Wednesday, March 25, 2009


What a fantastic film. All around - the casting and acting were superb, and visually it was incredible to watch.

As much fun as it was to see Elijah Wood play such an uncomfortable character and to laugh at the goofy, adidas-wearing Alex, the most incredible character, in my opinion, was Grandpa Alex Baruch. At first, he was so inherently unlikable. The only character less likable was the generation between Alex and Baruch - he was just a bitchy Tolstoy look-alike. Grandfather was, to me, just a crusty miserable old man at first. I have seen such characters before - my own paternal grandfather was very much as ornery and unpleasant. I think the actor who plays the grandfather does an amazing job of slowly gaining the audience's curiosity, then warmth, and then ends his role so beautifully in his death "repose."

Of course, everyone in this film deals with some kind of pain in their past, or discovers pain on this "most rigid search." Even the dog was deranged. Although - if I lived with Alex's family, I might exhibit deranged behavior as well. Seriously, though - the writer and main character, Jonathan, obviously has a lot on his mind. His intense neatness and strange collection habits definitely suggest a tightly-wound young man. His relationship with his grandfather, though it was close when he was a child, was very stressful for a young man who had little idea of his progenitor's history. Jonathan's fanny-pack of plastic baggies was at once very cool and unbearably sad. This young man was so afraid of forgetting his past - even his present - that he bagged countless strange artifacts that sometimes only very vaguely had anything to do with his family. Fear is definitely pain - a kind of pre-pain pain. It can be paralyzing.

On another level, the lone woman from Trachimbrod was sadness incarnate. She was surrounded by the most beautiful tomb on earth - surrounded by the bones of her life, and countless sunflowers. However, she wasn't the character who made me cry.

Grandfather Alex Baruch stood out to me the most because of his guarded emotional delivery of pain. His pain was not overt, nor was it immediately understandable. I think I was not alone in assuming that Grandfather Alex was one of the soldiers who did the murdering at Trachimbord. When it became abundantly clear that he had been a victim, I became even more involved in his character. Did his pain derive from the fact that he had this awful, traumatic thing happen to him? Or was his pain worse for having neglected his heritage - and his people - for so many years? The depth of pain was so aptly portrayed, and that last shot of him in the tub - was transcendental.

Lemons to Art

I hate cliches, but I can't help but think of the old adage "if life hands you lemons, make lemonade" when I see the art and hear the story of Sue Williams. Her life was filled with so much pain - she suffered things on first dates that people don't usually face in war time. Her body was used and abused, and through this horror she has created such works of beauty. Not through, even. That's not the right word. Not "in spite of" either. It is truly as if the pain itself was a tool (or, dare i say, inspiration) for her incredible paintings.

Not that her story matters. I mean, of course it matters - but her giant calligraphic pieces are incredibly beautiful just as visual art. Her use of line and color are astounding. She really does represent a new abstraction, and it is so appealing. An interesting question might lie here: Would she be able to (or even want to) create this incredible art without the pain she had suffered?

I have a friend (who will here remain nameless) who suffered traumatic illness and surgery at a young age. Left with no colon and other, more grievous physical and emotional injuries - she has created some of the most interesting and radical art that I have had the luck to see first-hand. For her, the illness itself is definitely inspiration - she actually used to talk about being thankful that she was sick, because it gave her an artistic purpose. I can't help but wonder, though, if she would have even turned to art if she had never been so close to death. Also - in a bizarre twist - she is having trouble finding inspiration lately, mostly because she now knows that she will not die soon. She explained to a good friend of mine that she never expected to live this long, so she has no real idea of what to do.

We all know the cliched idea that without pain, there can be no pleasure in life, and that we all must take the good with the bad and the hideous. So much art, whether visual, auditory, textual, is borne from pain. One rarely reads a poem or hears a popular song that isn't about pain of some type. To create art, I assume one has to have something to say. Without a message (about life, technique, SOMETHING) art is kind of relegated to craft. I always been somewhat disappointed that I never excelled at visual art as a kid, and it wasn't something that I had a passion or real talent for. I wonder if my pain wasn't enough for art - or maybe my way of expressing that pain is just different from those who can paint it. It would be a tough choice to make - would I be willing to take a bullet to the lung to create the kind of abstract beauty of a Sue WIlliams? Or would I suffer through life with no colon to feel truly artistic?

Monday, March 9, 2009

Free Falling

I happen to think that the Falling Man is a beautiful representation of an ugly event. I don't see any inherent horror in finding beauty in something negative. I say, thank goodness for artists out there who are able to create something of aesthetic worth during a time as trying to the American people as 9/11 was. I definitely think there is a fine line with photography, though. On one hand, I absolutely see the necessity of having dedicated press photojournalists documenting important events, whether they be positive or overly negative. We often get mad at photographers, though. Many of us hate having our pictures taken, even when we look fabulous. I can't really imagine the disgust I might feel if one of these intrepid journalists took a picture of one of the members of my family - their body crushed and burnt, or falling through the air.

Those journalists on he day of 9/11 were doing their jobs, but we all know that alone is not really an excuse for everything. For example, should you really be worrying about lighting and composition when someone might be literally dying for your help? I cannot say what I would have done if I was in NYC on 9/11 - I would have probably beat feet to get the hell out of there as quickly as I could. The man who photographed "Falling Man" was brave enough to actually get CLOSER to the buildings - I have a nagging feeling like he should have done something other than documentation.

Eventually, however, I really think he deserves accolades and not derision for what he had done - as does the photographer behind that iconic photo of the napalm covered girl running, or even (in a lesser and almost vile way) those German soldiers who documented what occurred in their Nazi death camps. Without the imagery of war flickering on their TV screens, the American people might never have questioned the reasoning behind our sending young men to die in Vietnam. Unfortunately, I think that these days people are so desensitized to images of violence that many are not even appropriately horrified by the pictures and video from Abu Graib to question our military involvement in Iraq/Pakistan/Afghanistan.

Oh - and I loved that classical renaissance-feeling painting we looked at as a representation of 9/11. I admit that I would maybe feel differently if it was hanging in Taliban headquarters or something. However - no matter what its origin - I think that art is so important to human culture that it would be a damned shame to see censorship repress artists. Especially in a country that prides itself so much on individuality and self-expression.