I know that the original broadcast of the television program “Roots,” based on African-American writer Alex Haley’s imaginative reconstruction of his family’s history, was an important cultural and historical event, presenting at once to all of America a history—the history of the capture and enslavement of Africans—that had been referred to but rarely discussed at length or widely.
Appearance or truth? Both? Form and spirit. There has been a tension in our appreciation for Robert Redford, a dedicated actor and filmmaker who also happens to be an image of masculine beauty. Redford, as a young man of impulse and integrity, and not a little rebellion, was interested in adventurous exploration, whether involving art, travel, or relationships. Everything considered, he was a lot less selfish and shallow than most of us would be. That may be part of why he has become such an intriguing and respectable elder statesman.
There are many writers in many films. In Body Double, a book of eight chapters, with acknowledgements, afterword, notes, filmography, bibliography, and index, University of Pittsburgh English and Film Studies professor Lucy Fischer gathers together for examination a great bunch of films in which writers appear—Naked Lunch, Smoke, Deconstructing Harry, Paris When It Sizzles, Barton Fink, Adaptation, How Is Your Fish Today?, Swimming Pool, The Singing Detective, and Providence, among others.
John James Audubon may have been a naturalist and a painter, but it does seem all that often that one gets to contemplate both art and environmental issues, as with Manufacturing Landscapes, a film that presents the work of Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky, who focuses on nature and how it has been transformed by industrial use, producing a different landscape, often one of devastation, yet one in which an unexpected beauty can be found.
Strange Culture is an intelligent and useful film, demonstrating how several cultures acquire and disseminate knowledge, specifically the art world and the justice system. It allows experts to speak, and it presents evidence. We even see some art—some of which is expectedly odd, and some of which is obvious tribute to tradition. The center of the film is Steve Kurtz, a long-haired blond, blue-jeaned artist and teacher, with dark circles under his eyes and a soft, humorous manner.
88 is a documentary that eloquently conveys that white Australia in 1988 largely did not have the sensitivity to understand the provocative nature of what they were doing by spending millions to celebrate the beginnings of colonisation.
Those were perspectives put forth in particular times, and they inspired fervent debate and disagreement. However, we, in successive generations, do not have to take sides for or against any man: we can look at their reasons and their results and take what is useful as the changing times demand. We can affirm classical studies and vocational training, democratic participation in the larger world and attention to particular communities, and nonviolence when it is sensible and violent self-defense when it is necessary.
Is there enough beauty and knowledge in the world? What are the virtues we want to cultivate and celebrate? What pain do we want to ease? Where there is injustice, do we want justice? What kind of culture do we want to live in, and with? Many people do not understand art, its technique or its mission, but art conveys living experience and contemplation of life better than almost anything else.
It is amazing how much content there is in this glittering work. The love of Anna and Vronsky is not the only love in the film. Levin, a great friend of Anna’s brother, a man with a country estate, is in love with Kitty who was infatuated with Vronsky, until Vronsky met Anna; and Levin has a drunken, rebellious brother, a radical watched by security forces, who married a woman who worked in a brothel.
The natural beauty of a regal wilderness and the charm of an old culture are captivating, but the film, inspired by a Tom Bissell story, “Expensive Trips Nowhere,” turns on the kind of tale of challenged love that anyone could see himself or herself in.