The artist is alive

The artist is alive

‘To stay alive – a method’ 
Documentary film by Erik Lieshout, Arno Hagers, Reinier van Brummelen
Netherlands, 2016

Some things are so outspoken that any commentary becomes superfluous. Some people too. Suicidal actions even more, they spread an intractable distress like a blast. Here, in the film ‘To stay alive – a method’, the blast expands in slow motion and through a painful serenity. Based on Houellebecq’s essay ‘To stay alive’ (Rester vivant, 1991), revolving on the idea of suffering as the source of poetry, the film is a visualization of the essay in free synthesis. The order of the text is reshuffled, some parts are repeated, the narrations of the four characters interlace with the reading done by Iggy Pop. The narrations are subjective, the reading sounds objective; this is what you should do, because ‘a dead poet does not write’: First, suffering; To articulate; Strike where it counts.

The film focuses on clinical depression plus other sufferings of the psyche, by presenting the life stories that inspired the essay. However, Houellebecq’s text applies to all poets, and artists of course. And we the spectators/readers, we must keep in mind that depression and the rest do not necessarily lead to poetry (mostly not).

Creation is not a cheerful action. As for poets, there is nothing pleasant in not belonging but still having to wear the armor of normality. This applies to those with an institution certificate as much to those who will never be officially diagnosed (with more variations possible, as those that are diagnosed but prefer to live with their condition than abolishing it together with poetry).

“Most people come to terms with life, or else they die. You are living suicides.”

“Structure is the sole means of escaping suicide.”

“Emotion abolishes the causal chain.”

“Life has become administrative and medical” says Vincent to his guest, Iggy Pop. Vincent, played by Houellebecq himself, is a sculptor who has had success, now living alone in his parental house. He is busy with an artwork hidden from the eyes of the world; his guest gets to see it, we don’t, and there is no comment made on it. This reference to Balzac’s short story ‘The Unknown Masterpiece‘ (Le Chef-d’œuvre inconnu, 1831), links the essay’s text to this basic read for artists. Whether it is a sign of awe or a joke it doesn’t matter.

What matters is that Houellebecq’s essay is a passionate text that can well serve people on the verge of burning. It entails a sense of truth that saves lives. This sense of truth is also the reason why his writings are exceptional in the whole meaning of the word. Sometimes they seem incomplete, arrhythmical, shapeless as form, and unpleasant, appalling, unacceptable as point of view. They are indeed the opposite of creative writing products and of political correctness. They are outside of what is expected from an intellectual; not left, not right, and more on the defensive. Perhaps you must have a feel for poetry to appreciate these writings, a kind of hunch that there is something to it behind the words as such. I think that it’s a call to be awake as in front of a work of art; this is the real interactiveness, buttons and effects can not do the trick.

Iggy Pop reads beautifully, his voice coming from equal depth as the words he reads; and yet, with a sense of humor. When sitting together with Michel Houellebecq, they don’t try to keep up appearances of anything successful, or anything at all. To me, this is the only point I recognize the ‘feelgood’ tag of the film, otherwise be prepared to look at the other side. The film is beautiful and there is poetry recited.

P.S. An unedited translation of the essay into English can be read here: TO STAY ALIVE (translation Richard Davis), 1999

Interstellar and the melancholy of our only home

There is a reason why we are here on earth and not somewhere else; a gift or a burden according to our attitude, this is the fact. We live on earth, our only home; dreams and plans of colonising other drifting rocks have succeeded only in films. Interstellar is the newest of them, deploying its story through a long narration; a constant feel of suffocation and nausea, on earth caused by the blowing dust, in space resulting from the claustrophobic no-way-out room of the spacecraft, or the ammoniac air on the potential new homes, or the abnormal cylindrical form of the chosen new home; it keeps the dialogue to short phrases. The heroes save their breath all the way; there is doomed bravery, manipulative lies, imaginative trips through wormholes and time-spins and some humour coming from the accompanying robots. There is also one hero who has gone nuts* and takes the stigma of the coward and the evil; but his action is what triggers the catharsis, the solution that lets the pieces fall into some place. Saying that, the film leaves an open door to more stories to come; the script-writers might already be busy.

Themes that pass in the story: ecology, science, the NASA, history, ageing (individually and as species?), belief to a more powerful other and atheism as expression of confidence to our brain, trust to our gut feel on the other side, the individual versus the collective, love versus logic, and the duty to do what you can, just to mention some. Trust to humans in a melancholic way comes as bottom line and I can go with this since the basic questions: where am I, where am I going to, who are we anyway, pop up too while floating in space.

But there are more, less graceful questions to be asked, like: what happened to the animals; where they all extinct before space colonisation? Did we take any with, even in a tube? How did we find the way back to the same worm-hole? How did communication with the earth continue when we entered unknown space zones? While the film is full with scientific explanations that most of us do not understand anyway, such questions stay out of the list whatsoever. Still, we learn that a worm-hole looks like a sphere, and this is even drawn for us on paper!

Some expressed disappointment for the film while comparing it to Cubric’s Odyssey, not finding the poetry in Interstellar. It is too common for the theme, too silly, too casual. However, poetry in art has been accused as bourgeois aesthetics; on the other hand, the down to earth human sound of the film and the limited talks and movements, belong to our times poetry; not cursing but not praising either. The casual in this film strikes as the most honest expression of melancholy about the strives of humans; the earthy ones and the others. Besides, its earthy aesthetics brings to mind science fiction series of the 70’s like “Space 1999” or “Lost in space”; what a thrill!

Going back home from the cinema I felt younger than before I entered and lighter (some bricks lifted from the soul). It is not about hope; rather about a melancholy shared.

 

* I don’t know if it is a well silenced joke (or catch), but I couldn’t believe my eyes: they find Matt Damon on a star, and he is a coward and evil selfish nut-case!

P.S. 1 Once you’ve seen the film check also this article where the titles of the books falling from the shelves are revealed.

P.S. 2 The only real downer of Interstellar is the music; I ignored it all the way.

"Dark again", 2003 by S.Kapnissi
“Dark again”, 2003 by S.Kapnissi

 

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“Nymphomaniac”- a study on hypocrisy

“Nymphomaniac I & II”, a film by Lars von Trier, 2013

A double trap woven with artistic values; a European story of satisfaction versus in-satisfaction and of sex-excess versus sexual abstention. It could be one film. The  reason that it is divided in two is mainly part of the plan of getting us in the end. Because this end is the black hole that sucks the whole story in and reverses it back to what we made of it. Incomprehensible? Not really; if you went to see the film, you are first of all curious, or you belong to the audience of Lars von Trier; so, cruelty towards your feelings, crashing of your beliefs, mockery of your aesthetic visions and none of this all, or exactly the opposites, are in the expected. So is the – unnecessary to my view – explanation in the end that the narrated extremes would not be so shocking if they referred to a male person instead of a female. Thanks, but then again we could figure that out without much.

After watching the first part of the total 330 minutes, it felt shorter than expected and incomplete, so I went to see the rest in the same evening. Whether entertained, shocked, bored  or not by the detached repetitive encounters bluntly shown, the confession of guilt and the references to our continent’s brilliancy in philosophy, music, cinema, etc. create expectations for a justified crescent; nothing like that happens of course; the “pain that must awaken the senses” part felt longer, even more because of it non concluding to anything; … and then once more we must thank art for being the buffer of reality.

The film could have a subtitle, like “-a European story”, “-pleasure and pain as daily practice” or “-a study on hypocrisy”. This last, the notion of hypocrisy, seems to bother von Trier mostly having been himself on the chair of the accused by journalists and the politically correct  who see the words and miss the meaning deliberately; that is how a decent living is made. Here to note that the chapter “Dangerous people” starts as a provocative joke. From that moment on it is clear that we are provoked to judge the persons and their actions and the one who put them there above all; a provocation that runs along the whole work; naturally.

As an artist in full control of his material von Trier makes a film of narration with flash-backs, some rules of the Dogma alive, some dead (where is the here and now?); but as said before, so what; they are his rules, so he breaks them as he wishes and that’s that. As form it is more built as a game of visions from the European cinema.

The film ends in a few minutes of blowing up the sex obsessed and the virgin and their stories too; whatever part we’ve taken, whatever prickled our senses (to say it in a civilised way) is thrown back to our face; live with it; angels and devils in one.

P.S. “The symptomatology of black bile had grown complex: depending on the humour on which it originated, and whether it was too hot, cold, moist or dry, it could produce lethargy or mania, taciturnity or loquacity, workaholism or paralysis, insomnia or stupor and anorexia or gluttony (showing in obesity or emaciation); it could make one a voluptuary or an ascetic. Though elaborate, the symptomatology gave a good accommodation for the ‘bipolar’ dimension of melancholia.”
Excerpt (p.140) from the book “The story of black” by John Harvey, Reaktion Books Ltd, 2013

Day 12 from the series "360 days", ink on paper, 2005-..., S.Kapnissi
Day 12 from the series “360 days”, ink on paper #ink, 2005-…, S.Kapnissi