June 13, 2010

I rewatched "Vicky Cristina Barcelona."

I saw this movie when it came out and wrote about it — using my random list blogging approach — on August 15, 2008. The movie is all about romantic love and sexual feeling, and when I saw if the first time, I hadn't been in love in a long while. So it was fun to see it again and to go back and read that old post about it. And it was really fun to dip into the comments and find my then-future-husband Meade, who said: "If only I had a nickel for every time someone has come up to me on the street and mistaken me for a lesbian Javier Barden..." Ha. Lord knows what I pictured back then, before Meade ever sent me his photograph. But did the movie affect me differently now that I have my dear Meade? I'd say it made a deeper impression when I was love-deprived, because it's about people trying to understand and get to the love they want.

Too much personal happiness may diminish one's appreciation of art!

In the movie, Javier Bardem — Meade typo'd his name — plays an artist who can't maintain a stable attachment to his wife. He passionately loves her, but it's all tempestuous and violent. And it makes his art fabulous, of course. He's splattering paint all over the canvas — as painters in movies usually do, because it's not sufficiently cinematic to be dabbing paint carefully. A great exception to the movie rule that every painter must fling paint like Jackson Pollock is the Catherine Keener character in "Synecdoche, New York." She paints pictures so extremely tiny they require magnifying glasses to view.

But painting in movies is always a metaphor for sex, is it not? It's different sex in Synecdoche and Barcelona. And that makes me wonder if, on rewatch today, "Synecdoche, New York" would make a deeper impression.

What are the works of art that become more profound when you are, in real life, experiencing great happiness?

48 comments:

Ron said...

Clearly making sub sandwiches in a movie is a metaphor for sex also...

bagoh20 said...

"Too much personal happiness may diminish one's appreciation of art!"

I think it just raises the bar for the art.

dbp said...

I think the girl in Shopgirl also made small, carefully painted pictures too. Though this could have just been from the book.

bagoh20 said...

"What are the works of art that become more profound when you are, in real life, experiencing great happiness?"

For me, God's work on the landscaping is much appreciated and synergistic with happiness, but I'm nearly always happy, like a puppy. It's a gift.

Psota said...

The first time I felt happy in love, I thought "Now I know what all those Motown songs are about!" (although many of them are not "happy" songs).

EDH said...

"If only I had a nickel for every time someone has come up to me on the street and mistaken me for a lesbian Javier Barden..."

Meade, did you mean a lipstick lesbian Javier Bardem?

dbp said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
dbp said...

My wife and I just watched Vicky Cristina Barcelona for the first time a few weeks ago and enjoyed it, but some parts stuck-out.

There was a scene where Christina is describing her sapphic adventures with Vicky and her fiancee and the guy is being primarily judgemental. I think the primary reaction a young male would have is curiosity.

Also, I don't know which film came first, but there was a small throw-away line in passing about a philosophy of "Whatever Works".

Jana said...

Saw this for the first time a few weeks ago, and I must say I was really moved by the Bardem/Cruz stuff. I was not particularly impressed with the Vicky Christina stuff. Most stunned by the visuals; splendid work there.

Almost Ali said...

One toe touching reality. And barely.

Nothing to do with Vicky Barcelona. More like a weather balloon soaring into the stratosphere, until the only reasonable explanation becomes... a UFO.

lemondog said...

re: Synecdoche, funny but just this morning I came across the word while researching something on the Ottoman Empire.

The Sublime Porte (also Ottoman Porte, High Porte, or, in Ottoman Turkish, Bab-ı Ali) is a synecdoche for the Ottoman Empire, by reference to the High Gate of the Divan (court).

I had to look up the definition.

Palladian said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Palladian said...

The power of great art is magnified not by sadness or happiness exclusively, but by extremity of experience. Extreme happiness, extreme sadness, extreme serenity, extreme pain; it's the humanity of these states that gives the animating spark of life to art.

Ars longa, vita brevis,
occasio præceps,
experimentum periculosum,
iudicium difficile.


Yes, art long, life brief, occasion precipitous, experiment perilous, judgment difficult. But it's important to remember that Hippocrates was writing not of Art but of technical skill (in his case, the skill of the doctor). Craft is what occupies the great artist through the brief duration of life. The result of this craft is what sustains the living, generation after generation, and is the only true immortality.

Art without Life is nothing at all.

Hagar said...

I watched "Flowerdrum Song" last night.

Why did they dub "female female" over "female fiend"?

Simon Kenton said...

Painting standing in for sex certainly worked in Unbearable Lightness.

Middlemarch.

The Crack Emcee said...

When I was married to my own Storm Across The Sea I created art all the time - it was all I wanted to do. And now, I hardly work at all. Love songs, especially, drive me mad with their I Will Love You Always bullshit, when it's clear that ain't true and no one (except my dumb foster-cared ass) expected it to be so.

Al and Tipper split up? Applaud everybody! It's a gift, remember? At worst, it's "sad". No need for anyone to say "Al, I think it's time for you to come clean about the AGW fraud and get a clue." No, better just to say, "Awww" and let it go, the cowards.

I'll create again, once I get from under the financial damage of the divorce, but, even though it'll still be music, it'll be something different than before. How, I'm not sure, because it's a continuum, like how my switch from Left to Right appeared to be some drastic break to others when, to me, it was a long-awaited final flight to freedom.

I can't wait.

And, BTW, isn't Vicky Cristina Barcelona a Woody Allen film? I'm done with Woody, as a person and as an artist. Like Polansky, he lies as both, and to such a degree I refuse to subject myself to parsing what's-what anymore. Despite what people think, there other artists in the world, y'know. I can't really listen to The Beatles anymore either. Forget Paul's recent nonsense: How can I take them singing "I'm looking through you" seriously, knowing they fell for the Maharishi's bullshit?

It's this way people have, of staying with things that are proven wrong, that makes my life so hard. Like Barbara Ehrenreich says, the opposite of positive thinking isn't negative thinking, but reality. Most don't get that, so they keep us trapped in this loop of what's supposed to be positive - even if it's just a pack of lies - because anything else, to the cult, must be negative. (Did anybody else catch the point of The Watchmen?) That type of thinking is why fraud is so rampant as well - with no end in sight: people insist it must be this way because anyone who says the emperor has no clothes is being "negative".

Like Mark Steyn recently wrote of "We are the ones we've been waiting for", any idiot who can be talked into waiting in line for themselves is bound to be disappointed.

dbp said...

"What are the works of art that become more profound when you are, in real life, experiencing great happiness?"

To finally get around to answering the actual question posed in the blog post: The opposite things are more profound. When you are sad or lonely then depictions of happy people in love are affecting. When you are happy and have family all around you, then depictions of loss and being all alone really hit home.

danielle said...

Answer: Love songs. the good ones. too many to list.

The Crack Emcee said...

O.K., I can make several points at once here:

That Storm Across The Sea reference, in the last post, was supposed to have been a link. If you click on it, you'll hear a song by Chuck Prophet, a friend of a friend of mine. (I've only chatted with him once on the street.) He, like me, is a perfect example of the type of artist who can't catch a break in America - he does well in Europe - because Americans are too stuck following garbage like Lady Gaga, Mylie Cyris (sp?) or sticking with The Beatles, or other old fogey, 1960's nonsense, and leaving no room for anyone new who actually cares about the craft of songwriting as much as they did.

Listen to that song: it's perfect pop craftsmanship, and does it get radio play? Not that I know of.

To me, it's not that we can't get out of the rut we're in, we refuse to. We'll give millions to politicians to rip us off but tease the likes of me for asking for a donation so I can get going again and raise the standard of our culture. It's maddening. You might not think I'm right but, to me, that's the problem in a nutshell:

How y'all think.

I can't get anyone to trust giving me a dime but Obama easily got billions to do this to us - with a celebration to go with it. Meanwhile, I got heckled for not going along and his success was used as proof I didn't know what I'm talking about.

I'll put that song, linked above, as Exhibit "A" that my taste (and thinking) trumps y'alls any day - and that that's the quality of work we need more of to succeed, not this American Idol stupidity. I know how it sounds, but sorry:

I know - not believe but know - I'm right.

roesch-voltaire said...

I think it is true that our emotional states affect the way we view art and life. No longer in the drama of multiple relationships, Leonard Cohen is not whom I turn to at three in the morning. Works that touch me now in this place of moderate joy and contentment tend to be films like Whale Rider, and music by John Coltrane, always. Films about artist include My Left Foot where Day-Lewis did not splatter paint but was fairly careful. I saw VB more as a tale about students who study aboard whose emersion into another culture cause them to question their values and roles in life. Crack thanks to your link to Chuck Prophets’ song, I enjoyed it but wonder why you think all artists should have the fame and exposure of Lady GaG? There are many audiences for a variety of good artist like say a Aric Riley on the West coast, or Paul Cebar here in Wisconsin who have a loyal audience and manage to get by. Thanks to YouTube and fans sharing American Idol is not the only game in town.

knox said...

Simon Kenton said Middlemarch.

Unbelievable book. I get more, and different things, out of it every time I read it.

The Crack Emcee said...

roesch-voltaire,

"Crack thanks to your link to Chuck Prophets’ song, I enjoyed it but wonder why you think all artists should have the fame and exposure of Lady GaG? There are many audiences for a variety of good artist like say a Aric Riley on the West coast, or Paul Cebar here in Wisconsin who have a loyal audience and manage to get by. Thanks to YouTube and fans sharing American Idol is not the only game in town."

Because good artists "getting by" (or starving) while bad artists get rich beyond our wildest dreams is a recipe for disaster - do you see any good coming from it? And the online/YouTube paradigm has also been a disaster for music. I know - i started with mp3.com and was music director for a music site when my marriage came apart - there's no future in it, even if the "let's destroy the record companies" idea seems attractive to those outside of it. (And I include already successful bands, like Radiohead, as outside of it.) Good new artists need support, and if there's anything a record company should learn from this experience, it's to give them that support - I don't want a hit song, I want a career - but it'll take deep pockets (or a lot of shallow ones) to give it to us. I'm not "normal", or a kid, but I am good at what I do. Unfortunately, like a woodpecker, it's all I really do well (I have other talents as well, but they're pointless to me if I can't peck wood, y'know?)

I don't go for this "there are many audiences" stuff - there's many artists, too, who do all kinds of stuff that no one gets to hear because we're stuck in this post-60s mindset (which I include Gaga in - isn't she shocking!) artists who could probably unite us more. The L.A. Weekly, after hearing a bunch of my stuff, said I'm:

"The best artist ever...The Crack Emcee sounds like,...Dr.Dre,...Primo,...the RZA,...all of these contemporaries, and at times like Ice Cube and Africa Bambaataa and Run-D.M.C. and the Bomb Squad and Negativland and Too Short and John Coltrane and Raw Fusion and Michael Ivey and Devo and Moby and Fishbone and Prince and Axel Rose. He is,...the sum of all the music he's absorbed in his lifetime."

Yet I suffer the indignity of being passed over because I'm constitutionally incapable of being anything other than what I am: my own man. (A Sony Records exec once wrote to the Weekly and told them, if they ever write about me again, they'd stop receiving promo material - how's that for an example of the kind of pressure I'm up against to break through?) Being a conservative (and an anti-cultist) in the music business is like trying to make it in Hollywood when you don't like Scientology: you're a threat they don't want to see catch a break - because, then, they'll have to rethink everything, starting with themselves - and that can't happen.

The Crack Emcee said...

Cont'd:

Another reason why artists, like me, need success: American exceptionalism. This is the only country in the world that, until recently, produced a new pop song across all genres. In order for that to keep going, we need people out there who are proud to be American. Who know what this country is all about and can express that - fire it up - and get others to do the same. In this age of our bowing-and-scraping president, nobody's going to be willing do so because they don't think it's right. "The Ugly American" and all that. Fuck that, and fuck them. We need to rev it up again, get ourselves going, until they start screaming "I'm so bored with the U.S.A." all over again. They were "bored" because we were winners. The world's unstoppable force. "The New World". Not this one-amongst-many bullshit. I ain't one-amongst-many - I'm The Crack Emcee - and to deny me my role, during this (cult-inspired) crisis of identity, is criminal, I tell ya.

It's just criminal.

Donna B. said...

Crack - thanks for the link. I actually liked that song. I listened to the other track too (What Makes the Monkey Dance) and didn't like it at all -- predictable, grungy, tedious, boring.

lemondog - the link in your comment didn't work for me, so I looked it up too: synecdoche (and I hope that link works)

This made me giggle: —Can be confused:  Schenectady, synecdoche.

Almost Ali said...

Crack Emcee said...
He, like me, is a perfect example of the type of artist who can't catch a break in America...

The drill is, keep tryin'. Especially you - because I (and others here) can sense your rarity of talent from a mile away.

The Crack Emcee said...

Here's another L.A. Weekly quote, by the same writer:

"There is no precedent,...the feeling clumsily reached for on the 'alternative remix' of Puff Daddy's 'All About the Benjamins' comes to fruition over and over again. It's a simple, slamming sound that's equal parts punk and soul, but played with a precision that's less assuming than jazz. Repetition and groove are its motor, but the emotions the music provokes have more bang than bump. 'It's like they're playing all of our records all at once,' observes a colleague who watches the show in otherwise stunned silence. Little White Radio is surging up the totem pole of San Francisco bands,...The miraculous has a penchant for not being where it's expected, where it ought to be. And there's more than a hint of miracle in how the group invigorates the rock idiom. The irony is completely refreshing."

Yea: "It's like they're playing all of our records all at once."

See why I think I'm the artist to unite us?

The Crack Emcee said...

DonnaB,

Yea, that Monkey Dance song is loved by junkies and such - it's terrible - but that just means Chuck needs an editor; a producer who knows what to listen for and how to work it. Everyone in the business says I've got "golden ears" - the ability to hear quality and fix what's wrong with weak material - which I can't argue with: I studied songwriting on my own (sometimes under penalty of death*) while someone like Chuck practiced his guitar. Listen to those lines he's playing - they're perfect.

* Imagine me as a kid, obsessed with Queen or Steely Dan or whatever, trying to listen to them in South Central, Los Angeles. I once got the shit kicked out of me because someone snatched my headphones off, heard I was listening to Led Leppelin, and screamed "Didn't you see 'Roots'?!?" and proceeded to clobber me. It was brutal. Listening to anything other than "black music" - which I love and have in my bones - was blasphemy. But it was precisely because I'd never heard those other sounds and ideas that they appealed to me - it was new music! That's what keeps me alive: the search for more cool shit. If I were to ever be successful, I'd be breaking new music, and new artists, every week - just for the sheer joy of it. I love to hear people go "Wow!" at the sound of new shit - even someone else's. We need it. It's inspiring. It's how the world should work.

The Crack Emcee said...

Almost Ali,

"I (and others here) can sense your rarity of talent from a mile away."

Thank you. Not to be a pain but, what y'all don't get is the sense of urgency I live with:

I ain't gonna live forever. Most black men die before they're old enough to collect a Social Security check, and the stress of foster care, ghetto life, that divorce/murder ordeal has aged me faster than most - big time - on the inside. (I look much younger than I am.)

But I can feel it. Something's broke, or cracked, and not going to hold out too long. I've either got to get a shot at my place in music or hang it up, because there's no time left. The fact I'm not a "real musician" doesn't help either: I'm more like Eno than Stevie Ray Vaghn, y'know? I need a band to direct - and bands take money. Especially if they don't like your politics. (My last band walked out on me, after two solid months of rehearsal - just at the moment when they'd mastered the songs and the project was taking on it's own miraculous colors - just because (I shit you not) they couldn't understand why, since I'm black, I refused to put a liberal message in the project. The guitar player, a Jewish liberal, led the mutiny.

I swear, if that hadn't happened, I know y'alled be coming to my shows today, and this would be a much different world:

Shit, I'd be the Tea Party's hero.

Meade said...

Ha ha ha! Just seeing this post for the first time.

@EDH: Well done!! That was hilarious!

MrBuddwing said...

After seeing Javier Bardem in "No Country for Old Men," I thought I'd never be able to see another Bardem performance without thinking of the cold-blooded killer he'd played, Anton Chigurh. While watching "Vicky Cristina Barcelona," I did think of Chigurh twice - but only in terms of, "Wow, this guy's nothing like Anton Chigurh!" As the killer, Bardem's eyes looked totally dead, like a shark's; in VCB, his eyes looked so vibrant and alive. Even the shape of his head seemed different. A totally different character, and he brought it off with aplomb.

When it came to the two female leads, I'm sure most viewers had their eyes on Scarlett Johansson (Cristina), but I was completely taken with Rebecca Hall, who played Vicky. I'd take her Vicky over Cristina any day.

World verification: fulke.

Almost Ali said...

Crack Emcee...
I ain't gonna live forever...

Neither am I.

Btw, I've been to the ghetto, and lucky I got out alive. And I wasn't just passing through, either, she kept me there for ten years - at least metaphorically. I was swung at, stabbed at, shot at (literally). Yet, maybe I'm "lucky," nothing but a few claw marks when I ran for the exits - away from the only girl who ever kicked my ass. Still, she was amazing - up from the then drug-dealing streets, now a nurse knocking down 75k a year. Happy ending.

But we're bitchin' about art, so here's mine: the same as yours. For me, especially under the liberal heels of and following 9/11 - as they wallowed in the lit-'hood of "understanding," their dumbfounding empathy for the religioneers of peace.

So, how long did "I" last as host/moderator - by invitation - of a major literary site? Well, not long, not after I began reciting the Koran word-for-word to those gutless, Islamic apologists. In a nutshell I went from "gifted" writer to persona non grata in a heartbeat, branded a war monger.

Meanwhile, I'm sitting on the great American novel - made the Amazon/Penguin finals last year; where they were subsequently appalled to learn about my lack of literary education - which "I" saw as a huge plus. I mean, virtually anyone can take a writing program and churn out drivel. While others, like me, live before they write.

There's really no point to this, except to say... shit happens. But every once in awhile, someone gets lucky. Like the beautiful girl who, against all odds, got her masters and became a nurse.

jr565 said...

Crack Emcee wrote:

And, BTW, isn't Vicky Cristina Barcelona a Woody Allen film? I'm done with Woody, as a person and as an artist. Like Polansky, he lies as both, and to such a degree I refuse to subject myself to parsing what's-what anymore. Despite what people think, there other artists in the world, y'know. I can't really listen to The Beatles anymore either. Forget Paul's recent nonsense: How can I take them singing "I'm looking through you" seriously, knowing they fell for the Maharishi's bullshit?

I agree and disagree with your assessments. As far as Polanski and Allen, I never found their art to be all that great. As a comedian, Allen was potentially great and produced some good moviesl, but once he believed he was an "ARTIST" he ceased to produce good work. Polanski may have made one or two good movies, but again, it sounds like he's been a serial pedophile for years. Perhaps it's his European sensibility or sense of entitlement as an artist, but that doesnt' make his art any more interesting. You'd think with the turmoil of his life he'd produce better quality work.
As for the Beatles, you could argue that I'm Looking Through You actually points to them being drawn in by someone's charms but them coming to the realization that the person they were in love with is full of shit. So this in itself is not a damnation of them. They fell under the Maharishi's charms, and slowly came to the reailzation that he was a fraud (I'm Looking Through You).
What is more unlistenable though is John Lennon. Mccartney was always a great tunesmith but something of a treacly hack. Lennon, though was supposed to be the brainy one, and yet he was the one who wrote "Imagine". It has a beautiful melody I'll admit, but has to be one of the most indulgent, and arrogant songs ever written. And completely lacking in self awareness. It would be like P Diddy rapping about a world without possessions after buying his kid a 350,000 dollar car. This guy, Lennon, was filthy rich, lived in a huge apartment, makes millions a year in merchandise, and yet he's talking about a world without possessions, and suggeseting that the plebians might someday join HIM in his enlightment. It's hard to imagine someone so smart being such a sap.

The Crack Emcee said...

Almost Ali,

That's one of the most beautiful things I've heard in a long time. And, yea, I hear you: my last album was nominated as best Album of the Year in The Village Voice's Pazz & Jop thingy. I was talking to the biggest label I'd encountered yet about giving me a serious debut when my life cracked up. I was all "Finally, I'm going to cash in!" when my ex cashed out and killed three people. Shit happens, indeed.

It's funny, I've been contacted by this big New York lit agent, who visited TMR, about writing a book about France, but I think my interest in cultism scared her away - that, and me asking for a (I thought small) advance.

And the conservative thing is a motherfucker: no one - and I mean no one - will touch it. You wanna be an outcast? Say the words "black conservative artist" and, shit, you might wind up dead.

You'd think a record honcho out there would think, "Hmm, Sarah Palin, Tea Parties,...the Obama thing ain't working out - maybe,..." but nope. And it's the same in the online political world: they cry that we need a new conservatism, new conservative artists, etc. but if you look at what they're offering, you wouldn't be wrong to think it's your same-old stereotypical "Right-Wing Evangelical Christian Fascist" brigade all over again. Just like I said about in music - nobody will get out of the way to make/let anything else happen - and, even worse, nobody's demanding it.

Something's happening though: I just got asked (asked!) to do a post with iOwnTheWorld and, like me, they ain't normal conservatives. We'll see how it goes,...

The Crack Emcee said...

jr565,

Naw, when the Maharishi died, Paul and Ringo still came out with their vegetarian tributes. John wouldn't have done that, I don't think. George, definitely.

Fuck the whole lot of 'em.

Cedarford said...

My favorite Javier Bardem film is "The Dancer Upstairs". Bardem is not the only good one in John Malkovich's great study of terrorism in a small S American country. Rarely seen Italian actress Laura Morante was briliant as "the dancer".

amba said...

I dunno, I've never experienced great happiness.

wv: swoott! there it is!

Lem said...

What are the works of art that become more profound when you are, in real life, experiencing great happiness?

Whatever I happened to reveal to her for her first time, to her great delight.. same as mine.

My last steady girlfriend loved Nina Simone so much she went and bought and read her autobiography and then told me things about her I didn't know.

Lem said...

The exaggeration of the relationship of Penelope Cruz character and her husband was so caricatured I couldn't decide whether it was a Fellini satire or the actors protesting.. their portrayal revealed a thinly disguised contempt.

Maybe I was reading too much into it.. but that's how I remember feeling at the time.

Lem said...

Other than that Vicky Cristina Barcelona felt like a hodgepodge of old redone ideas sown together on the strength of Woody's past glories and the sheer ravishing beauty of the women in the film...

See the Fellini 'homage' Stardust Memories.

Lem said...

I'm getting distracted by the give and take of prime ministers questions from the British House of Commons.

I curious to see how the unseemly political arrangement from the last election is holding up.

Lem said...

Too much personal happiness may diminish one's appreciation of art!

I believe the key word is may.

Not to boast, but I keep my happiness in check by subverting it to the enjoyment of those around me.. Making my friends and family laugh for example, gives me what I believe to be happiness.. if not happiness certainly a wonderful sense of enjoyment.

Lem said...

And then my father asks me, tonight, to help him drive down to Georgia because my one sister cannot bring her self to say no when our other sister asks to borrow dads car.

So shes asking dad to take it back as it where. So now I'm drafted to do this maneuver around a potential big family squirrel.

The sister that always wants to use the car is a single mom.. she starts every other sentence reminding everyone withing earshot of that fact.. she also has developed a taste for vodka on the rocks.

I'm going to have to fly back to Jersey.

Lem said...

I'll try and check in whenever possible.

reader_iam said...

What are the works of art that become more profound when you are, in real life, experiencing great happiness?

Here's my query, Althouse: Has your question been answered?

Gary Rosen said...

That must have been an unusual double feature - "The Dancer Upstairs" and "Triumph of the Will".

Almost Ali said...

Thanks, Crack.

But now I'm back to contemplating Ann's question, because I just now remembered what true love means. The kind of romantic love that's all-consuming - and in my case this means first love.

And after it ended, I remember finding myself by happenstance standing in beautiful places, seeing the art of nature, its greatest creations - and feeling like the loneliest man on earth. Because she wasn't there. Thus, the art was muted, dulled, reduced to simple dimensions, with me muttering promises to come back -with her- to pay proper homage.

I recall one spot in particular, Pebble Beach. Hard to imagine any place on earth more beautiful at night - the moon above, the spray of the Pacific, the light dancing across the massive waves - and me standing there. Alone.

And so I've spent the rest of my life seeing, but not seeing. Because without her such art is muted, glimpsed but briefly, then denied as the door closes - to me, the lone outlier.

There's the answer, Ann & Company - that art opens to love, opens to the occasion of two. To all others what they see and feel is just a preview, a hint of what's hidden from the mundane world.

The Crack Emcee said...

I think I've found love.

Denise said...

Robert Browning. Great pre-love, absolutely fantastic during love. Also, Sonnets from the Portuguese by Elizabeth Barrett Browning-- most of the rest of her poetry is a bit too removed for lovery reading. But not the Sonnets.