Tuesday, December 23, 2008

In trying to articulate my own "theory" of art, of drama, what-have-you--in short, an explanation of the why my work is what it is--I find myself coming back on attempts at representation in art, by which I mean literal representations of an issue or event in a given medium.

None of my writing, for the screen and the stage, is naturalistic. I don't take an extreme, Samuel Beckett-lite absurdist route, and I always grapple with issues of motivation. But the behavior of my characters, whether it's in speaking entirely in iambic pentameter or committing genocide on people of a certain hair color, is not something you would ever see in the real world, even amongst the craziest of crazies. In those given examples, it's actually a heightening of a characteristic that already exists. The best explanation I can think of is that in dealing with issues and ideas, art (or at least my art) works best when naturalistic representation is eschewed in favor of symbolism, or a warping of reality into something more extreme. Since we all interpret events differently, what better way to communicate that interpretation than by presenting not as it literally is, but how I see it?

MUTO a wall-painted animation by BLU from blu on Vimeo.

This sounds totally ridiculous, but this post was spurred by the video above, one Andrew Sullivan's Mental Health Award Nominees. I have no idea what, if anything, it's trying to say. But the bizarre imagery on display in the graffiti freaked me out much more than anything I saw last night in the first two parts of "House of Saddam" (which nonetheless looks like a pretty good mini-series) last night. I think the very unrealness of the animation is what makes it so unsettling. Live-action representation of the extreme can never fully succeed, it seems, because the real is attempting to recreate, in a fictional context, real horror. An animation, because it is, voices excluded, wholly removed from the real world, operates in its own context outside of regular reality. This is why Peter Weiss, in his forward for The Investigation specifically warns against trying to re-enact both the Auschwitz trials and the atrocities described. Nothing can possibly do them justice, and so we reach for symbols and gestures to illustrate the horror.

I could write a play directly addressing some issue burning a hole in my mind, but I don't. For one thing, most straightforward, "issue" plays don't interest me and come off just in concept as extremely preachy. I prefer to make the situations even more extreme, absurd, grotesque, in order to highlight their folly without having to spell it out. Religious fundamentalism, and much of religion, aspires to supremacy but is intellectually impoverished; what better way to illustrate this than to re-enact a particular religious atrocity with the characters speaking the kind of heightened language of their holy books employed to beguile others? Even with the linguistic and dramaturgical benefit of the doubt the vacuity of the religious (fundamentalist) case is there for all to see.

This isn't to say I don't enjoy naturalism. If I didn't, I'd have to skip most cinema, even drama. But for me, addressing ideas, which are themselves intangible, is best done by symbol and metaphor and employment of the unreal. Attempts to manipulate the real world for such an end will never be fully successful. For me, anyway. Better artists seem to do quite well.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Court of Appeals

Buried in this New York Times story about five 9/11 planners trying to get an easy death sentence was this nugget:

For the first time, the Pentagon arranged for relatives of 9/11 victims to travel to Guantánamo to attend the session. A group of them, who spoke to reporters afterward, said they were struck by the extensive rights accorded the accused men.

This is a cheap emotional appeal, designed to stir up memories of 9/11 and divert the focus from not just the questionable legality of these military tribunals, but also the torture that was used to extract information (at least from Khalid Sheikh Mohammad), a fact that isn't mentioned in the article at all. What happened on 9/11 was awful, but it in no way qualifies anyone to be an authority on the "extensive rights" given to the prisoners.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Tempest is Music to My Ears

Elliot Goldenthal is set to score his partner/wife Julie Taymor's adaptation of The Tempest, which will hopefully be out next year. Goldenthal is my favorite film composer (his Alien3 work is frightening stuff, and Titus has an amazing eclecticism), and while it was a given that he would do the soundtrack--he's worked in conjunction with Taymor for years--it's nice to see it in writing and confirmed.

Friday, December 5, 2008

"In the Future, Everyone Will be Famous for 15 People"

Via Andrew Sullivan, we have a post from Arianna Huffington about the deepening of the financial crisis, and using blogging as a means of coping.

I suppose this is as good a time as any to unpack my reasons for starting this blog, and for (so far) doing little to promote it. I've always had strong opinions about politics, and think that at least once in awhile I can dress my opinions down in some fine caustic wit. I'd wanted to blog for awhile and even did so at ProgressiveU in a scholarship competition, but there were guidelines on content and length, and so it felt like a lot of essay writing with little of the conversational tone that my favorite blogs contain. Eventually I stopped because it was just too much work. I did have an occasional audience, though.

I myself am not sure why I haven't told all my friends to come visit my blog. A large part of it is probably insecurity (note the qualifer 'probably,' itself denoting my uncertainty). Blogging is rather geeky and narcissistic, and on some level I don't want them to know. On a more deeper level, I would like to enjoy some level of anonymity, which is hard when the only people who know your page exists are the people you interact with in the real world every day. Finally, perhaps a part of me doesn't want this to be read. Oh, it's in the public and so I'm not going to say anything too shaming, but it is putting myself out on a limb, and I would prefer the people who visit this site do so out of an interest in what I'm saying, and not as a voyeuristic means of peering into my mind. But it is nice interacting with people. At the beginning of last (school) year I was tapped to moderate at ProgressiveU, but I turned the offer down because I was too busy. I may inquire about offer after I graduate. What else am I going to do?

Yes, another reason for starting this is the vain hope that I get noticed and someone will eventually want to pay me to bloviate. And with the future so uncertain, I figure I might as well start sending out some feelers and making the most of my skills (opinion writing, cartooning, playwrighting/acting(/directing?) to see if something sticks. Unfortunately my skills lie in the arts, which are always the first to suffer financially, if not creatively, during an economic downturn. It's a hell of a time to join the job market, but at the end of this year I'll be financially and academically tapped out, and need some time to recharge. Joe Strummer once said the future is unwritten, but in this case it is more so, in part because our leadership of the last eight years has been illiterate. Writing is my greatest strength, however, so I guess I am most qualified do something about it.