Posts Tagged ‘film’

What was “The Latitude”? Part Three: In Bright Axiom

June 8th, 2019

I’ve been meaning to conclude my first two blog posts about Nonchalance’s The Latitude (part one, part two) with a final wrap up since 2016, and yet somehow I never quite knew what I wanted to say. Tonight, I finally have an excuse to get all my thoughts written down once and for all — because there’s now a film about The Latitude.

Earlier tonight I went to the first public screening of In Bright Axiom, a documentary(ish) film chronicling the rise and fall of The Latitude. The film is directed by Spencer McCall, who was also the director of The Institute — a similar “documentary” about Nonchalance’s previous project, The Jejune Institute.

Watch the trailer for In Bright Axiom here:

 

In Bright Axiom – Trailer from Spencer McCall on Vimeo.

 

The Film

I went to the theater not quite knowing if it would be ex-members, or just people interested in watching documentaries since it was presented as part of SF DocFest. It turned out to be a mix of both, a suspicion confirmed right away when I saw a guy sitting a few seats down from me wearing a Jejune Institute t-shirt.

Before the film started, a DocFest presenter came to the stage and introduced The Professor (Geordie Aitken) who came up to the front and warmed up the crowd with some jokes. He’s remarkably good at working crowds.

Unlike The Institute, McCall went with a more straightforward documentary style for In Bright Axiom. Even though it takes an artistic license here and there for the most part it presents (as far as I know) events as they really happened. The major exception is a pretty obvious one, which finally gives the story of The Latitude a proper ending.

I don’t want to give too many spoilers away as it’s a wonderful film, but here’s a few key insights:

  • The Latitude initially held retreat(s?) in Mendocino out in the woods with a series of rituals, artists, and characters.
  • Nonchalance head honcho Jeff Hull confirms a number of aspects that were widely rumored — he’s independently wealthy and (if you do some basic multiplication) was spending about a million dollars a year to run The Latitude.
  • Much of the screen time goes into why The Latitude fell apart. The relationship between the creators and the participants deteriorated pretty rapidly, particularly when members were asked to pay to support it.

The question on my mind is who should see the film. Certainly anyone who took the time to read about it — whether on my blog or anywhere else — should give it a watch. The videos of The Latitude’s incredibly well designed spaces do them much more justice than static photos and descriptions ever could.

I also think creative types who are interested in immersive design should give it a watch. It’s a cautionary tale about how this type of art can become a victim of its own success when the boundaries are ill-defined. The irony of this failure when The Latitude’s internal story was all about breaking down boundaries was not lost on anyone, at least in retrospect.

The film ends with a mysterious logo appearing on the screen. What does it mean? Well, The Institute ended with the logo for The Latitude… wink, wink.

 
In Bright Axiom premier
 

After the film there was a Q&A session with three of the people behind it, seen in the photo above. On stage from left to right there’s Geordie Aitken who played Professor Walter Kinley, director Spencer McCall, and Jeff Hull.

I had a few questions, though I never got to ask them because others beat me to the punch. I did sort of want to make an in-joke and ask Geordie if he was going to force us all to make tea, but I worried that would be too obscure. (For the record, Geordie played the poorly received Antoine Logan of the Jejune Institute in its final seminar, and he wanted us to make tea.)

One question aimed at Geordie was how he became involved in Nonchalance in the first place. He said he read about The Jejune Institute on a blog, and became so fascinated he talked Jeff into letting him take part.

Looking back, I remember after The Jejune Institute ended a bunch of us went up to Jeff, sort of ganged up on him really, and asked questions about what was next. He sheepishly mentioned he was working on an “automated house” of sorts, and that it “came to him in a dream.” In retrospect it’s obvious the “automated house” was The Latitude’s Book One, and his dream ultimately became a waking nightmare.

Though I don’t remember the question, in the Q&A it was brought up that The Jejune Institute’s designer Sara Thacher is now an Imagineer at Disney, and was most recently involved in creating the new Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge land at both Disneyland and Disney World.
 

The Latitude’s Online Presence

Getting in to some other aspects of The Latitude I haven’t covered yet in previous posts, let’s talk about the user-facing interactions. Despite the somewhat anti-technology bent to the whole endeavor, the primary way to interact with The Latitude was online.

The website was kind of like a social network with a unique focus on sharing blog posts and earning badges for completing tasks. Here’s a screenshot of my profile page during the final stages of the site before it was taken down.

My username was “The Mister,” a reference to both the name “MrEricSir” and a humble riff on Doctor Who character “The Master.” The URL to my profile page was https://thelatitude.com/HEXA-AZURE-4280, with HEXA-AZURE-4280 being the “index code” on the back of my invitation card.

Emails from The Latitude always had a unique design as though they were a confidential telegram sent on special paper. Here are couple examples:

 


 

Praxes

The Latitude’s website had a calendar with many events throughout the week known as “Praxes” (plural of Praxis) which ranged from the introductory Greenhorn Praxis, members gathering for brunch, watching Saturday morning cartoons, etc.

My favorite of the praxes I attended was a workshop to build your own terrarium. Cosmic Amanda, best known as the creator of local online radio station BFF.fm, hosted the workshop. I’m proud to say one of the terrariums I built is still intact.

There never seemed to be much direct connection between The Latitude and most praxis events; it was more of a loosely connected social club where members could meet one another. Some were held in private spaces, others in public.
 

Closing Thoughts

If it’s not obvious enjoyed The Latitude and was sad to see it go. For my part I only joined months before the end so I was largely unaware of the internal drama that came before my time.

That said, the entire project seemed insanely ambitious. Nonchalance was renting numerous spaces in one of the most expensive cities in the world, telling a complex story, all while trying to keep a veil between themselves and the members of the (fake?) secret society they created.

The tipping point seemed to be asking for money. On one hand the membership fee wasn’t a lot for most people, on the other some members were obviously contributing a great deal of time and energy already. Perhaps there should have been a sliding scale aspect to the membership fees.

It’s also worth remembering this all took place in a part of the world where the economy is weirdly distorted: people spend $1,000 a month to live with roommates, yet eat food or take Uber rides that are heavily subsidized by venture capital — often without realizing it. Point is in the Bay Area we’ve all been conditioned to have very unrealistic ideas about cost.

On the flip side The Latitude “competed” in a way with a similar immersive experience run entirely by volunteers: Elsewhere Philatelic Society (EPS.) It wasn’t uncommon to see members of The Latitude with EPS patches sewn onto their jackets. Ironically, EPS was initially a fan-made offshoot of The Jejune Institute. With significantly lower overhead, EPS outlasted both The Jejune Institute and The Latitude, and is still around today. I think there’s a lesson here about creating these types of immersive art projects that can have a similar impact on the audience while spending far, far less money.

As what’s next for Nonchalance, they are once again working on a new project — what is it? We’ll just have to wait and see.

Until next time, in bright axiom; compeers and dark horses alike.

Six most outrageous moments during the 2019 On Cinema Oscar Special

February 28th, 2019


 

Last Sunday I stayed home to watch an exciting live event: the 2019 On Cinema Oscar Special (video available here). What, did you think I’d waste time on the “real” Academy Awards?

I mentioned On Cinema here before — to sum it up it’s a tragic comedy about a pair of would-be movie critics, Tim and Gregg, and their many personality clashes. For a complete backstory of the On Cinema universe check out this article at Vulture.

Due to the outcome of a civil lawsuit Tim lost control of On Cinema last season. The Oscar Special was advertised with Gregg appearing as the movie expert and a new host by the name of Rafael Torres. How would this turn out? Could On Cinema possibly outdo itself again?

The short answer is yes. Here are the top six most outrageous moments in this year’s On Cinema Oscar Special.

Warning: spoilers!
 

6. Dekkar’s awful cover of “Bohemian Rhapsody”

Tim often interrupts On Cinema with his latest music, much to Gregg’s chagrin. This time Tim’s band Dekkar reunites to perform a cover of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” which at the very least is on topic due to the Oscar nominations of a film of the same name. Unfortunately their performance is… well, it’s a train wreck. Tim’s vocals are slurred, off-key, and it’s unclear if he even knows most of the lyrics.

I might have rated this moment in the special higher if I hadn’t seen a similar version last month at their live show here in San Francisco. It’s a solid laugh, but like any joke it’s better the first time.

 

5. Gregg’s unmentioned reference to Scientology

In a segment called “Where The Stars Were Born,” Gregg shows us the birthplaces of various Hollywood actors using shaky footage he presumably shot on his phone.

Gregg casually displays recent footage of the former hospital where Jamie Lee Curtis was born without commenting on the fact that it’s now the Hollywood Scientology building. These days the building serves a rather different purpose for certain Hollywood celebrities, including Tim’s favorite actor Tom Cruise.

 

4. Tim’s entrance and latest conspiracy theory

During a pre-taped interview with Steve Carell, Tim is heard in the background forcing his way onto the set of the special. He barges on set with pepper spray and a gun-toting security guard/actor named Mike. Somehow Tim wins back Gregg’s trust despite having blocked all the doors and exits, accidentally hit everyone with pepper spray, and forbidden phone calls (especially to 911.) The official host Rafael retreats to his dressing room after being assaulted by Tim and won’t come out.

Tim demands they run a Q-Anon style conspiracy theory video he put together regarding the allegedly impending arrest of elite Hollywood liberals — at 7:10 PM, specifically — during the Academy Awards. Gregg immediately rejects this conspiracy. When Tim’s prediction doesn’t come to pass he blames his security guard for giving him bad information.

 

3. Tim’s latest quack medicine… or is it?

Lifting his shirt to reveal a suspicious vest, Gregg is initially concerned Tim is wearing a suicide bomb. But it turns out the vest is only loaded with magnets — for health reasons. Tim claims he bought the vest at Magnets.com, and the powerful magnets have finally cured his diarrhea.

At first this seems relatively benign compared to Tim’s many other questionable health choices. But after Tim takes a tour of Gregg’s archive of VHS tapes while wearing the vest, a new problem develops. More on that in a moment.

 

2. The Living Oscar

Celebrity impersonator Mark Proksch nearly died during an on-set accident in last year’s Oscar Special; since then he’s been in a coma under Gregg’s care. For a new series of “Live Oscar” segments Gregg dressed Mark’s limp body in a tight-fitting gold suit and propped him upright. Gregg asks the Living Oscar statue questions, answering them with sound clips from Mark’s past performances.

In the final Living Oscar segment Gregg activates a turntable under the stand. When Mark becomes tangled up in the tube for his breathing device, Tim rushes over to help, accidentally knocking Mark onto the floor. The fall causes Mark to snap out of his coma. Tim’s hardly a hero though as he still refuses to let anyone call 911.

 

1. The grand finale

Gregg’s intended final segment is a “live sequel” to the movie Kramer vs. Kramer. Unfortunately Gregg loses focus on the segment because his tape of the original Kramer vs. Kramer won’t play. After Joe Estevez points out Tim’s magnets might be the problem, Gregg fumbles and curses while trying to find if any tapes in his collection are still playable.

The episode wraps up with a distraught Gregg going through his tapes while Tim’s band mates from Dekkar arrive with more liquor. Dekkar performs two songs including the aforementioned Queen cover. Suddenly the police show up — almost as Tim predicted would happen at the real Academy Awards. Tim drunkenly escapes the premises before the police can catch up to him. The police have questions about “gold man” Mark, who’s still wearing the gold Oscar suit and has blood on his face. As the episode ends Gregg is clearly talking to one police officer about Tim’s crimes against his prized VHS collection.

 
Honorable mentions

There were a few pretty crazy, but not completely outrageous moments that didn’t make my top six cut. In no particular order:

  • Gregg interviews frequent On Cinema guest Joe Estevez. Meanwhile Tim gets drunk on spiked Mountain Dew and makes loud, obnoxious comments the entire time.
  • Tim eats raw noodles from a Cup Noodles with a crazed look on his face, at one point squeezing the cup so hard it explodes sending dry noodles everywhere.
  • Gregg’s obsession with the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies continue as he hires Hobbit-themed band “Thains Of The Shire” to play despite his own personal distaste in On Cinema’s music features. When Dekkar shows up they borrow Thains Of The Shire’s instruments and equipment without asking.
  • The “Whaleman 2020″ shirt Tim wears as a reference not only to his cameo role in Ant Man And The Wasp, but also is a subtle dig at Gregg who had a cameo in the first Ant Man movie.

John Waters’ holiday card

December 17th, 2012

John Waters' holiday card

Legendary director John Waters sent a holiday card to the Roxie Theater recently, pictured above with a fantastic illustration of Waters himself. You can check it out on display in the ticket window at the Roxie.

As you might recall, Waters’ connection to the theater is that he helped out with the Roxie’s fundraiser last month.

Cement warning

October 9th, 2011

Cement warning

Soon as I saw the “warning” in the cement, I immediately thought of Fight Club:

Tyler Durden: Did you know that if you mix equal parts of gasoline and frozen orange juice concentrate you can make napalm?
Narrator: No, I did not know that. Is that true?
Tyler Durden: That’s right. One could make all kinds of explosives using simple household items.

Spotted on the roof of the Art Institute on Chestnut St.