Progress is a weird mistress. It invigorates while it obliterates. Many wondrous and exhilarating inventions have come from its hands, but there also be monsters. The old must give way to the new, and this sometimes takes place without much consideration for history or tradition. Progress has invented monsters whose sole purpose is to blindly move forward destroying what came before it. If there be monsters then there will always be people ready for the confrontation.
In this series of acrylic paintings, it is this confrontation that intrigues me. The image of the windmill has come to represent the battlefield. Progress is consuming it in flames and in its destruction it exerts its vitality. Don Quixote has waged war with it to try to reveal its inner dragon. Frankenstein’s beautiful monster of progress has sought refuge within its walls only to be consumed in its flames. The windmill’s endgame has become a charged image for me that tells both perspectives of this confrontation from both perspectives.
I unfortunately missed Hugo in the theatres but finally got around to watching the film last night. I had ordered the DVD when it first came out and it has sat on my shelf ever since. The film has everything I like in a movie, great sets, good actors, an amazing director, an interesting premise, but for some reason my interest wasn’t peaked, so on my shelf it sat.
First off, I really wanted to like Hugo and I kind of did. I have nothing but admiration for Martin Scorsese. The film looked great with its lavish sets and clocklike precision but I couldn’t figure out who the intended audience for this movie was. It is meant to be Scorsese’s first children’s movie but it never feels comfortable in those shoes. It had all the appropriate kid-like elements: an orphan boy trying to reconnect with his past, a mysterious automaton that may hold the key, a key, cartoonish villains and mild menace and peril. All these things felt like a frame that surrounded the real picture; the heart of this film is the birth of cinema and recognizing one of its earliest pioneers – Georges Méliès played by Sir Ben Kingsley.
Georges Méliès started his career as a magician and then eventually turned his skills to movie magic. Martin Scorsese uses Hugo to write a wonderful love letter to this man and his importance to film history. As an audience we get a glimpse into his working methods and innovations. These scenes brim with both whimsy and wonder. The greatest parts of the entire movie for me are the actual clips from Méliès’ films. I have seen many poor transfers and pixelated versions online and the difference in quality is jaw-dropping.
Scorsese’s love letter doesn’t just stop at George; we get to see Harold Lloyd climbing a 12 story building in Safety Last. Legend has it Lloyd was actually on the side of a building in downtown Los Angeles with only a mattress on a make shift platform below him to catch his fall. There are also clips from The Great Train Robbery and The General starring the magnificent Buster Keaton. Legend has it that Keaton’s director informed his cameraman to keep rolling no matter what, until Buster yelled cut or was killed – whichever came first. Scorsese even goes so far as to reenact the audience’s reaction to the Lumière Brothers first showing of a train arriving at a station. This becomes an inside joke later on in the film as another train comes off the screen with a little help of 3D technology.
The aesthetic elements of the film are like eye candy. The colour blue is a motif carried throughout the film. It tints every scene from Hugo’s eyes to the inspector’s uniform. Scorsese uses it masterfully with the ease of Picasso. Dust hangs in the air like tiny sun drenched particles, reminding the audience of moments past. The Parisian landscape is a wondrous sight.
Paris was the birthplace of cinema, so it is the appropriate backdrop for Hugo to take place in, but the film never feels French. All the actors speak with English accents. This fact took me out of the story and reminded me of how manufactured big budget films are. Every detail is meticulously considered and when a detail is off the overall feeling can be off-putting.
In the end, I think Hugo feels like a good movie that could have been great.
For this latest iPad painting, I drew inspiration from two artists I really respect Willem de Kooning and Robert Rauschenberg. I limited my palette to a range of greys, to focus on line and movement rather than colour. Early in their careers: de Kooning experimented with elimanating colour all together with his black and white paintings (this was born out of necessity, he could only afford black and white enamel at the time) and Rauschenberg limited himself to only the colour red for an early series. They effectively illustrated; that by stripping away certain elements, it forces the artist to focus on other artistic principles.
Many would say, that there is no such thing as the perfect song. One person’s version of perfection may not be to everybody’s liking. Certain songs can be perfect for certain situations but not all. Many things have to fall in line for something to be considered truly great, let alone perfect. As a stand alone piece of art, you wouldn’t want to change a single aspect: from the tone to the pace to the delivery. This song can be put up for debate but I think it flies pretty close to the sun.
Frank Sinatra delivers the lines to this song with a mixture of decades soaked nostalgia and sentimentality. The audience feels privy to Mr. Sinatra’s years of love and wisdom. It is like we are being let into a backroom and asked to sit at his table to share stories of old flames. No one else can command our absolute attention as Mr. Sinatra does. We hang on his every word and get pulled along by the current of the song. The lyrics are a laundry list of pivotal moments, ticked off one by one throughout the decades. It flirts with misogyny; reflecting the era it was written and being unapologetic about it. David Chase used it to great effect, as the soundtrack to the opening sequence of season 2 of The Sopranos.
Here’s another tablet painting. I’m struggling with a title. Any suggestions would be very helpful, just leave them in the comments. Cheers.
Just a twenty minute train ride outside of Barcelona is a secret gem of the architecture world; Gaudi’s unfinished church in the small town of Colonia Guell. Commissioned in 1899 by Gaudi’s chief patron Eusebi Guell, the church was to be a thank you for his workers in the small industrial town. Unfortunately funding was cut in 1914 and only the crypt was finished. The crypt is built into the side of a small hill with building materials that match the colour and texture of the surrounding landscape. The design includes a series of of rough-shot pillars, abstract stained glass and catenary arches.
Gaudi’s designing and working methods were both creative and innovative. He would suspend ropes attached with weights or chains from the ceiling. The curves created by gravity became the basis of the catenary arches when inverted. He would then either photograph or place a mirror under the hanging model to see the inverted structure.
The art critic Robert Hughes was the person who first drew my attention to this wonderful place in his documentary about Gaudi. The film is a great precursor but in no way a substitute to actually experiencing these buildings in person.
Barcelona contains many of Gaudi’s most famous works. The humbling scale and imagination of the Sagrada Familia and the sheer delight and whimsy of Park Guell are must sees. A wonderful aspect that separates Colonia Guell with these places is that you don’t have to deal with the long lines and crazy crowds of Barcelona. When we went, we had the place to ourselves for over an hour and only then, did another five people show up. It felt like we had our own personal Gaudi. When you are there, you are amazed that a place this amazing isn’t crawling with people but then again you’re thanking your lucky stars that it isn’t.
Here’s a little mix with some of the music featured on the 5th season of Mad Men with a few spoken word samples thrown in to boot.
Zou Bisou Bisou Gillian Hills
I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times (Bullion Remix) The Beach Boys
You Really Got Me The Kinks
Tomorrow Never Knows (Lefside Wobble Mix) The Beatles
You Only Live Twice Nancy Sinatra