April 23, 2003

The Artist, Stanley Kubrick

I was poking around Plastic this morning looking for something entirely different and came accross this interesting 1999 Harpers article on Kubrick's last film, Eyes Wide Shut which was linked off a Plastic discussion on Kubrick. I had originally thought the film was just okay. But I could there was something more than what I was picking up. This article gives me a new perspective on the film. The author Lee Spiegel gives an interesting commentary on how our culture has become one of "art-phobia."
No one has dwelled on the essential otherness of a work of art. There is, after all, that hackneyed but profound notion of a willing suspension of disbelief. Genuine art makes you stake your credulity on the patently counterfeit. It takes you by surprise. And for art to take you by surprise, you have to put yourself in the power of another world--the work of art--and in the power of another person--the artist.

Yet everything in our society, so saturated with economic imperatives, tells us not to surrender our interests even for a moment, tells us that the only forms of cultural expression we can trust are those that give us instant gratification, useful information, or a reflected image of ourselves. So we are flooded with the kind of art that deprecates attentiveness, tells us about the issues of the day, and corresponds to our own personalities. And if a genuine work of art appears that has none of these qualities, critics impose them anyway, for they fear that if they surrender themselves to the work's strangeness, they will seem vulnerable and naive and intellectually unreliable.

And how the marketing backfired:

Since the film's producers had mounted such an immensely noisy publicity campaign--Kubrick's last film; one of the world's greatest directors tackles the subject of sex, sex, sex by staging the most erotic orgy scene ever filmed; see Nicole Kidman nude; see Tom Cruise nude; see the couple married in real life make love on the screen--the critics had to show that they were not going to allow bullying commerce to determine their experience of the film. So they decided not to respond to the film. They decided to respond to the hype. And the result was that the hype totally determined their experience of the film.

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