samedi 17 mars 2007

Louis Malle, joaillier du cinéma

Soirée Louis Malle à la télé hier, l'occasion de voir enfin les chefs-d'oeuvre que sont Le Souffle Au Coeur (1971) et Ascenseur Pour L'Echafaud (1958).

On parle souvent de nos jours de la Nouvelle Vague française et de la révolution que fut l'iruption de jeunes talents comme Godard et Truffaut dans le cinéma des années 50. Mais on connaît moins Louis Malle, qui entama son parcours de réalisateur à la même époque sans jamais appartenir à ce mouvement, suivant son propre chemin, singulier et génial.

Coup d'essai, coup de maître. Son premier film, Ascenseur Pour l'Echafaud, hypnotise d'intensité. Autour de l'histoire d'un meutre imparfait, Louis Malle dissèque l'âme humaine pour en révéler le tragique. Une mécanique implacable comme seule peut l'être la fatalité nous conduit dans un crescendo sublimé par la musique de Miles Davis. Le tout en noir et blanc, servi par des acteurs au sommet de leur art (mention spéciale à Jeanne Moreau).

Le Souffle Au Coeur sera un tournant pour le cinéaste, jeté dès lors dans une polémique qui le poussera en 74 à s'expatrier aux Etats-Unis. C'est l'histoire d'un adolescent d'une famille bourgeoise des années 50 qui voue une véritable dévotion à sa mère. A l'âge des premiers émois sexuels, les frontières de la relation mère-fils sont bousculées. Mais Malle n'est pas là pour juger ni pour plier la complèxe réalité aux cases traditionnelles de notre entendement. Le Souffle Au Coeur porte la sensibilité à fleur de peau et capture le brouillard des sentiments adolescents. La musique est de Sidney Bechet et Charlie Parker.

Après quelques films aux USA (Atlantic city, notamment), Malle retourne en France où la consécration l'attend enfin. Au Revoir Les Enfants est l'histoire de deux pensionnaires- dont un est juif- au temps de l'Occupation. Filmé avec une justesse du ton, une grande pudeur des sentiments et évitant les caricatures, le film vaudra à son réalisateur le Lion d'Or à Venise en 87 ainsi que de nombreuses autres récompenses.

Un film de Louis Malle est un bijou dont le jazz est l'écrin.

jeudi 15 mars 2007

Welcome (To The Machine)

Hello everyone. It's good to have you here.

This blog follows the foot steps of my previous msn space ( ) with the same focus on cinema, music, politics etc.. I will be adding things gradually, please post any comments or suggestions you'd have.

My first post is below. I may have stretched it a bit too long, but it will be useful to me as a guideline for future reviews- which will be shorter, I promise!

Have a nice time.

dimanche 11 mars 2007

I Call It Art

After i watched David Lynch's puzzling new picture, Inland Empire, questions kept coming up my mind: Was it art? How am i supposed to even start to decide if it was any good? Which led to further questions about the definition of art and the criteria used to judge artistic works.
This post is my attempt to find myself the beginning of an answer. The question of what art really is has occupied the thoughts of great minds in history and yet has never been solved in an absolute way. My aim here is therefore less philosophical than practical : expose a way to decide what is art and what is good art, a way that may need corrections in the future and that will probably not satisfy everyone but a way that might work for the time being.

Wikipedia defines art as "that which is made with the intention of stimulating the human senses as well as the human mind or spirit." For Leon Tolstoy, the essence of a work of art is its capacity to transmit to its audience emotions from the artist. These are the two pillars of my understanding of artistic creation: the conscious sharing of the artist's feelings through a medium ( painting/music/book/...) that touches one's mind and body.

Having said that, I believe we must dismiss many criteria often associated with art. Must a work of art be necessarily easy to understand? Or even, have any meaning at all? Cultural revolutions throughout the 20th century, from the "art for art" of dadaists to Klein's monochromes, have taught us that the absence of logic, meaning or clarity do not prevent us from being moved by a piece of art. In fact, mysteries appeal to our unconscious and can prove to be powerful revelators of the soul. Anyone who has loved Mulholland Drive without understanding a damn thing will know what I mean.
Moreover, any work whose primary concern is not the sharing of emotions should not, I believe, be considered art. If the main focus is the sharing of a message, let's call it communication. If it's serving a function, let's call it design. If it's about the search for the truth or for the good, philosophy and morality best describe it. A film whose main goal is to capture the greatest audience cannot be an artistic film whatever the aesthetic quality it possesses. It can have some artistic quality without being a work of art in itself, just like knowing how to cook doesn't make you a chef. The intention factor here is a key, it links art to the artist, quality to creativity.

The most difficult question that remains is: must art necessarily be beautiful? Or, since beauty is subjective: must art necessarily be intended to be beautiful? For his work to considered art, must the author have done it to satisfy an aesthetic taste, even if it was a particular taste no one but him possessed?
Posing aesthetism as necessary condition for art can be convenient for people like me who have some trouble with some pieces of "modern art". I was once flabbergasted to see on display at the Centre Pompidou a row of cotton pieces soaked in the artist's menstrual blood, accompanied with tags with the precious information of the date of the "artistic creation". Whatever the feminist point she was trying to make there, I don't think that woman would actually argue that the beauty of the work had been her main concern in its conception. It would not mean that we should disqualify from being artistic anything that we don't find beautiful, but only those works which so blattantly reject aesthetism.
However, the problem with the aesthetic condition is that it restricts our understanding of art. Our emotions are stimulated by the beautiful, but also by the horrible, the frightening, the humorous, etc... Conceptual art aims to touch us by ways which do not belong to our aesthetic code. In the end, if the thought of the beauty of a piece of work almost always comes to the fore in our appreciation of it, we should keep an open mind and see what other ways artists can touch us. From this, we can only benefit.

Having seen what we consider to be art, the question left is: what makes good art? To this, my answer is simple: how successful has the work been in transmitting the intended emotion, in stimulating our senses and mind. Each of us will have a unique answer to that question for every artwork we encounter.
The criteria often used in determining the quality of an artwork are the same used to determine it's financial value. These include the notoriety of the artist and the novelty of the idea behind the work. I chose to reject these criteria, for what they end up creating is a situation where the same drawing will have a different "quality" associated with it depending on whether we know it was from Basquiat or not. A situation where a new yet shallow idea will be rewarded more than an old one powerfully reinvented. A situation where being an art collector is being just another businessman.
So let us ask ourselves only one question while looking at art: how much has it moved us? And let time, not money nor audience, be the best judge of cultural quality. The macarena may have sold millions of copies, who will listen to it now?

David Lynch's Inland Empire is a puzzle fitted in a maze wrapped in a mystery. This is no conventional story-line, even more cryptic than Mulholland Drive and should be not be summarised.
Oniric scenes follow each other in a surreal way, with main actress Laura Dern haunting most of them with her amazing grace. Music, lighting and dialogues all contribute to a tense crescendo. For three long hours, you wander in the dark, literally and metaphorically. Inland Empire aims to appeal to our senses and cares little about box-office success. I call it art.
But is it good art? I personally felt it to be uneven, alternating between hypnotic passages and tiresome repetitions. Many spectators were bored, others just left the theatre. Unless that "malaise" was Lynch's aim, Inland Empire was not the best emotion-transmitter. It compares weakly with Mulholland Drive, Lynch's masterpiece. But the best thing would be for you to see it and give me a piece of your mind..

" it hate, call it love, I call it art..."
I Call It Art by The Kills, in Gainsbourg Revisited (2005)