Pushing the Comfort Zone

“I don’t like to be out of my comfort zone, which is about an inch and a half wide.”
Larry David, creator of Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm

Reading this quote reminds me of myself at times. Perhaps we all have a tendency to get comfortable with the way things are.  I have just returned home from a week of shows at the Magic Castle in Hollywood.

This year I performed a new show in the Close Up Gallery, a theater I had never performed in. It presented a new challenge for me. Having now returned from the week in the Close Up room I realize what that (seemingly) little leap outside my comfort zone did for me creatively.  We can only grow if we are willing to feel a bit awkward by trying something new.

Earlier in the month I spoke to the faculty of the College of Marin here in Northern California.

To kick off the new year they brought me out to speak about transforming reality through Surrealism. It is always a great feeling to be a catalyst for transformation and change.

I try to push my comfort zone with each new video I make as well. I do this by experimenting with new techniques, trying to create different styles and moods. This month I would like to share with you a recent promo video we did for The Moogician. This video was to promote the Moogician to fairs and festivals. Using his existing footage, we animated his logo and edited the video into its final form.

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It’SURREAL Fine Time – Episode 7

For the past year I have been creating a monthly web series with the intention of opening up the world of Surrealism and filmmaking to everyone. The goal of this half-hour web series is to increase the appreciation and understanding of these powerful art forms.

In this episode I share highlights from Mr. Right and Bizzaro’s two-man show at the Magic Castle. Plus a Surreal activity you can do!

10 Essential Avant-Garde Films

I recently spoke at the annual Magic & Meaning Conference held in Las Vegas.  In my presentation on Cinema and Magic I spoke of my love of avant-garde films their filmmakers. That is to say, filmmakers whose objective was to introduce new, experimental ideas and imagery through film. Avant-Garde films by nature are not the typical plot-driven, action-packed movies, but rather use film as an artistic medium for exploration and introspection. For those interested in seeing films in this genre I thought I would share my compiled list of what I think are 10 essential films to start with…

Unchienandalouposter

1.) Un Chien Andalou (1929)

A film made by Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí. These two artists set out to make a film with no conventional storyline or meaning. Focusing instead on creating dream logic within a collection of strange situations, this film features such imagery as an eyeball being sliced open by a razor blade, ants crawling out of a hand, and a man’s mouth disappearing. Without a doubt this film was a landmark in cinema, influencing many contemporary independent filmmakers.

 

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2.) Meshes of the Afternoon (1943)

Maya Deren’s first short film. This film documents the experiences in a dream of one individual. It reproduces the way in which the subconscious of an individual will develop, interpret and elaborate an apparently simple and casual incident into a critical emotional experience. Maya Deren has been the biggest influence on my work and ideas in film. She completely revolutionized film technique and form. Through creative editing she was able to depict internal psychological processes on film. Though she made only six short films in her lifetime, each one is distinctly unique. 

66_orphic_original3.) The Orphic Trilogy (1930, 1950, 1960)

Directed by Jean Cocteau. This is actually three films all tied together by the classic Greek myth of Orpheus.  The trilogy includes The Blood of a Poet, Orpheus, and The Testament of Orpheus. All three of these films are amazing in the way the stories are told and the magical visuals Cocteau creates. The special effects, while primitive, are quite clever – paintings coming to life, characters passing through mirrors into the world of death and back into life.

 

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4.) Ballet Méchanique (1924)

This is a Dadaist/Cubist film by  the artist Fernand Léger. Léger made this film as more of a collection of images brought to life by using film techniques to add movement. In this film, much like in his paintings, Léger uses a lot of still images and distorts them one way or another, juxtaposing them in a unique order and sets the entire montage sequence to music making for a beautiful spectacle.

LastYearMarienbad_original5.) Last Year in Marienbad (1961)

A fascinating classic film by Alain Resnais. The plot is basic, a man meets a woman at a European hotel and tries to convince her that they met last year in Marienbad. But what continues is a thought-provoking exploration of memory and imagination told through visual dream sequences. The Cinematography is some of the best of its time. The non-linear storytelling leaves much to be interpreted by the viewer. In the right mindset and setting, this film can be a stimulating exploration of memory.

6.) The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (1989) CookThiefWife

Peter Greenaway weaves a visually striking tale of revenge.  After watching this heavily stylized tale of a cook, a thief, his wife and her lover, you will never see Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) the same way again.  I consider this to be one of the most beautiful, horrifying movies ever.  The film features lavish set designs with room color tones and costumes that change as the characters move from room to room. The costumes (designed by Jean-Paul Gaultier), set design, cinematography, the acting, and the soundtrack are stunning in and of themselves. The hypnotic musical score by Michael Nyman perfectly suits the visual imagery. In an age where many movies depend on special effects and CGI to create characters this film is a testament to how color can be utilized as a character.

6441-eraserhead7.) Eraserhead (1977)

This was David Lynch’s first feature film. This film is very abstract but, as with many of the movies on this list, is something to be experienced rather than interpreted. David Lynch’s combination of industrial landscape and  sound with dream imagery creates a dark, disturbing waking nightmare.  It may seem very slow and tedious at the beginning but stick with it as the story builds. This film is best viewed with the mindset of film as abstract art.

Angelexterminadore8.)  The Exterminating Angel (1962)

Directed by Surrealist filmmaker Luis Buñuel, this film is a surreal satire of upper class society, the bourgeoisie.  While this film has a distinct plot and message in a narrative story, there is great symbolism and underlying messages in the story. The basic plot follows a group of high society friends at a dinner party who become trapped in a room in the house. Though there is nothing physically trapping them they cannot physically leave. Buñuel expertly mocks social class and social and political norms.

 

Conspirators9.) Conspirators of Pleasure (1997)

Made by the Czech surrealist Jan Svankmajer, this film displays the strange fetishes of several different individuals. While there is no dialogue, we are witness to characters, everyday people on the surface,  who meticulously, painstakingly and creatively invent methods, tools and constructions for fulfilling their bizarre fantasies.  Jan Svankmajer is a master of storytelling well known for his intricate stop-motion video in his films.

 

8_1_210.) 8 1/2 (1963)

Being a fan of Federico Fellini, having seen most of his films, this is still my favorite. This story follows a director who, stressed and overwhelmed, retreats into his dreams, fantasies, and memories to cope. At its core this film is a commentary on the nature of creativity, art, mid-life crisis, and the stresses of being a director.  This film does a great job of blurring the line between what is reality and what is fantasy.

It’SURREAL Fine Time – Episode 5

For the past 5 months we have been producing a monthly half-hour web series with the intention of inspiring people through the world of Surrealism and film making. New episodes stream live the second Wednesday of each month on MCBRIDEMAGIC.TV  Past episodes can be viewed on our website, RedSpadeEntertainment.com

In this episode Jordan Wright revisits some of his favorite viral videos from his first year of CineMagic segments on Mystery School Monday.

Stage Fright

Have you ever experienced stage fright?  Think about the first time you ever got up in front of a group of people to give a presentation or perform a show.  If you have ever experienced that nauseating sensation then you will certainly appreciate this terrific short film, appropriately titled – Stage Fright by Elina Minn.

I loved the use of perspective in this and the way the features of the face became objects. As I was watching this I was reminded of Salvador Dali’s image of The Surrealist’s Apartment aka Mae West Face.

Dali_ApartmentIn this painting, features of Mae West’s face are actual furniture pieces laid out in such a way that the perspective from straight on shows a proportional face. Here is an image of the actual setup on display at the Salvador Dali museum in Figueres, Spain.

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