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Friday, April 25, 2014

Book Review: The Gothic Revival by Kenneth Clark



Book Review:
 The Gothic Revival
by Kenneth Clark
published 1928, this edition published 1970

  This book is critical both as a source for information on the Gothic Revival of the 18th and 19th century AND as a seminal book of criticism about the relationship of culture, art and fashion.  The Gothic Revival has value both in terms of its description of the Gothic Revival, it's criticism of the Revivalists and its method for analyzing the subject.

  The idea of a cultural "revival" is something that is a common phenomenon of the early 21st century (as well as the mid to late 20th century.)  Revivals occur when a cultural subject that has had a peak and valley of Audience interest receives a second peak of interest.  Revivals can occur and reoccur or they can be a one time phenomenon.  While the description of "new" revivals is a staple of cultural criticism today, attention to the similar structures of revivals across art forms and audiences receives less attention.

 The fact is that the revival as a staple of the changes in culture that happen over time is itself indelibly linked to The Gothic Revival of the early 19th century.  This was a phenomenon that was largely specific to England and Scotland, though English/Scottish authors drew on examples from outside the British Isles, and The Gothic Revival spread to other territories, specifically North America, where an American Gothic Revival coincided with the later portion of the English Gothic Revival.

  Clark elegantly traces the roots of the Gothic Revival to the Romantic movement of the 18th century.  A major question for Clark is whether the Gothic Revival of Architecture can or should be linked to the earlier Gothic trend in literature, which preceded the Architectural revival. Clark's position is that the two are obviously linked, but that the literature did not serve as a direct inspiration for the Architecture.

 Rather, the Gothic Revival in Architecture sprang from an increase in the number of people who were building "country homes" in rural England and needed design tips for those homes.  This preference "trickled up" to public buildings, where a taste for Gothic influenced designs for Churches and Government buildings. 

Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Spirit of the Beehive (1973) d. Victor Erce

Ana Torrent in The Spirit of the Beehive (1973) d. Victor Erce


Movie Review
The Spirit of the Beehive (1973)
d. Victor Erce
Criterion Collection #351

   I know my quest to watch every Criterion Collection film AND read all 1001 Books listed in the 2006 edition of 1001 Books to Read Before You Die, but I am making progress.  As I write this I am accumulating the harder to obtain titles in the period between 1900 and 1920 in 1001 Books to Read Before You Die.  Criterion Collection just re-upped with Hulu- making it more likely that additional titles will join those already available.

  Initially released in 1973, the Criterion Collection of The Spirit of the Beehive released in 2006 was hailed at the time as an excellent version of an all-time classic film.  The Spirit of the Beehive has a perfect 100% on Rotten Tomatoes from the important 2006 Criterion Collection edition release- with 19 favorable critical reviews- most from the 2006 DVD release.

  The Spirit of the Beehive is a film set in the 1940s in the immediate aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, made during the 1970s, while Franco was still in power, so it's a movie that is elipitically "about" Spain under Frcianco while actually telling the very non-political story of a little girl, played by the immortal Ana Torrent, who becomes obsessed with Frankenstein after seeing the movie in her rural village.

  The tale unfolds in a pace reminiscent of Japanese cinema: A LOT of static composition and lingering images of interiors.  Specifically, director Erce seems inspired by Ozu.  This point is made by film scholar Linda Ehrlich in a featurette that is basically a 15 minute film professor lecture on the film.  Based on her material, it seems like The Spirit of the Beehive was subjected to a good deal of 90s style academic film criticism. I'm not sure any of that would really add to a movie that is classic and enduring because it is delicate and vague.

  There is a lot you could say about The Spirit of the Beehive, but that seems like its besides the point.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Border Radio (1987) d. Alison Anders, Dean Lent, Kurt Voss

John Doe in Border Radio (1987)

Movie Review
Border Radio (1987)
d. Alison Anders, Dean Lent, Kurt Voss
Criterion Collection #362

  The idea of "punk cinema" is fraught with issues, mostly because punk was primarily a musical phenmenon.  The adoption of "punk" ideas into cinema butted up against the conflicting values of punk and film.  Punk was supposedly rough and spontaneous.  Film, with some very limited exceptions during the late 70s early 80s punk era, was not.  Additionally, the relatively high costs of shooting films and limited possibility of obtaining wide spread distribution militated against any kind of widespread punk cinema.

  Punk did at least help to inspire many of the American and English independent/experimental film community of the mid 1980s.  In England, Derek Jarman released the punk influenced, non-narrative Jubilee as early as 1978.  In America, Jim Jarmusch was treading in punk water in Stranger Than Paradise (1984.)  Scorcese did Taxi Driver in 1976 (with Robert DeNiro sporting a mohawk.)  Repo Man by Alex Cox came in 1984 as well.  So, Border Radio, which didn't even get a theatrical release, was not the first movie to use a punk scene as a backdrop.

  But at the same time,  Border Radio, which is essentially a student film done well, shows actual LA punk musicians in lead roles- namely John Doe of X and Chris D. of Flesh Eaters.  Many punk scensters also appear in minor roles throughout Border Radio. The plot is a thin film noir type thing but it isn't the main attraction.  It's more about the atmosphere.

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