Apr 30, 2007

Sick with Talent

My mom used this phrase, enfermos de talento, about pretentious artists. People who are sick with talent. Their talent is so monstrous that no other humans can hope to understand it. I'm sure you've seen examples of that.
Yesterday, I saw a film at the Tribeca Film Festival to which this description applies. The film is Passio, by an Italian guy whose name I frankly do not care to remember. He unearthed some silent film footage in many film archives across the world, and put it together to the live sounds of Arvo Part's choral work Passio.
On paper, the idea was intriguing. The footage is disturbing: medical experiments conducted at the beginning of the 20th Century, the idea that technology can become heartless, rendered in the first instances of film ever known, coupled with a haunting, minimalistic cantata . So far so good.
I have to thank Stephen Holden of the NYT for writing a flummoxing good review of this piece of garbage. Dude, if not my money, I want my time back. I'm sorry that as a film critic you have to sit through a lot of local trash, but that is no excuse to confuse this with something worthy. It is unadulterated, pretentious, annoying, obnoxious CRAP.
I was mostly curious because I wanted to hear that solemn, ethereal piece by Arvo Part performed live. The Trinity Choir's performance at St. John the Divine, which has great acoustics, was wonderful. But the moment I saw the words "Isabella Rosellini Presents" in the opening credits I knew we were in trouble. I've seen the documentary about her dad she did with Guy Maddin and I knew she's phony and pretentious, at least in her artistic taste (I have nothing against her otherwise).
So this is the movie: extremely short pieces of found silent footage, followed by flashes of titles in gibberish, like the stuff you used to see at the end of a roll of film, followed by excruciatingly long fades to black. Then very disturbing footage of naked epileptics writhing on the ground, people conducting experiments in Eugenics, and an extremely long shot of someone performing surgery on a human eye, and then another one of surgeons rummaging inside a human being. With bursts of other absurd footage in between: morbid, pornographic stuff, not in the sexual sense, but in the exploitative sense.
If the piece is supposed to be meditative, it is actually the contrary. Who can meditate when the montage is so obviously manipulative? Since the images are so short, and the darkness in between so long, you don't dare close your eyes for fear you will lose an image. If this is then an indictment of our natural, human curiosity to see, then the disrespect of this man for his audience is more than I can bear. Don't tempt me with imagery and then accuse me of prurience. The whole thing seemed to me to be utterly dishonest and masturbatory: Artporn.
It also shows great disrespect for the music. There is a huge discrepancy between the pure, solemn, spirituality of the music, and the arbitrary choices of the film.
Obviously, the kind of stuff that one expects: the nazis, the soviets, Mao, the atomic bomb, all of our modern manufactured hell is not represented: that would be too easy. Fair enough. But the footage does not really communicate anything but disgust and for a work that is supposed to invoke pity, since it recounts the sufferings of Christ at the cross, all it invoked in me was shame, alienation and boredom.

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