Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Beat It, Essay: Ensayo Número Uno

In the Spring semester, I actually started taking film classes for the first time in my life. These classes were the reason I started my blog all those years ago. Well, two - across three platforms. It started as a web site that I lost the domain rights to. My content from that period also vanished into the ether. It was a sad day.

I wanted to prepare myself for thinking about movies as something other than entertainment. It's a tough balance, because if I don't find them entertaining it's not worth it to get into the business, but I wanted to incorporate considering how and by whom the films were made and why things were the way they were. Why is this shot in the film? Why did the director choose to use a close up here rather than there? I think I'm getting better at it, and writing this blog alongside my academic essays for classes has been an immense help.

Here's an essay from my Media Aesthetics class last semester. (I got an A+ on my first essay pairing - this one and the one following.) Ironically, what with all that buildup, it is only tangentially about film.

Prompt: Write a two page reflection on any single work of classic art or architecture that has moved or inspired you. 

When I think about my past, I can always see the seeds of who I am today rooted in my childhood. Even as a kid, I was fascinated by foreign languages (at the time, it was the Greek and Latin root words we were learning in 2nd and 3rd grade) and cultures because they were a part of something larger than the individual, passed down through the centuries.

Being a born-and-bred American, I have always felt this instinctive craving for culture. Whatever traditions, languages, or values that were brought to the New World by my ancestors had long since been watered down by the generations, leaving me disconnected – isolated from my heritage – and extremely bored. As I grew older, I began to realize gradually that being an American didn’t leave me totally bereft of culture, but it wasn’t what I had imagined it to be.

Of course growing up here provided me a set of values and a connection with the people around me, but I wanted more. I wanted the elaborate tea ceremonies of the Japanese. I wanted the gentility and conviviality of a British thoroughfare. I wanted, in short, anything to which I could attach my longing to be a part of something interesting and larger than life. I viewed any foreign language with reverence and was held in rapt attention by anything that indicated it was from somewhere other than the place of my birth.

It was through this somewhat desperate bid for culture that I discovered the 1931 surrealist oil painting La persistencia de la memoria by Salvador Dalí. I was drawn in by the fact that it had a Spanish title (a pet language of mine), but when I saw the painting for the first time it had a much more profound impact on me than merely being representative of another culture.

I was intrigued and personally affected by the images of the melting clocks on this barren landscape and realized that Dalí had tapped into something that I, and surely countless others, had long understood but had never been able to properly express. Nobody wants to be forgotten. The motif of the clocks being destroyed is in direct opposition to our rigidly fixed human concept of time.

Despite whatever we know or claim to know about life and death, we all secretly assume that we will exist forever and the idea that even time is not immutable and can be destroyed flies directly in the face of our deepest desires. We want to exist beyond time, but what is there beyond? Just a desolate, empty wasteland filled with nightmare shadows and creatures of unknown origin, slipping away like a dream.

Nothing that is real can exist outside of time. After the passing of the ages, our voices will be lost in the great unknown and that scares us. And that’s what culture is – a mass human instinct to communicate; a desire to be heard, to be understood, and to not be forgotten. Culture is what allows us to live far beyond the boundaries of this mortal coil.

So in a simple act of seeking a culture apart from my own by looking at a painting I accidentally discovered the root idea of culture itself. Dalí’s own intent in producing his work was clearly to make a point on memory (as indicated by its title, in English, The Persistence of Memory), but his theme is part of an even larger one. The human desire to retain the traditions and values of their ancestors is an effort to increase the strength of the persistence of memory.

Culture is built on a solid foundation of memory. We must prevail. We must persist. We must not be forgotten. Otherwise what are we here for? We don’t want to answer that question. I don’t want to answer that question. But the lessons that La persistencia de la memoria has taught me have stuck with me throughout my entire life. We seek to attach ourselves to something larger so we have a means to prolong our memories. That’s why we make art. That’s certainly why Dalí made his painting. And that’s why I want to make film. Art remains long after life fades away and I want my films to exist in the persistence of my memory.
Word Count: 948

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