Art, Music, & Film: July 2006 Archives


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I can't afford to hate people. I don't have that kind of time.

Among the many lessons that can be derived from this beautiful, compassionate, and sensitive Kurosawa film of 1952, the sentences above resonate both in post-war Japan and in the world today. No one has the time to hate people.

Ikiru means "to live." And the story traces the end of life for one man, Watanabe-san, who has been diagnosed, but not formally told, that he has stomach cancer. He is introduced to us via an x-ray of his stomach and we are told that he has not lived in the past thirty years, he is dead already.

The story follows Watanabe-san's awakening through a night of drunken revel and a few weeks of dating a young woman from his office. About two-thirds of the way through the movie Watanabe-san dies off-stage and the remainder takes place through flashbacks and at his funeral.

It is at the gathering of office workers at the funeral that we get the other piece of wisdom that has not changed in lo! these many years. "Doing anything but nothing is radical." That was the root of Watanabe-san's radicality, he did something other than the nothing that bureaucracy is erected for.

I've already said more than enough about the film and given away too much perhaps because this is a small and intimate film; little details tell too much. Every moment is fraught with meaning, every line carefully considered, every gesture, every action choreographed to the lustrous end. And yet, fraught as it is, it is never heavy nor depressing. It is at times positively light and playful and at others deeply felt. Particularly poignant is a scene in the park where Watanabe-san swings in the snow and sings a song introduced earlier in the film, only this time quite differently.

Don't trust too much the liner notes that talk about this as a modernist existential film tract. As a professor once told me about Shakespeare: bring to it any ideological system and you can make it light up--feminist, socialist, homosexualist, you name it. I have a feeling the same may be true of this film. For the time, it is remarkably forward thinking in the portrayal of women, hence feminist. And already there are the signs of the "think globally, act locally" cant that runs the rounds in many circles today pretending to be thought.

Our lives would all be immeasurably better if we could remember Watanabe-san's words quoted beneath the header. We might consider them the Japanese equivalent of, "She would have been a good woman if there’d been somebody to shoot her every day of her life." Let's rather choose not to make this our emblem and to take after Watanabe-san--a Silas Marner, an Ebeneezer Scrooge, a Watanabe-san after his own fashion.

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An Apology of Sorts

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Perhaps it is more an explanation.

I feel also bad posting so many reviews and talking about so many films because so many people cannot indulge in them; however, the reality is that there will come a time in the not too distant future (praise God) when I'll return to my more infrequent reviews.

Presently my wife and child are not with me. During their absence I sleep a lot less than is normal for me. I fill up all of that "extra" time with my writing and reading and watching of film. When they return, the patterns of life will resume and the reviews will slow to a trickle.

So, I don't really apologize, except in the sense of offering an explanation for, because I know no one was chiding me; however, my guilty conscience observes that this is not normative behavior and it isn't available to all. Take heart, it soon won't be for me either and I look forward to that time. Film, no matter how well crafted or beautifully made is a very small consolation in the absence of those we love most.

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Hail the Era of the DVD


Not so long ago, perhaps twenty years, perhaps a bit more, the literature of film was largely inaccessible. We were left to the tender mercies of local television statements to broadcast whatever it was they had available or that they felt would make a splash with television audiences. With the advent of videotape and now DVD, the incredible richness of the cinematic world became largely available. I can think of time during which it would have been impossible to see Rashomon or The Hidden Fortress or Throne of Blood or Ran. In fact, I would guestimate that more than 90% of film literature was inaccessible to most of us.

Now we are at Hollywood's mercy determining what will be trnasferred and thus made available. That's why it is very good to have smaller DVD companies, such as Criterion to find and rescue some of the great old films. In addition to those listed above, Criterion also made available Carl Dreyer's remarkable and moving Passion of Joan of Arc, the haunting Les Yeux sans Visage (Eyes without a Face), and The Seven Samurai among others. In this short list are the films that gave rise to Star Wars and The Magnificent Seven

And lest you think they are simply snootyville, they've also produced the "authoratative" edition of Armageddo.

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I know, a lot of reviews, but when you have a lot of laundry to take care of, and other relatively immobile housework/repair, one has time for movies. And what a movie!

Akira Kurosawa's 1950 masterpiece remains as relevant and as pointed today as when it was first made. Based of two stories by Akutagawa (who is sometimes called the "Poe of Japan"--I'd say he is the de Maupassant of Japan) Rashomon tells the story of the forest rape of young woman and the murder of her husband. And all of this with neither overt sexuality nor overt bloodshed.

But the events of the story are less important than its telling. The main events are narrated by four different narrators--a bandit, the wife, a witness, and the dead person through a medium. It is this last that gives the film some of its creepier moments, as the medium is a pretty Japanese woman speaking in the voice of a Samurai.

Naturally the four stories do not agree on the details and particularly not on the manner of death of the Samurai. And what you realize is that there is no way for an observer outside the scene based upon the stories alone to say what really happened.

When I finished watching the film, I thought, "Wow, it's just like reading any modern political commentary--Ann Coulter, Al Franken, Pat Buchanan--most are documented to a greater or lesser extent and yet look at the same presidency and the same actions and see entirely different things. And each of the things they see redounds to their greater glory and honor, just as in the film. Odd, no?

Kurosawa managed to give the film a "happy" resolution, which is more than I can hope for from the American Political scene or news scene. I remarked in an email to TSO one time that I didn't see any reason to read a book by John Cornwell because I felt upon finishing anything I had to go and check out everything that had been written.

Kurosawa aptly taps into the human condition, and he does it in the context of a beautifully filmed movie. This is one of those films "in glorious black and white" that just shimmers and explodes off of the screen to come alive in the mind. The questions Kurosawa poses and the lack of a substantive response are disarming and to those unconvinced of the fall of humankind, perhaps a bit disheartening. But they are eye-opening and they are the necessary questions even for today.

Highest possible recommendation--even though you will have to read it and perhaps watch it several times for it to sink in. Also, the Criterion package (I love Criterion produced DVDs) includes a booklet that contains the short stories "Rashomon" and "In the Grove" on which the film was based.

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Trois Coleurs: Bleu

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The first of a series of three films thematically connected by color and by the meanings of those colors as represented in the French flag stars Juliette Binoche as ayoung woman who loses her husband and her daughter in a car crash. The rest of the film builds on this simple premise, peeling away layers of character and layers of meaning.

Juliette Binoches seeks the liberty that blue represents. But the liberty she seeks is not mere political or economic liberty. She seeks the liberty to live life without really living it--to do life as a walk-on, unattached to anyone or anything. Typical of her approach, "Now I have only one thing left to do: nothing. I don't want any belongings, any memories. No friends, no love. Those are all traps." And yes, they are traps--tender traps, the traps that make us human, as Juliette discovers in the course of the film.

The film presents another kind of liberty as well, a kind of counterpoint to the main theme (which is appropriate because Juliette's husband is hailed all over Europe as one of its finest composers). Ultimately, Juliette discovers the liberty that may only come when the truth is told all around. Her life has been a continual hiding from one truth and another, but as the movie unfolds, she begins to see and understand the truth. And the truth really does set her free from her misconceptions about freedom and how to live.

This is a hard film, there is a new cinematic language in parts. There are about four moments in the film when there is a cut to black that then cuts to a continuation of the same scene. These scenes are shot through with the portentous music that is being composed for the celebration of the Unification of Europe. You know they are meaningful, and yet their meaning is not necessarily what you think until you have seen all of them.

This is a film I will have to rewatch, but only after I have seen the other two. White or Blancis next in order, but I already have Red or Rouge in my possession so that will probably be next. While the films are called a trilogy, they share no characters and don't even occur in the same country.

The director Krzysztof Kieslowski died in 1996 leaving these three films as his final work. And it is hard to imagine how anything before might have compared with the wonder of this one. I can't wait to see the other two.

Highly Recommended--ADULTS ONLY, there are several scenes that would not be appropriate for any child of any age.

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The Fog

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No, not either one of the two versions John Carpenter made, this is rather a wierd little ditty from Bollywood--kind of a corss between a 1950s-1970s Spanish/Italian Horror movie complete with ketchupy blood flowing at all the wrong times, and a chaste Madonna video (talk about oxymoron).

That is one thing that truly impresses me with Bollywood films, and perhaps it speaks to their audiences. The embraces, the close encounters, the amount of skin shown is about what one could have seen in the U.S. pre-1965. And that's refreshing. Another refreshing point is that these films are so darn sincere. When everyone gets up and dances, you want to dance with them. It's hard not to like Bollywood.

Now I have a question for those who know more about Indian film--what language are most of these films in? Half of the time I'm hearing English words, phrases, and sentences that need no subtitles. The other half there is some other language. Is this a creole or a patois that would make the film more comprehensible in a nation that has more languages and dialects than all the erst of the world combined? (Okay, that may be an exaggeration, but not by much.) I haven't figured it out and its a bit disconcerting because I find myself half understanding and half in the dark and by the time I realize they've trailed off English, I've missed the subtitles.

Well, for films that explore the challenging territory of the bare midriff AND disappearing and reappearing corspes and monsters, this film must be one of the very finest. Nevertheless, it is lengthy and I can give it only a half-hearted recommendation as an odd blend with some great Bollywood musical numbers and some really bad horror cinema story and acting. But, it makes for a unique and interesting blend.

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The Daddy of The Matrix

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Dark City 1998--take a dollop of The Matrix mix thoroughly with about a half gallon of The Forgotten and a small dose of The Truman Show and you have the daddy of them all.

Dark City is an odd little film--Australian/United States Production with the talents of Rufus Sewell, Keifer Sutherland, William Hurt, and Jennifer Connelly.

Man wakes without memories in a hotel room wherein there is a murdered prostitute. And he travels about in a city where it is always night and where no one is the same from day to day.

Innovative, interesting, and surprising even after you've seen all that derives from it. One of those obscure films that help you to trace the origins of dozens of others. And perhaps rather than influencing The Matrix it shared the same Zeitgeist--but its motifs show up again and again in other films.

Adult subject matter, recommended for adults only, and only for those with a penchant for quirky SF.

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Aesthetic Tyrants

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Zippy and Rob will be happy to know that other than this there is nary a mention or an intention toward them. I'm sure Tom, shaking in his boots, will breathe a sigh of relief when I say the same is true of him. In fact, this is not directed at anyone in particular, but toward and peculiar attitude that crops up every now and then, which I consider to be worse than many of the aesthetic foibles we have paraded across the floor in the past few days.

Some people, usually a small group, feel it incumbent upon themselves to infringe upon the small joy others take in any given work of art. They take it upon themselves to be the gatekeepers of the objective artistic merit, and those with the checklist of what qualifies and what does not. Frankly, this attitude sickens me. They usually proclaim years of experience in the field or a string of letters behind their names that give them some oracular ability to pronounce whether or not a work is "good" or not.

I hate to tell them this, but they aren't the gatekeepers. No experience and no string of letters gives them the right to rob anyone of the pleasure they experience from licit entertainments. They have the right to their opinion and to substantiation of that opinion on the basis of their understanding, but they are not allowed the codicil, "And anyone who does like it doesn't know what they're talking about and suffers from a terminal case of bad taste." What presumption--of course I know what I'm talking about when I say I enjoyed a book, film, or piece of art--and it may be that what I enjoy about it is precisely what brings these aesthetic mavens to the verge of apoplexy. Too bad. I'm sorry to make them distraught, but whatever they say, I'm going to like the work anyway.

I read J.D. Robb and Georgette Heyer with nearly the same enthusiasm and enjoyment as I read James Joyce. I can name a myriad of reasons why the latter is more important, more literary, and better taste than the latter. So what? I can enumerate countless reasons why Agatha Christie is a lesser writer than James Gould Cozzens. However, at the present time, it appears that Ms. Christie will be a writer for the ages whereas Mr. Cozzens has practically disappeared.

I went through college courses that enunciated to me why I must despise Charles Dickens and love Thomas Hardy. Sorry to say, I must not have been listening too well. I love Charles Dickens, and Thomas Hardy.

The reality of the matter is that every person is entitled to his or her own opinion and enjoyment or lack thereof in a work. For example, while I can train my eye to understand and even appreciate some of the works of Picasso, there are very few I can truly be said to enjoy. There's absolutely nothing of the work of Robert Motherwell that means a thing to me, and a Jackson Pollack--in my estimation, mind you--is a massive waste of time. Now, that doesn't mean that there is something deficient in my critical faculties nor in my taste. It means that I find the aesthetic appeal of these artists harder to grasp and not so accessible as say Magritte, Gaugin, Rousseau, Corot, and Courbet.

Personally, I would class most of Thomas Kinkade in with those for whom I have little appreciation. But what would I waste anyone else's time outlining the deficiencies of style, subject matter, depth of light, etc. (Well, only so Linda won't put them up on the walls, but that's a different issue.)

People are entitled to their enjoyment of licit pleasures. The critics are entitled to their opinion of what makes good art. Personally, I am more interested in a critique of the moral appropriateness of the art. Is the pleasure truly licit--or is the subject matter essentially immoral?

Critics and scholars are entitled to their appreciation or lack thereof of works of literature. Harold Bloom, whom I consider to be brilliant in other ways, shows an unaccountable lack of access to the work of E.A. Poe. He tries to convince everyone these works are somehow inferior to other works that are a great deal more tedious and deadly to read. Just stop it!

When I critique a book, I try to give some sense of why I did or did not like it and what I found problematic about it, if anything. I often include a recommendation. I expect those who have read enough of my writing to know what I like and dislike will weigh that evaluation and say, "Well, HE didn't like it, so I will." I would not presume to judge the person who found something to enjoy where I did not. In fact, that is the person from whom I wish to learn.

A few years back Jonathan Franzen, author of an enjoyably mediocre tale of family angst The Corrections bemoaned the fact that Oprah had picked him up for her book club. "It's so middlebrow." Frankly, if Oprah had breathed a word of my novel or short story to the world, let along made it her book club selection, I'd build her a statue from the money I'd be rolling in as a result.

Watch for words like, "middlebrow," "bad taste," "I have twenty years experience," "I know what constitutes good painting," "I have a Ph.D. in semiotics and symbology. . ." what follows is sure to be a tedious, uncharitable tirade and detraction of another person's opinion.

If you (the general and vague "you", not YOU gentle reader) don't like what I like--you're entitled. Tell me about it. Let me learn from you, or talk to you and tell you what I saw. Don't tell me how you have twenty-two years experience teaching English and can recite "My Last Duchess" backwards and forwards, and you have a Ph.D. in "Post Modern autodeconstructive hegemonic theory." I don't care. Don't waste my time. Tell me what you want to say and give good, solid reasons. Or refer me to where you have provided good, solid reasons. And be charitable enough to recognize that you are not the center of the universe, nor are you the last word on theory and practice of aesthetics. In short, don't be a boor. Here, at least, you'll wind up being ignored or summarily deleted. I haven't the time nor the patience, and I don't wish to subject my readers to a diatribe about why some obscure homosexual feminist transvestite from Akikasho Japan is the only filmmaker who even makes a real movie any more. It's unbearably pretentious, precious, and more than a little bit sad.

So do yourself and everyone else a favor, lighten up--stop taking yourself so seriously and chill. (Advice I could do with following myself.)

[End spate of vituperation and frustration]

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Art as Children

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Many artists often compared their works to children. When asked what their favorite novel or painting is, they would respond with something like, "How do you pick a favorite child?"

But to my mind, what makes art difficult is that the products are closer to a person than children. When someone asks me "What poem is your favorite?" it strikes me as asking, "Which toe do you like best?"

This sounds dramatic, and I don't mean it to be so. One of the things that makes publication very hard for many, myself included is that it is akin to standing naked on a soapbox at the corner of the village green and shouting, "I have something important to say." You are completely exposed to the world. Every work I have produced still feels as though it is a part of me. And reading the older works, I become for a moment the person I was when I wrote them, and the person that I still am as a result of writing them.

So, I probably overstate, but for me, the metaphor of children fails, because as much as I love my son, I feel somewhat differently--not love precisely--about my big toe.

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The Eye


Subtle shades of the Cassandra theme played out twice in the course of this low key suspense/supernatural thriller. I hesitate to call it a horror movie, because it most certainly is not. More the atmosphere of The Forgotten

A young woman, blind since the age of two, undergoes a corneal transplant that restores her vision. Along with the restored vision comes the ability to see the forthcoming death of those near her.

Very nicely played, and very coherent. I can't imagine what the American studios will make of it. The woman who was the star of My Left Eye Sees Ghosts played the sister of the heroine in this film.

Recommended for adult audiences looking for style and fun with a very tiny dollop of substance thrown in.

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"New Again"

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I have not read about this song at TSO's and, darn it, I should have. Shame on you TSO for not talking about it! (Or shame on me for not noticing it when you did.)

The above-titled song is a collaborative effort between Brad Paisley and Sara Evans, two of my very favorite country music stars. It occurs on the CD The Passion of the Christ: Song. It takes the form of a dialogue between Jesus (sung by Brad) and Mary (Sara). And it is, simply splendid and beautiful.

"Whatever happens,
Whatever you see,
Whatever your eyes tell you has become of me,

This is not
not the end,
I am making all things new again."

Go to your library and get a copy of this CD (if that is possible in your local library) if only for this song.

"Behold, I make all things new!"

(Hope you know it was just a ribbing TSO, haven't written to/about you in a while.)

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My Left Eye Sees Ghosts

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Incorrectly described by Netflix as a "horror-film," My Left Eye Sees Ghosts is more along the lines of a light romantic comedy with ghosts.

After a car accident, May suffers from a blood clot that allows her to see ghosts--out of her left eye only. Once the ghostly realm is aware of her she is barraged by a panoply of ghosts who simply want to be seen, or who want something. For example the ghost of an overweight woman wants to know what it is like to be thin if only for a moment.

The only ghost she cannot see is the ghost she most wants to--her husband.

If you want an idea of what this film is like, think 30s screwball comedy (á la Topper) made in 1990s Hong Kong. The film production value is high and I'm beginning to see that Hollywood may be losing its monopolistic grip on the film media. I'm seeing more and more films from Asia that have themes and presentations that make them not only palatable but popular among western Audiences. Witness the success of Ringu and Gu-On not to mention works like Bollywood Hollywood and Bride and Prejudice. This is a welcome relief as an industry without any competition tends to stagnate, and we've been mired in the entrenched mindset of Hollywood far too long. It's about time that the doors opened up and allowed in a breath of sweet fresh air.

And that is exactly what My Left Eye Sees Ghosts is--sweet and while not absolutely fresh (we must remember that "there is nothing new under the sun") certainly with a fresh presentation.

I don't recall anything that would preclude teens to adults from enjoying this film. Younger children may be put off by having to read it and by some of the conventions of Chinese film.

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Three Extremes

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Let's start with a hearty NOT recommended for the weak of stomach or heart, nor for those not into Asian cinema and fairly graphic and gritty horror. The second segment of this three segment film (one each by a Chinese, a Korean, and a Japanese director) is by far the weakest and oddest. The third segment, directed by Takashi Miike (of The Happiness of the Katikuris and Audition fame) is remarkably understated for one of Miike's work. Subtle and twisting, it is a full movie in a short space and might be unpacked in many interesting way. Miike is one of those to watch to get a sense of the new Japanese cinema and the new Japanese aesthetic.

The segment most worthy of mention, however, is the one directed by Fruit Chan, called "Dumplings." Problem is, that it can't really be discussed without giving away everything and so I'll have to stick to a couple of generalities.

Upon first watching, once again, as with the book discussed previously, I had no idea what to make of it. But I've come to the conclusion that like F. Paul Wilson the road Chan is leading us down here is remarkably pro-life given its Asian origin (not generally a pro-life group of societies--never have been). When I thought about it at length, I decided that "Dumplings" was a modern-day "Modest Proposal" combined with an atomic blast indictment of the society and the people we have become.

Problem is, is what I'm seeing in the film, or am I reading it into the film? Did the author mean for me to come out with this idea, or was he simply playing with an idea and I've made of it something that was the farthest thing from his mind.

I'm not certain it matters ultimately. If some good may be derived from it, then I will take the good. But will I claim that it is good--there's the problem.

Anyway, I don't expect very many of you will see this any how and so my question will probably never be addressed.

And now I'm off to read my way through a Chinese Ghost movie that sounds rather like Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands. Title--My Left Eye Sees Ghosts. I can't wait for Linda to Get home so I can stop reading my movies.

Coming up Krzysztof Kieslowski's White, Blue and Red along with The Decalogue, The Gospel According to Matthew and a few others that have been on my list for a while.

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Lady in the Water

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It is easy to see why critics deplore the film, the one person harmed in the course of its filming is a critic. And the important point here is not so much that he is a critic as that he is a hubristic know-it-all. Hubris and humanity, the themes of the film.

There's no need to try to outline the plot--it makes no sense outside of the film. And I won't claim that this was the very finest film M. Night Shyamalan has made--although it may be close.

It is a film with a tremendous philosophical appeal, and that may be the flaw that makes it, perhaps a lesser film. Sometimes, the veil is torn away and one gets the "lecture" that has been hiding in some of Shyamalan's other films. This may be what bothers critics, but if so, it seems a case of intellectual laziness.

I will have to watch this film five or six more times before I begin to understand all of the things that I might want to take away from it. But once again Shyamalan introduces his ideas of faith, hope, love, humanity, meaning, fallenness, and a host of others. If you've seen Signs you know the drill--much of it is repeated here. But the oeuvre as a whole is not repetitious.

Recommended for smart teens to adults. Younger children will likely be alternately bored and frightened if the sounds I heard in the theatre are indicative.

In our ongoing debate about censoring and changing films, this is an example of a filmmaker we should support and for whom we should show out in great numbers even when the work may not be the very finest (although, as I said, I found this one quite fine). If we want quality cinema that takes our concerns seriously, then it is high time to shell out the money at the Box Office to light Shyamalan and directors like him have a fair chance at future films.

Go and enjoy.

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Integrity in the Triune

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According to Plato the integrity of any given thing is made up of three separate but overlapping properties--truth, beauty, and goodness. Lacking one of these three, an object cannot have integrity in an objective sense. But one of these three overrides the other two--if a beautiful and truthful seeming object lacks goodness, then it is neither beautiful nor truthful. However, an object can lack perceptible beauty and still be good and truthful and hold its integrity. Likewise an object or idea can lack seeming truth (at least truth as we're inclined to recognize it) and still be good and beautiful (and these might be clues to its truth.)

This idea, as poorly articulated as it is here, is important in dealing with "important" works of literature and film that lack one of these dimensions. During our book-group meeting yesterday, we discussed Reading Lolita in Tehran as something worth our attention. And I asked the question, "Why Lolita?"

The problem with Lolita is central and not avoidable. Nabokov writes a well-constructed even beautiful story around an essentially immoral, sinful center. The point is not to condemn Humbert Humbert for his depredations--and, given modern parlance, there is even some implication that Lolita is responsible in some way for her own despoiling. This is repugnant to the sensibilities and renders the novel an aesthetic nightmare, being beautiful and true (within itself) but lacking any core of objective goodness outside of the writing itself.

It is possible to construct good and worthy fiction around essential immoral acts, but it is always necessary to emphasize the objective immorality of the central act for the work to have integrity. I think here of both Anna Karenina and The Scarlet Letter. In Anna Karenina there is the struggle with Anna's adultery and love of Vronsky which ultimately results in tragedy. So, too, with Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter the essential message is not that Hester Prynne's adultery is excusable but that Dimmsdale should have suffered similarly. It is only Hester's nobility of spirit and independence that protects him from being ousted from the community.

But Lolita and works like it--we would do well to warn the world that no matter how lovely the surface, the core is corrupt. We would do well to remember ourselves that Satan may often appear as an Angel of light. But we must balance that impulse with the impulse that judges all things by their appearances, condemning The Scarlet Letter for the same reasons as one might condemn Lolita. The aesthetic and moral impulses that drive the two are completely different.

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Because Linda is away for the summer, I have the opportunity to view films with which she would have very little patience (i.e. Horror films and films you have to read) and I am amply rewarded in this delightful film.

Set in Jerusalem during the feast of Succoth (The Feast of Booths), Ushpizin is the story of Moshe and Mali, two impoverished Chassid who are casting about for a way to properly celebrate Succoth. During the feast it is required that the people of Israel live is succah, or booths, to recall the Exodus from Egypt. Moshe and Mali are too poor to have a succah (or booth). In fact, they are too poor to pay their ordinary rent.

Moshe and Mali pray, and a miracle occurs. A succah becomes available and Moshe is given a gift of $1,000. There are elements of the prayer scenes and the reception of the news scenes that bring to mind Fiddler on the Roof, but they are delightful.

Add to this mix two escaped convicts, one a former friend of Moshe, who arrive as Ushpizin for Succoth. Ushpizin means visitor or "holy visitor." The havoc begins.

Moshe spends part of the money he receives on a citron that is considered the most beautiful ever seen in the city. It cost 1,000 shekels and Moshe buys it as a blessing for his marriage to Mali that it might bring them children.

To cut to the chase, the film is a serious and yet light-hearted look at what it means to be a person of faith and what the trials of a person of faith are all about. While the subject matter is a youngish Jewish couple, the theme is universal and beautifully played out. If you are interested in films that treat the life of faith seriously and present it with respect and you are tolerant of having to read your way through a film, you might find Ushpizin to your liking.

Highly recommended for all viewers.

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Artistic Integrity

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In in this post, Zippy states that if one does not believe that artistic integrity is not finally decided by the artist one is an anti-essentialist.

Well, I disagree with Zippy, not because I am an anti-essentialist, but because I believe we're using one term to mean two different things. I'm not certain I fully understand what Zippy means when he uses the term "artistic integrity," but I'm fairly certain that it is not the same thing I mean. So, in fairness, let me say that when I use the term artistic integrity, I use it to include both the aesthetic dimension of the art (over which the artist is not the final word) and the integral dimension of the art: that is that the final message, meaning, or communication (intention) that the artist intended to convey in the production of the work is, in fact conveyed. And it is over this dimension of the art that the artist is, in fact, the only arbiter. That is not to say that one's understanding or interpretation might not differ from the artist's intent, but that what the artist meant to say in the piece is said in the piece as it stands--the final work is integral to the understanding of the intent. In short, the final version of the work conveys the artist's vision.

It is in this dimension of things that we can enter into a discussion of what it means to change a work in some way. While we might improve it aesthetically, we might completely undermine its integrity because we contravene the artist's intention.

Does undermining the integrity of the art constitute an offense against art? It MAY not, but it always is an offense to the artist and it often becomes an expression of pride (I know better how to say what you intended than you do.). If, indeed, you do know better how to say what the artist is getting at, it would be better to produce a new work of art that does so rather than altering the artists. Thus the difference between artist and ethical editor.

When we claim to know the artist's vision better than the artist (a portion of the claim we make when we say that any given change "improves the work," we arrogantly proclaim that we understand the vision better than the artist.) The other half of the claim of "improvement"--we've improved the aesthetics carries no such onus.

Let's examine a specific case. Let's say I'm watching Saving Private Ryan or Full Metal Jacket and I've decided to eliminate all vulgar language and replace it with "shucks," "darn" or simply to leave silence. We may have made the work more acceptable to some audiences, but we have changed the reality the film reflects. Suddenly we're out of the realm of (perhapd unnecessarily) gritty realism and into the realm of the fairy tale. This clearly violates artistic integrity.

On the other hand, let's say that we change the first Harry Potter movie to have Malfoy refer to someone's "butt" rather than their "ass." Has any irreparable harm been done to the movie or the character? Some would say yes, some no. Personally, I wouldn't make the change, but assuming that it were properly licensed and noted, (some of the language has been changed to make it appropriate for children), I wouldn't get in a huge huff over it either. But I could understand those who might.

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Morality and Ethicality

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It has been stated by many that the arbitrary changing of a published work (erroneously termed editing) is not an immoral activity. I have demonstrated that it can be. I believe that it often is because it involves theft and deception.

But let's assume for the moment that the given instance is not immoral. I have taken the works of William Shakespeare and I have updated the language, deleted scenes I don't care for, changed around characters, added language to smooth transitions, and given the entire oeuvre a feminist/homosexualist agenda. I then publish the book as The Complete Works of William Shakespeare without any acknowledgment of the changes I have made, my name appears no where on the work, neither as editor nor as interpreter.

The work is in the public domain--there cannot be a question of theft because you cannot steal what belongs to all. One cannot libel the dead, and Shakespeare's reputation is well enough established that this will more likely result in outrage from the literary community than in damage to Shakespeare's reputation.

Still, what is lacking here is ethicality. When one chooses to make changes to a work and publish that work not as one's own--Steven R. redoes David Gopperfield or even David Goldmeadow: A Glancing Blow at Dickens--one has not adhered to the ethics even of the artistic world.

Ethics may be a lesser hurdle than morals. Ethical conduct demands something less of one than truly moral conduct. But the ethics of a situation are such that when one alters the work of another artist (not uses it for a jumping off place) it is meet and just that one puts one's name on it as "Editor." (Again, the more appropriate term here is "redactor" but I bow to the popular ignorance of the difference between the two and to the common usage that tends to conflate them.)

The ethics of the artistic world are simple--if you change a work, acknowledge that you have changed it. And for the most part the egos of the artistic world are such that there's usually a scrambling for credit rather a sly hiding behind anonymity in the production of a change.

However, I like the modern policy in cinema of noting when and how a film has been altered. (The standard disclaimer that "This film has been altered to fit your television screen.) This tells me I'm seeing something less that what the original artist conceived. So, if I'm dissatisfied with it in some way, I have recourse to the original to see if my dissatisfaction is with the revision or with the original. This is ethical conduct--it informs the person who is interested in the art of the production that what he or she is viewing is not the work as it was originally conceived. That is a valuable piece of information. And the placement of these sometimes annoying announcements is an ethical practice. It tells us that there is something awry in what we're viewing. And if we're watching for mere entertainment, then we acknowledge or ignore that and move on. If, however, I am a film student, I now know that this is not how the original was framed and I need to see something other than what is showing on my screen. (That should go without saying, but it is none-the-less good practice and ethical practice to acknowledge the truth of it.)

So, while the alteration of a work of art is not necessarily immoral, I would tend to say the unacknowledged alteration of a work in public domain or even for a licensed work is probably unethical.

This stands apart from the creation of a new work based on an older work. I always think of the classical pairing of Samuel Richardson's barely readable Pamela with the sparkling delight of Henry Fielding's Shamela. I have not yet read it, but The Wind Done Gone might be an amusing or interesting play on Gone with the Wind. And in younger days, I remember howling over Bored of the Rings--I don't know if I would do so now, one is eventually released from the follies of youth because one enters the follies of middle age--but at least they differ in kind if not in number.

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In addition to touring south Florida, I'm spending many of my evenings with my good friend watching movies. He had recommended The Exorcism of Emily Rose, and while I had regarded the prospect somewhat dubiously before, the weight of his recommendation was sufficient to convince me that the move might be worth viewing.

It is a well-crafted, interesting, indeed compelling film. While there are very intense moments, and while one might have some small quibbles with the way certain details are handled (for example the new-agey explanation of possession), the film is rock solid and well-acted.

The story centers around the trial of a priest who is accused of negligent homicide (or reckless endangerment, or something of the sort) in the death of a young woman. Most of the story unfolds in the courtroom. There are a few melodramatic scenes here and there, but nothing that is so out of tone with the film as to derail it.

The story told is interesting in a great many ways. It asks questions about the supernatural world that we would be anxious to know the answers to. It explores the reactions of different people to the tale of possession and it ends on a rather nebulous note. So nebulous indeed that one can come to all sorts of conclusions about what the makers of the film were trying to say. Ultimately, moments just before the end credits roll make it fairly clear where they are coming from.

A finely acted, occasionally frightening film. Well worth seeing, but certainly not for children.

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This page is a archive of entries in the Art, Music, & Film category from July 2006.

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