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Archive for December, 2015

The Revenant – a film about wilderness

December 24th, 2015 No comments

revenantLong-standing readers of this blog will know that I rarely touch on films – despite being, among other things, a filmmaker.

But then The Revenant is a rare film and moreover, a film about wilderness, the exploration of which is very much the theme of this blog.

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It is also a reminder of how films need not be formulaic; how a bold director can rework and reimagine a mythic landscape – in this case, a wild west, or perhaps more accurately a wild north as we are in American fur trapping country of a brutal cold.

Alejandro G. Iñárritu finds the lyrical interstices of landscape. The moment you look up into the trees or the mountains.  Most directors use a landscape shot to frame a sequence, usually at the start and end – as Quentin Tarantino does in his new Western, The Hateful Eight. Iñárritu edits his landscape shots to disconcert the viewer during the scene – to give the suggestion that the story is much bigger than the human one.

rev 3In some ways, his rule-breaking reminds me of what Terrence Malick did in Days Of Heaven – and like that film, a different way of working prompted mutiny from some of his crew. Film-making is so often done by default – there’s an elegant shorthand that has been involved for every type of sequence or narrative –  that if anyone tries to escape that, they are rolling a rock uphill or, like Herzog in another movie that broke the mould, trying to take a ship over the mountain.

Iñárritu already showed in Birdman that he has a virtuoso mastery of camera and narrative rhythm (and ability to win prizes, which he certainly should for this); but whereas that was a lighter, theatrical piece, here he applies his talents to an elemental story of survival and revenge.  DiCaprio holds it together well and Tom Hardy is a magnificently gnarly Texan;  Domhnall Gleason’s captain has a documentary plainness to him that is as good as anything in Barry Lyndon, a film with similar lacunae of still moments.

This is a film about what it’s really like to engage with wilderness – the bloodiness of it and the bloody mindedness needed to survive.  And of the beauty of elemental moments. It’s not a film for the fainthearted – but then they never did get out and about much anyway.

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The Revenant is released tomorrow on Xmas Day in the States, about the least appropriate festive film of all time (though The Hateful Eight is released the same day);  and in the UK in the New Year.  see trailer

Stonehenge as a Recycled Monument

December 7th, 2015 No comments

Excavations at Craig Rhos-y-felinEvery year brings new theories about Stonehenge – some loopy like the one I covered in an earlier blog about the idea that Stonehenge was a platform monument.

But these discoveries in Wales come under the auspices of the respected Mike Parker Pearson.  And while it has long been known that the bluestones came from the Preseli Hills, the idea that there was an earlier monument in Wales, which was re-cycled to form Stonehenge, is a fascinating one.

It comes about from the discrepancy in dates. The Craig Rhos-y-felin bluestones seem to have been extracted around 3400 BC – but not erected in Stonehenge until 500 years later, in 2900 BC. While Wales is some way from the Salisbury plain, it can’t, the theory goes, have taken a full 500 years to transport them. So there may initially have been a Welsh monument using the stones, which was later recycled by the builders of Stonehenge who may have valued their provenance.

The possible method of extraction is also fascinating. “They only had to insert wooden wedges into the cracks between the pillars and then let the Welsh rain do the rest by swelling the wood to ease each pillar off the rock face” said Dr Josh Pollard  of the University of Southampton.

This is all highly speculative. But the investigation of a possible site for the Welsh monument is proceeding apace.  Professor Kate Welham of Bournemouth University thinks the ruins of any dismantled monument are likely to lie somewhere between the two megalith quarries in the Preseli Hills. She said: “We’ve been conducting geophysical surveys, trial excavations and aerial photographic analysis throughout the area and we think we have the most likely spot. The results are very promising – we may find something big in 2016.”

A recent issue of Antiquity has more detail on this

Egypt ‘90% sure’ there are hidden chambers in King Tut’s tomb

December 2nd, 2015 No comments
The sarcophagus of King Tutankhamun

British Egyptologist Nicholas Reeves believes Tutankhamum may have been rushed into the outer chamber of Nefertiti’s tomb.

Not quite sure how they work out these percentages.  Last time my wife said she was 96% certain about something, she was wrong.  But this is so clearly an extraordinary story that worth following closely.  For researchers in Egypt claim there is a 90% chance that hidden chambers will be found within King Tutankhamun’s tomb, based on the preliminary results of a new exploration of the 3,300-year-old mausoleum.

One researcher has theorised that the remains of Queen Nefertiti may be inside – which, given she is so famous, hasn’t been a bad speculation to make for the publicity.

Egypt began the search for the hidden chamber last week. Announcing the results of three days of testing in Luxor, the antiquities minister, Mamdouh el-Damati, said the findings would be sent to Japan for a month-long analysis before the search is resumed.

British Egyptologist Nicholas Reeves theorises that Tutankhamun, who died at the age of 19 in 1324 BC after just nine years on the throne, may have been rushed into an outer chamber of what was originally Nefertiti’s tomb. Reeves reached his theory after high-resolution images discovered what he said were straight lines in Tutankhamun’s tomb. These lines, previously hidden by colour and the stones’ texture, indicate the presence of a sealed chamber, he said.

Nefertiti was the first wife of Akhenaten, who unsuccessfully attempted to switch Egypt to an early form of monotheism. Akhenaten was succeeded by a pharaoh referred to as Smenkhare and then Tutankhamun, who is widely believed to have been Akhenaten’s son.

Tut, Nefertiti and Akhenaten’s family ruled Egypt during one of its most turbulent periods, which ended with a military takeover by Egypt’s top general , Horemheb. The whole family’s names were wiped out from official records later on. Reeves, who is professor of archaeology at the University of Arizona, believes that Smenkhare is actually Nefertiti.