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Posts Tagged ‘postmodernism’

Sculpting in TimeSculpting in Time by Andrei Tarkovsky

Andrey Tarkovsky (1989) Sculpting in Time. Reflections on the Cinema. Translated from the Russian by Kitty Hunter-Blair, University of Texas Press.
My rating: *****

Publisher’s page. Includes table of contents and extract.

I want to underline my own belief that art must carry man’s craving for the ideal, must be an expression of his reaching out towards it; that art must give man hope and faith. And the more hopeless the world in the artist’s vision, the more clearly perhaps must we see the ideal that stands in opposition to it – otherwise life becomes impossible!

I have been reading Tarkovsky’s truly wonderful book in which he reflects on and explains the thinking that went into his films. If some of the language in the citation above, with its mention of the ideal, hope and faith appears old-fashioned to hardened veterans of the new millennium, it would appear nonetheless, as Tarkovsky argues, that life is still impossible without these things. Having recently viewed a TV series, Spirited, which after the long and careful establishing of two strong and independent characters with a positive control over their own existences, suddenly in the last three episodes, opts to turn them into the pathetic victims of a cruel and heartless universe, his remarks seem very apposite.

Faced in this case with what essentially appears to be a radical loss of faith and hope by the writers in their own creation, the consumer, who feels betrayed by this loss, is left wondering which way to turn. Perhaps this is the experience of many fan fiction writers. (Just to be specific, this is not an art form that I personally practise). And indeed not just fan fiction writers, but a whole range of other creative practitioners. They are forced into creating their own story to make up for the failure of other texts in providing the ideal they were hoping for. Thus in some instances, they might actively engage, as Tarkovsky would have it, in opposing the hopelessness of particular artistic visions.

One could take this further and argue that in Lyotard’s postmodern world, everybody is looking for the perfect story and when they don’t find one ready-made, they are forced to create their own. This applies as much to the most esoteric flight of theory as to the trashiest piece of fan fiction. It applies to a range of other practices as well – including the political, and right down to the way people tell themselves the story of their own lives. This desire to create one’s own story is, of course, by no means simply limited to the so-called postmodern age or culture. As many have argued, the desire to tell and to consume story is something deeply embedded in human experience. Story is not simply about diversion, bread and circuses, the mindless ‘entertainment’ much touted by Hollywood and its ilk. Story is about imagining better (or worse) worlds, of reflecting on our everyday and the possibilities of human experience, and experimenting with different ways of thinking those possibilities.

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My rating **

This series is no better and no worse than a dozen other American television series that are being churned out at present and the critical comments I am making here apply to a number of other series as well.

I first wrote this review after seeing about 3 episodes and I am now updating it after seeing a few more. It has definitely improved but is still not overly involving and one happily forgets it soon after viewing. From a review and comments posted on Jace’s Televisionary blog, it would seem that I am by no means alone in my dissatisfaction with this series. It plays as a kind of updated X files but without the style, the conviction, or the character interest. Two of the three leads are a bland young male and female played by actors indistinguishable from any number of other actors who populate the other American series which blur into a seamless and tedious landscape across the channels on evening television. There is also an irritating older character who is set up as the father of the young male character. Fortunately he seems to be becoming a bit less irritating as the series progresses. A former Harvard professor who has had some kind of breakdown, he is apparently meant to provide ‘comic relief’ as an eccentric, possibly psychic, idiot savant. This kind of ‘quirkiness’ seems to have become a substitute for characters who might actually be of real interest in a lot of current mainstream American television. (See for example the truly ghastly Eli Stone and the unpleasant main character in Psych and of course the series that set the trend – Monk).

There are also attempts to make the female lead more three-dimensional by providing her with a traumatic past, but there is not enough conviction in the acting, the characterisation or the story, to allow the viewer to feel any real connection.

The stories are vaguely X files-esque with rogue doctors performing unethical experiments, possible ghosts, people who could possibly be aliens, bosses who could possibly have links with some unspecified organization. Unlike The X files, however, for all its unsatisfactorily resolved set ups, there is no sense that the writers actually have anything to say beyond ticking the boxes of what has been designated as ‘cult’ in certified and standardised writing courses.

The series also shares a feature in common with other innumerable American forensic, crime and medical ensemble dramas, namely an impression of clutter. People and equipment litter the screen in an indistinguishable and equivalent mass. The obligatory moral posturing that comes with the formula is ultimately empty as all the elements, both human and non human are equivalent – the degree zero of a certain kind of postmodernism if you like.

To try and end on a more positive note however, sometimes series improve as they get into their stride and this one seems to be improving. Also worthy of note is the excellent fan blog for the series run by a Kentucky based software engineer Dennis Acevedo who also runs a fan blog on Cloverfield.*

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