Nostalgic For Nostalgia

February 22, 2011

From Kane to Crystal Skulls, And Beyond the Post Modern

A few years ago at Korea’s Pusan film festival, painter-turned-curmudgeon Peter Greenaway declared cinema officially deceased.  Time of death: September 31, 1983, the result of “remote control zappers” being introduced to living rooms across the globe.  “Cinema is [still] predicated on the 19th-Century novel,” Greenaway lamented.[i]

The Prototype: Faceless Inquirer reporter Jerry Thompson wanders the long corridors of a vast warehouse, his search for “Rosebud” having come to an anti-climactic end.  Massive stacks of crates sprawl towards an impossible vanishing point.  They disappear into stygian obscurity faster than they can be counted thanks to the cinematic trickery of an elegant matte painting.

The Parody: Forty years later, Indiana Jones stashes the Arc of the Covenant in an equally vast warehouse for safekeeping.  Though the MacGuffin has changed, the matte painting is virtually identical.  Steven Spielberg has conjured the ghost of Orson Welles, visually equating Kane’s fate with the fate of the world.  In true postmodern fashion, Spielberg imitates “dead styles, [and speaks] through the masks and with the voices of the styles in the imaginary museum… the imprisonment of the past.”[ii] Rather than attempting to create an aesthetic representation of his current (1981) experience, Spielberg falls back upon a forty-year-old image to conclude his film.  The parody is charmingly ironic given the subject matter—Jones has quashed the potential threat of a tangible historical relic and the world is once again safe because we have locked up history and forgotten about it.

The Problem: Thirty years later the warehouse lights flicker on once again.  A crowbar pries open a large crate, clumps of excelsior brushed aside.  Within: The corpse of the Roswell Alien, and the start of a new adventure for our intrepid archeologist. The act of unearthing the mythic, extraterrestrial relic evokes the resurrection of the Jones series itself, the lore and mythology of which is similarly steeped in America’s consciousness.  One need only mention the word “Roswell” to evoke images of aliens and government conspiracy, just as the sight of a dusty brown fedora screams “Indy”.  .Boasting a familiar structure and recognizable faces, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull attempts to pick up where the original series left off.  But the overwhelming consensus is that the film scarcely glimpses the artistic success of its predecessors.  Aesthetic considerations have changed, yet we are still in the same damned warehouse!

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Dali on Hitler

January 24, 2010

Salvador Dali had a curious preoccupation with Adolf Hitler.  While his famous work, The Enigma of Hitler, was painted before Hitler’s ultimate rise to power, Dali completed two lesser known works on the subject long after the war ended: Metamorphosis of Hitler’s Face into a Moonlit Landscape with Accompaniment (1958) and Hitler Masturbating (1973).

Like many surrealists, Dali arguably reached his artistic apex prior to the end of World War Two.  The end of the war signaled inevitable, major changes for the movement; the surrealists’ official position of exile during the war garnered much critical flack, as did their apparent lack of artistic response to the changing times.

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Trouble In Paradise

December 6, 2009

I have decided to add a critical section to KittensInCarbonite, consisting of essays and musings on cinema, art, aesthetics, and anything else that strikes my fancy. I’ve had no less than two conversations about Ernst Lubitsch this week, and so it seems fitting to kick it off with an essay on one of my favorite Lubitsch works, Trouble In Paradise.


“That’s my wife, Carolyn. See the way the handle on her pruning shears matches her gardening clogs? That’s not an accident.” ~Lester Burnham, American Beauty

Hollywood was, and still is, a cinema that implores formalist tactics to create a realistic effect.  The smallest elements, meticulously crafted to create continuity and unity within the frame, exist for no other purpose than to create a feeling of subconscious integration in the mind of the spectator.  Baudry would argue that this, in turn, leads to a dangerous feeling of omniscience— a 90-minute looks into a sublimely ordered microcosm in which all the elements are perfectly arranged.  We wouldn’t notice that Carolyn’s shears match her shoes, but we like it.  We believe it.  Granted, the above exemplifies a scripted, cynical commentary on a character trait rather than production design in and of itself, but Classical Hollywood cinema employed such invisibly meticulous methods without the wry observation.

More After The Jump…

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