Sunday, February 20, 2011

Holding up, as t'were, a funhouse mirror up to Nature.

In short, this is why I do what I do in the manner that I do it.

"What is essential in a work of art is that it should rise far above the realm of personal life and speak from the spirit and heart of the poet as man to the spirit and heart of mankind. the personal aspect is a limitation--and even a sin--in the realm of art. When a form of "art" is primarily personal it deserves to be treated as if it were a neurosis." - Carl G. Jung

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Black Swan, and the fallacy of literalism

I read a story that's going around the intertubes, about Crazy Chicks in the movies, as evidenced by the popularity of Black Swan, and how it represents a misogynistic artistic view, and re-inforces images of women as blahblahblah.  The article contains a pretty good list of movies that have women with broken psyches.  So what? The movie is an allegory of the ballet.  It's an extended metaphor, which takes some actual brainthought energy on your part if you're going to act like you give a damn enough to write about movies and popular culture.

Plays and stories have to be about something compelling, so that we look at life differently.  Nobody wants to see a play about the second-most important day in a person's life. If  Sophocles wrote about the day before Tiresias shows up at Oedipus's house, the only terror and pity engendered in the Ancient Greek audience would be that they wasted two hours of their precious Dyonisian revelry sitting in a hot amphitheater, looking at some guy sittin' around wondering what's up.

Art not only has to present the most important moments in a life, but sometimes it also has to shift the story's viewpoint so that audience's viewpoints can shift.  The old journalistic saw also holds true: Man Bites Dog is a news story.  Dog Bites Man is not a news story (although if it happened to Michael Vick, it would be a satisfying slice of karma for the day).  That's why the Demi Moore/Barry Levinson/Michael Crighton steamy crapfest Disclosure, for instance, had to be about a female as the aggressor in a sexual harassment case--the role-reversal forces us to look at the situation differently.

The mythic feminine is yin energy--an actively receptive vessel, life-giving, an invitation to action. The mythic masculine is yang energy--outwardly active, productive, a response to the call to action. There's really no getting around that hard-wired fact. When that energy goes awry, it is News. It is a story worth telling. It speaks to some primal part of who we are, as both men and women integrating both yin and yang in our fullest expression.  The "misogynist" viewpoint of the article completely misses the other side of the coin.  Yes, there are plenty of "women gone crazy" plots, most having to do with that aspect of their feminine side gone amock, which wreaks havoc in their world and the world around them.  The analog to those plots, however, are the "broken man" who are unable to express their yang nature (all those A-list star turns as developmentally-delayed or cognitively deficient wounded males).  Both sides of that coin make for compelling stories because they resonate on a mythic level of our pre-civilized consciousness.  And when actors are good at it, they win awards--on both sides of the Y-chromosome equation.  They win, and they sell tickets because they show us the broken aspects of ourselves, so it resonates with us (subconscious terror at viewing our inner weaknesses on display) and allows us to externalize the broken part of ourselves as part of a story (pity).  Thus, we leave exhausted, satisfied, and a little drained (catharsis).  Except for when Sean Penn does it.

Of course, there are exceptions.  Jodie Foster in Nell.  Fight Club (though that does address the issue of the mythic male in breakdown as no other film has or can.)...Jodie Foster in Nell.  (But I had to reach for that one, and I don't think that film made much of a dent in the popular awareness.  "Tay in da Ween?" Really?

The Bottom Line:  The Black Swan is an allegory stuck in a world that has scant little room for metaphor--especially when it comes to the mythic aspects of gender roles in popular entertainments.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Necessary vs. Comfortable

Thumbnail background: The English language, being an amalgamated language such as it is,  has a remarkable quality of sounding out the meanings of its words.  If the sound fits, it works as a word. (I know this isn't news to my actor/writer friends, so I hope you'll forgive me in my gross over-simplification.) Cold sounds, well, cold. The sound contracts as the mouth closes around it, just like a blanket wraps around you to keep out the chill. Hot, likewise, sounds hot. It's expansive, breathy, and sizzles a little at the end.  The fewer syllables a word has, the closer it is to the primal need to communicate, thus the more cleanly do the sounds in the word express its meaning.  The more syllables it has, the more of a mental/social construct it expresses. Refrigerator is made up of various component parts to indicate meaning. 

I'm thinking about that aspect of language this morning because I'm in the position of having to take action that is necessary, but about which I am not at all comfortable. And I noticed that those two words are just about as far apart phonically as they can be.  They share only two letters--c and e--but even then, not a single sound between 'em.  Comfort has softness and nurturing sounds all through it.  Say it slowly, languidly, and you may notice it. Necessary, on the other hand, is full of harsh, gallopping s's and flat, open vowels.  The word practically demands to be spit out of the mouth as a rebuke. It's as if it's built in to the very sounds of the words themselves:  What's necessary is often not what's comfortable.