click on the green. here
“Romanticism is a complex artistic, literary, and intellectual movement that originated in the second half of the 18th century in Western Europe, and gained strength in reaction to the Industrial Revolution. In part, it was a revolt against aristocratic social and political norms of the Age of Enlightenment and a reaction against the scientific rationalization of nature, and was embodied most strongly in the visual arts, music, and literature, but had a major impact on historiography, education and natural history.
The movement validated strong emotion as an authentic source of aesthetic experience, placing new emphasis on such emotions as trepidation, horror and terror and awe—especially that which is experienced in confronting the sublimity of untamed nature and its picturesque qualities, both new aesthetic categories. It elevated folk art and ancient custom to something noble, made of spontaneity a desirable character (as in the musical impromptu), and argued for a “natural” epistemology of human activities as conditioned by nature in the form of language and customary usage.
Romanticism reached beyond the rational and Classicist ideal models to elevate a revived medievalism and elements of art and narrative perceived to be authentically medieval, in an attempt to escape the confines of population growth, urban sprawl, and industrialism, and it also attempted to embrace the exotic, unfamiliar, and distant in modes more authentic than Rococo chinoiserie, harnessing the power of the imagination to envision and to escape.
The modern sense of a romantic character may be expressed in Byronic ideals of a gifted, perhaps misunderstood loner, creatively following the dictates of his inspiration rather than the mores of contemporary society.
Although the movement is rooted in the German Sturm und Drang movement, which prized intuition and emotion over Enlightenment rationalism, the ideologies and events of the French Revolution laid the background from which both Romanticism and the Counter-Enlightenment emerged. The confines of the Industrial Revolution also had their influence on Romanticism, which was in part an escape from modern realities; indeed, in the second half of the 19th century, “Realism” was offered as a polarized opposite to Romanticism. Romanticism elevated the achievements of what it perceived as heroic individualists and artists, whose pioneering examples would elevate society. It also legitimized the individual imagination as a critical authority, which permitted freedom from classical notions of form in art. There was a strong recourse to historical and natural inevitability, a zeitgeist, in the representation of its ideas."
Figures like Beethoven, Schubert, Friedrich (e.g the archetypal but now rather overfamiliar image above, which i must admit is not among my favourites but which finds a serendipitous mirror in the front page picture for this list), Turner, Delacroix, Keats, Byron, Shelley, Poe, Melville, Tennyson are considered among foremost romantics. And their fore-runners include Goethe, Shakespeare, Homer.
We can find strains of Gothic romanticism, doomed melancholic romanticism, courtly romanticism and quests (inward or spectacular), as well as heroic, dynamic and adventurous romanticism in films. Sometimes it can be found in unexpected places- even, for all his apparently cynical intellectual game-playing, Godard’s Pierrot le Fou (his masterpiece), and yes Tarkovsky the exiled spiritual idealist at one with nature. To an extent, Malick too. Thanks to Hollywood excess, Bresson-influenced minimalism has become the fashion in “arthouse” cinema, but in the right hands, of true artists- and forget the bombastic fools with delusions of grandeur- melodrama need not be a dirty word, but can have nobility. Contemplators and quiet observers certainly have their place, but enough of the cautious, cold and cramped cynics, the malignant misery mongers. Oh for more grand soaring souls! Without them, these fearless tightrope walkers and mountaineers surveying the world beneath them like Tennyson’s Eagle, then cinema, like so much modern art (hyped but feeble concepts going round and round Duchamp’s Fountain), is at risk of ever decreasing circles and cul de sacs.
For this list, i’ve allowed for a broad spectrum of what might be considered “romantic”- sometimes for strong elements rather than the complete package.
For Lawrence of Arabia i could have picked several stills, one with Friedrichian poster pose, another with a Liberty Leading the People gesture on camelback, and with Delacroix’s love of the Arabian exotic too. He seems an archetypal romantic hero, even if the film also questions the legend, given some dark places his ego takes him.
I did have the dashing heroic finale of Sternberg’s The Scarlet Empress here but it’s no longer available. Still, the film is full of his lavish gothic romanticism:
ok, let’s have some poetry. First the heroic dramatic style.
Byron: The Destruction of Sennacherib
The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold,
And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold;
And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea,
When the blue wave rolls nightly on deep Galilee.
Like the leaves of the forest when Summer is green,
That host with their banners at sunset were seen:
Like the leaves of the forest when Autumn hath blown,
That host on the morrow lay withered and strown.
For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast,
And breathed in the face of the foe as he passed;
And the eyes of the sleepers waxed deadly and chill,
And their hearts but once heaved, and for ever grew still!
And there lay the steed with his nostril all wide,
But through it there rolled not the breath of his pride;
And the foam of his gasping lay white on the turf,
And cold as the spray of the rock-beating surf.
And there lay the rider distorted and pale,
With the dew on his brow, and the rust on his mail:
And the tents were all silent, the banners alone,
The lances unlifted, the trumpet unblown.
And the widows of Ashur are loud in their wail,
And the idols are broke in the temple of Baal;
And the might of the Gentile, unsmote by the sword,
Hath melted like snow in the glance of the Lord!
(Byron died fighting for Greece)
and now for John Keats, beloved gentle spirit and communer with nature
from Ode to a Nightingale
That thou, light-wingèd Dryad of the trees,
In some melodious plot
Of beechen green, and shadows numberless,
Singest of summer in full-throated ease.
O for a draught of vintage! that hath been
Cool’d a long age in the deep-delvèd earth,
That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,
And with thee fade away into the forest dim:
Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget
What thou among the leaves hast never known,
Tennyson: The Eagle
HE clasps the crag with crooked hands;
Close to the sun in lonely lands,
Ringed with the azure world, he stands.
The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;
He watches from his mountain walls,
And like a thunderbolt he falls.
and now for the great J.M.W.Turner: Snowstorm , fierce tempestuous expression, braving nature (he had himself strapped to the mast)
I had shared some Schubert and Beethoven music here but that is no longer allowed :(Read less