Wednesday, April 28, 2010

wherever he goes, egos...

"someone who is poking around in the fog of his or her own self is no longer capable of noticing that this isolation, this 'solitary confinement of the ego' is a mass sentence - that millions of people in all the highly industrialized countries are also pacing the prison cells of the self." ~ulrich beck

irrevocable spiritual loss and the elusive promise of renewal

thank you adbusters for helping me keep it real and brush up on my art history. caspar david friedrich is a monster! he was a german romantic landscape painter who lived from 1774-1840. his childhood was marked by multiple losses, including the death of his mother. at 13, he saw his brother fall through the ice of a frozen lake. he studied art in copenhagen, then settled in dresden and became known for his moody, sublime landscapes. he fell out of favor toward the end of his life, retreating into depression: "he became isolated and spent long periods of the day and night walking alone through woods and fields, often beginning his strolls before sunrise." (wikipedia) later, his work was embraced by the expressionists and existentialists and also had a deep influence on the surrealists. samuel beckett has said that his painting "man and woman contemplating the moon" was the inspiration for waiting for godot.

his landscapes are something i have been searching for. friedrich's philosophy of landscape painting: "the artist should paint not only what he sees before him, but also what he sees within him. if, however, he sees nothing within him, then he should also refrain from painting that which he sees before him. otherwise, his pictures will be like those folding screens behind which one expects to find only the sick or the dead." the inner feeling of a painting like "monk by the sea" is almost overwhelming, in large part due to his spectacular use of ruckenfigur, a visual motif of depicting a figure from behind, contemplating the view. until i discovered this work, i never knew there was a term for this type of landscape, one i have always been drawn to. i feel like i want to write a book about ruckenfigur!

here's to mr. friedrich, "the most solitary of the solitary," "a believer who struggled with doubt, a celebrator of beauty haunted by darkness."

Monday, April 12, 2010

arthur beecher carles


my dream landscape is is only accessible by helicopter for a single day at $700 a pop. i give you the kronotsky nature reserve in eastern russia:

oh well. there's always the jiuzhaigou valley.

wanna get married there luca?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

in defense of egoyan

i am so tired of critics dismissing atom egoyan. he is not a "spotty" director who made one or two great films and misfired on a dozen others. egoyan is essential. a consistently thought-provoking film-maker who has produced a remarkable body of work that is interested in family dynamics, story-telling, the effects of video technology and surveillance on the mind, sexuality and the idiosyncratic and often strange, obsessive ways that people cope with loss. the only one of his works that i did not find thoroughly compelling was where the truth lies, but that's only because alison lohman was horrendously miscast as the lead. the orange tree, the trippy lesbian alice in wonderland scene and the kevin bacon/colin firth variety shows were unforgettable. exotica remains one of my favorite films of all time. so when i saw that he had made a film with julianne moore and lily kane from veronica mars i was totally stoked. and the buzz seemed hopeful, too, if for no other reason than that the two leads share a passionate love scene. but then the reviews came and once again egoyan was dismissed. well i'm here to tell you - don't listen to the critics, listen to zoe. she knows from good film-making. chloe, based on and far more interesting than the french film nathalie, is a fascinating piece of work. sadly, egoyan's mesmerizing wife arsinee khanjian does not make even a cameo appearance, but moore and kane hit all the right notes.


the story begins as moore's character, catherine, is disappointed when her husband david (liam neeson) fails to arrive home in time for the swanky, surprise birthday party she throws in his honor. the next morning she finds a text/picture message on his phone from a student thanking him for a good time. this discovery sends her into a tailspin of jealousy, paranoia, insecurity and suppressed rage. desperate to manage her fears about the meaning of her husband's presumed infidelity, she hires a prostitute named chloe, played by kane, to present herself to david and report back on what he does. chloe delivers, offering up detailed descriptions of their alleged encounters, thereby securing catherine's continued patronage. but something starts to seem not right about chloe's tale. although catherine questions certain aspects of it that don't seem to jell with what she knows about her husband, she readily concludes that she must not really know him - that the inconsistencies are not the result of untruths on chloe's part, but of chloe's ability to access parts of her husband that have been well concealed from her. when she returns home to her husband after hearing these stories, she is consumed by visions of him and chloe, flabbergasted by his maddening duplicity.

catherine's sole sexual encounter with chloe appears to come when catherine is at her most vulnerable. she feels rejected by david, betrayed by chloe and irrelevant to her sexually active teenage son. out of this grief, she asks to be brought into the fold. she wants chloe to show her how her husband touches her, to feel what she feels. she erases herself from the equation by becoming both david and chloe. she is david finding sexual gratification with chloe, and she is chloe, the desired one, the one from whom nothing is held back. afterward, it is as if she is bewildered that she still exists, completely confused about what she has done. she pays chloe and tries to extract herself from any emotional ties to her.

but for chloe, this is no ordinary professional service. she is deeply enamored of catherine. her attraction to her is clearly oedipally rooted - the first time she meets her she wants to give her a hair pin that belonged to her mother. catherine's feelings of invisibility in her marriage also resonate with her. but where catherine feels invisible, chloe is invisible. she shows all the signs of an abused girl - she sees herself as an instrument of other people's pleasure. she has a gift for intuiting what they want - beyond the smokescreen of what they claim to want. the sex scene is erotic but kind of heartbreaking. chloe's child-like eagerness to please and win affection belies her capable, womanly body. she has exactly what she wants in the moment and uses every seductive resource she has to try to hold on to it, but when catherine pays her and takes leave, she is like a gaping hole of need. she senses that their connection was "real," different from her other clients, but catherine cannot allow herself to own that "realness", lest she acknowledge that her own desire has played a part in their encounters.

the moment when catherine discovers that her husband has no knowledge of chloe's existence does not necessarily come as a shock to viewers, but to catherine it is mind-bending. suddenly catherine is the one who has deceived her husband, not the other way around. her stance as a victim, driven by betrayal and grief, is no longer tenable. still, she cannot grasp the idea that all of these desires and actions attributed to david were actually projections of her own feelings. when chloe dares to suggest that catherine is aroused by her stories, catherine winces at this suggestion, as if even the concept of her own desire is objectionable. she must, in her mind, remain the victim of other's desires. when chloe emails her a photo taken of the two of them in sexual embrace, she is horrified by the implication of the image - i know how this must look, but... even after the big reveal, she continues to justify her involvement with chloe, insisting that although she may not have been a victim of infidelity, she has long been a victim of terrible insecurity about aging and her own desirability. (and yes, moore pulls this off convincingly even though she is crazy hot.)

but what really drove catherine’s affair? because isn’t that what it was? even her friends picked up on her distractedness, her urgency, her alertness to incoming text messages... did she really bed chloe to achieve a vicarious union with her husband? i only slept with her to feel closer to you! or was this a psychological maneuver to satisfy her own desires while denying all responsibility and agency? the first time we see chloe is through catherine's gaze. perhaps she is attracted to her; resentful that while her husband can flirt with every beautiful woman he sees, she is cast in the role of the dutiful wife. she feels jealousy when he flirts and assumes she is jealous of the women. but perhaps there is an element of jealousy directed toward david. he is in full possession – and apparently control – of his own desires. she cannot even grant that she possesses any such feelings. we recall the scene when she hires chloe and tells her “it’s not for me it’s for my husband – i think he would like you” (not an exact quote). never mind that she has enlisted the services of a prostitute, never mind that she has chosen this particular girl.

these revelations are too much for catherine to contemplate, too challenging to her entire self-concept. she attempts to dismiss the entire relationship with chloe as a “business transaction,” but once open, the floodgates cannot close. what has been invisible refuses to be invisible any longer. like her cinematic sister alex forrester, chloe will not be ignored. she demands that catherine acknowledge her feelings for her. she is the return of the repressed desires that catherine must own in order to be whole, in order to not be a victim anymore. like a passionate, hungry daughter who has been split off from her mother’s consciousness and disowned, chloe shows up to say i am yours, you can’t pretend i don’t exist. and so chloe is sacrificed to restore catherine's agency. in the closing scene of the film, we see her with a renewed life force, donning the pin that belongs to chloe's mother, to herself.

Sunday, April 4, 2010