Archive for January, 2010

Yes, I Saw Avatar

January 22, 2010

. . . in 3-D on an IMAX screen. In Las Vegas. At 11 p.m. That’s got to be the ultimate movie experience!
So what did I think? It’s breath-taking–literally, like when you’re tottering on the edge of a cliff with the hero and nearly plunge into the falls. Or taking a ride on a reptilian creature with a 12-foot wingspan. Avatar is what movies are all about: why D. W. Griffith re-imagined Babylon for Intolerance, or why William Wyler tore up the turf in the Ben Hur chariot race–Spectacle! Danger! Romance! Casts of thousands! Transporting viewers to other times and places! There’s no point complaining that the story is shallow, anti-American, or tree-huggy (just try hugging that mother tree!); it’s true James Cameron called it an ecology fable, but he was after spectacle, not proselytizing. Nobody is going to be converted to radical environmentalism or paganism who wasn’t there already. And it’s not conversion if you’re already there, is it?
Cameron spent a whole bunch of money and a whole lot of time on a gamble that paid off, just like Titanic. To me it was as emotionally engaging as a roller-coaster ride, that kind that when you get off you’re glad you did it but don’t particularly want to do it again. Some fans have expressed their feelings of letdown after leaving the theater, going so far as to seek group therapy on fansites. I understand this too: it’s possible to be so transported by cinematic fantasy it’s hard to slip back into your place in the world. Much harder if you’re not sure of your place. But this too shall pass, both the individual displacement and the buzz about the movie, and eventually the movie itself. What’s it going to look like on a flat TV screen? Blue kitties in space.

The Problem of Character

January 16, 2010

What is it, really? What is personhood? Can anyone say that he knows who he is–particularly, what’s original in him and what was contributed by mother, father, John Wayne, Homer Simpson, JFK, or the Marx Brothers? Or, do the people we know, watch, and emulate pour through us, leaving their sayings and ideals which we incorporate and make our own? The question is particularly important for a novelist, for the characters she thinks she is “creating” may have made several appearances in the books she’s read and movies she’s watched, and only seem original because she’s named them. The mind teems with stock characters: what may seem like Venus springing fresh to life in a spray of sea foam is actually a painting by Botticelli, reproduced in countless books and TV documentaries. It’s art trading with art, not drawing from life. As art surrounds us more and more it’s difficult to distinguish the two. Art swapping with art is increasingly shallow and bizarre, but life trading with life is mere biology. Art and life need each other: Hamlet draws from his audience a much as they draw from him.