Saturday, May 30, 2009

A recapitulation of my earlier thoughts about Pixar

I just saw Up with some people I know. Pixar continues to amaze me even when elements of their story-telling and stories feel freighted with an eagerness to please. The reason Pixar's films have not yet descended to Disney level pap or Dreamworks glibness could be summed up in roughly the first fifteen minutes of Up. Too many artists want to focus on the triumph of the human spirit as though that were all there is. We have been given stories in which the human spirit triumphs when there is nothing to triumph or against, nothing even for the human spirit to merely endure, let alone just survive in the wake of anything. We are a culture that wants to have the luxury of hope without appreciating fully our need for hope.

What I'm saying now is that Pixar films can depict or elicit unaffected joy because if you look at each film you'll find the better ones look death and sorrow and grief and despair straight in the eye. No Pixar film preceding Up has been quite so direct as Pixar's newest film is about a character finding hope and a resilience of a human spirit in the face of emotional agony. I don't feel like going through everything all over again from an earlier blog entry. You can go look up my ramble on Pixar if you really want to. I just want to reiterate that I am impressed at how the emotional weight and sincerity of their stories depend on not flinching or shrinking back at confronting, constantly, the reality and horror of death. It is this, and not necessarily all the otherwise usual Disney tropes you can point to in Pixar films, that gives these movies their depth and emotional power.

From the first Pixar film where Woody admits that it should be him strapped to the rocket we have been given something unusual in the wake of a Disneyfied approach to the art of animated film, a protagonist who can admit he is, more or less, a sinner. Pixar heroes are not those whose plucky and validated self prevails over nominal evil, Pixar heroes are people who, half the time at least, have a moment in which they confront in themselves and the world around them the reality of clay marred in the hands of the potter, if you will. Of course this isn't announced with intertitles so many a Christian viewer won't see this narrative trope and, to be fair, possibly no one else but me may be seeing it or considering it, but it's something I want to share since blogs are places where people write what no one needs to read.

Now I would hardly call Up a masterpiece but it is still a beautiful, sweet movie. Yet that sweetness, as with the best Pixar films, is given to us only after we are shown how bitter the world is. That, my friends, is why Pixar is still making cinematic art that Dreamworks and others are struggling to get to, because the bitterness of life is not just outside threatening to mess up things for us, it is something we find within us whether it is loneliness, grief, anger, bitterness, despair, envy, or greed. To put things in terms of my faith in Christ, too many story-tellers want the fruits of the redemption of Christ without NEEDING to be redeemed and too many people tell stories that suppose that we cannot or do not deserve to be redeemed. These two things apart do not confront the truly awful things in life and death. We must grasp in Christ both that we NEED a savior and HAVE a savior, we both lack the image of Christ within us to the extent that we are born into a world and are ourselves marred by sin and death and yet also BEAR Christ's image no matter how damaged that image within us may be.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

because the real world is important ...

I have not blogged so much as I might have. This is not to say I have what most people would call "a life". I'm still this side of a hermit but finishing a sonata for cello and guitar for an ensemble is a big project and I still have yet another sonata to finish for another ensemble. On top of that there is a quartet for clarinet, French horn, guitar, and cello I want to finish. I may end up writing that piece as something quite a bit shorter than what I originally intended. Instead of giving two solos a piece to each member of the quartet I may just assign one solo a piece and be done with it. Ever the neo-classicist in my disposition I can tell myself that multiple movements are okay.

For a while, to ramble as almost no one reads, it seemed as though some composers were dead set on making titanic works for guitar. Koshkin's Sonata for guitar solo is awesome, to be sure, and the grand cyclical work of them all is, to my mind and heart, Britten's Nocturnal. Sor's grand sonatas are not quite my taste but they surely deserve the name.

Still, other works attempting the superlative "Beethoven for the guitar" (or whatever it is), grate on the nerves. I'm just going to come out and say it I loathe Ginastera's guitar sonata and can't stand Royal Winter Music by Henze. Henze's work is what you get if you took all the beautiful gem-miniatures of Takemitsu and blew them up on a Xerox machine so that they were five times as big and lost all their lovely intimacy. So, yeah, I don't like Henze's attempt to make, what was the phrase?, a Hammerklavier for solo guitar. If that was what he were trying to do he'd remember to have included tunes!

I have also spent time attempting to catch up with visits with family and some close friends, all of which is more compelling than blogging about the uses and abuses of Old Testament literature, not that I don't have volumes of things to share about THAT topic. And, of course, about others.

A word to the bored, if Star Trek represents the high point of this year's crop of tentpole summer movies it looks like the downward slope to G. I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra is going to be very long, very steep, and very ugly! When I saw the trailer for Joe ... it made Michael Bay's upcoming Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen look like some kind of movie by Bergman or Kubrick! I kid you not! At best we could hope that Joe will be something so bad it becomes inexplicably awesome like Freddy vs Jason ... but I am not quite that optimistic.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

yet another cursory observation about Absalom

Setting aside the very good quesetion of whether Absalom loved and knew the Lord at all, I here simply note briefly that David's real sins and real injustices did not prove Absalom to be in the right in the end and were not justification for his own sins. People who crusade for justice can still have evil hearts. Conversely, the very real sins and failures and injustices of spiritual or temporal leaders do not justify a person's turning to sin.

In the end the Lord observes us anddoes not permit us to say "He/she/they started it." in justification of our own embrace of the wrong. Neither Absalom nor David are exonerated in the end. David never comes to a point where he tells his wayward sons, "Why are you doing this?" Absalom never comes to a point where he observes that he has done wrong by his father and the Lord in what he has done. David was a man after God's own heart yet the sum of his life reveals that there were weaknesses and sins he never overcame, frankly disturbing weaknesses and sins if we consider what the Law said about the ideal king. How often are we tempted to be like Absalom and deny that David has any place to be on the throne on which God has providentially placed him? How often are we David who fails to shake off the coils of sin even at death, advising his son to carry out a legacy of bloodshed for political purposes?

The saints were those whom God loved and who were transformed by that love as they recognized it, not those who by dint of their own efforts somehow became more god-like. This is not to say that Jacob or Abraham did not seek the Lord, far from it, but they were recipients of the mercy of Christ and, as the Scriptures say, we love Him because He first loved us. The easiest thing for His saints to forget is the order in which these loves are given.