Thursday, October 19, 2017

October: Creative Platypus


October is
The return of the world
To the way it should be.
Days grow short
-even this far south.
Slate grey skies
With a head held together
By Cymbalta
And too much tobacco.

The Sibyl of Cumae
Writes her books on
Autumn leaves,
Carving strange signs
In outlawed pumpkins.

The Sphinx stands in my way,
Corpses beneath her feet
Glow strangely
In the fading light.
There are things in that smile
That only heroes know,
But I am no Oedipus,
And there are questions
Not worth answering.
(Though one is free to ask.)

Hippias stood upon the
Shores of Athens
Coughing out pieces of his
Is there a coffin in Egypt
For my tooth?

The Sphinx smiles on.
I turn away.

Monday, October 16, 2017

The Return of Bad Nun: Creative Platypus

A while ago, I posted about an imaginary pitch I composed with my study hall students called Bad Nun. It was a sort of swan song for a position I was leaving after six years. While working with Clip Art the other day, I decided to go back to one of my old concept pieces and dress it up a little.

Just a reminder that while things can be misplaced, they are never really lost...

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Jim Henson Reflections: Film Platypus

We have been watching some of Jim Henson's quintessential productions this past month: The Storyteller, Labyrinth, and The Dark Crystal. Looking back, there are things these films share in common. There is a sense of gentleness, wonder, and wisdom about them that speaks to the best creative impulses in late 20th century pop-art.

These films strike a blow for the world of the imagination without being anti-intellectual, despairing, angry, or escapist. There is instead a true sense of "escape" in the way in which J.R.R. Tolkien envisioned it: they are dreams of a better world. When each is finished, we return to the primary world refreshed and enlightened; ready to carry on the battle. I don't know if these films will last -many younger people I've met don't like them- but for a generation of us, they have done good yoeman's labor. For that, I am thankful.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

September: Creative Platypus


September is
The Legend of Zelda
Link running through the forest
Shield in hand
A spreading oak tree
A cave
Broken memories
and the effort that goes into forgetting

If I forget thee oh Jerusalem
May my tongue be cut out
May my right hand lose its skill

The white girls sat in a row of
Deracinated messy buns
And drank the PSLs
Which they purchased with their souls
Paltry things
Worn white in women's work
Handed down by a post-war committee

Oh you cannot buy a soul
Not at Target or at Walmart
Though you took a trip to Selma
Or you stood at Standing Rock

I stood upon the rock
I stood upon the rock
But the memories slipped
Through my hands
And shattered

Monday, September 04, 2017

The Dark Crystal: Film Platypus

This film, like so many of Jim Hanson's works, is a miniature gem finely cut. All the characters and the world they inhabit are perfectly designed for the medium in which they exist. If they were taken out of the medium, or even redone in the same medium with modern technology, it would dramatically alter the whole -it would become something else. I think that's why the comics have turned to the mythology and history of The Dark Crystal. They are at enough of a remove that the change in medium doesn't violate the original work. All that to say that there is something insistently Toronto School about telling an entire film story with puppets; a furious insistence that the medium is the message.

The story of The Dark Crystal reaches the level of myth. Its theme is the recovery of lost unity by the meeting of opposites: Uru and Skeksis, make and female, light and dark. The symbol of union is well chosen: a shattered crystal that turns light into darkness. It is an image of perversion, of un-making. As Gandalf could have told the Urskeks "he who breaks a thing to find out what it is has left the path of wisdom". Like the revelation of Hermione in A Winter's Tale, the healing of the crystal with its transfiguration of the castle and the Urskeks, and the resurrection of Kira, provide a sense of wonder and a the promise of ultimate renewal.

Friday, September 01, 2017

Seven Heavens of Summer Reading 2017: The Platypus Reads Part CCCXIV

Another Labor Day Weekend is upon us and that means that another Summer Vacation has come to a close upon this middle earth. With that, it's time for 2017's annual Seven Heavens of Summer Reading Awards. As in summers past, I award the the most interesting books of the year's summer reading to the various medieval planets that most correspond to their virtues.

Sun: The Sun is the heaven of scholars. A hundred years ago, J.R.R. Tolkien was penning the first words of what would become Middle Earth. It has taken two lifetimes to bring out all that was in that tweedy little don's head. Christopher Tolkien, at 93, has brought out what he considers the capstone of his father's work Beren and Luthien. Though there is no new material here, the arrangement allows the reader to see how the central tale of Tolkien's mythology evolved over the course of its creator's long life. The Solaric Award, then, goes to both Tolkiens for two life's-works well done.

Mercury: Words are tricky things, not the least because they often say more than we mean them to. For looking behind the words we use to deal with race to the power-dynamics behind them, the Mercurial Award goes to Shelby Steele for his ever-challenging The Content of Our Character.

Venus: Venus is the planet of creativity and its award goes to a work that has challenged me to think harder about the creative aspect of the cinematic enterprise: Save the Cat by Blake Snyder.

Moon: I've enjoyed diving into Valiant Comics' considerable oeuvre this year. Though the school year was taken up with Rai, I turned this summer to look at something a little more niche. The award for the planet of madness and changes goes to Valiant Comics' Britannia: We Who Are About to Die, and its singular centurion, occult detective Antonius Axia.

Mars: The planet of warriors goes to another Valiant comic series for bringing us into a world of Jon Carter of Mars type fun XO Man-o-War Soldier and General. This soaring space opera featuring a time-traveling 5th century Goth and his sentient suit of space armor is ongoing!

Jupiter: The planet of kings goes to the story of a man who thought our highest duty was to rule ourselves: The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee. This is American theater at its finest -right up their with Death of a Salesman- and I can't believe that I missed out on it for years. Thanks to the nice drama teacher at Half-Priced Books who tipped me off while I was helping her look for stuff on the Salem Witch Trials.

Saturn: How do you make an end? Agatha Christie spent decades creating an intricate alternate universe peopled with some of the world's most memorable super-sleuths. She also had the courage to follow her creations into their twilight years, and even killed off her great creation, Hercule Poirot. By The Pricking of My Thumbs, a Tommy and Tuppence mystery, isn't one of Christie's greatest works, but it does put on display the unique courage she had in allowing her characters to age and falter.

So there you have it folks! Another successful year of celebrating the oddly mundane here at Platypus of Truth.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

The Exorcism of Emily Rose: Film Platypas

Having watched The Blair Witch Project, I went looking for another groundbreaking horror film from the same time period to compare it with. That led me to Scott Derrickson's Exorcism of Emily Rose. This was yet another of those films I remember being talked about when I was in college (Derrickson was an alum after all) but, in spite of rooming with film majors, I never got around to seeing. I had my doubts: "a court room drama mashed up with an exorcism movie -really?". It sounded like some cheesy, low budget, well-meaning, Christian film. That -or it was going to be a Hollywood gore-fest that was going to have me traumatized for weeks. When I heard a few years ago that Derrickson had been tapped to direct the Marvel Universe property Doctor Strange, I suddenly began to see things in a different light. I figured I'd go back and give The Exorcism of Emily Rose a chance. I'm glad I did.

I took five pages of notes on the movie during my first viewing (I think the most I've done so far is three). Perhaps the movie is just simple enough that I can get my amateur head around it. I also made sure to watch the associated featurettes, though I have not watched the movies with the director's commentary, and I think that helped. So where do I begin?

The movie is almost Aristotelian in its purity. It follows a single action in three major locations with a small cast and asks the audience to experience catharsis by sitting as jury over the event. It is really and truly like watching a Greek Tragedy unfold. Each character is clearly delineated and being who they are, the incidents of film lead them down inevitable paths to the conclusion. At no time, and I think this is very important for the success of the movie, did I feel that the writers/director were manipulating a character to make a point. There are no surprise conversions. The changes the characters, particularly Bruner, go through are subtle and entirely intelligible given their starting points and what they have experienced.

Given that the movie has very little variety to distract the audience, the writers/director and the studio wisely chose a cast that was up to the challenge of credibly portraying the exorcism and attendant trial. Jennifer Carpenter is extremely convincing as a physical actress in portraying possession; a fact that allows special effects to be minimal and heightens the sense of realism. Laura Linney sells the agnostic defense council from beginning to end while allowing for subtle changes that take us on a journey with the character. Tom Wilkinson gives us in Father Moore a very realistic clergyman who is neither a fanatic nor an otherworldly hero. I feel like I might have met him in Connecticut or New York working a soup kitchen or wrangling about Catholic politics on a park bench. Campbell Scott as the prosecutor is every devout Christian who has worked too hard to earn others' respect to have some fundamentalist nut-job make all Christians look like rubes.

Characters aside, this is a beautifully designed film. As in The Sixth Sense, color is used to signal changes in theme and reality. The sets have a timeless and time-worn feel to them that is visually interesting. The sets are also sparse so that there is very little in the of visual clutter to distract the audience. Derrickson rightly compares the film to a crucifix: a beautiful work of art and a horrific image at the same time.

Finally, I appreciated that the film does not present any answers, rather it provokes questions. Many films claim to do this as a cop-out. The Exorcism of Emily Rose is not one of them. Not all the questions are of a religious nature either; there's quite the running dialog on the role of consent in treatment that I greatly appreciated having friends and relatives who have suffered brutally from medical malpractice.

Those are my thoughts after finishing a first viewing. There's so much to think about here. If anything comes to me in the next few days, I'll be sure to post it here at Platypus of Truth.