by Pat Graham
God, UFOs, spirituality, art ... a bit like losing yourself in a hallway of talismen, the empty invocations reverberating off the walls. Not that I've anything against the idea, mind you--of cinematic art, or "aahhrrt," the more accessible scare quotes variant--only the uses to which it's all too commonly put. Here's an example: art as a rubric that privileges before the fact, as if close, burrowing analysis--this is what's happening, this is how it's done, through assorted camera angles and movements (close-ups that implicate, distant shots that hold you at arm's length), blocking and editing strategies, the whole panoply of technical intuitions and ideas in search of a desired end (or maybe not even that, just inspired serendipity)--weren't enough to get the point across. Can't stand by itself, in other words, unless the talismanic spell is cast, the rubric reverentially intoned, so all the sacred attitudes can conveniently rush in--which reminds me a little of high school athletes crossing themselves before shooting the next free throw or taking the next cut at the plate: irrelevant to the processes at hand, which ultimately are about technical skill and physiology and psyche, a mesh of largely analyzable factors. Though obviously if it helps to get the job done ...
All of which, of course, is work, the taut, demanding effort (oh, puh-leez!) of analysis and struggling to find the exactly resonant words, which makes "art" into a kind of convenient shorthand--something to invoke when you can't be bothered or haven't the time to follow out all the threads. My own bete noire in this--well, obviously just one of many--is Krzysztof Kieslowski's Blue (playing at the Siskel Film Center this week), or at least the acclaim it conventionally enjoys, in which artful aspiration serves as more or less a cover for the class-bound attitudes that suffocate the tale. Think not?--then consider an alternative reading: punk rock groupie (Chloe Webb, say, or maybe Courtney Love) loses hungover but talented guitar-smashing paramour to motorcycle accident off Cline Avenue underpass in a squalid, roughhouse section of East Chicago, Indiana, where said paramour has considerately left behind an unfinished pop concerto that girlfriend's sure will ultimately be hailed a "masterpiece" if ever it gets a sufficient amount of top-40s radio play; bumming nickels and dimes on street corners and at South Shore Line depots and surviving mainly on Salvation Army handouts, girl sees project through to completion, whereupon--bingo, top o' the charts, ma! Not a likely candidate for art-movie immortality, since where are all the "tasteful" signifiers: the elegant appointments, woodworkings and fine wines, the fashionable attire, not to mention the automatic cachet that "classical music" confers on Blue's own sadly distressed heroine? And how can poor Chloe or Courtney hope to compete, in a connotative sense, with the implied sympatico of Juliette Binoche's dark, soulful eyes, or that top-of-the-line, grade-A homogenized, Clearasil-free complexion of hers? ... All pure "quality" there--yet the tale in both purports to involve death and loss, the ongoing anguish of pulling yourself through after a beloved partner's moved abruptly on. Which unfortunately is what most of the alleged "art" in Blue comes down to in the end--a preference for the travail of a certain class of sufferers, effectively a mirror to the comfortably born and bred--in which, of course, we're invited to see ourselves.
On the other hand, if that's what art--or "aahhrrtt"--is all about, then maybe we should just call it kitsch.