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Posts Tagged ‘3D cinema’

I broke my vow – again. It must be four years since I vowed never, ever to see another 3D film at the cinema; and two or three times I have been lured back by simple curiosity, or by the shallow desire to see the ‘unmissable’ film that everyone else is seeing (a playground fear of being left out), or by the reassurances of a friend that this really is worth it.

There are some beautiful images in Life of Pi. It wasn’t actually the visual effects that struck me most, but the fluid cinematography of the first half hour – India in pastel colours rather than the usual primary ones; and a fairy-tale glow about the zoo, the swimming pool, the family dining table. But as a film, it doesn’t work. It’s a series of short stories rather than a novel; some of them fun, some of them deadly dull. The spirituality is too syncretistic to have any bite.

Now and then, when a film is getting high percentages on Rotten Tomatoes (in this case 89%), and in my humble opinion it doesn’t deserve them, I delight in searching through the bad reviews – conveniently flagged up by the splattered green tomatoes – for confirmation of my artistic discernment. Peter Bradshaw says everything that needs saying in a single paragraph:

No one can doubt the technical brilliance of Ang Lee‘s new film, an adaptation of Yann Martel‘s Booker-winning bestseller from 2001, a widely acclaimed book that I should say I have yet to read. The effects are stunning, more impressive than anything in the new hi-tech Hobbit, and on that score, Peter Jackson can eat his heart out. But for the film itself, despite some lovely images and those eyepopping effects, it is a shallow and self-important shaggy-dog story – or shaggy-tiger story – and I am bemused by the saucer-eyed critical responses it’s been getting.

The last line of the review is a classic version of ‘damning with clear but carefully targeted praise’:

This is an awards-season movie if ever there was one. It deserves every technical prize going.

There was, however, one fascinating theological scene. Pi, from a Hindu family, is dared by his brother to go into a Catholic church and drink the holy water from the font by the door. He rushes in, drinks, and then stops and gazes around the interior of the church. We are led to believe that he hasn’t been in a church before, or that he hasn’t ever taken the time to look properly.

When he sees an image of Jesus, he is transfixed. A priest comes through the church and talks to him. Pi asks (I’m paraphrasing from memory): Is it true that God became a human being like us? And why? And the priest answers: Yes, he became one like us. He became small so that we would not be frightened by him. He became our brother so that we would be able to approach him. He died for us so that nothing, not even death, would keep us apart from him. Pi, the Hindu boy, announces that he wishes to be baptised.

It’s a simple, un-ironic presentation of the Christian message, and of a child in all innocence discovering a life-changing spiritual truth. It doesn’t happen very often in cinema.

(Then, just a few moments later, he announces that he wants to be a Muslim as well as a Christian, and at the same time to remain a Hindu; it’s very confusing in the film – perhaps it makes more sense in the book, which I haven’t read. This is why I called it syncretistic!)

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It’s not a great film. And, despite what the reviewers say, the 3D cinematography doesn’t work – the images lose their sharpness, the focus of the eyes never quite stabilises, and you constantly feel that you are in a cinema struggling to see the screen rather than in a French cave dancing with your paleolithic ancestors. (See my previous rant about 3D cinema and the decline of human civilisation.)

But Werner Herzog’s new documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams is still a wonderful way of experiencing the Chauvet paintings ‘at first hand’. I think I’ve seen reproductions of them before (although perhaps I’m muddling them up with the images from Lascaux). They are astonishingly beautiful. The YouTube trailer above gives you some good glimpses of the main walls – and without the 3D!

What struck me in the film was their size. They are huge! The fact that there was no space to hide the film crew actually helped, because you kept being reminded of the scale of the paintings – the sound man bobbing in and out of the images with his boom like the stone-age hunters with their spears.

In one sense it’s breathtaking that the images are so old. That’s what makes them interesting - beyond their artistic merit alone. This is just one manifestation of ‘the cognitive leap’, when modern human beings ‘emerged’ (whatever that means) onto the scene, and began to paint, decorate, adorn themselves, make musical instruments, honour their dead, and carve those well-known Venus figurines.

Yet in another sense, why should it astonish us? It seems to be the beginnings of what we would call civilisation, or modern human culture, but as far as we know these Cro-Magnons, these Early Modern Humans, were just like us – the same species, the same human nature. And human beings paint.

So the fact that you walk into a cave hidden for 30,000 years and discover a painting of a horse that looks just like one of Franz Marc’s (one of my favourite painters) shouldn’t surprise us. But it does. And they are astonishing. As is Franz Marc.

Children's interpretations of Franz Marc

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Despite enjoying Toy Story 3, I am still not convinced by 3D cinema. In fact the reason I managed to enjoy the film so much was because the 3D was far less intrusive than with most films.

David Mitchell has a rant here about 3D films. It’s well worth watching. There are some serious points amidst the humour, e.g. that the effect of 3D is to make you more conscious of your own relationship to the medium, and less able to lose yourself and escape into the world of the narrative.

He draws a parallel with painting and sculpture: when you go to see the Mona Lisa you don’t come away disappointed by the fact that Leonardo didn’t present you with a marble carving of the subject instead. You went to see a painting, and you were happy with that.

My main gripe is about picture quality – it simply isn’t as good with 3D films. And I think this is unavoidable, it’s not to do with the present state of technology. It’s because of the double image that you are seeing. You might say that our eyes see the natural world stereoscopically, which is true. But part of the wonder of painting, of 2D cinema, and of any flat visual surface, is that it gives you a clarity that is not possible in the natural world, which has the effect of highlighting the scene before you.

Painting and 2D cinema allow a depth, or rather a super-imposition of different depths, which creates a sort of hyper-realism. They allow you to focus on what you would not, naturally, be able to focus on. 3D, by making the experience more like the real world, takes away the magic and immediacy of the artistic surface, the same magic that they discovered 20,000 years ago in the caves of Lascaux.

I dread the day when all the films at the local Cineworld will be in 3D…

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An example from Valladolid - not from this exhibition

I finally got to visit “The Sacred Made Real” today — the exhibition of 17th century religious painting and sculpture from Spain at the National Gallery. There are some beautiful pieces. My favourites were a little statue of St Francis in ecstasy, looking as if he had just stepped out of Lilliput; a bust of the sorrowful Virgin, whose grief seemed to express the grief of the whole world; and a dramatic statue of St Mary Magdalene gazing at a crucifix that could have been made by the contemporary artist Ron Mueck.

Magdalena by Another VLL.

St Mary Magdalene - 17th century (Pedro de Mena)

Ron Mueck - Woman in Bed (10) by Kratzy.

Woman in Bed - 20th century (Ron Mueck)

Ron Mueck - Woman in Bed (17) by Kratzy.

Detail

The central ‘idea’ of the curators is that those who have written the history of Western art have had a blind spot for polychrome sculptures. These masterpieces of wood and paint simply don’t feature in the canon of Western art. They deserve to. Those who produced them were artists of genius — and they were recognised as such by their contemporaries. It’s only now that we in the Anglo-Saxon world are coming to appreciate the power and beauty of these sculptures.

If you are a Catholic, I suppose, this is less of a revelation. You are used to seeing coloured sculptures: in your local church, at Lourdes, in the public processions that take place in many parishes, and perhaps on your mantelpiece. They may not be the most aesthetically pleasing images – but they are attempts to embody the sacred, and to connect daily life with the transcendent.

It was strange walking through the front door when I got home this evening. There, in the lobby of the seminary, is a bust of ‘Blessed Thomas More’ that I hardly ever notice. It’s a painted sculpture, about 3/4 life-size; a little faded, but still very much alive. An example of how this tradition has not faded in Catholic culture.

It’s fascinating to connect the culture of these 17th century Spanish images with our own. The Holy Grail of modern cinema technology is to create a genuine 3D experience – witness the recent attempts of Up and Avatar. However successful this proves, it will always mean us travelling to the cinema and entering into the world of the film. The magic of these polychrome statues, when they are brought out of the museums and into the streets, is that they allow the embodied reality to spill over into our world.

Here is one more beautiful photo of a Ron Mueck statue:

Untitled (boy) by Ron Mueck by voss.

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