Originality is not Art.

All aesthetic positions are going to offend someone, because concepts of the beautiful are perpetually wrapped up in concepts of the true, and that makes sense in poets’ vomitings but not as an ontological baseline. Whether the beautiful and the true are connected in some way doesn’t really help us to define the beautiful.

The philosophy of aesthetics suffer in a different way from the post-modern inversion. A long time ago Edmund Burke took a shot at defining The Beautiful and The Sublime, and it’s so 18th century you could powder your wig with it. Make an art student read it today and she won’t be able to get past it. Feminism owns the dialogue on what’s considered beautiful, because women have historically been far more concerned with beauty, and all women today feel obligated to at least nod to feminism lest they be accused of harboring the desire to surrender their franchise or some such nonsense. And Feminists regard beauty as a conspiracy against women, because… reasons.

On top of that, the idea of objective aesthetics sounds to many people like “objective enjoyment” and enjoyment is an emotional response to something. You enjoy something. You cannot make yourself enjoy something that you do not, in fact, enjoy. The Star Wars prequels and David Lynch’s Dune are my personal evidence to that.

So aesthetics has to appeal to presuppositions about what people like. If you like horror and your wife doesn’t, then no objective statement about the aesthetic value of say, The Shining, is going to be possible between you. She might agree that, on the whole, The Shining is a better movie that Bye Bye Man, but she doesn’t enjoy either, so she doesn’t care.

Where am I going with this?

I’m aiming at the reality that art of any form needs to be some kind of communication. There has to be something that The Shining is communicating, even if it’s something as simple as dread, mystery, and heart palpitations. So the first judgement of a piece of art is how well in accomplishes its intent (here the po-mo’s shriek that intent isn’t real and there aren’t any authors, because po-mo’s are nerds who think inverting things is valuable and clever). What does it want to convey to its audience? Did it do so successfully?

The second judgement would be the relative value of its intent. This must be judged on a gradient. What Animal House communicates and what Citizen Kane communicates are vastly different, and what the latter communicates is grander in scope, so it gets taken more seriously. That doesn’t mean Animal House has no aesthetic value, or that you shouldn’t watch it (I’m not bringing in any moral objections here. That’s beyond the scope), just that it’s ambitions are obviously more modest.

But in order to say something succesfully, you must find an audience that can hear it. I may have a very clear idea of what I mean when I say “wickle-bickle-num-bum-jarf-jarf-jarf,” but that doesn’t mean anything to anyone else, so I’m failing in communication. So originality isn’t always a bonus to art. You want to be unique, because you want to be heard as you, but originality gets in the way of communication as often as not. If Citizen Kane were a shade weirder, it would not have worked as well, and it would not be as successful a piece of art, by any standard.

Art can be original. They’re not synonyms.

Woody Allen is Still Making Movies

Woody Allen’s ‘A Rainy Day in New York’ to Open Deauville Film Festival

Woody Allen’s ‘A Rainy Day in New York’ to Open Deauville Film Festival
— Read on variety.com/2019/film/global/woody-allens-a-rainy-day-in-new-york-deauville-film-festival-1203309106/

I’ve tried to like Woody Allen movies, but I can’t, because they usually involve having to like Woody Allen. And I have never managed to pull that off. Woody Allen is what happens when someone takes Mel Brooks, removes all the jokes, and makes him read Freud and Sartre, and convinces him that shoving a young blonde in there somewhere will dredge up the appropriate level of pathos. His career is a testament to the mythos of New York as a Mecca of culture. No matter how many times he turned in the same snit of schlemielery in a different garb, you could always count on someone among the literati to nod approvingly at it.

And even #MeToo couldn’t take the old twerp out. How lame.

A Smart Analysis of The Sixth Sense

Over at Ace of Spades. I did not realize that The Sixth Sense would have been the #1 film  that year were it not for Star Wars. I haven’t seen it in forever, but I have a feeling I wouldn’t dislike it on rewatch (my favorite film from that year, however, remains Fight Club).

And, here’s the thing, with the Big Twist out of the way, it’s actually a much better movie. (How’s that for a twist!)

The build up to the twist—the sleight-of-hand that prevents you from seeing it—is actually sort of rickety. I remember someone complaining at the time that there are a lot of odd tropes abused by The Sixth Sense that (if you don’t overlook them) make it seem like you’re watching a very sloppy film. And I remember when I saw it the first time, I was like, “Huh. That was odd. That doesn’t make much sense. Why is that happening?” And I did overlook them and so was pleasantly duped.

I’ve always thought that movies work better when you let yourself get pulled into them. Your mileage may vary, but read the whole thing.

The Rise Of Skywalker

I must admit, the title intrigues me.

I don’t want to speculate too much, but the title suggests an ending on a high note.

A Rise is something coming into being, gaining in power and prominence. This is distinct from a Return, something gone coming back, or a Revenge, the destruction of a foe. A Rise can include these things, but does not have to.

Skywalker has been, heretofore, a name. A surname. Three characters in Star Wars have had that surname: Shmi, Anakin, and Luke. Leia had the right to it, but never used it, retaining the Organa she grew up with. Kylo Ren was born with the surname Solo.

But this title doesn’t feel like a surname. It feels like something else. It feels like a mantle. An order, perhaps.

Who knows. Maybe it means nothing at all. The Force Awakens” has no particular meaning to the plot of that film. However “The Last Jedi” did.

We shall see.

Quick Review: Velvet Buzzsaw

jake-gyllenhaal-in-velvet-buzzsaw

People always make the mistake of thinking art is created for them. But really, art is a private language for sophisticates to congratulate themselves on their superiority to the rest of the world. As my artist’s statement explains, my work is utterly incomprehensible and is therefore full of deep significance.

-Bill Watterson

Modern art is good for nothing so much as the joy you experience in hating it. A trip through MoMA in New York is a wonderful opportunity to sneer, and it is a merited sneering, because most people not in the modern art scene have intuited that the singular mood of that scene is one of sneering at them. Whether modern art has any aesthetic merit is a separate question. The bulk of it doesn’t, as it is driven by the sneering to produce anti-art more than anything else.

There is thus something disturbingly satisfying to the Netflix film Velvet Buzzsaw, which inflicts horror-movie tropes upon art-scene stereotypes. Horror is largely a genre of Judgement, and one of its unspoken messages is that the victims deserve their fate because of their ignorance. The drunk girl who swims out into the night ocean at the beginning of Jaws is a fool tempting fate, and fate devours her. To see this applied to the brokers and curators and critics, to see them killed, as all of them are, by Art, cannot but evoke a knowing nod of the head.

And yet, it doesn’t quite work. The other unspoken rule of Horror is that the Dread Thing, the Monster, have clear rules, thereby giving characters an opportunity to escape. At some point, late in the second act, it is traditional for some Outsider possessing knowledge of the Monster to explain to our protagonists how to avoid it. This never fully happens in Velvet Buzzsaw (some underdone investigating occurs), consequently, the Monster is never fully seen, and can pretty much do whatever it wants whenever it wants. The film thus devolves to an indie version of Final Destination; Death comes when it needs to, for no particular reason.

Probably there are two many characters in the narrative, each traveling their own arc, to give the Monster enough development. One of the reasons its handy to put horror protagonists in a single Place (an island, a cabin in the woods), is that we don’t have to give time to exploring their unique lives, and can so focus on the encounter with the Monster and so figure out how to escape it. But Velvet Buzzsaw is so determined that we find these snobs execrable that they end up without the advantages of a bunch of teenagers in a Slasher flick.

Bottom Line: fun mis-en-scene, almost rises to satire, but incomplete. On the other hand, it’s on Netflix, so watching it won’t cost you anything you haven’t already spent. That’s more than most Modern Art can say.

Movies Have To Be Seen in a Movie Theater, Because Something Something Nostalgia Something Something

Owen Glieberman, pondering in Variety, avoiding the point like it carries Bubonic Plague.

And that’s why, more than not, I’m with Steven Spielberg on his likely proposed change to the Academy guidelines. He is not dissing what Netflix does. He is trying to isolate and hang onto the DNA of cinema — to preserve an essential definition of what movies are, as distinct from what we watch on television. The notion of an extended theatrical window, or something comparable to it, would be the updated version of the old requirement that a movie had to fulfill to be nominated for Oscars: the one-week qualifying run. That was before streaming, but it’s only natural that just as technology changes habits, it changes protocol and it changes rules. It’s the one-week qualifying run that’s become a relic, a trivial hoop that Netflix (or anyone else) can jump through.

But…

Why, though?

Consider film as a form of art. Consider the things that make a film a film. Ask yourself why a film ceases to be a film based on the location of it’s viewing audience. What is so essential about the public movie theater?

If I’m watching Citizen Kane in a theater, I am watching a movie. If I’m watching Citizen Kane on Blu-Ray in my house, I am still watching a movie. If I’m watching it on my tablet streaming from Amazon Prime, I am still watching a movie.

Are we prepared to argue that the only reason I can say “I am watching a movie” is the fact that, thirty-five years before I was born, it was shown in the only venue that was available to the viewing public at the time?

That’s absurd. A requirement that movies be shown in theaters is absurd. It’s not just that theaters are unnecessary; they’re actually sub-optimal. The expense and aggravation of seeing a movie in a theater is no longer worth the minor technical quality of the viewing experience, in an era when wide-screen TV’s and home audio technology is within most people’s grasp. There is no downside to watching Mad Max: Fury Road in my basement, with my own snacks.

The communal experience, you say? If I really want that, I can invite people to my basement. Movie Theaters have nothing to offer but nostalgia, a habit of thinking “this is what a movie is”.

A long-form cinema narrative can be shown on any device. This rear-guard action will not hold.

Look Upon My Predictions, Ye Pundits, and Despair: My Oscars 2019 Scorecard

People really seem to like Queen. I mean, I can dig one or two Queen songs, but…

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I don’t get it. That’s okay, though.

Let’s proceed to the actual scorecard. I’m counting it a win if either my Probable or Sleeper Predictions won. Does that give me an unfair double-shot of being right, and smug about it? Yes. It also gives me two chances to be wrong. So I think it’s fair. This is my scorecard. Go do your own predictions.

Best Picture:

What I Predicted:  The Favourite, with Black Panter as a Sleeper.

What Won: Green Book. Race stuff still trumps gender stuff.

Best Director:

What I Predicted: Spike Lee collecting Dues, with Yorgos Lanthimos as a Sleeper

Who Won: Alfonso Cuaron, for Roma. Foreign Language films are becoming safer than I realized.

Best Actress:

What I Predicted: Yalitza Aparicio, with Olivia Colman as a Sleeper

Who Won: Olivia Colman

Best Actor:

What I Predicted: Rami Malek, with Christian Bale as a Sleeper

Who Won: Rami Malek.

Best Supporting Actress:

What I PredictedRachel Weisz, with Regina King as a Sleeper

Who Won: Regina King

Best Supporting Actor:

What I Predicted: Mahershala Ali, with Richard E. Grant as a Sleeper

Who Won: Mahershala Ali

Best Animated Feature:

What I Predicted: Mirai, with Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse as a Sleeper

What Won: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. More important than this, however is my prediction, almost a year-old now, that Wes Anderson will not win an Oscar. The Academy does not love you, Wes. It never will. Your stuff is too cute for them.

Best Adapted Screenplay:

What I Predicted: If Beale Street Could Talk, with A Star is Born as a Sleeper

What Won: BlacKKlansman. They gave Spike Lee his Lifetime Achievement/Paid Your Dues award with a Screenplay Oscar? That’s cold. But it did give us our Political Grandstanding of the night, so that’s something.

Best Original Screenplay:

What I Predicted: Vice, with Greek Book as a Sleeper

What Won: Green Book. I really did not expect them to shut Vice out, but they did.

The Technical/Craft/Unimportant Awards did not provoke strong predictions from me, so I’ll just list my shots and whether they were right.

Cinematography: The Favourite Roma

Documentary Feature: RBG Free Solo

Documentary ShortPeriod. End of Sentence.

Live Action ShortDetainment Skin

Foreign Language FilmRoma

Film EditingBlacKkKlansman Bohemian Rhapsody

Sound EditingA Quiet Place Bohemian Rhapsody

Sound Mixing : Bohemian Rhapsody

Production DesignBlack Panther

Original ScoreMary Poppins Returns Black Panther

Original Song: “All the Stars” “Shallow”

Makeup and HairVice

Costume DesignThe Favourite Black Panther

Visual EffectsFirst Man

Scorecard:

Correct predictions – 12

Incorrect predictions – 12

Conclusion: I am awesome at calling shots of an awards show I care nothing about, celebrating a collection of films I hardly saw any of.

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