Wednesday, October 13, 2010

for here there is no place

that does not see you. You must change your life.

These words are taken from the last lines of Rilke’s Archaic Torso of Apollo. Woody Allen uses the excerpt in Another Woman, which then becomes emblematic of the main character’s struggles with self-discovery, and of how she can no longer hide from herself.

Gena Rowlands plays a highly accomplished German philosophy professor, who only in her fiftieth year of life begins to uncover the emptiness and loneliness she feels, which up until then she has denied. One day she over hears conversations from a therapist’s office through the ventilation system, in the apartment she is renting to write her book in. At first, she covers the vents with two pillows, not wanting to over hear people’s personal revelations. When she takes a nap, one of the pillows falls, and she is awakened by the sound of an anguished woman’s voice, played by Mia Farrow. Rowlands' becomes intrigued by Farrow’s despair, begins eavesdropping regularly, and in doing so, opens Pandora’s box, and starts to realize her own suffering.

The wistful piano compositions of Erik Satie reinforce the somber self-revelations of Rowlands, and the poems of Rilke strengthen and dramatize the sorrow that envelops her.

There is a beautiful fluidity in the structure of the film that allows the film to transition seamlessly into personal narrative, shared experiences, dreams, memories, and even to a play within a film.

The story never threatens to become a maudlin caricature or a romanticization of melancholy, which is something it could have easily become in hands less adept than Allen’s. Even at the height of the most agonizing confrontations that the protagonist must face, she maintains some vestige of her characteristic composure.

There is a critique of the potentially sterile life of the mind and of human achievement, running through the film. One of the greatest ironies about our professor protagonist is that despite having dedicated her life’s work to the pursuit of truth and ethics, she has left her own life unexplored. Her cerebral nature becomes not something to be revered, but pitied. She has not allowed herself to feel, and the nebulous side of emotions terrifies her. Rowlands’ proclivity to over intellectualize everything she experiences becomes a monstrous defense mechanism that isolates her not only from her own self, but also from others. When she fully acknowledges the tragedy of her own existence, her trusted intellect only lets her down.

Another Woman is my favorite Woody Allen movie, and I’ve seen most of his movies dozens of times. I find it to be simultaneously comforting and terrifying, like many of his dramas. Each time, I shed a few tears, but I also walk away feeling as though no matter how sad life can get, it still remains beautiful and bearable. The endings to his dramas are never happy, but they also don’t further the suffering you endured during the film. The viewer is always left knowing that life will and does go on.

The Panther

In the Jardin des Plantes, Paris

His gaze is from the passing of bars
so exhausted, that it doesn't hold a thing anymore.
For him, it's as if there were thousands of bars
and behind the thousands of bars no world.

The sure stride of lithe, powerful steps,
that around the smallest of circles turns,
is like a dance of pure energy about a center,
in which a great will stands numbed.

Only occasionally, without a sound, do the covers
of the eyes slide open—. An image rushes in,
goes through the tensed silence of the frame—
only to vanish, forever, in the heart.

(tr. Cliff Crego)

-Rainer Maria Rilke

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Archaic Torso of Apollo

We cannot know his legendary head
with eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso
is still suffused with brilliance from inside,
like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low,

gleams in all its power. Otherwise
the curved breast could not dazzle you so, nor could
a smile run through the placid hips and thighs
to that dark center where procreation flared.

Otherwise this stone would seem defaced
beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders
and would not glisten like a wild beast’s fur:

would not, from all the borders of itself,
burst like a star: for here there is no place
that does not see you. You must change your life.

-Rainer Maria Rilke

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Abyss Looks Back

Matt Brinkman’s Phantasmatgoria drawings, at the Hole, attracted me immediately with their simultaneously eerie, anachronistic mood and childlike playfulness. Taking a seemingly simple idea, Brinkman creates something that cannot be easily delineated. The way he switches from the clarity of the charcoal to the ambiguity of his ink drawings, only strengthens both bodies of work, mimicking the complexity and confusion underlying our presumptions about human nature.

The most literal interpretation of these horrific, little, fun-loving guys, is that they are just figments of Brinkman’s imagination; harmless, benign, fictive, post-modern artifice at its finest, but the psychological intensity with which the artist approaches his drawings, betrays such a simplistic read. Brinkman’s monsters are everything but univocal. Are these creatures, metaphors for who we are as human beings, or are they emblematic of our worst fears and nightmares? They can’t be either because they are too funny, or maybe they are both, who we are and what we fear, just because of how tragicomically absurd these drawings are.

Monsters are a universal and timeless archetype, and yet Brinkman manages to make his demons timely and relevant. Brinkman shares a history with Goya and Ensor, but splits away severely from them. There is a specific wit and self-consciousness about these drawings that makes them entirely a product of our time. There is no text to provide us with any clues, as to what caused the origins of these endearing, little monstrosities. In Goya, the sleep of reason produces monsters, whereas in Phantasmatgoria, the monsters seem to exist without a cause. Ensor infuses his works with sardonic, moralistic, Judeo-Christian references. Brinkman is less judgmental. His creatures are clearly misbehaving, but it doesn’t seem that they will suffer much retribution, unless of course another monster comes along and devours one of them.

The style in which these drawings are executed, also directs them toward a contemporary dialogue. Classical chiaroscuro has a huge goblin orgy with the pastiche of Expressionism, 70s and 80s metal album covers, and the kitsch aesthetic found currently in the “bad” girl/boy merchandise sold through the Old Glory catalog. The debauchers birth love children, as a result of this unlikely union, who then go on to form their own identities in Phantasmatgoria.