Thursday, February 27, 2014

5 Perfectly Innocent Things That Scare Me for Ridiculous Reasons

First of all, I realise this post is incredibly soft and it makes me ashamed to say I studied journalism at university. A lot has been going on in my personal life as of late, and as a result, I have lost my morale to write serious pieces. I thought I'd write something very casual to ease back into writing. That said, I will not slacken off in regards to my writing quality. The topic may be garbage, but I hope my flair shines through.

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I am scared of death because I imagine it will be eternal nothingness. Cockroaches scare me because they fly. Heights don't always scare me, but when they do, it's because I'm picturing myself plummeting to my death, and now we're back at square one. Death, cockroaches, and heights: many people would list these among their top fears. But then there are other things that give me the creeps—things that would not affect the average person. It would take intensive Freudian psychoanalysis to discover why I find these things scary. I should note that these things do not impact me in the same way my major, aforementioned fears do. My major fears usually elicit a physiological response from me. Thinking about death literally makes me shudder, and seeing a cockroach on the ceiling of my room makes me break out in a sweat. My obscure fears, on the other hand, just make me feel general unease. If you share any of these "fears", let me know, and we can start a support group or something.

5. Confession Booths

 

When I was seven years old, I had to have my Sacrament of Reconciliation. That was just one of the things I had to do as a student at a Catholic school. At that age, I had no idea confession booths even existed, and my Reconciliation was a face-to-face interaction with a priest. It went smoothly. Eventually, I began watching American movies that contained confession scenes, and I noticed they all took place in this dark booth. The idea of it terrified me. I know what you're thinking, but it has nothing to do with the possibility of molestation. When I was a kid, the idea that a priest would do something of that nature was unfathomable.

It just looks like a miserable setting to me. Sinners go in and fill the booth with their deepest shames, and the priest regurgitates a list of prayers for him or her to say. A partition separates the two of you, preventing the moment from becoming too real. A confession booth is not a place of happiness. It's also the darkness and crammed space of the structure. I have never been in one, but I imagine it would feel rather uncomfortable and more intimate than is necessary.

4. The Album Art for Radiohead's The Bends

 

What is this? A CPR dummy receiving fellatio? It looks like a still from a David Lynch film, or maybe from Harmony Korine's Trash Humpers. I think the scariest part is how lifelike this inanimate object is. I mean, you can tell it's a dummy, but the colour in its cheeks makes it look very human. If this picture were taken on a fancy camera and had a polished look to it, it would not be as unsettling. It would still be weird, but not downright creepy. Stanley Donwood is the man responsible for this cover. He has designed all of Radiohead's album covers from The Bends onwards, and this cold visage is a far cry from the vibrant colour-fest that is In Rainbows. Donwood found this mannequin and filmed it on an old-fashioned video camera with a video cassette in it.

What makes it even scarier is that it's for a Radiohead album. If an artist like Katy Perry used this for an album cover, it would be seen as a shift in her artistic vision. But this is a Radiohead record. It only confirms the dark hopelessness that many of their songs conjure up. How fitting that the final track on The Bends is Street Spirit (Fade Out), a song which Thom Yorke described as "the dark tunnel without the light at the end."

3. The Cough at the Beginning of Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here


Wish You Were Here is a fantastic song, right? Well, once its intro is over...yes. David Gilmour performed the intro on a twelve-string guitar, and the riff almost lulls the listener into a tranquil trance. Indeed, it was mixed so that the listener would feel like they are hearing the song over a car radio. It's all very relaxing until we hear *BLERGH*, as though an elephant is sneezing. But that's no elephant. That's David Gilmour. Skip to 0:43 in the above video to hear it. It's not really a sneeze, but it's not quite a cough either. It sounds like a demonic growl, and it's as freaky as hell because we don't expect it. I mean, it's not every day you hear a cough in a song. Heck, even Simon & Garfunkel's Voices of Old People avoids it.

It's still debated whether the cough was intentional or involuntary. One theory posits that it was deliberate, supposed to add to the effect of a man listening to the radio and playing along with his guitar. Then there's the story that Gilmour, a heavy smoker at the time, heard his cough (and subsequent sniffles) in the final recording and decided to kick the habit for good. No matter the reason for its presence, it will always give me chills.

2. Crumpets


I love eating crumpets, but looking at them is a different story. Heck, just doing the Google Image search to obtain a picture for this blog post made me uncomfortable. When you go to a cafe and order crumpets, it should be common courtesy for the waitstaff to offer complimentary blindfolds. You know what else I hate? Wasp nests, and not simply because they house wasps that can sting the fuck out of you. What do crumpets and wasp nests have in common? HOLES. CLUSTERS OF TINY HOLES. I was browsing the Internet one night and was relieved to discover that many people around the world share this fear. There's even a term for it, although it's not formally recognised in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. It's called trypophobia, derived from trypo, Greek for "punching, drilling, or boring holes." Sponges, coral, and lotus seed heads are other things that repulse someone with trypophobia.

If you have synesthesia, your sensory experiences will overlap, or the stimulation of one cognitive pathway may trigger an involuntary experience in another cognitive pathway. You may think of the colour yellow when you hear the number 6, for example. In trying to explain my trypophobia to others, I compare it to synesthesia. When I see the holes, I feel them, too. It's very hard to explain, though. The simplest way of putting it is that small holes clustered together are just disgusting. If you can make it through this BuzzFeed article without squirming, congratulations...you do not have trypophobia.  

1. Wollstonecraft Railway Station, Sydney 

File:Wollstonecraft Railway Station 1.JPG 

In 2013, I undertook two internships at SBS. Their headquarters are located at Artarmon, meaning I would have to catch a train on the North Shore line—a rare occurrence for me. My stop was St Leonards, a very urbanised station. But right before (or after, depending on your direction) St Leonards lies Wollstonecraft Station. Now, this is a very peaceful station and it doesn't look the slightest bit dangerous. The first time I passed it was just like any other routine stoppage. But I distinctly remember the moment that changed everything. Night had fallen and I was on my way home. My train pulled in at Wollstonecraft, and my eyes immediately darted to a woman sitting by herself reading a book. The station has a sheltered brick seating area, and this woman was the only person inside. She looked to be in her mid-20s and she was dressed entirely in black. A yellowish light above her cast a ghastly glow in her vicinity, almost shrouding her in an aura. This woman was a mystery. Who knows if she was waiting for a train? Maybe she goes there every night to read. I couldn't look away. It was an image of perfect symmetry, but it gave me the creeps. 

From that point on, whether morning or night, I would feel uneasy when my train pulled in at Wollstonecraft. I felt as though that woman was hiding in the wings, as though she lived within the station's walls. It was like something out of mythology. When my train got to Waverton, I knew Wollstonecraft was only one stop away, and I would feel a sick sense of anticipation build in my gut. The platform is located on a sharp 200-metre curve, and I always had these Final Destination-esque premonitions of my train's derailment. The signage at Wollstonecraft also creeps me out. See that large metal sign in the picture above? There's ANOTHER one of those at the other end of the station, and because of their size, I imagine the station developing its own voice, shouting "YOU'RE AT WOLLSTONECRAFT! MUHAHAHAHA!" Lastly, 'Wollstonecraft' was the middle name of Mary Shelley, who of course penned the Gothic novel Frankenstein. Fuck, this station is just too damn ominous.   

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If you enjoyed reading this, check out this post from 2012 where I listed a heap of my other fears, both major and obscure.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

January 2014 Film Wrap-Up

First of all, two things:

1. I only watched 14 films last month, which is a fairly low number for me. The main reason for this is that I was a slave to tennis (most notably the Australian Open) for the majority of the month.

2. In last month's wrap-up post, I vowed I would have finished Woody Allen's entire filmography by now. Sorry to let you guys down, but I'm still not there. Let's just say watching You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger was a huge blow to my morale.

JANUARY 4
 
Charade (Stanley Donen, 1963) = 3.5/5

Damn...I should have picked a much stronger film to kick off my year of viewing. To my defence, this has all the ingredients of a film I should love. So why didn't it completely satisfy me?

Firstly, I should point out that the DVD I watched provided me with a poor print. I would have found something of higher quality if I'd resorted to illegal downloading, as bad as that sounds. The quality was watchable, but quite distracting.

The film features some great individual scenes and some compelling characters, but it doesn't come together as a whole. The marriage of suspense and comedy feels uneasy. This is often hailed as "the best Hitchcock film that Hitchcock never made," but I feel it lacks the fluid simplicity the Master of Suspense was renowned for. This is evident in the film's excessive plot twists.

JANUARY 5
The Descendants (Alexander Payne, 2011) = 5/5

I had seen this film before, but this was my first watch on Blu-ray. As predicted, it looked spectacular and the movie held up. This film is amazing in the way it draws you into the story, making you feel like you belong to the King family. It is immensely rewarding to watch these characters grow, as every sentiment feels genuine. Payne has crafted a picture of real human emotion. Clooney and Woodley are real standouts. 

JANUARY 6
Safety Not Guaranteed (Colin Trevorrow, 2012) = 3.5/5

Based on a novel? Nope. Based on a play? Nope. This quirky film is based on a 1997 Backwoods Home Magazine classified ad. The film is gimmicky on the surface, but emotionally earnest at its core. Plaza and Duplass give great performances.

JANUARY 9
Kids (Larry Clark, 1995) = 4/5

In Kids, a HIV-positive teenager attempts to deflower as many virgins as he can in one day. It's a controversial film, to say the least. It feels almost ethnographic in its brutally realistic exploration of teenage delinquency. Humorous dialogue softens the gloom. I have never liked Harmony Korine as a director, but this film showcases his ability as a writer. 

JANUARY 11
Muriel's Wedding (P. J. Hogan, 1994) = 3.5/5

It's very entertaining and it does well to avoid kitsch territory. Unfortunately, it feels incomplete. We're forced to invest in Muriel so much that the peripheral characters (with the exception of Griffiths' Rhonda) feel empty.

JANUARY 12
Superbad (Greg Mottola, 2007) = 5/5

A timeless film about the thrill of anticipation that harbours a sweet tinge of melancholy beneath its vulgar exterior. Quite simply, It's a tribute to all the crazy shit you get up to with your mates...the wild nights that no one sees coming. Superbad means a lot to me. It's my fourth-favourite film of all time.

JANUARY 20
The Mist (Frank Darabont, 2007) = 3/5

While not scary, the terror is convincing and the film is immersive. Let down by an overlong running time and a contrived ending. It's one of the more disappointing Stephen King adaptations. 

JANUARY 24
The Conversation (Francis Ford Coppola, 1974) = 3/5

This is the film that made me feel like a bad film enthusiast. Everyone loves The Conversation, right? Well, I didn't. And I've disliked highly-acclaimed films in the past, but this was different. I felt like I really should have liked this one. I think the problem is that I went in expecting something similar to Rear Window. When I see the word "spying" in a film's plot premise, that's the first film I think of. Obviously, there's so much more going on in this film...a lot of subtext beneath the surface. Ultimately, I couldn't empathise with a single character, and the slow pacing was grating. Also, I almost had to lean in closer to my TV to understand some of the muffled dialogue. I can't call this a bad film. In fact, I would say it outsmarted me. I will just call it a very tedious watch. 

JANUARY 25
You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (Woody Allen, 2010) = 1/5

Of the 41 Allen films I've seen, this is the worst. It's a lazy, paint-by-numbers film that feels like a soap opera on steroids. This is a cautionary tale for why you shouldn't pump out one film per year. I can't believe Anthony Hopkins agreed to be in this. What's sadder is that I can't even call his performance a redeeming feature. If this film were a food, it would be white bread, perhaps specked with mould. I'm sure many people have been sucked into this film by its ambiguous title, but an interesting title does not a good film make!

JANUARY 27
The Grey (Joe Carnahan, 2011) = 4/5

We feel the desperation and isolation of the characters. Beautiful cinematography immerses us in the freezing cold. To allude to Dylan Thomas, it's a film about raging against the dying of the light. It's so much more than Liam Neeson vs. Wolves: The Movie.

JANUARY 28
Her (Spike Jonze, 2013) = 4/5

An affecting film about the ubiquity and distancing effect of technology. Great as a character study, but as a film I was slightly underwhelmed. I can't exactly put my finger on it, but there was something insincere about the closing scenes. The third act felt a little rushed in general. These reservations aside, HER is still a great film that's worth seeing for its original screenplay, beautiful cinematography, and a remarkable central performance by Joaquin Phoenix. I think Jonze should also be commended for his mature approach to the subject matter. Theodore (Phoenix) is not an archetype...no fedora-wearing "neckbeard" who lives in his mother's basement. He could be your neighbour, your friend, or even you.

JANUARY 29
Swimming Pool (Fran├žois Ozon, 2003) = 3.5/5

This erotic thriller offers more than eye candy, and keeps you guessing right 'til the end. Unfortunately, we're left to do too much guessing. There is only so much ambiguity I can take.

JANUARY 30
Bernie (Richard Linklater, 2011) = 4/5

Only a talent like Linklater could pull off this comedy/crime/drama/mockumentary/biopic concoction. Jack Black is perfectly cast and gives the performance of his career. You can tell that Linklater wrote the script specifically with Black in mind. 

JANUARY 31
Sinister (Scott Derrickson, 2012) = 3.5/5

While I think the film tries to be too clever and butchers its ending, it delivers on scares by building an atmosphere of dread. The murders depicted on the found Super 8 footage are especially disturbing. Ethan Hawke is great as usual in the central role, and I feel he is still underrated in Hollywood. One last thing: can we just stop with the trope of scary possessed children? It's getting old. Really old. 

In Summary - The Must-See Films (4.5 or 5 Stars)
* The Descendants
* Superbad