Category Archives: pop culture

Pop culture observations.

Waiting for Argento: Blood, Boobs and DRACULA 3D

“Is it right to be obsessed with looking at terrible things and sharing them with other people?” — Dario Argento, Italian film director, producer and screenwriter

Dario Argento's Dracula 3D
Dario Argento’s Dracula 3D

Quoting Argento, I feel like some whore in a shower stall talking to herself as she cleans off the filth of her last embarrassing encounter. That is to say, I know that if/when Dario Argento’s DRACULA 3D (http://www NULL.dracula3dthemovie will be released in the US, I will look. In fact, I really want to like what I see. I do. I swear.

But should I be sharing such an awful thing with other people? Especially when this long awaited film — screened and panned at Cannes and currently only being distributed in Europe — still has no U.S. release date!?!?!?

Famous for 1977’s Suspiria, and being cited as an inspiration for the work of directors like John Carpenter, Argento has made over twenty horror movies, each with a schlocky seventies european sensibility. He has amassed quite a fan-base around the world, and is given a degree of respect in Europe; but when his re-interpretation of Dracula in 3D was screened at Cannes last May (http://www NULL.filmschoolrejects NULL.php), the audience jeered and many left their seats.

Still, like his central character here — a Dracula that’s cunning and oddly appealing — Argento’s films have a certain charm. They are forever stuck in the hazy twilight of adolescent wonder for all things reputedly hip and cool simply because they are foreign — a benefit of the doubt certainly extended more easily in the days before the web and the globalization of media. But Argento’s appeal is limited, and his consistently bad movies, while often entertaining in their ineptitude, tend to receive more attention before people actually see them. He has our enthusiasm on credit because of an account only long ago in good standing.

Like the count himself, Argento seemed far more interesting the first, second or even the third or fourth time around — when he was novel, exotic, a stranger from a strange land.

Thomas Kretschmann as Dracula

Suspiria is a good example of how one of his films can be more than their silly premises (in this case “ballerina vs. witches”). With beautiful cinematography and an atmosphere of the surreal, Suspiria consistently finds it ways to top positions in lists of great horror films.

Still, 1977 was 35 years ago. And Argento has made no effort to adapt his skills or sensibilities to modern audiences.

I’ll expect terrible CGI and clumsy use of 3D. I’ll forgive  the poor acting (Rutger Hauer as Van Helsing is the only actor with even a slight chance of salvaging what is sure to be terrible dialogue). And I’ll look past what’s sure to be downright bizarre physical effects (a review from Cannes mentioned a a gigantic bug?). And why will I excuse all of this? Because I’m a sucker for bad foreign, bloody period semi-(or even not) faithful adaptations of Dracula (need I say more than Jess Franco’s El Conde Dracula with Christopher Lee?). They all can’t be Hammer’s brilliant Horror of Dracula (http://www (1958), Coppolla’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula (http://www (1992), or even Lugosi in Todd Browning’s classic Universal fare (http://www (1931). But they are all worth a watch just once. Just to say I’ve seen every Dracula film (and I’m pretty sure I have).

Still, even I might have to draw the line when it comes to Argento doing Dracula. See for yourself…

Sure, the blood will be fun. And Argento filming his beautiful daughter, Asia, in all manner of stages of undress as Lucy will be oddly alluring and extremely off-putting at the same time, I’m sure.

But does Dracula 3D have enough of what makes a bad movie good to ever get this film to rise above the just plain terrible?

You be the judge. And so will I.

If it’s ever released here in the states, you can bet I’ll follow up. Good or bad, Dracula 3D is bound to be a guilty pleasure worth pursuing.

In Tongues

“…I felt language rise up in me that was unhooked from english, and I began to speak.. like this, ‘Ehh yo ca dem wa, etc.. .. or words to that effect. And I wondered then what it all meant and why it felt so good if it didn’t mean anything. And I thought about it, a few years actually, and I decided that meaning and language are two different things. And that what the alien voice in the psychedelic experience wants to reveal is the syntactical nature of reality.”Terence McKenna, describing one of the effects of N,N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT) on his consciousness in Space Time Continuum: Alien Dreamtime (http://deoxy NULL.htm), a multimedia event recorded on Feb 27th, 1993

Image of Pentecost from the Rabula Gospels, 6th Century

The celebration of Pentecost in the Christian tradition commemorates the gifts of the Holy Spirit as visited upon the Apostles of Jesus after his death in the form of what are often referred to as tongues of fire; chief among these gifts was glossolalia, or the ability to speak in tongues.

As understood by the early Church and recorded in the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, speaking in tongues has traditionally meant that those given the gifts of the Holy Spirit were able to preach the Gospel in such a way as to be understood by all men in each their own native language.

“And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven. Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language.” — Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 2, verses 4-6, King James Version

Modern Christians, particularly those in the Pentecostal movement but even among some Catholics who identify themselves as charismatics, believe that speaking in tongues can not only mean real, unlearned languages (i.e., xenoglossia) but also — even more so —  divinely inspired utterances not necessarily understood by anyone at all but nonetheless heavenly.

This language of the spirit tends to sound like gibberish, but to believers, it is a heavenly gift of praise and a sign that the Holy Spirit continues to bestow extraordinary grace (or charism) upon Christians. In this respect, speaking in tongues shares less with the experience of the Apostles on Pentecost Sunday than it does with the ecstatic speech of the ancients.

Linguists who have studied this latter practice — often called the language of the spirit — believe that it’s not a true language but rather simply sounds that are formed like speech but have no intelligibility of their own. To skeptics, speaking in tongues is not a miraculous occurrence at all.

Still, one wonders if the person speaking in tongues truly believes he or she is channeling some heavenly language.

Are these people just faking? Is speaking in tongues nothing more than what it seems: meaningless, fabricated speech?

Newberg shows glossolalia (b) associated with a decrease in frontal lobe activity

Publishing his findings in Psychiatric Research: Neuroimaging (http://www NULL.psyn-journal (November, 2006), Andrew Newberg, MD (http://www NULL.andrewnewberg, Associate Professor of Radiology, Psychiatry, and Religious Studies, and Director for the Center for Spirituality and the Mind at the University of Pennsylvania, took SPECT scans of subjects while they simply sang and separately, as they spoke in tongues (section b in the image at left). Brain scans recorded during moments of speaking in tongues primarily showed a decrease of activity in the frontal lobes, the area of the brain where we feel that we’re in control of our thoughts and actions. Additionally, there was a decrease in activity in the left basal ganglia, an area responsible for mental focus and emotional response.

Newberg’s conclusion? Subjects speaking in tongues were not consciously faking anything. To the contrary, they appeared to not be in control of their utterances at all. Unlike his studies of Tibetan monks during meditation whose frontal lobes showed increased activity due to intense concentration, the subjects who spoke in tongues seemed to have somehow given up control of the parts of their brains associated with language and speech.

Newberg shows meditation associated with an increase in frontal lobe activity

Does this mean all Christians who claim to speak in tongues show these same brain patterns? Certainly not. Newberg’s study only looked at five test subjects. But science may partially explain, then, why a phenomenon certainly not specifically defined as unintelligible heavenly speech in the Old or New Testament has a hold on so many Christians today. With more than one in four Christians identifying themselves as Pentecostal or Charismatic (http://www NULL.christianpost, something beyond Christianity — perhaps in human nature itself — may be hard wired to use patterns of syllabic utterances disconnected from known language to alter consciousness. If not to touch God, then perhaps to find something divine within.

From African animists to the Oracle at Delphi, ecstatic language predates Christianity. Both Plato and Virgil make reference to it. Some scholars believe the earliest example may be references to “frenzied youth” in the the story of Wenamon, an Egyptian who traveled through Palestine in 1100 BC. In light of such numerous examples from cross-cultural belief systems, the experience of the Apostles then is the odd case of speaking in tongues where words were not spoken but instead heard by audiences in their native language.

How ironic, considering the fervor of the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements of today, to think that the early Church may have intentionally cast speaking in tongues as xenoglossy to counter the more frenzied ecstatic language of the ancients!

For many cultures, including our own, there may be a need among some of us to turn down the noise of the frontal lobe and turn on some other part of the brain less in control of our tongues yet still assigned great meaning. Not the proto language of our earliest cousins, but perhaps a meta language understood only by areas of the mind open to the suggestion (auto or other) that there may be extraterrestrial (in its broadest sense of the term) influence upon the human operating system.

Ending his rumination on speaking in tongues as the result of a DMT trip, future theorist, psychonaut and philosopher Terence McKenna said “the real secret of magic is that the world is made of words, and that if you know the words that the world is made of you can make of it whatever you wish.”

Sounds. Sounds making syllables. Syllables making words.  In many cultures, words are magic. Words shape reality.

But to the brain, the organ that allows us to perceive or even alter reality (be it actualization or delusion), words ultimately might not matter. Patterns in unintelligible sounds made by the tongue may be just as potent, electrochemically.

No drug trips or divine gifts necessary.