Art and Reality

My "editorial" for this month's Boomerang...So yes, real published work! Enjoy. More to come.

‘tis the season to be jolly…and the season of gold. The Academy Awards are coming up and in the US most films aiming for one or more little statuettes are being rolled out in December: early enough to still qualify and late enough that they will be fresh in the voter’s memory. Remarkable again this year is how many of the contenders have a basis in reality. Last year this trend was already visible – four out of the five nominees for best actor were portraying real people – and this year continues it: hopefuls include Good Night, and Good Luck, George Clooney’s second film as a director about the reporter Edward Murrow and his fight against McCarthyism, Capote, a film documenting the writing of “In Cold Blood”, Truman Capote’s famous non-fiction novel, and Walk the Line, a biopic about Johnny Cash. Steven Spieberg’s Munich, about the killing of Israeli athletes by Palestinian terrorists in Munich in 1972 and the retribution that followed it, has yet to come out but is already rumored to be one of the front runners. The only film not based on reality that stands a chance to win Best Picture is Brokeback Mountain and this was enough for some ridiculous responses in the media, as you can read in the article on Le Temps qui reste.

It makes you wonder: do we need art to put reality in perspective? Can art only be considered to be “high art” if it takes reality as its basis and transforms it? And if the answer to these questions is yes, why is the non-documentary film rated highest on rottentomatoes.com King Kong, not exactly the most realistic film?

The question arises whether the films based on “true stories”, and for that matter all art that has a basis in reality, merely reflects it or transforms it in a subtle way, reinvents it so to speak. For example, the photographs by Rinke Dijkstra, an exhibition of which Floor reviews, come as close to objectivity as photography allows yet we look at them with more interest than at random snapshots because she chose these people, these children to photograph. Simply this makes them more important, more mysterious and more intriguing than they would otherwise have been. Rineke Dijkstra’s work was also on display at this year’s Museumnight in Amsterdam together with other works that can be seen in the context of their manipulation of and influence on reality and how we perceive it. Aansan reports especially on those by VJ Erwin Olaf, whose works according to her “[play] with reality on the edge of fantasy and dream”.

Then there’s Bob Dylan, about whom it’s always been almost impossible to distinguish fact from fiction. Scorsese made a documentary about him –also reviewed in this section- but didn’t even try to disentangle truths from falsehoods, the invented from the real, just observed. Still, why is it worth mentioning that Scorsese directed it if not because this influences the end product greatly? By leaving some things out and putting others in, by lingering on Dylan’s face sometimes a little longer than we’d expect, by superimposing specific comments over certain images, he molds reality to become art and as such he influences how we see it.

Umberto Eco recently wrote in the Telegraph that while ours should be a cynical age because we’ve mostly let go of God, we live instead in a world of endless credulity. It is understandable in a way that people nowadays blend fact and fiction, with reality shows that might or might not be scripted and truth often seeming stranger than fiction. The Da Vinci Code is not only a best-selling book but many follow it as some kind of evangelism while other books like the Da Vinci Code decoded attack is as if it were a history book, and not conspiracy theory escapism. Eco argues that it is the lack of religion that makes us turn to other “spiritual” avenues, books like “the Celestine Prophecy” for example, passionately defended by Orr Shomroni here.

Sometimes it would seem that we need art to understand reality, almost. That we need some kind of fiction as a comfort in our lives. How else to explain the popularity of astrology and similar things? Art might be as good a way as any a lens to see the world through. If God is dead, let’s hope it makes art live a long and healthy life.

1 comment:

cool cat said...

I agree with the point you made, that people seek comfort in fiction, but this is beginning to disappear in favour of using reality to seek comfort. Fiction, obviously, will never die, since people always use fiction to intrigue our imagination. But in the time being, reality shows give comfort to viewers, showing contestants make fools of themselves or showing how truely deceitful they can be, enabling viewers to sympathise. I reckon it is hard to sympathise with a large gorilla or four children being thrown into a world with talking animals.
In short, this is the era of reality. Fiction will just have to wait.