Friday, December 31, 2004

I don't know art....

I'm here in London, and it's amazing by the way--so much to do and a great place--and I've been to the Tate Modern. So what's up wtih conceptual art? I have some major issues. Is the art world becoming just a conversation with itself, or between artists and critics? I've been trying to work this through. So much time I feel like I'm being told what an emotional experience the artist had, or what everything is supposed to symoblize, when all I see is, say, three floursescent lights on a wall.

Now I know I am sounding like a philistine, but is it just that I would like to be able to have my own experience without feeling I need an art critic or historian to tell me what it is? I looked at Yves Klein's IDK Blue 79, which is blue. Only blue. And the tag said something about how he was obsessed with these colors, this particular color that he created. And then the tag says how it is a testament to freedom and breakinbg boundaries, blah blah blah. But I just see blue. A very nice and great blue, but still. I feel perhaps all I am interfacing with is the artist's obsession. And being told what to think, or how important it is without feeling anything myself. It's all about idea.

On the other hadn, I love Barbara Kreuger, who is all about idea. But there is a way for me to have my own experience without a book or an historical position. That all just makes the art feel like a closed club. And that's slightly annoying.

This was thrown in relief after seeing the National Gallery and the British museum. The British Musuem, with its incredible Assyrian, Egyptian, Greek art illustrates how vital art was to all of these cultures. Even though it's a more natural history bent, it's breathtaking. The Assyrian five legged winged lions, with cunieform bands, were astounding. And perhaps we see them as art now, but they all had a specific purpose--to guard, warn, tell history, worship, etc. Perhaps that's what we've lost in art and now it explores only the individual.

Seeing the National Gallery as well was incredible, even slightly overwhelming, with so many masterpieces in one place.

Side story: I saw the most homoerotic Sebastian painting, which was situated on a side of the room that was being blocked off for kid's instruction. Kind of funny to see that painting with all of these children below it. There was Sebastian, being lazily hit with arrows by a group of mne standing in easy-hipped positions, and in the foreground was one of them bent over, with pink tights and a broad back, reloading his arrow. Indeed. The ass was lightly wrapped in a scarf, like a small Burberry plaid type. It was so outlandish. I loved it, and wish I could've gotten over to see the artist. But there was sex in the fifteenth century, apparently. Wow.

So the National Gallery was stunning in it's scope, from 12th century to 18th/19th. And you could see how art moved from worship to the personal. There is much more to write about, and that gallery in particular, but that will have to wait, as I have to head off with friends to Victoria and Albert. Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

B_B_BAd Education

I’ve been thinking about Almodovar’s Bad Education since I saw it a couple of weeks ago. Its not my favorite film of his—that honor goes to All About My Mother—but it is the gravest of his films I’ve seen so far, and I think the most pessimistic. Amazingly, he does this without sacrificing elements of his whimsy, humor and compassion that come through in all of his films.

There are two reasons I am finding this film compelling, and they are intertwined. One is the way it deals with sex, and the other the way it deals with gayness (or more specifically, homosexuality). Set in 1980, and in the 60’s, this film explores (gay) sex as a mercenary act in a way that I haven’t seen before, as well as sex as obsession, desire, love, and trade. I suppose this is nothing unique. Especially considering this film is a serious tribute to the noir genre, this should come as no surprise. People are constantly using sex and desire in noir films to achieve what they want. But they are usually heard-hearted women. What we have here, in the Ignacio character played in the film, and within the film, by Gael Garcia Bernal, is a man that does it. (Bernal, by the by, is brilliant in this) Sometimes in the guise of a wanna-be woman, sometimes as a man, but always as a mercenary.

Here is where the film has stuck with me—it occurred to me later that what is remarkable about the film is that it is peopled with men, all about men wanting other men, using other men, having sex with other men, making love to other men, but somehow is not what I would term a gay film. Certainly the way that all of the characters act is informed by the (hetero) culture at large, but the matter-of-factness of the sex makes the characters seem not gay but part of a world that trades on sex and desire to get what it wants. Pessimistic, yes. Gay, no. I cannot recall seeing another film with so much sex between men that didn’t feel like a self-consciously gay affair. And perhaps it is Almadovar’s true exploration of his characters’ motivations beyond only their sexuality that gives this film a more expansive feeling. True, the characters are all motivated by desire, and mostly gay desire, but it is never foregrounded as gay, rather just one more of the motivators that drive people to desperate acts.

I should also say that this is a film that touches on the subject of pedophilia, and implicitly shows what is so upsetting about it, while at the same time championing young gay love. Quite a feat. There is a scene with a priest, where we know he is obsessed with the young Ignacio. The scene is set near a river. We are aware that the priest is going to try something with the boy, and this is made all the more disturbing by the images of boys playing in the water. We are brought into it by the sensual, slow-motion way the boys are filmed. I can’t recall being so disturbed in a theater in a while. We are being shown the boys through the eyes of the priest and it is unsettling, and in no way arousing. What comes next is most amazing—the boy rebuffs the priest, but he finds solace with another boy. The priests advances in no way push him there, he is not self-hating—none of the usual clich├ęs apply. He is falling in love with another boy. And it is joyful to see. We actually cheer them on, and hope they can overcome the awful jealousy of the priest. Almodovar manages to celebrate love between adolescent boys coming of age, but without exploiting it, and also underscore the very important distinction between boys discovering for themselves their feelings for each other, or being coerced into an unhealthy relationship by an authority figure. I don’t think I’ve seen this done before. Any kind of discovery of love between young people in film is difficult, and it can be severly ooky and exploitative, homosexual or heterosexual (I’m especially annoyed with 5 year olds asking each other out on sitcoms, as if this compulsory sexualizaton of young children is supposed to be cute—ugh—it’s the same category as 6 year old beauty pageants—but that’s another story). Almodovar manages to show us without exploiting or over cutsifying, and also shows how that deep attachment to each other shapes the boys in later life when we meet them as adults. All without being a “gay” film. Quite an achievement.

And I have to say I love that he uses real transsexuals in his films. They are interesting full characters, and not star turns by an actor. They’re people. And I have to give him a big yeeha for that, as it’s another part of his embracing of everyone. This may be his most pessimistic film yet, but you can tell he loves people. Though his characters are sometimes larger than life, and most of the time driven and full of DRAMA!, they are never, ever, two- dimensional.

I would say, from what I have seen, Almodovar is the only director, along with Lucas Moodysson, whose entire oeuvre I would love to own.

This is not to say that this is a yay yay happy film at all. I think it’s his darkest, most pessimistic work to date. There isn’t much love in the film, except maternal and the love of the two boys, and most of the desire and sex is, as I’ve said, mercenary. That said, it’s sticking with me.