Tag Archives: Dune

The Elephant Man

The Elephant Man posterAs I write this I seem to have begun a little David Lynch season for myself so there will no doubt be a few direct comparisons here to Lynch’s first film, Eraserhead, as I take a look at his second, a film that on paper couldn’t be much more different, the real life story of Joseph (here John) Merrick, aka The Elephant Man.

From the opening it felt a bit like we might be heading back into Eraserhead territory as we are greeted, following the titles, by a nightmarish monochrome montage with Merrick’s mother, an elephant and a noisy discordant soundtrack.

After this though it settles down, for the most part, into a more conventional period drama type piece charting Merrick’s (John Hurt) life from being seen in a ‘freak show’ by Dr Frederick Treves (Anthony Hopkins) to being taken into the London Hospital and what happens from there.

Of course the rightly most discussed aspect of The Elephant Man is John Hurt’s performance as Merrick. Almost completely subsumed in prosthetics that are, for the most part, entirely convincing, Hurt’s portrayal is masterful, eliciting real emotion through his eyes, movements and slurred voice in truly effecting manner.

In many ways it is this performance that anchors the connection to Lynch’s other early features as Hurt’s Merrick is, like Henry in Eraserhead, something of a wide-eyed innocent being bombarded by the world around him.

The Elephant Man - Hopkins and Hurt

John Hurt and Anthony Hopkins

Added to this his growth as a young man has slight links with Kyle MacLachlan’s performance as Paul Muad’Dib Atreides in Lynch’s adaptation of Dune.

The film is something of a double-header as Hurt is accompanied throughout the story by Hopkins as Treves and, while far more conventional a piece of acting, it is equally impressive as Hopkins is when he wants to be.

Stylistically Lynch makes some interesting choices throughout the film, as you might expect. The monochrome photography, ably executed by Freddie Francis, works excellently to add to the Victorian period feel and is clean and crisp in a way that shows real detail while allowing shadows to lurk where necessary and create an unsettling atmosphere, particularly in the first and third acts.

Added to this the tone of the film switches expertly throughout from moments of melodrama to serious cinema to almost Hammer Horror to nightmarish reminiscent of the industrial apocalypse of Eraserhead. Lynch manages these changes of aspect so they don’t clash but cause a great effect on the viewer in a way rarely seen in mainstream cinema.

The Elephant Man - David Lynch

David Lynch on set of The Elephant Man

Building to an entirely satisfying climax The Elephant Man concludes on a more sedate dream-like montage which I couldn’t help but notice bears a strong resemblance to the opening images of Lynch’s next film Dune, which set my mind spinning with ideas.

On top of all this it fires ideas in the mind of the viewer around the meaning of human dignity and human rights that, while they aren’t fully explored, are clearly intentional and, like much of Lynch’s work, give the film a life long after it has ended, certainly a hallmark of a great film in any situation.

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Jodorowsky’s Dune

Jodorowsky's Dune posterI have always been happy to admit that David Lynch’s (or Alan Smithee’s) Dune is something of a guilty pleasure of mine and that its source novel, Frank Herbert’s epic hard sci-fi myth, is one of my all time favourite books (in a non-guilty way). Between these two though lies another version of the story that long remained shrouded in mystery and had become something of a legend in itself among sci-fi and film fans the story of which is told in Frank Pavich’s documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune.

The film sets the scene by introducing director, and undeniable auteur, Alejandro Jodorowsky, explaining his career as a theatre director working in the avant-garde and then a film director famed for “the first cult film” El Topo and the grandly surreal The Holy Mountain.

Not only does this introduce us to ‘Jodo’s’ career but to the man himself. Interviewed here at the age of 84 he is more lively, animated and enthusiastic about his work than almost any other filmmaker I can think of and displays such a genuine passion it easily explains how he found funding and collaborators for his far from mainstream work.

Alejandro Jodorowsky

Alejandro Jodorowsky

It is his energy that carries the story of the film from his impulsive declaration of making Dune into a film to its sadly almost inevitable ‘death’ at the hands of understandably reluctant (and if the film is to be believed simply confused) Hollywood studios.

At only 90 minutes I couldn’t help but think there is potentially much deeper this movie could go, but it flies along at a pace set by Jodorowsky and embellished by interviews with his collaborators (in his words “spiritual warriors”) and partially animated sequences mixing photographs with the storyboard artwork of Moebius and the concept art of Chris Foss and HR Giger.

Those few names give an idea of quite how impressive Jodorowsky’s list of collaborators was and as the film goes on this list grows and grows to include Mick Jagger, Salvador Dali and Orson Welles as actors and Pink Floyd as musicians. Each of these comes with a story from the director about how they were brought into the project, along with those who fell by the wayside, including special effects legend Douglas Trumbull who was ‘not spiritual’ enough.

Chris Foss concept art

Chris Foss concept art

All of this could leave Jodorowsky coming across as something of a crackpot but his enthusiasm, combined with the slightly eccentric nature of the source material itself, somehow makes it seem perfectly suitable – even when he is talking about how he prepared his son for the role of Paul Muad’dib Atreides it makes a kind of sense.

While the main body of the film charts the pre-production of the movie that was never to be its epilogue puts things into a kind of current perspective. While the movie is clearly made with the view that Jodorowsky’s vision should have been completed and so is somewhat biased, the evidence it produces for just how influential this unmade work has been in compelling.

Of course a majority of the pre-production crew worked on Alien, most famously Dan O’Bannon and HR Giger, but there is clear evidence of visual ideas from Dune cropping up in The Terminator, Cannon Films’ Masters of the Universe (yes I was surprised by that one as well), Blade Runner, The Matrix and Prometheus, amongst others.

Moebius' storyboards

Moebius’ storyboards

As previously stated Jodorowsky’s Dune is clearly onside with the director but none-the-less tells its story in a fascinating and vibrant fashion that brings it to life in a way even the best making-ofs rarely do.

Not only that but, it leaves things on a vaguely positive note as Jodorowsky comments that with all the work they did, if someone wanted to make an animated version of his movie the ground work is already done, and I for one would love to see it – despite the fact it would clearly be one of the strangest things ever committed to celluloid.

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Whitechapel Murders – Dune Hexalogy EP

Whitchapel Murders - Dune EP coverEven before you get to the music the arrangements of instruments in Whitechapel Murders let you know that what is come is not conventional. Comprised of two bass guitars (played by Dave Spars and Kyle Lopes) and drums (Chris Day) the trio make music that, so far, has been largely inspired by mid 20th Century sci-fi, so, following on from their debut EP predominantly based on Orwell’s 1984, we get their long hinted at work drawing on Frank Herbert’s epic Dune series.

Starting with a wall of sound the music coalesces into God Emperor which draws on the sounds of David Lynch’s film version of the book to create a soundscape that uses noise to paint a picture of the vast empire and the sprawling history and genealogy on which Dune is based.

(l-r) Dave Spars, Chris Day and Kyle Lopes

(l-r) Dave Spars, Chris Day and Kyle Lopes

At this point I’ll point out I am a fan of both the books and, in a sense, the film, and I think that without knowledge of these things the themes may not coalesce in the same way – that said, from a musical point of view, I don’t think this knowledge is essential.

It is in this first track that we get the sound that has marked Whitechapel Murders since their formation as the two bass guitars take turns to create what could be described as ‘rhythm’ and ‘lead’ parts while their sounds swirl together and are joined by the off-kilter beat of the drums to create not just a soundscape but a ‘spacescape’ appropriate for the subject matter.

Whitechapel Muders - Chris and KyleAs the EP goes on the tracks draw on everything from stoner rock and doom to extreme metal and avant-garde rock, with Dave Spars’ vocals barking and crooning within the mix adding an extra layer to the sound that comes to the fore at times but at others joins the instrumental noises to add to the atmosphere.

Each track has a title taken from the books and deals with motifs and ideas relevant to them so, on Atreides, we are confronted with the existential angst of the series lead character, Paul Muad’dib, while on Harkonnen we get a sense of the industrial destruction of the antagonists and Children of Dune and Arrakis, Dune, Desert Planet paints a picture of the world the stories are set on and its Fremen inhabitants conflict with outsiders.

Whitechapel Murders - Dave SparsThis all comes together on the EP’s epic closer Messiah which sprawls and swirls across eight minutes of jarring sounds, music and samples to create a dense piece that, like every track here, can at once get heads nodding and brains ticking depending on how you want to listen.

If heavy and noisy isn’t your thing then its unlikely you’ll find much in this EP, however, if you like to push the boundaries of music into territories that are less often seen and explore a dense world of sound, then Whitechapel Murders’ Dune EP is certainly worth exploring.

You can download the EP via the band’s Bandcamp page.

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Dune (1984)

Dune posterThis introduction will probably make it clear just how much of a mess the 1984 film of Frank Herbert’s 1965 sci-fi novel Dune is, so here goes: for this review I am referring to the two and a quarter hour cut of the movie, which credits David Lynch as director, rather than the TV cut or extended cut credited to Alan Smithee.

That means, in theory, that this is the nearest to David Lynch’s original vision of the film that was ever released…

I have to admit that due to its part in my process of learning to love movies, I have something of a soft spot for Dune, but also, I am aware of its (many) flaws, so I will do my best to offer a fair review of the movie.

On its release the film was given something of a kicking by critics and audiences and I can entirely see why. From the opening monologue, which is clearly intended to set the scene, we are thrown into a universe at once as complex as that of Lord of the Rings in terms of cultures and A Song of Ice and Fire in terms of characters and noble families and, re-watching the film again, it really didn’t shed much light on the story we are dropped into.

Kyle MacLachlan as Paul Atreides

Kyle MacLachlan as Paul Atreides

From there it gets even more confusing as the plot seems to be at once rushed and very slow paced and often overlooks any element of emotion or sense to move it along so it can fit into its two and a bit hour frame.

As it moves on I don’t think it ever really overcomes this and, for anyone who doesn’t already know the story from the book, I can only imagine it becomes a baffling display of imagery – though I have to admit this is how I’ve felt watching other David Lynch films and could in many ways be a description of Eraserhead or Lost Highway with The Elephant Man arguably being his only mostly conventional work.

The barrage of imagery though is one place where the film does manage to claw back some worth. Produced by Dino Di Laurentiis it does retain something of the aesthetic of his previous endeavours into sci-fi, most notably Flash Gordon, but in a much darker and more luxuriant way.

Kenneth McMillan as Baron Vladimir Harkonnen

Kenneth McMillan as Baron Vladimir Harkonnen

With each House in the story represented very much in terms of their associated production design, Dune is very impressive to look at as the militaristic and structured Atreides are reflected by the animalistic and grotesque Harkonnen and the gilded and extremely wealthy Corrinos of the Emperor’s court are reflected by the dirty, dusty and (comparatively) primitive Fremen of Arrakis

It is this description of character through production design, along with the sound design that are the films two most successful elements.

Hall of FremenIt is clear why Dune was nominated for an Academy Award for its sound design from the very opening shot of a star field with a rumbling, penetrating single tone blasting from the speakers.

Across the film this remains, as there is a near constant soundscape, be it music, sound effects or just ambient noise, which leads us, much like the production design, to fill in some of the blanks left by the unfortunately constructed story.

dunefightIn the end Dune is a mess of a movie that doesn’t tell its story in a satisfactory way and leads to general confusion and even its director all but disowning it. Nonetheless it is an interesting thing to see as it lives in a world where Return Of The Jedi had just been released and demonstrates how an ambitious folly can be a remarkable thing, even if its not actually very good.

Apparently there’s a remake in the works and it will be interesting to see if it can wrangle Herbert’s complex epic onto the silver screen or if it will be yet another valiant, but ultimately futile attempt.

There was also an earlier attempt to make Dune into a movie by Alejandro Jodorowsky with productions design from H.R. Giger, Chris Foss, Moebius and Salavado Dali, there is some very interesting stuff about this, failed, version of the film on the duneinfo website as well as in the documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune.

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Rock of Ages 12 – Whitechapel Murders, Teaspoonriverneck and Beef

This review was written following the Rock of Ages 12 event at the Carlton Plaza in Guernsey on 21st October 2011 but was never published.

Three of the Channel Island’s top heavy bands stormed the Carlton Plaza in October 2011 as part of the 12th Rock of Ages event showcasing unsigned bands in the Channel Islands.

For the last three years Mark Guillou’s Rock of Ages nights have given new bands the chance to share the stage with some of Guernsey’s more established acts and play through a large-scale PA and on a big stage.

In recent months the nights have evolved to feature bands from Jersey and tonight’s show featured two of that island’s top heavy bands alongside local groove rockers Teaspoonriverneck, and ,while the crowd was disappointingly small, the sounds were huge.

First on stage were Jersey’s Whitechapel Murders.

Led by Dave Spars, well-known to rock fans on these shores as half of FalenizzaHorsepower, the Murders take part of the Horsepower sound and add another bass guitar and more space rock vibe to create a unique musical experience inspired by science fiction and images of a dystopian future.

Formed from two bass guitars, drums and Spars’ unique vocals the band create music that veers from groovy to rhythmically jerky and back again seamlessly – their opening salvo of three songs that merged together through walls of feedback set the scene and seemed to baffle and delight those new to this band in equal measure.

For me this is the perfect music to get lost in and the fact they reference books like Dune (on tracks Atriedes and Harkonen) and 1984 (Imagine A Boot Stamping On A Human Face Forever) is always going to help win me over.

Next up were Guernsey groove merchants Teaspoonriverneck.

While this band have been relatively quiet in recent months they haven’t missed a step. Playing mostly new songs tonight didn’t hamper the audience reaction which was immensely positive from the off as they launch through new numbers like Map of Reason and Bed on Fire.

As the set went on the Spoons were joined on stage by a guest vocalist which added a new element to some of their older songs and closing their set with an encore of guaranteed crowd pleaser Eaten By The Devil meant the small but highly enthusiastic crowd was left deeply satisfied but still calling for more.

Finally it was time for Jersey thrashers Beef.

The band mixed covers of the likes of Pantera and Slayer with original material reminiscent of the thrash sound of the aforementioned bands as well as the likes of Sepultura, but all with their own unique touch.

While the crowd had shrunk even more by this point in the night those still at the Carlton moshed and head-banged to Beef’s take on thrash metal which was delivered expertly with the band engaging with the audience and playing brilliantly until a glitch in the power system killed the front of house speakers.

It didn’t take long though for Mark and his crew to get things running again in time for Beef to round off their set with another rousing slab of metal.

This was a night unashamedly celebrating the heavy side of music in the Channel Islands and any fans of heavy music who weren’t there really missed out on three storming performances which really demonstrated the level of talent in rock music that our islands have to offer.

Check out photos of the event at TallPictures.

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