Shades of Gray (and red) (and green)

27 04 2007

Alas, my only blog about Vertigo was cut cruelly short due to a sudden strike of inspiration. But fear not! For now all shall be revealed. Hopefully.

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24 04 2007

Carmen, I’d like to apologize for any confusion I may have caused with my discussion of the Vagina Dentata theory. I have not been saying that I believe this theory, or that it’s psychologically/socially valid, just that it’s an interesting viewpoint to examine. I believe that it is very important to examine different perspectives, especially when I don’t necessarily agree with them. This is a psychoanalytical film theory, and not even a very widely supported one, as is plainly stated in Freeland’s essay. But this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t consider it. If we don’t think about it, how can we discredit it?

I was not in anyway attempting to undermine feminism, motherhood, or devalue life. Nor was I trying to degrade vaginas. I think vaginas are wonderful! In fact, I happen to have one.

Bad art is still art.

18 04 2007

Beth’s post got me thinking about art again, and I’d like to explore, briefly, the connection between happiness and quality or depth of art. It was mentioned that artists rarely seem to be happy, and the more tortured they are, the greater or more intense their work is. But the more important question to ask is “Do we tend to view more serious artwork as ‘greater’ simply because it has more depth and intensity?” Are we trivializing ‘happy art’ just because we have decided that it cannot possibly be taken seriously? Isn’t there the possibility that artwork that is cheerful can also be deep? Happy art does not have to be superficial art. I think we view serious art as ‘greater’ because it affects us in a certain way emotionally. Perhaps we find the more negative feelings created more memorable than the lighter, more uplifting ones. But this shouldn’t affect the way we view art. Depressing artwork can be incredibly shallow. And who are we to say that one thing is ‘true art’ while another is not? A judgment we can make individually is whether art is ‘good’ or not, but even this is subjective. But we shouldn’t go so far as to deny its status as art altogether. If all bad art were proclaimed non-art, then what would we have left to compare with? I consider myself an artist, but I don’t claim to be a good one. There is a difference. I think perhaps classification as an ‘artist’ has more to do with what the individual is trying to achieve, rather than his or her final accomplishment.


Do you think this painting is ‘superficial’ just because it doesn’t seem emotionally charged?

Because I couldn’t speak up in class

13 04 2007

The debate in class today affected me far more than I expected it to. The discussion of ‘true love’ almost brought me to tears, something that is generally extremely rare. I felt so emotionally invested in the exchange that I simply couldn’t handle participating directly in it. Many issues were raised and discussed, some of which I agree with but most of which made me realize how much I truly dislike the characters in this book. Also how incredibly cynical I’m becoming, but that’s a separate issue. I ended up scribbling down two full pages of angry notes to myself during class in response to everything that was being said. You won’t like it, and you probably won’t even agree with me. It’s ok. I’m not offended. This is going to be a long, rambling blog post, so I figure I’ll just start with two important questions.

What does Eben love about Jennie? She makes him feel wanted. She’s mysterious. She represents variation and excitement in the monotony and misery of his daily life. Does he really know her? I don’t think so.
And what does Jennie love about Eben? He’s her anchor. As she says, she’s lost, and he keeps her grounded.

Eben and Jennie are not soul mates. Let’s put aside the more obvious factors discussed in class (time difference, waiting, etc.) because all this is simply the superficial structure suggesting commitment. There is no real basis for their romance. They have no reason to love each other. Their love is not true. On Eben’s part, it’s the idea of it and on Jennie’s side…who knows? They’re both completely in love with the idea of love and the security and comfort of it.

It doesn’t even matter if she’s a figment of his imagination or not. Everything she is to him is fabricated, invented. She may be real, but their love isn’t.

A comment was made in class that Jennie exists just for Eben. That they are destined to be together and her strange passage through time is indicative of this. However, what if she’s just traveling through time in this manner anyway, and finds him along the way, something to cling to? Something to make her feel less lost.

This brings me to my greater point. Both characters are incredibly selfish. Eben is a frustrated artist. He has no inspiration. He’s washed up. Jennie is his crutch. Does Eben paint anything worthwhile during the times when Jennie is gone? Does he even try??

Jennie is lost, traveling towards an inevitable fate she already anticipates. She’s trying to hold on. She wants him to keep her back. She’s afraid.

They’re both so afraid that it leads them to believe they need– love– each other. They aren’t strong enough to fend for themselves, and if they were, they wouldn’t even try.

On to my second topic of discussion, the love-art-time triangle. We stated in class that “great art transcends time” and “great love transcends time.”

But time defines what we view as “great” and therefore time transcends both by constantly changing our perceptions of them. If these things are no longer “great”, then they lose their ability to transcend time.

Time negates everything eventually. Love and art lack this power. ART is not great. LOVE is not great. TIME is not equal to these two–it is superior. The triangle is flawed.

But if, based on this, we take the view that art doesn’t matter and love doesn’t matter, we wouldn’t get any enjoyment out of life. So we decide instead that TIME doesn’t matter. And this is exactly what Eben and Jennie do.

This is why Jennie has to die at the end. To show them both that time really does trump art and love.

The story isn’t just a “Portrait of Jennie”. Try these:

  • “Portrait of Denial”
  • “Portrait of Delusion”
  • “Portrait of Need”
  • “Portrait of Loss”
  • “Portrait of Escape”

Yes, I know that’s terrible of me. But I realized something important in class. I hate Eben. I hate Jennie. They’re real, and weak. (And yes, we’re all weak. As it is so beautifully stated in The Philadelphia Story, “You’ll never be a first class human being or a first class woman until you’ve learned to have some regard for human frailty.” That’s my reminder to myself that I’m being incredibly harsh on these characters and everyone else, at the moment.) Don’t worry–I wouldn’t judge them on this alone. But the way Eben and Jennie deal with their respective problems is what really gets to me. Denial, lack of effort, and using each other. Does it really help either one in the long term? To me, they are completely ridiculous characters wholly unworthy of admiration. They are not wise, they are not instructive, they are not even laughable. They would be tragic if they weren’t each so completely self-absorbed, but I find it difficult to have any sympathy for them.

An artist who uses another person as an excuse to not even make an effort to work at his art isn’t truly an artist. And a girl who latches onto someone because she’s afraid is definitely not in love. They are not doomed lovers, they are not tragic heroes. They are irresponsible, simple, hurtful, and selfish. And I really cannot admire anything about them or their story.


11 04 2007

I have to say that I didn’t particularly like Portrait of Jennie. The book itself wasn’t especially well-written or captivating, and certain parts were even a little dull. I’m even a little skeptical when people call this book ‘romantic’ because it’s not really about romance at all. On the simplest level, it’s about being lost (and loss itself). Every character is lost, in one way or another, and most try to recover through Eben. So it’s about being lost, it’s about Eben, and it’s certainly not about his romance with Jennie.

Having said that, the concept is wonderful! And I’m willing to forgive quite a bit for a story idea as creative as this one. The idea that Jennie is slipping through time, through points in Eben’s life, at an entirely different pace than we expect, is great. This redefines the way we think about time and its linear progression. The fact that Eben is an artist was also especially appealing to me, though I do wish he’d laid off of the landscapes. Strangely enough, I feel like every character except for Eben was developed extremely well. The personalities of his friends are so spectacular that I wish I could meet them in real life.

As for Carmen’s idea that Jennie is just a figment of Eben’s imagination, although I immediately dismissed it at the time, I think we should give it a little more thought. Not because I believe its true, but because it’s interesting to look at in conjunction with the fact that Eben is the least developed character in the novel. Each other character is fully drawn in for us, while the only things we learn about Eben are what he chooses to tell us. Even his dialogue seems guarded, in a sense, in comparison to everyone else’s. Why aren’t we shown more about Eben? He is, after all, the main character. It could just be a product of the first-person narration, but if the author truly wanted to develop Eben further, it wouldn’t have been that difficult.

So I guess my final question, for now, is: “What aspect of Eben or his life does Jennie represent, regardless of whether she’s real or not?”

Here’s looking at you

7 04 2007

My apologies in advance to Dr. Campbell for the enormous tangent I’m about to embark upon.

I was going to write a post analyzing exactly what it is about eye contact in film, photography, and traditional art that captures the audience in such a unique way. However, I discovered something else along the way. Artists are always staring straight at the viewer in their own self-portraits, whether photographed or painted. In over an hour of searching, I only managed to find ONE famous self-portrait in which this was not the case. In case you don’t believe me, I have proof. (Full-view each one for the greatest impact.)




























So what does all this mean? What does this tell us about the artists, or about ourselves? Some of these artists, like Da Vinci and Mucha, rarely have subjects in their other paintings looking straight out at the viewers. But in their self-portraits, they choose to do this every time.

It has to be about more than simply engaging the audience. Self-portraits are intensely personal. Do artists paint themselves for others? Or is it more about self-analysis and exploration?

I guess my main question is, “When an artist paints or photographs a self-portrait, is the subject looking at the viewer or the artist?” There’s a significant difference between these two things because if the artist paints himself looking at himself, that has a whole different meaning than the artist simply staring out at future viewers. Artists frequently use mirrors when creating self-portraits. It’s a very reflective, disconcerting experience to sit there and focus on every minute detail of yourself. It isn’t easy to capture ourselves. My theory is that every self-portrait is simply a communication of the artist with himself. Any other viewers just don’t exist.

Can I tie this into Fast, Cheap & Out of Control? This is Morris’ most personal, self-analytical film. The shots correspond with this idea. He uses shots that involve his subjects making direct eye contact with himself and the audience. Morris is exploring the idea of himself through these shots. The entire film is one big self-portrait of Morris.


6 04 2007

What’s at the root of this whole manipulation thing? Do we view everything sentimental as manipulative? In that case, how do you account for the popularity of movies like “It’s A Wonderful Life”? Or perhaps we forgive films like these because of other redeeming characteristics.

Or maybe we want to be manipulated occasionally. Remember, to some degree you have to allow yourself to be manipulated by a film. You have to allow yourself to be sucked in by it. Manipulation demands a greater degree of audience involvement. So could it follow that successfully manipulative films are, in fact, great? They handle their audiences more skillfully, which isn’t an easy feat.

Do we resent the obviously manipulative films more than the subtly manipulative ones because we can spot it more easily? Or do we resent the subtle movies for their quiet deception?

Maybe I’m just a sucker, but I kind-of enjoy being manipulated by films if it’s done well. Isn’t that the point of watching a movie? We rarely watch anything without some kind of emotional response, whether it’s sadness, revulsion, amusement, happiness, sympathy, or fear. The emotional response is not always a comfortable one (see Queen Margot), nor a cheerful one (how about Grave of the Fireflies), but it’s always going to be part of a film-viewing experience. And I think we all secretly love it.

Going Dutch

3 04 2007

Just wanted to throw a couple ideas out here.

First, Morris’ use of Dutch angle shots was mentioned in class. We discussed their technicality and meaning, but not the main purpose. I believe that Morris included so many Dutch angle shots and extreme close-ups for the same reason. It prevents you from immediately focusing on what you’re seeing. In the case of Dutch angle shots, Morris is forcing his audience to pay MORE attention to exactly what is in the frame rather than taking it for granted and perhaps overlooking important details. We’re more careful about sorting out exactly what we’re looking at if it’s initially more difficult to comprehend. As for the extreme close-ups, it’s very hard to focus on the speaker’s face when the camera is that close. Therefore, we have to focus on what he is saying instead. Basically, Morris uses Dutch angle shots when he wants us to pay attention to what we’re looking at, and extreme close-ups when he wants us to pay attention to what we’re hearing. I think that’s a pretty cool stylistic parallel.

Never let it be said that Morris doesn’t give us any direction. This is the equivalent of going through his own film with a highlighter.

BELOW: A Dutch angle shot from The Matrix and an extreme close-up from the beginning of Little Miss Sunshine. (What do these shots tell you about what is going on in the film? What kind of effect are they trying to produce in the audience?)



1 04 2007

What if we selected tiny parts of “Fast, Cheap & Out of Control” to apply to our lives, rather than the whole thing, and interpret each of those in any way that makes sense? Perhaps what makes this film so unique is that there are endless possibilities for such interpretation. The concepts presented are so much fun to toy with. Perhaps if I just keep musing in subsequent blog posts I’ll eventually say everything I want to about this….but it may take the rest of my life. I think I’m in love with this movie.

Thanks to a late night conversation with Tyler, I now have something to blog about. Which am I? The lion in a cage, thinking that the outside world is the true cage? The robot, merely the next step in evolution? How about a naked mole rat, working blindly towards a greater societal benefit? Or perhaps a plant sculpture, battered by the elements and always trying to break free of the mold, barely kept in line by an aging gardener?

dh-6.jpg robot-2.jpg rats-3.jpg garden-3.jpg

My first answer, and the one I’m going to stick with for now, is that I’m a headless giraffe-shaped shrubbery. Broken by a storm, it will take me years to grow back, and in the meantime my gardener will fade away, leaving me entirely alone. Actually, that is incredibly depressing. But are the alternatives much better? Perhaps I’d rather be damaged than deceived, like the lions, mindless like the mole rats, or transient like the robots. Am I a stepping stone for the future, a part of a greater whole, an oblivious prisoner? I think I’d much rather be a force of nature, even undergoing the initial trimming for a chance for the real freedom that each of the others lacks.

Now, if Tyler is right about each one representing a model of God, where does this view of myself fit in? The lion tamer represents organized religion. Yep, staying well away from that. The mole rat guy toys with his beloved pets a little, but mostly enjoys observing them. An unintrusive but loving God? The robot man deciding that humans are just a step between past and future evolutions…science? That last one feels both depressing and hopeful at the same time. We’re just here for a little while and aren’t particularly important. But look what may come next! There’s always going to be something better.

But I still prefer my lovely old gardener, diligently trimming topiary but knowing that he won’t be doing it forever. There isn’t anyone to come after him. All the plants want to grow in their own natural directions, and one day they will. They only need him for a little while, until they’re ready to be themselves. Though I’m not religious at all, I quite like that idea. Perhaps religion is best when it serves as an initial shaper for civilization, then fades quietly away once we’re ready to take our fates into our own hands.

Nothing lasts forever. Mole rats die, humans are replaced, nature takes its course. The only model that’s fighting this is the lion tamer. He’s trying so desperately to keep the lions and tigers under control in that cage. Every once and a while they lash out, not completely fooled. He tries to make everything last forever. When he realizes that he won’t, just as his predecessor didn’t, he finds and trains a replacement. He reassures himself that she will be all right. Everything will stay under control. He fights change. Fear is his emotion.

No, I’d much rather be in an overgrown, neglected, storm-battered garden. No cages, no carefully constructed habitats, and no terrifyingly foreign outer reaches of space. Moving in my own direction–not the tamer’s, not the watcher’s, and not the scientist’s. I’m not interested in being enclosed, even if I don’t notice it. I don’t want to exist as amusement for a greater power. And I especially don’t want to be a mere evolutionary phase.

So I am a headless giraffe-shaped shrubbery, ready to grow back in whatever direction feels right.



26 03 2007

Normally I’d leap headlong into a philosophical debate, but I’m with Leighton on this one. I feel the same way about our debate over “truth” as I do about “good vs. I like it”. I personally think truth is important, but I’m not going to demand that everyone attach the same value, or even view it the same way. I think one of the things that makes life so interesting is the vast array of varying opinions on nearly every topic imaginable.

I’d like to remind you that the point of a philosophical debate, whether stated or not, is to explore ideas rather than to reach a conclusion. If questions like this COULD be answered, then nobody would be interested anymore. So I’m perfectly content to just sit back and listen to everything. Perhaps someone will say something that will make me think in a slightly different way, or make a refreshingly unique point. But as for truth, why does it matter? So I’ll just be sitting here, waiting for someone to convince me to care about this a little more. But don’t worry–I’m still listening 🙂