It’s an ambitious production, and according to the description box of the video embedded below, it was the first feature-length film to be shown in the United States. The special effects are impressive, but I’m partial to pre-CGI effects and am admittedly biased in favor of anything that tests the creative ingenuity of the production team. There is a scene in Lawrence of Arabia, for example, when the army is approaching the town after marching through the desert for days. The camera is set on a hill, at a distance from the action, and the scope of the invasion is much grander, watching actual horses invade the town from a distance. These days, there is a very high probability that at least half the horses would be “added in post” by what you can imagine is a team of soda-swilling computer geeks in the basement of some production bunker in the San Fernando Valley. Whether it’s to save money, work, or time (variations on a theme), whatever the reason, the insult to the audience is the same. Norma Desmond’s line in Sunset Blvd. remains relevant today: “I am big. It’s the pictures that got small.” Norma Desmond had been unable to maintain her silent-film career with the advent of new technology, namely recorded audio and dialogue. The industry had moved on, and she had become a dinosaur, a problem that Gloria Swanson herself in fact successfully faced, unlike the character she portrayed in Sunset Blvd. In like manner, the scope of many of today’s films (or digital aberrances, technically) is much smaller by virtue of the technological advances that make it possible to simulate scope digitally, rather than being required to recreate it in the analog flesh, and capture it on film.
The effects in Dante’s Inferno from 1911 are impressive indeed, from giant lizards attacking the damned and turning them to stone, a tortured figure emerging from a cave carrying his own head as though it were a torch, and Satan himself chewing on the writhing body of a particularly unfortunate soul. Satan himself is slightly comical, making dramatic eye gestures while feasting on his human chewing gum. It doesn’t qualify as a flaw, but is rather an amusing, if morbid, vision. He resembles a car mechanic from Austin who plays in a metal band on the weekend.
The scenes of the scantily-clad crowds of the condemned waving their arms and lying corpse-like on the infernal landscape, or fighting for a position on the ferry, naked on the riverbank, are inversely reminiscent of the hippie gatherings of over a half-century later, and are interesting and amusing indeed. Stoned, long-haired nudists don’t necessarily conjure up images of hellfire and damnation, though with perspective and objective consideration, neither do they entirely dispel them. The “peace sign” itself being a pagan symbol sometimes known as “Nero’s Cross,” an inverted cross with the arms broken down, symbolizing further removal from the spirit, and greater surrender to the flesh. Before it was co-opted by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in the late 1950’s as an inexplicable symbol for “peace,” it was used by Hitler’s 3rd Panzer Division during WWII. Hitler of course being obsessed with the occult. And so the vision of hell being populated by a bunch of naked hippies covered in day-glo peace signs amused me greatly, though the concept itself is horrific and disturbing.
The peace signs of course are not visible in this production, which predates even WWI, not to mention Hitler’s Panzer divisions and the stoned, naked denizens of the hippie communes of the late 1960’s. Check it out below. It looks a little bit like bathtime at Burning Man:
Postscript: I’m posting the 2nd video in spite of a strong reason not to, basically the fact that the channel that posted it is run by people who believe you can lose your salvation, and that things like “secular music” are sinful, which means any music that isn’t gospel music. I have had ridiculous difficulties with people like that my whole life, most recently in Bullhead City, Arizona, where a pastor told me they don’t play musical instruments during church because of Amos 6:5, which declares “woe” upon those who “invent to themselves instruments of musick,” though even a cursory reading of the chapter makes it clear that the sin isn’t in having the guitar, but in resting in it, or trusting in it. Idolatry, in other words, and pride. We had a civil disagreement in front of his whole church and of course I had to leave. Those kinds of churches do more harm than good, and anyone who is even remotely aware of their own “infinite capacity for human incapacity,” as I call it, will avoid churches like that instinctively, as I do, because they are full of condemnation and have no room for grace. This video is powerful anyway, in spite of the channel it’s posted on, not unlike God’s power over the demons that constantly attempt to undermine Him.
Also, it’s curious to listen to the believable regret in the alleged demon’s voice, which elicits genuine compassion and is painful to listen to. I thought they were all malicious liars? Well perhaps there is dishonesty in the speech, mixed in with the horror, and regret. Perhaps the demon, if it is real, is being forced by the presence of the Holy Spirit to spill its guts, in spite of itself, against its will. It ought to go without saying that the possibility exists that the video is fake. However, as someone who has spent 2o albums trying to capture the visceral sorrow and infinite regret of hell (my first album is titled Angels on Fire, for freak’s sake), usually couched in songs about love, which is a temporal experience of eternal condemnation for many of us (that’s a joke)(funny cuzzits true), trying to express what I call the holy terror, I find it to be extremely compelling. I for one believe it.
Regarding the sinfulness of “secular music,” by which the legalists always mean “non-gospel” music or anything remotely interesting, beautiful, or artful, Psalm 150, of course, says to “praise him with stringed instruments, loud cymbals,” and yes, even “dance.” God is love and God is life, and the greatest of all artists. Praise God.