Avatar

Until reading Manohla Dargis’ review in the New York Times, I had no intention of seeing Avatar. But her article affected me: I felt disturbed and violated. Her opening sentence: ‘With “Avatar” James Cameron has turned one man’s dream of the movies into a trippy joy ride about the end of life – our moviegoing life included – as we know it,’ is why. Those words in parentheses, an obliging repetition of the advertisements, obliterated my initial dismissiveness. So too, did its place as #24 in IMDb’s Top 200 List (well ahead of Citizen Kane and Sunset Boulevard). To say ‘Just another bullshit blockbuster to disregard’ is irresponsible in this case. 20th Century Fox and James Cameron are serious – $280 million is no joke, not even to them (it boasts of being one of the most expensive movies ever made). The aim for the filmmakers of Avatar is to revolutionize cinema through science fiction, to finish what George Lucas and Steven Spielberg began. They are desperate to do so in part because audiences are thinning.

György Kepes: a Polaroid and a Reminiscence

This hypnotic light graphic, which was commissioned by the Polaroid Corporation, was done using a 20″ x 24″ Land camera.

It illustrates a few intriguing things about color perception in Polaroid technology and Mr. Kepes’s unique insight about how to make it effective within his own artistic methods and intentions. If the colors that are being photographed are somewhat achromatic, i.e., neutral, they appear to be more “real”, i.e., because the viewer is not searching his color memory to decide whether the colors resemble the vividness of a rose, for example. The gray gridded background, crossword puzzle on paper, ink-on canvas, Braille sample, half-silvered prism, reflections and cast shadows are virtually achromatic, in spite of the fact that this is a color photograph.

Commentary: Here and There… of Anthropology at Home and Abroad

The ethnographic films of Robert Gardner and anthropology in general resonate quite powerfully with me, although I’ve hardly ever had a chance to become broadly or deeply acquainted with either. My first encounter with Gardner’s Dead Birds, his best-known work, made a deep impression on me, not only because of the film itself, which was reason enough, but because of the odd circumstances in which I first discovered it.

Christmas, 1559

A hundred small fires light up the close. Animals are everywhere. Sheep cries. At the stroke of the great bell the introit rings out. Rorate coeli desuper. Veni Domine, et noli tardare. Alleluia. This is all most of them will hear. The procession is coming down the close. The costumes struck through and through with gold thread, the books of music full of everlasting beauty, even lapis from the East. This is the color which clothes the Virgin. Light is barely perceptible through the windows. The city of Gloucester leans in on the cathedral like a parent over a child. Those outside attend a rite which they cannot see and cannot hear.

Edward Steichen: In High Fashion, the Condé Nast Years, 1923-1937

This important exhibition of Edward Steichen’s fashion and celebrity photography for Condé Nast, which will close soon in Toronto and continue on to Fort Lauderdale and Kansas City, emerged from an earlier, ambitious survey of his entire career, Edward Steichen: Lives in Photography, also organized by Foundation for the Exhibition of Photography and the Musée de Élysée. While researching that exhibition, the curators, William Ewing and Todd Brandow, discovered two thousand vintage prints from Steichen’s years at Vogue and Vanity Fair in the Condé Nast Archive, where they were catalogued and preserved to museum standards. These had never been exhibited before and presented an opportunity not to be missed.

A Singer’s Notes, 9: Ben…Benjamin Luxon in Stravinsky’s Soldier’s Tale

Stravinskys Soldier’s Tale is a recalcitrant work, its center always just out of reach It is difficult for me to know what the actual action is. It would seem to be three or four encounters with the devil, but this devil is a protean fellow and has no graspable human characteristics. He can seem to be a talking mask. Good devils have the human touch. They are us. The thing I admired most in Ben’s narration of the tale in the Mahaiwe this weekend was his attempt to humanize him. In his imaginations of the evil one there was that touch of vulnerability.

Entertainment for the Passengers of a Ship Amongst Icebergs: The Ten Best Films of the Decade

Everyone likes a top ten list, especially when the paragraph which precedes the list is an earnest disclaimer like this one: I didn’t go to enough movies this decade. I’ve missed intriguing films by Angelopoulos, Godard, Spike Lee, Wim Wenders and Abbas Kiarostami (among others). Additionally, this list is biased in favour of the English-speaking world, specifically the United States, in a decade when many interesting and hard to find movies seem to have been made in other places.

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