Sunday, February 2, 2014

Reflections on Space (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets: Reflections on Space

By Ian Brockway

In my opinion, there has never been a more perfect parallel to outer space than the experience of going to the movies. Both Space and the cinema are windows to other lands, cultures and emotions. Even a movie seat is a small capsule, enveloped in darkness that hurls through the reaches of imagination, waiting to transport us and transpose us within the constellations of Another, be it a mind, a voice or a rhythm.

My earliest visual memory was the idea of David Bowie in "The Man Who Fell to Earth". The image of Bowie with his deep fire-red hair hit me emotionally when my mom said I looked like him.

I was little and pale. Bowie and his sense of cool otherness appealed to me.

Was I really like him? I wondered.

I first noticed the cinema as a vehicle for otherness in watching "Star Wars". Because I felt bottled up in my wheelchair, I felt a freedom in watching George Lucas' own personal cyberiad or more specifically, his own philosophy of darkness and light and the merging kinship between man and machine. True, "Star Wars" was a space opera, and quite soapy. But it treated space and its outer reaches as real and tangible places that I felt I could touch.

My body within a metal chair no longer mattered and I was thrilled.

The next film to make me leap in my seat was E.T.
I delighted in Spielberg's flair, and the way he brought the exoticism of a cuddly alien to the small town suburbs. He made extraterrestrials seem like wise children, and made the 'far out' universal. And as I was faced with a summer in an orthopedic clinic to painfully straighten my crooked and tight ankles, "E.T." proved a vivid elixir.

When I grew a little older, I saw "2001: A Space Odyssey" at a Key West drive-in. I didn't completely understand it, but felt it as a piece of music. I remember seeing a space station seeming to whirl and hover next to a palm tree, as the smell of salt and a puff of wind hit my nose. I was fascinated by the somewhat spooky monotone of Hal and the metallic face of Keir Dullea. But to my teenage senses, what did it mean?

I received an eerie vibration, detached and somewhat scary.

At 14, at a Key West Cobb Cinema with red lipstick cellophane-wrapped seats and silver curtains, I experienced the preview to "Alien" and became acutely fearful of the single cracked egg revealing (echoes of The Exorcist?) a lime green vapor.

I saw the complete film at age 19, and with my sensual chemistry firing, I witnessed the athletic figure of Sigourney Weaver as she faced a very frightening metallic creature that looked like something out of Dante's inferno and modern art. I ignored the scares and fantasized about Ripley in repose aboard the white ship Nostromo.
"Alien" was essentially a "Halloween" in space but I loved the surrealistically white environs of the ship, presided over by Ripley, a heroine of power, resilience and an obvious, but also reserved, sexual allure.

In 2012, I saw Ridley Scott's "Prometheus" which did recapture the wonderful apprehensive aura of the original "Alien" so many years ago. Yet instead of Ripley, there was Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) aboard another white ship, still pursued by a Dante demon.

Now, in 2014, there is "Gravity" directed by Alfonso Cuaron, which is as much about the struggle to remain human in a void, as it is about chaos. It is the first film (in my view) since Kubrick's "2001" that treats the condition of Space as an existential predicament. There are no boogeymen or sculptural monsters here. Dr. Stone (Sandra Bullock) battles her own imps of memory and regret---all during some violent spinning---before carrying on to survival. The 3D is no gimmick. "Gravity" is a total, immersive experience that will take a well deserved place in the speculative  canon, if not The Oscars.

Despite Gravity's virtuosic  slickness, one can even detect an innocence in its sheer energy. In Stone's capsule, a still from Georges Méliès "A Voyage to the Moon" is tacked on the wall. In its joyful use of technology,  there is a tether from Georges Méliès to Alfonso Cuaron, just as Sandra Bullock and George Clooney are attached together in their own interstellar tango.

In watching "Gravity" I was aloft and unhinged, drifting in my own space chair, unbound by doomsday concerns of my critical anemia or my sinus conditions.

I was breathing freely within an emotional landscape of imagination, that is not reality but part of it, the liquid condition of  The Cinema---a wondrous space of In Between.

Write Ian at

No comments: