Planet of the Apes 4Brains

Recently I undertook a one-off concert with my band The Good Hurt where we themed the visual side of the show on the movie The Planet of the Apes. By that I mean we dressed up in white boiler suits and had a French VJ (Emmanuelle) broadcast and remix the original movie onto our clothes and faces while we performed. We had a few guests that day (Brother Ghazi, The What Supreme, Annette) and luckily they all came along and wore white too. I also played acoustic guitar rather than electric to give it that final postnuclear back to the basics feel;)

The concert was held in a little cafe place called the Koffee Pot in Manchester (just off Oldham Road) with a bring your own booze policy. The event was part of the Futuresonic 2007 festival and as the festival has a big emphasis on context, technology and video it became the excuse I needed to finally ‘get down’ with my obsession with Planet of the Apes’ or more specifically – the thread between ape and man. I only need the slightest of pushes in this direction to get momentum and have often thought about the social truisms that might have sprung up round a shared fire by ‘primitives’ that went later with recorded records to become species behaviours and societies. Those bonobos bang the bongos too you know…..

In the film three astronauts survive a crash landing on an earth-like planet. Their last chance of contacting home disappearing under the waves. The first and last scenes bookend the film brilliantly and both, in essence, have a very similar theme of the frailty of man and his technology. The opening showing a wonderful piece of technology, a spaceship, sinking into an ocean while the last scene shows something of a similar nature – one of the most iconic statues made by man (Venus de Milo aside) shown half buried in the sand and revealing to the astronauts that they are in fact on planet earth albeit 2000 years into the future. It’s a hell of an ending. The movie was adapted by Michael wilson and Rod Seling from the novel La Planete des singes. Rod Serling is better known for his work on the TV shorts The Twilight Zone and it was his genius in adding the last scene which did not exist in the book – eventually envied by the original novelist for the weight it adds to the story. Those two scenes are very powerful and encapsulate the film in a simple arc. The rise and fall of man and the cyclic nature of technology and more primatively….dominance.


MOVIECLIP HORSEBACK MANHUNT

I love this clip of the gorillas hunting down the primitive mute humans and the accidentally stranded astronauts horribly caught up with the hunt. The use of the camera by the gorillas in the scene after the hunt is priceless too as they stand with their feet on the human spoils and laugh. It’s proper chilling. The Gorillas clad in leather military outfits on horseback hunt down humans using tools such as nets and guns to a soundtrack of alarmed brass instruments and strings. 2000 years in the future and apes have domesticated the horse and replicated one of man greatest achievements, along with guns and cameras.

The ‘mastering’ of the horse was so fundamental in getting the really ‘big wheels’ of our recent globalism started. Historians and archaelogists have suggested the domestication of horses by humans first took place in the Ukraine at approximately 4000BC. The use of horses by this early Indo-European culture shows in the rapid spread of the Kurgan culture and the ease with which it dominated over Pre Indo European cultures. Communications, speed and force were all on the side of cultures who had dominated the horse. Persian Emperors commanded their empire more coherently than their earlier counterparts of Assyrian and earlier still Mesopotamian cultures. Responding to an uprising or a rebellion was much easier with the use of horses to firstly hear about the uprising and secondly to send troops on horseback to quell it.

The humans on this future version of earth are dumb creatures and easily dominated by the apes – used for sport and labour. They are taken back to ape city and they are subjected to experiments. Charlton Heston, who plays the lead man, is subjected to court rulings by the variety of lead monkeys and women. The logic against man and his barbarity, or apparent barbarity as the humans see it, is argued over by the chimps, organutans and gorillas in a complex social discourse not too unsimilar to our own.

In a Science article, Carel van Schaik reports observing geographic variations in orang-utan behaviour that could be considered culture. In her study, van Schaik outlined the characteristics of culture into four sub-sections:

  • 1. labels, “where food preferences or predator recognition are socially induced,”
  • 2. signals, socially transmitted vocalizations or displays,
  • 3. skills, innovations like tool use that are learned by the group, and
  • 4. symbols, “probably derived from signal variants that became membership badges of the social unit or population.”

Not all anthropologists agree with this but I do as a punter. Whales haven’t been rearranging sea algae in to multiple alphabets and concocting large dialogues between them selves about the existential sense of whale and monkeys are still primitive and habitat focussed in their signage to one another. Today, for the most part, only humans have all four elements of ‘culture’, but chimpanzees and, now, orangutans have been observed to exhibit the first three.

“The presence in orangutans of humanlike skill (material) culture pushes back its origin in the hominoid lineage to about 14 million years ago, when the orangutan and African ape clades last shared a common ancestor, rather than to the common ancestor of chimpanzees and humans,” says van Schaik.

In the flip world of planet of the Apes there is a fully developed set of symbols that operate among the chimps, orang-utans and gorillas. Symbols on archtiecture, on clothing and externalisation of self is everywhere. Not only do apes rule and act in a rich manner they have a class system encompassing the main families of ape.

The gorilla police, military, and labourers;
The orang-utan administrators, theologians, and politicians;
The chimpanzee scientists, intellectuals and workers.

Each of the ape groups has a wonderful style of clothing that identifies them and their social place/rank. I’ve even checked out the possibility of getting clothing as used in the movie but it’s limited to ex Hollywood stock at very high prices on E-bay and crap generic monkey masks masquerading as legitimate film related merchandise. It’s a blend of leather and cloth and the colours are so deliciously 1960’s that any one of the outfits are on my top 10 bits of clothing to get. Chimps are green, Orang-utans are orange and the Gorillas are purple.

Humans, who cannot talk, are considered to be “less than ape” and as such are treated like cattle for sport and experimentation. The arrival of the astronauts who can talk throws ape society into disarray and the majority of the apes, especially the gorilla’s, want to eradicate the humans…some chimps however take pity on the humans and seek to know more about the phenomenon and to know more fully where and ‘when’ they came from.

Many animals have been observed using tools: Dolphins use sponges when fishing, crows use sticks to forage for insects in dead wood, capuchin monkeys use stones to break open nuts.Researchers can learn about chimpanzee “culture” by tracking nut-cracking behavior. Cracking nuts is no easy feat, and it can take a chimpanzee up to seven years to learn how to do it correctly. The technology is passed from generation to generation and diffuses across populations. Knowledge is a virus, language is a virus as real as any forest fire or ocean swelling.

Zaius, the Orang-utan and eminent scientist soon discovers Taylor’s ability to talk and puts him on trial when he tries to escape. After the trial, he is taken to see Dr. Zaius, who threatens to emasculate and lobotomize him if he doesn’t tell the “truth” about where he came from. But Cornelius and Zira (the leading chimp synpathisers) execute a plan to free Taylor.

They flee to the Forbidden Zone – not a million miles away from the idea of a Twilight Zone – a place where anything could happen and you must expect the unexpected. As a destination – you know that the Forbidden Zone is going to be the shiz – the name makes it such desirable as location. The forbidden zones of our own society can often educate and not always for the good. Apes of today have a sense of the forbidden in social protocol with regards food, shelter, and reproduction rights but they are more really rules – no great lore and story associated with it. In the movie Cornelius, the chimpanzee, aracheologist and historian had a year ago visited the Forbidden Zone and found human artifacts there and they return to find out the series of events that led to man losing earth through nuclear war. The story of mans fall and apes rise is played out to them in the forbidden zone and the final sign shown that he has travelled to the future and witness to a horrible fate. That statue of liberty covered up to her chest in sand.

The concepts in the film aren’t exactly that oblique and the apes become surrogates for examining human behaviour – not only the treatment of animals by humans but the dynamic between humans themselves. The backdrop for the movie being made in the 1968 was the cold war as examined by the long haired hippies.

The dramatic climax near the end of the movie when Cornelius reads directly from the Sacred Scrolls at the now-captured Dr. Zaius’ request : Beware the beast man, for he is the Devil’s pawn. Alone among God’s primates, he kills for sport or lust or greed. Yea, he will murder his brother to possess his brother’s land. Let him not breed in great numbers, for he will make a desert of his home and yours. Shun him; drive him back into his jungle lair, for he is the harbinger of death.

MOVIECLIP of DR ZAIUS SPEECH

The advent of tool making has always been a double edged sword as far as ‘progress’ goes. It is thought that shards or flakes from the use of stones to crack open nuts were the first flints or knives and knives can be used for cutting food or taking out your neighbour. Nuclear power has this duality too – cheap and simple power production intertwined with the horrible bomb.

The movie was recently ‘re imagined’ by Tim Burton however it just doesn’t’ seem to hold the same gravitas with me. The original with it’s stark sets and simplistic approach is much more Shakespearian (helped by Roddy McDowall – arguably the lead chimp). The production in it’s limited budget and techniques is almosyt theatre-like and emphasises the drama and the philosophical questions at stake much better than the overblown remake.

The original reminds me of a great book I read by James Morrow called ‘This Is the Way The World Ends‘ where the dead hold a trial in the Antarctic of the six remaining living and those directly and indirectly responsible for the nuclear war that ravaged the earth.

You have been warmed….

Drongomala


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VIDEO : HLI+Drongomala Sat12thAug – Birmingham

Footage links below to the recent gig by HLI and Drongomala at the Rainbow, Digbeth in Birmingham. Footage has a blend of daytime messing around aswell. This was a fundraiser for earthquake victims. Camcorder quality sound…..H(B)ollywood please call.

Filmed by MiMi and edited by AntKnee

Part 1 – hanging out and rehearsing

Part 2 – ElectroRaga

Part 3 – Hi Diving

Part 4 – Homeward

Part 5 – Everything Is Gonna Be OK

Part 6 – Outro with Guest Juice Aleem, Sensei C doing street poetry and WuTheF*@! doing a ditty.

Drongomala
www.flyingmountainrecords.com

Metropolis, Dada’ism and the Rise of the Machine.

Art, Technology and Social Feedback Loops

The mediator between the brain and the hand should be the heart”

This essay is an attempt to discuss issues regarding technology, culture and art how the artists palette was extended to include technology and cultural samples. This extension of art and society was once borne out of the need to co-exist with industrialization. The early 20th century, with the onset of industrialisation and science increasingly woven in society is a pivotal and perfect time in human history to explore this. I have chosen to concentrate on a few areas to illuminate my points :

  • The film Metropolis by Fritz Lang (1926)
  • The Dada movement
  • The first ‘World War’

The pivot point for the majority of this essay is the film Metropolis. This film was the first large scale piece of science fiction to be undertaken in cinema and both at once managed to be documentary and prophecy. The film has had a chequered history and taken a few critical beatings throughout the years however it has remained a zeitgeist moment in the culmination of politics, science and art made between the two World Wars.

It will be useful to examine the storyline of the film before we proceed onto how society influenced it and how it has influenced society.

Metropolis is a film with a universal theme of oppression set in the future (2026) one hundred years from when it was made. Fritz Lang, the director, had the idea for Metropolis while visiting New York. It’s endless and sheer landscapes punctuated by the frantic action at ground level confirmed it as a truly modern city stretching itself towards the future.

Lang took this rough model of New York and stretched it one hundred years further. Langs futuristic city was one where anonymous creatures of labour fuelled machines that supported the city – their labour, like clockwork, turning the giant mechanisms that ran up through the great structures of steel and light. The tone of the film with it’s great structures, electricity and relentless machinery effectively conveyed an accelerated industrialization and scientific development.

In the film the workers are portrayed slave-like with shaved hung heads and black disheveled clothing. The workers inhabit below ground, the privileged elite inhabit the ground level while the upper echelons of the city are reserved for science and government.

These broad classifications of groups by Lang represented his experience of hierarchies in ci401cAustria and Germany and the five central characters that are developed in the film are stereotypes representing the major drives of society. The first is the Lord of Metropolis, John Frederson, who rules and dominates the whole city as opposed to governing it. The second is the state scientist and inventor, Rotwang a focused man intent on invention. The third is the son of the Lord of Metropolis, Freder a happy-go-lucky character and with no direction at the start of the film and the fourth is Maria, a leadership figure for the workers. She acts partly as union rep and priest for the underground masses as well as symbolizing purity and mother earth. The oppressed workers are effectively treated enmasse and as such are effectively desensitized. The final protagonist is a Robot – an invention of Rotwang brought to life using the soul of Maria as source material in an experiment.

Freder is enticed by Maria to go into the underground city and there he witnesses a worker struggling to keep up with the demands of the machine and subsequently dies. This awakening to the reality of Metropolis’ underbelly prompts him to go and tell his father what he saw. His father replies “it was their hands that built Metropolis”. The implication is that the masses are responsible for Metropolis.

Freder returns to the underground and trades places with one of the workers, asking him to take a message to his friend. The newly liberated worker however is waylaid and tempted by the lure of the red-light district in Metropolis – another device used by the city to contain men.

The relationship between the main characters in the film is complex and we discover that Rotwang and the Lord of Metropolis both loved the same woman a long time ago. The woman gave birth to Freder and subsequently died. Joh goes to meet Rotwang where Rotwang shows him a robot modeled on the woman that died explaining that all it is missing is a soul. Rotwang manages to bring the robot alive using the soul of captured Maria and then places the evil Robot Maria into the midst of the workers with the intent of thwarting their plans of revolt. Eventually the robot manages to convince the workers to take up violence and not peace and leads them to the machines – ordering them to be destroyed. The workers do so and subsequently the underground is flooded and their children are in danger of being drowned.

“The machines are bound by the people and the people are bound by the machines”

Meanwhile the real Maria escapes and attempts to stop the flooding and to save the children. In the underground city the workers are on a witch-hunt for Maria – they capture the robot, which is laughing wickedly, and burn her seeing the mechanisms underneath the fake flesh. Freder in an attempt to save the real Maria from Rotwang, battles with Freder with Rotwang falling to his death. The masses realize that in fact Freder is the mediator that they were seeking to represent them.

The film narrative is often criticized for being simplistic and of containing an antiquated romanticism while it’s visual content tends to be lauded very heavily. However one German left wing weekly magazine commented, “This is not just Metropolis it is all of Germany as we know it and experience it every day of our lives”. On release in 1926 the film did not do very well in German cinema due to the recession and the need for quick, snappy upbeat pictures to relieve the depression. It did, however, find favour with Hitler whose perverse misreading of Lang’s nightmare into dictatorial heaven prompted Lang to flee the very same day.

The First World War left an indelible mark on the psyche on the world, particularly Europe. Germany along with other countries was left with a feeling of disgust and anger at the war and the dull echo of the romanticism that seemed to precede the war was a fading memory. There was great poverty in the wake of such industrialization and the science at the time did not seem to favour the poor. The demise of the arts and crafts movement destroyed generations of skilled workers and replaced their varied skill set with mass-produced goods.

There was never a point in human history like that between the two World Wars. Before the war the majority of the Western world was adjusting it’s psyche to regular news on a worldwide basis. The collective witnessing of the war started a fire in the hearts of artists. Like all rage it is a primal and confused beast like a Frankenstein toying the objects near to it in confusion. Who are we and what have we become was the response of the art world. It gave us Dadaism as the opposition party to the madness of war and the pervasive mentality of the time. The issues were so great that political action and shock tactics took precedence over the gentle pursuit of landscaping. Old classifications such as artist or poet became meaningless – only personal revelation and interaction with the world around oneself was sufficient to right the wrongs. Art now dealt with war not on a tribal, gentry or parochial sense it dealt with collective consciousness.

How do we govern ourselves? Who are we governing? Why is science and technology going in the direction that it appears to be heading? A new requisite for synthesis with technology and industry was thrust upon us.

These questions and issues gave rise to the art movement of Dada whose principles were the antithesis of everything that led to the beginning of the First World War. A renunciation of Nationalism, a rejection of the bourgeois, a blurring of the dividing lines between artistic disciplines and a reduction of the sanctity of high art. German Dadaism along with most of a recovering Europe was inextricably intertwined with a sense of new politics. Dada was a revolution from the gut – it characterized not so much by what it stood for as what it stood against.

The philosophies of this art movement read more like a political manifesto and the notion of gallery showings was replaced with happenings designed to confuse, irritate and prompt action in it’s viewers. The recent war had shocked minds and in the opinion of the Dadaists, events as art were of higher value than the art itself which could only be hung in a gallery. The very nature of how we live, act and react was the fodder of their work. They intended social change not as a byproduct but as a direct result of their actions.

Dada was also the first movement to re-contextualise objects resulting in a body of works described as “ready mades” which used banal objects of everyday use. Dada was almost like cultural sampling of the society in which it lived and which it fed back into. Mass produced items were for the first time being considered under the banner of art rather than science and the blending of science and art continued for a great deal of the early 1900’s. The art of this time was asking questions on the global state of mankind and assessing it’s progress and toying with it’s physical and mental inventions.

ci401cIt is clear that this examination of society is underway in the film Metropolis. The examination of physical, political, social and scientific drives and conflicts flood throughout the film. The huge relentless machinery of Metropolis provide a poetical tempo and backdrop to the stereotypes of the main characters who represent science, government, workers, mother earth the robot as a final fusion of all of these. Lang, like the Dadaist Mondrian, uses technology to examine his feelings about technology and a great number of inventive filmic devices were employed to create the desired effect on screen – from optical tricks, re-projection of backdrop scenery, swinging cameras and the techno-wonder of the robot Maria coming to life.

Social comments are woven into the visual language of the film. The intricacies and interplay of society symbolized by wheels inside wheels. Mass production and industrial culture is shown to be served by man rather than the converse. The increasingly blurred division between human and machine illustrated by the joining of worker with the machine. The confusion over what is real and what isn’t when the workers mistake the Robot to be the real Maria. Confrontational shots of characters staring directly into the camera for sustained periods of time beckon the viewers opinion of the object in the same way the Dada happenings pushed it’s audience. Masses of workers with shaved heads trudge in rags around the belly of the beast – an awful precursory image of the horror yet to arrive in the Second World War.

Art and science have been blending together since we could draw circles and triangles. Industrialization forced us to look at concepts of mass production and the commoditisation of art and laterally a global culture forced us to reinterpret cultural fragments of ourselves including everything from the banal to the political. Art is blending new science and spirituality in the same way that Islamic painting has blended old science and spirituality for centuries. There are new breeds of painters like Philip Laffoley who draw on ancient and modern methods to blend sacred geometry with physics and paint.

Metropolis is a piece of technological poetry that belies its date of creation. The strong architectural, visual and symbolic nature of the work make it a visionary piece of film that despite flaws with narrative survive the truth that time brings. Metropolis both reflected what was happening at the time and fed back into what was happening at the time. The Second World War must have had scenes to match frames of Metropolis – the film is terrifying and shames the almost kitsch Star Wars by comparison. Star Wars also had an evil dictator who had a son that must intercede in the fathers evil. The allegory in all of this is that each generation is the father of tomorrow’s generation – will they too have to intercede to stop our madness?

The question of the worth of science and it’s over simplistic classification of good or evil belies the real questions that surrounded the artists of the turn of the century. Dadaism was not necessarily against technology neither was it for the wholesale embrace of it. Dadaism used science and society to explore science and society. It was a widening of the palette rather than a choice of direction.

This inclusion of technology in a wider sense of ourselves was a major step in the development of society and without it we can hardly imagine the revolutionary mindset of the 60’s, the satirical antics of Monty Python, the noisescape bulletins of Public Enemy or the sensibility of punk and irreverence of Vivienne Westwood clothes.

The question is how do we harmonise with technology and industry and retain our sense of humanity?

Metropolis attempts to answer this question in it’s final frame with the quote at the end of the film by saying that

“the mediator between the science of the brain and the body (society) which carries out the action must be the heart.”

Fritz Lang was a visionary. Managing a cast of thousands, employing the latest technologies and writing with in a strong political and spiritual fashion he created a truly modern opera of light and poetry that endures to this day.

References

The Nature of the Beast, Fritz Lang by Patrick McGilligan

Fritz Lang by Lotte H.Eisner

Fritz Lang, The Image and the Look by Stephen Jenkins

Marcel Duchamp by Gloria Moure

The Dada Painters and Poets by Robert Motherwell and Jack D Flam

Futurism and Dadaism by Jose Piere

Various Internet resources