Tuesday, March 02, 2004

As promised . . .

(Originally published March 2, 2004)

But first, an apologia:
In rereading last night's entry, I was shocked, SHOCKED to be reminded, in the cold light of morning, that writing in a twilight state isn't conducive to ensuring precision with language. For one thing, I seem to have created the impression (at least in myself upon rereading) that Thompson had not had much experience as a director and so watched Hitchcock films so as to get up to speed before directing Cape Fear. Not so--the man had just finished directing The Guns of Navarrone, for Pete's sake. What I MEANT to say was that he had not had prior experience directing thrillers and suspense films. Whew. Mea culpa. Resquiescant in pace, Mr. Thompson. The next thing: I misparaphrased when I said that Hitchcock created suspense by showing the viewer the perspective of the person in peril. Not so: Hitch more often than not makes the viewer the voyeur--we see from the imperil-er's point of view, and so what we feel is not so much the shock of surprise as dread for the safety of the imperil-ee. There are exceptions to this: the shower scene in Psycho is an obvious one--or maybe not so obvious, since we don't yet realize, until that scene ends, that Psycho is REALLY about Norman Bates.
There are probably other problems with the semantic accuracy of last night's post; as they occur to me, I'll offer corrections/elaborations in the Comments section.

Talk to Her (dir. Pedro Aldomovar). I have heard of "Al's" work before, but this is the first film by him I've seen. The reviews I've read agree that this is his calmest work to date; without having seen his other films, I can nevertheless confirm that this is, at least on its surface, a calm film. But as Larry and I agreed today as we discussed it, the plot, stripped to its essentials, sounds farcical: two men, one a nurse's aide who attends a comatose woman in a hospital, the other the boyfriend of a matadora who was gored and has fallen into a coma herself, meet and become friends; the nurse's aide falls in love with his charge, impregnates her, and wants to marry her; the other man is horrified but remains the aide's friend. You'd think I've spoiled the ending, but I've not. There's more, of course--and it is in the "more" that this film works. I have never heard of any story even remotely like this one (unless you consider it a rather un-Disneyesque rewriting of Sleeping Beauty), but the extraordinary thing is that, in the course of watching, this viewer never feels as though what he's watching is unbelievable or false. The real strength of the film is the development of the two male characters and how we learn more about them via flashbacks and, in one crucial instance (a la Christopher Nolan's Memento), a flashback that starts a little bit before one that we had previously seen. So: this is the sort of film that can show one the virtues of strong, 3-dimensional characters. They can make just about anything believable, since the viewer comes to believe in them.

On to art matters now . . . In addition to teaching English, I also teach a section of the second half of the College's Humanities class which spans from the Renaissance to the modern era. The course is offered in an 8-week format, and while, yes, that's not nearly enough time to talk about 500 years of art, literature, music and ideas, it is both sad and fortunate that the text we use offers just enough of those things to make such a task manageable. We don't skim the surface--that would be delving too deeply, and there just isn't time. Rather, about all we can do is show the students that there IS a surface. (I hope it's clear that this circumstance is not to my liking.)
Anyway. Last night (the class meets on Mondays and Wednesdays), we talked about Impressionism, post-Impressionism, and Fauvism--all those Isms leading up to Picasso--and in our text we came upon a Cezanne still-life. To me, most times, a still life is a still life is a still life, but Cezanne's still lifes genuinely move me emotionally. Many still lifes, you know, are too too: they are technically proficient, almost trompe-l'oeil-like; I also know that some of them are meant to be meditations on mortality. But, without in any way meaning disrespect to the theme of mortality (which, after all, IS a Big Deal), there's a kind of preciousness to still lifes that finally seems a bit tedious to me. Cezanne's, though, seem anything but fussy. They have weight; they are solid; they seem to affirm the Now rather than call us to think on the To Come. As I told the class, they are less about the fruit and more about color--as though the color has mass and weight.

"Huh?" one says.
"What's the big deal about painting an orange orange?" says another.

Good questions, really--even the "Huh?". I take another run at it:

"The other day," I say, "I was shopping in [sotto voce] Wal-Mart [resumes normal voice] when I saw the most beautiful bananas I had ever seen. Perfect banana-yellows, some with a little green around the stems, no bruises on them. Absolutely beautiful. And as I looked at them, just for a moment, I realized that what I was looking at and admiring was not the fruit at all but that color. What mattered, just then, was not the fruit but that yellow. [blank looks and some wry smiles from the students] It's color, after all, that makes babies go nuts in the produce section--those big expanses of color. They don't care what the fruits are--it's color. Cezanne does much the same thing: he wants to paint color, not oranges. That's what I mean when I say that his color seems to have mass and weight; it's anchored to something, but it's the color and not the anchor that he wants us to see."

Something like that. Who knows if the above is right, by the way? But it SOUNDS--or, rather, APPEARS--right when I look at his still lifes. And now we're at the crux of this portion of the post: how to translate the visual into language. It's been relatively easy up until the Impressionists: painting and sculpture have been more or less representational in quality, so it's not too difficult to talk about what we "see." But now, with the Impressionists paradoxically preaching absolute fidelity to what the eye actually sees as opposed to what we "know" is in front of us and yet leading us straight into Abstractionism, we move away from Objects and into Color and Form. What complicates (and adds a further, ironic twist to) talking about this period is that my students subscribe wholeheartedly to the notion that the Artist should be free to express himself/herself as s/he pleases--the now-familiar Romantic conception of the Artist--yet, when confronted by artists who in fact are breaking from tradition and in so doing produce strange or crude-looking art, they mock them for doing so or figure (poor Van Gogh) that s/he was insane or drug-addled, as if that suffices to explain what we see. Last night, I gently called them to task on that. So: the resistance to the Other that is non-representational art rears its head on one side of the podium, just at that point in art that, for me, becomes harder, much harder, to convey.
I'm not angry about any of this, not frustrated. As a teacher I accept and appreciate the challenge of moving these students, some of whom by their own admission have never even looked at an art book before, much less gone to a museum, from incomprehension (if not utter indifference) to at least a nodding acquaintance with some pictures and ideas about them. But still: color and shape are things we SEE before we intellectualize . . . and some of my students are still learning they need to open their eyes.

On Saturday, as an optional field trip, some of us will be driving to Kansas City to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art to see some further examples from each of the periods we've discussed. That has, in the past, worked well: paintings live have a very different look and feel to them, as you know--whoever "you" are.

One other matter: Strange, isn't it--or maybe you who are bloggers don't feel the need to do this in exactly this manner--but I feel the need to make something like a formal announcement about the future shape of Blog Meridian, as if to gain your approval. What's especially strange is that, to this point, only my Significant Other has seen fit to comment at all on what she's read, so there's no one's approval to be obtained, so far as I know. But: I know two things thus far about this blogging thing. 1) I like it, and I want to keep after it; and 2) I want to give it some sort of structure--but not too much--in the form of "programming." So, then, I've decided that, whatever else might appear in entries on these days, Fridays beginning this week will have commentary on one, maybe 2 cds in my collection; Saturdays will have commentary on at least one film; and Sundays will be book days. That way, at least 3 entries per week might actually have something someone out there might actually want to learn more about/discuss/call me to task on/etc. I'm by no means under any delusions about my skills in discussing any of these genres, but I like to think that I can make connections between and among things and so can give you a sense of what you might experience.

Technorati Tags:
, ,

No comments: