The Shadow (1994) – Random Viewings With Ben And Josh

For as long as we’ve known each other, my friend Josh and I have endlessly talked about movies. Please enjoy these continued discussions of our random viewings:

 

The Shadow (1994) – dir. Russell Mulcahy

JOSH: For our next Random Viewing, we turn from the metaphysical mysteries of The Quiet Earth to the evil that lurks in the hearts of men in Russell Mulcahy’s The Shadow.  Adapted from the popular and long running CBS radio series of old, this is the tale of Lamont Cranston, a suave man of leisure who moonlights as the mysterious crime fighter The Shadow, known for his black coat and red scarf, his piercing eyes, his cackling laugh, and blowing away the bad guys from time to time.

If our first two movies don’t have many obvious similarities, they are nevertheless tales of two selfish men given opportunities to redeem themselves.  The Shadow begins in exotic Tibet in the early 1930s, where Lamont Cranston (played by Alec Baldwin), suave man of leisure, has apparently let his dark side run absolutely wild.  You’ve heard about the Ugly American, but Lamont has really taken that ball and run with it, setting himself up as a local opium peddler and warlord going by the name of Yin-Ko. After killing the wrong man, Lamont is kidnapped and taken before an ancient mystic, who offers Lamont a choice – reform and put himself in the service of goodness and justice, or get butchered by a sentient flying dagger with a permanently bad attitude named Phurba.  Lamont, sensibly, chooses to reform, but it takes a good seven years of training before he’s sent back to his homeland, good ol’ New York, NY.

Among the skills Lamont learns during his discipleship are the ability to change his appearance, to hide in plain sight (to literally become a shadow), to control the minds of others.  Upon his return to New York he adopts the character The Shadow, dispensing justice and building an elaborate network of agents, both willing and otherwise, to feed him information, act as his emissaries, and generally advance the common good, as defined by reformed war lord and murderer Lamont Cranston.

Things are going…  fine, let’s say, until the sarcophagus of Genghis Khan arrives in New York.  This sarcophagus contains not the remains of the famous conqueror himself, but the very much alive body of his last living descendent, Shiwan Khan (John Lone, delightful throughout), who promptly sets in motion a plot to bend the world to his will.  This naturally puts him in the crosshairs of The Shadow, and while you might think this is good vs evil, it turns out that things are a little bit more shades of grey when pitting an aspiring despot against a reformed warlord and drug trafficker. Who knew!  Also along for the ride here is Peter Boyle as Cranston’s on-demand cabbie chauffeur; Ian McKellan, doing a really bad American accent, as a nuclear scientist who his integral to Khan’s plan; Tim Curry as McKellan’s treacherous assistant; Penelope Ann Miller as McKellan’s daughter, Margo, who happens to be a telepath who is immune to Lamont’s mind control; and Jonathan Winters as Cranston’s uncle, the chief of police.

Ok, so having dispensed with this boilerplate, let’s get down to brass tacks.  I know this was the first time seeing this movie for both of us. I have avoided it for 24 years for the very simple and stupid reason that it was a notorious flop at the time of its release, and I’d always heard it wasn’t very good (though who, in fact, I heard that from, I’ll probably never know – maybe it was The Shadow himself?).

Well, a flop it was, but on the second count I am happy to say that I was wrong.  The Shadow is not a bad movie, though it is a pretty silly movie, and maybe that silliness is what doomed it back in its day (though I think its release date, sandwiched in between The Lion King and True Lies, probably had a lot to do with it too).  I don’t know, but from where I’m sitting now, any movie that starts with Alec Baldwin in a bad wig, playing a playboy turned warlord, is starting off on the right foot.

There’s a lot of different directions we could take this conversation, but let me pause at this point to throw it over to you.  This was definitely a highly publicized movie at the time, and yet we both managed to avoid it for the better part of two and a half decades.  Now that you have, what do you think? Is Alec Baldwin’s performance, half Jack Donaghy deadpan, half Glengarry Glen Ross trash talking, an inspired meta-performance, evidence of serious malpractice from the casting department, or some perilous middle ground?  And is Phurba the sentient dagger the best character in the movie, or the best character of the 90s? The Shadow awaits your response.

 

BEN: I can definitely see why The Shadow bombed when it was initially released; what’s less clear is why it hasn’t become more of a cult classic since hitting video.

After the success of Tim Burton’s Batman in 1989, Hollywood (and the rest of America) went comic book crazy, but much like the comic book boom of the early 90s Hollywood couldn’t figure out what to do with that newfound enthusiasm for the medium for at least another decade. For some reason Hollywood looked at Batman (created 1939) and other popular movies at the time like the Indiana Jones trilogy and thought 90s kids must really love pulp heroes from the 30s and 40s (cue Ron Howard voice: “They didn’t”). After Batman we got Dick Tracy, The Shadow, The Rocketeer and The Phantom, all of which had varying degrees of success, but none of which made even a fraction of the impact at the box office that Batman did. Turns out, 90s kids just weren’t that into characters that probably weren’t even that familiar to a lot of their parents. Go figure.

So yeah, I can see why there weren’t a lot of radio serial fans/pulp paperback nerds lined up to see The Shadow on opening weekend. Despite having what looks like a fantastic cast today, I don’t think I was really that familiar with any of these actors back in 1994. And yet, I think this is one of those rare movies that just gets better with age. It subverts so many of the superhero movie clichés that we’re familiar with today just by pure virtue of the fact that they weren’t clichés back then. The Shadow (the movie and the character) can, and will, do whatever it wants, and that’s what makes it so fun to watch.

Take the prologue set in Mongolia that you mentioned above. Our first glimpse of Lamont Cranston is of an opium warlord with hair like a Ringu ghost and long black fingernails sharpened to a point who tells his goons to shoot through one of his most trusted advisers in order to kill a man who didn’t really pose much of a threat to any of them. This is the hero of the movie, folks! Lamont then gets kidnapped by the man who sees his potential to become the Shadow, but instead of some long, extended training montage à la Bruce Wayne and Ra’s al Ghul in Batman Begins, we suddenly jump 7 years into the future with only this fantastic title card to explain what just happened:

The price of redemption for Cranston was to take up man’s struggle against evil. The Tulku taught him to cloud men’s minds, to fog their vision through force of concentration, leaving visible the only thing he can never hide — his Shadow.

Thus armed, Cranston returned to his homeland, that most wretched lair of villainy we know as —

Cue cowboys in a salsa commercial: “NEW YORK CITY!?”

And thus the guy who probably would have been the villain in any other superhero movie is now a fully-formed hero terrorizing a bunch of mobsters on a NYC bridge, again, much like Batman. Nothing is ever entirely explained in The Shadow. Things just happen and you’re either expected to already know the source material or expected to just keep up, because this movie has no intention of slowing down for anything, which is where I think most of its charm comes from. If the movie gave you a second to think of how absurd everything was the film would fall apart under its own weight. Instead, much like its protagonist, the plot appears and disappears like a ninja assassin, taking you from one entertaining set piece to the next.

One of the things I hate most in comic book movies is the origin story movie. How many times do we have to see Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben die, or watch Bruce Wayne watch his parents get shot in Crime Alley? If we really want to know how these heroes became heroes there’s tons of source material already out there that you can get your hands on. I want to see my heroes do actual hero stuff and be the characters we all want them to be, which is one area where I think The Shadow definitely succeeds. We skip right over the boring origin story movie and pick right back up in the middle of his career.

And speaking of things only half-explained, Phurba the dagger, everybody! I have no idea why this thing is even in the movie, outside of the fact that it was the early 90s and you weren’t anybody if you didn’t have a completely CGI character in your movie. I’m sure back then, to audiences raised on the greatest era of cinematic practical effects, the CGI in this movie looked pretty terrible. Looking back through the goggles of nostalgia though, the CGI here isn’t half bad for early 90s work. Phurba actually looks fairly believable, at least as believable as any practical animatronic or puppet work would have looked. And while some of the morphing effects have a dated Pentium II 3D effect look to them, they look no worse than Alec Baldwin’s horrible nose prosthetic that seems like it was only included in the movie so that the studio would have an image that matched the Shadow’s hooked nose profile made so famous by pulp book and magazine covers. Every time the Shadow switches to his classic look he almost immediately switches back to looking like Alec Baldwin, and I guess the people making the movie should be commended on not actually doubling down on that trainwreck when they didn’t need to.

What did you think about the special effects in The Shadow, Josh? And — wait a minute — maybe we should talk about the actual plot of this movie? Or not. Only the Shadow knows what you’ll write about next!

 

JOSH:   I thought the effects work was pretty good for the era, which is to say that it’s endearingly bad, so proudly displayed as a groundbreaking technological feat and so primitive now.  This was just a year after Jurassic Park revolutionized digital effects, and let’s just say that Phurba and company do little to further push the envelope. And that’s fine! I think there’s a real charm to the films of this era, an unavoidable fakeness that ends of up working in their favor.  And the contrast between the relatively primitive (but no doubt pricey) digital effects and the absolutely deluxe physical production elements (the gorgeous sets and costumes, for example) is also very enjoyable, very typical of a time – an awkward straddling of one era that’s dying but not quite dead, and another that has just been born but isn’t quite breathing on its own yet.

That’s equally true of it’s approach to the superhero genre.  It definitely owes more to the Indiana Jones’ and Rocketeers of the world than the Supermans and Batmans, at least in terms of how it approaches the genre and the now obligatory first movie origin stuff.  I have to say, I think it’s a relief that screenwriter David Koepp and company realized that Lamont Cranston’s origin story would be the least interesting possible angle on this. Do we need to know how or why a New York society boy turned into a warlord in Tibet?  No, it’s much more entertaining to just know that he is, to lead with that image, and let that be your introduction to the character.

And it allows for a much more playful tone.  The Shadow layers in a lot of really fun humor by playing on the fact that Lamont Cranston is basically a nasty piece of shit, whose worst instincts have been channeled in a more positive direction on threat of death.  And it makes his interactions with Khan a lot of fun, because…. Well, you know the old cliché in these movies, where the villain goes, “We’re not so different, you and me?” That’s especially true here, where Khan studied under the same master as The Shadow, and employs many of the same tricks but with greater mastery.  It’s not hard to see Khan as the man Cranston might have wanted to become at one point (or maybe still does on some level?). But the movie doesn’t make this some dreary dirge on the duality of man or whatever. No, Koepp and Mulcahy use it to set up dialogue exchanges like this:

KHAN:  In three days, the entire world will hear my roar, and willingly fall subject to the lost empire of Shan Khan. That is a lovely tie, by the way. May I ask where you acquired it?

CRANSTON:   Brooks Brothers.

KHAN:   Is that mid-town?

CRANSTON:  45th and Madison. You are a barbarian.

KHAN: Thank you. We both are.”

Annnnnnnd….  Scene! That exchange honestly had me giggling, but it’s far from the only one.  The Shadow has a real irreverence that feels both slyly self-satirizing and sincerely appreciative.

And while I don’t know that we should really go into the plot much more than we have – it’s just the old saw about a villain who wants to conquer the world and a hero who has to stop him – we should definitely talk about John Lone as Khan, because he is a big part of why exchanges like the above work so well.  It’s a delightfully self-aware performance, just as much as Baldwin’s, and I really enjoyed how they both managed to convey the seriousness and the absurdity of their characters without winking or going full camp with it. They’re genuinely thoughtful performances perfectly in harmony with the movie around them, and while that’s not as much of a surprise from Baldwin, who has been doing that for a while, Lone was a real discovery for me, even though I’ve seen him in other things.  This movie made me want to see more.

But on that story front, do you have anything you want to address directly?  This movie struck me as the perfect embodiment of the old Roger Ebert line, “It’s not what a movie is about, it’s about how it is about it.”  I think we’ve covered the how of it pretty well, but then again, the what of it does still matter.

Oh, and before I throw it back to you entirely, we should probably just tip our caps to the director, Russell Mulcahy, who does a very able job juggling material that is a bit more complicated than it first appears.  I think the conventional wisdom, at the time and maybe now, is that he didn’t actually do a very good job, but if that’s the conventional wisdom it’s hogwash. Mulcahy is most famous for the two Highlander movies, the second of which he tried (and failed) to have his name removed from.  I don’t like either of those movies, and I haven’t seen anything else he did, but you could have worse claims to fame than directing this film.

All right, back to you to reveal once and for all…  Jerry Springer voice: What evil lurks in the hearts of men…?

 

BEN: In retrospect, it was probably pretty dumb of me to bring up the plot of The Shadow, as it’s easily the least interesting part of this movie. It took me a while to remember what Khan’s evil master plan even was. This descendant of Genghis Khan (whom no one has ever heard of) is threatening NYC with an atomic bomb (something that wouldn’t be invented in real life for another decade or so, and something no one in this movie would have even heard of before) from an abandoned hotel (that no one can see) for (cue Dr. Evil:) one BILLION dollars! Khan’s goal is to finish what Genghis started and take over the world, but it’s not entirely clear if he plans on using the one billion dollars to do so, a ludicrously high amount of money to ask for during the Great Depression, or if he always planned on destroying NYC with the bomb, which seems very probable, since he leaves the bomb on a timer as he makes his exit from the city via plane. The whole thing doesn’t really hold up to a close examination, which is actually what makes this movie kinda great. The whole thing is pure comic book insanity.

I mean, this is a movie where a Mongol warrior in full battle armor regalia is trying to super subtly tail Lamont on a busy New York City street. In what universe would he expect to NOT be noticed by The Shadow looking like that? Thankfully, the answer is this universe. So instead of trying to further explain the plot of the Shadow, I thought I’d spend the remainder of my time firing off some of my favorite moments in the movie:

 

  • Every time Khan uses his hypnosis powers, his eyes get super big like an anime character’s or a kewpie doll. It’s super adorable.
  • Lamont’s standing order at the club is two martinis. I don’t know why, I just thought that it was hilarious that the waitstaff already knows that he likes to double fist it as soon as he sits down.
  • Not once, but twice in the film one of the bad guys twirls around the room firing off a tommy gun in a desperate attempt to hit the hidden Shadow. Turns out, the spray and pray strategy is not super effective.
  • Peter Boyle’s taxi cab is probably the coolest looking NYC cab in cinema history, and Boyle’s performance as the cabbie who drives like a crazy person but remains perfectly calm the entire time behind the wheel is perfect.
  • Ian McKellan plays a pretty boring absent-minded professor type here, and yet I love the fact that one of his recurring jokes is that he can’t tell the difference between red and green and it’s never really explained why that is, ie he’s colorblind, or something like that. Therefore, since it’s never explained, the logical inference is that he’s just so absent-minded that he never bothered to learn what colors were which. Wait, what?!
  • Bullets from the Shadow’s guns can knock a man clear across the room. At one point Khan and the Shadow shoot each other’s bullets out of the sky (because of course they do) and somehow the force of that one in a billion shot doesn’t cause its own mini-nuclear implosion.
  • The movie has some great one-off lines. Personal favorites include, “Psychically I’m very well-endowed”, and “It’s all falling into place for me now…”, something Lamont says in the foreground as a sailor throws himself off of the Empire State building in the distant background.
  • But perhaps the best line delivery in the entire movie happens after Margo spends the night at the Shadow’s home and tells him the next morning about an erotic dream she had about lying naked on a South Pacific beach. She’s obviously flirting, but when asked what he dreamed of, Lamont answers, in perfect Alec Baldwin deadpan, “I dreamed I ripped all the skin off of my face and was someone else underneath.” The joke doesn’t just land because of Penelope Ann Miller’s perfect stunned reaction shot, but also because the audience knows that that’s literally what he just dreamed about. The startling dream sequence where Lamont rips his face off is probably the best special effect shot in the entire film.

 

But you’re right that all the best moments in the film come from any of the scenes where Khan and the Shadow face off against one another. Their tête-à-têtes are so gentlemanly and civil, like something out of a James Bond movie. Josh, you already quoted the fantastic scene where Khan asks Lamont where he got his Brooks Brothers tie, and I just wanted to add to that by pointing out that the next time the two of them meet Khan is wearing a tie that’s obviously also from Brooks Brothers, and in between the two of them making verbal jabs at each other Lamont still manages to take a moment to compliment Khan on his tie. It’s just one of many little nods that the filmmakers are in on the joke and having a blast with it, which becomes immediately obvious to anyone watching the film. The Shadow is just a damn fun movie. Are you going to like this movie? Only the Shadow knows…but yeah, if you’re up for a good time you will enjoy this movie.

 

——

 

That’s all for this week’s discussion of The Shadow. Tune in next time as Josh and I discuss Cargo (2017) – dir. Ben Howling, Yolanda Ramke, aka that zombie movie on Netflix starring Martin Freeman that you probably added to your queue a while back but will most likely never watch because you can never figure out if any of these movies are suppose to be any good, so instead you just end up rewatching The Office again for the hundredth time (bonus points if it’s the British version of The Office, starring, you guessed it, Martin Freeman!)

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The Quiet Earth (1985) – Random Viewings With Ben And Josh

For as long as we’ve known each other, my friend Josh and I have talked about movies. Like, a lot. We’ve probably written thousands of pages back and forth about all the crap we’ve seen over the years, no exaggeration. I know C’est Non Un Blog has been quiet for a while, so to get things back up and running again I thought, “Why not just turn those conversations into a regular column?” The idea is that each week we’ll pick out a new movie, watch it, and break down what it is we did or didn’t like about it. The format is still an experiment in progress at this point, but we hope to turn this into a recurring discussion that you all can check out, so we hope you enjoy it. And if you’ve seen the movie as well, we’d love to hear your opinion on it. With that said, let’s talk about some movies!

 

The Quiet Earth (1985) – dir. Geoff Murphy

 

BEN: Today we begin our discussion of film with Geoff Murphy’s New Zealand sci-fi classic, The Quiet Earth, a film about a man who thinks he’s the last man on earth after a science project he’d been working on to create a sort of global wifi network for electricity goes haywire and makes every person on earth disappear…or does it? One of the more delightful aspects of this film, of which there are many, is that while it has a rather straightforward narrative it’s very withholding when it comes to answers. Did everyone disappear, or did he transport himself to another parallel universe? Is he dead or has he cheated death? Can we trust what is happening to be real, or is everything just happening in his mind?

The Quiet Earth achieves this subtle mystery through its deliberate choice of imagery, and there’s two examples that happen right at the very start of the film that I’d like to talk about. The very first image we see is of the sun rising over the horizon, but I think we’ll wait a little longer to dissect that one, since it directly mirrors the final shot of the film. Instead I’d like to talk about the next shot, which is our main character Zac Hobson (played by Bruno Lawrence) lying naked on his bed. This is the first of what will turn out to be a surprisingly large number of shots of Bruno Lawrence’s junk, but that shock of male nudity made me focus on one area of filmmaking I admit I largely ignore, which is costume choice. Zac wakes up naked as the day he was born, an intentional and deliberate image as he’s as of then unaware of what has happened to the world as he slept. He wanders the house innocently, but slightly disoriented, and only covers himself up when he starts to realize something is off and calls into work to check on things, only to have no one on the other end pick up the phone.

From that point on there seems to be a very strong correlation between what characters are thinking internally and what they are wearing on the outside. Zac puts on his suit and tie and starts to go about his regular morning routine, only to slowly discover that he can’t find another living soul anywhere in town. Once he finally accepts that he’s the only person on earth he goes on a shopping spree, Dawn of the Dead style, wearing fancy tuxedos and moving into a mansion where he imagines he’s a sort of James Bond. But it’s there at the mansion that he sees a woman’s slip and the cold reality that he’s never going to see another woman again hits him hard. He tries on the slip (hey, don’t judge, you would too) and suddenly he’s having a complete psychotic break, realizes that he might be responsible for killing every living creature on earth, and announces that he’s king of the quiet earth to a cardboard cutout of Adolf Hitler. He leaves the house, still in the slip, and starts engaging in all sorts of destructive behavior until he attempts suicide, only to change his mind and save himself at the last second. The next time we see him he’s all cleaned up and wearing a rather pastoral outfit, as if he had just been out herding some sheep, which transitions us into the next section of the film where it turns out (SPOILER ALERT) that–much like Will Forte on The Last Man on Earth–he’s not actually the last man on earth.

I don’t want to spoil too much of the rest of the film just yet, but to finish my thought, that focus on costume choice continues on through the two other characters we are introduced to, potential love interest Joanne (played by Alison Routledge) and potential rival Api (played by Pete Smith). When we’re introduced to Joanne she’s wearing very conventional clothing just like Zac is at this point in the movie, but later she starts to ditch the conventional wardrobe choices in favor of more wild and exotic outfits, which also just happens to coincide with the introduction of Api, a Māori man who makes a rather bold entrance in a sort of leather military-inspired outfit, Eddie Murphy Raw-style. Interestingly enough, I don’t really remember Api changing his outfit in the movie, outside of his and Joanne’s final scene together where they’re both naked, symbolizing their return to innocence. There’s something wild and dangerous about his outfit that threatens Zac, but is also sexy enough to attract Joanne away from Zac.

But what did you think Josh? Were you as hyper-aware of the characters’ costume choices as I was?

 

JOSH:  Nope! Though it was hard to miss Zac spending the first few minutes of the film in his birthday suit.  The costumes definitely do tell the tale of that opening act – first he’s naked, then wearing a suit, and finally slumped on the street in a tattered slip with a shotgun stuffed in his mouth. Now that is a journey.

The relative innocence of that first image of Zac belies the fact that he actually knows a lot more about what has happened than we do when we first encounter him.  Not to mention the circumstances of how he came to be lying on that bed naked. It’s a deceptive image, or rather, one with multiple layers that only become clear over time.  I liked that, and it’s a strategy Murphy returns to a lot. You mentioned that he’s both straightforward and withholding – very true, and he gets a lot of mileage out of playing with that balance.

The contrast between Zac and Api’s initial appearances is also striking.  If Zac is framed as a (not so innocent) babe born into this new world, Api is the opposite, a man who has not let go of the old world.  We first meet him covered head to toe, with his face completely hidden. Once he takes off the mask, his caution makes total sense. As a Māori man who has probably faced a ton of racist bullshit in his life, he would be on his guard in this new, barren world – after all, suppose the only other survivors turn out to be neo-Nazis (and wouldn’t that be a hell of a story?).  It’s only Joanne’s presence that seems to truly allow him to let his guard down.

I’m split on the actual love triangle, because on one level it made the movie much less interesting to me.  Joanne’s arrival signals the start of a much more normal story arc, and then Api cements that by filling the expected role of romantic rival/antagonist.  What redeems it partially for me is just how spacy and weird the movie treats aspects of that relationship. There’s a point later on where Zac mentions to Joanne that he sometimes feels as if she knew Api before the Effect, as he calls the phenomenon that disappeared all life on the planet.

I don’t think the film ever really suggests that they did know each other, right?  But they certainly do give off that vibe.  From the moment they spot each other, there’s some serious looks between them.  Murphy accentuates their first meeting by having Joanne step away from Zac, staring at Api, who pauses, staring at her, before the three of them slowly move into a warm, loving embrace (just as Joanne and Zac did in their first meeting).  But that three-way happiness doesn’t last. I remember thinking when Joanne first showed up that she and Zac were going to be the Adam and Eve of the Quiet Earth, and I was worried when Api showed up that he was going to be positioned as the snake who tempts them into ruin.  And there is a little of that – he definitely has an ax to grind with Zac. Hell, he even runs him off the road and seems more or less ready to kill him through most of the film’s final act. But it’s Joanne and Api who end up in the Adam and Eve position, the last survivors on Earth, while Zac sacrifices himself to stop the Effect from happening again, preserving the Earth for them while inadvertently sending himself to… a new planet?  A new dimension? Hell, heaven or purgatory?

In retrospect, I wondered if the distance Zac felt between him and Joanne, the closeness he felt (or imagined) with Api and her was both real and a manifestation of his own growing detachment from her and the world.  Going back to that opening image, Zac is, we come to realize, on a hell of a journey through this movie – complicit to a degree in the Effect that wiped out all life on the planet, guilt-ridden, but given a chance to atone for his error. And atone he will.  He starts observing the abnormalities in the sun right around when Joanne shows up, so as their relationship blossoms, so too does his realization that the Effect might recur, and his determination to do something to stop it. And he chooses to leave them behind, with each other, but we’re not really privy to when he starts to make those decisions.

So what did you make of the love triangle and where it ends up?

 

BEN: Perhaps the best unsolved mystery in The Quiet Earth is who are these characters and why, exactly, are they, and only they, the last people on earth? Is this story really just about some science experiment gone wrong, or is there some greater meaning at work here? Is some invisible hand (God? Aliens?) pushing them towards their final destination? My personal favorite theory is that Joanne and Api might not even be there at all, at least not in the traditional sense, but instead were put there (by someone? Something?) in order to push Zac’s story forward.

I want to make one minor clarification to something you said earlier, Josh. Joanne’s first meeting with Zac doesn’t begin with a warm embrace like when she meets Api. Interestingly, both she and Api first appear by getting the drop on Zac with a gun drawn on him. Joanne sneaks up on him at his house, while Api creates an elaborate trap with abandoned cars to bottleneck Zac into a killzone. I think we’re meant to see them both as threats, literally and metaphorically, to Zac and his journey, but also as necessary forces put there for the purpose of pushing his narrative forward.

Zac mentions to Joanne at one point that he thought he was perfectly suited to a life lived alone, absent of any other human companionship, and that surviving the event was some sort of karmic justice for killing everyone else on Earth. But then Joanne just happens to show up when he starts to have doubts over his ability to be alone, and almost immediately the two of them settle into domestic bliss as if to show Zac exactly what it is that he would be missing out on living the rest of his life alone. But the married life isn’t for Zac.

As you mentioned earlier, Joanne’s arrival also seems to correspond with Zac first noticing that something was wrong with the sun. Api’s arrival happens right after Zac does some tests and discovers that something definitely is wrong with this Earth, and that the Event seems to be making a comeback. It feels like Zac is meant to discover the truth of the Event, while Joanne and Api are there to create conflict to make sure Zac stays on track to make that discovery. Does he try to prevent the second Event if the two of them aren’t around? I think probably not.

That’s just a theory though. Assuming Joanne and Api aren’t just figments of Zac’s imagination, why are they there? You made a point earlier of wondering if Joanne and Api actually knew each other before the movie starts. When Api divulges his backstory it actually helps us as the audience fill in one of the main mysteries of the film, which is, how exactly did the survivors get here and not end up like everyone else? We discover that all three characters presumably died just as the Event occurred, which somehow allowed them to survive the Event instead of disappearing like everyone else on Earth. Zac killed himself for being part of the project that created the Event. Joanne’s hair dryer shorted out and electrocuted her. But it’s Api who gives us the most details about his death.

According to Api, his best friend drowned him because Api fell in love with his mate’s wife. The wife killed herself out of shame, and Api’s mate blamed Api for her death, and in turn drowned Api because of it. Maybe Api’s story is just meant as a narrative device to frame the love triangle between the three survivors, or maybe, and this is a stretch, Joanne was Api’s mate’s wife. Of the three, Joanne gives us the least details about her death. All we see is a hair dryer shorting out, and then she’s on the Quiet Earth. What if the brevity of her story marks it as unreliable, and what if she dropped that hair dryer into the tub or something like that, perhaps because she fell in love with her husband’s best mate? That very brief shot of her dying is pretty much the only detail we get of her life before the Event, so maybe Quiet Earth could be a do-over for them. And if so, maybe Zac wasn’t meant to kill himself before the Event happened. Maybe this is also his do-over to push him towards the stunning conclusion of this film.

Speaking of which, let’s return to that first shot of the film, of the sun slowly rising over the ocean. The shot goes on and on for what feels like quite a while. Heat from the sun’s rays distort the image, making the ocean’s waves look fuzzy and unreal, almost like abstract art, our first real hint that something’s off with this Earth, and it’s something for us to remember when Zac later notices the sun is vibrating abnormally. The sun also appears to float on the horizon, looking a lot like that egg Zac pours into a glass of champagne towards the middle of the film (is that a thing, putting a raw egg in champagne? Is that some weird Kiwi hangover cure?). Maybe that egg in the champagne is another subtle hint of things to come, a symbol of his rebirth?

Ultimately Zac has to learn that fighting the feelings Api and Joanne have for each other is only going to lead to disaster. Right before the climax of the film Api drives a truck full of explosives full speed into a truck full of fuel in order to push it out of the way, a decision that seems reckless at best, and is one I spent watching through my fingers on the edge of my seat. His actions are meant to show off to Joanne just how much more masculine he is compared to Zac (and it does seem to work on her), but he risks killing them all over a dumb schoolyard rivalry. Zac then makes the selfless decision to let the two of them be together while he drives the truck full of explosives into the satellite array responsible for causing the Event.

And then…something weird happens. We see the same tunnel effect the characters described seeing the first time they died and went through the Event, and suddenly Zac is on another world. Similar to the rising sun in the first shot of the film, the final shot is of a ringed Saturn-like world rising above the horizon. Weird clouds pepper the horizon. Are they clouds though? They look like the aftermath of mushroom clouds. Could the clouds be emanating from the other research stations placed around the globe that caused the Event? Are we even on Earth anymore? Zac notices his tape recorder is still in his hand and lifts it up to his mouth, but then stops himself. Can he even put into words what he’s seeing right now? Is there anyone left in the world who would ever even get to hear the tape?

Well, Josh, what do you think the Event is? And have you ever heard of someone drinking raw egg with champagne before?

 

JOSH:  To answer your last question first, raw egg with champagne was not on my radar before this movie.  Here’s a fun fact, though: if you google “raw egg with champagne,” the sixth entry that comes up is…  an article about this very film! The third item on the listing assures that, yes, the pairing of egg with champagne is a thing, and apparently a well known one at that.

Going back to Api and Joanne, the film does give juuuuust enough information to make you want to make the leap to them having an actual history together.  I’m still resistant to that actually being the case, because… well, I think I just prefer to have the stranger answer be the right one in this case.

But that’s also fairly typical of a movie that encourages you to reach for the neat answer, but makes sure to preserve the messier, and maybe more likely, alternative.  Is there a force organizing the Event? Did some invisible hand intervene to make sure these three people “survived” by dying at the exact right moment? Is it all just blind chance that happens to have some massive personal significance to one of the survivors?

My own interpretation is that the initial Event, and Zac’s survival, is a matter of blind chance.  Zac’s response to the dangers of Project Flashlight is to kill himself. It doesn’t work, and his unlikely survival triggers a kind of metaphysical rebirth – back to that initial image of him on the bed.  He considers killing himself again later on, when confronted with the magnitude of his loneliness, guilt, etc. But he doesn’t, and the people he encounters push him further along that metaphysical road. His actions and experiences push him along a path from being essentially selfish to essentially selfless, willing to die again – not to absolve himself of personal responsibility, but to ensure that Api and Joanne will survive.

He undoubtedly dies again in the explosion at the lab, but because it’s at the same time as the Event Round 2, he also survives and is reborn yet again.  You asked what I think the Event is, and I have no idea what the literal explanation is, but within the story it is an engine that drives Zac toward a spiritual evolution.  The ending reminded me of 2001: A Space Odyssey and the accelerated evolutionary process that Kier Dullea undergoes, leading to his rebirth as the Star Baby. In that movie it is expressly the work of alien technology spurring on that evolutionary movement.

What I like about The Quiet Earth is that it suggests that evolutionary leap can also be self-directed, that even in the wake of a disastrous choice, we can, to quote (with maximum corniness) President Obama, become “the change we wish to see in the world.”

But the ending also reminded me of Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond, which (SPOILERS for the uninitiated) ends with its main characters stranded in an alien, threatening world/dimension/what have you.  And I guess the lesson, if we combine the two films is, “strive to change – but be careful what you wish for.”

——

 

Well, that’s it for this week’s discussion of The Quiet Earth. I think it’s safe to say both Josh and I really enjoyed it, and even though we spoiled a bunch of shit I think the movie is still great enough that it doesn’t really matter, so do yourself a favor and check it out! I watched it over on Shudder, which is a really fantastic streaming service for horror fans.

Next time Josh and I will be watching Alec Baldwin play the titular character in The Shadow (1994) – dir. Russell Mulcahy. Because, you know, 90s kids were all about 1930s pulp superheroes.

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Napoleon – OSTs Vol 1: The Yamabushi

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This year I got an unexpected surprise on my birthday when I woke up to see that Napoleon had just released a new EP in what looks to be a new ongoing series of imaginary soundtracks, similar to the epic run of monthly EPs he put out last year (which, if you haven’t checked those out yet, shame on you). Just having something new out in the world by Simon Mills is enough to sell me on the EP, but the idea of creating an original soundtrack for an imaginary project was more than enough to send me into music nerd heaven.

Simon Mills was kind enough to talk a little bit about his new project with me and of course the first thing I wanted to know was where he came up with the ideas for each of these proposed imaginary projects. “There’s a thread yes, a loose plot in each one, although that’s more just to help me piece the whole thing together. The themes tend to form after I’ve made a few tracks.” One of the future themes may be an homage to Tron, based on a scrapped idea for an EP he had last year, so keep an eye out for that one.

Video game and film soundtracks were what originally got me interested in music in the first place, and they were a huge influence for Simon growing up as well. “I would actually love to write a score properly for an existing piece, since I’ve had pieces in games and films before… I think a huge portion of my fave music is actually in soundtracks.”  The Yamabushi reminds me a lot of Miyazaki movies and PS1 JRPGs shot through Millsy’s unique electronic filter, basically checking off every box on everything it is that I love about music.

 

“Actually, the first song I did was ‘The Training Gardens’, which reminded me for some daft reason of an old computer game called International Karate – not entirely sure why, but alongside a couple of other sketches they felt part of the same universe. And from there I wrote more tracks and adapted them to have a similar palette and atmosphere. For me it’s almost like an early 80s obscure soundtrack, even though there’s house and disco elements in there. I guess it’s just how I perceive them!”

Early Japanese video game composers totally pulled their influences from Western sources as diverse as House music, Rock and Reggae, so I don’t know about you guys, but I’m totally on board with this interpretation. Of all the tracks “The Smell of Cut Grass” probably has the most old school video game soundtrack vibe to it, with synthesizer refrains that feel like they were ripped straight out from a classic Final Fantasy game.

 

But what’s the story of The Yamabushi actually about? “Well, it’s simply the clichéd tale of a warrior who has to infiltrate a fortress to save a princess.” I did a quick Google search for “Yamabushi” and found out that they’re Japanese mountain hermits with supernatural powers seeped in mysticism and I asked Simon, is that who the warrior is suppose to be? “Yeah, it’s derived from that. They apparently had a spiritual approach to life and fighting. The sleeve is an origami ball.”

I absolutely love this EP and I encourage anyone and everyone out there to come up with their own projects inspired by The Yamabushi, like this fan-made video for the final track on the EP, “Reborn (Ending Waltz)”. It’s probably one of my favorite tracks on the album. The song is so evocative that I bet if you asked someone what they were thinking of when they listened to this song that they could probably tell you what was suppose to happening in this imaginary story without knowing a thing about the project.  Simon had this to say about it: “The final track is kind of like the victory theme… which someone has made a video for, randomly… It’s not in line with the theme of the piece, but I love the references in it to vintage electronics, as that is me all over!”

 

 

Like Napoleon on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/NapoleonUK?fref=ts
Buy The Yamabushi on Bandcamp: https://napoleon-tunes.bandcamp.com/album/osts-vol-1-the-yamabushi

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The Deep Freeze Mixtape

Deep Freeze Cover 1Believe it or not, this mixtape was actually completed and 90% ready to post to the blog right around the first week of the year. I had the theme picked out, the cover photos, everything. At the time of its inception we were at the height of winter and the East Coast was getting dumped on mercilously with snow and freezing temperatures, so I figured why not a winter theme? Plus I had just found a treasure trove of freezing cold imagry, some of which you can enjoy here. The only problem? While the rest of the country was buried under snow Seattle was actually having an unseasonably warm winter and I just wasn’t feeling it. There I was, all the pieces in place, and I just couldn’t pull the trigger. My figurative inspiration was just as absent as my literal one.

So what happened? I waited for cold weather to show up that never came. As I got busy with my other interests posting to the ol’ blog fell further and further from my mind and before I knew it we’ve gone almost half a year without a single post. All because the temperature here wouldn’t drop below 50.

Deep Freeze Cover 2

Was I ever going to post anything again? Would this mixtape ever see the light of day? While the weather outside stayed pleasantly warm C’est Non Un Blog went into a deep freeze, giving me a backdoor into the theme I had so carefully picked out months earlier. So without much more further ado, it’s finally here to see the light of day, The Deep Freeze Mixtape.

You can download the Deep Freeze Mixtape here or here. (Or just click on any of the cover photos.)

Deep Freeze Cover 3

It’s now Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial start of summer, which might seem like an odd time to put out a winter-themed mixtape, but what better to think about as the temperatures start to rise than ice? Plus, you can always use more music during summertime, winter-themed or not.

A lot of the music included here does remind me of long nights and cold temperatures and a lot of the music–especially towards the first half of the playlist–feels as appropriate for winter listening now as it did when I first put this together, but rest assured, the beats per minute do increase with plenty of dance-friendly summer tracks. There’s a lot of repeat artists in this mix (two ODESZA tracks back to back; the last quarter of the mix is basically a love letter to ♡kitty♡ and Napoleon) but the whole thing flows so well for me that I just had to let it happen. Oh man, the flow. Try and listen to the tracks in order. Some really fantastic things happened as I put some of these tracks together. I really do love this mix, reflected by the fact that I’ve listened to it at least 20 times already, which only begs the question of why I waited so long to share it. Well, the wait is finally over.

Thanks for sticking with me folks. Hopefully there will be a lot more new content to follow. And as always, download the mixtape. Listen to it. Enjoy it. Let me know what you think. And I’ll see you again next time.

Deep Freeze Cover 4

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C’est Non Un Blog’s Top 15 Music Videos of 2014 (Part 5)

Another year down. Another Best Of list finished. Before we get started on our Final 3 I just want to take a second to thank you all for reading, especially after such a lean year as this one. Your continued support makes it worth putting up with spending all of this time writing up new posts and I’m making it my New Year’s Resolution to keep you guys better stocked with new posts like this one. With that said, let’s stop wasting time and get back to the countdown because this last post is a big one:

3. Wunder Wunder – Hail The Madman

Hail The madmanBeach Blanket Bingo meets War of the Worlds sums up this video for “Hail The Madman” pretty nicely. Mucho kudos goes out to everyone who worked on this because the production design on this video is perfect. You’ve got to love how quickly this video goes from cute and quaint to the comically absurd. I’m not sure what’s madder, the guy back-flipping away from danger, the fact that we never know what came out of the purple smoke, or me for caring this much about a single music video. And you know what’s really tragic? How few times this video has actually been viewed on YouTube. Come on, let’s help ’em out, guys!

 

2. iamamiwhoami – Blue

Fountain4You may be saying to yourself right now, “Isn’t Blue the name of that new album that iamamiwhoami just put out this year, and not a single video? I mean there’s 10 songs in one post! Making a tie out of two Haim songs is one thing, but this is getting ridiculous!” Calm down, dear reader. It’s OK because I already set this precedent before by naming iamamiwhoami’s kin my number one video of 2012 and I don’t think the amazing Blue should be treated any differently.

Not to be confused with “blue blue” one of the (best) songs that is included on this album, Blue is here in its entirety because the ten videos that comprise the album also make up one continuous video carrying over common themes from one video to the next (and even ones from the last series of videos that was kin). Jonna Lee and her longtime music producer Claes Björklund make their music with these videos specifically in mind. Just about every song that they’ve produced so far has also produced its own music video, and I spent way more money that I probably should have picking up a limited edition physical copy of Blue to support them because all that money goes right back into making these huge, amazing art pieces. There has yet to be a single video that they’ve done that I haven’t thoroughly enjoyed.

So wait, if we’re going to go so far as to include all ten videos for one spot on the list, why isn’t this my number one video like kin was in 2012? Well, as much as I love these videos they didn’t quite have the unique wow factor for me that kin had. Yeah, they are wonderful, but ultimately I think the real strength of Blue lies more as an album, and I’d even go so far as to call Blue one of the best albums of 2014 and as a whole it’s the best thing iamamiwhoami has produced thus far. It all just works so well together, easily being the most cohesive and enjoyable piece of work that they’ve done from start to finish.

Usually this would be the part where I make educated guesses as to what each video in the series is about, but I’m not going to do that today. I’ve got my own ideas and maybe I’ll get around telling them to you in 2015, but for now I’ll just let you make up your own opinions.

If you’re only going to listen to one song from this playlist, you should probably check out the first song “fountain”, which more than adequately sets the tone and lays out all of the motifs that you’ll be enjoying for the rest of the videos, or check out “chasing kites”, probably my very favorite song on an album that’s jam packed filled with great songs.

Goddammit, you know what? Don’t check out just one. Fuck that. Do what I did and stream YouTube through your TV, crank up your sound system and watch all 10 of these as one big long  music video just like god intended it.

 

1. Napoleon – Step Off

NapoleonYou’d think I would be pretty stupid to put a fanvid using the dance sequence from Napoleon Dynamite as my number one all-time bestest video of 2014, especially considering I’ve seen so many other videos that have done the exact same thing, but you’d be wrong. Romain Bezzina edited that now cliché footage in such a carefully considerate way that it feels like it was originally shot specifically for Napoleon’s “Step Off”, making even the original film version of this footage now pale in comparison. Every cut, every shot, every movement of Napoleon Dynamite seems tailor fit to Napoleon’s easy groove.

What I find amazing is that when I first watched this video I couldn’t even remember the original song from EP 6: A Night Voyage, despite having listened to it probably 3, 4 times prior to watching the video, and now I can’t listen to the song without seeing this video shot for shot in my mind. That really speaks to the power of a music video done right, where it can take a song that was, for me at least, lost in a sea of other good songs and raise it up to legendary status. “Step Off” is now and will forever be in my top 5 best Napoleon jams. That’s why I keep writing about music videos, because I really think they can make a lasting impact in our lives.

Napoleon has been a big part of my 2014. If you weren’t already aware Simon Mills, aka Napoleon, set out a goal for himself to release a new EP every month this year, and big congratulations go out from me to him, because the crazy bastard actually did it. If you haven’t yet downloaded all 12 of Napoleon’s EPs yet, you really should. Trust me, you need to click on that link. There are so many gems like “Step Off” to be found in there. He produced 49 tracks this year (not counting all the other outside work he did) and more than quite a few of them turned out to be instant classics, just like “Step Off”.

As you’re all probably sick of hearing me say by now, this year I also did an interview with Simon Mills, one of my all-time biggest musical heroes, which will probably go down as one of the best highlights not just of this year, but for me and the blog in general. I can’t thank Simon enough for taking the time to write back to me and answer a few of this music nerd’s burning questions. Turns out Romain Bezzina saw the post I did on “Step Off” through Simon and he got in contact with me this year to say thanks as well, which is doubly amazing. At this point you could be forgiven for thinking that I made “Step Off” my number one video as a lazy bit of cronyism pandering to those two, but I really do think that this is one of the best music videos that I’ve seen in a really, really long time. If you haven’t watched it yet you really should watch it right now, because I’m more than sure that you’re going to agree with me.

 

Time for me to call it quits. I’m more than a little bit tipsy at this point and I’m really hoping my writing hasn’t suffered because of it. See you in 2015!

[BTW, if you want to watch all of the videos included in C’est Non Un Blog’s Top 15 Music Videos of 2014 list in one go from start to finish (excluding “Step Off”, because it’s only available on Vimeo right now) check out the playlist I made below.]

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C’est Non Un Blog’s Top 15 Music Videos of 2014 (Part 4)

Things get a little weird on today’s countdown, but in a good way. (At least for me, anyways. The rest of you weirdos better get on board.)

6. Allie X – Bitch

BitchI’m always impressed by someone who can do a lot with basically no budget. Using a VHS camera and other cheap optical effects this video for Allie X’s “Bitch” gives a simple trip around a supermarket an apocalyptic, end of the world, Repo Man-esq quality that’s absolutely mesmerizing. Think about what this video would look like shot in HD. It would probably look ridiculous. And yet with the right filters and clever editing this is one of the most compellingly watchable videos of the year. And the song itself is far and away one of my very favorites from 2014. The moody atmosphere and epic anthem blasting chorus of “Boom Boom!” sends shivers up my spine every time.

 

5. Jack Ladder and the Dreamlanders – Come On Back This Way (feat. Sharon Van Etten)

Come On Back“Come On Back This Way” just happens to be the perfect companion piece to “Bitch” and I love it for a lot of the same reasons. From almost the instant this video first started I was hooked, much like our slide guitar playing friend above. The video is weird, which I realize is probably going to put some of you off, but you’ve really got to give it a chance because that weirdness is what makes it so special. It has this hypnotic, Twin Peaks quality that sucks you in and transports you someplace else. Make sure you listen to the lyrics too. The song tells a pretty crazy story that I’d love to see filmed in this style.

 

4. Joywave – Tongues (feat. KOPPS)

Tongues

Shock. Glee. Horror. Joy. Wonder. Absurdity. Awe. Surprise. Ingenious.

If you haven’t seen this video before words cannot adequately express what it is that you’re about to get yourself into with “Tongues”. I will warn you before you start watching that there is quite a bit of (tasteful, non-gratuitous) nudity in this, so it’s probably best to not watch this at work or around the easily offended, but aside from that I’m not going to spoil things by saying any more. It’s too good to ruin the surprise. Trust me, it’s worth it. I only just watched this video for the first time a couple days ago and in that short amount of time it already shot its way to my fourth favorite video from 2014.

Enjoy the ride, and I’ll see you again tomorrow for our final 3 videos of 2014.

 

 

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C’est Non Un Blog’s Top 15 Music Videos of 2014 (Part 3)

This is the one where you start to question whether or not I know how to count to 15.

9. DyE – She’s Bad (feat. Egyptian Lover)

She's Bad2Visually “She’s Bad” is probably the most creative video on this list. Not for the faint of heart, this very NSFW video superimposes wildlife footage over the more urbane mating ritual that is two people going out on a date. It starts off innocently enough, but the title of this song should give you some indication of what to expect from the twist ending. If you’re squeamish you might want to turn away from the screen at the end and practice your popping and locking instead. 80’s legend Egyptian Lover gives this song some well deserved electro funk street cred that’ll get you up and dancing in no time.

 

8. Kindness – Who Do You Love (feat. Robyn)

Who Do You Love Who Do You Love2

The thing that I love most about Kindness is how their music and lyrics have such a pure and raw emotional quality to them. It takes real honest-to-god talent to tell a story beautifully and eloquently with such simplicity and economy of language and purpose, much like what you hear in “Who Do You Love”. Each note, each pause, each instrument seems essential and mandatory, like nothing else could have done the job any better, and Robyn’s always amazing voice more than rises to the task Kindness had at hand for her.

The video is also very spartan. No one is this video is a paid actor–everyone is either a friend or relation to Robyn or Adam Bainbridge of Kindness–and as the story goes they were sat in front of a camera, talked to, and just asked to respond honestly and appropriately. The video is just a sequential series of human faces, but as simple and no-frills as this video is it’s really hard not to have an emotional reaction while watching it, it’s so beautifully done. Each dart of the eyes or twitch of a facial muscle perfectly matches the story being told in the song. “A picture tells a thousand words…”

 

7. Haim – If I Could Change Your Mind / My Song 5 [tie]

Change Your MindMy Song 5I think I actually sat down and attempted to write a post for “If I Could Change Your Mind” at least two/three times this year. I mean, it got so bad that the screen grab from the video that you see above was actually pulled from a rough draft I’d started to put together months and months ago. It then seems only fitting that I should finally give this video its due in my year end list. I’m a sucker for a well-choreographed and cleverly staged dance video and “If I Could Change Your Mind” checks all of those boxes, from the clapping routine to the quick swapping of color pallet from black and white to deep maroon. It’s a lot of fun.

 

Of course “If I Could Change Your Mind” wasn’t the only great video Haim put out this year, and I was torn trying to pick between it and “My Song 5”. Featuring a guest verse from A$AP Ferg and guest appearances in the video from SNL’s Vanessa Bayer, Kesha and Grimes (!), “My Song 5” features the sisters as guests on a crazy lost 90’s daytime talk show. While “If I Could Change Your Mind” feels like it could have been ripped right out of the 70’s with its funky guitar riffs and playful handclaps, “My Song 5” is decidedly modern with its jerky, subwoofer destroying beat. I also really love that harmonizing part that starts around 2:17. It’s killer. That’s the moment where you know this song is capital Bad. Ass.

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