Unchaining the Human Heart — A Revolutionary Manifesto: Don’t Look Now
Go to book’s beginning.
Read the previous chapter Wash Your Mouth Out!
Unchaining the Human Heart
– A Revolutionary Manifesto
A Book by J. Neil Schulman
Chapter 19: Don’t Look Now
I was sorely tempted to start this chapter by paraphrasing my opening to Chapter 15, “This is a book about love. What, then, of Art?”
Instead, let me talk about the word “image” again. What an innocent little word that not only opens a can of worms (or a Diet of Worms?) but may be one of the two most underestimated words in the English language.
The other one is “medium,” but I’ll get back to that word, later.
The engima of “image” starts right near the top of the Bible, Genesis 1:27: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.”
Everybody reads this passage to mean that men and women somehow look like God. But a reflection in a mirror shows us the original: it also means that when you look into the face of men and women you see God.
What would it do to our understanding if we read the word “image” in this passage the way professional publicists do: that man was made to look the way God wants us to see him?
Or, or, or — and I’m just spinning off ideas here — what if we read that sentence, “So God created man in his own imagination, in the imagination of God created he him; male and female created he them”?
That interpretation gives God a lot more creative freedom in what we end up being. Just so we’re clear here. This isn’t a chapter about God. I’m using this sentence to spark your imagination.
This is a chapter about imagery — how it moves us, and how those who would move us as puppets have an imperative to control what you may and may not see.
The cliché is that one picture is worth a thousand words. In this book, a thousand words might be a chapter. But just the way, in the previous chapter, I discussed how what makes human beings human is our use of language, don’t forget that I said direct mind-to-mind sharing of images is the primary way gods, angels, and supermen communicate.
I’m both a wordsmith and a presenter of images. I sold photography to newspapers — and spent hours in a darkroom experimenting with ways to generate artistic images — years before I got paid my first dime for writing. And, I assure you, sitting front-and-center in “video village” while directing a movie — and even more so staring at a monitor sometimes frame-by-frame when editing a movie through fourteen drafts — even the wordsmith who wrote the screenplay learns that the power of image sometimes leaves words — if not on the cutting room floor — on the backup hard drive.
Words are most powerful when they invoke feelings and images. That’s how great literature works its sympathetic magic. But remember that it wasn’t reading novels about Superman that ignited my infant imagination. It was moving pictures on a black-and-white television set, and primary-colored panel drawings in a comic book.
How much of the memory we have of movies is based not on taglines like “Here’s looking at you, kid!” or “I’ll be back!” but of the first time we saw the underbelly of an imperial destroyer in the first-released episode of Star Wars or Sharon Stone uncrossing then crossing her legs in Basic Instinct?
When image is combined with story and music — even without a single word — the synergy can be breathtaking.
Movies and television have replaced other media — books, stage plays, and radio — as the dominant popular culture, because they open up unlimited vistas — that precisely means visual imagery — beyond reach of the literary or dramatized word.
When often we hear the phrase “the book was better than the movie” — and this is why my daughter has convinced me to read J.K. Rowling’s original Harry Potter books which she considers incomparably better than the movies of which I’m already quite fond — it’s that in translating literature or stage drama to the screen the strengths of visual presentation are exchanged for the history, depth of detail, and scope of canvas available to the writer or dramatist who can appeal directly to the audience’s own imagination.
But when it’s in its own realm — telling stories visually, and augmenting visual imagery not with words but with music or other sound — film can equal and sometimes even surpass literary and performed-word drama in its power.
One six-minute-long sequence of animation — the Valse Triste from the 1977 animated feature Allegro Non Troppo — combines wordless story, image, and music in a way that has stuck in my memory for over three decades, and I have never been able to watch it without tearing up. With no words it explicitly conveys the horror of war as seen through the eyes of an alley cat who has survived the destruction of the building — and the people — it used to live with.
The recent Pixar-Disney animated feature Up also has segments just as powerful, evoking the pity for a man — even though we know while we are watching that this is just a drawing — who has lost the love of his life.
In my own feature film, Lady Magdalene’s, the sequence which I worked hardest on as a director — and of which I’m most proud in the finished film — is a fight and murder choreographed to Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade. Not a word is spoken for 4,512 frames.
We see. We hear. But it is not words that tell the story.
The medium is this case is almost godlike in its directness.
All gods are invisible to men; but what distinguished the Hebrews were their insistence that the one God remain invisible, by forbidding any attempt to paint or sculpt him. Compared to the Jewish and Islamic preservations of this Hebrew tradition, Christianity is entirely pagan in its iconography.
Don’t get me wrong. To this Jew, that’s one of the most appealing things about Christianity. How poor the world would be without Michelangelo’s painting on the Sistine Chapel of God’s finger passing the spark of life to Adam, or his Statue of David. Where would Dan Brown or Ron Howard have been in their mystery lesson without Leonardo da Vinci’s enigmatic mural, The Last Supper? And if Chanukah is supposed to be a festival of lights, Christmas is an orgy of them.
If George Carlin had been more visually and less verbally oriented, he might have given us the “Seven Images You Can Never See on Television.” You can keep Carlin’s two entries from the female anatomy — cunt and tits – but on broadcast TV you’d get in just as big trouble if you showed a fully erect penis, urination, defecation, ejaculation, or Muhammad decked out as a drag queen.
What is the flag of the United States except a visual icon, if not worshiped then saluted? In Lady Magdalene’s I play the role of an American al Qaeda recruit introduced at a secret training camp in Death Valley, seen throwing the American flag onto the dirt and replacing it with a green banner adorned with a crescent. That scene was shot at Front Sight — a top private training facility for military, police, and civilians — and I was told later by several of the Front Sight instructors attached to our production that if they hadn’t already known me as a staunch defender of the Second Amendment, I might not have walked off that set without a black eye.
Visual imagery is tightly controlled by those in power. Images lead to thoughts. Small children have been suspended from school for stick drawings considered inappropriate — you know, like drawing a gun. Publication of a cartoon in Denmark showing Muhammad in a bad light ignites fires at the Danish embassies in Lebanon, Iran, and Syria. The Taliban destroy statues of Buddha going back a thousand years. And I’ll never forget — because I saw it at the 1964 New York World’s Fair – that Michelangelo’s sculpture, The Pieta, was attacked with a geologist’s hammer by a mad scientist in 1972.
Whether it’s “bourgeois” art work that doesn’t serve the State, or tatoos that no decent person would ever desecrate himself with, or even wearing the wrong color shirt in a gang neighborhood, visual imagery — therefore visual imagination — provokes passion, and therefore a demand for tight controls.
Getting back, as I promised, to the word, “medium.” That’s like Allison DuBois on the TV series of that name, whose dreams connect her with the afterlife. The real-life Allison DuBois says she works more awake than dreaming, but my personal experiences — like the TV Allison — launch more when I’m asleep.
But I’m not a medium.
I’m an extra-large.
Dreams present images. I have dreams that show me things drawn from nothing I’ve seen in my own waking life. To state with government authority that there’s no validity to the notion that dreams might be a medium of communication with those just-a-silly-millimeter-away universes, is more of the self-congratulatory yay-for-our-team Omniscience — rather than Science — that I wrote about in Chapter 13.
Before you join the National Science Foundation in dismissing communication with other realms as pseudoscience, have you ever considered that the plural of “medium” is “media”?
My dreams have taken me to real places and have brought me into additional realities not reachable through the five senses. The sixth sense which takes us everywhere else is the native-to-our-species ability to dream and imagine, and not everything dreamed or imagined is fantasy.
But when the National Science Foundation — an agency of the United States federal government — issues a fatwa that mediumship is pseudoscience, you must make no mistake. This is just as much an attempt at religious censorship — just as much part of a campaign to block you from having access to understanding the media which are your own dreams and imagination — as if they burned books, smashed statuary, or beheaded a filmmaker.
Whether or not you have learned how to manage these powers, you are a Medium.
Next in Unchaining the Human Heart — A Revolutionary Manifesto is Chapter XX: Fun and Games
Copyright © 2010 The J. Neil Schulman Living Trust. All rights reserved.
My comic thriller Lady Magdalene’s — a movie I wrote, produced, directed, and acted in it — is now available for sale or rental on Amazon.com Video On Demand. If you like the way I think, I think you’ll like this movie. Check it out!