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"There's nothing I like less..."


Death... death of art... death of cinema...

"... than a bad argument for something I hold dear," said Daniel Dennett, quoted at the top of the column to the right. In this case, the argument belongs to Camille Paglia ("Art Movies, R.I.P.") and the thing I hold dear is the intoxication of seeing a great movie. She does a lovely job of capturing what the latter is like (although she puts it firmly in the past tense), but spends too much of her time simply explaining what a dinosaur she has become. (What am I talking about? It's just Paglia in Apocalyptic Mode again. But I'm still trying to figure out why this column of hers bugs me so much.)

I have to admit: If I thought that in the last 30 years "only George Lucas' multilayered, six-film 'Star Wars' epic can genuinely claim classic status," you could stick a fork in me, too. Actually, you wouldn't have to. I'd do it myself, because I'd know I was done, without "A New Hope" for movies.

Paglia says t'was modernism killed the magnificent beasts of art cinema; I think it's more likely her own solipsism. Wallowing in what she calls a "cold douche for my narcissistic generation" (she's referring to the deaths of Bergman and Antonioni, natch), Paglia wonders: "I'm not sure who, if anyone, still views moviegoing as a quasi-mystical experience." (Obviously, she doesn't read film critics or movie blogs, some of the best of which are also listed in the column to the right.)

But hers is not a rhetorical proposition. Posing a provocative open question is never enough. Paglia then formulates The Answer herself, and shuts the rest of us out in the cold, cold world of the Post-Boomer Death of Art:

The waning of art film has been just one of the bitter cultural disappointments that the baby-boom generation has had to endure. [...]

My pagan brand of atheism is predicated on worship of both nature and art. I want the great world religions taught in every school. Secular humanism has reached a dead end -- and any liberals who don't recognize that are simply enabling the worldwide conservative reaction of fundamentalism in both Christianity and Islam. The human quest for meaning is innate and ineradicable. When the gods are toppled, new ones will soon be invented.

While I sympathize with Ms. Paglia's Regrets ("I'm not sure who, if anyone, still views moviegoing as a quasi-mystical experience"), I resent her attempt to co-opt my pagan brand of atheism predicated on worship of both nature and art in the name of her art-movie secular-humanism death-wish. (OK, I wouldn't use the word "worship." What's wrong with a little "awe," girl? You needn't go leaping at "worship" like a bull at a gate.)


She sounds like a reactionary religious fundamentalist to me: My god will endure, resistance is futile, and any attempts to embrace another religion will only enable the false gods to rise! Is there some kind of contest between Pagliaism, Christianity, and Islam?

This, however, is quite beautiful, in a deliberately anachronistic fashion:

Other indelible memories: the grinding of the collapsing stone balustrade in the baroque gardens of Alain Resnais's "Last Year at Marienbad." The night wind eerily stirring the spray-painted green trees in the London park of Antonioni's "Blow-Up." The column of army tanks ominously rumbling through the city street in the unknown land of Bergman's "The Silence" (1963). The life-giving waters of the Fountain of Trevi suddenly stopping in Federico Fellini's "La Dolce Vita," stranding Marcello Mastroianni and Anita Ekberg mid-kiss.

Yet Paglia claims only the "Star Wars" movies are on that plane (ship?), "and it descends not from Bergman or Antonioni but from Stanley Kubrick and his pop antecedents in Hollywood science fiction." I'm not quite sure what conclusions she's trying to draw from that comparison. Are you?


(Thanks to girish for passing this along.)

P.S. I just re-watched "The Silence" last night, in part because I didn't remember any "column of army tanks." Turns out that's because they aren't there. It's one tank that comes into the square below the hotel window, stalls, starts up again, stalls for a long time, and then moves on. It's ominous, but it's not the way Paglia describes it. Memory can greatly enhance these long-ago moments from the cinema, too...

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