I am a woman on a mission. I have set a goal to see most of the movies nominated for Academy Awards before they roll out the red carpet. Midway through today’s flick my mind wandered and I visualized myself with fine silk thread and I was stringing pearls. Even for my right brain that often goes haywire, it was a strange experience. Several events and experiences were represented on that strand of pearls… all unrelated, yet related. Each pearl was a link to the past and the present simultaneously – creating a synergy.
The first pearl evolved from the images in front of me, the film, The Artist. I was consciously aware of the fact that with no words my imagination became a part of the creative process. I took the visual images in the film, the body language, and the facial expressions and became one of the screen writers. I made the film what it ultimately was to me. I was as much a participant as an observer. This led to the second pearl…
In 1994 I was fortunate enough to have seen Glenn Close as Norma Desmond on Broadway during the opening weekend of Sunset Boulevard. As Jean Dujardin’s character George Valentin fights the idea that films need to become “talkies” I could hear Glenn Close singing in my head, “…with one look I can break your heart, with one look I play every part, I can make your sad heart sing, with one look you’ll know all you need to know.” Ironically, a precocious Jack Russell Terrier plays Vanentin’s sidekick, hero and comic relief for the film. At one point Dujardin’s character mouths the words, “if only he could talk.”
The third pearl led back to a film I had seen several weeks ago, Hugo, adapted from the book, The Invention of Hugo Cabret. Spoiler alert: there is a link to the silent film days and the transition to the world of talkies. This silk thread tying together these thoughts (aka “pearls”) made me aware of the fact that because there was no dialogue in silent films I was experiencing a more participatory role. I thought about great transitions in history and those who openly accepted that change and those who fought it until the end… sometimes their end.
My father was a professional photographer. As a child he took me under his wing to teach me the art and science of photography. I was not permitted to use color film. His philosophy was that until I mastered black and white photography I didn’t know enough to move on to color. He said the color in a picture was “entertainment.” “As long as you can be entertained by color, you will never learn to make photography the true art form it should be. Color is a crutch. Learn to use lighting, shape, form and value with composition to create art. Only then can you add color.”
I thought of some of the world’s greatest photographers, many of whom lived, flourished and took a new medium to acceptance as art sans color images. In black and white photography we think immediately of Ansel Adams, Henri Cartier Bresson, Margaret Bourke White, and W. Eugene Smith. I thought of Dorothea Lange’s photographs from the Dust Bowl, especially the iconic Migrant Mother. Somehow “…with one look, you’ll know all you need to know” without the “entertainment” of color images. That being said, other photographers have so artistically mastered the art of color photography it would be hard to imagine their photographs having the same impact in black and white. Steve McCurry is a perfect example.
As the pearl strand grew I asked myself about those who confront drastic, and often scarey changes in the world. We think of microwave ovens as a normal part of daily life. I am old enough to remember when they were first introduced. I think about my parents who could not, and would not accept this frightening and dangerous machine. It was as if it were some evil put on earth. Had I not bought them one, and literally set it up in their kitchen, I fear they would have continued to cook “the old fashioned way” for the remainder of their lives. It still boggles my mind that you can put pieces of paper into a machine that looks like a copier, dial a phone number and those pages will travel through the phone wire to appear just like the one in front of you thousands of miles away.
The final pearl on my strand this afternoon was to take these questions into the present day. In one word, “technology.” Okay, I accepted welcomed color photography, microwave ovens, cordless phones, cell phones (although an archaic model that doesn’t take pictures, doesn’t text, doesn’t tweet), a Kindle, and a personal computer. I’m afraid, however, that I stand with Norma Desmond and George Valentin when it comes to the “i-family.” My land line and archaic cell phone are working just fine thank you… and i-pads… I have a computer, why would I need one of those. Pictures are meant to be taken with a camera, not a phone.
I attended a brown bag lunch yesterday with Sarah Braunstein, the author of The Sweet Relief of Missing Children. At one point she quoted Franz Kafka, “A book should serve as the ax for the frozen sea within us.” Perhaps all art should serve as an ax…
Put me in a 100 minute silent film and I’ll hear more than the orchestra. Some days I fear the world is spinning past me and out of control. I don’t want to be a silent film star, but I’m happy where I am. I am, however, concerned that pretty soon I will be left with no means of communication in the dust of a world in a hurry. I guess the question is “Can I live with that????”