Sunday, October 09, 2005

The weekly plop

Before I get into the two movies I'm recommending to anyone who is exactly like me, I want to talk about a movie I watched last week that I think is a good movie but also a perfect illustration of the kind of art that means little to me personally and a lot to most other people who have some kind of artistic bent, and why I feel more disillusioned when I'm around people who strongly share my interests (they're the fucking worst). In short, I'm constantly uncomfortable, but at least I'm used to it. I grew up in a town of 1,500 people, for christ's sake, and I sure as hell didn't find salvation in the city. (I can't believe how many people have tried to empathize with me by saying, "Hey, I grew up in a small town, too." "Oh, yeah," I say. "How many people in your town?" "40,000," they usually say, or some similar figure. If only I could have been so lucky.) Anyway, the movie is The Virgin Suicides. It's an accomplished film. I think it achieved what it set out to do. Sofia Coppola is a natural filmmaker with an eye for detail and an understanding that film is a visual medium. It's surprising how many filmmakers don't understand that. I'm unable to call this a bad film. It's good. I enjoyed it. It just doesn't mean much to me, aside from an entertaining Friday night. Most art doesn't. It doesn't because most art is symbolic, metaphoric, and/or transcendent. Symbols, metaphors, and transcendence don't make me feel alive. They distract me from life. If I can figure out what the symbols and metaphors mean, there's not much left. The artwork has been used up. It has nothing left to reveal. It's a husk, a pelt. I don't see much difference between that artwork and a crossword puzzle. Once the puzzle is solved, what are you going to do with what's left? Use and dispose. Metaphors and symbols are games. Coppola's film is based on a metaphor, and though it's a subtle and clever metaphor, what can you do with it after you've deciphered it? If I return to films that depend on metaphor and symbol for their existence, it's because of details that aren't part of those metaphors and symbols. The way an actor delivered a line or moved his/her eyebrows. The way a tree looked in the corner of the frame for a few seconds. The way a joke made me laugh or the way a smile made me think about a terrible summer. Art, to me, is about the mysteriousness and frustration and finite brutality and joy of existence and the difficulty of communication and honesty and breathing in and out. It's about dirt, blood, bone, vomit, semen, saliva, skin, teeth, the growl of a stomach, the shift of an eyebrow, the difference between what the face shows and what the mouth says. It's about tonal shifts and fluctuations, about the infinity of experience, about how each person is a minority of one, about how nothing we do can ever be understood. I don't represent red-haired people. I'm not a symbol of western Nebraska, or German, Irish, or Czech-Americans, or white males, or Generation X, or lost youth, or one crazy summer, or the Ghost of Christmas Past. I'm one human being. When art is doing something to me, I don't feel larger than life, or entertained, or intellectually inquisitive, or transcendent. I don't even feel this way when I'm on drugs. I feel alive. My nerve endings are raw. I feel present, I feel mortal, and I feel finite and real. Good art doesn't make me feel like I'm hovering outside of my body, or living solely inside my head. It makes me feel like all I have is the present and I better do something with it besides jerk off to metaphoric crossword puzzles or work dead-end office jobs until I'm dead enough to retire. Here are the two movies this week that weren't dead ends for me:
Junebug (Phil Morrison) We don't live in red or blue states, just gray ones. It's hard to tell anyone, especially family and friends, exactly what the hell you mean, especially if you don't even know.
In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar-Wai) Kar-Wai's movies are like songs. It's hard to tell where one scene ends and another begins. Take out one piece, or add another, and the whole thing falls apart. He's a master of instinct. His movies are felt, not thought out.

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