The Batman Complex

This is utterly splendid. Mashup-trailers for non-existent films are becoming a fascinating art form generally – and this one hits pretty much all my buttons perfectly.

(Like a lot of martially-inclined geek boys, Batman has always had major symbolic importance to me. That whole thing of rereading The Dark Knight Returns when coming up on my first acid trip 20-odd years ago is, I am sure, entirely coincidental.)

The Batman Complex takes pieces of the Nolan Batman films and the past work of Christian Bale (notably The Machinist), drops in a little Inception, a touch of The Prestige and Shutter Island (and even a wee cameo from the Tim Burton Batman!) to tell a dark, vicious tale of psychological torment and possible redemption.

And, if that wasn’t enough to make me happy, it scores the final sequence perfectly to one of my most beloved pieces of music, Clint Mansell’s Death Is The Road To Awe from the soundtrack of The Fountain.


(Thanks to Vornaskotti of Whitechapel for the find.)

INK – a short review

When you love something passionately, you want to share it with everyone you can. I’ve loved this film since I asked for it as a Xmas present in 2009 and it’s finally available in the UK from tomorrow… so I want to share it with everyone who reads me.

I hadn’t actually seen INK when I asked for it as a present (thanks wife-the-artist!), by the way. My interest was based entirely on this trailer:

(There is a second trailer, but I honestly think it’s a wee bit too spoilery. Your call.)

The first time I watched INK, I wept several times from the sheer joy of it, and cried buckets at the end. Now, anyone who’s sat & watched films with me will tell you this is not exactly unusual. What is unusual is that my deeply cynical, then-seventeen-year-old, son who watched it with me, wept too.

It is unquestionably my favourite pure fantasy film of all time, and it has a permanent place in my top 10 films of any kind. And it cost a mere $250,000 dollars to make.

I’m not going to say a whole lot more about the plot than the above trailer gives you – this is a film that rewards knowing only a little when you come to it. When I’ve tried to persuade people to watch it, a phrase I like to use is “imagine if Neil Gaiman made The Matrix on a shoestring budget”, which is not far off – because this actually is a film that lives up to that oft-used cliché of “a modern fairy-tale”.

It’s not a perfect film. Many of my absolute favourites (like, say, Altered States, Dark City or The Fountain) aren’t. Some of the performances are, shall we say, a little florid. A central twist is pretty easy to guess. It’s also probably not to everyone’s taste. But if you’re open to anything I’ve already said, I think it’s a film you could truly love.

It’s certainly a film that makes a virtue of its tiny budget. Writer/director Jamin Winans shot it in and around his hometown of Denver, Colorado, scored it himself (the music is a major contributor to the power of the film), built many of the costumes and props with his wife/co-producer/art designer Kiowa Winans, edited and composed the SFX in their basement on a Mac, distributed the film online… you get the picture.

When INK was released in the US, it seemed to hit a chord. On its’ DVD release in November 2009, it became the most popular torrent on The Pirate Bay that week. The Winans’ reaction to this was inspired – rather than complain or try to shut down or sue anyone… they put a tip jar on the website for those who enjoyed the torrented version.

Why does this film grab me so strongly? It’s a tale of brave but fallible warriors battling terrible evil and overwhelming odds. It’s about sacrifice and loyalty, myth and magic. It’s at times tragic, brutal, hilarious and bold. It’s unquestionably a Blank Badge film. It has characters I genuinely care about, doing things I totally understand. There are at least three scenes in there which I rate as perfect, classic movie moments.

And, ultimately, it’s a film about love conquering fear.

I really hope some of you out there will give INK a try. Let me know what you think.



Guttershaman Goes To Town – a Synchronicity

1. Trigger.

If there’s two things that have always dominated my life as a magician and general observer of the Weird, it’s synchronicity and music. When they combine, the effect can be transformative and overwhelming.

In their highly-acclaimed comic Phonogram, Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie illustrate the immense power of music as a kind of magic in itself, and as the basis for an entire magical system. Much as I love this book (and especially enjoy it’s being set in my adopted home town of Bristol), it doesn’t quite capture  how I feel about music and magic – mostly because the music which inspired Gillen in writing the comic is the pop song, where my preference is for Rock. Give me a wailing guitar, driving bassline & mythic (even bombastic) lyrics and I’m a happy magus.

So when my online friend Wolven blogged about being given a strong hint by one of his pals that a certain band deserved a listen – and said band’s name and recommended track are saturated with synchronous resonance – I paid attention.

(That’s the thing about synchronicity: though it’s often regarded as a case of our giving meaning to mere coincidence, sometimes it’s more like the coincidence brings meaning to us. Nothing ‘mere’ about it.)

The band is Crippled Black Phoenix. The track is called 444.

A single listen, and I was converted. If there’s one thing I love even more than hard rock with mystical overtones, it’s said rock with an Arabian flavour to the sound. And that name… as someone who’s worked with alchemical metaphors since my early 20s, the symbolism was, shall we say, apropos. (And very timely – it’s been a tough few months generally, and the last few weeks have been especially challenging. Between my own trials, the death of a close friend and colleague and my long-time health problems, the thought of a crippled phoenix struggling to rise from the ashes of its’ own immolation was a powerful one. And since the state I was trying to rise above is best described by the alchemical term Nigredo, the Blackening…)

(And that 444? In the kabbalistic system called Gematria, it symbolises Jesus. Resurrection overtones, noted.)

Over the next 4 or 5 days that I fell head-over-heels for this band, other tracks which stayed with me strongly were the anthemic Rise Up And Fight (’nuff said), the epic, mournful Burnt Reynolds and the Post-Rock-influenced Time of Ye Life/Born For Nothing/Paranoid Arm of Narcoleptic Empire (featuring a long, positive-thinking-speech sample of Evel Kinevel!).

The kind of music that burns in my blood, sings in my soul. Music for Magic.

So, come Wednesday, I idly wondered when they were touring. I googled… and found their last UK date was That Thursday. The next day, in London. I know a hint when I see one…  and I know that this kind of synchronicity tends to run in chains – so I was curious how this one would play out. Booked a ticket on the spot, found a cheap-and-nasty last-minute hotel (as there was no fucking way I’d make the last train home) and packed.

(Aside: London and I have… an arrangement. I moved there in my late teens, found my first magical peer group there, did a lot of workings, walked a lot of those streets seeking the Strange – and found it everywhere in that grimy, lovely old town. Every time I go back to the Smoke, it’s a recharge-reconnection. Not quite on the John Constantine level, but it does me nicely.)

Away I went.

2. Gig.

So I pull into Paddington station early Thursday afternoon. I figure I can dump my gear at the hotel, check out some old haunts & make the scene in plenty of time. The hotel was kind of what I expected – a cupboard in a repurposed Georgian terrace, off Pimlico. I noted that, with the exception of diverting one stop on the Victoria Line to the hotel, my whole itinerary was on the Circle Line. Apt. Then I spotted that the streets leading to the hotel were Lupus Street and St. George’s Square – both redolent with meaning for me. (Always liked wolves… and Saint George, in one mystical tradition, is taken as an aspect of the Sufi trickster-figure Khidr, who I worked with extensively when living in London.) Synchronicity’s thin-but-strong thread, pulling me on.

Then, a little wander. First to the Embankment, where I payed my respects to Old Father Thames. Then along the line of magical bookshops that runs about 20 minutes from Charing Cross – Watkins, Mysteries and the newly-moved Treadwells. (The equally venerable Atlantis Books, though a fine place, was never a major haunt of mine, and time didn’t seem quite enough to fit it in.)

In each shop, just for a laugh, I did a little bibliomancy. Picked an interesting book  – a how-to of magical defence, a translation of Sufi poetry, a chaos magic tome) and each one had something to say… hints on how I could best move onward, leave the Nigredo. How to let the phoenix fly.

(The new Treadwells looks pretty good, by the way. Got the vibe of the old establishment, even though they’re not quite fully moved in. Always lovely to see Christina, too. And I picked up a copy of a splendid book on that talented artist and proto-guttershaman Austin Osman Spare, Borough Satyr.)

Then a splendid Chinese meal in Gerrard Street (try the smoked shredded chicken in The Royal Dragon!) and up to King’s Cross for the gig.

The venue was The Lexington: a classic room-over-a-pub arrangement. Got there in plenty of time for a wee dram of Kentucky bourbon before kick-off.

A rare good omen: the support act were bloody excellent. I’ve seen some truly shite bands supporting good acts in my time – this outfit, Teeth Of The Sea, were strong enough that I’d cheerfully pay to see them headline.

Then Crippled Black Phoenix took the stage. And they were damn good. But… it was just a gig. Excellent music, occasional small technical flubs, a full and boisterously appreciative audience. No more, no less. They played a lot off the new album I, Vigilante, which was to be expected. Frontman Joe Volk chatted amusingly with the crowd between tracks.

And that was fine. Y’know, I though to myself, if all that’s happening is I chased a couple of accidental symbols and got off my arse to go see a good band, there’s honestly worse ways to spend my time.

The gig wound enjoyably towards its end. Then, they played 444.

And everything just clicked.


It’s the hardest damn thing to describe about magic. That perfect moment of resolution, the feeling of all the wheels in the universe moving softly into balance. Of being in exactly the right place at the right time – grounded, strong and sure. The place all true magic, all wisdom and love and purpose, spring from. The Axis Mundi. After too fucking long, I was back there.

I was home.

(Bristol, two days later. I’m writing, the CBP album The Resurrectionists playing in the background. As I type the words I was home, the track 444 starts to play. Honestly, the timing is perfect.)

(That’s what I mean when I say synchronicity rules the magician’s life.)

Then they played Rise Up and Fight. Then they played Burnt Reynolds. And I was still there. Drenched in sweat, convulsing to the music, tears streaming down my grinning face. Singing my throat raw to the call-and-response of Burnt Reynolds. By the time the encore, (inevitably) Time Of Yr Life/Born For Nothing/Paranoid Arm If Narcoleptic Empire hit its stride, I felt like my body was transformed into pure sound. Transcendent. Whole.


The last notes fade, the band leave the stage. Slowly, I ground back into mere flesh.

3. Gallery.

Aching, damp and deliriously happy, I stumble back to the hotel. On the way, I notice I’m staying about 5 minutes from the Tate Britain gallery. When I phone home to wife-the-artist to tell her I’m (better than) OK, I ask if she knows of anything interesting showing there at the moment. I’ve some time in the morning before my train home, it seems silly not to take the opportunity for a bit of culture.

“Well,” she says, “There’s the Susan Hiller retrospective… she’s got a whole Fortean thing going on. You should check it out.”

Fair do’s. I crash, wake, have an iffy breakfast and set out to the Tate.

Despite the gently nudging of wife-the-artist, I don’t spend a lot of time in art galleries, and I’m rarely moved by fine art as much as I am by a great film or TV episode – or piece of music. This was the first time I have openly wept in a gallery.

From the introduction to the exhibit:

“Hiller juxtaposes knowledge derived from anthropology, psychoanalysis and other scientific disciplines with materials generally considered unimportant, like postcards, wallpaper, popular movies and internet postings, balancing the familiar and the unexplained and inviting the viewer to participate in the creation of meaning… Privileging the repressed, forgotten or unknown, Hiller confers status on what lies beyond rationality or recognition.”

Many of the works displayed were ‘traditional’ art forms, given her own twist – collages, well-framed nick-nacks in boxes and such. Some of these, such as The Tao of Water: Homage to Joseph Beuys 1969-2010 (a collection of tiny bottles of water drawn from sacred wells around the world) 10 Months (a series of pictures of Hiller’s belly taken over the duration of her pregnancy, with accompanying text) and Automatic Writing ( a cruciform display of some examples of her own experiments in that form),  struck me with a real sense of the elusive, numinous spirit I’ve always sought. But it was her installations, combining the visual and the sonic, that had the most powerful effect.

Pieces like Psi Girls (5 simultaneously played clips from SF/horror films featuring young girls as the focus of psychokinetic activity, colour-and-sound distorted) and An Entertainment (a similar manipulation of slowed-down Punch and Judy show footage, bringing the terror that forms the basis of that tale to the fore) had a visceral effect. But at the end, it was four particular installations that moved me deepest.

Monument is a reconstruction of memorial plaques from a Victorian graveyard, all of people who died trying to save the lives of others. In the middle of these is a reproduction of a grafitti found on the site, which reads STRIVE TO BE YOUR OWN HERO. In front of this is a classic wooden bench with an old-school field-grade tape recorder and headphones lying on it – you can listen to Hiller’s stream-of-consciousness about the nature of heroism. I lingered over the names of these quiet heroes and heras for a long time, lost in thought. So lost, in fact, that it wasn’t until after I left that I noticed on a photo the name immediately below the graffiti was one Edward Blake – the same name as The Comedian in Watchman

Magic Lantern also works with juxtaposing sound and image. Coloured circles projected on a wall fade into each other, while you listen to a series of recordings of Raudive voices. Hypnotic, compelling – and, for those fans of The Invisibles out there, an extra layer of meaning when those coloured circles are red, or white…

Witness is simply one of the loveliest things I’ve ever experienced. A darkened room, lit by a few blue spotlights, contains hundreds of small speakers suspended on clear plastic lines at different heights. Each plays one of over 2000 different eye-witness account of a UFO or other Fortean encounter, taken from across the world, in a variety of languages. Occasionally, the susurrus of voices fades and a single story is given prominence – then the chorus slowly comes back up. I’ve no idea how long I wandered in this forest of tales…

The Last Silent Movie is where I finally lost it and cried. A small movie theatre set-up plays a loop, black except for subtitles. The soundtrack is samples of the last native speakers of dying or dead languages. Indescribably sad.

A very different experience from the gig of the previous night, but unquestionably as powerful and transformative. And only found by the ‘coincidence’ of my randomly-chosen hotel being near that gallery.

The chain of synchronicity neared its end. I went back into the Circle (Line), left Mother London and returned home – joyous, subtly transformed, a little clearer, a little further along my Path.

One YouTube video brought me to this. One chance, out between two worlds…

Of course this is all subjective. How could it be otherwise?

But it’s still magic.


The fall of mass culture, the rise of meaning

Stowe Boyd’s piece of this title is a response to comments about the shifting nature of modern advertising, in a piece by Arianna Huffington. But Boyd has something a little wider on his mind…

The decline of mass culture that is going on in the Western world is the direct consequence of the splintering of media and our defection from the communities that mass media defines.
The other day I saw Pew numbers showing that almost nobody below 25 watches local TV news anymore, for example. Which doesn’t mean that these folks are uninformed about what’s going on, but that the ‘imagined community’ that local TV broadcasting tries to conjure into being simply doesn’t exist for them.
The ‘message’ of mass  media is not about Iraq, American Idol, or the NY Yankees: it’s mass identity. And when people turn away from mass media — and mass advertising — they aren’t just becoming unaware of the goings-on on some reality show, they are walking away from belonging to a collection of cultural aspirations and obsessions.
And what fills the void for those that operate outside the limits of mass media, which are market-facing, and market-oriented? What happens when you aren’t bombarded with car ads, when you stop listening to music about bling and champagne, or you stop subscribing to fashion magazines telling you what to buy and wear?
One thing is clear: people’s extra-market motivations start to come to the surface. People begin to care more about connection in communities, the state of the world, and, at the most fundamental level, a meaning for existence.
This is being called social marketing. It’s a good term, for perhaps conflicting reasons. First, people associate ‘social’ with ‘social causes’, meaning ‘societal causes’ in a philanthropic sense. But more importantly, this marketing will take root in social media, where our connections to each other — the social context — is as important as the content.
This need for meaning often is trivialized as becoming cause-oriented, but our involvement in causes is the outgrowth of our desire to live meaningful lives, instead of as consumers.
I don’t mean this is some fuzzy spiritual way, some obsession with enlightenment or finding a path to heaven, but on a very practical day-to-day level. It comes down to this: How are we to spend our time, and what is worth being involved in?

He’s pretty much describing a lot of the key motivations and preferred actions of the Tribe of the Strange. And I think he realises that this sort of media-manipulation and the inevitable detournement it will provoke are just the sort of things the streets will find a use for. Or, that the Tribe already have.

Building Character, part 1 – Character Sheet

…state my assumptions.” – Darren Aronofsky, Pi.


All of my writing, from my earliest diary notes to Guttershaman and beyond are, at heart, an attempt to explain & justify my perspective of the world to others in a coherent and hopefully interesting way. That perspective is… hard to explain simply. But here goes, again:

As I’ve noted elsewhere, I was a lower-working-class kid with a weird-shit-inclined mind. The laddish, beer-and-footie culture of my surroundings was not exactly comfortable (or even comprehensible) to someone like me. Lacking a set of positive influences in childhood that were amenable to my… soul I suppose, I had to find my own where I could. I found ’em in books, films, TV – SF/horror, occult and Forteana were the places where I found perspectives that simply weren’t available in my given culture. (It’s fortunate that my parents were not strongly religious…)

In those days – I’m talking the late Sixties/early Seventies – being into this stuff was like a red flag to pretty much every bully in school. I was The Weird Kid. The Odd Boy Who Doesn’t Like Sport. The Target.

Weird Kid survived, left school and home as soon as possible, learned some nasty martial arts, met others like him & continued to construct his personality out of bits from here and there. Eventually, there came a point where I sussed that I was far from being the only person who did so – or, rather, not the only person who would admit it.

(Most of us do it unconsciously, by osmosis – picking up social cues and tells from others. Many simply become mental clones of their parents’ beliefs and attitudes with very little variation – and people like that really don’t understand or condone people like me.)

I had defined my personality, my character, for myself – as it were. But that was just the start of the process. When I began meeting others who’d done pretty much the same, in the SF fan culture, I found my first true friends. (Even messed-up loners need a few friends.) The things that drew us together were Fan things – cons, pubmeets, zine-making… but in the midst of all this was the pleasure of finding the crossover between various factions – how many in the fan community were also into magic or kinky sex or tabletop RPGs. All of those have that roleplay thing in common – its universally found in those realms. We find the bits that work for us & abide by them. We rehearse them in a relatively safe space – be it a gaming table, a BDSM scene or a convention. And both our personality and our spirituality develop out of those rehearsals.

One of the biggest criticisms of this kind of approach to personal spirituality is that it’s ‘pick n mix’. It’s not always – sometimes a movie or music or film or movement really seems to pick us. And the right ones speak to us deep in our souls, like members of the faiths we rejected say their god speaks to them.

The big difference is that, unlike those with a received belief system, we can speak back to those parts of ourselves: game them, field-test them, befriend them; get the various bits to blend into, or share, mindspace. (At best… have them not squabble constantly, at worst. Well, worst this side of either monomania for whichever model you’ve developed… or simple raving psychosis, often followed by fleeing to a fundamentalist belief. Or full-blown multiple-personality disorder…)

The modern world – at what point you start to date that from is a tricky question – is a place where many are actively avoiding the traditions of the past, especially those of their parents, faith and culture. The Postmodern model gives a certain flexibility in doing so. My path to alleged adulthood is one way to do it – there are others.

But why? Why bother with all this? Why not just accept given wisdom, time-tested ways and paths? The reason for not just blindly accepting the Old Ways is that those ways, the Grand Narratives, have shown themselves to be untrustworthy. Unworthy.

(The fact that many not only abide by these institutions but wish to make them more conservative, more hidebound & dogmatic, is sadly clear – and to me, it’s just as clearly a reaction akin to future shock… running away from the complex range of ideas available, wanting to be told a relatively reassuring Single Truth to follow.)

I think every generation produces kids who just don’t fit their immediate culture – my beloved Tribe of the Strange. I was a fairly extreme case, but not as extreme as some. Where else can kids like I was go to find authenticity, when the ‘authentic’ past paths are shown to be fake at worst, riddled with hypocrisy and venal bias at best?

Once you decide your identity will not simply be a copy of your given kin and culture, you have to make it out of what you find. Affinity groups – fandoms, clubs, gangs, even political parties & churches & protest movements. The stories and songs and moments that stir genuine wonder or terror or other such highly educational, imprint-producing emotions. And once they set in and become your personality core, it doesn’t matter if they’re recent, or jigsaw, or even based on the whole cloth of pop culture and cheesy newage – they’re YOU.

Trouble is, once that’s set, you’re just another bundle of dogma – it’s just a different dogma from your dad. And adding in new layers over this – of fashion (or ironic rejection of fashion) or cause, doesn’t actually help the core.

The tools of chaos magic & multimodel approach – the occult version of applied postmodernism – provide some adaptability in this… but also offer traps to get stuck in, like any set of beliefs.

What makes the difference between a person who consciously sets out to explore alternate models of thought, dress, action as self-improvement, and one who draws on all the same sources just for sake of irony or peer-group membership? Attitude. The ironic hipster stance is a shallow thing. The search for ones authentic self through pop culture, SF & horror & comics & movies & games & even new religious paths can be valid.

It can also be utter wankery.


More, inevitably, later…





My New Online Home…

After a long hiatus, a lot of changes in my life and some kindly but forthright nudging from my beloved Kirsty, I’ve made the big step to getting my own domain. So, here’s Feels… roomy.

I’ve copied over all the posts from my earlier site, and have pulled all the Guttershaman series into one place for easy perusal. I’ve also put up copies of some of my writing in other places (such as the sadly-on-hiatus Rending The Veil). There’ll be more from the vaults appearing as and when I can get into the basement, wrestle the guardian cephalapod and wrest the treasures from the murky depths.

There’ll be plenty more new stuff coming too – although the Guttershaman series seems to have reached a natural end, I’ve plenty more up my flapping sleeve…

(Those interested in the direction that I was going with Guttershaman will find a lot of the thoughts from there being explored on – which I highly recommend, even – especially! – the stuff I didn’t write.)

Much more soon…