Art, Music, & Film: December 2006 Archives


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It should come as no surprise that when an 8-year-old boy is given the choice between Eragon and Charlotte's Web, it is nearly inevitable that he will choose Eragon. I see this as a very healthy interest for the young--action, excitement, adventure. It should also come as no surprise that their middle-aged fathers would far prefer the gentle remembrance of youthful reading, especially when the reviews for Eragon were so tepid.

So, what of Eragon? It's faults are faults that every reasonable child will overlook, and every adult whose chief interest is the happiness of that child can deal with readily. The movie is precisely what one would expect of a movie made from a highly derivative novel written by a 15 year-old boy. Every plot turn is not only expected, but is directly mappable to something you've seen elsewhere. There are youthful romantic notions of what it means to die with dignity. There is a Sauraman-like evil wizard who commands groups of made-from the Earth nasties whose chief job is to hunt down the hero and kill him. There are several references to Star Wars, one in the death of Eragon's Uncle another in the mysterious mentor who helps Eragon become a dragon-rider.

I won't go on with the catalogue, these illustrate the point. The movie takes bits and pieces of nearly every prominent action/adventure/mythic movie made in the last 30 years and compounds them into a unique film. Was it good? Well, let's say that it was as good as a film of this description could possibly be. The dragon-riding was probable and well-done, the acting mostly passable. It was not a fantastic film, but given its source material, that would be much to expect.

It was sufficient to entertain, entrance, captivate, and otherwise stimulate the mind and imagination of an eight-year-old boy. And so, it served its purpose well. Is it as good as other films that might do the same? Probably not. But this is one of those matters that is judged by the instance, not by the entire literature of film. In this instance, it performed to a magnificent degree the task set before it. It made an 8-year-old boy, and thus his father, very happy for a short time. It isn't a saga for the ages, but it is a saga for age 8.

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For those of you who are admirers of the fiction of Virginia Woolf, you will already know to what I refer by these words--and she was among the leading practitioners of them. If you read Mrs. Dalloway or To the Lighthouse or most particularly Jacob's Room you will experience within the works an oddly disconcerting element, a subtle ambiguity of character and incident. There is about her stream of consciousness a looseness, an almost frightening element of uncertainty, instability, which resolves into a rather gentle, perhaps slightly surreal, serenity. It pervades the works and its ambiguities make the characters themselves rather ambiguous in some ways.

I was thinking about this solid and shifting as I considered how whatever I was feeling, wheresoever my emotional state, I could put on Debussy (and for me, it is only Debussy, not Ravel, not Vaughn-Williams, not Delius, not Holst, not even Satie--Debussy alone) and the entire world seems to shift for a moment in its orbit and is suddenly a better place--better lit, better coordinated, better composed. Debussy captures the serenity of flowing water, the tumble of the stream over a rocky bed, the smell of smoke in autumnal air, all things momentary, evanescent, ephermal, diaphanous--all things that shift in a moment and are gone. Debussy encapsulates them all and contains them so that shifting and solid are together. Those glimpses, those moments, those intuitions, are suddenly tangible--no longer vague and fleeting and gone, but substantial, permanent, perennial. The moments of the opening of a blossom are suspended, it is forever opening--not a loop, but a continuity that never reaches an end. In this way, for me, Debussy capture eternity--time vanishes while I listen to his music and I am caught up in the flow of the eternal where all that happens happens not in a moment but in a continuity that never ends. The blossom never stops opening even though at some point the flower is full-blown.

And if that isn't vague enough for you, just post a comment and I'll see if I can make it even more vague.

Later: Although on reconsideration, there are parts of Daphnis and Chloe that approach the power of Debussy to bridge the shifting and the solid.

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Karlheinz, revisited

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Because I really do want to try to see the beauty in things that others recognize as beautiful, I listened through a couple of things on Erk's site and then went here to sample the music of Karlheinz Stockhausen. It had been some time ago that I first formed my impressions of this composer and it was time to revisit.

While I have to say that my impressions were a good deal less negative than those of a while back, I still come away with the sense that "There's no there, there." (I'm quoting someone in saying that, but I don't recall who.) There is sound--I won't label it with the seemingly perjorative "noise" but it doesn't seem to do much of anything. There may even be some principles of composition--I can't say, I haven't studied the matter and probably would come as close to understanding this as I do understanding Aquinas (it is a good thing to recognize one's limitations.)

But what I can say is either that my prayers for patience have paid off, or that there is some other intrinsic mellowing device such that these pieces no longer try my patience. I listen and the music stops and I am left with an impression of some interesting moments, but generally an unresolved and unresolvable sound mass.

But I will continue to try from time to time. As with Aquinas and others, I don't anticipate success. We come with intrinsic boundaries and it appears that Mr. Stockhausen is well outside of mine--which I'm sure would come as enormously gratifying to him-- (I tend to get the impression that he has no time for "middlebrow" music listeners who cannot appreciate his genius)--but that is as it may be. If there's something there, persistence will break down the barriers and I will get from it what there is for me.

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About this Archive

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

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