Tuesday, August 14

Nuts: Real, Imaginary, Metaphorical, and Interjectory

I KNEW I was going to regret it, but The Editors had so much fun at Camille Paglia's expense that I clicked on the link, like I expected it might have wiped the smug off her caricature or somethin'. And the title was "Art Movies: R.I.P. Long before Bergman and Antonioni died, the mystical art-house film experience faded to black." And I was fucking stuck reading it. Nothing forces me to link to it, though, and I'm sure you can find your way there if you simply have to.
On the culture front, fabled film directors Ingmar Bergman and Michelangelo Antonioni dying on the same day was certainly a cold douche for my narcissistic generation of the 1960s.

Well, it's a touching tribute. With any luck, cold douching will replace Taps.

Is there some container somewhere for that "my narcissistic generation of the 60s" bit, or have we discovered the Universal Solvent? Leaving aside the atrocious phrasemaking, is it perhaps time now, after an intervening four generations' respective Decades, to ask ourselves whether her generation of the 1960s was a particularly narcissistic one? Have you noticed a pronounced lack of self-absorption in those born in the 1970s, say? Is it possible that this supposed narcissism is an artifact of life lived in the Global Village, or buried under a constant barrage of Advertising and manufactured acquisitiveness and consumerism run amok? Or an artifact of our reaching a critical mass of people paid to say stupid shit? Or is it just an artifact of looking at people as though they're defined by what somebody said in a magazine somewhere?

It's one thing to use The Sixties as shorthand for the commonly accepted laundry list of poorly-understood and facilely-connected major events that occurred within its Gregorian borders (or within the popular imagining of those borders). It's another to hold a loaded metaphor to everyone else's head and deprive them of loose change. Camille Paglia watched European films while in her twenties. Wow. It was The Sixties. Wow again. She saw them in art houses in the company of friends. Totally unexpected. I'd have guessed "on DVD, while playing Tetris™".

Th' fuck? It's like me saying "The Sixties. The Decade When My Generation Played Little League Baseball." Antonioni's mature period, by proclamation, falls inside The Sixties based on release dates, but L'Avventura, from 1960, and La Dolce Vita, from the year before, are the capstones of 50s European cinema, as well as bellwethers for the decade ahead. Bergman was a rehab project by the mid-60s, when Persona restored some luster from his Fifties output. But has there ever been an artist working in a collaborative medium who was so strikingly individualistic? It's not just that Bergman doesn't "belong to" the Sixties. It's that I can't understand anyone watching The Virgin Spring and Wild Strawberries on a double bill in the Village in 1967 stepping back onto the streets saying, "Well, that was groovy."
We who revered those great artists, we who sat stunned and spellbound before their masterpieces -- what have we achieved? Aside from Francis Ford Coppola's "Godfather" series, with its deft flashbacks and gritty social realism, is there a single film produced over the past 35 years that is arguably of equal philosophical weight or virtuosity of execution to Bergman's "The Seventh Seal" or "Persona"? Perhaps only George Lucas' multilayered, six-film "Star Wars" epic can genuinely claim classic status, and it descends not from Bergman or Antonioni but from Stanley Kubrick and his pop antecedents in Hollywood science fiction.

Shit. Merde. Cockie-doody.

Okay, I may be in the minority here, but 1) I don't consider Stanley Kurbrick to be a Sci-Fi director, and 2) I don't recall any flashbacks in The Godfather, nor Part II, which moves forward and backward in time as a story-telling device but doesn't do so by triggering some character's memory, and if your definition of "gritty realism" includes "epically expensive period scenes shot on a backlot" then it differs from mine. I'm not trying to put Coppola down; The Godfather, particularly viewed in Saga form, deserves a place in the pantheon, if perhaps somewhat lower than idol worship and an unfamiliarity with the competition put it on the Internet. I'm just trying to point out that tossing off a couple of pop-Auteur theory boneheadisms does not salvage that gawdawful "Where is this generation's Bergman?", especially when they don't even apply. Francis Ford Coppola is Francis Ford Coppola, not the answer to something else, and he is also Not a Boomer, which would make things even worsest still if that were possible. And Martin Scorsese is, apparently, chopped liver.

Meanwhile, is it permissible to ask that if Paglia can't do either of the two things she's paid to do she at least familiarize herself with their rudiments? Film is collaborative. It is also enormously expensive. One might, by talent, determination and some good luck, manage to get noticed and permitted to direct motion pictures with something like the budget required for general release and sufficient marketing to get a shot at wide viewership. Those tens of millions of dollars will not come one's way so that one may comment on the Social Condition, the Conflict between our Inner and Outer Lives, nor even the Dearth of Great Cinema. Teapots that talk, telekinetic kids who solve crimes, and lasers blowing shit up is more like it.

For which we may, if we wish, thank George Lucas and that talented director pal of his who also has nothing whatsoever to say but does so in a way that pleases the ticket-buyer. Their success in the mid-70s ended the brief American Golden Age, and relegated art films to the back of the video store. But why blame them? It's money, which neither of them invented. Money has everything to do with it. Narcissism nothing at all, except perhaps as a driving force behind talentless self-promoters grabbing seats on the gravy train. So what? There was a magical time in the cinema when in the ruins of Europe and Japan young talented people were able--in part because it was both financially and culturally feasible--to take film into audacious new directions. If it's Bergman you want, watch Bergman, and be glad to have it. And let us remember that it was the Academy Awards recognizing the great achievement of post-war Italian and Japanese filmaking which led to both critical acclaim and a surprising popularity of foreign film in the 19-fucking-50s, which made their continuing production financially feasible. Sure, it was partly tits, but it was also serious art speaking to people in serious times. Trendies watching that stuff in the 60s were, for the most part, worshiping at an altar which had been erected by their predecessors. If we're more frivolous now--and more solitary--well, let's just note that people who call Star Wars a "classic" aren't really helping matters.

(Almost forgot: Paglia says the title of Sexual Personae was an "explicit homage" to Bergman. I'm not about to try to discover just when and where that was made explicit, but I am required to state that if so it's like filling a Twinkie with birdlime and calling it an homage to Carême.)


Anonymous said...

the mind boggles

Yeah, it's all about the money, so contemporary "art" films stand little chance of being made or distributed unless a big name actor is in it.
And, seems to me, she should take a harder look at the 80s, when she first became a pop star. Now THAT was a narcissistic generation. All those Reagan Republicans, young people (too young to have been sitting in east village cinemas worshiping Antonioni) caring more about making their first mil than about the dirty deals their hero Raygun was making or backing.
Ha she gone to a non big money Hollywood movie since the 60s? There are (and have been) some brilliant movies out there -- you just have to look around and pay attention!

Anonymous said...

if there is a permanent narcissist in the house, it's recycled daughter of lesbos Paglia.

i wish the same pile of dirt would bury her and Tom Brokaw and god knows, George Lukas in the same pile

cold douching can give you cramps, just like Camille's astonishingly bad writing. but the effects of the douche will fade, while Paglia prosody seems to survive... please jesus make her stop

John deVille said...

A gem sir. Linked here

Anonymous said...

I suppose I might have been a trendy in the 60s, but I didn't know it. I was too young, & came from the wrong kind of family, to think in quite those terms. An art school friend, a little older and more cultivated than me in my suburban gormlessness, turned me on to the stuff they showed at the Bleeker St. Cinema in the Village, and I enjoyed it very much. I had no real notion that I was looking at stuff that was a few years old - and of course a lot of it wasn't. And hey, don't write off the filmic creativity of the 60s - what about "O Dem Watermelons!", dude??

I don't get that Narcisstic Sixties stuff. Does Camille mean that young people took things like, say, the civil rights movement and the anti-Vietnam movement, seriously? I get the feeling from comments like hers that she suffered some sort of social embarrassment during that period her life which soured her forever on a whole historical epoch and an entire age cohort of several million people, most of whom she never met.

Li'l Innocent