Saturday, February 21, 2009

Sacha Molitorisz, Cinema, Art and Nonny No Nonsense

Loons come in all shapes and sizes, and writing a regular column is hard.

Sacha Molitorisz shows just how hard it is to avoid loonery when he scribbles a column for The Sydney Morning Herald under the header Gushing about art is just another act.

Sacha purports a light-hearted examination of acting loons invoking god and art at Oscar time, but suddenly after reading his witty analysis of art and artistry, I'm much more inclined to believe that Nicole Kidman was actually a brain surgeon in days of chunder.

Sacha asks deep questions - what is art? And can the cinema be art? Assuring us that this question has been debated for more than one hundred years.

Well really only by loons who don't know any better and maybe missed out on seeing Battleship Potemkin back when it was released in Moscow in 1925.

Poor Sacha seems not to have heard Andy Warhol's deeply wise quip that art is anything you can get away with.

Well we can say that Sacha's column is definitively not art, because surely he can't get away with such a lame 'rule them in and rule them out' piece of pontification.

One of the academics quoted has the cheek to say that art is something that rewards attention and sustains attention, and then cites Howard Hawks as an artist. Now don't get me wrong, I love some of Hawks' movies, but can the good academic explain just where Hatari! fits in the pantheon of attention grabbers and rewarders? And if Hawks could make that load of steaming African stereotypes, can he be an artist? And should Henry Mancini be shot for the Baby Elephant Walk, despite dozens of fine bits of music?

As usual, after talking of Hawks - dismissed as a Hollywood hack by many until the French came along and discovered the deeper nuances of Land of the Pharaohs - the academic, one David Macarthur, senior lecturer in philosophy at the University of Sydney, turns to explaining why most recent Hollywood films don't qualify as art, thereby enrolling himself in a club of loons founded at the dawn of cinema, with a mission statement dedicated to explaining why Hollywood movies in particular, and movies in general could never be works of art for at least a decade after they were made.

Here's how that riff runs. The cinema wasn't an art in the silent days. It flickered and was just a form of vaudeville. In the thirties it wasn't an art because the talkies ruined the pure art of the silents. In the forties it wasn't an art because all the nifty screwball comedy and gangster shows of the thirties ran out of puff, in the fifties it wasn't art because Cinemascope ruined all that lovely black and white Academy photography, in the sixties it wasn't art because the industry tried to compete with television by mis-using the wonderful potential of the big 2.35:1 screen, and in the seventies it wasn't art because it became pretentious, unlike all those wonderfully simple Hollywood movies of the past. 

I think you can get the drift. Fill in your own explanation for why the Bourne movies and In Bruges can't be works of art, since it seems all art might have died some time in the mid nineteen eighties.

It's all so much nonsense of course, Christmas stocking column filler while we're still in February. Sacha claims he's setting the bar high - to qualify as artists, filmmakers should have to be good and actors should have to be great - when really he's just being silly, mutilating aesthetics, sense and sensibility.

And pray tell, just what do good and great mean, and why should we listen for a moment to someone quoting Arthur C. Danto on the end of art, as sublimely absurd an attention-seeking device as Francis Fukuyama's nonsenical title The End of History?

For that kind of inanity, Molitorisz is hereby sentenced to five readings of Shakespeare's King John, and a thousand word essay on why a dull historical play by a master can still be considered a work of art (as can The Taming of the Shrew, whatever W. H. Auden thought of it being Shakespeare's worst play, or Titus Andronicus, which T. S. Eliot called one of the stupidest and most uninspired plays ever written. Second thoughts, make that an essay on why the author of The Waste Land can still be considered an artist after writing Murder in the Cathedral).

Hey ho, and nonny no, is't not fine to dance and sing when the bells of death do ring (and don't go asking what nonny meant in the old days, you ninny, just think 'rosebud' in Citizen Kane).

The standard of thought in Australian newspapers in relation to the arts is generally abysmal. Sacha might think he's setting the bar high, but I don't reckon these tired limbs could limbo under the bar he's set with his scribbles. Heck the world limbo record is six and a half inches and that's too tough.

As Kurt Vonnegut, much abused for writing wretchedly inartistic science fiction might sigh, so it goes. 

Or maybe Chopper said it best? Move along people, here no art, no art here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I remember reading this and also thought it was the lamest piece of albumin I had ever read. Totally devoid of knowledge regarding the history of thought in terms of the famous central question: what is art?