Saturday, May 22, 2010

Picture this

One way of increasing your chances of making a good movie: point your camera at Armin Mueller-Stahl. There is a category of actor such including Raimu, Humphrey Bogart, Jean Gabin, Toshiro Mifune, Anna Magnani, Gary Cooper, who project their presence, their essence, even when completely in repose. You'll notice a preponderance of non-English-speaking actors in this list, because they are not dependent on dialogue to convey meaning and feeling. As demonstrated in Avalon, and Music Box and Eastern Promises, Mueller-Stahl belongs in that category.

Local Color (2008) is intended to be the Karate Kid of painting. The reportedly autobiographical script by director George Gallo evidently lured Mueller-Stahl out of retirement, possibly because of his own devotion to painting. He's given a great deal of talking to do, and a lot of it is claptrap about the nature of or the meaning of art. There are a lot of cheap shots at abstract expressionists, as though their art was false.

Let's think about how "real" and "natural" representational art is. Representational art requires that the eye examine a flat piece of canvas with colored oil on it, decipher those colors spread on a flat surface and figure out a comparison to real-world three-dimensional objects. Other animals can't do that, because representational art requires the interpretation of signs and symbols. Abstract expressionism requires no interpretation. It's a bunch of sploshes--you like or you don't. But you don't have to decide whether they look like a tree. That's an intellectual construct.

The fact is, the only completely direct and natural art is music, which does not attempt to represent anything and does not use symbols or signals. Each form of music has conventions, but that is a way of dealing with infinite choice. Every other form of music has to pass through the thinking part of the brain on the way to the feeling. Music goes straight to feeling. Was and is the greatest art.

Back to film. The good news is that digital cinematography has reached the point that the colors in the film are very well represented, although I would recommend a large-format widescreen display, because one is called on to see all the colors within the object--which is the definition of "local color." Clever, heh?

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