Sunday, 21 December 2014

Borley Rectory part 2: The Blue Book

Continuing from last week's post I wanted to blog about a wonderful aspect of the Borley Rectory "hauntings". During his investigative stint at the house, the ghost hunter Harry Price produced a pamphlet to brief his assistant. This small volume is dubbed the "Blue Book" and the British Library has an example of one on display as part of its excellent Terror and Wonder show.

The Harry Price Website gives an excellent, succinct overview of these publications:

The book describes the protocols required when visiting the Rectory in the capacity of an official observer of the University of London Council for Psychical Investigation, in connection with vigils inside the building & within its grounds, report writing & procedures for dealing with phenomena.  The pamphlet also gives a résumé of all the principle paranormal events which had been reported as having occurred in or around the former Bull residence over the years & this was seized upon by Price's critics after his death as his way of using the powers of suggestion in order to  influence his observers into reporting things which he could subsequently use to his advantage when writing about the case after the tenancy had come to an end.

I love the air of officialdom bestowed on this pamphlet by the restrained, authoritarian typography. Having grown up in a military family and then worked in the UK's Civil Service, they remind me of all sorts of far more credible documents I have encountered over the years.

But what do the pamphlets say? Alas I can't find anywhere on the web where the interior has been reproduced, either as a scan or just transposed text. If anyone know where I can find a copy, do please comment below.

At present, my imagination is running wild. I am hoping that these things are as bizarre as the Handbook for the Recently Deceased found by Geena Davis and Alec Baldwin in, Beetlejuice (a book so impenetrable Baldwin gives up trying to decipher it, complaining that it reads like "stereo instructions").

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Borley Rectory

This is the first of a string of posts which are inspired by my visit to the Terror and Wonder exhibition at the British Library (a show which I highly recommend you go and see if you can before it closes in January). Amongst the exhibits were plans for Borley Rectory. Long-time readers will know of my fascination for floorplans, both real and fantastical, and this post is a spiritual successor to my ramblings about Boleskine House.

Known as "the most haunted house in England", the Rectory was a Gothic Victorian pile that was demolished in 1944. It gained public notoriety in the late 1920s after tabloids published articles about the alleged hauntings and the investigations by paranormal researcher Harry Price. Stories included skulls discovered in cupboards, spectral figures seen and innumerable unexplained noises heard. The genuineness of the phenomena are now largely discredited as the product of trickery by the residents and by Price himself. The place was set ablaze in 1939 after an oil lamp was accidentally overturned and the ruin was later demolished. Nonetheless the stature of the myths still looms large in Fortean folklore. I recall the case still being cited in the 1980s when I was making my first childish delvings into the paranormal via the gazeteers I found in local libraries.

I was fascinated to see Price's plans for the Rectory at the British Library show. He had marked on them the locations of the phenomena, like some diligent GM preparing a trap for his unwitting players. Bristol-based artist Hannah Taggart has been inspired by the myths surrounding the place and has produced a couple of fascinating interpretations of the site. I wonder whether it might be that the psychogeography of the place is responsible for the continuing hold it seems to have on our imaginations?

Price's plan of the Rectory 

Taggart's interpretation of the plans (above) with a vision of the substructure as well (below)

Monday, 1 December 2014

Fear the Kinder Boggart

I spent an afternoon driving around the Derbyshire Dales last weekend, snapping some of the bleakest bits of landscape I could find.

The area is not short of hauntings, legends and folklore and this is something I definitely want to explore more now that I am on the Dales' doorstep. Noteable amongst the ghosts, phantoms and witches said to reside in the hills are Boggarts. This is the local term for your common-or-garden Black Dog, so often found in British folklore. Seeing these large, shaggy and glowing-coal-eyed beasts is typically a sign that ill fortune on the horizon. However, they are not unknown to accompany lone travellers (sometimes women) and guide them to safety.

This excellent page recounts the following tale:

[A] big black dog is said to guard the graves of the three Jacobites buried near Swinscoe who were ambushed and slain in the 1745 rebellion. Eyewitness accounts have described the Boggart as being the size of a calf, with a shaggy black coat and glowing eyes as saucers. It never makes a sound and vanishes as quickly as it appears, into thin air. 

As the clouds descended and the lanes become choked with damp, dark fog it was easy to imagine how terrifying the landscape would be to folk in a pre-industral era. Witout torches or well-kept roads the living would have been at the mercy of all sorts of entities which, I would like to think, have since been forced to creep into the deep recesses of the earth. And our collective psyche.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Rock Cemetary Nottingham

Last weekend some friends and I took a stroll around one of the largest graveyards in Nottingham. Church Cemetery (known locally as Rock Cemetery) is a Victorian burial ground on the northern edge of the city centre. It's a wonderfully rugged place where the graves nestle in the rising and falling ground. At the highest points there are stunning views northwards over the newer estates.

Nottingham has an extensive cave network, and some of the lowest regions of the cemetery have entrances to the caverns. In recent years these (and other portals like them across the city) have been blocked up to prevent public access. The gated holes yawn ominously and their iron railings remind visitors of closed portcullises.

The funerary architecture is quite impressive, with the most ornate stones at the crest of the hill, and then buried in one of the deepest dells. I was reminded of the Monmartre cemetery in Paris, where the mausoleums climb the sides of steep cuttings and tower over visitors. Some of the stones are rather gaudy while others are excellent examples of the Gothic revival style. There are also some amazingly beautiful bits of ironwork.

Local legend has it that the place is haunted by one or two ghosts. A Victorian Woman and what is described simply as an 'old woman' are specters said to linger in the graveyard. We didn't see any on the crisp autumnal morning we chose to visit, but it's not hard to imagine that certain things might quietly creep through the bars and out of the caverns on dank, dark nights.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Why I don't 'get' superheroes

I've had a few discussions with friends over the years on this topic, but thought I'd blog about it in the wake of quite a provocative piece recently published by The Guardian on Batman. The article criticises Burton's first Caped Crusader movie, arguing that Nolan's version is better because it is more authentic, more progressive and more realistic.

I just don't 'get' superheroes in quite a profound way. I find it hard to separate them from their origins in the hokey American pre-war pulp literature culture where heroes were circus-strong-man who wore leopard-spotted leotards (or, if they were really going to town, their undercrackers over a leotard). It was a chauvinistic era when the protagonists were always male, and women were (mostly) in distress or, at best, feisty but under-powered sidekicks (as in The Shadow). I value this culture for what it is, so I love Burton's Batman because it was magical, theatrical and embraced the nonsense of the genre. I also love Kick Ass, Guardians of the Galaxy and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (the comic) for these same reasons.

The modern trend of making superheroes realistic just leaves me confused. They continue to wear bonkers outfits while wondering around a gritty, realistic world. I can't help thinking why everyone around them isn't saying, "Uh, you know you look a bit weird dressed like that, right?". And injecting a lot of angst and dumbed-down psychology just makes it worse.

There are a few exceptions to my dislike. V has no superpowers and adopts the Guy Fawkes persona as it suits his anarchistic and political aims. Everyone he encounters is completely freaked out by his clearly outrageous outfit. The Watchmen are just unstable, have-a-go-heroes. Doctor Manhattan, arguably the only one with any supernatural abilities, is treated in quite a realistic manner. He is harnessed as weapon of mass destruction by America while being viewed with suspicion and fear. My point with these two examples is that they demonstrate a coherency to the level of realism. The world they live in, the heroes and the supporting characters around them are all treated with the same logic.

I realise that the huge success of the superhero genre in recent years means I am in a minority. Clearly it's hugely popular and the popcorn-chomping public love it. I'm just not one of them and continue to be left cold by the bulk of these raspy, frowning, cinematic offerings.

Oh, and just be clear, giant, genetically engineered, robot-armour wearing fanatics in space are absolutely fine in my book.

Friday, 10 October 2014

The Great Martian War

The Great Martian War is a forthcoming pseudo-documentary by The History Channel detailing the events of a fictional Martian invasion a la War of the Worlds. Questions of veracity and taste aside, the effects in the trailer actually look pretty darn good, with footage either aged to seem early 20th century, or with CGI Martians composited into historical footage (it's so good, it's hard to tell which approach is used). I actually really like their interpretation of the biology and technology of the extraterrestrials. Their walkers seem suitably gawky with a pleasing mix of mechanical and biological elements.

The Ladytron-esque chiptunes soundtrack on this trailer, by Goldchimes, is pretty ace too.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Discovering Tutankhamun at the Ashmolean Museum

Discovering Tutankhamun is the latest exhibition at Oxford University's Ashmolean Museum. I went a couple of weeks ago and can't recommend it enough. The show has three main sections, two of which are really quite left-field.

The first room is a blow-by-blow account of the discovery of the tomb. It focuses more on the sequence of events and the techniques and processes Carter used to excavate the site. The dig was one of the most carefully run operations of the time, eschewing the dynamite and crowbars that had (terrifyingly) typified archaeology up until the 20th century. Genius photographer Harry Burton took meticulous photographs on his plate camera recording the minute position of every object in situ. The detail that the team went into was quite incredible and the Oxford curators have done a great job of bringing this home. In addition, there is an enormous wall-mounted enlargement of an isometric drawing of the tomb complex, which is a dungeon-crawler's dream.

The second room was the real draw for me. It documents the impact the discoveries had on popular culture and the resulting wave of of Egyptian-ophilia which permeated Western creative industries in particular. There are beautiful clothes and accessories, board games, trashy romance novels, postcards and pieces of furniture from the 1920s, all unashamedly borrowing from the style and culture of the ancient Nile delta. Some space is devoted to the 1970s resurgence when the Treasures of Tutankhamun exhibition toured the world. For me one of the most amazing pieces was the poster from the British Museum's hosting of the tour. The design and typography is amazing and, alas, the Ashmolean's efforts pale into insignificance.

The final room is devoted to King Tut's life and the complex world in which he found himself. Modern research shows that the tragic image of the beautiful boy-king is probably rather far from the truth. This section includes enormous, super-detailed prints the Factum Foundation's scanning project which documented the interior of the tomb complex in crazy 3D detail. I wonder how long it will be before this data enables a high-rez Doom-style walkthroughs available to all via the internets? 

The very fact that this show can pull crowds from across the country and the artifacts still inspire us today is testament to the sheer genius and skill of the ancient artists. Their astonishing work still continues to thrill and inspire us thousands of years after their deaths. While it is the name "Tutankhamun" that we remember, it is really the haunting but beautiful death mask that we think of - surely one of the most exquisite pieces of craftsmanship the world has ever seen. What creative could ask for legacy better than this?

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Noct by c3sk

Generally I subscribe to The Oatmeal's view of Kickstarter, but I must admit that there are some cool concepts appearing now and again. Noct is a videogame being developed by c3sk studio and it looks awesome.

The concept is top-down survival horror in a vaguely Lovecraft-ian post-apocalyptic setting, as viewed through thermal imaging cameras. I love the lo-fi graininess of the screenshots which perfectly capture the kind of despondent, hallucinogenic atmosphere that would (probably) be pervasive if weird-ass ancient deities arose from their slumer and sent the whole world mad. Probably.

Alas I am increasingly suffering from nausea when I play 3D games, so anything 2D is a much safer bet. Oh, wait, I just equated a Lovecraft-ian doomsday scenario with 'safe'. Welcome to my world...


Sunday, 7 September 2014

And Now It's Dark

This is the first post in a few weeks as things have been busy at the ToE headquarters. Not only have I begun to renovate the secret bunker in which I now live, there was a trip to Ancient Greece a few weeks ago (during which I got to fire arrows at hoplites, which was awesome).

Now I'm back, I have just been to an amazing show at Nottingham's Lakeside Gallery. And Now It's Dark; American night photography profiles the work of several predominantly late 20th century photographers and includes a section of much older images. The work of these artists reveals a very different side to The American Dream. The long-exposure images are often flooded with eerie and sickly light revealing the delapidation of American cities. Black-red pools of blood run down cracked sidewalks, hooded figures hide in corners, and candid, blurred pictures of blurry women with late-night-blurry makeup stare out from the prints. By day the United States is filled with the self confidence and optimism for which it is renowned, by night a very different picture emerges as those who have fallen through the cracks come out to play.

The section of early-to-md 20th century images was amazing - vintage images of cities New York and Boston. Many of the landscapes looked just how I imagine Gotham city to be. Robbed of the technicolor which saturates most of the other rooms, these older photographs emphasize fog, light blooms and the heavy chiroscuro shadows on the faces of those terrified New Yorkers trapped on the subway in the blackout in 1965.

"Now it's dark" is a phrase often used by David Lynch - it is repeatedly uttered by Frank in Blue Velvet and Julee Cruise whispers it into the Twin Peaks soundtrack. This show perfectly captures the real-life nocturnal hinterlands which have clearly inspired Lynch.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

KIN by Seb and Ben McKinnon

KIN by Seb and Ben McKinnon is a beautiful short film inspired by Scottish folk history.

Although influenced by their trip to Scotland, it was actually shot around Montreal. I love the desaturated shots of bleak landscape and the epic proportions with which they imbue the knight. The latter is acheiveed with some wonderful slow motion and some great natural lighting.

A month ago the pair uploaded a teaser for the sequel to KIN called Salvage.


KIN from KIN on Vimeo.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Back to The Smoke

Here are some snaps of bits of London I have been to over the past couple of months...

The Olympic park is a rather awesome development. I had just left the city by the time the London Olympics kicked-off, so never saw it 'in action'. Now the stadia are open to the public they tend to dwarf the reduced crowds. The elegantly landscaped park has a slightly Ballardian quality. If feels somehow over-designed next to the more higgledy piggledy spaces of the old city.

This is a view up one of the waterways on the South Bank, near to Tower Bridge. These buildings were derelict right up until the 90s and the flats now cost in excess of £400k. Good evidence for their previous state can be found in films like Jubilee by Derek Jarman and Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket. Both directors shot in the disused, decaying waterfront of the 80s. I think I prefer it that way.

I went to the London ComiCon last month, and had to escape after less than an hour due to my brain overloading. I discovered that Brompton Cemetery is right next to Earl's Court and had a wander through the Victorian burial ground. I realised I had seen the long, colonnaded walk in various films, including the Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes movie. The place has an amazing collection of 19th century funerary architecture.

I've been reading a bit about Chinese migration to UK cities so I visited the London Chinatown. I was really fascinated by the fusion of Asian design with the Victorian and Georgian architecture of the neighborhood. I particularly wanted to wander down the back alleys, where the application of design is far less considered. There were some wonderful little Victorian barred windows and bricked up alcoves in the surfaces, while the Chinese influence was far less bombastic.

This is the Paolozzi bronze of Newton outside the British Library. He is probably the best bit of the campus, which I otherwise don't care for much.

I usually do edits in Photoshop, but used Picasa this time as it's just quicker. The 'Holga' filter is a one-button click and produces OK results I think. Alas there still appears to be no control over the watermark text settings, hence the rather clunky results here.

Monday, 4 August 2014

Comics Unmasked at the British Library

This weekend I went to Comics Unmasked at the British Library. Since the institution's move to its new premises from its old location at the British Museum it has put on some great 'blockbuster' public shows bringing it well-deserved acclaim. Unmasked is no exception, and, despite some faults, is a great exhibition fit for fans of the genre and art historians alike.

Unmasked charts the history of British comics and the preoccupations of their authors and artists. Like many shows these days, it's arranged thematically rather than chronologically and tackles a number of subjects which are at the forefront of comic culture in this country. Antecedents like medival pamplets, political posters and satires, Punch and Victorial penny dreadfulls are presented as progentiors to the nation's twentieth century comics dealing with polictics, race, sexuality and the British obsession with the anti-hero. Highlights include original drawings and paste-ups of V for Vendetta, the actual models made by Dave McKean for The Tragical Comedy or Comical Tragedy of Mr. Punch and samples of Alan Moore's original notes. The final section explores the connection between comics and mysticism and I was transfixed by the hand-written notebooks belonging to Aliester Crowley and John Dee.

Alas the show is marred by a couple of things. Its physical design is slightly grim as visitors are forced to 'conveyor-belt' around the walls at the pace of the slowest soldier. The tactility of the medium is completely ignored with tokenistic gestures of some iPads for actual browsing. While there is a flicking projection screen overhead, much the wallspace is left blank and leads to a rather sterile atmosphere. I understand the need not to distract from the originals on show, but it would have been so much more engaging had they enlgarged at least a few prints or character sketches. Plus it was bloody freezing!

These gripes aside, its an amazing show and I urge anyone interested to visit before it closes later this month. And remember to bring a jacket to keep you warm.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Mad Max: Road Fury ComiCon trailer

This looks utterly awesome.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Beacon by Monothetic

A quick post to say I am loving the WIP images coming from developer Monothetic for their new 'Roguelike' game Beacon. The concept art has a wonderful early-80s vibe and I definitely want a copy of Freja's jacket.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus

Some late night insomnia lead me to watch the excuisite documentary Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus. It was first broadcast in 2004 and is an exploration of the music and religion of the poor, white South by musician Jim White. At the outset, White hires a very broken car from a wary owner, then buys a four-foot statue of Jesus as a kind of oversized dashboard memento to accompany him on his drive across the American south. En route he meets all manner of swamp dwellers, bikers, woodsmen and tele-evangelists.

What binds these people together is their choice of where they sit on a very stark divide. On one side is a perilous life of crime, hedonism and alcohol often resulting in prison or death. The others choose god and, while their lives are no less punishing, they are completely convinced of the rewards they will receive in the hereafter. Thus the small towns tend to have two neighborhoods - that of the brothels and bars, and that of ramshackle churches.

The lyrical speech of the subjects is mirrored by the photography of the documentary. In this respect Wrong-Eyed Jesus reminds me of the excellent 1999 Wisconsin Death Trip. Long tracking shots describe the rugged, jumbled landscape while interviewees tell weird and depressing tales of their youth. The effect is utterly brilliant and provides a fascinating window into how capitalism and western values can fail miserably and how humans have the capacity to comprehend and choose between instant or deferred gratification.

Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus is currently on BBC iPlayer.

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Very dirty LEGO

I've been working on this project for years - in fact, over two. That's not to say it took me the full duration, but I rather lost steam along the way and it's been an effort to bring it to fruition.

Having seen one or two examples of painted LEGO amongst the wonderful stuff on the web, I decided to experiment with heavy weathering on a mech. I deliberately chose materials that could be washed off to leave the bricks as-new if I decide to break him up. I think I used chalk and ground pastels for the bulk of it, which (I hope) will clean off easily. The build itself was a great learning experience. I am not experienced at creating from scratch with LEGO and I can tell you it's super-hard to end up with anything that looks remotely coherent!

I stumbled a bit when it came to presentation. I went round the houses on a graphic design scheme, and what you see here is rather a pale expression of the grandeur I had planned. I experimented a lot with Russian criminal tattoo designs, but nothing ended up working in the end. I chose the painting in the end as its hues matched those of the model, and the combination of the image and the text drew the associations I wanted for this mech.

I firmly believe there is no such thing as wasted work though, and I think the tattoo research will be very handy for something I am brooding over right now.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

3D handcrafted video games

Things have been a bit slow on the blogging front for two reasons - I am having terrible trouble with my broadband (thanks, seemingly, to some indeterminate problem at what Sky refers to only as "The Exchange") and I've been away. More on the latter in a bit...

During the rare moments when I do have a connection I've been discovering 3D handcrafted video games. This is a genre of games which use traditional 3D animation techniques in place of more conventional computer graphics.

One of the first (or possibly the first) was The Neverhood released on CD ROM in 1996. It is a point and click adventure using claymation sets and characters. The static nature of the point and click mode allows almost any style of images to be used, so while visually innovative, the title did not make any advances technologically. The use of claymation was very probably a response to the critical and commercial success of the film A Nightmare Before Christmas, released in 1993. Indeed, there were two other 'claymation' games in the early 90s (Claymates and the ClayFighter series, both on the SNES) but these was conventional looking games, which adopted the claymation aesthetic for their pixel-based sprites and cover art.

A sequel, Skullmonkeys, was released in 1998, this time on the PlayStation. This title is a platform game and successfully combines claymation figures and sets into a fully animated gaming experience interdispersed with claymation cut scenes. The plot has you collecting clay balls, which seems to be a wry but clunky way of justifying the use of claymation in the videogame marketplace.

While 2D animated games abounded over the years, there seems to have been a bit of a break on the 3D handmade scene until The Dream Machine in 2010 from Cockroach. This is a mystery puzzle game in which a claymation protagonist uncovers some rather odd goings-on in his new flat. Although brightly lit and colourful, the style of the puppets reminds me of the expressionistic Eastern European work that terrified me as a child.

2011 saw the release of Lume, from State of Play games. Rather than claymation, it picks up on the recent trend for using relief and layered paper and card to create images. It's a beautiful, friendly looking piece which harks back to the 60s and 70s childrens illustrations which used blocks of colour with wobbley hand-drawn lines as detail. 

The Swapper by Facepalm Games was released only a few weeks ago and is available on Steam. It is a side-scrolling platform adventure where the bulk of the environments are miniature sets. I love the juxtaposition between the gritty, dirty world, and the luminous HUD overlays. There is also a bit of a late 70s vibe going on with the protagonist(s) sporting silver visors atop their bulky environment suits.

 Lumino City is State of Play's forthcoming sequel to the aforementioned Lume. From the teaser it seems that they talented folk in South London have turned up the volume on its predecessor to create an amazing blend of animation and physical models. I particularly love the use of depth of field, makding everything seem very intimate.

Via Awesome Robo

Friday, 23 May 2014

NSFW: Blow Your trumpets Gabriel by Behemoth

Just discovered this amazing video by Polish Metal band Behemoth. It features some awesome monochrome magikal imagery. I've seen quite a few stills floating around on tublr, so it's nice to know their origin and see them in motion.

Having won a battle with cancer, the lead singer and his band have just been banned from gigging in Russia. The official reason is that they lack the necessary visas, but the suspicicion is that the authorities fear another Pussy Riot episode.

Via The Guardian

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Star Wars Revisited

Again, I am pretty late to the party on this one but I've just been learning about the Star Wars Revisited project.

In a nutshell, some very hard core fans of the franchise are making surgical tweaks to the films to, in their eyes, enhance them. These alterations are as subtle as adding accurate and synchronised navigation 'flaps' to the Land Speeders on Hoth, and cleaning up some of the mismatched effects applied (and re-applied) by Lucas and his team. The lengths to which the fan team go are quite extraordinary. They're even making accurate physical models which they shoot as live action elements and then composite in to the footage.

It also seems that the team are planning more significant edits to the saga in the future. These will take their alterations from mere 'enhancements' to fully fledged revisions or re-imaginings. They are talking about editing to remove a lot of the genealogy from Star Wars. Anakin will no longer be the creator of C-3PO ('Why the hell would Anakin build a protocol droid for his Mum?' they argue, fairly convincingly) and Anakin and Vader will be separated editorially so their relationship is never made clear until The Empire Strikes Back.

Although there are some quite legitimate legal questions surrounding this activity, I can't help think that it's just plain awesome. Of course Lucas is most high profile filmmaker to alter and re-release his own work and has, arguably, given rise to the culture of tweaking himself. Perhaps this Lacanian proliforation of views of the saga marks its true apotheosis from being a much-love film to a major cultural entity which is bigger than any one person (or mouse-shaped corporation)?

An example of some of the subtle tweaks that are being applied. In the old footage (below) the generator continues to glow a weird white colour after the explosion recedes. This afterglow has been removed (top).

One of the physical models the Revisited team is making to composit into existing footage.

Monday, 5 May 2014

May the fourth be with you

To celebrate Star Wars day (and a birthday), we took the desperate fight between the valiant Rebel Alliance against the evil Empire into the centre of Nottingham. Aided by some awesome (and in some cases terrifying) costumes and no small amount of beverages, we startled and amused the townsfolk. The mock lightsabre battle descencded into a dance-off won by the very slick, if unexpected, bodypopping from a Jawa.

I think I liked the Jabba costume best. The ingenious onesie had a fan built into it, which inflated the costume thanks to the ties at the writsts, neck and ankles. The locals seemed to like him too, and he is sure to appear on lots of Facebook pages over the next few days.