A dance of slicey death
(with apologies to Eddie Campbell)
|Hit-Girl takes a licking.|
|Chloe cuts with a knife.|
Old books can be indecent books
Though recent books are bolder,
For filth (I'm glad to say)
Is in the mind of the beholder.
When correctly viewed,
Everything is lewd.
I could tell you things about Peter Pan —
And the Wizard of Oz, there's a dirty old man!
— Tom Lehrer, "Smut"
There is a possibly apocryphal story that at a certain point in his career, Picasso (or maybe it was Dali) grew so cynical about his own fame that he took to selling blank canvasses alongside his paintings. The story resonates, because I remember seeing a Picasso at the Albright-Knox Gallery in Buffalo, New York. Admittedly I was a callow youth and might have missed some brilliant subtlety in that enormous canvas, but what it looked like to me was nothing more nor less than a joke at the expense of whoever would be willing to pay money for such a sloppy monstrosity. It looked to me like Picasso had slapped the canvas with a house-painting brush until it was mostly filled by artless black lines and white spaces.
As I said, it might be that I missed some deeper layer of meaning but I suspect not. I've seen that Picasso damned well could paint when he was of a mind to, and I didn't see any evidence that that painting was one of those times.
That canvas is why I am so ready to believe the story about the blank canvasses. The fine art world is such a confidence racket (see Tom Wolfe's The Painted Word if you haven't noticed it for yourself) why wouldn't a succesful and cynical artist test it to see just how gullible it could be?
I've seen a couple of movies recently which brought to mind the above anecdote, as well as the fable of the emporer's new clothes.
One is an art-house film, directed by one of Canada's regulars at Cannes, at director whose movies win prizes but sell few tickets. The other is a crass and violent film that made Roger Ebert "sad" and which has also appalled all sorts of people who haven't seen it.
One film boasts leaden dialogue, the other reparté that, if not quite Shakespearean, still sparkles by comparison; one boasts an utterly forgettable score of sacharine strings that bear no apparent connection to what is occuring on-screen, the other a soundtract carefully chosen not just to accompany but to augment each scene; one film opens with a narrative voice-over which is almost immediately forgotten, the other begins with the voice-over and — succesfully — maintains it.
One is (or pretends to be) a study of sexual obsession and a portrait of a family threatened by the estrangement of man and wife and by a sexually powerful interloper (which also gives the director the chance to get his actresses naked and to make out with each other though — since this is Art — neither of them appears to have any fun doing so.
The other is an unabashed fantasy of violence and vengeance, a portrait of a nerdy teenage boy who dons a costume to fight crime (and who mostly gets brutally beaten for his troubles) and of an 11 year-old girl who lives out her father's fantasies and really does succeed in slicing, stabbing, gutting, shooting and otherwise slaughtering a veritable legion of bad-guys, all while cursing up a blue storm (yes, folks, even the dreaded C-word).
No prizes for guessing which film I think is worth your time.
Warning: Come-on: Swearing and gratuitous nudity behind the fake cut to my website.