A Wonderful Curiosity

A storyteller’s most powerful tool is their use of curiosity. Velazquez Diego uses this instrument to cut deep into the mind of the observer. He carefully designs a labyrinth of symbols and lures “our eyes inescapably into its depths” as said by art historian Analisa Leppanen. The painter uses revolutionary techniques such as deep staging to place characters at critical points on the canvas. This allows the viewers eye to explore the architecture of the image, which as a result ignites our problem solving brain.

LasMeninas

A remarkable comparison between Las Meninas and its use of deep staging came to cinema in the 1940’s. With the introduction of wide-angle lenses and innovative lighting filmmakers realised they could also have characters and objects in focus at the same time. This became known as deep focus and was applied most captivatingly by directors John Ford and Orson Welles.

stagecoach

John Ford experiments with deep focus. Stagecoach (1939).

Notice that the ceiling is visible in Las Meninas and Citizen Kane, which both plunge into the background making a bold compositional line. This emphasised the distance between characters and allowed an audience to choose where to look.

CitizenKane

Orson Welles pushes deep focus to cinematic extremes. Citizen Kane (1941).

This investigative quality had an engaging affect on our cerebral cortex or what’s commonly known as the problem solving brain. Neuroscientists would describe this pleasure as a rush of the neurotransmitter dopamine flooding our bodies. The brains unique reward system for following our curiosity. This profound pleasure allows an audience to connect to the art world and more importantly to one and other.

It’s difficult to imagine a time when painters were not seen as artists but as merely trade labour. Then again filmmakers were once shunned in the company of classical art such as theatre, literature and music. Velazquez included himself with paintbrush in hand to perhaps show his sincerity and importance to the Spanish court. Much like filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock who can be seen within the frames of his own work, a daring gesture of self-promotion in the face of Hollywood studios. Even today game designers, motion capture artists and 3D animators suffer the stings and blows of prejudice. Artists fight their own revolution for respect and recognition. Diego Velazquez was one such revolutionary.

Diego Rodriguez Velazquez (1599-1660)

Diego Rodriguez Velazquez (1599-1660)


References:
1.  Analisa Leppanen-Guerra, “Into the House of Mirrors: the Carnivalesque in Las Meninas.” Aurora: The Journal of the History of Art 1 (Nov. 2000): 60-77.
2. Stagecoach (1939) dir. John Ford.
3. Citizen Kane (1941) dir. Orson Welles. 

Ihana Uteliaisuus

Uteliaisuus on kertojan voimakkaimpia työkaluja. Diego Velazquez käyttää hyväkseen katsojan uteliaisuutta painaakseen syvän jäljen hänen mieleensä. Hän suunnittelee huolellisesti labyrintin symbolit ja houkuttelee “silmämme väistämättä osaksi sen syvyyttä”, kuten taidehistorioitsija Analisa Leppanen-Guerra Chicagon DePaul-yliopistosta sanoo. Velazquez käyttää vallankumouksellisia tekniikoita, kuten syväterävyyttä (deep staging), sijoittaessaan kohteensa kankaan kriittisiin kohtiin. Tämä mahdollistaa katsojan keskittymisen kuvan arkkitehtuuriin ja sytyttää ongelmanratkaisuviettimme.

LasMeninas

Syväterävyys tuli 1940-luvulla myös elokuviin. Laajakuvalinssien ja innovatiivisen valaistuksen käyttö sai elokuvantekijät tajuamaan, että myös he kykenevät fokusoimaan moneen kohteeseen samanaikaisesti. Tekniikan tekivät tunnetuksi varsinkin ilmiömäiset ohjaajat John Ford ja Orson Welles. On merkille pantavaa, kuinka sekä Meninas -maalauksessa että Citizen Kanen kohtauksessa katto näkyy ja luo kuvalle linjaa.  Tämä korostaa kohteiden etäisyyttä ja antaa katsojalle mahdollisuuden valita, mihin katseensa suuntaa.

CitizenKane

Syväterävyys vaikuttaa siihen aivojen osaan, joka yleisesti tiedetään ongelmanratkaisujen kannalta merkittäväksi. Neurotieteilijät kertovat kuinka uteliaisuus saa mielihyvää tuovan dopamiini-hormoonin tulvimaan kehoomme. Se auttaa katsojia luomaan yhteyden taiteeseen, ja mikä merkittävämpää, myös toisiinsa.

On vaikea kuvitella aikaa, jolloin maalareita ei pidetty taiteilijoina vaan työvoimana.  Elokuvataidekaan ei saanut osakseen välitöntä hyväksyntää. Klassisia taiteenlajeja kuten kuvataidetta, musiikkia ja kirjallisuutta arvostettiin enemmän. Velazquez maalasi itsensä sivellin kädessä ehkä osoittaakseen vilpittömän suhteensa taiteeseen ja merkityksensä Espanjan hoville. Hollywoodissa toi samalla tavalla itseään esille Alfred Hitchcock. Nykyään taiteilijan statuksen saavuttaminen on vaikeaa 3D-animaattoreille ja pelisuunnittelijoille. He joutuvat Velazquezin tavoin läpikäymään vallankumouksen saadakseen kunnioitusta ja tunnustusta taiteilijoina. Diego Velazquez oli oman aikansa vallankumouksellinen.

Velazquez

Lähteet:
1.
 Analisa Leppanen-Guerra, “Into the House of Mirrors: the Carnivalesque in Las Meninas.” Aurora: The Journal of the History of Art 1 (Nov. 2000): 60-77.
2. Stagecoach (1939) dir. John Ford
3. Citizen Kane (1941) dir. Orson Welles 

La Souriante Madame Beudet – Germaine Dulac (1922).

I always figured French Impressionist Cinema was about being vague, pretentious and ending with the word FIN.

Sad Clown Flipping A Pancake

Thankfully Germaine Dulac took my naïve* ass to school on the subject.

* naïve – a French word.

The avant-garde director fashioned a new style of cinema while advocating her beliefs on basic human rights – specifically a person’s choice to be independent, nonconformist and most importantly happy.

The Smiling Madame Beaudet tells the story of a woman’s creativity stifled by an overbearing husband. Most of her time is spent fantasizing over the tedious mans untimely death.

“It isn’t enough to simply capture reality in order to express it in its totality; something else is necessary in order to respect it entirely, to surround it in its atmosphere, and to make its moral meaning perceptible…” G. D. Towards an Integral Cinema (1928).

Through the lens of Dulac the simple story becomes frightfully fascinating by her focus on character psychology rather then Hollywood spectacle.

For some it would seem a lack of budget inspires innovation. The director seems to relentlessly invent new ways to portray her characters’ inner states by camera movement, editing and manipulation of image. It was this continued fight against clichés* and boundaries that gave birth to French Impressionism.

* cliché – another French word.

This brings us to our third word of the day…

Photogénie.

Most definitions of the word make little more sense than Klingon to a Twilight fan but after scrounging through online film archives I found this gem of a description;

“Photogénie is a complex theoretical concept that seeks to transcend film from it’s photochemical/mechanical base to a platform of art.”

But what does it all mean?

I’d imagine there were endless circles of debate in the 1920’s concerning the legitimacy of film as a new medium. These discussions boiled down to a single theory – Germaine Dulac and her rebellious rebels all seemed to agree that an object photographed takes on a life of its own.

This life became known as Photogénie.

Impressionist directors of the time believed this is what made film awesome as it gave the viewer a marvelous window into a character’s perspective.

For the first time a storyteller had the unique ability to show the world through someone elses Point Of View. Furthermore, a filmmaker could manipulate image to convey their characters’ subjective inner states.

Norman Bates might see the world through dark reflections of fractured mirror while Polly Anna’s view of life could be shown through rose-coloured filter.

Narrative as before seen in literature and theater were now deemed “old art”. Germaine Dulac would be the fresh blood for a new generation of storytellers.

Germaine_Dulac

Germaine Dulac (1882-1942) – Feminist, Theorist, Filmmaker.

Orphans of the Storm – DW Griffith (1921)

There’s a tornado of misinformation twirling within America, but that’s okay because America’s twirling towards freedom.

Kang

Here are some self-claimed facts by director DW Griffith –

  • the discoverer of narrative film.
  • an introducer of the feature.
  • and inventorer of close-ups and other film techniques.

starwalk

Intrigued, I decided to brush up on Griffiths most notable and influential films and found his reputation is in fact legendary*

lochness

legendary* should be read as myth.

The Birth of a Nation (1915) was inventive, daring and very uncomfortable.

birth_of_nation

Mostly because I was removed from a screening by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People while dressed as a clansman.

NAACP don’t do Cosplay.

Intolerance (1916) was ambitious but mostly intimidating.

“Bow before me you shits!”  - Griffith on Hollywood.

“Bow before me you shits!”
– Griffith on Hollywood.

Broken Blossoms (1919) promised to be fun for everyone*

everyone* should be read as white people.

My roommate Cheng, who I made up for this article, heard the story centered on his Buddhist traditions decided to join me in setting up the projector. We made a pot of green tea and let the opening credits roll …

“Broken Blossoms or The Yellow Man and the Girl.”

I guess the original title, “The Chink and the Child” would have been in bad taste.

Cheng walked out “0” minutes into the 90 minute feature. Not because he was Chinese and very offended, but because he was Chinese and had a lot of opium to smoke that night in his den.

Destructive stereotypes shouldn’t be a directors style.

Destructive stereotypes shouldn’t be a directors style.

Mr. Griffith had his problems which makes it easy to throw stones.

Also, focusing on the shortcomings of those who achieve great things has always been a cultural phenomenon.

Some don’t agree with Tom Cruise’s personal beliefs so avoid his movies.

That’s not cool because his a badass actor.

That’s not cool because his a brilliant actor.

Mel Gibson is fucking insane.

He also tells the heck out a story.

He’s also an amazing storyteller.

My point is, you don’t have to agree with someone’s personal views to recognize their contribution to the game.

The marathon ended with Orphans of the Storm (1921) and like his other work clearly showed DW’s fluency in a cinematic language he helped develop.

Long time collaborator Lilian Gish.

Long time collaborator Lillian Gish.

Griffith might not have invented the things he claimed, but his contribution to the medium can never be denied.

His films should be watched and studied by today’s filmmakers in their duty of creating more expressive and challenging cinema.

DW and gang

Griffith fiercely believed in the friends he worked with and his genius was described as an ability to recognize the potential in others. His long time cameraman Billy Bitzer, said that whenever he judged a particular shot impossible, Griffith who stood by his side would say, “That’s why you have to do it man.”

That’s badass.

DW Griffith (1875 – 1948) - Motivator, Collaborator and Filmmaker

DW Griffith (1875 – 1948) – Motivator, Collaborator and Filmmaker

The Phantom Carriage – Victor Sjöström (1921)

A “film for filmmakers”, The Phantom Carriage has strong cultural influence for its fresh style, ambitious narrative and eerie atmosphere. It’s innovations were considered radical at the time which resulted in a very spooked audience.

PhantomCarriage

Check out these reactions from a test screening.

“Oh, snap yo! Death be taking names son!!”

“Oh, snap yo! Death be taking names son!!”

That’s how Swedish adolescents spoke in the 1920’s.

Director Victor Sjöström (pronounced ??) used creative special effects to dream up a nightmarish spiritual world.

nightmare

He also played the condemned David Holmes.

However, these effects were made special by the weight of an ambitious story.

220px-Selma_Lagerlöf

Based on the novel by Selma Lagerlöf (pronounced ??) this morality-tale aims to bring to light the destructive ills of a dark time.

novel

Primarily alcoholism, and the devastating effect it has on the family unit and the human soul.

Secondarararily, the spread of infectious bacteria. In name, Tuberculosis.

“Germs are not for sharing” - The Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare.

Germs are not for sharing.

The Phantom Carriage also held a deep influence among many prolific filmmakers.

In a scene, paid homage to by Stanley Kubrick, a father violently tears down a door standing between himself and his cowering family.

worlds_greatest_dad_mug1

And the trophy mug for axe wielding lunatic goes to….

David Holmes versus Jack Torrance for “Worlds Greatest Dad” mug.

David Holmes versus Jack Torrance. Who would win?

Also concerning influence, fellow countryman Ingmar Bergman credits the The Phantom Carriage as his inspiration for film-making.

We all need a mentor.

We all need mentors – Bergman and Sjöström.

Bergman had seen Phantom at a young age and described the event as a profound moment in his life –

“I was deeply shaken by that film. Not that I understood it or anything. Rather I was struck by its enormous cinematic power. It was an entirely emotional experience.”

Awesome.

Ingmar Bergman (1918-2007)

Experiencing something emotionally, rather than understanding it intellectually is an interesting statement.

Why do we tend to overdose on analysis? One reason suggests it’s the safer option, as emotion can’t be confined to a lecture room or neatly defined within a textbook. Emotion can however, be uncomfortable, threatening and plain ol’ ugly at times.

And remember children…

ugly

There’s no surprise that it’s so actively suppressed within our culture. It’s unmanly to show grief, unladylike to be seen as promiscuous and inhuman to express anger. All basic emotions, all dangerous enough to get you medicated.

Sorry Pink Floyd but there is no comfort in being numb.

Sorry Pink Floyd fans but there is no comfort in being numb.

Like Terrence McKenna said…

McKenna2

So when art, like a crowbar, tears the roof off the sucker to reveal our animal souls we don’t dare look inside. We attempt to hide behind the wall of our analytical mind…

spiral
but their are those who gaze.

Most of us want to experience life at a safe distance. We want to live vicariously through books, music and cinema. When the curtains pull back and the lights go out, the movie theater can be a healing place. An audience is allowed emotional ventilation without judgment.

No doubt the culture needs fresh ways of thinking but until we progress…

I’m thankful for our therapy in the dark.

Victor Sjöström (1879-1960) -  Counselor, Teacher, Filmmaker

Victor Sjöström (1879-1960) –
Counselor, Teacher, Filmmaker.

Within Our Gates – Oscar Micheaux (1920).

Cinema can be a powerful tool.

projector

It can uplift broken communities as seen in the race-films of the 1920’s, or be used to dehumanize the powerless so callously and artistically expressed in DW Griffith’s epic

birth

Unlike Birth and others like it, there were no destructive stereotypes portrayed by white actors in black-face seen in the silent feature Within Our Gates.

Birth+of+a+Nation

The Birth of a Nation (1915)

Rather, the director Oscar Micheaux (pronounced Me-Show), employed influential black artists of the time who crafted scenes of honesty, dignity and affection.

Blues singer Evelyn Preer in her breakthrough acting role.

Blues singer Evelyn Preer.

Emerging within motion pictures we’re stories about African-Americans seen through the lens of black filmmakers.

OM

Oscar Micheaux used the screen to show his audience a greater world.

By creating intelligent and independent lead roles for women and men, he served to end the hideous caricatures rife within America.

jolly

Many artists stood as great advocates for the abolishment of ignorance.

sportofgods_300dpi

Micheaux’s writing explored characters who broke free from destructive chains of oppression through hard work, perseverance and education.

Paul Robson - singer, sportsman and civil rights activist in his debut performance.

Paul Robson – singer, sportsman, actor and civil rights activist.

Although under-financed the integrity of his films were never compromised. As a director he rarely attempted to boast scenes of technical hoorah because that’s not the point of social commentary.

poster

This is an inspiring example of story being used with compassion to critique negative behavior and drive forth positive change.

I don’t pretend to understand the discouragement a young Oscar faced while trying to be heard as an ambitious filmmaker, but I believe he was driven by an unflinching belief in the potential of cinema.

The lesson Oscar Micheaux and artists like him leave behind is this –

Your voice is important.

If the movies being made don’t reflect what you love about cinema, pick up a camera and be the change you want to see in the world.

Oscar Micheaux (1884-1951) –  Warrior, Entrepreneur and Filmmaker

Oscar Micheaux (1884-1951) –
Activist, Entrepreneur and Filmmaker.

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari – Robert Wiene (1919)

There’s a lot to love about The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari – murder and torture and ghouls, oh my! But what’s staggering about this silent classic is how well it’s art-design drives forth the twisted narrative.

Horror, awakens!

Horror, awakens!

So what seethed under the cultures skin that inspired the visual mayhem of German director Robert Wiene?

screenshot1

Well, it’s all in the schokolade… I mean context!

UterSimpsons

Yes, the sweet, sweet cultural context.

There was a time when conservative art simply served as a mirror to beautiful people.  

Georges Seurat -  Sunday Afternoon on the Island of the Grand-Jatte.

Georges Seurat anyone?

Scenes often boasted the benign amusements of aristocracy that most folk found profoundly uninspiring.

Homely woman on coach.

Homely woman on coach.

A dudes dong.

A dudes dong.

This resulted in a collective “fuck you” from artists whose reaction was most apparent in the early twentieth-century.

The youth screamed for new noise and with the cultural impact of a crashing vorschlaghammer gave way to the “ism”.

Surrealism.

Surrealism.

Dadaism

Dadaism

...schism?

…schism?

One such movement sought to portray emotions rather than imitate physical reality and became known as Expressionism.

The Widow -  Kathe Kollwitz

The Widow – Kathe Kollwitz

Although crude, expressionism used extreme distortion to underline an emotional experience.

This was a reaction to the dehumanizing effect of war, industrialization and the cancerous growth of cities.

Die Brücke -  Fritz Bleyl (1905)

Die BrückeFritz Bleyl (1905)

The stories of Expressionist Films often dealt with themes of betrayal, alienation and madness.

Das Kabinett Des Doktor Caligari (1919)

Das Kabinett Des Doktor Caligari (1919)

The deranged architecture, perverted landscapes and darkened characters orchestrated by Hermann Warm and Hans Janowitz speak of the world but more so the protagonists afflicted mind.

krauss

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is an amazing example of powerful cinema executed with furious style and originality.

A lesson to modern filmmakers in seeking inspiration from art movement of their time rather than serving the interest of box office success or trends in contemporary movies.

For their daring vision, experimentation and exploration of storytelling we say Danke Schön!

Robert Wiene (1873-1938) -   Modernist, Expressionist, Filmmaker

Robert Wiene (1873-1938) –
Collaborator, Expressionist, Filmmaker.