Archive for August, 2014

Let’s sideline Joss Whedon, simply because it’s impossible to move within fandom without either encountering something he’s currently working on, or bumping up against his legacy and influence on other writers. Instead, look to the cast of Dollhouse – Whedon’s underrated TV series of 2009 – and while you’ll find a healthy spread of genre work on the go, few of the stars have pushed out to the left-field with their script selections.

The excellent Enver Gjokaj landing a lead role in the new Agent Carter is a welcome recognition of his talents – let’s never forget his superlative lampooning of Topher Brink. But, read his character description in the new Marvel spin-off – “sweet and honorable… a true war hero” – and its hard to find a distinction from Dollhouse Victor.

Hats off then to Eliza Dushku who portrays Jennifer Silk in The Scribbler (see above); the psychoanalytic fulcrum in the unraveling of Katie Cassidy’s central character. It’s a reversal of roles for her – here playing someone more akin to Olivia Williams’ Adel DeWitt. However, within this you can still recognise an actress with ongoing interest in multiple-personalities, selective memory and sexuality.

The ‘keeping it real’ award, though, has to go to Fran Kranz – the aforementioned, and wonderful, Mr Brink. Not only did he prove an enduring co-star of Whedon’s ‘so meta it hurts’ Cabin in the Woods, he’s now appearing as Himmler in Jonathan Kesselman’s time-travelling ‘Jewsploitation’ sequel The Hebrew Hammer vs Hitler. Beautifully unhinged and outsider on every level.

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The Last Battle

Have you seen Luc Besson’s Lucy? Once again, it’s awoken my fear in the famed French director coming within a country mile of sci-fi. Free divers expressing their love for the ocean? All well and good. Assassins in weird relationships with precocious children? Fine. But sci-fi? Thus far the director’s efforts have been interestingly flawed, bad and bad.

The ‘interestingly flawed’ is Besson’s first foray into the genre with The Last Battle (1983) – an experimental take on post-apocalyptic Paris filmed entirely in black and white and devoid of dialogue. It’s a bleak examination of the violent relationships between the surviving few, but has a plot that’s barely strong enough to give structure to the surreal and occasionally gripping scenes.

The Fifth Element lands next in 1997 and, despite having another baggy plot, it’s a film that still seems to garner a lot of love from sci-fi fans – look at all of Besson’s output within the genre and this film scores higher than any other. Conical hats off, though, to Jean Paul Gautier, Digital Domain and Nick Dudman for creating such a striking vision of the future, but the film remains riddled with jarring humour, some truly terrible performances and a sub-pulp narrative.

Here we are then in 2014 with Scarlet Johanssen reprising her femme fatale, but one markedly different from that aired in the disturbing and voyeuristic Under the Skin (2014). The problem right from the off with Lucy is that – to borrow a term from video games – the heroine is over-powered. Regardless of the utter bollocks of her anti-gravitational antics as she’s ingesting the drug that makes her super human, she’s portrayed as a god and it’s pretty hard to have any empathy for someone who’s beyond humanity. Bradley Cooper fell foul of a similar disconnection in Limitless (2011) proving, once again, that the chemical enhancement of human intelligence seen in Flowers of Algenon (1959), Dune (1965) and Camp Concentration (1968) has yet to be bettered.

Can drugs makes us smarter? Well research has suggested for a while now that Omega 3 can enhance levels of concentration. Perhaps a prescription might be useful for Mr Besson when he decides to pen his next sci-fi opus.

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Imogen Heap

The realisation of futuristic and sci-fi soundscapes has no doubt benefited from the advent of machine music. But there is another, lesser considered, side to this relationship between technology and sound. Electronic pioneers effectively had to build instruments ad hoc depending on the kind of noises they desired. Sadly, as synthesizers rapidly began to do all the heavy lifting, this bespoke instrumentation quickly became side-lined by both musical and computer keyboards.

While there is a deep and interesting history to be traced from early electronic organs (like the Warbo Formant Orgel), the Theremin is probably the most recognisable device that attempted to generate music in a truly unique way. The unexpected by-product of a proximity senor design by Leon Theremin in 1920, the machine created an electromagnetic field that generated various tones when disturbed. As it required no keyboard-based input, it can be seen as a truly new instrument within the burgeoning genre or artificial music.

Tape loops, analogue synths, computers and samplers took centre stage throughout the remainder of the 20th Century, however UK electronic composer David Vorhaus did bring another odd addition to the studio. The Kaleidophone was a decidedly phallic trigger system that, as well as allowing the composer to interact with numerous synthesizers, also brought elements of instantaneous attack, volume and sustain to his performances.

Jean Michelle Jarre, with his over-stated laser harp, then took the idea of performed nuance to a completely different level when he first premiered the device in the early 1980s. And so to the more contemporary approach of engineer cum musician Imogen Heap, and her interactive body rig and gloves (pictured) which allows her to translate voice and gestures into a vibrant 3D instrumental space.

As for the future, perhaps Fry’s Holophonor will only ever be an animator’s pipe dream, and yet the enhancement of live performance over the mechanised act of simply hitting ‘play’ remains an intriguing and under-explored aspect of electronic music.

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