“Bliss—a-second-by-second joy and gratitude at the
gift of being alive, conscious—lies on the other side of crushing, crushing boredom. Pay close attention to the most tedious thing you can find (Tax Returns, Televised Golf) and, in waves, a boredom like you’ve never known will wash over you and just about kill you. Ride these out, and it’s like stepping from black and white into color. Like water after days in the desert. Instant bliss in every atom.”
― David Foster Wallace
The lulled people on the over-bright stage, sitting in their semicircle near their psychic lion-tamer, all being watched by the over-dark crowd. It’s an amazing experience. There are few things that are so consciousness shattering -- both for the viewers and the victims-- as hypnotism.
If an alien were studying humans, what experiences would radically change how it thought about our species? Microwaves. Emotions. Bathroom time. Skydiving. A mom using adrenaline to lift up a car to save her baby. Stephen Avery going back to prison. These things might all sorta shock aliens, but I contend that hypnotism would be the most compelling, that it’s the closest thing to watching someone levitate or walk on water, is the closest thing to miraculous.
Charles Tart says that, “Hypnosis is a state where you destabilize the ordinary state and then eventually get people into an altered state where they will follow a particular stimulus input much more strongly.”
When I think of hypnotic films -- the slowly migrating mountains of alpha and theta waves, horizontally hovering -- that correctly caressed my inner self and not just my basic pleasures (like sex and violence [porn and 300]), I think of Kevin Spacey’s voice in “American Beauty.”
We all hear the slowness, we are all lulled into the altered state and his voice is the particular stimulus mentioned above.
Spacey’s voice follows the necessary pacing of entrancement; you can’t hypnotize someone at 100mph. Other films, sans-sleepy narrators, that still spellbind are Sofia Coppola’s “Somewhere,” Ana Lily Amirpour’s “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night,” and Mallick’s “Tree of Life.” In these films, with gentle artistry, the director relaxes and floats the audience’s awareness and takes them to a place where human drama is not just “the Thing” but exists in this dreamy middle layer with roots and leaves reaching above and below.
You guys know me: I’m slow. If I could, I would slow life down by about 50%. High BPMs are not my friends. I like Chopin’s Nocturnes, The XX, James Blake’s first album, The Weeknd, Tallest Man on Earth’s “There’s No Leaving Now” over previous albums, old Iron & Wine to new. Arcade Fire, Phoenix, Vampire Weekend, Beethoven’s symphonies, Mozart, Tchaikovsky usually drain me because you woo a woman less with the things you say and more with what you don’t.
Nicholas Burroughs says “Minimalism is not a lack of something. It's simply the perfect amount of something.” Low stimulation, by its lonely and isolated nature, naturally becomes quality over quantity. When you don’t do or say a lot, the things you do or say…matter; maybe it’s a Midwestern thing.
Further than minimalism, there’s what I like to call lackalism - which is intentionally not giving enough so that the viewer/ object must become a subject, must fill in the pieces with something of their own. When you don’t have decorations on your walls, you must eternally improvise.
Limitations are not constraints, are not necessarily restraining: they are tests. If you can’t write a poem with only words beginning with “b,” you don’t deserve the rest of the alphabet; if you can’t paint with one color of the wind, you don’t deserve the spectrum. Constraints make it so we’re not the only ones in charge (even if we’re the ones that create them). You get a partner, a backboard in your creations. “I’m thinking about doing this but what do you think.” Once we give power to the hypnotist, much truer and purer aspects of us are allowed to escape on stage.
But what happens when you go even slower, to a point where your attention-TinkerBell no longer floats and flies, but instead sinks into utter boredom?
Most movies out there are 200bpm, zippy, humping-chicken, beta-wave saturated, forgettable junk, are so unnecessarily stimulating that they sound like
Overslow movies, for lack of a better term, are their opposite.
The human brain operates on stimulus -- jolts of electricity come and domino as far as they can go. There is the initial zap, the travelling, and where it ends up finding its resting place. A minimalist/slow/ lackalist movie, with its lower number of spider-webbing zaps, forces the viewer to make some of its own thunder storms; gives you time to dissolve, to feel safe and not overwhelmed, and then to add your own soul. An over-slow gives too many gaps in the zaps, too much space, too much time, where you have no more lightning left to give. They feel terribly boring or, as one reviewer nicely put it, “challengingly static.”
With a palatably slow movie, the audience reaches a state of meditative brain waves by melding with the sensory experiences of a scene, feels the wind and the water, tastes the poison and the passion. The scant stimuli that it does offer must contain a hefty amount of creative voltage, an amount that will generate enough emotion or thought bubbles in the viewer so that, once processed, eventually hatch into a lovely dinosaur. The sensory downtime is the incubation period for the embryo, both being necessary for creation.
However, over-slow movies, ones where this process is not nearly as fluid, may possibly still be of great worth to the viewer, don’t merely exist as exercises in masochism, aren’t just products of directorial sadism; which brings us to the timeout chair argument.
Timeout chair argument
“A democratic civilization will save itself only if it makes the language of the image into a stimulus for critical reflection.”
If your parents were evil heartless basterds like mine, they put you on timeout chairs. They used the “terror of silence, with nothing diverting to do” to force one to be introspective. The timeout chair, mis-quote:
"fails to provide enough stimulation to distract people from some other, deeper type of pain that is always there, if only in an ambient low-level way, and which most of us spend nearly all our time and energy trying to distract ourselves from feeling, or at least from feeling directly or with our full attention.”
Maybe watching challengingly static films -- pain with little experientially fun payoff -- is exactly like forcing yourself to sit on an adult timeout chair. If the film gave in, like a weak-willed parent, and added in some T&A, a lollipop and some love, we wouldn’t benefit much. Like cognitive dissonance experiments have shown, the more pleasure we get, the more we recoil from nearby pain. Put another way: suffering isn’t that bad if you’re only rewarded with $1 of stimulus, but the same suffering is terrible, by the nature of contrast, if you’re rewarded with $20 of glitz and glam and action.
The epiphany after pain, the insight birthed of utter boredom, is the real payment, the truly priceless pleasure.
100s’a years argument
The next argument besides the timeout chair argument is the 100 year argument: that trying to appreciate these movies is like trying to appreciate an abstract conversation that you’re 100+ years late to.
“You don’t think a red, monochromatic painting is art? Well you’re just not in the loop.” “You don’t like this movie where nothing happens and the acting is atrocious - well you didn’t notice the lighting and the cinematography, which is what we were really working on.”
To have access, to participate in these convos, almost as a prerequisite, you have to be a little…different. Normal, happy, pleasure filled people need far fewer dense, abstract, and alien conversations to supplement their lives. But a sickly, polio ridden child and love-deprived adult, like Nietzsche, whose life ends up feeling like one big timeout chair, NEEDS these conversations to survive, are his very lifeblood.
Unfortunately, with artists that don’t operate on basic and easy pleasures -- on smiles, sports, and sex -- their own conversational style often follows suit. Hence they become incapable of communicating outside of their niche, and thus, their films and art are nearly inaccessible without foreknowledge of their specific golden bubble. This concept may also be at the redemptive heart of overslow movies.
Maybe, in light of the two arguments above, On Being and Time and Gravity’s Rainbow and Kant are superior to the ease-of-access of Vonnegut, Animal Farm, and Thus Spoke Zarathustra.
But still. That’s one very generous side of the coin and there’s a reason why solitary-confinement is the worst punishment in prison.
Marshall McLuhan said, that “Great art speaks a language which every intelligent person can understand.” Magic movies are magic because the coin balances upright: Shakespeare and Tarantino and Disney movies are great because although they cover some heavy themes, even a caveman could watch it. Truth, while complex, is also undeniably simple. Fart jokes work hand in hand with existential epiphanies.
Non-accessibility has implications but they’re just that: implications. Just because a bouncer won’t let you into a club or Cartman won’t let you into his theme park, doesn’t mean there’s anyone inside. Just because a Pokemon is rare doesn’t mean he’s useful. Just because an animal is endangered doesn’t mean he’s special in other ways than that. Just because you can’t read hieroglyphics doesn’t mean they’re not just making yo mamma jokes.
Tall trees can still be hollow.
Right now, honestly, I have little confidence in the matter. I wish I a translator of sorts to teach me how to appreciate these spikily slow motion films by a translator of sorts…but I’m stuck.
Or on the flip, it’d be dandy to have a bearded sensei proclaim “no, there are but crumbs left, your basic meals are pretty much it; most disagreements simply come from different taste buds and it comes down to personality types - whether you’re an introvert or extrovert, whether you like literal & sensory stimulation or abstract & conceptual stimulation.”
But still: I crave conclusivity. I fiend for finality. But unfortunately, it is still far away, so I give you my mental dance and move on.