Thursday, November 23, 2017

The Crime of Monsieur Lange

What's The Crime of Monsieur Lange (1936)? The answer might not be the murder which the Renoir film, concluding its revival at Film Forum today, portrays, but art. "Art is a lie that makes us realize truth," said Picasso. Art, artifice, factitiousness are the palette in which the film operates and the whole making of the work of art which is one of the film's subjects is corrupt from beginning to end. Admittedly, within the plot is a populist uprising, but it does little to take away from the commodification of the creative impulse which the film describes. At one point Lange (Rene Lefevre) who produces a tale set in Arizona, where he’s never been, becomes enraged with his publisher, Batala (the swaggering Jules Berry), for some advertisements which have been interjected into his narrative. The ploy will probably receive a jaded response from most contemporary viewers, who would regard the gaffe as a textbook example of product placement. There are some witty bits like one in which Batala who's presumed dead, before he’s actually shot by Lange, is disguised as a priest and comments “Life is a question of habit. You get used to it.” Lange himself complains about the backdrops that are used to create the illusion of the West for his writing. If there is a movie made, he wants something more realistic, but you might say this early Renoir success, with its story within a story structure, is as far from so-called realism as filmmaking can get.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Pornosophy: Was Madame Bovary a Nyphomaniac?

Nymphomania and satyriasis may not make strange bedfellows. However, when these two paraphilias are addressed they're generally dealt with as deviations in behavior brought about by psychological issues. Parents who compete with or over-stimulate their children have an undeniable effect on the formation of these kind of symptoms. But insatiable sexual urges may also be regarded as perverse form of romanticism. Couldn’t Flaubert’s Madame Bovary be understood as a classic case of nymphomania? Bovarysm, the literary term used to describe Emma’s condition is usually regarded as an expression of the romantic agony?  If Emma had been able to make a life with Rodolfe, her wealthy lover, iplain she would likely have become bored. She’s filled with an insatiable longing that also extends to material things (she gets into debt with a manipulative businessman, Lheureux). As a classic romantic Emma Bovary is more in love with the potentiality of what has yet to be than the stolid intractable nature of that which already exists. Of course Bovary is a literary creation, but her promiscuity, existing as it does on both a psychological and esthetic level, opens a window both on the nature of her sexuality and her imaginative yearnings and life.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The Vegetarian

The central character of Han Kang’s The Vegetarian, Yeong-hye, is reminiscent of Kafka’s A Hunger Artist. At the beginning of the novel she’s distinguished only by her ordinariness and passivity, but it’s the assertion of self-deprivation from meat that becomes a revelation. Meat literally disgusts Kang’s character, but as she withers away, losing weight and her mind in the face of the disapprobation of her husband and father (who actually attacks her), she, like Kafka's character, exudes the power of the anorexic personality. So there are two sometimes conflicting issues at the center of this acclaimed novel and ones that are at times in conflict with each other. To choose a vegetarian lifestyle is obviously not tantamount to starvation, but the brilliance of the novel is the way it actually defies pathology, camouflaging an inner drive with a social act. However, what The Vegetarian also has in common with the Kafka masterpiece is the aestheticizing of Yeong-hye’s condition. Art is Yeong-hye's salvation, even though she's simply the subject of an artist's work.  It's her brother in law, a video artist, who colludes in Yeong-hye’s resurrection, though he himself is barely conscious of his own motives when he first starts to paint her body.You might think that a novel with a title like The Vegetarian has an axe to grind. However, it’s just the opposite. The postures of the characters actually become more inscrutable as the author weaves the literary equivalent of a musical theme and variations on the calling described by her title.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Birdwatching: The Russian Oligarch

red-winged blackbird (photo: copyright 2008 Walter Siegmund)
Russian Oligarchs are exotic birds. Take for instance the Rybolovlev with its unique interests in potash and da Vinci. The Rybolovlev Trust is the one which has reaped the profits from the windfall of the Christie’s auction of “Salvator Mundi” for a whopping $450 million (which is not birdfeed). That’s going to be one hefty bird, but many Oligarchs resemble those Perdue Oven Stuffer roasters with their little plastic thermometers in the breast that pop up when they’re ready to be devoured. You may recall, Rybolovlev’s daughter, Ekaterina set a new record when she purchased Sandy Weill’s penthouse at 15 Central Park West for $88 million. The Rybolovlev is the kind of Oligarch that won’t settle for perching on a ledge or nesting and/or fornicating on top of a high rise’s air conditioning unit. Rybolovlevs are the kind of birds that are insiders and are only content when they're able to warm themselves by a raging fire, with potash under the logs and an auction price breaker over the mantle. Many Russians Oligarchs fly south. For instance Dimitry Rybolovlev now lives in Monaco where he lines up his ducks, amongst them a local soccer squad, AS Monaco. The pigeons in Venice’s Saint Mark’s Square grow fat from all the crumbs thrown at them by tourists, but the Rybolovlev is a different can of worms.  You need more than a crust to attract a Rybolovlev. In fact, you’d need a bread factory to get the attention of an oligarch, considering all its trappings.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Is Your Self-Invention a Success?

"Man Ray in Paris" (photograph: Carl Van Vechten)
You are constantly hearing that he or she is self-invented. But is it necessarily a good thing? A self-invented person is ostensibly someone who's not made in a mold. You have pound cakes that are baked in a rectangular pan and coffee cakes which rise in those round gismos with the hole in the center. Similarly when a son or daughter follows in their parents’ footsteps, they're not self-invented. Man Ray, the surrealist photographer and artist, who lived in France, but was born in Philadelphia as Emmanuel Radnitzsky, the oldest child of a family of Jewish immigrants and ended up in Paris by way of Brooklyn, is one of the greatest examples of self-invention. And then there were T.S. Eliot, an American born poet who attended Harvard, but adopted a personality that was tantamount to that of a landed English aristocrat, minus the titles, land and money and Mary Astor, the only child of a pair of Quincy, Illinois school teachers who scandalized Hollywood with all her affairs. Of course there are bad examples of self-invention. Did you ever know kids who went off to France for their junior year and returned behaving more French than the French? It wasn’t only the Gauloises and the air of impudence, it was the fact that they talked in broken English and no longer seemed to know what you were talking about. And what about all the people who make a little money and develop airs, as if they were born with a chrysalis of royalty despite their humble origins? You know the type who was born on the wrong side of the tracks, but speaks the Queen’s English and insists on correcting you when you say “him and me.” Yes there are some really cool self-invented people, whose personalities are artworks, but in general most people who escape their roots, in order to become somebody, turn out to be colossal jerks.