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Mind Blowing Movies: El Topo (1970), by Antero Alli

Mm200This week, Boing Boing is presenting a series of essays about movies that have had a profound effect on our invited essayists. See all the essays in the Mind Blowing Movies series here. -- Mark

Mind Blowing Movies: El Topo (1970), by Antero Alli

[Video Link] The first film to truly blow my mind was Jodorowsky's El Topo, which I saw soon after its release in the early '70s. Up until then I assumed that all films were made for entertainment purposes only. However, as a twenty-something, former acidhead living in Berkeley, California, my young mind was freshly imprinted to remain open to the symbolic levels of existence. Whether the "meaning" behind things whispered cosmic secrets to me or whether I made it all up mattered very little; what mattered to me was the freedom to not take everything so literally.

In the first ten minutes of this movie, I saw right away that if I viewed El Topo in any literalist way, I would experience it as a mediocre spaghetti western, softcore quasi-snuff film. But after I shifted into a more symbolist way of seeing, the film unfolded before my eyes like an animated magical Kaballah.

The main character was now The Ego on a spiritual journey to encounter and defeat four "masters," which revealed themselves to me as Body, Heart, Intellect, and Spirit. In this story, the Ego defeats the first three masters but is unexpected and indirectly defeated by Spirit. The Ego undergoes a death and awakens underground inside a hollow mountain filled with deformed humans that I saw as the Subconscious filled with distorted repressions of our human condition. Here, the Ego undergoes a series of initiatic encounters that leave him humbled and transformed. That's not the end of the movie but really, the beginning -- it just got better and better after that.

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Mind Blowing Movies: Pig (2010), by Rev. Ivan Stang

Mm200This week, Boing Boing is presenting a series of essays about movies that have had a profound effect on our invited essayists. See all the essays in the Mind Blowing Movies series here. -- Mark

Watch PIG by Adam Mason on Vimeo

Pig (2010), by Rev. Ivan Stang

I don't take mind-blowing lightly, and there are several very different ways in which movies have blown my particular mind, such as it is.

Movies seen by a very young child and therefore making an inappropriately huge impression are one type of blowage. In that respect, more than 50 years later I still vividly remember seeing Mighty Joe Young (1949) on my grandfather's TV when I was about four years old, in 1957. Cowboys in Africa (?!?) capture a giant gorilla who ends up performing on stage -- like Kong, but much more professionally. While, in front of an agog nightclub audience, his beautiful human keeper sings "Beautiful Dreamer" while Mighty Joe effortlessly holds her aloft, along with her grand piano and a solid platform. That sequence stuck with me, and to this day I often feel like a trained giant ape helping a pretty girl (or sometimes just an enlarged and life-imbued piece of clip art) make an impression on a bunch of drunks in a bar just to earn a few bananas. *

Probably the second monster movie I remember seeing was The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942), fourth in the Universal classic series. It opens with torch-wielding redneck villagers harassing a poor handicapped man, Igor, who fends off their attacks by hurling huge chunks of the decaying Frankenstein castle wall down on them. He then finds his old friend the "monster" buried in a sulfur pit (having been pushed into it when it was still molten, in the previous movie). He frees the monster, and exploits its innocent mindlessness to get revenge on the Normals and Pinks who persecuted him.

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Mind Blowing Movies: Bimbo's Initiation (1931), by Jim Woodring

Mm200This week, Boing Boing is presenting a series of essays about movies that have had a profound effect on our invited essayists. See all the essays in the Mind Blowing Movies series here. -- Mark

Mind Blowing Movies: Bimbo's Initiation (1931), by Jim Woodring

[Video Link] I might have come to grips with the overwhelming mystery of life in a rational, organic manner if it weren't for a cartoon I saw on my family's old black and white TV in the mid '50s when I was three or four years old. This cartoon rang a bell so loud that I can still feel its reverberations.

It was "Bimbo's Initiation," produced by the Fleischer Brother Studios in 1931. I won't attempt to describe it; you can see it online. It's an ingenious piece of work, made by men who I now realize were well aware of its metaphysical content, as evidenced in part by the use of Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld in the soundtrack. Perhaps its creators were trying to amuse themselves by making a cartoon that combined madcap whimsy with philosophical depth. Or maybe they were just high. Whatever their motivation and intent, "Bimbo's Initiation" became my prime symbolic interpreter, the foundation of my life's path and endlessly exploding bomb at the core of my creative output.

The reason that cartoon affected me as strongly as it did was that I thought it was real, that it depicted events that were happening in my neighborhood. I set out to find those rooms, those implements, that bicycle, that pool. I got a reputation as the little boy who looked into everything. Whenever I went into someone else's home the first thing I would do, if I could, was look behind their drapes.

Consequently I missed a lot of things that were actually going on, which caused me a lot of grief, one way and another. The pleasurable intensity of the delusion was well worth any trouble that resulted from it, though... and as I say, it gave me a livelihood.

Mind Blowing Movies: Village of the Giants (1965), by Peter Bebergal

Mm200This week, Boing Boing is presenting a series of essays about movies that have had a profound effect on our invited essayists. See all the essays in the Mind Blowing Movies series here. -- Mark


Village of the Giants (1965), by Peter Bebergal

[Video Link] My parents were pretty good about indulging my obsession with monster movies. My father would pick me up Famous Monsters Of Filmland when he saw it at the drugstore. Across the street from his clothing shop in Waltham was Mr. Big's, a toy store that stocked all the Aurora models. Being a business neighbor my father got to know "Mr. Big" pretty well, and a few times he sold us the window display version of one of the models, a perfectly painted and glued version given to him by the distributor. Monsters movies were my life. Every Sunday morning I woke early, got the newspaper from the front stoop, opened it up to the middle and dug through the flyers and other loose inserts to where the television guide was nestled. Then I flipped to end to see what the following Saturday's Creature Feature would run. The mid to late 70s was a golden age when the rights to old monster movies must have been dirt-cheap. In the span of a year or so I saw every great Universal, Toho, and Hammer film. But every so often there was a movie that didn't appear in the index of my movie books, whose stills never showed up in the pages of Famous Monsters.

One of these was Village of the Giants, released in 1965 from the weird imagination of director/producer Bert I. Gordon, and starring a very young Beau Bridges. Gordon had an obsession with normal sized things becoming unnaturally large: The Amazing Colossal Man, War of the Colossal Beast, Earth vs. the Spider, and the weird and creepy Food of the Gods. (To be fair, he did have one movie about normal sized things becoming unnaturally small, Attack of the Puppet People.)

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Mind Blowing Movies: Technological Dream Series: No. 1, Robots (2007)

Mm200This week, Boing Boing is presenting a series of essays about movies that have had a profound effect on our invited essayists. See all the essays in the Mind Blowing Movies series here. -- Mark

Dunne and Raby, "Technological Dream Series No. 1: Robots," 2007, By Bruce Sterling

[Video Link] I first witnessed this strange Dunne and Raby video.... well, I feel sure that it was more than five years ago, but I don't see how that's possible.Some experiences squeeze the past into a different shape.

This video seems pretty opaque, at first encounter. It has no credits. The heroine is mute, nameless, rather elegant, very worried and dressed in black. The soundtrack is wordless electronic gabbling, warbling and scratching. The set is pure gallery white-space, devoid of doors, walls, sinks, beds, stoves or toilets. Odd, meaningless objects are strewn across the floor.

There are some jarring, horror-film jump-cuts, but they lack an apparent purpose. The nonexistent plot never advances. No conflict is settled. No problem is solved. No conclusion is reached. There's no moral to this story. There's no story.

"Technological Dream Series" is not even a "series," because there was only one of them. "Technological Dream Series" is a demo.

This demo looks something like science fiction -- that's why it captured my attention right away, and has held it for years now -- but "Technological Dream Series" is not science fiction. It's a different thing, because it's "design fiction."

"Technological Dream Series No. 1: Robots" is a demo, and the subject being demonstrated is interaction. These products on display, the objects, the "robots" --they're as abstract as chess-pieces. They're not like the designed products that star in commercial ads, they're not glossed-up, they don't have branding, they're not for sale. The heroine isn't the star, either. The star is the interaction.

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Mind Blowing Movies: Groundhog Day (1993), by Ruben Bolling

Mm200This week, Boing Boing is presenting a series of essays about movies that have had a profound effect on our invited essayists. In my invitation letter, I wrote: "The movie can be a documentary or fiction. It can be short or feature length. It can be live-action or animation. It can be obscure or well-known. It doesn't have to be your favorite film. In fact, you could write about a movie that disturbed you. The only thing that matters is that the movie blew your mind." See all the essays in the Mind Blowing Movies series here. -- Mark


Mind Blowing Movies: Groundhog Day (1993), by Ruben Bolling

[Video Link] When I think of "Mind Blowing Movies," I instantly think of the great science fiction films with twists and tricks that I've loved, like The Matrix, Starship Troopers, and Blade Runner.

But there's a movie that blew my mind with a very different kind of twist.

Groundhog Day is a high-concept movie that, although it's squarely a comedy, could also be considered science fiction or fantasy. In it, Time is playing a cruel and elaborate trick on TV weatherman Phil Connors (Bill Murray), repeating the same day over and over as a metaphor for the angry rut he's in at the start of the movie.

Murray's performance, as always, is transcendent. And the screenplay is just about perfect, as it continually peels inventive comedic riffs off this premise. Yet these riffs also always work on the other, metaphorical, level for a man stuck in his life.

Phil reacts to his trap in turns with anger, boredom, recreational sex, felonies and desperation. But he keeps on waking up at 6:00 a.m. to the increasingly surreal sound of Sonny and Cher.

Eventually, he turns to the woman for whom he has actual romantic feelings, his producer Rita (Andie MacDowell), and tries to seduce her, using information he gains from constantly reliving this day. But no matter how he presses these advantages, he can't consummate the new relationship in a single day.

Finally, he levels with Rita, and spends His Day explaining what's happened to him, eventually convincing her it's true.

This is where, when I watched the movie on a chilly day in February of 1993 when it came out, I was sufficiently jaded in the conventions of mainstream movies, to be certain how the movie would end.

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