Archives for posts with tag: genre: opus art


And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin, When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall, Then how should I begin?

– T.S. Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” (1915)

The association between butterflies and the feminine in the western narrative have been canonised in Puccini’s verismo opera Madama Butterfly, itself an allegory for western imperialism. In Act 1 of the opera, the character of Cio-Cio San (a.k.a Butterfly) sings to Pinkerton, “Dicon ch’oltre mare se cade in man dell’uom / ogni farfarla da uno spillo è trafitta / ed in tavola infitta!” (“They say across the sea, if it falls into the hand of man, each butterfly from a needle is pierced and on (a) board fixed!“). The proverbial subjugation of the butterfly (woman) by the man inevitably spells doom, foreshadowing what is to come if Butterfly allows herself to be captured by a colonial lepidopterist.

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“All art is quite useless.”

– Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890)

“What is art?” asks John Ruskin, preeminent Victorian art critic and long-time champion of JMW Turner, with all the gravity of one begging the question “what is Religion? or Morality?” In a similar vein, we might ask, From what instinct in man does it spring? To what faculties does it appeal? By what rules is it to be judged? What purpose does it serve? (R.P. Downes) These are the questions that engaged Victorian admirers of art, and which continue to circulate within contemporary criticisms of art and its purpose in modern consciousness and context, but largely within academic institutions and (often) elitist circles. How, then, does art criticism maintain validity in the 21st century machine of temporary flavours? Few art films have broached the subject of art criticism specifically, likely due to the impudence of criticising one art form through the medium of another. However, with his customary cheek and candour intact, Mike Leigh presents an art film in Mr Turner that does not coddle its subject, nor go out of its way to make an emotional case for the eponymous artist’s tortured soul. Moreover, it is neither mired in cliché nor obedience to bourgeois taste, but rejects those very standards of what constitutes ‘good’ art. The criticism is twofold, first presented as Turner’s rejection of the intransigent Victorian art zeitgeist, and then as a sly commentary on perhaps Leigh’s own conceptions of critics of his filmography and more fully, the place of art criticism in the 21st century. In the technological era in which everyone seems to have an opinion on everything (the irony is not lost on me, fear not), Turner balks at public and critical opinion, but instead of bowing to them, forges ahead in solitary pursuit of aesthetic majesty. Mr Turner is not only a subtle satire of the art world however, but a figurative and literal portrait of a deeply complex and human artist, anchored by Timothy Spall’s immense performance as Turner himself, caught between shifting artistic landscapes and personal foibles.

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“The work of art must seize upon you, wrap you up in itself, carry you away. It is the means by which the artist conveys his passion; it is the current which he puts forth which sweeps you along in his passion.”

– Pierre-Auguste Renoir, from Renoir, My Father by Jean Renoir

A viewing of Renoir is like a masterclass from the artist himself: a study in light and contrast, in nature and landscape, in colour and softness. Every frame evokes the late summer days of Provence reflected in the paintings of an Impressionist landscape, with its vibrant sun-soaked palette and warmly sensuous detail. Against this background, Andrée’s (Christa Theret) red hair dances like a sparkling flame, enticing and inspiring both Renoir the Elder and the Younger.

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“Man becomes aware of the sacred because it manifests itself, shows itself, as something wholly different from the profane.”

Mircea Eliade, The Sacred and the Profane (1957)

(adapted from thoughts scribbled some years ago)

Every so often (but not too often), a film comes along that makes one wonder whether the director has some special key to the doorway of one’s very imagination; as if the images one sees in one’s head have been transposed onto a film strip and projected for the world to see. It is gloriously and frighteningly intimate, and that is precisely the film Niki Caro has made. From the very first scene, a pair of delicately beautiful white hands pouring a glass of wine and holding it to the lips of an aged man. There are no faces and no voices, only images and sound; an ambient evocation of reading the novel itself.

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In the room the women come and go / Talking of Michaelangelo

– T.S. Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

It is a fact well-known that scent is a powerful trigger for arousal – not just of a sexual nature, but an emotional one as well. Memories, too, are inexplicably modulated by recurring scents, and a triggering scent often comes without the conscious recollection of a memory, leaving one in a nebulous state until realisation. It is no wonder then, that Bertrand Bonello’s L’apollonide is a evocation of this very sensuality, promising dreamlike delirium and corporeal fantasies. A strict narrative is entirely secondary, and the intention is to convey the sort of hazy atmosphere associated with plumes of opium smoke in the fin-du-siecle bordello.

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Plato said, “What is honoured in a country will be cultivated there.” Of the many things to which he referred, undoubtedly creativity springs to mind. The historical examples are endless – the thinkers of the Scottish Enlightenment; the Italian Renaissance painters; and relevant here, the 18th century German composers. Perhaps Plato should have added the following caveat to his statement: “but for men only!” René Féret’s Nannerl, la sœur de Mozart is both a speculative account of the early life of Maria Anna ‘Nannerl’ Mozart, and a fascinating and rapturous examination of genius and gender.

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If there is a single truth which I desire and derive from cinema, it is that cinema is art. The beauty of cinema is that it captures life, captures emotion, captures ideas. In one instant, it may capture the darkest and most dire depths of humanity, and in the next moment, exalt it beyond the apex of divinity. It is a narrative of the human condition in all its facets, bringing it to life – does art not do the same? In Lech Majewski’s The Mill & the Cross, it does precisely that, bringing art to life – or does it capture life into art? This film passionately evokes the latter, weaving a seamless not-quite-narrative into a Flemish tapestry with threads of wheat, wood, and blood.

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