I wanted to do a podcast on female-centric movies built around Lady Bird and another one on LGBTQ themed movies around Call Me By Your Name, but the truth is that it's a bit more difficult to do a podcast on new directions in either theme because both of them are baked into the fabric of the mainstream of movie history from the very beginning. It's taken until just the last couple years for African-American movies to truly explode into the mainstream of movie life as never before. If there is possibility for a true revolution of representation in either the field of female-centric movies or LGBTQ movies, and I'm certain there is, then it's pretty obvious it has yet to happen. Nevertheless, they've always been there.
Among women, Leni Riefenstahl has, of course, the dubious distinction of being the great director of Nazi Germany, and at the same time Ida Lupino was one of the greatly respected directors of studio-era Hollywood; there's a whole binder full of women directors in various New Wave movements, which generally signal an eruption in a country of a more progressive outlook, or at least certainly hipper - Agnes Varda and a little later Chantal Akerman in France, Vera Chitylova in Czechoslovakia, Ann Hui in Hong Kong, Marizyeh Meshkiny and Samira Makhmalbaf in Iran, and a whole binder full of women directors in England. Of course, female directors should be a much much greater part of that fabric, but they've been unmistakably there all throughout movie history. The same goes still much much moreso for gay and queer themed movie-making. Whatever discrimination they face in the rest of their lives, gay men have always had an extremely honored place in the arts, perhaps even disproportionately so, and the list of directors who've made an enormous impact not just in movies but with gay-themed or gay-subtexted movies is practically an honor roll and would make a good podcast of its own, though not this week. There is no cinema as we know it without F W Murnau, James Whale, George Cukor, Luchino Visconti, John Waters, Pierre Paolo Passolini, John Schlesinger, Franco Zefferelli, Rainer Wilhelm Fassbinder, the Merchant-Ivory partnership, Gus Van Sant, Todd Haynes. Not to mention the director who's probably my pick for the greatest living anywhere in the world, Pedro Almodovar from Spain. Anyone who's seen his work knows he makes movies of incredible intensity, comedy, bizarreness, and technique, all in the service of an overwhelming compassion and human feeling. On the other hand, famous lesbian directors are almost non-extant.
It might be a little too easy to make this podcast about Lady Bird, in my strong opinion easily the best of last year's batch of exciting new identity-based movies, or Call Me By Your Name, the most flawed of them but perhaps the most sociologically interesting, and you could even throw in The Post, next to Lady Bird the best movie I saw last year - the story of Katherine Graham, made by Steven Spielberg and quite unfairly, the movie in which Spielberg gets to position himself as a progressive feminist after basically ignoring female characters for the entirety of his forty five year career. And if I can't fashion something better, I'll go back and make the podcast on exactly that, even though I find it a little tiresome to repeat the same subject from week to week without any real change. Maybe I'll do that podcast in the next week or two, but there's another subject, a larger one, that grew out of the last two week's subjects that, for the moment, interests me much more.
Instead, I'd like to make this podcast into something about the need, the inescapable need, for identity themed art, and what it ultimately means, as best as I can guess - which will no doubt be wrong, for how art will evolve in the 21st century.
We just have to face it, art is not as important to the average middle class person at the beginning of the 21st century as it was to the average middle-class person at the beginning of the 20th. There are so many reasons for that, but I can't imagine it doesn't ultimately come down to the much greater importance of science in our lives. Technology is so obviously the node around which modern life revolves. The miracle of art in the 19th century was a linear, thousand-year long progression in which the creativity of artists piled one innovation upon another, until the most detailed, abstract techniques in music, or painting, or narrative storytelling, could show a mirror up to nature that became a heightened version of our own consciousness that illuminated the human experience as it never could have been before, and, no doubt arguably, never has in quite so vast a way since.
All evolution has those moments when, because life becomes so vastly more sophisticated in some areas, it necessarily becomes vastly less sophisticated in others. By the beginning of the 20th century, technology made human evolution so quick that the human experience could not ever again be processed directly without a technological intercessor. Human technology created musical sounds that reproduced without the presence of musicians, and pictures that moved and could tell stories. Everything about the human relationship to art has to be relearned, and when the reset button's pressed, we had to go back to basics. The possibilities of how art could be made were suddenly infinite, and yet the audience for infinite creativity became infinitesimal, and without a large public to learn from, it is much much harder to figure out what works artistically. Every time you go to an avant-garde show and laugh at a painter or composer who makes something you don't understand, try to be understanding of them. Think of the desperation and loneliness that might have gone into sinking their entire financial future into student loans to get a degree in the arts, and think of what kind of work a person talented enough to get into art or music school might have created had somebody paid attention to them other than a professor who tells them to create within the strictures of an ideology that justifies their tenure. And if you ever paid attention to them and gave them a emotional, or god forbid - financial, incentive to value your opinion, they would start creating art that you would like. Losing a general middle class public for new high art was a trauma from which the high arts have never recovered and will not recover until the middle class decides that art, rather than entertainment, is important again.