Sunday, February 7, 2010

Notes on the Way

Going once, going twice, Sold!

As Avatar continues to show the full extent to which film has been given over to commerce, the art world had 104.3 million volts pulsed through its rotting corpse on February 4 when Giacometti's Walking Man was bought at auction by an anonymous buyer. How the champions of avarice think they can lay claim to the loftiest creations of the human spirit just by throwing down enough cash is just another illustration of how ugly our culture has become. Seeing so many auction house employees taking bids via telephone from buyers too ashamed or just too busy making indecent proposals to show their faces was, perhaps, intentionally funny .

But such spectacles are now commonplace. In 1987, Japanese insurance magnate Yasuo Goto bought Van Gogh's Sunflowers for the then record price of $40million. On his death, Goto left instructions in his will that the canvas would be cremated along with his body. I suppose we should be thankful that whomever saved it from the flames probably did so not because of its beauty but because of its obvious resale value?


Going out on a limb, The Hurt Locker may yet turn out to be the theme for the 2010 Academy Awards. Last year's was Slumdog. The year before, No Country for Old Men. The unavoidable response is always, We know this!


My recent acquisition of cable TV here in my Philippine province, after having to live with an aerial antenna for a year-and-a-half that only managed to receive the two major network channels (both insufferable) from Manila, has demonstrated to me that, for an American living abroad who needs to stay in contact with the world beyond his occluded horizon, it is something of a necessity rather than a luxury. The curiosity of watching alive football game or even Conan O'Brien's recent tearful farewell to NBC among the palms and poverty here has become a welcome daily disorientation.

Cable TV has many movie channels to choose from (even here in the back of beyond). But for the past decade, the best of them has without question been Turner Classic Movies. It is not even what is known as a "premium" channel in the States that you have to pay an extra ten dollars to subscribe to, like HBO or Showtime.

TCM's programming is dominated by classic Hollywood films, which is far from my favorite movie fare. But the manner in which the channel presents the films is a model that I wish every other movie channel would copy. I am sure that everyone has seen the disclaimer that comes before most of the movies being shown on television, "This film has been modified from its original version. It has been formatted to fit this screen." In plain English, it means that the movie was not made with a television screen in mind. Since the 1950s, anamorphic lenses have been in use to make a 35mm film image look like something closer to a 70mm image. It does this by distorting the image with a horizontally convex lens, and the resulting "aspect ratio" (width divided by height) is expressed as 1.85:1 or some other ratio higher than the "full screen" 35mm image of 1.33:1.

To make this even more explicit to their viewers, TCM regularly airs a short demonstration of the difference between the "letterbox" screen image, which recreates a film's original aspect ratio, and "full screen," which cuts off a substantial portion of the original image and must resort to a spurious digital "pan-and-scan" device to compensate for the loss of the picture.

While the HBO and Showtime channels nearly always show films in full screen, and even the Independent Film Channel (IFC) and The Sundance Channel occasionally resort to it, only TCM invariably shows films in their original format.

Stranger Than Fiction

The "novels" on which the films Twilight (2008) and its much-touted sequel New Moon (2009) are based were written by Stephenie Meyer, who has invested both of them with a sexual chasteness not seen since 1950s American television. Both films reflect this chasteness unapologetically, since the audience for them is, in more ways than one, juvenile. Although meant to appeal to the sexually inexperienced (or guilt-ridden), the people behind the film have expressly chosen to avoid any reference to the troubling fact that adolescents are having sex.

The reason for this, publicity for the films has revealed, is that Meyer is a devout Mormon. But why this should inspire her to promote abstinence (and the unsubtle metaphor for losing one's virginity is being bitten by a vampire) rather than the bigamy and child-marriage that her religion used to take pride in is a mystery. But, then again, even a tongue-in-cheek belief in vampires is tame compared to a belief that two lost tribes of Israel somehow found their way to North America where, after his resurrection, Jesus appeared to them and passed onto them his revelations.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

At what point does the Mormon story not ring true? Is it when Jesus visits North America or when he rises from the dead? It's called "mythology".