FilmsFolded

Essays on cinematic narrative. The focus is a set of dynamics collected under the concept of folding, a related system of techniques to model agency and causality.

Absinthe

Published: 14 Mar 2014

By the oddest of quirks, I find appearances of absinthe in film interesting.

The provenance of this fascination is easy to trace. I've had a study which is a combination of how we have evolved our key abstractions in science and art and where some key changes occurred. In another section, I focus on some of those. The ones I selected have a sort of continuity, but they omit one of the most compelling stories I uncovered.

It rides on the well known friendship-competition between Van Gogh and Gauguin. I may write about this fascinating clash of ideas elsewhere. Gauguin was opposed to Van Gogh in many dimensions: in sex, in cosmology (he was a Freemason), in a disbelieve in continuity. We can see the intellectual approach to visual abstraction in what they did when together and subsequently.

These basic ontological differences between the two changed our visual vocabulary and can be directly observed in film today. It is rewarding to see the creation of not one but two vocabularies. Elsewhere, I use one way to characterize the difference between the two approaches in film as psychotic versus neurotic, but that doesn't quite work when speaking of the two men. What does work is to use as tokens their two drugs of addiction.

Paul was an opium addict while Vincent spent much of his life in absinthe dreams.

Absinthe, the real stuff, was originally is a chemical called *Thujone plus alcohol and sugar which speeds it to the brain. Thujone is psychotropic and produces effects unlike better-known psychedelics. In its heyday among French intellectuals the Thujone was not extracted from the Thuja tree, but from Wormwood which delivered a a distinctive flavor and color. The Thujone content varied enough for some modern day anti-prohibitionists to claim it is safe.

But others note that some Swiss manufacturers were able to boost the Thujone content to be dangerous enough to be blamed for the collapse of Napoleon's army, where addiction was rampant. At any rate, because of the addictive and irreversible hallucinogenic properties, absinthe has a near-universal ban, except in a few places where the new stuff has very little Thujone.

The drink of Vincent's time was associated with the Swiss, because of the wormwood fields and processes used. But the original version was discovered by Thomas Harriot while staying with the Chesapeake Indians during the winter of 1585. Thujone was used by holy men in the firm of a red paste smeared on one side of a saved head — and also in the adolescent ceremony called *husinaw where future holy men were identified and warriors were certified by an encounter with God.

The process that the Indians used was to plant a specific flower (Indian Puccoon, now apparently extinct) next to a Thujone-producing tree. The roots of the plant would absorb the Thujone, to be harvested and ground. (Less adventurous adults would use the more common Bloodroot which gave the color and none of the mental risk.) Thujone loaded Puccoon was a trade good for the stone age people who lived in an area with no stones whatever. Tools from as far away as Minnesota are found in the area.

At any rate, Harriot took the knowledge back and imparted it to sponsor Walter Raleigh and associate the 'Wizard Earl' of Northumberland. While the two were imprisoned in the Tower of London, they grew a Thuja tree in the courtyard, from which Queen Elizabeth requested a 'cordial' on her deathbed.

Afterwards, the drug became associated with alchemy and kabbalistic studies.

The effect on the brain would be described today as highly cinematic, working on (and changing) the visual language/spatial awareness centers.

If anyone reading this is tempted to try it, please do not. This is unlike any available recreational drug and causes irreversible change.

Murder by Decree? (simply shows a distraut man in 1880s Madrid with a green glass

(van Helsing)

(Moulin Rouge)

Vincent and Theo?

Jitterbug mentions Absinthe in passing

“Blood and Chocolate” has Werewolves as frequent Absinthe drinkers (with burning absinthe as a metaphor)

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© copyright Ted Goranson, 2014