“Beauty,” says [Vivekananda], “is not external, but already in the mind.” Here we are reminded of what his spiritual daughter Nivedita wrote about her Master. “It was dark when we approached Sicily, and against the sunset sky, Etna was in slight eruption. As we entered the straits of Messina, the moon rose, and I walked up and down the deck beside the Swami, while he dwelt on the fact that beauty is not external, but already in the mind. On one side frowned the dark crags of the Italian coast, on the other, the island was touched with silver light. ‘Messina must thank me,’ he said; ‘it is I who give her all her beauty.’” Truly, in the absence of appreciation, beauty is not beauty at all. And beauty is worthy of its name only when it has been appreciated. Excerpt from Vivekananda: An Ancient Silence-Heart And A Modern Dynamism-Life by Sri Chinmoy.The founder of mono no aware, Motoori Norinaga (1730-1801), was the pre-eminent scholar of the Kokugakushu movement, a nationalist movement which sought to remove all outside influences from Japanese culture. Kokugakushu was enormously influential in art, poetry, music and philosophy, and responsible for the revival during the Tokugawa period of the Shinto religion. Contradictorily, the influence of Buddhist ideas and practises upon art and even Shintoism itself was so great that, although Buddhism is technically an outside influence, it was by this point unable to be extricated.
More a tendency than a genre in its own right, Poetic Realism was a highly influential yet short-lived movement in French cinema of the 1930s, a brief outbreak of lyricism sandwiched between the bludgeoning horrors of two world wars. Unlike Soviet montage or French impressionism, poetic realism was never a unified movement or ideology, rather a loosely conceived feeling and evocation: poetic, otherworldly at times, yet committed to showing reality “as it was”—a cinema of life and of heart.
Despite the fact that he only lived to make four films, director Jean Vigo is credited with founding poetic realism, first with Zéro de conduite (1933), an unusually realistic evocation of an unhappy childhood that was banned by censors, and his masterpiece, L’Atalante (1934).
Namesake of a Greek Goddess, L’Atalante was originally a simplistic story assigned to the director by distributors Gaumont, but Vigo transformed it completely, employing the dreamlike cinematography of Russian-born Boris Kaufman—who would later work in Hollywood—and a surreal, poetic style never before seen in cinema.
On the surface a straightforward romantic tale—two newly weds on a river barge cruise who fight, separate and then are reunited—L’Atalante is a masterpiece, for as New Wave director François Truffaut describes, in filming prosaic words and acts, Vigo effortlessly achieved poetry.
Separated from his wife, the distraught husband imagines her reflected in the water. Simultaneously, departed wife encounters horror after horror on the streets of Depression-era Paris; beggars and thieves are everywhere, men make unwanted approaches and her handbag is stolen—persons and actions all evocative of a broken and unhappy inner state. In deep regret she forlornly but fruitlessly searches for husband and barge—shots of her longing for him in silence. By chance a crew member discovers her and the couple are reunited.
Although highly poetic, L’Atalante is also grounded in reality, the director alternating the bitter-sweet narrative of separation and reconciliation with unflinching images of the grit and ugliness of everyday life, a practise never before seen in contemporary cinema—usually located in the artificial and fantastic—and rare even today. The film is evocative of the Japanese conception of beauty, mono no aware (a sensitivity to things), in which beauty is said to exist even in its opposite; that which is ugly as reminder of beauty absent.
Critic Hal Hinson goes so far as to suggest Vigo’s poetic realism is other-world inspired:
“There’s such innocence and invention in Vigo's style here that the film seems less a consciously constructed work of art than an emanation.”
He continues: “The mood Vigo creates here is a kind of enchanted melancholy, and we feel submerged in it... The effect is almost narcotic. The picture seems to drift, and though almost nothing appears to be happening, our senses are set at a heightened level, as if we were asleep and fully awake at the same time. Vigo moves the story forward by poetic association; there's a logic to the way in which it's ordered, but the links are imperceptible. They're organised by feeling, not intellect.”
While making L’Atalante Vigo was so ill that he constantly risked collapse, and even directed some scenes from a stretcher. Remarking on the director's state of mind during this period, Truffaut suggests that “It is easy to conclude that he was in a kind of fever while he worked,” and when a friend advised Vigo to guard his health, the director replied that “he lacked the time and had to give everything right away.”
Due to the high degree of realism employed in his films—often to unflattering effect—Jean Vigo was accused of being unpatriotic, his work heavily censored by the French Government. L’Atalante has never been fully restored from the butchering it received from distributors, who attempted to increase its popularity by reducing the running time and changing the title to Le Chaland Qui Passe (The Passing Barge)—the name of a popular song inserted like an axe into the film. L'Atalante was advertised as “a film inspired by the celebrated sung so admirably song by Lys Gauty.”
Jean Vigo died of complications from tuberculosis in 1934 aged just 29, only a few days after the first disappointing cinematic run of L’Atalante. His beloved wife Lydou, lying beside him as he died, got up from the bed and ran down a long corridor to a room at the end. Friends caught her as she was about to jump out a window.
Vigo has been described as the epitome of the radical, passionate film-maker who fights every step of the way against lesser imagination and sensibility, and he is perhaps lucky not to have lived to see his masterpiece so barbarically hacked to pieces. History has viewed Vigo’s work more favourably, with L’Atalante being ranked as the 10th greatest film of all time in a 1962 Sight & Sound poll, rising to 6th best in 1992.
L’Atalante, together with similar works of poetic realism by contemporaries Jean Renoir and Marcel Carné, significantly changed the course of French and world cinema, leading directly to the Italian Neorealist movement of the late 1940s, and the French New Wave (la Nouvelle Vague) of the 1950s and 60s, which in turn inspired an increasing sense of realism in Hollywood cinema. Many of the Neorealist and Nouvelle Vague directors worked upon the sets of poetic realist films before beginning their own careers, and allusions to Jean Vigo and L'Atalante can be found in many of their works.
Rudy: That's life Henry. Henry: Yep. Rudy: You know what life is? Henry: Life is a horrible little giggle in the midst of a forced death march towards hell. Rudy: No it isn't. Henry: An interminable wail of grief... Rudy: No! Life is a single skip for joy. Henry: (sigh) I know...A realist, two feet planted firmly on the ground, looks down and pronounces that this, here and now, is life. A poet instead dreams of flight, and bravely leaps up into the air... If life is a skip for joy it requires one to enjoy, remember the time we spend in the air, rather than dwell upon that spent on the ground. Or in the ground for that matter. These are the Newtonian laws of happiness—the ipso facto necessity of optimism and hope instead of pessimism and doubt, for life is a cup both half-empty and half-full, poison-laced and nectar-brimmed, a meal we cook either satisfying or not by our very perceptions and attitudes. Henry Roth (Billy Crudup) is a character who sees nothing but the landing at the end of life, the death awaiting him when his skip—more leaden-footed stumble—touches the ground. Dedication begins with Henry as a realist, but his realism really an excuse for an all pervading, bleak without respite pessimism, a pessimism which, in an endless circle of causation, justifies his fear and perpetuates his misery. Henry ends the film taking a leap of faith, dares blindly to hope against “facts” or “proof,” chooses no to longer look down.
Pessimist, Optimist, RealistA pessimist is he Who shuts his eyes To the rising sun. An optimist is he Who looks up and sees Through the teeming clouds. A realist is he Who faces the clouds And adores the sun. —Sri Chinmoy The Wings Of Light, Part 3
[kml_flashembed movie="/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2008/02/lion-love.swf" width="420" height="400" wmode="transparent Awwwwww! King-sized cute more like it! An African lion in Colombia meets the woman who rescued him six years previously, bonding human style with a hug and a kiss. Tell me which animal is the “king of the beasts” again?
Hide and Seek Every minute inspires me To attempt. Every hour perfects me To ascend. Every day illumines me To reach. In my attempt, I have come to learn what I can be. In my ascension, I have come to learn who I eternally Am. On my arrival, God and I shall stop playing our age-long Game, Hide-and-Seek. —Sri Chinmoy
“...to the spirit of serendipity: finding good-fortune from unexpected sources; discovering the extraordinary in the ordinary, and the new in the familiar, fueled by the sense that all we need is already within us—we only need learn how to look...”I'm definitely in favour of these sentiments; in fact I think my last post was about them. Now that's serendipitous! In the spirit of serendipity I am now going to post a comment by Sri Chinmoy on rainbows, found by myself in exactly this spirit:
“A rainbow is composed of seven colours and seven rays. A rainbow always means success and progress at the same time, even if that success and progress are not in the outer world. A rainbow signifies success, progress, divine victory—everything positive. When you see a rainbow, in the outer world you may not observe your success, but in the inner world, progress has taken place or is about to take place. Again, if it is not destined for you to have success or progress, then you are not going to see a rainbow. Even if the rainbow is there, you will be looking somewhere else. When you are walking, you will be looking at your feet to keep your balance. The rainbow will be there in the sky, but you will miss it. Then for you there will be no success, no progress. If you are meant to have success or progress, then even while driving the car, you will turn your gaze and you will see it. But if you are not going to make progress, you will be looking somewhere else. So always look at the sky. Do not look at the ground all the time.” From Sri Chinmoy Answers, pt9.Now that I think of it, I haven't seen a rainbow in a while...