Amateur Escapology

I’ve announced this on the tinyletter, but not yet on the blog, so: on December 9th I am performing a work-in-progress show, Amateur Escapology.

As someone reminded me, this is actually my second one-person show, since I did a single performance of Vindaloo Stories back in 2017. That was very well-received, but for various reasons I haven’t developed it further (although I will one day). Amateur Escapology is a much more personal show, and one I want to do now.

Preparing a one-person show is weird. How do I justify the time I’m expecting the audience to give up to see it? One of the first things I decided was: no projector. A lot of the spoken word I’ve done has had slides behind it, and it’s easy to get a laugh from the right image, or to use the transitions between slides as a beat. But I wanted to push myself beyond that, to hold the audience’s interest without them. And I also wanted to make sure to produce a performance and story that justified having people in the room. It couldn’t be something that people could have just listened to as a podcast while they prepared dinner. Which means preparing a couple of extra elements that would only work in person – the title of the show gives a clue to what I’m planning.

I’m not sure how it will turn out, although I’m working hard. I’ve almost finished the script, weaving together performance, my own stories and great tales of escape. There are 84 days to go. I’d better finish the script, as I’ll have about 9000 words to commit to memory…

Tickets are £4.50 from eventbrite and the show takes place at the Brunswick in Hove, at 7:30pm on Monday December 9th.

More on gnostic movies

Following Wednesday’s post on gnostic movies, Cat pointed me towards some articles they had written for weaponizer as the Mason Lang Film club. These articles are exactly what I was looking for, and contained some interesting thoughts and ideas:

  • Most of these films also contain an idea of love as a transcendent power. Some also share an image of the seashore as a “place of transformation or apotheosis”, notably in the Truman Show and Dark City.
  • It’s a long time since I’ve seen Thirteenth floor, but the noir set-up seems very similar to that in Dark City, with amnesiacs waking up in bathrooms after murders.
  • Apparently, the Matrix and Dark City were filmed on some of the same sets
  • The Matrix, while inspired by the Invisibles, is very different, since it focuses on the dualistic good-vs-evil plots that the Invisibles tried to dissolve

It’s been a while since the last post in the series, but hopefully it will be finished one day. I particularly want to read the Dark City entry.

The most interesting thing in Cat’s posts was the discussion of Neo’s trip ‘down the rabbit hole’, which he compared to Chapel Perilous, the stage of development where people have to face everything they fear. “And the worst thing about the Chapel?,” asks Cat. “You never really know if you’ve actually left it.”

Another question from the Matrix is whether the fake world is better than the real one. The character Cypher is desperate to lose all enlightenment and to be happy in the real world once more:

The Matrix – as opposed to the Desert Of The Real which Anderson is forcibly awakened into – is so fucking cool, it hurts. In the Matrix, you dress exquisitely, you can kick all sorts of ass, you can even fly. In the Real, all you get is grey knitwear, killer robots and lumpy porridge.

Someone suggested another film for my list, Being John Malkovich. I’d not seen that since around the time it came out. It’s an interesting movie to revisit, and looks a little tired and wacky in comparison to Charlie Kaufman’s later movie Synecdoche. The acting is fascinating, with John Cusack and Cameron Diaz almost unrecognisable. Although I do think it’s a shame that the film was not made as Being Tom Cruise, as some potential producers suggested.

However, Being John Malkovich didn’t fit in my original list as the fake world has not been created to entrap the characters. Possibly Open your Eyes/Vanilla Sky would fit the theme (if not the Hollywood-in-98/99 constraint) – although Cat excludes them on the basis he can’t stand them.

Another interesting question is why these stories work so well as films. I’m guessing that the visual changes between the two worlds make them more effective. Or maybe we are more receptive when we’re in a dark room, staring at images cast on a wall.

I’ve added Altered States to the list of films I need to see soon. And a second-hand copy of Valis has just arrived, so I’ll be starting that soon.

The turn-of-the-century boom in gnostic movies

Around the start of the 21st century, there was a sudden flurry of mainstream films with gnostic themes. By which I mean, they showed people living within a reality that had been faked, trying to get through to a ‘real world’. Hollywood has often had similar movies in development at different studios, but this seemed to be almost a movement:

(Any other examples that I’ve missed?)

It’s not to say there is necessarily some huge significance to a list of 5 films over 2 years, but they had great similarities beyond anxieties about technology and the rise of the Internet.

It’s also interesting that these movies about rebellion were all produced as mainstream cinema, setting up an interesting tension with their themes of rebellion against authority. These films were released alongside a number of hugely commercial yet anti-consumerist films like as Fight Club and American Beauty. A recent Guardian article asking whether 1999 was the best year in cinema suggests this might be because “DVD sales began in 1997 and flooded studios with extra cash… Studios invested the windfall in a generation of upstart directors“.

There have been other films on these themes in the years since, but this strange simultaneous knot doesn’t seem to have been repeated.