Saturday, December 01, 2007

The last time i posted, it was just before Thanksgiving. And now it's December 1st.

Some things in the news: the Writers Guild strike continues; the other day, i was walking past Columbus Circle and came across one of the Writers Guild picket lines. I picked up one of the flyers which tried to explain the issues at stake. Of course, i support the strike. One of the problems now with all the show business unions is that the situation is so radically different: there are still studios, but nobody is under contract, everyone is (basically) an independent contractor now...

But this Writers Guild strike will prove just how changed the ideas of entertainment are: can audiences survive without dramas, comedies, without any scripted/directed/acted works? The networks (which are all part of multinational corporations with no loyalty to the idea of any sort of "community") are placing their bets on the idea that "entertainment" is dead, that "reality shows" and news broadcasts and various cooking/talk/home improvement shows can assume the place of "old fashioned" comedies and dramas, which is why there has been little movement in terms of the negotiations.

But the other big strike has just ended: the stagehands' union versus the producers on Broadway. That was really interesting because it lasted so long. It was an example of a very old show business union against the new-style management which is now ruling Broadway. It's no longer the old fashioned league of theater owners.

Can art survive in this epoch?

Our Thanksgiving was quite pleasant, we had Tony and his wife Jill over, and the one thing we expreimented with was not cooking a whole turkey. Instead, i made a turkey casserole, using steamed cabbage and ground turkey and sausage. It was actually very good. Jill made a wonderful vegetable dish, where she used filo dough and put mushrooms and red peppers and onions inside. It was a vegetable pastry and it was very tasty. And Gary made a ham and mashed potatoes. Larry made cranberries. A nice low-keyed Thanksgiving.

There are a lot of good series at various places in NYC: MoMA has the IberoAmerican film series, Anthology Film Archives had Jerzy Skolimowski (they press screened "Identification Marks: None", "Walk-Over", "Hands Up!" and "Barrier" and also a new print of "Deep End") the Walter Reade Theater is holding a Pier Paolo Pasolini retrospective, and the Brooklyn Academy of Music has Max Ophuls, with a new print of "Letter From an Unknown Woman" running for a week.

The movies which are garnering the most buzz in the last two weeks have been Todd's "I'm Not There", Julian Schnabel's "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly", and the Jason Reitman-Diablo Cody "Juno".

The critical response has been very intriguing. Of course, there are people who simply dismiss these movies (especially true in the case of "I'm Not There", which has been derided as pretentious, obscure, "arty"), but what is so stimulating is the discussion about... well, in a lot of the more negative reviews of "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly", there was always the distinction made that Schnabel's ambitions were "middlebrow". Which is interesting, because as a painter, it's assumed that his ambition is highbrow.

To me, this is interesting because the art world is one which is notoriously sub-literate. There's a lot of trendiness in terms of what people are reading (when i was still interested and talked to artists, people were reading Lacan, or Baudrillard, or Virillo), but what was so striking was that nothing was systematic. Not only wasn't it systematic, but it was utterly ahistorical: in terms of philosophy, any mention of Spinoza or Hume or Hegel was really met with silence. (It's similar to talking to most film fans, who seem to have an interest in movies that are temporally defined within the period of sound. Right now, there's no interest in silent film, at least none that i can discern. And the period of film which i have always found the most exciting, the changeover to sound, that period is now looked on in terms of "pre-code", which is amusing but rarely of any genuine artistic interest. But the great achievements of that period, the films of von Sternberg, or Lang, or Lubitsch, or King Vidor, or Borzage, have really not found much interest.)

I've been trying to read. One essay i reread was Andre Bazin's "La Politique des auteurs". (This can be found in Peter Graham's anthology "The New Wave" which was part of the Cinema World series edited by Penelope Houston and Tom Milne.) In that essay, Bazin tries to explain that the cinema, like all the arts, must also be seen in the context. He uses this example: 'It follows then, according to the most basic laws of the psychology of creation, that, as the objective factors of genius are much more likely to modify themselves in the cinema than in any other art, a rapid maladjustment between the film-maker and the cienma can occur, and this can abruptly affect the quality of his films as a result. Of course I admire "Confidential Report", and I can see the same qualities in it as I see in "Citizen Kane". But "Citizen Kane" opened up a new era of American cinema, and "Confidential Report" is a film of only secondary importance.'

A lot more to think about, but Bazin was warning against the limits of the politique des auteurs by suggesting that the concentration on "B" movies was a symptom of the politique's inability to deal with the cinema in all its (social/political/cultural) complexities. Or (as Bazin wrote) "Some of them will pretend to grant me that, all things being equal as far as the auteur is concerned, a good subject is naturally better than a bad one, but the more outspoken and foolhardy among them will admit that it very much looks as if they prefer small 'B' films where the banality of the scenario leaves more room for the personal contributions of the auteur." And this is the case: it seems as if so many critics now (especially those that have been raised on the "auteur theory" and its derivations post-Sarris) really prefer the "B" movies to movies with great subjects.

(But right now the problem is that so many movies that are being released are documentaries. To be as blunt about it as possible: i'm all doc-ed out, most of the documentaries i've seen don't stir the aesthetic sense - to put it mildly - and so the only thing to judge is the movie in terms of my interest/responsivity to the subject, and my political stand on the issues, etc. Which is not why i came to movies in the first place. )


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