“Mystery and Melancholy” -Giorgio De Chirico
Last week I parked on the shore of the St. Claire river, staring off at a Canada that Americans are barred from entering, and listened to French talk radio. The temperature was 22 degrees Celsius. There was no rain. Everything else broadcast was lost on me. But I loved the rhythm of the syllables as they matched the river’s lapping, and regretted my French was so terrible. I took one year of French in eighth grade. At thirteen there is nothing a boy can learn except through injury. Now I can hardly remember the words for “I love you.”
France has been on my mind since I spent that day alone on the shore. Not the France of today, but of the Impressionist, Post-impressionist, Surrealist, and New Wave. Nostalgia is stronger than history. And it is easy to become nostalgic for a life only lived through print and pictures. Lately I have been studying painters and filmmakers. One’s artistic voice is a fusion of personal experience, the beliefs it breeds, and the limits of his or her vision. Medium does not matter.
“The whole art of poetry is to say what can’t be said. So every poet, every artist, feels when he gets to the end of his work that there is something absolutely essential that’s been left out.”
– Alan Watts
Giorgio de Chirico’s Metaphysical Art painted the distance and threats he saw growing down even the most peaceful lanes. Matisse rejected shape, perspective, and detail in favor of the bold impact of primary colors. Andre’ Breton and the Surrealists scavenged beauty from the out-of-context, strange, and chance associations. They valued the art of children and the insane because they were liberated from the constraints of reason. In a France where reflecting the concrete was prized these artists climbed to replicate fluidity and dream state.
“…resolve the previously contradictory conditions of dream and reality into an absolute reality, a super-reality” – Andre Breton
Still, visions remain composed of fragments from the waking life we are destined to return to. French New Wave filmmakers like Godard understood this, but filmed the facts of living we hide in our games, in the unsaid. In his Le Petit Soldat the heroine is stunning because her stoicism averts naked passion. A man begs for her love, risks his life and freedom, light cigarette after cigarette. She combs her hair, tranquil, only answering the questions she cares to. She tests his hunger with silence edged with promise. And promise is our greatest drug. In Breathless the heroine interviews an artist. She asks about the place for women in society, and other questions to weigh his heart. When he turns away, a knowing comes to her eyes. She has stolen a confession and passed judgement.
“What is your life’s greatest ambition?”
“To become immortal- then die.” – Breathless
I offer this as a fire door- an exit. A confusing wash of the everyday and bizarre is where joy lies waiting. I am writing this because this is a year of unemployment, sickness, anger, and burning. But we can escape through the logic of constructed nonsense, or by stepping past this surface life to interview our shadow selves. Now, even if helpless to forget, we should learn a new way to say, “I love you.”
Jean-Luc Godard Le Petit Soldat
(English subtitles available)
Andre Breton “Manifesto of Surrealism”
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