Art v. Life

climax_salomecroppedWhen aesthetes like Oscar Wilde or critics like Harold Bloom proclaim that “life imitates art” or “Shakespeare invented the human,” I imagine people rolling their eyes and thinking, “Puh-leez!”

Of course, their adopting these mannerisms confirms Wilde’s and Bloom’s claims. No doubt cinema popularized eye-rolling as a fetching way to express exasperated contempt, and “puh-leez” as in “give me a break,” probably can trace its origins from somewhere in Sitcomland.

What Wilde meant is that artists’ rendering of what they perceive provides the inartistic with images they project onto world, and in the case of characters from literature, models for imitation:

Consider [Wilde writes] the matter from a scientific or a metaphysical point of view, and you will find that I am right. For what is Nature? Nature is no great mother who has borne us. She is our creation. It is our brain that she quickens to life. Things are because we see them, and what we see, and how we see it, depends on the Arts that have influenced us. To look at a thing is very different from seeing a thing. One does not see anything until one sees its beauty. Then, and only then, does it come into existence. At present people see fogs, not because there are fogs, but because poets and painters have taught them the mysterious loveliness of such effects. There may have been fogs for centuries in London. I dare say there were. But no one saw them, and so we do not know anything about them. They did not exist until Art invented them. Now, it must be admitted, fogs are carried to excess. They have become the mere mannerism of a clique, and the exaggerated realism of their method give dull people bronchitis. Where the cultured catch an effect, the uncultured catch a cold.
“The Influence of the Impressionists on Climate”

Claude Monet: Le Parlement, effet de brouillard

Claude Monet: Le Parlement, effet de brouillard

To follow up on the second point, from the Renaissance on, literature has provided models for imitation for playgoers and readers eager to customize their personas. For example, males for 4+ centuries have channeled Hamlet, donned black and parroted his depressive wit; clever girls, in turn, have modeled their personalities on Elizabeth Bennet, that arch, articulate social critic. Perhaps the most copied “type” for males of my generation is the Hemingway code hero. Nick Adams and Jake Barnes wannabes around the world have embraced wounded, stoic, epicureanism for going on a century. On a less grandiose scale, Bogart as Sam Spade, John Wayne as, well, John Wayne, and Aubrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly have also offered archetypes for imitation.

Come to think of it, perhaps exotic Papa Hemingway deserves some praise/blame for our current culinary obsessions.

“As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy, and to make plans.”
                                                              A Moveable Feast

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In the late Victorian era, the aestheticism of Pater and Wilde reeked of decadence. Who could take Pater’s advice “[t]o burn always with this hard gemlike flame, to maintain this ecstasy” if employed as a grocery boy, seamstress, coal miner, or pedagogue?

No, you had to loll your days away reading the “Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam” in exquisitely decorated gardenia-scented rooms (while across town some tailor pricked his finger hand crafting the smoking jacket you had commissioned).

 Hidden by the Sleeve of Night and Morn by Edmund Dulac

Hidden by the Sleeve of Night and Morn by Edmund Dulac

Nowadays, few folk perceive decoration as decadent, though decorators have been conspicuously gay, as have been hair-dressers, fashion designers, and at least nowadays on King Street, male salesclerks in clothing stores. The effeminacy of caring about what flowers to place where perhaps only occurs in Late Empire cultures. (I don’t see Dan Boone fussing over container of black-eyed susans). And, yes, many grandsons of D-Day GIs are now uncloseted metrosexuals, and I say this is a good thing.

Certainly, I’d prefer to imbibe my afternoon Colt 45 Malt Liquor pinot in James T Crow’s pleasant arts-and-craft cottage overlooking the Folly River than seated upon motel-like furnishings in a condo overlooking the Mount Pleasant Bypass.

So, excuse me as I slip down to to snip some begonias from the garden. We might disagree about what is beautiful, but we can all agree that beauty beats its alternatives.

Hoodoo Living Quarters

Hoodoo Living Quarters

Enjoying Genocide at the Drive-in

Apr_SheWoreAYellowRibbonLast night TMC broadcast the John Ford classic She Wore a Yellow Ribbon. This early Technicolor production relies heavily on the majestic vistas of Monument Valley located on the Arizona-Utah border. You might even go so far as to say the setting steals the show, more like the scenery chewing up the actors instead of vice versa.

The film came out in 1949, right about the time television started to invade postwar households. Ford and his cinematographer Winton Hoch, who won an Academy Award for the picture, make heavy use of long shots that exploit the incredible russet beauty of the landscape but also render the characters antlike in the grand scheme of it all. Seeing it on TV barely hacks it, even now with our current technology. Imagine what would be lost watching it back in the day on a black-and-white 16-inch screen Zenith.

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I remember first seeing the movie in the late 50’s with my parents, either at the North 52 or Flamingo Drive-in Theater. Until last night, all I recalled of the film was its invasive theme song and John Wayne’s character having conversations with his deceased wife at her graveside.

Those were the halcyon days before education when you could blithely curse the Arapaho, Cheyenne, and Kiawah for having the temerity to wander off their reservations. You could innocently celebrate the replication of their genocide as arrows whizzed, rifles thundered, and stuntmen tumbled from galloping horses.

large-3Going to Drive-ins offered working class families like mine a cheap night’s worth of entertainment. Kids under 12 got in free. My brother David and I would dress in our pajamas, Mama would pop popcorn at home, and we’d bring along our own Coca-Colas. Not only did we save money, but also my parents could chain smoke, which, along with the burning mosquito repellent, helped to diminish the chances of our contracting Malaria. Usually, David and I would conk out, so Mama and Daddy could engage in adult conversations without forking out money to a babysitter.

large-4The Flamingo had been originally called The Ebony and catered to, as the ad says, “Colored Folks,” but it only lasted less than a year. Its next incarnation was as the Bonny Drive-In, which was actually integrated, but this social experiment ended in less than a month. It reopened finally as the Flamingo and had by far the coolest sign, a neon-tubed flamingo that lit up in progressive sections over and over again on the back of the screen facing the highway.

West Ashley also had its drive-ins, the Magnolia, located at 1500 Savannah Highway, the present location of Rick Hendricks Chevrolet. There were others as well, the St Andrews Drive-In, also on Savannah Highway, the 4-Mile Drive-In on North Meeting Street Road, but I don’t remember them, nor do I recall the Sea-Breeze Drive-In on Coleman Boulevard in Mt. Pleasant. (You can read all about those lost treasures at this site, Special Feature: Charleston Area Drive-Ins).

I do, however, remember the Gateway, where we went as teenagers, not so much to watch movies but to risk our lives making out in back seats, because as anyone knows who has ever seen a B-horror flick at a Drive-in movie, teenagers necking in cars are the number one target of monsters, whether they be zombies, werewolves, or radioactive mutated reptiles.

Later the Gateway specialized in porn films, which no doubt led to more than one auto crash as drivers tooling across overpasses caught glimpses of the screen as they exited onto 52, which in those days was called “the Dual-Lane.”

Rumor has it that some of my high school acquaintances sneaked into area drive-ins by getting into surf bags and strapping themselves on surf racks on the top of VW buses. Of course, it wasn’t Coca-Colas they were smuggling inside.

I can’t say I pine for those long gone days  — in many ways they sucked . However,  I wouldn’t mind catching another John Ford film at a drive-in, though like last night, I’d be pulling for the Indians.

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