San Diego Soliloquies

Monday, March 01, 2004

Art

For some reason all the hoopla over Friday, Bloody Good Friday leaves me more pensive than amused. Though Menken's admonition is as always apropos (especially given the box office reports) I wonder more about the artistic impulse to create this movie, and how that impulse was guided by its intended audience. I am also reminded of Francisco Jose de Goya y Lucientes.

Goya was an ambitious man, an incendiary talent who was born in a complacent time. In order to join the Spanish Royal Academy, Goya produced a crucifixion scene that completely fit the tastes of his audience. Of course, the members of the audience were the Academy so Goya's picture is really just a pastiche of Valazquez's still, unsettling “Christ on the Cross” and Anton Meng's contemporaneous “Christ on the Cross”. Velazquez's Christ hangs dead on the cross, blood still seeping, the sacrificial lamb dangling from the altar. Meng's Christ looks like he is about to lead a cheer atop Golgotha. Goya split the two, executing a technically brilliant but bloodless (in all senses) submission. Goya's painting would have joined Meng's in richly deserved obscurity had not his native talent and obsessive need to explore the limits of art created the masterpieces we now know him by.

The Passion of the Christ has already made a lot of money, and made a lot of people think. That's more than the vast majority of movies do. It's an accomplishment, but it ain't art. Art changes things. When something that is real art gets made, the world is a different place for it. Of course the difference can quickly becomes mundane through repetition. So Velazuez's Christ, becomes Meng's becomes Goya's becomes a thousand suffering Jesuses painted on everything from black velvet to (now) celluloid and (soon, probably available now in Taiwan) optical disk.

So if we arbitrarily pick Velazquez, at the mid-point of the Spanish Inquisition, as the starting point to this journey of the portrayal of Christ, what might be an endpoint, or at least a balance? As is usual in Spain, for this we must turn to a Catalan, Dali's Corpus Hypercubus. I wonder what the reaction would be like to a movie that ended with this as a crucifixion scene. Mankind (actually womankind) honestly contemplating what the story of the sacrifice of Jesus means, rather than being pummeled by the brutality and squalor of a common Roman death.


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