motion picture, it's called

Sunday, July 29, 2007

100th Post: Mike Leigh's uncompromising attitude

"Life is abrasive for a lot of people...and there is no getting around it. I think a function of art - and the cinema not least - is to confront these things...I'm absolutely committed as a film-maker to be entertaining and to amuse; but I am also concerned to confront, as I did in Life is Sweet and other films."

Mike Leigh

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Architecture Moment: Sherborne Abbey, Dorset

As dedicated readers of this blog know, my main architectural interest is in late Gothic architecture in Germany, Eastern Europe, Spain and Portugal. These were the areas where late Gothic architecture was most innovative technologically and artistically. England, on the other hand, was a different story. Because the Wars of the Roses lasted until 1485, comparatively less building was done in England for the bulk of the 15th century. After the wars ended, pent-up demand meant that most of the churches of England received at least some refurbishment in the period between 1485 and 1534. However, England was less urbanized than many other regions of Europe and it’s towns were both small and had extremely limited political power. In addition, the Wars of the Roses destroyed the old nobility, so the nobility of the period only funded a handful of projects. Therefore, most of the more elaborate buildings in this period were a limited number of royally-funded projects – the Lady Chapel at Westminster Abbey (1503-1509), Eton College Chapel, King’s College Chapel at Cambridge and St. George’s Chapel in the royal castle at Windsor.

Sherborne Abbey was the project of one of it’s last Abbots, Abbot Ramsam (abbot 1475-1504). The old abbey had been partially burnt down by the townspeople, necessitating rebuilding by the wealthy abbey. Although this was not a royally-funded project (the townspeople were heavily fined) , many of the local nobility and gentry participated in the rebuilding.

English architecture of the period revolved around the fan vault, though Continental innovations in vaulting were known and occasionally utilized. Sherborne has several different fan-vault schemes, and it’s brightly painted choir vaults, resting on unbroken thin vault shafts that rise from the floor, is one of the most beautiful in England.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

New DVD review: Makavejev's Sweet Movie and Aristophanes' Assemblywomen

Criterion’s recently released DVD of Makavejev’s Sweet Movie is the first major DVD release in the US format of a Makavejev film along with his better known film WR: Mysteries of the Organism.

Sweet Movie elaborates on a grand theme of Makavejev: sexual revolution as part of political revolution. Makavejev is pondering one of the central paradoxes of all modern political revolutions – whether the English, American, French, Bolshevik or Chinese revolutions – that those all of these revolutions experimented with political and economic arrangements, but most of them ended up with largely conservative sexual arrangements.

The ancient Greeks were not so incoherent in their thinking – they could carry through the idea of democracy to its natural end. Now, as Aristophanes’ Assemblywomen argues (as does Houellebecq), there is a problem with sexual democracy: no one wants to have sex with the old or ugly.

The problem with Sweet Movie, unlike WR, is that Makavejev wishes to sidestep this phenomenon. Aristophanes’ Assemblywomen characters at least make an attempt to square the circle by ruling that, before having sex with a beautiful person, one must first make love to an ugly one. WR’s Reichian philosophy – WR is, among many other things, a documentary about the sex-positive physchological philosophy of Wilhelm Reich - offers some hope that this difficulty can be at least ameliorated, as we see older persons undergoing Reichian analysis and (hopefully) improving sexually.

Sweet Movie disappoints because Makavejev unfortunately chooses a comparatively trivial depiction of sexual liberation. Both female protagonists only (voluntarily) sleep with young and extremely handsome men, and both are themselves extraordinarily attractive young women. All older characters seen in the movie (two Texas billionaires: Mr. Kapital and his mother, and the “scientist” Dr. Mittlefinger) are shown as extremely unappealing, and, in fact, none get to have any sex in the movie.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Kings and Princes: A Thought Project of a Potential Aristocratic Film

Perhaps the greatest problem of film is it’s newness as an art form. Precisely because film was born around 1900, we have no film that exists outside of modernity – indeed, no film exists outside the most recent period of modernity. One result of this is we do not have films that exist outside of contemporary political ideas – whereas much of the greatest drama and poetry come from monarchic or aristocratic regimes (Shakespeare, Racine, Homer, Cervantes, Montaigne and many others). This means that the expanse of film experience is really quite limited because all films share a limited range of political ideas - the limited range of politics we’ve experienced inside of modernity.

That means that film, as it stands now, confines us to modernity the way that most other art forms do not. Even if an individual prefers modern architecture, for instance, his love of architecture and growing discernment in architecture will gradually lead him to acknowledge other eras of architecture. This will lead him to at least question his attachment to modern architecture more critically: it is not so easily answered if Frank Lloyd Wright is superior to Palladio or Borromini, or Faulkner greater than Cervantes, or Picasso greater than Memling. Meanwhile, every exploration in film history cannot escape that no films whatsoever existed more than a comparatively short while ago.

So, in the spirit of an outrageous thought experiment, what would an aristocratic film actually look like or exist as? Of course, there have been almost innumerable films about monarchs or aristocrats. However, none of them were made FOR aristocrats in an era where aristocrats actually ruled in a serious fashion. So, up till our thought experiment, no film has been made that takes aristocracy or monarchy as the best future politics – that advocates that aristocracy is not an glittering era now expired (the general trend of movies made about aristocracies) but that believes in aristocracy as the best political form simply. Even worse, we have no film which indicates how a future aristocracy would look like, moving from our current political regimes towards that future aristocracy (i.e., how would the aristocrat appear today and then moving forward in time to eventually assume power?).

Of course, we do have numerous (indeed, mountainous) literary and artistic materials from such eras. But no films. First, we must confront several misleading assumptions about aristocracy – that aristocrats would shun modern technology and thus not consume film. It’s true that artistocracies envision entertainment and consumption in extremely different ways than do modern people. It’s also true that the novelty of film as novelty would be less appealing to a potential aristocracy than it is to modernity.

But the evidence shows that aristocrats can and do absorb technological advances – including the printed book, the firearm, the stirrup and much else: and some technological advances increased their political power rather than reduced it. An aristocratic society must be one in which agricultural production is a very significant (and preferably predominate) section of the economy. This is not an economy that would easily support the production of a very advanced industrial product such as film.

Still, assuming that this difficulty has been overcome, it might be possible for us to project an aristocratic society that has film, since we do know that aristocratic societies can absorb and utilize technological advances.