the desolate, windy Castilian plain and the village's dun-colored homes create a world that's so dreamlike we can wonder if, to Erice, it's an entire country that's waking to whatever its imagination conjures up next."

Googling pictures from Beehive and paintings by Vermeer, I found the similarities astounding. See what you think.

Ana Torrent window gazing in Spirit of the Beehive

Vermeer's Geographer (1668)

It made me think of other directors who have made films whose every frame seems like it was taken off a freshly painted canvas, like Zhang Yimou's House of Flying Daggers or Wong Kar-Wai's 2046, whose colors and lighting call to mind the works of Edward Hopper.

I've Been Simpsonized!

The coolest feature of the official Simpsons Movie site is its "Create Your Simpsons Avatar" option, which enables you to see how you'd look as a yellow cartoon character. You can select from a bunch of custom faces, noses, eyes and body types or upload your photo and let the software do it for you. After I saw my friend Scott Wallace Brown's picture (below) I asked him how he did it.

Scott Wallace Brown

SWB referred me to his girlfriend Adele (shown below, in both hair-up-by-day and hair-down-by-night guises).

Adele du Jour et du Nuit

I asked Adele to Simpsonize me, and this is what she came up with. Though I look rather Twink-y, I like the cartoon me!

Tom Warner : Portrait of the Artist as a Young Twink