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The Weird and the Eerie by Mark Fisher – a review

Mark Fisher’s latest – and tragically – final book The Weird and the Eerie explores encounters with the outside and the unknown in 20th and 21st century film, music and literature.

Mark’s two previous books, prolific journalism and compelling blog established his reputation as one of the most brilliant cultural critics and political theorists of the past 15 years.

Capitalist Realism (2009) named and brought into sharp focus the widespread and largely unspoken assumption that no alternative exists to prevailing neoliberal orthodoxies for ordering our cultural, economic and political life.

Ghosts of My Life (2014) developed Mark’s perception that 21st century culture is haunted by a sense of ‘the slow cancellation of the future’, the erasure of the modernist impulse that pulsed through postwar social democracy: the hope that history has a vector, and that tomorrow will be different from today.

The Weird and the Eerie is a less overtly political work, but every page is lit by the restless desire for new horizons – for the possibility of change – that was the great theme of Mark’s work.

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Napoleon, restored

I spent much of New Year’s Eve quite rationally, watching a five-and-a-half hour silent movie at the Edinburgh Filmhouse.

I should clarify that there were three intervals. And it was time well spent: the film was a restored BFI version of Abel Gance’s 1927 epic Napoleon, telling the story of the general’s early years. Despite the feature’s length it was intended as only the first in a series of six movies covering the life of the great man. As it transpired the opening episode proved so hard to make that its successors were never made.

The film is a technical wonder, illustrating the full range of what the avant-garde filmmakers of the 1920s could do with limited means. It was one of the first movies to use fluid camera action and tracking shots, and employed a battery of new techniques including close-ups, point-of-view perspectives, multiple exposure, colour tinting and mosaic effects.

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Arrival and the possibility of conversation

Arrival, the film adaption of the novella Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang, has been recognised as one of the most intelligent sci-fi films of recent years, as concerned with helping us see our own world anew as with what might exist beyond it.

It is especially poignant, perhaps, that Denis Villeneuve’s movie was released only days after a bitter US Presidential race, whose outcome was only the most shocking upset of a year that has exposed seemingly irresolvable political and cultural divisions. For essentially it is a story about the possibility of communication, of bridging the abysmal gulfs that stop us talking to each other.

An alien civilisation visits Earth, their opaque, ovoid spacecraft – monumental structures recalling 2001’s monoliths – materialising one day at various locations across the world: the Indian Ocean, the Siberian tundra, the plains of Montana – twelve in all. Their portals hover a few metres from the ground, inviting entry.

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Another look at The Man Who Fell To Earth

And so it was I entered the broken world
To trace the visionary company of love, its voice
An instant in the wind (I know not whither hurled)
But not for long to hold each desperate choice.

Those enigmatic lines from Hart Crane’s The Broken Tower preface Walter Tevis’ 1963 novel The Man Who Fell To Earth, a sci-fi classic that has been somewhat overshadowed by Nicolas Roeg’s 1976 film adaptation, currently being replayed in British cinemas.

That’s unfortunate. Roeg’s interpretation has many memorable scenes and images that entangle themselves in the mind, and is electrified by a charismatic lead performance by David Bowie, an elegant alien presence. But while the film captures something of the book’s strangeness, Roeg’s habitual desire to shock through the shoehorning of several gratuitous scenes into his movie adds nothing to Tevis’ subtle tale. Since the film has gathered so much attention I thought it worth writing a few lines about the novel.

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Charlie Chaplin: hero of the Soviet avant-garde

Just as Marx praises capitalism in the most extravagant terms in The Communist Manifesto, the early Soviet avant-garde was entranced by the idea of America.

The Chaplin Machine: Slapstick, Fordism and the Communist Avant-Garde by Owen Hatherley explores the Soviet intelligentia’s fascination with the America of the early 20th century, a mythic land of technological wonders, vast mechanised industries, spectacular cityscapes and the startling new medium of cinema.

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