Wednesday, July 24, 2002

Art, Angst & Zeitgeist

Our fearless, or perhaps foolish, editor once again manages to rant about interconnections among the strangest things. Kurosawa, current political zeitgeist and neurobiology. There's no explaining it. Just read it

One shift in perspective, one single act, can change everything. Many folks apparently found this out for the first time on September 11th, 2001. Nothing I'm going to say here is meant with any disrespect for the country of the United States of America and the constitution which is embodiment of the noble concepts behind it. I however have no loyalty to an emblem like a flag nor to appointed or elected individuals. I do not have an American flag on my car. I have a sticker of Betty Page on it though. God Bless our Freedoms! Let's try to preserve them. Homeland Security. Shades of Orwell if you ask me. Nor do I think that because a bunch of religious extremists happened to attack the US that that in any way justifies any sort of religious response. In fact, it should illustrate the danger of intermingling politics with religion. Seems like once again, our founding fathers had something to say about this. I don't like the compromises the masses (baaaaaa) are apparently willing to accept. I know what you are thinking, and I am NOT a godless commie! Those are fighting words. I could join the DAR if I wanted to. The most recent branch of my family arrived long before the Statue of Liberty welcomed any huddled masses. I am a patriot. I don't think anyone should tell me what to believe in my heart and soul. Let's see, how else can I say this... if you are offended by what I write, go elsewhere. Okay, now that I've established the ground rules, let's take a rambling late boomer look at shifts in perspective from a vantage point of cinema. Maybe there are many ways of perceiving any given event. 

While the current US zeitgeist and angst revolving on all things Arab, might be more reflected by that late 50s movie in which they dipped Tony Curtis in shoe polish to play a the Son of Ali Baba there is a scene worth remembering in the film. The beautifully done scene has a knife held up by Curtis and the fires in the den of theives casts shadow of a multifaced reflections and shadows illustrating that only those capable of seeing in all directions through looking out for each other and drawing upon the insight and perspective of others are capable of acting from a well informed perspective. Only in drawing upon what we all see, perceive and understand can there be security. 

The classic film that deals with this subject is, of course, is Rashmon. This remains must see cinema. If you haven't seen it, oh say, since college, go out and rent the classic Kurasawa film tonight. No other film comes as close to coherently presenting the notion (some might say fact) that the reality of any two people never overlaps more than a fractional amount. Everything is perspective, literally. No two people ever see the same event in the same way as each person brings a different motive for interpretation, a different historical filter through which we interpret present events as they occur. 

And speaking of historical filters, last week I attended a lecture at the University of Arizona by Dr. Kandel, a noble laureate in medicine (2000) and it seems that neuroscience investigators are now getting to the point where they are finding some of the actual pathways and mechanisms for information storage and retrieval in the brain. Most of the talk went right over my head (zip, whiz, zoom), I did manage to glean a reference for a very interesting bit of information about the fragility of memory. We can change the past, or at least our perceptions of it. Seems that experiences can be channeled into short term or long term memory. Short term is discarded. Long term is restored for much later recall. When a memory is recalled it then goes through that sorting process again and the new version or interpretation may or may not make it into long term memory. When a recalled memory is re-stored it has been filtered through and linked with events that happened long after the time when the original event with the memory occured. This view of memory is, of course, is nothing new. (Kandel, E. "The long and short of long-term memory." Nature, 322, 419-422, 1986.) At least two decades of work has taken place since the concept of the biochemical basis of the fragility of memory has been bantered about but it is still a popular topic

And what does this have to do with art angst and Zeitgeist, you ask? Lots. The spirit of the times, Zeitgeist for you non-german speaking, non post modernist types, radically shifted in the western world recently. Even those countries that have lived with internal and external terrorists strikes for decades were shocked that the Islamic Fundamentalists in support of Jihad had gotten ballsy enough to attack the Big Guy. The governments of the world have spent centuries creating a semblance of a governmental structure in the world that has some order and sense of ethics to it (whether the order and ethics promoted is good is debatable) so that most peoples (not necessarily individuals) can interact in a civil fashion. Truly civilized interaction is such a recent and tenuous endeavor, the League of Nations, the precursor to the United Nations, is still less than 100 years old. The infant state of truly global cooperation is in danger of dissolving before our very eyes. Not just from terrorism, but from reaction to that terrorism. We have control over our zeitgeist. It is a cumulative cultural construct. (What great illiteration if I do say so myself!) 

Anyway, I propose that we late boomers rewatch some of the films we've loved so much over the years (a side bar of them is included) as well as taking the time to watch some films dealing with the nature of good and evil such as the recent Tolkein film, The Fellowship of the Ring.and get our brains thinking again about how there may be real good and evil out there in the cosmos, how there is no one right way of seeing doing, or knowing (no matter what our current US president, a man of intellect far below that of a Rhodes Scholar, might tell us).
The editor content manager zealot behind this site has yet to learn you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar, I find this punk reference and postering site to be quite thought provoking as it reminds us that cinema is not the only visual form of expression that needs protecting. 

The Zeitgeist that allowed Sept 11 events to unfold was the one that allowed corporations and governments to look the other way full well knowing of the atrocities committed by the Taliban against women and humanity. And before you spin off in a tizzy, remember, I'm just a frumpy, middle aged house-wife. (That's my story and I'm sticking to it.) And get that phrase, "They dress like housewives, they dress like students, or in a coat and a tie." out of your mind right now. 


Just a Few Titles from the Celluloid Vaults to Get Your Juices of Perspective Flowing.

Repo Man
Sci-Fi, Allegory, just bizarre? Well I highly recommend just watching the film and being your own judge, but if not click on the above link and find out what it IS about. One of my personal favorites. Extremely appropos in today's world where weapons of mass distruction can and have easily fallen into the small time thugs hands.

Hearts in Atlantis
Anthony Hopkins is a great actor who can make even humble roles come alive. (Has a Stephen King protagonist ever been humble?) Anyway, this more recent film, under-appreciated for its lack of flash and bizarreness, certainly mixes up the topics of perception, memories of childhood, and the government. A thoughtful script and a beautifully filmed and acted venture into perception.

American History X
As a member of the cohort who were the proto punks before punks bifurcated into skinheads, mods, etc. you might be interested in watching this more recent film about political extremes and changing of perspective the old fashioned way... through hard won experience. Not all it could be, but certainly a film that is all about changing perspectives.

Miracle at Morgan's Creek
is probably worth a watch too. Just for fun. What a tribute to all the branches of the U.S. Military Service. And it doesn't hurt to remember that this comedic filmaker and patriot,Preston Sturges, was so harassed by 50s right wing extremists in the U.S. that he finally took his life. The Great McGinty is also well worth a watch. One moment of honesty by a crooked may and one moment of dishonesty by an honest man land them both in the same place.

Stunt Man
One small action can land a man in jail and change the course of life. (Hmmm. so what would have happened if Enron had pushed a man into some ice cream?)An underappreciated film not about ice cream at all, but about about reality versus illusion in movies, on movie sets, and in life.

Undoubtedly the best movie yet about the fragile nature of reality and the memories stored in the brain and how they can lead and mislead. Try the above link I provide to's analysis of the film. I recommend you read only the first page if you have not seen the film.

Rear Window
Did you really see what you think you saw? Can you admit you saw it?"

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