Monthly Archives: December 2011

Blast from the Past: Cave of Forgotten Dreams

When you think of Werner Herzog – if you think of Werner Herzog at all – you don’t usually think of a film-maker that would hit you with the latest fad in cinema-technique, namely 3D technology. You were wrong.

The latest documentary by Werner Herzog focuses on the Chauvet-Cave in southern France. The movie is remarkable because of two reasons. The first is technical in nature: There are no visitors allowed into the cave (except for the scientists working there) and no one is allowed to film there or take pictures (except for the – you guessed it right – scientists). Thus, watching the movie, you will get a glimpse on something you would normally never have the chance to see. And to even take this privilege a little further, the interior of the Chauvet-cave is brought to you in 3D. Which leads us to the second aspect of how remarkable this movie is.
This second aspect is one of content: The interior of the Chauvet-cave is covered in rock-paintings, which are beautiful. They are diverse and there is a variety of styles to be found, but they are all fascinating in their own way and some of them are astonishing in their understanding of perspective, in their attention to detail and in their use of the background, the walls of rock in the cave, which can only be seen and fully understood when experienced in 3D.
But most of all this aspect is a lesson in significance: The rock-paintings in the Chauvet-cave date back 30 000 years. Thirty thousand years. Just let that sink in for a moment.
Furthermore, research has shown that huge timespans have elapsed between individual paintings. Some of them were painted in the cave 10 000 years apart. Yes, ten thousand.


These numbers make it all the more fascinating to witness the rock-paintings in 3D. You cannot only admire their beauty – you can also be profoundly awed by the display of artistic and technical skill at a time that I didn’t even know sapient human beings really were around. I guess theoretically I knew and know, but to be honest, thirty thousand years ago is so far off my historical radar that I have trouble getting my head around the fact that this was a time when actual people led actual lives and left actual artistic expressions of their worldview – and these still exist, this day and age, for us to see and wonder.
Thirty thousand years ago – who were these people? What did they expect from life, what was their outlook on it? How did they interact, how did they get by, what did they do for fun? Thinking and talking abut pre-historic people so far has meant to me to think and talk about quasi-people. I have no trouble acknowledging ancient Egyptians as human beings just like me, but I have trouble (and it was probably due time to reconsider this) acknowledging people hunting mammoths, extinct for thousands of years, as human beings just like me.

I have seen rock-paintings before. But the ones presented in this movie, the ones to be actually found in the Chauvet-cave, they come in such detail, with such skill and with such beauty that all of sudden it is impossible to think of their creators, who lived thirty-fucking-thousand years ago, as anything else than equals to me and you. And therein lies the lesson in significance. How far have we really come as a society? As human beings? How much do we actually know about those who have come before us, how much have we forgotten, how many times have we repeated their mistakes and brought about the same successes? And what will remain of us 30 000 years into the future? What will remain of me?
The Chauvet-cave does not confront us with individual histories (well, hardly: there are hand-prints all over the cave made and left by one identifiable individual). What does it mean to think of our, we the people who live right now and define this time as present, future as an enclosed cave that contains our various societal ideas, ideals and norms in the form of a few reduced pictorial testimonials? Where am I in this? And can I even get my head around that?

I can’t.


A Re4iew of Se7en

So, a review of David Fincher’s Seven? Aren’t you like 16 years late, Alex?
You also wait for a fine wine, so why not wait for a fine review? Or for the film to become finer? Or for you – or in this case: me – to finally understand how fine the movie is? Let’s get this shit started.


Re-watching Seven there is one thing that stands out: that is one all-star cast if I’ve ever seen one. And not in the let’s-produce-a-christmas-movie-about-love-with-all-current-stars-and-wannabes sense but in the sense of actual stars, who are stars today, because this movie was a vehicle for all of them to cement their Hollywood-careers. We have Morgan Freeman, Brad Pitt, Gwyneth Paltrow and Kevin Spacey and one fine director named David Fincher, who I’ve talked about briefly before when discussing, of course, Alien 3 (here).
Oh, and from here on out, assuming that since it hit theatres 16 years ago you’ll probably have seen it, I’ll be spoilering majorly, so just be warned, kthanx.

This is a movie about two cops, which works very often. About two cops in a city that might or might not be New York, which works equally as often. About and oldie and a newbie who both got to come to terms with each others’ existence and their mandatory alliance, which is a story we know. It’s about a serial killer and it’s about the seven deadly sins, even more so, it is about a serial killer who is obsessed with God and of course the seven deadly sins and thus serial kills in seven deadly sins fashion, which does sound oddly familiar. And yet, all of those well known ingredients are mixed and mashed in this and bring out one stellar movie. I have a theory which states that there are four major reasons for this, and generous as I am, I’mma share that ‘lil theory with you, right here, right now.


Reason no. 1 is pretty obvious, but should nonetheless be stated: That is one good plot. The way it introduces its characters is fantastic, the way it builds up to the moment they almost capture John Doe, up to when he surrenders and up to the final reveal, which is a nasty twist, because it crushes not only Detective Mills, but also my feeble viewer’s heart, since it takes away one sympathetic character and destroys another completely. Which leads directly to reason no. 2.

Reason no. 2 is the effortlessness with which the movie produces likeable characters. There is a limited set presented here, basically just Mills (Brad Pitt), his wife Tracey (Gwyneth Paltrow) as a minor – yet plot integral – character, Morgan Freeman as Detective Somerset, their very minor character boss and last but not least serial killer John Doe (Kevin Spacey). The movie doesn’t give us much information about them, but it gives us enough in a way that makes them round and believable. The interpersonal conflict between the oldie Somerset and the newbie Mills, the former’s apathy and the latter’s idealism, the warm-hearted outreach by Tracy to Somerset which lays the groundwork for the bond between Mills and Somerset and finally the disgust and/or aggression that connects our two cops to Mr. Killer John Doe, all these relationships are constructed with only a few brushstrokes, artfully placed, and they become believable and relatable human behaviour.


Reason no. 3 lies IMHO in Fincher’s eye for darkness and grittiness. He tried the same for Alien 3, where he failed because he probably had too much money and too much interference. Here, he presents a film noir New York unnamed city, complete with curious and grotesque murders, long trenchcoats, rain, blood, gore and worn out sofas and desks. Not only do I love it, but more importantly it feels all real to me. Nothing looks constructed and placed there because the movie required it to be there. It was just there, dirty and old and ignorant of the camera capturing it for the Hollywood-Blockbuster.
At this point I have to give a major shout-out to one scene in particular, or rather one concept in particular: the “murder” representing the sin sloth with the drug-dealer who lies in the bed like a corpse but IS STILL ALIVE. Gee, major super-creepness level. Like ultra major super creepy. And one heck of a powerful punch. And no, I don not want to talk about the dildo-knife. I shudder.

Leaving only reason no. 4 to elaborate on. And this one I’d say is the movie’s timelessness. Which is surprising, all the more since I started this review by pointing out that it came out 16 years ago. And I did so on purpose, because it influences the movie in a way that places it firmly in a time past: There is no New York police today working without computers and internet, there are no New York cops today who do not communicate via cell phone. These things are completely absent from the movie. Even though it was produced in a time when these things were already around, they were not around to the extent that they necessarily had to be in a movie to make it believable. However, their exclusion was most likely deliberate, and is one of the reasons why the movie feels relatively timeless. It feels like a tale that could have been set in the 1950s as well as today, the end of 2011. It helps to some extent in focusing the story on what I’ve commented on before, the plot, the characters, their interaction. But it also speaks volumes about who I am, what time I come from and how I relate to this movie. There are generations of viewers now who do not know a world without cell phones or internet and to them this might seem extremely odd and out of place while for me this still represents a totally relatable concept and context. I grew up during the second half of the 80s and the entire 90s. I’ve seen the beginnings of it but I also remember how people considered these things as new and something one had to get used to. Therefore, I wonder: how “timeless” is the movie for someone born in 1994? What do you think?

Yup, time to re-watch Seven.

Futuristic Living and Organic Architecture pt. 3: Living in a bubble

I recently went to an interesting exhibition with my man, entitled Cloud Cities and featuring bubbles hanging in the air, lying on the ground, overgrown or growing and some of them somewhat inhabitable. If you are in Berlin, you can still check out the exhibition at the Hamburger Bahnhof Museum, where it runs until January 15, 2012.

The bubbles were all designed by Tomás Saraceno, an Argentina-born artist, who currently resides – like me – in Frankfurt am Main. He originally studied architecture and draws inspiration from soap bubbles and spider webs, which are influences you can definitely see in the featured exhibition, which is apparently the largest single exhibition of his works to date. Cloud Cities attempts to present a vision for the future, as to how people might or could live, and how the conception of space and humankinds’ place in it transforms and changes.

The picture right above shows you the two bubbles you can actually enter (if you look hard enough you can make out a person in the bubble on the left). It’s a fun experience, somewhere in between a trampoline and walking on air, all the while being visible to other visitors who walk or sit below you.
Now, his ideas are not entirely original (but yeah, what is?). The idea of see-through bubbles as living spaces with a focus on relaxation and new perspectives on the environment that surrounds us has already been taken and transferred into the outside world by the likes of Archigram 40 years ago:

via, photo credit: Archigram

But there are also more recent and more elaborate versions of the idea that come very close to what we encountered in the exhibition. These are the relaxation bubbles that bubbletree came up with:

via, image credit: bubbletree
via, image credit: bubbletree

Bubbletree derive their name from one of their products: they produce bubble-shaped tree-homes and offer to build them into your tree of choice.


All of the above visions – from art in the museum to cozy home in a tree – share one problem though: they might give us glimpses on futuristic living concepts, but they don’t really hit us with the organic hammer. Their extensive use of vinyl and reliance on electric fans doesn’t qualify them as sustainable. Even more so, they don’t provide answers to fundamental questions of energy efficiency, of how to heat or cool the living space, on how to connect it with the infrastructure we desire – water, energy, sanitation.
Well, from bubbles in trees it is only a small step to UFOs in trees. And this particular UFO makes the extra step to sustainable materials and conception.


It is one of the rooms of the Treehotel in Harads near the Lule River in Sweden. The UFO room was prefabricated offsite and then transported via roads to its final  destination. It is cast in durable  composite material and super lightweight, but strong and  sustainable so it can easily be lofted in the trees. Hotel guests access it by a retractable  staircase and a hatch door, and in the 30 sq meter room there is a double  bed, couches on the perimeter, a composting toilet and a dining area.  Porthole windows look out on the surrounding forest scene. The Treehotel owners and staff commit to the surrounding environment and  tries to run their establishment in the most sustainable way possible by having all of  the rooms built by local companies to minimize impact on the site and hang them in a way that does not harm the trees. Environmentally safe materials are used in the rooms’ construction, which all feature insulation, underfloor  heating, LED lighting, water efficient fixtures, and composting  toilets. Treehotel sources its electricity from hydroelectric power and uses  only eco-friendly cleaning products.


Applying some of the same principles as the UFO room, there are the Free Spirit Spheres that also function as guest rooms on Vancouver Island in Canada. They bring more bubble and less outer space, however, they also bring less sustainability in that some of them are made of fibreglass, while those made of wood (following traditional sailboat-construction techniques) are sometimes covered in a layer of vinyl.


But of course bubbles don’t only have to hang on and in trees. There is a variety of settings to imagine them in. Keeping it real, Buckminster Fuller placed his Fly Eye Dome simply on the Ground.


Which brings us to a similar concept taken further – and presenting heaps of potential for organic approaches that focus on sustainable materials and maximum energy efficiency. Voilá, Pierre Cardin’s Palais Bulles (bubble house), located in Cannes, France. Just imagine that structure built with all natural materials, paying special attention to making it a passive house and install some solar-panels and the like. Dream come true.


All the concepts presented so far leave us with one question: Aren’t bubbles and water the combination one would naturally expect? Eriksson Architects LTD from Finland answer in the affirmative and present their vision for a new town built outside Beijing in the Mentougou Eco Valley, where they combine research institutes for modern science and innovation with environmentally friendly and eco-efficient urban living concepts in collaboration with Finnish ecological experts Eero Paloheimo Eco City Ltd.

With goals of carbon neutrality, respect for the environment, water and energy conservation, renewable energy, and housing and amenities for all employees and visitors, the project aims to reduce the environmental footprint of the city to one third of that of a typical city of similar size.  And most interesting for us here: their water institute comes in the shape of bubbles.


I wanna stick to my own tradition and close this post with a ted-talk on architecture, this time by the Danish architect Bjarke Ingels. He does not talk about designing bubbly homes or think about how to live in bubbles, but he gives a mind-blowing insight on the visionary powers (and stunning realities) of current architecture.

Do you have what it takes to be an All Star? ANTM’s cycle 17

What is going on with this blog? Next week we hit the final episode of America’s Next Topmodel Cycle 17 and there has as of yet not been a single post on it. Seriously?


Well, y’all, lemme change that. Cause we just crossed an important line this past Wednesday: Laura went home. Sweet, country bumpkin, loveable Laura. Runner up of the “short cycle” 13, which IMHO stands out as one of the most awesome cycles in ANTM history, since basically all of the top 5 back then were awesome and having Nicole win was good, but so would have been Laura, and everyone was nice, yadda yadda. Well now, Laura had to leave the All Star Cycle, where they are recycling those who did not win the first time around but got stuck on our collective consciousness for some reason or other.


Talking about the memorability of some of this cycle’s constestants: questionable, I admit. There are no-brainers, of course, Lisa is most certainly one of them, as are Alexandria and Isis for very different reasons. Shannon was an ok choice, and she really pushed her trademark “no underwear, just swimsuits” thingy this cycle (which naturally made me want to slap her cross her righteous face – not to mention her breakdown being faced with a black woman who speaks up for what she wants). But Britanny? Camille? And Bre? Instead of those three I would have liked to see some Toccara (cycle 3), Jade (cycle 6) or Fo (cycle 11). But arguably, it breaks down to personal preferences and most of the ones chosen for this season are memorable characters in their own unique ways.


I have to talk about Kayla of course, since on my very first ANTM post here on this blog (linked HERE), I raved about how I wanted her to win. And my intitial reaction this time was: Kayla for the win! Well, she’s been out of the race for some weeks now, but that’s ok with me. What the All Star Cycle does, is to really show the standout personalities the show has to offer. And though I love Kayla, love her looks and wish her all the best, she felt kinda stale and safe after a few weeks with the other contestants.


This cycle is pretty outstanding in the amount of BS is brings in terms of photoshoots and videos. Suffering through fake music videos and Tyra’s Modelland film editorial in the last episode make me want to demand getting paid for watching this nonsense. And seriously, Tyra’s Modelland novel is a bestseller? This sound like the whackiest concept for the shittiest novel ever in all of humankind’s history. Photoshoots with a reality TV star theme (Nene? Snookie?)? WTF? Posing as Micheal Jackson? Though I do admit, hearing LaToya’s giggling makes up for basically everything. And then there is the god-awful group picture for the end-credits and the god-awful opening credits a.k.a. Avril Lavigne as Tyra’s brainchild (not to mention here cringeworthy attempts at bringing the cutesy dumb).


But, all the hate of course fades in the glory of what the show brings. Ha, not that I needed a reason to watch ANTM, I love it especially because it leaves so many open spaces for severe and harsh criticism. But I also love it for just what it is: a fluff world of adolescent dreams of becoming some sort of celebrity solely based on how well you photograph and how well people on some random judging panel like you.


The invisible line we crossed in last week’s episode is the fact that Laura winning the thing would have been the perfect outcome. But she is out of the race now and admittedly, I am very happy with the top three, I think they all deserve it.
Angelea, cause she is the underdog, cause girl is underestimated and underestimates herself but obviously has potential for greatness (and tons of drama). Allison is just Allison, how could one not like her? Her introverted, shy, artsy thing with the creepy big eyes – priceless.
But I will not deny, one of those two winning would be awesome because out of the left field, however: Lisa. Lisa D’Amato pushes a lot of people’s buttons in all the wrong ways, but I have always liked her and she is most certainly one of the most memorable ANTM contestants to have ever been on the show. And let’s face it, she has the package they are looking for and if one of those girls is designed to win this cycle, it is most certainly her. Which brings me to conclude: I would be surprised to not see her win it, but I would not be sad. They all deserve it, and that is more than I usually expect of an ANTM cycle.

Who is your bet for the win?