Wednesday, 19 September 2007

(mostly) off-topic: back from london / dali and cinema

Normal service shall now resume.

London is a remarkable city, and to someone used to life somewhere like Malta, it feels like a different world. Its expansive, seemingly endless scale (I have visited three times and spent a total of over two months there, but still have not come close to taking in everything I want to see) is a big difference, of course, but it's not the only, or the biggest, factor. Its multiculturalism, the sense of the (mostly, but not always, harmonious)coexistence of countless lifestyles, is difficult to imagine coming from a society that is, at least on the surface, so uniformly homogenous. And this in a city where astonishing monuments such as Westminster Abbey and the National Gallery (whose collection we explored for almost two full days, without managing to see everything) stand to the monolithic Western Culture (the C most emphatically capitalized), with its unshaken values of tradition, aristocracy, hierarchy and nationalism, where Art stands in the service of God and country, and the latter two are almost interchangeable. The dichotomy between the almost incomprehensible, transcendental beauty of something like Westminster Abbey and the indefensible values it glorifies - monuments to kings, aristocrats, scientists and artists subsumed and incorporated into a great monument to the nation - represents, of course, one of the most troubling questions on the relation of art to society. Is the aesthetic worth of a work of art enough for it to transcend the material interests it is often designed to serve?

Back on topic - apart from sightseeing and museum touring, my visit also included two brilliant gigs (A Hawk and a Hacksaw, and Danielson, both of which Lara and I enjoyed immensely), a lot of book and record shopping, the sampling of several excellent beers which will make the local selections seem even more depressing, meeting a couple of expatriate friends, and other typical holiday pursuits.

On a more on-topic, cinema-related note, I also managed to catch a special exhibition at the Tate Modern about Salvador Dali's work for the cinema. The clear highlight, for me, was Destino, the six-minute animated film Dali had commenced work on with Walt Disney in 1946, but that had been left unfinished, until it was recently completed, following the original plans, by a team headed by executive producer Roy E. Disney and director Dominique Monfery.

The seams of this troubled history are evident; some sequences look very clearly CG-ed, while the look of the two protagonists seems very similar to Disney's more recent, modern style. As such, how close this project is to Dali and Disney's original intentions must remain in question; nonetheless, it remains a remarkable achievement.

I am not enough of an expert on art in general, or Dali in particualr, to be able to offer an in-depth critique of Destino. The power of its imagery, however, requires no interpretation. At its heart it is no more than the simple, eternal story of boy-meets-girl, but the story is told visually (there is no dialogue), and constructed out of the same symbolic, multi-layered surrealism as Dali's paintings. The film's images go beyond the breathless visual wit and invention they clearly display, attempting, as is the case with all of Dali's art, to capture and crystallize the hidden emotions and anxieties of the subconscious. The story becomes a beautifully eternal, almost epic one, while feeling intensely personal and real.

I cannot explain why the images have the impact they have - they work on an irrational, emotional level. But their impact is clearly felt, unlike in Dali's much-celebrated collaborations with Luis Bunuel, Un Chien Andalou (1929) and L'Age d'Or (1930). I understand I am slaughtering some kind of sacred cow here, but I feel that these two films, the latter in particular, degenerate into a tedious and incoherent visual babble of meaningless, affectless images, nonsense cinema in the most literal sense. While both, the former especially, contain moments of sheer brilliance (Un Chien Andalou's opening moon/eye montage is unforgettable, as is L'Age d'Or's closing sequence), they are few and far between, surrounded by long stretches of nothing. Their historical importance is undeniable, but I feel (and I may be missing something here) that, as experiences, they have aged terribly.

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