This is a series of short videos using common elements with varying themes.
The base audio for this series is derived from a number of sources. Notably, the notorious opening of Scorsese’s ‘Goodfellas.’ Ray Liotta’s character, a real-life snitch named Henry Hill remarks, “As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster.” Along with that speech, computer and mechanical sounds of the space ship Nostromo from the movie, ‘Alien.’
Together, these elements form the basic note around origin, development, progression and outcome.
Henry Hill is telling us the story of his own downfall, which catalyzes around the killing of a ‘made’ man, but originates with his pursuit of a life associated with the mafia.
In the universe of ‘Alien,‘ the deadly Xenomorph first traps and then uses as host the human who encounters it. According to the canon of that world the Xenomorph adapts its genome according to the being who has become its host and prey. Its development is the product of its parasitism, making use of the characteristics which have made its host successful in the environment the Xenomorph will be birthed into.
Through every short, the simple and consistent repetition of the four signifying letters of DNA are used to represent the notion we have the power to create the world, any world we might live in. Those letters represent potential. They represent history, and the future. Our DNA shapes a human world, our world, built over-top a vast set of unmanageable forces making it into a home for sentience.
What is real? What are we making? What motivates us? Who and what influences us? In the context of desire, identity, and longevity, these are vital questions.
Product is the first in the series.
Prominent are images derived from ‘Blade Runner:2049.’ Imagery here is from a pivotal scene. K, the main character of the film seeks to understand his origins. He scans a database of DNA in search of the identity of the miracle child, born of two replicants. As the film progresses, K struggles with his own limitations, his programming, and his willingness to play the role he is told he was made for. He is a servant of the status quo. His holographic romantic partner, Joi, remains close to her original programming. While they share characteristics which bring them together, namely their artificiality, K recognizes she is less sentient. She mainly behaves in the way he would like her to, highlighting her artificiality. This is conflicting. His use of her to satisfy his emotional needs reflects the way he is used by those who created him.
The next visuals are excerpted from a documentary, ‘Shooting the Mafia.‘ It’s the story of a female photographer who made her name fearlessly capturing images from the world of Italy’s mafia culture. The documentary explores the realities of life under the mafia — the greed, avarice, murder and poverty. The scene I use is from a series of clips from an old movie used in the documentary, a scene in which two lovers embrace, a symbolic move towards consummating their love.
The imagery of two lovers embracing is accompanied by audio from, ‘Requiem for a Dream.‘ “Be excited! Be-be excited!” is the chant of the audience in an infomercial featured on TV in the film. Tappy Tibbons is a character pitching a collection of tapes on how to be successful. His personal story is tuned to frame his sales pitch, which is hollow and with little merit. He’s repackaged positive thinking and dietary restriction as a plan for success. It’s a sales pitch for the 20th Century American Dream.
The infomercial is a potent symbol in the film. The characters in the film have been compromised by their pursuit of a dream. Their dreams are built on an unstable foundation and a broken system. Looking at the narrative from its outcome, each of these characters is destroyed by a relentless process of value extraction.
Looking for the origin, the point source of thought and feeling is, in the modern world, tremendously important. Not only in discerning what perspective is being served in any given narrative, but in the experience of narrative itself.
Part of my own adult life has been spent grappling with ideas around freedom of thought, agency, perception, influence and reality. Underlying each of those ideas are questions on the nature of human experience and the spectrum across which we travel while living in a world we’ve inherited. This experience is common throughout human history, but has begun to shift. We are now undermining our own understanding and perception of reality with the tools we’ve created, apparently without thought or concern for anything beyond the immediate-term. The complex systems that make first-world modern living possible are taken for granted. The disconnect between the ease and comfort we enjoy, the outcomes we expect and the paths by which those outcomes have reached us is deep.
Buried in this mess of personal anxiety is a question I’ve long had about the nature of romantic love. Where is the line between early-life programming, cultural imprints, and freedom of discovery? What power do we have over ourselves in our search for connection? What creates love? When someone imagines love, what shape, what form does it take? What is the source of any feeling or emotion? Are we ruled by moments from childhood? Our first love? Are we defined by the images we take from pop culture, advertising, and home life? In terms of influence on the present and future, where does culture begin? Our emotions are an interplay of chemical, biological, perceptual forces we have inconstant control over. Clearly, we cannot blindly follow our emotions, not in everything. Nor can we ignore them.
As an anchor for this series, those questions are as good as any.
Apex is second in the series.
The initial imagery is of dead bosses of the American Mafia. It’s of no importance which bosses, or when they were killed. They are representative of power, authority, and the sort of legitimacy operating according to a creed developed outside of state power. That kind of structure has its roots in a world based mainly on strength as power. It’s an old world view of human society and human potential. It’s the legitimacy of force.
A repeat of imagery from ‘Blade Runner:2049,’ but this time, with movement similar to a slot machine. The system is rigged, the house always wins. While there ought to be no limits to the aspirations of the human race, we are instead granted only those dreams which have been fitted into a set of possible outcomes benefiting a mainly unaccountable power.
The streaked, grey moving surface imagery is from a documentary series from HBO, ‘Witness.’ It’s a road, at night. Traveling either in Mexico or Brazil, each episode of the series focuses on the drug gangs, their effect on the people they live amongst, and the corruption of government institutions. The footage itself is reminiscent of DNA sequences as presented on transparencies, rushing past. This is an image that may not be accessible to everyone, but it’s used to imply, in context, the threat of homogeneity and de-personalization as a long-term result of misused technological systems of control.
The audio clip is from ‘Fight Club,’ a film in-line with large-scale questions of power, legitimacy, outcomes, identity, character, and time. The fight club of the film is one which is organized by a man cooperating with his dissociative identity, a separate personality struggling to destroy him so it can live. This struggle grows to include an entire generation of men, speaking to their own disillusionment. The quote I edited from the film is one where the constructed personality is laying down the rules of the organization, saying, “Don’t talk about Fight Club.” Primarily, the message, “keep this a secret” is a weapon, a psychological tool to bind the group more closely together, provide an identity, replacing an alienated and dissatisfied sense of self which initially brought those men to the club.
Like any power structure, organized crime relies on on a portion of complicity from those it rules over. Any mafia relies on secrecy, adherence to rules enforced, and thrives on coercive influence. Limited to the knife, the gun, and the bomb, traditional leadership and its soldiery holds onto power through the fear and inaction of a subjugated people. With the introduction of high technology and weapons of psychology, the entirety of that landscape changes. Dominating a people through control of information, a manufactured framework of belief, and defining the very basis of reality, power itself is in control. It’s a force beyond time. Resistance to that kind of power is resistance to one’s self.
In context, using the phrase from ‘Fight Club,’ in this way is the manifestation of a desire to use whatever weapons are available to address the existential threat represented by the dominance of psychological coercion and control over the human race. Aligning this statement with the underlying audio element of a notorious snitch is a direct assertion that only protest will save the human race from the fate we are headed towards, nudged along by accumulation of wealth, exploitation, and disregard of any meaningful consequences for group behaviours.
Toast is the third in the series.
The initial imagery is of early nuclear bomb tests. The source is the film, ‘Trinity and Beyond.’ The ‘Trinity,’ of the title is drawn from the code name of the first atomic bomb detonation. Trinity as an expression of a religious construct, faith, and the number three, magical in its power over the human mind and in the natural world are all woven into that history, and the use of three colour-film tests, closing with one black and white test. Also, the use of only three audio clips links the opening sequence differences to the theme.
Imagery following on from the ACGT sequence is of a RADAR display, (also a private nod to some) and functions mainly as an image of tension, discovery, seeking, and threat-defense. The images of people witnessing nuclear tests are meant to convey a criticism of the louche and nihilistic attitude of those building the world in such a way that may guarantee its destruction.
The base audio, that sourced from ‘Goodfellas,’ presents a gap, leaving the purpose, the expression of desire, unfulfilled. It’s a blank, much like a variable present in any computer program. It could also be thought of as a statement which needs not be completed, or an open secret. The switch from a casual set of observers viewing a test to that of a group more clearly grasping what it is that has been unleashed, what emerges from that void. That imagery is followed quickly by audio of people responding, in context, dismissively to an assertion. What that assertion is can be shaped according to your ideas on what a nuclear detonation represents. Is it a false sun? Is it the human drive towards conquest? Is it the mastery of natural forces? Is it the harnessing of natural forces, the origins of new kinds of power? Is it the beginning of a path that will see science and human potential used to destroy the world?
The source for the audio is from the series ‘Toast of Tinseltown,’ in which the fictional actor, Steven Toast is granted a role in a Star Wars movie. This video was meant to have a mildly humourous tone and I don’t want to get bogged down in cross-linking some of the ideas rooted in the source, so I’ll choose one. The role Toast ends up playing is the voice of an alien. His speech sounds robotic. The rest you can sort out on your own.
Quad is the fourth in the series.
The initial imagery is of three leaders, Eisenhower, Mao, and Churchill. Following those images are four snapshots from the previously referenced, ‘Shooting the Mafia.‘ The final image is of a composite portrait made of quadrants from the head shots of the three leaders, with one left blank.
The imagery from ‘Shooting the Mafia,‘ is of dead victims of the Sicilian mafia. Each image reveals more detail of the consequences of the use of violence and illegitimate coercive power. It is in this context, when placed alongside representation of great power, that these images can resonate, juxtaposing individual lives lost with uncountable lives changed throughout history by the use of physical coercion and cultural domination.
These individuals are representative of the use of an irresistible power — whether it’s use of massive industrial resources in establishing hegemony, the use of revolutionary warfare in uniting a nation against foreign domination, or a transitional power used at the close of a traditional colonial empire — each of these men were present and in leadership at a point of historic transformation. The empty square in the final quadrant is both a question and a statement. Who or what will occupy that frame depends not only on the character of that leader, but on the world they exist in. That’s to say that we are in a position to create our own monsters.
The audio, ‘…defy them to sink into lethargy,‘ is from an introduction to a speech made by MLK. Not included in this video is a note Dr. King repeated in his speeches about the danger of trading one tyranny for another. As an idea, that will emerge in some of the later pieces I have planned.
Burn is the fifth in the series.