Five films, an aesthetic cluster

How do we speak about the characteristics of “an aesthetic”?

A very boiled-down beginning to thinking about this often lead us first (somewhat frustratingly) into the philosophy of art that focuses on judgment and definition of art. Kant‘s enlightenment definition states that aesthetic judgment is split into taste and beauty. He places analysis on the subjective responses of the “receiver,” with sensory responses corresponding to taste. The beauty aspect however, Kant feels is objective, and its recognition can only be reached through intellectual rumination. In this vein, we follow the ideas of “judgment” and “beauty,” and then accusations that these do not exist/are semantic constructions, etc etc into the mathematically expanding starburst of everything and nothing that is philosophy.

On the other hand, one can begin to get nearer to the idea of “an aesthetic” (as in, Charles Mee’s ‘aesthetic’ is…) in the works of Wittgenstein and so forth, and rhetoricians such as Marshall McLuhan. McLuhan in Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man speaks to a symbiotic relationship by which the medium and all its referents and conventions influence how a “message” is perceived, and the perceivers in turn imbue the medium as a form with content.

But it is largely in criticism that one can find descriptions and analysis of the way “an aesthetic” feels, operates, etc, after an artist has formed the work and put it out there, as a thing in and of itself. On artistic formation, there is another entire wealth of thought, where we can find ideas like Benedetto Croce, who said that an artist’s responsibility is to put forth “the perfect image/concept” for his or her audience, since art’s effectiveness is fundamentally found through the artist’s formation and piecing together of inward, mental images in their “ideal” state. He believed that our intuitions are the leading forces in forming these perfect images/concepts into their ideal state. Umberto Eco debates and follows through on this…

With these various points of view in mind, here are 5 movies, with interesting aesthetic moods.

The Saddest Music in the World (2003) (link goes to Ebert review) by Guy Maddin. Filmed 1920’s and ’30’s style, black and white, grainy, frequent halos, occasional two-strip color, combined with a Kids in the Hall absurdism, (I’m not just saying that because Mark McKinney is in it) bursts of tenderness, honesty, and sentiment that are quickly swept away by points of violence or humor.

Sadko (1953) by Aleksandr Ptushko based on the Korsakov opera. Hearty communist propaganda in searing color, a catfish puppet, beautiful ladies, and inexplicably giant “stone” heads in every city our slogan-spouting heroes visit.

the evil sleep-inducing pheonix in Sadko

Don Giovanni (1979) the film! The oddest thing about this movie is that there is a cinematographic choice made to almost never show the singers’ faces singing. Thus, the characters are hidden by veils, filmed from the back, and shot from very far away much of the time. Did they think the open mouth was too grotesque for the big screen?

The Adventures of Prince Ahmed (Die Abenteuer des Prinzen Achmed, 1926) by Lotte Reiniger. Before Kara Walker there was Reiniger, whose animation is delicate, intensely complex silhouettes, some sections with color tinting. Four scores have been composed for the film, the original was by Wolfgang Zeller, followed by Geoff Smith‘s in 2008, and in 2009, one by Rahul Roy and one this year (2010) by Arun Ghosh. Here is a really cool documentary about Lotte Reiniger

Fellini Satyricon, by Frederico Fellini (1969). Vignettes following a sweaty 1960’s boy surviving in Nero’s Rome. Tongues lash, pig entrails squirm forth, and mascara runs.


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