Friday, August 23, 2013

Conceptual movie making, and beyond

I was looking the other day at some raving comments on Spring Breakers  by English professor and cultural critic Steven Shivaro. He says he found the movie “utterly ravishing” – “so gorgeous as to negate or suspend the uneasiness” he felt about some dubious ideological messages embedded in it. Prof. confesses he was “helplessly & successfully disarmed by Harmony Korine’s relentless audiovisual seduction: the sunsets, the colors, the slow-motion, the breasts, the throbbing but sublimated yearning of the electro score, the intellectual montage that layers Britney over thuggery, and gorgeous beaches over willful stupidity, the heartfelt spirituality of Selena Gomez’s voiceovers.” He takes in “all this as an almost didactic demonstration of the way that, in our neoliberal culture, there is no distinction whatsoever between hedonism and self-help, or between transgression and hypernormativity.”

How funny – I had the exactly opposite reaction, as if we saw two different movies. I found the imagery Korine deploys so repulsive, ludicrously hyperbolic, and manipulatively stilted that I remained numb to any redeeming ideological messages he might have wanted to implant. We do seem to inhabit sometimes incommensurate mental matrices, after all – and this is a divide which probably runs not just between the “two cultures” (or intelligentsias) once described by C P. Snow; but within the arts and humanities, too. Come to think of it, some physicists who have dwelled on the “tao of physics” or pondered the abiding mysteries of the universe may envy the conceptualizing abstraction of much modern/postmodernist art and cultural “theorizing”; to say nothing of the nerdy pursuit of causal explanations and/or neat fixes to political and institutional hiccups in the “social sciences.”