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Aesthetically Complex

by Kim Packard
Created July 2012 Work in Progress A thought— Different aesthetics can be an expression that is specific to different cultures/subcultures and art movements. A good analogy may be that the act of subscribing to a certain set of prescribed aesthetics is like choosing a specific language (with its tone, prosody and representation of time, past, present and future) as the medium of expression, yet within this language, there are further choices such as dialects (regional) and social (hierarchical) registers that dictate the center and its peripheries. You can also speak in prose or in verse, be didactic or poetic, etc. while being careful not… Read more

Created July 2012
Work in Progress

A thought— Different aesthetics can be an expression that is specific to different cultures/subcultures and art movements. A good analogy may be that the act of subscribing to a certain set of prescribed aesthetics is like choosing a specific language (with its tone, prosody and representation of time, past, present and future) as the medium of expression, yet within this language, there are further choices such as dialects (regional) and social (hierarchical) registers that dictate the center and its peripheries. You can also speak in prose or in verse, be didactic or poetic, etc. while being careful not to compromise one’s creativity and originality as an artist.

Orson Welles’s Lady from Shanghai Senses of Cinema: “The film draws from a number of narrative conventions and forms including fairytales, fables, nightmares, surrealism, film noir, and myth, and most of the film occurs on or near the water, a motif that directly represents its fluidic, hypnotic, and mirage-like qualities. The stories surrounding the film’s production have become equally legendary. The film also masterfully blends opposites such as realism and surrealism, art and reality, and dreams and consciousness. These components of the film make it one of Welles’ most aesthetically complex visions and one of the best installments in the genre of American film noir.”

Luis Buñuel – now that’s surrealism! : “It is – well, it’s surreal. Buñuel never abandoned the aesthetic of the irrational. Rather, he honed and perfected it over a lifetime. The guests in The Exterminating Angel are in the grip of a collective delusion that is never explained. They act accordingly, and the film’s power lies in the logical ways these people respond to an illogical belief. They gradually accept they are all going to die, and the film becomes a cross between a disaster movie and Géricault’s painting The Raft of the Medusa.”

The Conformist review by Tom Huddleston: "But the real star of The Conformist, and justifiably so, is Vittorio Storaro’s breathtaking photography. Hailed as a textbook example of the cinematographer’s art, the film luxuriates in washes of soft colour and pale, gauzy light, contrasting the hard, grey architectural edges of fascism with the warm, vulnerable contours of the human form. "

Once Upon a Time…Sergio Leone : “Arguably Leone’s most influential film, Once Upon a Time in the West is among his most aesthetically complex works on many levels – from its soundtrack that places diegetic sound effects (the squeaky wheels, gunshots and insects buzzing brilliantly employed in the celebrated opening sequence, for example) at the same level as Morricone’s incredible score, to Delli Colli’s dynamic widescreen cinematography that allows the actors’ faces to speak the words suppressed by the film’s extraordinarily minimalist screenplay.” (Harvard Film Archive)

The Colour of Pomegranates Senses of Cinema: “Paradjanov has described the film as a series of Persian miniatures (3). The camera remains fixed in place, as in early cinema, while the director’s mise en scène resembles a tableau-vivant, a mixture of theatre and painting. Rather than zooming or changing focal lengths, people and animals move closer and farther away from the camera, objects relating to each other in a two-dimensional manner. Each significant aspect of the poet’s life is thus represented in these highly stylised, synthetic scenes: Sayat-Nova’s work as a dyer; music lessons; and the burial of a Catholicos, an important Armenian Church father, for whom the poet wrote an elegy. Mirroring Sayat-Nova’s lyric style, Paradjanov heightens the sensory details of the scenes: the sound of hot, wet, newly dyed wool hitting metal salvers, the squishy sound of grapes bursting underneath toes. Significant moments are repeated and replayed as in memory and verse, sometimes with slight variations to account for shifts in feeling and perspective.”

Alice The Surrealist Conspirator: An Interview with Jan Svankmajer :“One could almost make a dictionary of objects as symbols in Svankmajer’s films, something akin to Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams. From fish to rolling pins, to keys, stones and wardrobe closets, objects usually trapped in the banality of life take on new meanings as metaphors for emotions and ideas.”

Pierrot le Fou : “As the legend goes, Godard made Pierrot Le Fou using an incomplete draft of the script. The result is an obviously improvised film that exudes a clever sense of spontaneity. By placing more emphasis on the power of the image, and relegating the narrative to second place, Pierrot Le Fou could be best described as an impressionistic film. Indeed, the power of Godard’s film is not based on the cognitive processes it promotes in the viewer, but on its unshakable raw visual impact. Such an aesthetic ideology is rather evident and easy to appreciate in Godard’s film. That is, Pierrot Le Fou mostly consists of an array of colorful images, most of them emphasizing shades of red, put together by elegant editing. In this regard, Pierrot Le Fou has many scenes that convey true aesthetically pleasure, but they are utterly meaningless from a narrative context. As a matter of fact, they actually interrupt the flow of the storyline. In this regard, the beautiful and enigmatic scene where Marianne is holding a pair of scissors in front of the camera has become a true symbol of avant-garde cinema.”

A Man for All Seasons :"While at certain moments Amarcord feels cheap—Titta’s family’s dinner table dysfunction does nothing new with the cliché of hysterical Italian home life; Gradisca’s pathetic posing for a prince she attempts to seduce is one of the rare cruelly mocking scenes in all of Fellini’s work—there are far more that rank among the finest examples of Fellini’s ability to evoke wonder and melancholy without resorting to sentimentality. The episode involving Titta’s uncle Teo (Ciccio Ingrassia), a mentally ill patient of an insane asylum, effectively navigates the multiple emotional registers Fellini often compartmentalizes throughout Amarcord by combining familial warmth, gross-out humor, pathos (Teo’s repeated cry of “I want a woman!” while refusing to come down from a tree reinforces the film’s theme of stunted sexual frustration), and absurdity (after futile efforts to drag down Teo, a dwarf nun offers Teo an unheard chastisement and succeeds where the others fail). Even more ineffable is the episode in which the entire town gets lost in a silent fog. It’s Amarcord’s heaviest symbol, but Fellini refuses to oversell it, calmly rendering the once familiar spaces of Rimini a disorienting shadow play of now fake-looking, jagged trees eerily suggestive of the world beyond, an idea possibly lifted from the unrealized project The Voyage of G. Mastorna, in which the deceased title character walks through landscapes recognizable and yet not—“If death is like this,” Titta’s grandfather (Giuseppe Ianigro) muses, “I don’t think much of it.” Death and dreams: the fog also inspires fantasy, as Titta and his classmates peer into the grand hotel and form an imaginary dancehall and band outside, ethereally rocking to Rota’s light jazz motif. “Where are you, my love?” Titta asks, eyes closed, to his absent partner. These scenes demonstrate a sensibility unique to Fellini, who cut his artistic teeth on neorealism and the circus: a feel for the inexplicable correspondences between the rational and the irrational—the former manifested in Amarcord’s sympathetic but also severe portrayal of its escapist townspeople, the latter in virtually everything else about the film that resists purely intellectual understanding. It’s this sensibility that’s sorely missing in the recent revival of simplified Felliniesque imagery in American cinema, from Big Fish to The Life Aquatic to I’m Not There. Intrusions of fantasy into reality, self-reflexive nods to moviemaking, constant streams of freakish countenances falling into the frame of a celebrity-addled star’s point of view—it’s not any one of these devices, so easily bungled, but an attitude toward life at once sharp and dirty, celebratory and lamenting, that makes the Felliniesque the Felliniesque.

The Passion of Joan of Arc Aesthetics and Passion of Joan of Arc : “Carl Theodor Dreyer was a Dutch auteur who began making film in the silent era. Dreyer’s film The Passion of Joan of Arc is a silent film, shot in black and white, which attempts to present the viewer with an account of the trial, conviction, and execution of one of the most intriguing “martyrs” of recent history, Joan of Arc. The film begins at onset of the trial, the viewer is then carried through the proceedings (of the trial), the different hardships that Joan is exposed to in order to test her, and finally her conviction and end. Dreyer’s film presents the viewer with a very passionate story, however he presents said story in a very sparse way. The film is comprised of mainly extreme close up shots, and settings with very little extravagance. Through the film the slightest difference in setting is extremely important and any variance from the extremely blank background proves to be extremely important to the plot. The film is also filled with intriguing symbolism, such as the use of shadows of imprisoning bars on the floor that seemingly form a cross. The symbolism, however, is inconsequential for my purpose of relating this filmic work of art to Bell’s theory. The direct way in which this work plays into Bell’s theory is the way in which Dreyer utilizes human form in a seemingly abstract way, to convey a certain aesthetic emotion within the viewer. By showing the specific forms (in this case characters) the way that he does, Dreyer, whether intended or not gives very little value to the actual being and more importance to the way in which they are presented.”

Late Spring Senses of Cinema: "There is an overwhelming sensibility running through all Ozu films that is difficult to put into words but Donald Richie does well to describe it as “a point of view of sympathetic sadness”. (12) To expand upon this, the Japanese concept of mono no aware can be related to Ozu’s sensibilities and worldview. Mono no aware is the perspective of a tired, relaxed, even disappointed observer, perhaps someone sagely approaching death. It is not limited to reflection on death but touches all aspects of life and nature: a pure, emotional response to the beauty of nature, the impermanence of life, and the sorrow of death. The scholar Motoori Norinaga (1730–1801) invented the unique concept of mono no aware to define the essence of Japanese culture (the phrase derives from aware, which means “a sensitivity to things”). He believed that the character of Japanese culture encompassed the capacity to experience the objective world in a direct and unmediated fashion, to understand sympathetically the objects and the natural world around one without resorting to language or other mediators. (13) This concept became the central aesthetic concept in Japan, even into the modern period, allowing the Japanese to understand the world directly by identifying themselves with that world. Film director Kenji Mizoguchi said, “I portray what should not be possible in the world as if it should be possible, but Ozu portrays what should be possible as if it were possible, and that is much more difficult.”

Days of Heaven Criterion: “Malick’s underlying aesthetic aim—one he shares with several great directors, and which was already evident in Badlands—is to encourage the proliferation of a wide range of moods, sights, sounds, and surface textures, while simultaneously arriving at an overall, unifying form. Nothing expresses this better than one of the most beloved elements of Days of Heaven, its play of different musical “inputs,” those Malick appropriated alongside those he commissioned: the music veers from classical to folk, but what holds the ensemble together is that Ennio Morricone’s grave score literally inverts the melody of Saint-Saëns’s Carnival of the Animals. One reflects the other, just as land and sky reflect each other in those characteristic Malick panoramas bisected by the horizon line.”"

The Rules of the Game The Poetic Realism of Jean Renoir : “In contrast to silent French film movements like Impressionism and Surrealism (both of which can be considered avant-garde or non-narrative), Poetic Realism, which flowered in the early sound era, integrated poetic, non-narrative innovations into the conventions of narrative continuity filmmaking. The end result was a cycle of films that took some of the aesthetic concerns of those earlier movements and wedded them to traditional movie realism in a way that exhibits a socially conscious perspective while simultaneously remaining accessible to mainstream audiences.”

Yellow Submarine and Psychedelic Aesthetics

Destino Surrealist Cinema : "In his 2006 book Surrealism and Cinema, Michael Richardson argues that surrealist works cannot be defined by style or form, but rather as results of the practice of surrealism. Richardson writes: “Surrealists are not concerned with conjuring up some magic world that can be defined as ‘surreal’. Their interest is almost exclusively in exploring the conjunctions, the points of contact, between different realms of existence. Surrealism is always about departures rather than arrivals.”"

Madame Tutli-Putli : “Each frame of Madame Tutli-Putli is a testament to painstaking composition. An entire year was spent designing and building the film’s sets and puppets. Costume designer Lea Carlson searched haberdasheries and furriers for the right materials to construct Tutli-Putli’s delicate gloves and elegant hat; all the costumes for the film were dyed and sewn by hand. Sets were built from found materials scrounged from the streets around the studio, and each shot of the sky outside the train car’s window is an oil painting by Szczerbowski. Also of immeasurable importance to the film’s haunting atmosphere is the soundtrack by composer David Bryant of the Montreal-based collective Godspeed You! Black Emperor. The film’s cacophony of sounds were created through unconventional methods, such as pouring dry ice over the charred innards of an antique piano.”

A Clockwork Orange and aestheticization of violence ; SparkNotes : “The characters’ varied responses to and uses of art in A Clockwork Orange suggest that art has within it the potential for both good and evil. Art both expresses and channels human impulses, and it can therefore enhance or deaden life. It can bring people closer to reality or it can distance them from it. Kubrick makes sex and violence look unreal in the film. He directs fight scenes to look like dance, slows down the camera, and distorts images. He plays with our perceptions so that we never forget we are watching a work of art. Some critics have said that the stylized and detached way Kubrick presents violence makes accepting it easier, and that the film even celebrates violence. However, the detachment we experience as a result of the film’s artistic elements can also make us reflect more deeply on our own ability to distance ourselves from violence.”

Dance in the Rain: Wikipedia article : Ples v dežju is Hladnik’s first feature film after he returned from Paris, where he worked with Claude Chabrol, Robert Siodmak & Philippe de Broca. It is considered the first Slovenian film noir . On the occasion of the hundredth anniversary of Slovene film in 2005, Slovene film critics of various generations chose Ples v dežju as the best Slovene film. The Film Fund of the Republic of Slovenia thus funded its DVD release to in honour this anniversary. It was the first Slovene film to have its image and sound digitally corrected. A discussion with Boštjan Hladnik was filmed especially for this edition."

Aesthetics Wikipedia article

Ricciotto Canudo: links to the following two texts…
Canudo, Ricciotto. " Birth of a Sixth Art" (1911). In Abel, Richard, ed. French Film Theory and Criticism. Princeton U P, 1988. 58-65.
Canudo, Ricciotto. " Reflections on the Seventh Art" (1923). In Abel, Richard, ed. French Film Theory and Criticism. Princeton U P, 1988. 291-302.

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