The Juilliard School in NY is highly revered and its deserves it. I personally always respected it, tried to know more about it and always considered it a shining beacon in the otherwise rather bleak landscape of American Arts. Juilliard traditions, its legacy, its message were and are exemplary and if there is something all the world knows about, American to the core and great at the same time- that's this School of Arts.
I don't know about other people but when I hear "the Juilliard graduate' I feel good about that person even before I see the performance. That is I felt that way until Zero Dark Thirty. Jessica Chastain is a Juilliard graduate and she played the CIA queen bee.
In all fairness, propaganda movies are nothing new. In fact, most of the movies are propaganda movies, even lyrical comedies. I do not associate the negative connotation with the word: cinema was invented as the mass --oriented art and as such it targets groups of people, not individuals. What you expect from the book- deep thinking, rich characters, psychology, individual feedback- all of that should not be expected from the "sentimental fever' as Ossip Mandelshtam had defined the cinema. It is not even a theater whose sole purpose is to concentrate the emotions flying in the air and dump them all on pitch and toss inside of the constrained space of the scene. Cinema is for everyone and as such promotes anything; its secret is in the availability of a menu- everyone enters the theater and picks his/her meal.
So before Zero Dark Thirty was, for instance "The British Agent' ( if I remember correctly) -- the 1920s movie loosely based on the "Memoirs Of The British Agent' by Robert Bruce Lockhart, the former member of the British mission in Russia during the Revolution. The movie had not much to do with real events but it featured a brilliant cast, a perfect protagonist woman- heroine, a lover and a spy played by Key Francis; it featured the portraying of then famous Russian leaders like Dzerzhinsky, the Leader of Cheka, the Political Police, also others. The movie was full of cheap and low-level cliches; the Brit, of course, was noble and irresistible, a predecessor of James Bond when it comes to women (in real life British men are considered the least attractive, being in front of maybe, Finns- MS J ). Of course, the Russian spy-woman adores him and divulges all the secrets and he prevails against all odds. The reality was not that glamorous; the plot which Lockhart financed was discovered by a sting operation; he was arrested and deported and although there was a Russian woman, he left her alone in Russia. She eventually became a double agent for the Russian Foreign Spy System and in that capacity went abroad and resided in London until her death in 1960s. But that was not reflected in that rather successful movie; critics were very favorable about the actors and their performance.
Critics were very favorable about the actors in Zero Dark Thirty too. The story is still a story and it is quite legit; there was an internationally renowned terrorist, he had to be eliminated; that's how it was done. It was a fascinating story, ready for making a movie and a movie was made. The cast was great, the territory was well- known and as for a woman CIA- operative- even that was not that new; before Maya there was Pamela Landy from the "Bourne' series. What's the fuss, really? Enjoy the show and pay for the popcorn.
Russian literary historian Sherba defined art as a "Deliberate and calculated deviation form the norm.' The norm thus is to be defined, the reference point identified beforehand. Every form of art confronts this problem and although it is up to an individual to apparently choose the reference point and the direction on where to deviate, the history of art forms gives some guidance. And one of those guiding principles is formulated by Alexander Pushkin (I am sorry for using only Russian sources but it is easier for me: I am sure there is a plenty of Western sources too- MS):
- Genius and Malice are incompatible.
Absence of malice is a paramount principle of any art form; this principle distinguishes real art from the imitation. Every product, every picture, every photo and every painting are to be first and foremost evaluated from that standpoint: yes, as an artist you have a right to deviate but, as it again is said in Russian song;
- Let your intentions be pure.
If we look at those two movies separated by nearly 100 years from this point of view we can see the striking differences.
The movie from the 1920s used the whole detective story as a framework: it was a 20th- Century Scarlet Pimpernel adventure shtick. It was harmless and funny; love story prevailed as a driving force and (what was especially important) - the characters were slightly grotesque, which took away the blood and made it a cranberry. The strategy was perfect, the artsy form was of showing the eternal scheme of love during the epoch event was done with an utmost care; all of that resulted in a fairy --tale as cinema was and is supposed to be, No malice here whatsoever; the subjective portraying of the Russian leaders was very craftily compensated by the whole rather unrealistic atmosphere; we like it and smile.
No smile on Zero Dark Thirty. The message is clear- the relentless pursuit, the hunt at al all costs and with all measures brings results. The events are recent, they are ours, we cannot disconnect. Here we have that red- headed bulldog and she delivers us the head on the plate, take it or leave it. How about them apples? Does popcorn still taste good when you see torture? Do you imagine yourself in bed with that redhead even in your wildest dreams? Do you even like what you see? It is in your face and that's how the cookie crumbles. Not a funny stuff. That's how the work is done.
Tough luck though. Art imitates life? The challenge is to dare us all to acknowledge the message? That's the abovementioned deviation from the norm? We are supposed to appreciate the effort described; the story is plausible, right?
Not a chance. This is not a Stalin's Russia where in the cheap propaganda movies the eye-popping, guns- blazing true communist women would roam around "sniffing out the enemies of the state' through their dedication and loyalty (BTW, even those movies did not feature tortures- MS). There the spectators had only one source of information. Not now. Now we know the contradiction. We know that until now we do not know who actually did the 9/11. We know that Al- Qaeda is by far if not a myth entirely, is an invented organization. We know, the whole world knows that it is not really known well what was the role of Osama Bin Laden, and especially- who and why was killed on that fateful night. We know through Ray McGovern that CIA is by far not an organization dedicated to our interests anymore. We know that Iraq war plans preceded the 9/11, not the way around. We know that tortures were and are barbaric, illegal and useless to say the least. It is all an open information and although it can be ignored in MSM (Sic!) -- IT CANNOT BE IGNORED IN THE ART FORM.
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