Zombie Films and the Urban Condition October 18, 2013Posted by Oli in Films, Urban Geography.
Tags: sprawl, Zombie films
Recently, I was involved in a Twitter conversation with Allan Watson (and others) on a recent debate he had in his class about a zombie invasion, and whether it would be better for survival to live in a sprawling city or a dense urban centre (and what a great way to engender such a debate by the way!) I then took to Google to find this article, about a concerned citizen of Edmonton in Canada, who has argued that a dense urban centre would be easier to defend against a rampaging horde of brain-munching zombies than a sprawling megalopolis. Zombies love sprawl, apparently. As well as being a brilliant way to engage students about urban geography, I want to consider three of the more famous zombie films that take place in urban areas, and see what conclusions about sprawl versus density (and indeed, the broader urban condition under late capitalism) can drawn from them. So here goes… (more…)
Blade Runner Review June 12, 2013Posted by Oli in Blade Runner, Films.
Tags: Blade Runner
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Just a quick post to point you toward my review of Ridley Scott’s masterpiece Blade Runner over on That Film Guy. I’ve been using that site to vent my film fanboy amateurish tirades and this certainly falls into that category. Hopefully, now that the marking has died down, I’ll be able to get a few more reviews on there so keep your eyes peeled – and those Royal Holloway students taking GG2061 next year might also want to pay extra attention…
Terminator Tour, Los Angeles May 26, 2013Posted by Oli in Films, Terminator Films, Urban Geography, Visualising Cities.
Tags: Los Angeles, The Terminator Films
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Los Angeles is one of the most written about cities in the world, particularly from an urban geography perspective. Perhaps because of its magnificent sprawl, its constant mediation through film, television, music and other cultural artefacts, or its postmodern-inflected anti-liveable layout, no other city in the popular consciousness has such an imaginary that combines enigma, fascination, frustration, confusion and awe all at once (although I suspect that Shanghai, Mexico City and perhaps Johannesburg are giving it a run for its money). One of the major reasons for my fascination with it is the way it has been so scrutinised through film. Masterpieces such as Pulp Fiction, Timecode and Collateral portray the de-centred, fragmented, multiple, nonlinear and alienating characteristics of the city fascinatingly. However, for me the Terminator films (and here I refer to the first two, not the bilious and soul-destroying detritus of Terminator 3 and Terminator Salvation) put Los Angeles firmly in my minds eye as a city of fascination and wonder. The films themselves do not necessarily have a narrative that ‘gets’ LA’s character, but Cameron has utilised the cityscape as a platform for thrilling action and compelling story-telling perfectly. (more…)
Some other stuff… February 12, 2013Posted by Oli in Films, Urban Geography.
Tags: Other posts
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A quick post to let you know about some other bits and pieces that I’ve been penning around the Interweb and beyond.
First, having spent all too-brief a time in Shanghai last year I felt the best way to experience it was to take my camera and just start walking (in true De Certeauian style). One of the ‘threads’ that can be extricated involved creativity (what else?), and hence that is the theme of my piece for the excellent ThisBigCity blog – Creative Shanghai. It’s available in Traditional Chinese too.
Also, given that I watch too many films as it is, I thought the best way to make it a productive exercise (sorry, what was that? Impact?) was to start reviewing them. So I asked the lovely ThatFilmGuy if he’d let me be a regular contributor, and for some reason, he said yes, with my page here. The upshot of this is the occasional film screening, which is great, as it makes me feel like a proper film critic (even though clearly, I’m not). The recent review of Flight got some attention too if anyone managed to catch the TV advert for it recently.
Then, there is the Urban Subversions paper that was published in the International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, co-authored with Maria Daskalaki. This has been a major oeuvre for us two, taken as it has over 4 years to get published. If you want the pdf copy, feel free to email me and I’ll hurry you a copy.
Finally, there are some book chapters coming out on Media Cities and the Cultural Dimensions to Global Cities, which have actually been more enjoyable to write than some journal papers (why is that writing enjoyment is inversely proportional to REFability?), and the Cultural Quarter work is finally working it’s way through to publication. Again, if you want any of these articles, just let me know.
Tower Block Cinema September 28, 2012Posted by Oli in 9/11, Films, Urban Geography, Visualising Cities.
Tags: Tower Blocks
Verticality, claustrophobia, lawlessness, poverty. Just some of the themes that are stereotypically associated with tower block living, particular the old post-war brutalist, Le Corbusier-inspired monoliths that litter many cities not just here in the UK, but all over the world. Their architectural designs were meant to be liveable ‘streets in the sky’ but instead ended up resulting in lonely living, but with a panoptic overview of constant voyeurism from everyone else. The dystopic qualities are depressing and oppressive in equal measure, and as such make for fascinating arenas for cinematic narratives. The recent mini-wave of films set entirely in one tower block is evidence of this. The Raid, Dredd and Tower Block have all been released in recent months, and who can forgot John McClean in Nokatomi – all very good films in their own genre. What is it about these gargantuan concrete leviathans that make for such gripping viewing? This post tries to find out… (more…)
Visualising Cities Part 7: Gotham, A City Devoid of Life July 31, 2012Posted by Oli in Films, The Dark Knight Rises, Visualising Cities.
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I finally got round to seeing The Dark Knight Rises at the weekend. Don’t worry, this is not a review; but what struck me throughout the film (and in a sense, throughout the trilogy), is the narrative surrounding the city of Gotham itself, and how the director Christopher Nolan used it, for me, incorrectly. There a number of pieces of work (notably this one) about Gotham’s role in the Batman universe – the dank, dark, overtly gothic and crime-ridden city makes for a fantastic fictional playground of urban dystopias. However, for the purposes of this post, I will be referring to the Gotham seen in Nolan’s trilogy. (more…)
Infiltrating the Shard – a philosophical reaction April 9, 2012Posted by Oli in Badiou, Films, Poststructuralism, Urban Geography.
Tags: the event, the Shard
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There’s been somewhat of a feeding frenzy in the media today regarding the infiltration of the Shard by Bradley Garrett and others. Bradley posted the images of his climb to the top of Europe’s new tallest building on his blog and soon after, the media caught wind of them and used them to fill out their bilious pages with striking images that no photographer working for any paper would be able to achieve ever. The media coverage of this event has been, for me, unsurprising given the enormity of what Bradley’s actions do to the collective psyche of the public writ large. Whatever people feel about his actions (I happen to think they should be highly commended and applauded), the infiltration of the Shard is a philosophical Event par excellence. Let me explain why (warning – philosophical ramblings ahead). (more…)
Life in Pruitt-Igoe January 16, 2012Posted by Oli in Films, Human Geography, Poststructuralism, Pruitt-Igoe.
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16th of March, 1972 at 3.00pm precisely. That is when Charles Jencks proclaimed ‘the death of modenism’, as the Pruitt-Igoe housing estate in St. Louis was razed to the ground. Many commentators of architecture and city living in general claimed it was the representative ‘end’ of the Cities of the Future which were based on the Le Courbusierian ‘Machines for Living’ – the modernist utopian dream lay in ruins on the Missourian soil. It was with its iconic (dis)appearance is the beautifully esoteric film Koyaanisqatsi (1982), that the Pruitt-Igoe complex symbolised more than simply a disastrous 1950s housing policy, but a retraction of an entire philosophy for life. The Sassurian structuralist mode of thought that had influenced the modernist agenda of architecture and urban planning had given way to the heterogeneity of urban life, the ebb and flow of a Lefebvrian rhythm which was essentially un-containable by these ‘streets in the sky’. Pruitt-Igoe as the symbol of the beginning of ‘post-modernism’ is now well versed, and is part of cultural geography modules up and down the land (including, I hasten to add, my own). (more…)
Avatar: Latour’s NEW favourite film January 10, 2011Posted by Oli in Actor-Network Theory, Avatar, Bruno Latour, Films.
Tags: Avatar, Bruno Latour
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I recently watched Avatar again for the first time since the cinema. Perhaps it was the 3D extravaganza or maybe the nose-pinchingly obvious imperialist overtones, but I seemed to miss the first time round that one of the main proponents of the film is the intertwining of the human and non-human. This brings the ethos of my favourite mistake, actor-network theory in sharp focus; in particular, Bruno Latour’s critique of the human/non-human dichotomous narrative. One of the main contentions of actor-network theory is the agency afforded to non-humans in social formations and their inextricability from humans. In essence, Latour argues that the agentic force of humans in the formulation of networks is intertwined and shared with that of inanimate and non-human objects, and hence there can be no distinction between humans and non-humans in terms of their affect on network praxis.
It was in 1993 that Latour brought to the fore the human/nonhuman divide in his definition of a ‘purification process’, which is a process that leads to two entirely distinct ontological zones, referring to humans and non-humans. This formulated or forced dualism has been a sticking point for Latour, as the hybridity of humans and non-humans and splicing of their (inter)actions is a complex and historical issue. Latour describes how humans in the pre-civilisation era were like a Baboon society, in that we did not use any tools. Baboon society is socially constructed as their interaction is total; there is no delegation to nonhuman actants (i.e. tools). As humans have continually used tools or nonhuman actants, it becomes impossible to extricate human actors from nonhuman actants when it comes to the effects of agency.
This has been contested, quite common sensibly with the notion that the human actors ultimately have the initiative over the actants; after all, humans have the power of speech, rational thought, emotion and so on (Vandenberghe, 2002). Also, Kirsch and Mitchell (2004) find that the equivalence of humans and nonhumans cannot account for the social relations that drive network formation.
How does this relate to Avatar? The human/non-human divide I am referring to in this case is not the obvious one (i.e. humans and the Na’vi), but the more subtle metaphor of the Na’vi themselves and their interaction with nature. In Avatar, the positing of the Na’vi and their relationship with Eywa against the linear dogmatic mantra of the humans provides a fertile analogous arena for debate, and thoroughly ‘muddies’ dualistic thinking, to which many actor-network theorists (including Latour) would adhere. The film portrays the inherent complexity and non-linearity of social life, moreover, arguably defenestrates human agency from social construct altogether by making Eywa (defacto Earth-like sister, ‘Mother Nature’) victorious at the conclusion. The way in which the Na’vi interact with their society, their belief in a feedback system of energy and survival, and their connectivity with the non-Na’vi all portray an ANT-inspired existence.
ANT is widespread through the social sciences, but it is vital to comprehend that network formation involves both human and nonhuman actants to the same degree, whether they are social, cultural, economic and so on. The power inherent in an article or an internet text can be just as forceful or power-inherent as a lecture from a professor (which would not be possible without inhuman actants, namely the lecture room, slides or microphone). Every action that is carried out by a human actor therefore ‘ends up in the action of a nonhuman’, thereby the responsibility of that action lies with both human and nonhuman actants.
I once argued that 2001: A Space Odyssey was Latour’s favourite film. I think now though, it might well be Avatar…