To Live A Life

“A bird is an animal with an inside and an outside. Take away the outside and the inside is left. Take away the inside and you see it’s soul.”

In Vivre Sa Vie Jean-Luc Godard juxtaposes a tragic story with stylistic camera work and affectless acting to create a wholly surprising film.

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The weird cinematic world of Guy Maddin

“The more manipulated things are, the less likely people are to be misled.”

An a propos line for film auteur Guy Maddin to offer up in response to an interview question concerning the blurry line between fiction and non-fiction created in some of his films. That’s the allure of speculative art really, one can create a world as strange as one can imagine: the weirder it is, the less likely we are to be confused.

Much has already been written of Maddin, as is true of any artist who has attained even a nominal level of fame in 2015, but many of Maddin’s biggest fans are film geeks, and I mean film geeks; those people who, like Maddin, enjoy destroying, tampering with or in any other way possible interfering with the medium, the raw material, of film itself.

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leviathan: religion and state in russia

Religion is a nasty animal in Andrey Zvyagintsev’s Leviathan.

Late in the film an orthodox priest, when confronted by the recently widowed Kolya, who despairingly questions the omnipotence of God in the aftermath of his wife’s death, responds to Kolya by quoting Job chapter 41, Can you pull in Leviathan with a fishhook or tie down its tongue with a rope? God asks Job, Can you put a cord through its nose or pierce its jaw with a hook? Will it keep begging you for mercy? Will it speak to you with gentle words?

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Thoughts while listening to Gabriel Kahane’s “The Ambassador”

How much are we influenced by memory, experience and location when writing, or listening, to music?

The composer Gabriel Kahane, I believe, would say the influence is inextricable. In The Ambassador, his most recent song cycle, Kahane uses the titles of his songs to literally inform the listener of the song’s spatial and/or artistic influences, essentially telling the listener what to see or think about while listening.

For the cycle’s subject he took Los Angeles, a city which is host to a mythology constructed from our cultural portrayals of its residents and environs over the greater part of the last century. My guess is that unless you have been living in a cultural vacuum, there are a set of feelings and images the city’s name conjures, even if you’ve never visited.

Kahane, I’m sure, was quite aware of that fact, and in The Ambassador, he utilizes both film and other image sources, as well as books he’s read and his own personal history, to inspire an illustration and recreation, through music, of the intoxicating atmosphere of Los Angeles as he has experienced and remembered it. It’s beautiful, cacophonous, occasionally mathy and occasionally simple, but the power Kahane wields by telling us his subject, is what I found particularly interesting.

To what extend does music derive its meaning and effect from the realm of the visual world? And/or, do you lose or gain something in its experience by having a musician literally explain the atmosphere he would like his music to conjure?

I think it’s safe to say composers are undoubtedly influenced by various sources, both from first-hand and learned experience, when writing music. Whether you lose, or gain something in experience with the knowledge of those influences, is another question.

Listening to someone like Kahane explain his music, which is all I can do not, as of yet, having had the opportunity to see him perform it, my mind immediately wandered towards a contemplation of what the gesamtkunstwerk looks like, or could look like, in the 21st century.

It’s not a term we discuss much anymore, Wagner having co-opted the term and destroyed it with suffocating elitist idealism. I’m using it here to refer more to the idea of a perfect work, not any actual piece. It’s an abstract idea, in my mind, which could more or less assert that the visual or aural component of a piece of art is not the entirety of the work. In which, maybe, we acknowledge that all (or at least most) art, is a synthesis of various influences internal to the work’s creator and, therefore, inseparable to the result. Here’s what I mean.

I’m not referring here to an art exhibit or installation which incorporates multiple forms of media from various artists, with a vague philosophy attempting to connect everything. I’m talking one artist, who, since we value ideas over results much of the time anyways, offers the whole of his art, the real whole, to experience. Can we honestly, in a post-structuralist world, assert a work of art is complete without its influences? Just as the art visual, and even musical artists create, becomes less and less “art” in its classical definition.

In other words, the 21st century gesamtkunstwerk is less an artist utilizing various media to create various components of an experience or exhibition, but an artist whose influences which are necessarily varied, are overtly on display.

The history we’re in the process of making seems like it might be pointing us in this general direction.

Opera, the great and historical art form which does combine disparate forms of art into one work, seems to be enjoying a popular resurgence, in so much as opera ever can. And artists of all types are disrupting the boundaries between their form of art and another, creating art that is difficult to classify.

Maybe this trend towards cross-pollination acknowledges that perhaps we have failed to engage with art and music in the correct way (in so much as there is a correct way which of course there’s not, one of those wonderful contradictions we are meant to embrace). Perhaps somewhere along the way, we lost track of how to present it (art) and our perpetual need to explain or disclose artistic influences would seem to attest to our fascination, interest, need, pick your word, for a context.

What if we could experience that context at the same time as we experience the art? Maybe that’s what we’re attempting to recreate in all of our “installations” and “performances.” A real complete story, not an opera, play or film that attempts to fictitiously recreate, what each of us already has inside of us.

I’m not advocating screening shots of Austrian landscapes behind the music of Mozart. Not exactly. The presentation would be less a disparate weaving together of art forms, and more, as in the work of Kahane, the offering of clues, and the creation of an environment through which we are meant to experience an individual’s art; essentially recreating the environment he/she experienced while creating it in the first place. I’m not entirely sure what it would look like really.

We’re fully aware artists don’t create art in a vacuum, why should we have to experience it in one?

This dovetails into, as all my lines of thinking usually do, the future, and the art world’s mounting fear of losing its audiences.

It’s interesting to think about the idea of multisensory stimulation and a more comprehensive experience of art, like the music of Kahane, in the context of film, something he, unsurprisingly, cites as an influence for much of his music. Great film artistically incorporates a bit of everything; dialogue, visual and aural content, and, while we fail to bring new audiences into other art forms, film (yes, thanks in large part to its facility of distribution, but I’d posit more than that), is thriving.

Perhaps there is a key to art’s future somewhere in this rambling. Perhaps it lies in, as many artists seem to already be exploring, a better experience. Not for the sake of experience, and not because we can’t appreciate the art without it, but instead, because we’re meant to know where the art is coming from in the first place.

david lynch and language

Eraserhead is one of those films that stays with you. I have an absolutely horrific memory. Films, books, theater, you name it, I’ll be lucky to even remember the most important of plot twists or themes even six months after completing a viewing or book, even if I discuss it at length with someone else. 

David Lynch’s work is different. 

Image

While I couldn’t quote you lines from Eraserhead (despite the fact that there are few), I remember most scenes of the film vividly. 

Mary X’s fetid home. Spencer’s miserable apartment. The horrifying ‘child’ X has born for Spencer. Spencer’s visions. The lady in the radiator. The man in space. The nightmarish cabaret. All somehow connected. And all seemingly, frustratingly unconnected. All occurring in a film which at the same time lasts forever and is over too soon. 

EVERY Lynch film, music video, photograph, is equally unforgettable. Why?

It’s not because after long periods of discussion I finally found intellectual peace with my interpretation. And it certainly wasn’t because the films were beautiful, although in their own way they are.

Words.

Lynch on language “The power of words is that they change things as soon as you know what something is.”

How much of our collective definition of something as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ is based upon the feelings elicited by the words themselves? 

According to Lynch “Eraserhead” is his most spiritual film but “no one has written it to that side at which I understand it or what it means to me.” 

For Lynch the social meaning we have ascribed to various words refuses the possibility that we can interpret and dream our way into a new way of thinking. 

Example. We’ve given ‘death’ an ugly word. But is the act of ‘death’ really ugly? Or is it ugly because the word is ugly? Think about it.

Lynch doesn’t use words because they’re too powerful. Because they eliminate the possibility for a ‘sore’ or ‘sperm’ to be beautiful. 

It’s impossible but its a good dream; the idea that we could create art that doesn’t rely on a language that has been imbued with centuries worth of conflicting meaning, that we could create work and not seek an interpretation. That we could be allowed to dream.

That’s David Lynch’s dream. And that’s why Lynch’s work is so unforgettable. It’s a film or a music video or a photograph without words, and therefore, something that we, through words, attempt to imbue with self-imposed meaning

Missing the point completely that the very reason Lynch’s work is strangely powerful and disconcertingly beautiful, is because there are no words. His refusal to allow us meaning doesn’t make sense. But maybe that’s the point.