Monday, March 13, 2023


What the heck is happening here?

While some drawings aspire to clarity, others are enhanced by obscurity and mystery.

Carl Sandburg said, “Poetry is the opening and closing of a door, leaving those who look through to guess about what was seen during a moment.”

I enjoy the work of Hans Hillmann who was famous for his posters but who also created a number of shadowy noir illustrations for stories such as Dashiell Hammett's 1929 Flypaper.  Note how each of these illustrations is staged to leave viewers "to guess about what was seen."

In the drawings above, Hillmann has cropped out most of the elements that would normally be at the center of an illustration or concealed them with fog or shadow.  But it's important to note that Hillmann's approach doesn't rely solely on the omission of details.  He created many detailed, high resolution  drawings with elements ranging from faux wrinkles in clothing to complex patterns on socks.  This glut of details doesn't make the drawings any more comprehensible.

Many illustrators are celebrated for their ability to create highly realistic pictures-- a skill which is increasingly less impressive as more and more of the work can be accomplished with inexpensive digital aids.  But there is much to be said for artists like Hillmann who can cast a spell using an oblique approach.  


Laurence John said...


There's definitely a mysterious atmospheric quality to these works that borders on the surreal (which I like) but I find the spacial anomalies a distraction (e.g the car roof in 6, the stairwell in 8).

I feel that they would have benefited from either the spacial structure being tighter and more 'realistic' a setting for the mysterious events, or conversely by applying the spacial anomalies evenly throughout the image to make the setting into a deliberately surreal or cubist - graphic space.

Looking at some of this other work, he ventures into a more purely flattened graphic space, which (to me) is more successful than these. Example below:

Wes said...

They are nicely creepy, and I was wondering if the inconsistent "spacial anomalies" are inadvertent. They seem deliberate to me, as if the viewer is the one that can't see reality correctly, as in delirium. The car roof is the most off but seems to help add to the disturbance of reality. I like it.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Wes. These are more creepy than they would be if they were more explicit.


al mcluckie said...

Thanks ! This guy came under my radar , enjoying his work and design . Some of his figure pieces remind of Phil Hales figure collage/mashups .

chris bennett said...

Hmmm. These images deliver their effect essentially by way of dissociations, the staple of 'Film Noir', and suffer from the same aesthetic shortcoming - depth. They arrest us in the way the novels of, say, Italo Calvino or Paul Aster do; the setting up of a premise that is gradually undermined. Seductive nihilism.

The paintings of Edward Hopper or Vilhelm Hammershøi (whose general mood these pictures superficially resemble) while dealing with types of alienation, do not stop at the disrupting of expectations. Their subtle sense of dislocation has a deeper purpose that is intuited within the work as a whole. I think of it as something like redemptive mystery.

Wes said...

Yes, "Film noir" seems right. They also reminded my of Mark Tansey, though Tansey is very gimmicky, and these are just surreal and strange. They give me a sense of delirium, and are "noirish" of the most unbalanced sort e.g., "Detour" with crazy Ann Savage. In the best film noir, the dissociation turns to delirium which turns to a nightmare from which one doesn't wake.

kev ferrara said...

These are fun. But I'm a noir nut, so I'm biased.

Stylistically, they're a bit like if Robert Riggs was influenced by early 1970s Mike Kaluta. Clearly a lot of old Hollywood crime movies made their way to Germany and Hillmann consumed every one he could get his hands on.

Chris beat me to the punch of mentioning Hammershoi. I'm also reminded of a few 100-year-old Brandywine Noir illustrations:

This suspense thriller from George W. Gage...

And this tense classic by N.C. Wyeth

A shadow of a gun on the wall is an old noir cliché, but even so, that one is so well designed and executed, and the period details are so well chosen, that I think it stands out.

Controlled narrative mystery is always better than accidental non-narrative mysteries in art.

However there is a pat self-consciousness to the coincident symmetries in Hillmann's arrangements that makes them too game-like to be believable. They lack the 'feel of the real.'

Because I don't believe most of them and I know he is playing a game, I don't think about the narratives as having mystery; I don't wonder what happens next or who goes there? Because I don't believe any of the people or the scenes. I feel the tone as an aesthetic quality - which I love - but I am always drawn out of it by the blatancy of the formal games.

He seemed to reference everything in these pictures except the people. Which is a slight hitch in the genre because Hillmann is one of those artists who just has funny in his bones. So the tone is more Roger Rabbit than Dashiell Hammett.

al mcluckie said...

Kev , I met Steranko about 2 years ago , talked film noir for 2 hours , What are a few of your favorites ?

kev ferrara said...

Steranko is one cool cat.

What are a few of your favorites ?

My favorites are the ones where, as the mystery unravels the film starts to take on a kind of supernatural tone. Maltese Falcon (1941) is the model. Then Kiss Me Deadly (1955) and Chinatown (1974). Also Sunset Boulevard (1950) and No Country For Old Men (2007).

For actual supernatural noir I found the first season of True Detective riveting. For Sci-Fi Noir I like Blade Runner and Minority Report.

For 'Neo Noir' I liked David Fincher's Se7en, Zodiac, and Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. I'd qualify Glengarry Glen Ross (1992) as Neo Noir. Also Killing of a Chinese Bookie. Maybe even Casino Royale.

For comedic noir, I like the William Powell Thin Man and Peter Lorre Mr. Moto series. And of course The Big Lebowski and Fargo.

I like Orson Welles' noirs too; Touch of Evil and Third Man.

And you?

al mcluckie said...

Knew you had good taste ! Like all mentioned and some that are cheaply produced but somehow , by skill or luck manage to create a mood . Welles's Touch of Evil , Journey into Fear , His Kind of Lady - Mitchum McGraw Burr Price , what a cast . Narrow Margin , Murder By Contract , Finchers The Game . And the Peter Gunn series . To name a few . It was great meeting a childhood hero , and he could not have been nicer - could care less if he wears a piece or really sleeps 3 hrs. a night and subsists on broccoli .

kev ferrara said...

Forgot about Fincher's The Game. An underrated favorite.

Turns out I've never seen His Kind of (Woman)... will take the recommendation and give it a go.

al mcluckie said...

HKOW is unique , starts out like a claustrophobic dark noir , then completely changes environment , then V Price comes in and takes over the movie , quite a ride . Am a big David Lynch fan , some of his work could be thought of as noir . Best Al

David Apatoff said...

Laurence John-- Actually, Hillmann did a number of drawings where he emphasized "spacial anomalies' in a "surreal or cubist" manner. I think they're unquestionably some of his best. Unfortunately, my only copies of those drawings are in old books where they are a double page spread with a conspicuous gutter down the middle, so not suitable for use here. It's interesting, though, that you flagged his going in that direction.

Wes-- Yes, they are definitely advertent.

Al McLuckie-- The connection with Hale didn't occur to me but I see exactly what you mean. It's not easy to achieve that sinister effect with mashups, but Hale and Hillmann both seem to have a natural aptitude for it.

David Apatoff said...

chris bennett-- I recently saw the extraordinary Hopper exhibit at the Whitney Museum and, newly ensorcelled by his work, I'd agree that neither Hillmann nor Hammershøi are in his league. (I was not familiar with Vilhelm Hammershøi so thank you for the introduction.) I do think there is a difference between the loneliness and isolation portrayed by Hopper and Hammershøi on the one hand, and the more ominous, noir feeling of Hillmann on the other.

With Hillmann I feel that violence is never very far beneath the surface. If violence is your darkest dark, then perhaps your work does lack the "depth" of more psychologically complex darks-- Eugene O'Neill, Ibsen, etc.

Wes-- I love Tansey's Innocent Eye test; any artist who can do that can't be all bad. It's interesting that noir originated with the German directors and Hillmann, a German, seems to have had a genuine flair for that aesthetic.

David Apatoff said...

The Big Sleep
The Asphalt Jungle

I share your affection for The Third Man, Touch of Evil, Sunset Boulevard. And of course, Double Indemnity goes without saying.

Anonymous said...

There's certainly a tension between the strict graphic design and more loose pictorial content of these pieces, but it occurs to me that the liminal quality is primarily caused simply by the choice of moment visualized. Appealing to the field of animation, I'd suggest these are all tweens, not key frames.

David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara-- Truly excellent images from Gage and Wyeth-- I'd never seen them before. As Wyeth and many other illustrators of that era worked in color, only to be reproduced in a gritty black and white, I have to wonder wha the originals looked like. Were these made more noir by the printing limitations of the time? Early illustrations by Gayle Hoskins, Frank Street, E. Ward and Leone Bracker, reproduced in black and white, also had a noir feel. (see, e.g.,

I agree there is a touch of humor, or at least self-consciousness, to these but I suspect that's because Hillmann was illustrating a Dashiell Hammett story 50 years after the Depression era that inspired Hammett's stories of pugs in dark alleys. To be serious about noir today I suspect you need fresh elements, as in films such as Bladerunner or Bladerunner 2049.

kev ferrara said...

I agree there is a touch of humor, or at least self-consciousness, to these but I suspect that's because Hillmann was illustrating a Dashiell Hammett story 50 years after the Depression era that inspired Hammett's stories of pugs in dark alleys.

You don't think Hillmann's squat figures and gummy-globular drawing style are inherently comical?

To be serious about noir today I suspect you need fresh elements,

Every era is a mine filled with untapped ore deposits. The past just as much as the future.

David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara-- I think that fedoras, wide lapels and running boards lost much of their menace after their era ended. Their threat was contained, categorized and summarized by English lit majors and movie school students. Today we all know what was lurking in those shadows from a thousand movie cliches. Pulp magazines no longer thrill us, they amuse us as "camp." So when Hillmann dipped his pen back into that 1930s detective brand of noir, he had to deal with common knowledge of the stereotypes (just as a modern day Dashiell Hammett would have to write with that additional level of awareness. I do agree that Shakespeare could place genuine tragedy in any era.)

kev ferrara said...


Allow me to rephrase the question:

Do you - as I - think that Hillmann's squat figures and gummy-globular drawing style give an inherently comical tone to his noir pictures?

I think that fedoras, wide lapels and running boards lost much of their menace

I think we are at a fundamental disagreement about the nature of objects in art.

You are again (this is a throwback subject) thinking of genre as the set of objects commonly associated with it. But as I have argued before, genre is just a kind of complex mood; essentially tonal. The genre objects contribute to the tone, but they're incidental to it. In fact, they're appearances are entirely incidental unless they contribute to plot.

Mood/tone in the arts is incantatory; it's a hypnotic/suggestive effect. To create a mood, one simply keeps manifesting it. Repeat and repeat the effects that will cause the feeling.

If fedoras and lapels were the genre, then how could there be a sci-fi noir?

If you see a fantasy picture and can cover up the 'fantasy' aspect of it with your thumb, the picture is hardly a fantasy picture at all. A soup isn't the bits of chicken that your spoon dredges up now and again. A roux comes from the intermixture of tastes, the resonating quality that suffuses all.

The symbol-cataloguing of academic fan boys has no value in the grand scheme of the arts. I guarantee you that in the hands of the right director any prop or accessory can be made menacing once again. Or funny. Or romantic. It completely depends on the artist' will, and it has nothing to do with what is currently considered cliché. Everything can be made new again by talent.

chris bennett said...

Indeed Kev.

And I'd add to the noir field (also to join in with the fun of the noir party a few comments up) most Spaghetti westerns along with Hollywood westerns made in the 50s like 'Johnny Guitar' or those set in modern times such as 'Bad Day at Black Rock'. Horror noir would have to be something like those Italian 'giallo' flicks, and on the American side I'd certain place 'Eraserhead' and 'Blue Velvet' in that category.

Cowboy hats don't count as fedoras...

kev ferrara said...

Horror noir would have to be something like those Italian 'giallo' flicks

I think a lot of films dip in and out of a noir sensibility.

Noir probably requires existential grit, fatalism, greed, suspicion, duplicity, deviousness, clever but complicated plans, desperation, and intimidation. But the tone is an air of suspense, mystery and menace, which is not explicit. So the moment when you see a splatter of gore on the screen, I think you're out of the noir mood.

When the four characters at the start of Once Upon A Time in The West get blasted, there isn't a single drop of blood. The hospital sequence in The Godfather is clearly noir, but I'd argue the gruesome horse head in the bed isn't; it is flat-out horrific.

Alienation and stylishness are also key tonal qualities. Stylishness as a veneer over base motives and nasty behaviors, for instance.

The anti-stylish sartorial sloppiness of The Dude and Walter Sobchak would make them comic noir characters even if The Big Leboswki was serious. I think Hillmann's funny-pudgy fireplug people are similarly pushing against the tone.

A painting, image, or movie with all the necessary tonal qualities will feel noir even if it's incoherent.

Certain value schemes and graphic pictorial patterns in art are, unto themselves, noirish. Even certain kinds of spaces and lighting schemes.

David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara-- I didn't mean to suggest that a fedora could never be used in a contemporary noir film. My point was rather that if the Coen brothers are going to use a fedora as a character in Miller's Crossing, they must bring new elements to the table. Chandler or Hammett never attached such symbolism to hanging onto a hat which perpetually rolls away. Was there a previous noir film that showed a violent Irish mobster assault to the gentle tune of "Danny Boy," or Jon Polito's marvelous lecture on "ethics" before he puts one in the brain? Miller's Crossing opens up the genre, just as Bladerunner 2049 does.

Contrast that with Steve Martin's Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid, which parodies the props and standard conventions of noir detective films, even playing for laughs archive footage from many of the noir films people have listed above. Hillmann doesn't go that far, but he is clearly aware that he is employing a time worn formula with cliched symbols.

As for your point that "Everything can be made new again by talent," I couldn't agree more. That's the core philosophy behind my scorn for much of much of today's "art" and my preference for the work of talented illustrators. Or as Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Excellence is the new forever.”

Sean Farrell said...

“Mood/tone in the arts is incantatory; it's a hypnotic/suggestive effect. To create a mood, one simply keeps manifesting it. Repeat and repeat the effects that will cause the feeling.”

The sentence above is exactly what I was hoping would come forth from a post on a poetic theme. It goes much further than referring to an Anders Zorn or Bernie Fuchs simply as poetic, which is something similar to a commentator of a poem referring to it as poetic.

David’s reference to the category of gangster movies is incomplete without The Godfather. There are all kinds of poetry, but those which draw one unsuspectingly into a cutting truth can be especially powerful. As a younger person and I’ve spoken to other younger people who interpreted the scene where Pacino as Michael Corleone is called to renew his baptismal vows renouncing Satan as a sign of renouncing a perfunctory and weak church, a mockery as his enemies are murdered, when in actuality this is the story Puzo is telling, the set up for the further fall of the young don on his way to murdering and destroying all he originally loved and hoped to honor; finding himself alienated from his own humanity. The story raised the standards of the usual gangster morality play to such a height that all that followed had to answer to it.

Some added new twists to the gangster movie while others confirmed it, but the power of the baptismal vows startled the same young people I knew when they were later in life called to make them on behalf of another or just witnessed them being spoken because well, as a human being we have quite a few things in common with old snatch. Such a confrontation by admission of what one is becomes a powerful point in much poetry that reveals our own hypocrisy, arrogance failure to feel, etc. I guess what I’m saying is that The Godfather brought this power to its story and in the process deflated the former glory of the gangster story as a much simpler morality play.

“Certain value schemes and graphic pictorial patterns in art are, unto themselves, noirish. Even certain kinds of spaces and lighting schemes.”

Thanks for fleshing out the deeper stylistic references and differences in noir which is helpful in expanding upon the lesser reference of everyday life as subject matter by which the word genre is generally defined in art.

David Apatoff said...

Sean Farrell wrote: "The story raised the standards of the usual gangster morality play to such a height that all that followed had to answer to it."

I'll never say a word against The Godfather (although I have friends who are prosecutors in the Department of Justice organized crime unit who have spent weeks listening to wiretaps of gangsters and they say The Godfather is a highly unrealistic fantasy. I'm told that, unlike the romanticized characters in the Godfather, the real life versions are soulless, inarticulate brutes with none of the conflicts or ambitions of the Godfather.)

Yes, the Godfather is an epic parable about the compromises and inevitable corruption that the world forces upon us, whether gangster, cop, lawyer, president, spouse, etc. Coppola had the wisdom to frame the conflict using gangsters rather than accountants because violence, sex and the similarly low, shameful elements of our nature are the engines that power our most lofty artistic and intellectual musings.

So in a way, I agree that the Godfather "deflated the former glory of the gangster story as a much simpler morality play" but these things are cyclical and to the extent new gangster stories become distant from that simple morality play, to the extent they become more intellectual and rarified and cerebral, they risk straying from the potency of the art.

chris bennett said...

...violence, sex and the similarly low, shameful elements of our nature are the engines that power our most lofty artistic and intellectual musings.

Really? I mean really? So what does the engines of kindness, chastity and the similarly high, honourable elements of our nature, power?

David Apatoff said...

chris bennett-- Perhaps my point was too compact to make sense. Perhaps instead of "violence and sex" I should've just said "disreputable." Let me try to spread my point out a bit.

There's a reason why the highest, loftiest most refined art is fueled by stories of extreme challenges and tests that defy social structures, stories that glorify passion and death and violence, such as crime stories, cowboy stories, war stories, love stories. It is outside the law, whether in the battlefield or the gutter, where the stakes are highest. I'm not just talking about today's movies, I'm talking about stories going back to the Iliad 2,700 years ago and further. As Simone Weil wrote, "The true hero, the true subject, the center of the Iliad, is force." Or as the great classics scholar Bernard Knox wrote, "The rage of Achilles-- it's cause, its course and its disastrous consequences-- is the theme of the poem, the mainspring of the plot." And it was ever thus. A thousand, thousand works by the greatest artists were drawn to the same outlaw subject matter. Titian's masterpiece of Europa and the Bull was about Zeus carrying off the young girl to ravage her. When Walt Whitman aspired to be the great American bard, he surveyed "The genius of poets of old lands" and their "many immortal songs" and said, "Know'st thou not there is but one theme for ever-enduring bards? And that is the theme of War, the fortune of battles...." To the extent artists were inspired by "the engines of kindness, chastity" it was usually about the disastrous effects of trying to suppress hot passion: Heloise and Abelard, or Lancelot and Guinevere.

This isn't a good place for debates that call for examples spanning the centuries, but the basic point seems to me to be pretty difficult to dispute. There's a reason why so many of the innovations that replenish tired art movements come from the outskirts of respectability.

Sean Farrell said...

Story and reality are not supposed to be the same thing though a story may tell a truth. One is a way of understanding and checking the other, a thing of the mind that draws our being into play through the imaginative process by awakening belief in the story through recognitions. One recognition has to proceed another before growth takes place.

A serial killer explained that with his first shooting victim, all the fear that haunted him for years was instantly lifted. Was his fear imagined or real, or both? Was its source biological? Pat answers are often to assure the socially adjusted person there is a simple answer to this human quality of being carried away by things.

In our world where we know some things but not as much as we like to think, there’s a tendency to discard the unknowable as simply that yet to become known, or nothing more than nonsense. Still even the presumptuous may give the unknown the benefit of the doubt as a presumption of civility. A Bishop Barron said, as there are natural baseball players there are also natural mystics. The mystic gives the benefit of the doubt to the unknowable, seeking a depth in the ordinary that others won’t allow because they assume nothing is there.

Similarly, what Chris brings up is part of the human story too. I don’t disagree with a single word you wrote, but our tendency to be carried away with things is not exclusive to our lower instincts even if it is the more natural route. What makes this so interesting artistically is where Kev and Chris allude to such experiences in art as poetry, not simply as mood, but in pictures like Breaking Home Ties which touch deeply. I refuse to believe that all the artists and mystics were carried away by low thyroid function or that those who find beauty in simple lyrical lines as did the Greeks, have no feel for the poetic. Casting doubts aside, I have admit I want to know more.

chris bennett said...

Perhaps my point was too compact to make sense.

Ah, thank you David for clearing that up, I see your meaning now.


Sure, human misdeeds, such as pettiness, cruelty, malevolence, vice, hate, lying, pleasure in evil and their embodiment in organised form, are an immutable fact of our being. But their opposites; magnanimity, affection, kindness, responsibility, love, truthfulness, joy in caring and their embodiment in healthy relationship between individuals, family and society is also an immutable fact of our being.

These opposites are the poles that hold within them the condition of human being-ness which, in turn, belongs to life itself. 'You can't have hills without the valleys', as someone once said.

So of course, the structure of Art, concerning as it does, the human condition, will necessarily be composed of these opposites animated through varying degrees of tension with each other. But this tension is not itself the generator of art. In other words it is not the bottom-up process you seem to suggest.

The 'will to art', let me call it that, is the sense that opposites are part of something which is both, at once, formed by them and forms them. And whatever 'that' may be is implicitly bound up in this meta-language we call poetry.

This, unlike an engine (which generates its power only by the bottom-up principle), I have come to believe is the animating force that wills the poetic act - a top-down emanation from the highest that manifests itself by a drawing-up of the tensions within itself. Thus poetry is called forth from us as much as we, by composing it, call forth that that makes us do so. You could call it communing with the divine.

David Apatoff said...

chris bennett-- in the movie "High Noon" Gary Cooper is certainly loyal and magnanimous but is that what keeps us on the edge of our seats? Or do we respond to the life and death struggles with the murderous outlaws which put his loyalty to the test? Perhaps it's the conflict between the steamy senorita who gave him hot sex and the prim bride who will abandon him for religious principles? In the movie "Random Harvest" does the art come from Ronald Colman's long, principled life as a respected civic leader and businessman or is it the aching sublimation of his sweetheart who works beside him every day for years but can't tell him the truth and take him in her arms? In "Jezebel" Bette Davis does the responsible by devoting her life to caring for the ill Henry Fonda, but if she were exhibiting that loyalty and responsibility as a spinster nurse in a hospital would anyone care? No, what makes it art is the plague-stricken cart trundling off into the night by flickering torchlight, to certain doom following a screeching fight between two women desperately in love with the same man.

I agree that these movies are about loyalty, magnanimity, responsible family life, etc. but I think what makes them successful is that these qualities are tortured out of them by the human passions that everyone recognizes and shares. Everyone who watches Jezebel thinks, "Could I ever love anyone enough to climb into that plague cart with them?" It's a question that's worth asking, a growth question, and it's a question that art provokes.

Of course there is plenty of light domestic humor that doesn't confront us with any of these challenges. But I'm really trying to focus here on high art (what Whitman called "immortal songs") because that's where the contrast between the lofty peaks and the "low" elements of our nature is so striking. Look at the plot of almost any Shakespeare play, or any Chaucer tale. 90% of Milton's Paradise Lost is devoted to either cataclysmic battles between good and evil or sex between Adam and Eve. Consider the plot underlying Mozart's The Magic Flute. I agree, many of these high points of western culture involve laudable virtues such as true love, but often they sparkle because they are bespangled with blood and hormones we can all recognize.

Sean Farrell-- I did not mean to suggest that these great artists are "carried away by low thyroid function." On the contrary, I mean that they are capable of harnessing our low thyroid function and transforming it into poetry. Their art isn't derived from denying or thwarting the hot blood flowing in our veins, it comes from acknowledging and grappling with that hot blood which so often masters our reason. It's frequently a more honest way of coming to grips with the human condition.

Sean Farrell said...

Hard things are hard to do and require much will. You made a good case for the passions and their accomplishments. These are very tricky subjects and I should have qualified my last sentences as general statements. A commercial mentality commodified art as an investment and the poets and mystics are for the birds. There’s no money in it. Hard working people have little time for them. Being carried away by feelings of elation is a symptom a low thyroid level. Their writings, “world salad”, a few squiggly lines mean nothing, etc.

The passions/appetites are the basis of the tragic story where the crook returns to the scene of the crime, a gambler the last big bet, the spouse of the self absorbed has moved on and the whole thing comes tumbling down. If the passions guaranteed some socially beneficial advancement it might be easier to look away from the current scale of personal tragedies.

Whatever drives the self, the trick is to find the humility to avoid being carried away to the abyss. It was in the earlier centuries where the mystics contemplated human excesses understanding all too well their tragic consequences.
The mystics tethered their will to humility and went about work with a slow conscientiousness.

They blended Greek and Egyptian thinkers into the new way because they were helpful in explaining a clarification of the logos which took on a deeper and more immediate meaning where one didn’t leapfrog into heaven, but had to live it here and now forgiving our human flaws.

As thought slowly democratized, people dreamed of more freedoms, but they left something behind when they abandoned the former contemplation. As science emerged, art and poetry followed the mystics into exile, becoming subjects of commercial mass entertainment. Intimacy with being, regular reflection on actions, relational understandings and a desire to reside in a deeper intimacy with life are all forgotten concerns of these exiled groups.

Sean Farrell said...

There’s a quality that’s difficult to put into words regarding what is trying to be said in this confrontation with self in art, movies, etc. It involves a sense of time that comes upon one when tragedy becomes real, not another’s story, but one’s own. That sudden reality is deep and silencing. It is exactly that depth which our hot blood wants nothing to do with but is in fact its medicine. The passions are as mysterious in the reveal, but uprooted and dependent on an outcome which might not answer to one’s will.

What is so interesting about what Kev and Chris, and what I think you are trying to say regarding the movies as in art and poetry is that one encounters a type of depth that is itself otherly, other than our own pursuits or self. It’s something in great stories, art and poetry that stops us in our tracks, but there is nothing like it when the bottom of life falls of one’s own world. It can be stunning, but the silence is unforgettable and in such a curious way, it is not nothing, but a balm, a replacement to lunacy, a companion, a new discovered self.

chris bennett said...


I've been attempting to post a reply to you but my comment is not appearing on the blog. I've tried misspelling and symbol-switching the possible 'problematic' words, but still nothing appears. Any ideas? (Assuming this message gets through...)

chris bennett said...

Let me try sending my reply in two halves in case the Blooger nanny has blackballed the whole thing whatever I do to alter the offending parts...
Here goes:

chris bennett said...

I agree that these movies are about loyalty, magnanimity, responsible family life, etc. but I think what makes them successful is that these qualities are tortured out of them by the human passions that everyone recognizes and shares.

That was a very large part of my point. You seem to have misunderstood me, I am not saying that art should aspire to the condition of some nicey, nicey Nirvana of noble sentiments.

chris bennett said...

This was the reason I stressed how vital the play of opposites is in the production of art. Heck, even the most popular ‘feelgood’ movie of all time ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ requires, for its realisation, the unfolding of misfortune and malevolence to bring the hero to the point of killing himself. We can’t make paintings using only light, we need the shadows. Similarly, we can’t make art using only the shadow-side of human nature. Drama engenders the play of opposites and the poetic impulse toward their redemptive reconciliation.

chris bennett said...

And by redemptive reconciliation I do not mean that an angel always gets its wings.

chris bennett said...

The closing scene of ‘Midnight Cowboy’ is heartbreakingly tragic. Yet as Ratso dies in Buck’s arms sitting on the coach heading out West we see that the ‘love’ Buck offered in NY as a male pr05titute has, afforded by what they have gone through together, been granted to himself, but as the real thing. We are shown the meaning of suffering.

NOTE: I’ve had to symbol-swap a word here to get around the net bot nanny.

chris bennett said...

Success! End of comment!

chris bennett said...

For those who may be curious as to what the offending item was it turned out to be the phrase 'hAppie enD1ngs'. (I replaced it with 'that an angel always gets its wings'...

God help us all.

David Apatoff said...

chris bennett-- I apologize for the ridiculous hassle, chris, and thanks for your persistence. I don't know quite what to do about that. I've never censored anyone here, nor have I asked blogger to censor anyone. I regularly see ravings by lunatics running rampant on social media, yet some irksome algorithm has to interfere sporadically with people peacefully discussing high culture.

David Apatoff said...

chris bennett-- It sounds like we are closer than I originally thought. If we agree that loyalty, magnanimity, responsible family life coexist in a world of depravity (like Ratso's) then in a sense we're talking about which side of that spectrum we choose to focus on... whether the glass is half full or half empty. At the end of the Maltese Falcon does Humphrey Bogart betray the woman he loves, or is he faithful to the detective's Code of Conduct? Well both, apparently.

PS-- if "happy endings" is enough to get a comment censored, I'm really impressed. I've been exploring making various profane comments to see what gets censored and what doesn't.