Thursday, June 23, 2011

Two View Movie Review: The Passion of Joan of Arc

Most people know the story of the historical figure & saint Joan of Arc, but most probably aren't familiar with her trial & execution. That is the focus of Carl Theodor Dreyer's 1928 film The Passion of Joan of Arc. Joan is brought to trial because of her involvement in a couple of successful campaigns against the British during the Hundred Years' War. The Church, who were in favor of the British, held the trial. The judges try to discredit her believe that she was told by God to drive the British out of France. She often has quick, smart answers for her arbiters, such has why she wears men's clothing or how she hears the voice of God. The trial becomes grueling for both Joan & the judges, so they offer her amnesty if she declares that she is a fraud, or she will be executed.

Dreyer took some risk when he created The Passion of Joan of Arc. Silent films at the time featured mostly medium or long shots & rarely close-ups, yet Joan of Arc is made mostly of close-ups. Dreyer also had the actors wear no make-up, disabling any sort of "beautification" allowed by the camera. Also, you may notice that the mise-en-scène is very neutral to any sort of style or time period. Dreyer didn't want to make this any sort of costume-filled, period piece, thus making it a historical film that stands out on its own without any reference.

Probably the most prominent aspect of the film is Renèe Jeanne Falconetti's role as Joan. She shakes & quivers with unspeakable emotion that one has never seen before. While surrounded by her tormentors, Falconetti displays this wide-eyed gaze of fear & horror, like she's anticipating light to explode out of her eyeballs. Even during less emotional scenes, there is an underlying pain in her movements. Stories from the set reveal that Dreyer emotionally tortured Falconetti in between takes. It is also rumored that Falconetti never acted again after the film because of this reason.

The Passion of Joan of Arc has had an interesting life. The film was originally banned in Britain because of the film's depiction of British soldiers. The Archbishop of Paris also condemned the film because its depiction of the Catholic Church. Along with that, the original version was lost after a fire destroyed all the negatives of the film. Dreyer reassembled the film using outtakes & surviving prints, but it was believed that the original film was lost forever, until in 1981, a copy of the original was found in a janitor's closet at a mental institution in Oslo, Norway, which I am thankful for. Roger Ebert states, "you cannot know the history of silent film unless you know the face of Renèe Jeanne Falconetti" & I couldn't agree more.

Monday, June 20, 2011

"Shut Up, Paige Turner:" Bravo's Competition Shows

A couple of weeks ago, the TV network Bravo released its new reality-show, Platinum Hit. The show features singer-songwriters as they face challenges that test their creativity & drive with the end result being a $100,000 prize & a record contract. Challenges include writing a love song, creating a dance anthem hit, or creating the perfect road song. And I find this very vexing. A show seems to focus on quick writing & prescribed inspiration, which we can all agree, does not make a lot of great songs (for example, Huey Lewis & the News' song "I Want a New Drug" was written in a couple of minutes & it sounds like it.)

This isn't the first anti-process reality show on Bravo. In Work of Art: The Next Great Artist, contestants must spit out art in a day or two along with following a theme. In episode 5, the contestants must create a piece of art based on their Audi experience, because nothing is more authentic & true as a product placement. The challenges in Top Chef are creative but hardly practical. In the fourth episode of season two, the chefs must whip up dishes using only food from a vending machine, which happens all the time in up-scale restaurants. Just kidding, that never happens. The chefs at Pizza Hut won't even do that no matter how many tantrums & quarters I throw.

So, Bravo, I get what you're doing. You're trying to reach out to the TV viewing demographic who think reality shows like The Jersey Shore is the end of society, but I won't be tricked by you showing me images of lobster foam (who wants to eat lobster foam? I know I don't.) I don't doubt these contestants are creative. They would have to be! But, these shows make writing songs, creating art, & cooking food more about pleasing the buyer & sacrificing your aesthetic in order to win. We live in a world where instant satisfaction is a plus, but for me, instant art isn't a must. So, Bravo, until you create a reality show where these contestants can mull over their work for over a week, I'll put on my top hat & my monocle & say, "Good day to you!"

Monday, June 13, 2011

Looky Lookie: The Tale of Three Black Boxes

Shinsuke Minegishi's The Tale of Three Black Boxes is made up of spare text juxtaposed with six engravings created by the artist. The six pages were sewn together with a black, paper wrap with a single signature pamphlet stitch (those who have taken our Book Arts 101 classes know what that is.) Along with the storybook, Minegishi included a companion case that includes the six prints from the engravings incorporated with colored woodcuts of windows where the engravings can be seen. These prints are textured because of multiple inkings.

The story of the family of black boxes is simple. They are outcast in an all white-boxed city, so the black boxes decide to explore the world, where they encounter various animals in numerous locations. The black boxes ultimately end up living on the moon. The story & images make the artificial & geometric stand out against the living & biological, which are two opposites that humans try to put together all the time (example, trees in the city.) This idea is explored further in the extra prints, when the engravings are seen through the "peek-holes," which are created out of unnatural shapes & objects. These "peek-holes" transcend time & space, as the boxes do in the story, yet the boxes are three-dimensional & cannot actually travel in time. Another contradiction.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The World's Most Mysterious Manuscript: The Voynich Manuscript

The Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Yale University is the home for the vexing Voynich Manuscript. Thanks to carbon dating, we know the manuscript was created between 1404 & 1438, but little else is known about it besides that. The text resists all translations, & even the top linguistics & cryptographers can't figure out the meaning of the text. They know it isn't gibberish, as gibberish is actually obvious & quite hard to create. Still, the double or triple word combination throughout the text (ex. appleappleapple) stumps experts.

The manuscript contains 240 vellum pages, many of which fold out & are covered with illustrations. There seems to be six sections: herbal, astronomical, biological, cosmological, pharmaceutical, & a section of recipes. Still, the illustrations are unclear; the plant life is unidentifiable & zodiac charts come from an unknown calendar. There also appears to be images of stars & planets seen through a telescope & biological cells seen through a microscope, both scientific devices that didn't appear until the 17th century.

There are many theories about the Voynich Manuscript. Some say that it may have been a hoax manuscript, meaning that the author created the manuscript for a wealthy buyer & passed the text off as part of a lost language. Others think is just may be text about modern medicine during the Medieval Period. The more radical theorists (the Bigfooters & the Nostradamus fans) think the text may be a way to predict the future or means to contact aliens. All that we know is that the Voynich Manuscript may be one of the first artists' book, in the sense that the text & purpose of the manuscript may never be known, but we can still appreciate the manuscript for its design & illustrations.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Graphic Novel of the Month: Quimby the Mouse

Quimby the Mouse is a collection of strips by Chris Ware during his college years at the University of Texas. The strips features Quimby, a mouse that is modeled off other famous characters like Mickey Mouse, Felix the Cat & Ignatz Mouse, but Quimby isn't a happy-go-lucky character like they others. Quimby is often depressed, insecure, or cruel. Juxtaposed with the strips, Ware writes about his life at the time, which includes his time away from his home town, Omaha, NE, & the death of his grandmother. Ware's text explains a lot of Quimby's random occurrences, such as Quimby being "Quimbies," which is two Quimby bodies sharing a pair of legs, but one body is withering away. The text also brings further insight into the relationship between Quimby & Sparky, a body-less cat that Quimby acts either maliciously towards or benevolent. Quickly, it becomes clear that Quimby is less about a cartoon mouse & more of Ware's confession.

The single-page strips are presented beautifully & features Ware's talent to play around with font & the comic book form. The layout of the panels often challenges the reader to figure out where to go next. One strip in particular doesn't feature a beginning or end. Often, the words become the frames for the strip, or the strip will be featured in a house or building, with each panel being contained in a different floor or room. If you're a fan of Ware's most famous work, Jimmy Corrigan, Smartest Boy in the World, then I recommend quickly finding a copy of Quimby the Mouse (mostly because I think Quimby is the better of the two.) But for non-Ware fans, Quimby is an inventive autobiography that is both somber & humorous (& by humorous, I mean, amusing melancholy.)