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DeZ Vylenz Log

A captain's log of activities and projects, affiliations and developments involving the Shadowsnake ship and various guerilla film expeditions. Updated in between storms by DeZ Vylenz, Writer - Director - Martial Arts Choreographer

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Cross-culture 2: Apocalypto

I didn't know much about it, was pointed out to the title last year by a filmmaker friend, as we're planning a documentary about the Mayan Calender. To cut it short, because this film has been criticised and analysed aplenty already: as an adrenaline fulled action-adventure film it's awesome. As a "historical" document it's as inaccurate and pretentious as Spielberg's Amistad. The anachronisms are there but the issue as a whole is complicated.

The Maya civilization peaked around the 9th century AD when they had a stone city as big as Manhattan and they weren't really conquered by the Spanish as the more politically centralized Aztecs were. Archeological evidence is still puzzling and indicates that in fact the Maya inhabitants simply abandoned their city and walked back into the forest, perhaps after an ecological disaster. Of course there were a number of smaller cities dispersed throughout the jungle, but most were covered by jungle by the time the Spanish conquistadores and missionaries arrived and only explored in the 19th century when archeological interest really took off.

Hollywood's inability to shed their own typical contemporary American frame of reference when dealing with other cultures or historical events can indeed be frustrating for more critical viewers. While technically brilliant, the film now and then lapses into that limiting Disney deja vu, in particular the domestic scenes and humorous interactions (Touchstone is after all a Disney outfit for less "family" oriented releases). A film is of course destined to be entertainment, but it is when the decision is made to make a period film in an original language and within a certain political context, that it starts to make claims of being genuine history. In particular with colonial conquests and slavery things can get sensitive, as the effects from those periods still echo into our contemporary world.

Now, the main accusations against Gibson are that the film represents a racist view of the Mayas as a primitive, violent and barbaric people with no level of cultural sophistication, but it's in that sense not different from Braveheart, where liberty with historical facts and Wallace was also not appreciated by a number of Scots. This is besides the whole media hype about his drunken rant against Jews that got him into trouble ain 2006, but his previous directorial efforts seem to focus mostly on the heroic, bloody and masculine elements of history, that one man who rises and rages against oppressive authority (with plenty of martyr like suffering, betraying Gibson's Catholic view on life). This is definitely not an authentic Mayan World, it's the Maya World according to the director.

Directors very seldom manage to transpose their personal world view (even if it's a naieve or limited one) with great success, especially in Hollywood productions.But as a whole, Gibson has to be given a lot of credit for shooting a film with his own money, in a foreign language and in a setting that's far removed from modern Western society. I'm no expert on the subject, but the production design is very elaborate as jewelry, weapons and scars on individuals is worked out in great detail, creating an interesting pallette.

The film captures the brooding jungle atmosphere quite well, with hints of Predator, then moving to the lone defender reminiscent of the character in First Blood waging a one-man war with clever tricks (nothing wrong with that, makes for great action adventure fun), but time-lock devices such as the deep well filling up with water and the fact that the protagonist group of Mayas, who speak the same language as their captors, have never seen a stone city before undermine the films credibility. Organized warrior-hunter societies would have sent out scouts to find out either about potential enemy activity or alternative food supplies and not just hang around in a little Eden like village.

But in the end it's a film made with balls and a genuine excitement from the director, so the more unfortunate a bit more brain wasn't involved to work on the script and context, otherwise it really would've been a magnificent historical slice of adventure fiction. Many opportunities were missed to show what an adventure it is for a culture to start an undertaking as ambitious as a civilization, yet similarly to Titanic, a simple romance story is the centre of it all, at the expense of a greater thought provoking mosaic.

It definitely works as an exciting cinematic experience that keeps people on their seat and immerses them in a world where life is back to basics, disturbed by a group with a more autocratic view of society. And there is a strong hint of the notion of what it really means to be a man in an increaslingly amoral world, similarly to themes worked out in Sam Peckinpah's films e.g., and something I've come to realize is a major element of my own work.

Film doesn't always need to be action adventure, but it's good to be reminded of the potential of the medium to grip an audience, transpose them to another world and make them forget where they are. Although I'm not sure how I would react to it at a second viewing. In the end it's a theme park view of the Maya world and life in the jungle compressed in a feature film with only a brief feel of how people used to live like warriors with a code of honour.

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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

CROSS-CULTURE 1: Manga

Not much time since I came back to London to check out any culture or art, as entrepeneurial activities absorb most of my 24 hours. I did pick up on an invite to the Manga Shakespeare launch last Thursday, introduced by Paul Gravett comics historian and Emma Hayley, publisher. Although the typical big eyed manga style aestethics don't appeal to me (I prefer the more classic realistic Lone Wolf and Cub style by Kazuo Koike & Goseki Kojima, who also created Samurai Executioner), the whole endeavor is interesting and for manga fans worth checking out: http://www.selfmadehero.com/.

Besides the manga line, they also have some other interesting classics and comics in development. Any independent publisher deserves attention for having the courage to bring out what they believe in and in this case it seems that they really focussed on the authentic text and language of Shakespeare.

Also interesting to see how a typical Japanese medium is now being produced in the UK and elsewhere. The Bard is launched into the 21st century in a form more accessible to young audiences and plenty of debates to come whether comics actually stimulate people to start reading "real" literature. In my opinion it does, whoever's really interested in the origins of the text will delve deeper, whoever is'nt will at least know about Shakespeare and not just about some big titted celebrities or pop stars.

The 1797 venue was the Horse Hospital, Colonnade. Interesting floor with ridges between the cobbles, for the blood to run out.

On Saturday, David Lloyd had a talk and launch of his new comic Kickback at the Streatham Library. Interesting to see how he drew the comic in black and white, copied it, then used crayons and pencils to colour it in and scanned the rest to complete it on the computer. The V for Vendetta chiaroscuro style is recognizable, but Kickback has a more modern feel. David wrote the book himself, a crime-noir set in a fictitious American city. It originally appeared in French in two parts, and indeed has a European feel although the English version is a comic sized hardback.

Talking about culture: today is Valentine's day, the tackiest, nastiest piece of commercial mass programming the whole Main Stream is tapping into. It' creates a whole fake atmosphere around the most universal, valuable and intense emotional experiences: Love. The word itself is not even trustworthy anymore and has been stripped of its meaning. Even X-mas (another shopping spree fest) still has a general sense of social community, while this Valentine business re-inforces the idea that one is incomplete without a partner/lover to send cheesy pink greeting cards too.

Typical also of the herd mentality that there needs to be a holiday designated to kind gestures instead of leaving it to genuine spontaneity. These kind of dynamics are part of the consumerism we're forced into, to buy all the bullshit you don't really need. Credit card transactions are probably peaking today and next week rotting roses will pile up next to the garbage.

Which brings us to another world, where everything is stripped down to the basic mode of survival, the film: Apocalypto by Mel Gibson. Much written about, much criticised and an interesting Hollywood "experiment", but I'll get back to that next time. Gotta run.

Posted by Dez Vylenz  

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

City dynamics

escalator.JPGJust returned to London a few days ago, after seven weeks of incessant travelling through the extremities of urban environment to pristine jungle. Strange awareness, scouting for a film while nearly moving through that organic and cinematic medium called Life. Very productive time as the foundation for a number of projects and deals has been laid down. While at the IFFR last week, I went up an escalator with a producer and as I moved to stay on the right side instinctively, he remarked: "you're a typical Londoner" which made me realize that in some ways we're all programmed to some extent in our daily lives to move and act in certain patterns.

02.JPG

Programmed or conditioned to rules and laws is the last I would associate a free spirit like myself with, but having said that, it is a very efficient and necessary form of conduct when you live in a city of millions moving past each other day by day. New Yorkers have the reputation of being cynical and rude, but on the contrary I find that everybody is very respectful of each other's space since there is so little of it. Anytime a heavy would step on your toes by accident, an apology would follow, while on the other hand in the Netherlands e.g. people always block escalators or entrances, oblivious to anybody who wants to pass by in a hurry. Probably because most people actually come from small villages and places where space is in abundance and time of no real essence.

shyam.JPG

These are things expatriates hardly have time to think about, but once you've lived in a few different cities, you quickly adapt to the main vibe of the city while keeping your own culture and slowly mutate into a cosmopolitan hybrid. This is reflected in the creative industries and Great Brittain, (especially London with nearly 80% of foreign origin) remains one of the trendsetting countries when it comes to music, film and design.

03.JPG

Art and cinema are important bridges in the global village that the world is becoming today, while the internet is rapidly changing the way we think about time and space.

I have a few thousand stills to download to my hard drive and a dozen rolls of slide film to develop and transfer to digital format, but in the Stills gallery I will upload snapshots/slices of life from different cities. Because for all the polution, soaring real estate prices, congestion, crime etc, cities still remain physical epicenters of activity and places where people from different corners of the world meet. And shoot some badass film or jam some visceral musical landscapes together.

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Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Micro-cosmos 1: Film festivals

Iím literally standing at one of the internet terminals at the 36th International Film Festival Rotterdam, which I would highly recommend for filmmakers who want to present their projects to potential producers and funds. Though Amsterdam is a bit of a second base after London, itís the first time Iíve had the opportunity to visit myself, only after producer Eddy Wijngaarde from the Back Lot in Suriname (19-29 April 2007 the festival is on, see: www.thebacklot.sr) insisted I postpone my flight to London (when I was in Paramaribo to scout for the next film and other projects). The overall vibe is young and energetic with also established exponents within the industry present, so overall there is a lot of emphasis on networking as is the case with most festivals. Iím pretty saturated after two years+ of touring with The Mindscape of Alan Moore and doing hired film work for music festivals such as All Tomorrowís Parties. So I usually only attend festivals if I have work to do there or on special invitation, to present a film or project (or assist a friend with that) because both music and film festivals become a different reality on their own after a few days and can absorb a lot of time away from creative activities. But they are important at times, as they give a perspective on what you do and what others do with the medium. In addition, the Rotterdam Film Commission is also present and from what Iíve heard and experienced so far, they are incredibly supportive and forthcoming towards filmmakers who either want to shoot in Rotterdam as a location or base a branch of their production company there. Very promising as a film city, and hopefully London sets up similar schemes to stimulate film making activities.

The part that is most interesting to people within the film industry is the Cinemart, where filmmakers get the chance to meet with production and distribution companies, film commissions and matchmakers that link various parties together, hopefully leading to fruitful collaborations. This event opens on Sunday and runs for three days after. So far I havenít had the chance to see films in between all the meetings and events, but the program is a mixture of ďart houseĒ (lacking a better term for now), genre films and Hollywood. This year Filmmaker in Focus is on: Johnnie To (Hong Kong) and Abderrahmane Sissako (Mauretania).

In particular the Johnnie To Films interested me, as Iím also interested in producing neo-noirs and action thrillers myself, but they were all sold out once I discovered them in the program. Barely squeezed into PTU, missed the opening--an unforgivable actóbut nonetheless enjoyed the film, which was fast paced, stylishly shot and infused with a slapstick sort of humour, while propelling forwards as a thriller. The synopsis of Exiled and Election looked very promising too. To get an idea: something like a Michael Mann film with a Hong Kong vibe, but that description would be too limiting for Johnnie Toís unique approach. Check it out.

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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Preface to the Shadowsnake Logbook

The verbal rants and ruminations in this logbook are not in chronological order, more like flashes from those elusive states of consciousness called soul, geography, memory and of course lifeÖ

In this case itís the life of a guerilla film maker / writer / producer on the move, so whether a regular log will be feasible remains to be seen. Boring details from the battlefield of bureaucracy, i.e. meetings, production work and developments in the world of finance shall be left out, and the focus more on the creative aspect of the projects and expeditions.

All I can say for now is that the stamina needed to be a filmmaker has to be that of a long distance runner, while at times youíre expected to explode like a 100 meter sprinter in the middle of a marathon. That sums up independent filmmaking, several jobs have to be handled by few people, and therefore maximum organization and time management is key.

So these writings probably wonít be as long as this introduction. At times, when current project developments seem too tedious to write about, I might insert bits of writings from the past few years, possibly not even related to film. I automatically assume any thing written here is copyrighted or intellectual property in a world that seems addicted to the concept of control and ownership. Unfortunately, that is how the system is run, so if anyone wants to use excerpts, please contact for permission or at least quote your sources. Vice versa, I always quote sources unless the author is anonymous of course.

Multi-channeled perception and expression (a holistic view upon things) is the best way to describe the writing. As human beings we are similar to radios anyway, able to transmit and receive vibes out there.

Writing a logbook as spontaneously as possible in the little time that is available, while working on various different things, results in a hyper state, a sort of Multi-track mind. So at times this logbook might seem erratic or incoherent or what else; youíre free to reply with comments.

In addition it's probably also an appreciation and respect for all the interesting places on this planet with different characters and situations to surprise us.

Iím entirely new to this, as I only use the internet for business correspondence and quick superficial research. But a friend in London, a publishing editor (and walking and talking encyclopedia of modern pop culture) recommended and persisted I should start, because I had taken for granted that many people/audiences wanted to know what was going on behind the camera and the pen. All the hustle and bustle in the kitchen, so to speak. The Heat in the Street, the march through the field, the pulling on the sails, the action on and off set.

And I have to admit, it suddenly did force me to think back (before filmmaking became such a life absorbing profession grown out of obsession) and realize how interested I was in all the new developments of writers, musicians, filmmakers and artists bringing us genuinely new and exciting material in different media, whether it be film, music, literature, fine / rough arts in generalÖ

So here it goes, as said before, the contents of writing to follow from now on is as unknown to me as it is to you. Your comments and questions might help to direct the topics and what is a collection of various ruminations on different media and Shadowsnake projects.

I suppose this blog is a new medium to me and I regard it not so much as a personal digital diary, but more something of a digital narration, or a digital notebook developing in various fields of interest.

Pictures / Stills I should be able to upload now and then, thatís a thousand words each after all.

Best Regards,

DeZ Vylenz

Writer Ė Director Ė Martial Arts Choreographer

Shadowsnake Films

London-Amsterdam-Axis Mundi Connections

Posted by DeZ Vylenz  


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