When I say the downtown Sydney Business District is totally The Matrix, I’m not joking, at all. It’s the frickin’ Matrix.
While this wasn’t the primary reason for my visiting Australia, I admit I became a little tied up with experiencing it for the wealth of movie filming locations from that film. While I believe in Film Works and keeping production local to Los Angeles, I realized that Sydney was in fact, the perfect place for this movie to be made twenty years ago. The reason was simple: Sydney’s metropolis was, at the time, not instantly recognizable to most of the world and as such was the perfect surreal backdrop for a world that may (or may not be) real.
The thing that made the Sydney Business District even more matrixy than The Matrix though, was the fact that it was practically impossible to get lost. All one really had to do was park at the Sydney Opera House (a later post), and walk back into the city, and somehow you can always find your way back. I cannot say this of Manhattan which, despite being laid out as a grid, I can’t find my way around to save my soul. It’s bad there. Sydney not so much! The other notable thing is that Sydney isn’t in a grid pattern, so you would think it would be harder. My theory is that “the machines” programmed the layout of Sydney into my brain with that thingie that’s plugged into the back of everyone’s necks.i
In addition to the spot where Neo called the machines at the end of the film, I also came across a couple of other locations while I was there, including the Martin Place Fountain (where the “Woman in the Red Dress” program was run:
Another non-location was the staircase inside the Westin Hotel in Martin Place. While IMDB lists this as the filming location for the staircase, as do many fan sites, however it’s most likely not…unless there’s another staircase in the bowels of the hotel somewhere. See for yourself, below is video of the staircase, followed by video from the original film. While they might share trim bits, they are most definitely not the same staircase:
There is one other possibility that’s not completely crazy: That the original staircase was torn out and a new one built in its place that used the same trim pieces. I say it’s not crazy, because I’ve seen large facilities tear out and replace structural elements like this all the time, due to things like failed safety inspections or interior redesigns, or new building code requirements and it’s clear that Martin Place had seen a bit of a renaissance since the Matrix was filmed there with the facades on many of the buildings receiving major facelifts prior to and even during my time there. I can’t even be sure that the Westin was a tenant in that building at the time the Matrix was filming. Many of the seedy locations used for the industrial and alleyway sequences in Sydney went on to gentrify in the years following the production. Most areas are unrecognizable and cannot be tied to the production.
This of course, was but a small part of my visit to Australia, and I’ll cover the other aspects of it in subsequent posts.
These photos were taken back in 2015 with what I thought was an underdog and unsung hero of a camera, the original Canon EOS M. Derided for slow autofocus, a lack of available lenses, and poor battery life, I thought it did a decent job, I debated whether or not to put any of these photos in the hi-res gallery, and in the end, opted to wait until I had put up additional subject specific posts on Australia and will then do a consolidated “greatest hits” album.
In celebration of Flashback Monday (which isn’t a thing) I wanted to look back on the final days of the Movieland Wax Museum in Buena Park, California.
No I didn’t take this picture, it was from a postcard…and the lake later became a Starbucks
From 1961 to 2005 it was the goto place to feel like you were visiting the movies. This of course, was before many of the studios had their tours (apart from Universal’s…which was insanely awesome back in those days) and one nifty little thing to note was that, given its reasonably close proximity to the film studios of Los Angeles, stars had, in the past, visited and bestowed upon their namesake diorama’s genuine artifacts from what scene was depicted. So there was real Hollywood provenance there!
Unfortunately, in 2005, the MovieLand Wax Museum closed its doors forever, but, as is often the case with local fixtures going away, it drew ridonkulous crowds who had been procrastinating and putting off for years, a visit, which of course cost the museum and forced it to shut down. If you don’t support your local businesses, they can’t succeed. I’m not being sarcastic.
Buena Park was something of an oasis for amazing museums back in the day. The only one that pre-dates me (and which I regret being born too late for) was the Movie World museum which was dedicated to cars. It had a collection that will never be replicated as many of the cars wound up in private hands, or on display and eventually back out in the elements where they rotted away. Truly a sad tale.
The only two surviving amusement offerings in or near Buena Park are places you may have heard of: Knott’s Berry Farm, and Disneyland. And speaking of Disneyland, the line to get in during its closing weeks was longer than the line for an E-Ticket ride! But I did it, I succeeded in getting in, and took over a hundred photos for posterity. I can’t for the life of me, remember every film or star featured and some have the description plaques cropped out, but Wikipedia covers all of them, so you can certainly cross-reference.
Of course this was back in 2005 before digital cameras were the bomb-diggity they are today, and some of the JPGs have since corrupted in the intervening thirteen years, so please forgive me if one or two pictures looks a little off, but I hope you enjoy this trip down memory lane.
The Ars Electronica Center in Linz, Austria saw its influence expand greatly back in 2009, interactivity and human appendages-as-input devices were all the rage, and people were actually working hard at realizing the future and making profoundly cool and interesting and unique experiences that revolved around gestural interaction with digital devices or within digital environments. This was largely an outgrowth of the first iPhone which had just been released (en-masse) about a year earlier.
It’s as if everyone wanted didn’t want to work hard until Apple did it first and then once Apple did it…everyone hopped on the multi-touch train and claimed it was easy. Even I did. And it wasn’t easy.
Remember where you were when this happened?
That’s right, I built a giant multitouch wall into a sun porch and it worked for all of one evening before my code crashed, but hey, I can say I did it, and I can also say it got me nowhere in my career. But at least I learned that I was capable of great things even if only I recognized that fact.
But I digress…
The Ars Electronica Center is a “Museum of the Future” based in Linz, Austria that had recently undergone a major renovation with a completely new building. It had always focused on the interactive art world but around 2007 it became an absolute Mecca for this sort of thing as iOS paved the way for a ton of development in the non-qualified interactive experiential space. Before I continue, what I mean by “non-qualified” is the notion of activated spaces or objects. These are/were things that required nothing more than your presence to activate, so there was no need to own a device to initiate an experience (like an iPhone for example).
Around this time last year (2017), Simon Birch’s The 14th Factory was all the rage in Los Angeles.
Located just east of Dodger Stadium on Avenue 19 in an abandoned industrial bakery, The 14th Factory was an amazing temporary large scale art exhibition that anyone who couldn’t score tickets to the Broad in time for their first trip to LA could go to and still find suitable locations to snap selfies for their tinder profiles which they in turn utilized to boost their follower counts on instagram.
This is too bad because it was utterly brilliant and worthy of so much more than social media exploitation.
Back in February of 2017 (aka, a year ago), Daft Punk announced a collaboration between lifestyle purveyor Maxfield, and a couple of designers I’d never heard of (except for Hervet Manufacturier, more on him/them later) to open a pop-up shop in Maxfield Gallery across the street from Maxfield LA on Melrose Avenue.
The shop was slated to remain open for only eight days and feature merchandise from a variety of collaborators including:
• New Era
• Russell Yo-Yo
• Fisher Space Pen
Which I guess it all said in the marketing material leading up to the shop’s opening, which raises the question, why did I bother to type all that out when I could just show you this amazing poster?
Right, well, I guess I’m just a hard worker like that. Anyway, while the interior of Maxfield Gallery (not to be confused with Maxfield LA (across the street) is just four walls and a glass window looking out on Melrose, but they always manage to fill it with the coolest f*cking stuff on the planet as part of their pop-up and collaboration series and Daft Punk’s pop up did not disappoint.
Let me clarify: It did not disappoint from the standpoint of being an astonishing archive of the group’s creative output over the past two decades, even if I couldn’t wrap my head around a lot of the fashion collaborations that I, personally not being a trust fund hypebeast, wouldn’t be caught dead in. The walls were lined in officially authorized merchandise, but for the most part, it wasn’t anything that couldn’t be purchased from Daft Punk’s website itself save for certain items that pre-dated the formation of the site, such as the Medicom action figures, and the skateboard collaboration with Hervet Manufacturier, an item I regret not purchasing while I was there.
The aforementioned company revolves primarily around STUNNING furniture design for STUNNING prices that are STUNNINGLY worth it if you have that kind of STUNNING money. The brainchild of Cedric Hervet and his brother, Cedric is the creative third leg (still developing the dick joke on this one), of Daft Punk, responsible for helping Thomas and Guy-Man with the visual and story aspects of most of their endeavors.
Okay, that’s enough about sofas and skateboards, back to the Pop Up:
As previously stated, the walls were lined with merchandise found on Daft Punk’s website – things like candles, shirts, posters, skate decks, Christmas ornaments. And all that stuff was cool, especially considering the fact that to the extent I could tell, it’s all ethically made stuff (which matters to me), but the floor space was incredible, with a absolutely incredible array of artifacts from their past, including multiple iterations of their famed robot costumes as well as costume pieces pre-dating even discovery, such has Halloween masks worn prior to adopting their robot personas.
Inside the Daft Punk Pop Up at Maxfield Gallery in Los Angeles in February of 2017.
The band kit used in music videos and other promos for Random Access Memories.
The head of "Hero Robot 2" from Daft Punk's Electroma (portrayed by Michael Reich and NOT Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo).
The helmets themselves were heavily influenced on anime characters and 1950’s American sci-fi with Guy-Man’s helmet a tribute to helmets worn by Scott Bernard and other characters from Mospeada (Robotech and Macross) and Thomas’ helmet being largely influenced by Addison Hehr’s design for Gort from the 1951 film, ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still.’ A myriad of versions of the duo’s coveted helmets have been made, so let’s go through what was there:
1. Discovery: 2001 – 2004
Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo's Discovery era robot helmet.
Thomas Bangalter's Discovery era robot helmet.
Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo's Discovery era robot helmet.
Thomas Bangalter's Discovery era robot helmet.
Components from Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo's Discovery era robot costume.
Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo's Discovery era robot helmet.
Most impressive were the fully-lit helmets from the Discovery Era (2001-2004). The helmets were designed in collaboration between Daft Punk (and probably Cedric), special effects make-up godfather Tony Gardner and his company Alterian Inc, and later modified by show design firm LED Effects. Initially, they were not lit and featured chromic visors, but later, LED Effects (now seemingly no longer in business) stuffed them chock full, at the time, groundbreaking LED matrix displays that could output any number of pre-programmed colorful lighting animations, or scripts, or recipes, or whatever you want to call them. Below are some examples of them in action:
Initially powered by heavy battery packs, the helmets were later converted to AC as, I speculate, they realized that they would never be used in public beyond one video done for publicity prior to the final iteration of the helmets in their full LED splendor. The switch to AC allowed for further electronics, removal of heavy backpacks, and the realization that power cords could be photoshopped out or hidden with camera angles in press materials.
Despite being used only for publicity in controlled settings, their vacuum-metalizing had shown some wear over the intervening seventeen years. You might guess that they were not treated well but their electronics remained in perfect condition, suggesting that the metal pitting was nobody’s fault, but simply a shortcoming of the processes available at the time. It’s also worth noting, that using these helmets basically rendered the wearers blind as the gauge of the wires and ribbons used was THICK. These helmets were heavy, and likely got pretty hot inside. I can’t help but wonder if they still work. It stands to reason that they should.
I’m unsure as to the order of events here with regards to what the duo decided to do first, whether it was the film Electroma, record Human After All, or sign a deal to go on a tour, but all two of these three creative endeavors necessitated an evolution of the Robots’ costumes purely from the standpoint of practicality. They couldn’t expect the electronic helmets to hold up to the physical rigors of a live tour or film production and perhaps they were over the hassle from the standpoint of marketing a new record, so all electronics were ditched in favor of lightweight fiberglass helmets that could easily be mass produced as costume pieces for a film and swapped out on tour should one be damaged. Added bonus, you could walk more than eight feet since you weren’t plugged in to the wall.
Also Daft Punk ditched the quirky fashion associated with the Discovery era and donned leather motorcycle suits designed by Hedi Slimane, who also photographed the Alive 2007 tour and whose photographs are used in the album art for the accompanying live album. His photography is decent, and he gets high points for shooting film. Love that grain. Additional costumes were developed in collaboration with Janet Hansen of Enlightened Designs, an early adopter of EL wire as costume element, for the Alive 2007 tour’s encore in which the robots lit up like programs from the 1982 Disney film TRON. This had the added subversive element of Daft Punk communicating subliminally with Disney that they wanted to collaborate on something, anything. A couple of lines of business at Disney eventually came calling, and the duo opted to score the sequel to Tron, TRON: LEGACY in 2010, which brings us to…
Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo's Tron: Legacy cameo robot costume.
Thomas Bangalter's Tron: Legacy cameo robot costume.
For their not-a-cameo-cameo in the film, the group wore new motorcycle-style suits that utilized scotch light fabric to create a glowing effect on film. This was decidedly lower tech than the costumes everyone else got on the film, which used actual LEDs for illumination. It also appears that the lights on the faces of the helmets were digital effects as there were no wires or any indication that these helmets were powered. Of slight interest is that the bezels on these helmets were noticeably thicker than previous helmets, which suggests a redesign from scratch.
Change one dimension…and you have to change everything else.
On the day I went to the Pop Up, the costumes conceived for the Random Access Memories marketing and promotion were not on display (they showed up on a later date), however the white outfits worn for their Grammy win were. They were white with gold visors. Not much more to say about that other than that we’ve seen a continued evolution and refinement of the robotic elements over time, which hints at the notion that the robots are aging, not in a linear organic fashion, but rather, a cerebral synthetic fashion. They change with time, just like the rest of us, but as their appearance becomes more perfected and precise, their interests have become more organic and analog, and indicated by their music and pursuit of visual arts.
Well that’s about all there is left in my memory from the Pop-Up. Of course if you’re in LA, don’t not go to Maxfield because the Daft Punk Pop-Up is no longer there. The Maxfield Gallery consistently hosts amazing exhibitions and limited runs of merchandise and is a joy to check out.
Feel free to check out hi-res photos from my visit over in the gallery. As always, no license is granted to use them without my explicit permission. Thanks for understanding.
If you’re wondering if I got anything while I was there….I did. But I guess you had to be there. 😉