Only Lovers Left Alive

The following review is one giant SPOILER.

There is a cryptic scene in Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive where vampire lovers Adam and Eve notice a few small Amanita muscaria mushrooms growing in the back yard of Adam’s factory loft. They seem somewhat out of place and out of time; the fungi, they note, are out of season. Eve talks to them like they’re people. She and Adam share a knowing glance and leave them be. We don’t see them again.

Only Lovers Left Alive is a rock and roll movie that only Jarmusch could make. An atmosphere of cool apathy permeates this story about Adam (Tom Hiddleston), a depressed, nosferatic rock star genius living in the husk of Detroit city. He spends his days accumulating vintage instruments, avoiding impending fame like the plague, contemplating suicide, and drinking illicit blood bank donations with all the ceremony and satisfaction of a wealthy heroin addict.

His wife Eve (Tilda Swinton) lives in Tangier where her vampire friend Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt) keeps her supplied with good blood. We wonder why Adam and Eve live on opposite sides of the world, and their unique situation dawns on us; being immortal, their concept of time might make years apart seem like a weekend separation.

Seeing Adam’s depression over Skype, Eve flies to Detroit to be with him. When she arrives there is some relief; the couple feed together, listening to records, catching up on each others’ age-old wisdom and isolation (Adam has remained off the grid with a Tesla-inspired generator he constructed piecemeal in his back yard).

Their relationship with humanity is strained. They refer to humans as “zombies,” implying unthinking consumers who lack the scope for real creativity. Eve is regarded with suspicion wherever she goes and the only human company Adam can stand is Ian, a fan of Adam’s music who tracks down vintage guitars and whatever else Adam needs no questions asked (i.e. a bullet made of the hardest wood available, with which Adam contemplates ending it all).

But their relationship with humanity seems to be necessary. Adam has been creating music for ages, but cannot own up to it. A life of fame would expose his immortality, so he’s been getting the work out via “zombies,” human conduits who take all the fame and the slack. We also learn that Christopher Marlowe was the creative force behind some of history’s great literature, including Shakespeare.

Enter Ava (Mia Wasikowska), Eve’s mischievous little sister who immediately gets on Adam’s nerves. They put her up, share their stash of blood, and even let her talk them into a night on the town. After a rock show, Adam, Eve, Ava and Ian travel back to the loft and you just know Ava wants to get into trouble. When Adam and Eve wake the next night, they find Ian’s corpse.

With his only human connection severed, Adam decides to leave his loft full of instruments to go to Tangier with Eve. They’re dangerously low on blood but counting on Marlowe to hook them up when they land. But they arrive to find him in a bad way; blood poisoning is common and a bad batch has made it past his safeguards. He’s had his last, leaving the Lovers to fend for themselves.

Withdrawal from feeding takes its toll, and the Lovers walk the streets, hoping they won’t have to hunt fresh prey. A compelling musical performance distracts Adam while Eve slinks into the night to find him a gift to buoy his spirits. She comes back with a lute, a completely atavistic instrument they both find beautiful and perfect.

Wasting away on the street, lute in hand, they happen upon two young lovers sharing an intimate moment. They watch the couple admiringly. And then, without any better options, they descend on them. In the closing moment of the film we see Adam and Eve approaching the young lovers, canines exposed.

The pace of the movie is somewhat languorous, and in the theater I felt the narrative was engaging but suffered from a lack of drive. There was, of course, no explosive climax. Each scene seemed to roll out from the last without much added momentum. When the credits rolled, my first thought was that this was a very cool movie with superb acting (Tilda Swinton is 100% compelling), but it’s probably not Jarmusch’s best.

About a day later, thinking about the themes that carry through the film, I started to glimpse a profundity behind the narrative, though even now it refuses to crystallize completely for me. The film wasn’t focused on dramatic thrill; Only Lovers Left Alive is a meditation on art and immortality.

In the world of the film, history’s great visionary artists have been the puppets of immortal vampires. These vampires (the serious ones, anyway) have no time for a society of zombies. But they remain attached to civilization so that they can giver their art an outlet in the world. The film’s vampires do what they can to enrich “zombie” society from afar.

Those Amanita mushrooms are emblematic of our heroes. These are the visionary, psychedelic mushrooms of legend, offering ancient Siberian shamans a glimpse into the transcendent world beyond. To eat them is to see the world and the self in ecstatic ways. Out of place and out of season, and bearing promises of vision, the Lovers left the mushrooms be. The vampires themselves have artistic, visionary work to do, work that will show the “zombies” new ways to perceive the world and themselves. And like these mushrooms, they just want to be left alone.

It seems perfect coming from Jim Jarmusch. The drive to put art into the world and move on, to avoid getting caught up in fame, to disregard critics and commercial success, and to bring Vision into the world; these are virtues of real artists. The work will last forever, and by extension, the artist. Thinking about the immortal visionaries at the heart of Only Lovers Left Alive, I feel appropriately exhorted to “publish or perish.”

NaNoWriMo 2012 – Week 4

It’s the final push to make 50000 words. I’m not quite there, though by Friday night I will be. Yesterday I noticed an interesting thing: usually I’ve been writing every morning and a little bit in the evening, but as my work plans were a bit different yesterday I didn’t get a chance in the morning. By evening I felt anxious, even though I knew I would sit down to write. It’s strange how quickly the body adapts when you start doing something every single day. It was a physical craving, this anxiety, just like cigarette addiction.

Residuum sits at just over 45000 words, but Wednesday will be a light day on the word count because I’m going to a concert. Six Organs of Admittance is playing The Drake in Toronto and it should be the perfect thing to psyche me up for the finale of my book.

I recently purchased this 6 Organs album from Rotate This. It’s a 3LP set of old and unreleased 4-track recordings called RTZ. It was put out by Drag City, of course. They are the same label who recently supplied my Ty Segall, Movietone and Rangda LPs. I recommend them all, but if you’re looking for psychedelic folk – and why wouldn’t you be? – RTZ is mind-blowing.

Nov. 21 – 2124 words.

Nov. 22 – 1437 words.

Nov. 23 – 1438 words.

Nov. 24 – 1738 words.

Nov. 25 – 3799 words.

Nov. 26 – 1767 words.

Nov. 27 – 1006 words and counting – I’ve still got some steam left in me tonight.

NaNoWriMo 2012 – Week 3

Residuum is a psychedelic science fiction story. In a bleak future, an urban shaman goes on the run from authorities and realizes there’s a whole other world out there. Prominent themes are technology, psychology, and ecology. I’ll get back to regular posts after this month is through.

Nov. 14 – 3500+ words. Grueling.

Nov. 15 -1080. Probably as a result of overdoing it.

Nov. 16 -1063. Probably still feeling it. That’s what I’m going with.

Nov. 17 – 2119 words.

Nov. 18 – 3500+ words. Because you have to use the weekend.

Nov. 19 – 1265. I also started a micro-comedy script for the web.

Nov. 20 – 2447. Finished the comedy sketch also. It’s like a sex comedy for pretentious people.

I’m at 32570 as I write this.

Check out this Kickstarter page for the movie The Birder, made by friends of mine at The Dot Film Company.


NaNoWriMo 2012

My posts this month will be a little different. I’ve been looking to make time to write a novel and I recently stumbled on the NaNoWriMo site (National Novel Writing Month). The site and programs seem like a good idea. Not because the world needs more novels, but because an official site dedicated to the cause is motivating. It was only because of a Google+ alert that I even learned about the site, but it’s already inspired me to get started. I’m confident I’ll finish my novel by the end of the month.

The goal is 50 000 words by midnight November 30th. This is a pretty hefty word-count for thirty days. If you start on November 1st, you have to write 1600 words every day. Most of my blog posts are less than this and I only do them once a week. Because I outline my writing projects, I have only starting writing prose this morning, but have a six-thousand word outline to work from which will allow me to write more quickly and ensure I don’t make decisions on the fly that will derail the story as I write.

Residuum is a psychedelic sci-fi novel set in a dystopian future.

Check out their site, follow NaNoWriMo and myself on Twitter, and if you’re not participating, consider it for next year.

So Far:

Nov. 1 – I began serious outlining, roughing out major plot points and working my way up to the inciting incident.

Nov. 2 – Finished outlining the first act and the first two scenes of my second act, had some Scotch.

Nov. 3 – Outlined most of the second act and sat unthinking until my subconscious gave me a hint about the climax and how to interweave the multiple plot lines into a meaningful conclusion.

Nov. 4 – Finished the outline by roughing in the third-act scenes.

Nov. 5 – Got up early and revised the very beginning of the outline, trying to make sure appropriate seeds were planted in the beginning so the themes and character development bloom properly by the end of the book. Roughed out this blog post after work and continued with the outline revision.

Nov. 6 – Started writing prose this morning after missing the Go Train at Union. On my return trip I finished my first chapter (1387 words). Finished this blog post and watched some hilarious and frustrating American election coverage.

I now need to write about 2000 words per day to finish on time. I’ll be focused on fiction for November so I’ll be giving progress reports and hopefully posting more music to my Music page in the coming month.

Interiority Complex

I grew up Roman Catholic but never felt anything “holy” when I went to church. It was something like school – something that had to be done. Maybe this is my own personality, or maybe it’s the religion itself. It was the Romans who killed Jesus, after all.

Watching Twin Peaks in high school I realized something mysterious existed just below the surface. That feeling of mystery eventually spread from the television to all parts of my life, but it wasn’t until late university that I took an interest in other religions and philosophies and became preoccupied with getting to know the unknown.

Middle Eastern and Asian religions appealed to me aesthetically. Spires and colourful mosaics, sitars and multi-armed deities seemed more appropriate to worship, but this is likely because those schema were culturally alien to me and therefore had a stronger connection to the unknown.

Discovering yoga, meditation, shamanism and other techniques in my spare time helped me augment my nervous system and take an active role in the development of my consciousness. Those self-disciplines used to seem socially unacceptable somehow, probably a result of the anhedonic attitude of Roman Catholicism. Oddly enough, now I can find that “holy” feeling just about anywhere quiet.

When I read The Varieties of Religious Experience by the American philosopher William James, I was impressed with how clearly he laid out my some of my convictions. Why should anyone be able to call into question the authenticity of my interior reality? Experience shows me what is true and false, especially in those tricky interior realms where language breaks down. The value of those experiences is personal, but it infuses everything I do.

At one point in my life I would have called myself an atheist. Fortunately, having had my mind blown by interior experiences, I realized that “God” was just a word, a tool used to describe the unification of everything, and I didn’t have to worry about believing or not believing because the name is not the thing named. What matters is cause and effect. If I can sit still and see the universe as a unified whole, it doesn’t matter to me what path brought me there. The personal sacred experience is what matters. I’ve been meditating twice every day without fail for many years because it’s worth it.

One of my favorite words is psychedelic, from the Greek psyche, as in “mind”, and delos, “manifesting”. Psychedelic = Mind Manifesting. Unfortunately the word psychedelic is all caught up with drugs, hippies, trippy colours, and other bullshit that take away from what the word could mean. I find the definition of this word in dictionaries to be lazy.

Psychedelia should be synonymous with art. I believe all art to be psychedelic. What you are reading right now is a written manifestation of my mind. I had an idea, I thought about it, and made it manifest. Tattoos are psychedelic too; a person finds meaning in a symbol and they alter their physical body to represent that idea. Music works similarly.

Art is a sensory creation that adds something unique, meaningful, and valuable to the mental landscape. That’s what real art is to me, anyway. The rest is just filler. Industries apply the word “artist” to anybody who writes a book, acts in a movie, plays a song, without questioning the value of what is made. An unfortunate amount of movies, music, and books are either meaningless, or their meaning has no value. Fortunately for the world some people take art seriously and give out in love what is taken in by contemplation.

Literature is telepathy. Music is empathy. Film is orchestrated hallucination. These are powerful tools we’ve developed. If you can find transcendent meaning in a piece of art, let that be an acceptable road to the sacred. Incidentally, Catholic and Jewish religions are already based on a book, aren’t they? Sometimes I get a kick imagining that the authors of the Bible were intentionally trying to write the weirdest novel ever.

What I’m trying to say is that you should all pay close attention to “In Your Mind” by Built to Spill.