Friday, April 20, 2012

The Blue Tent

On Prince Street there is a blue tent. They are trying to excavate a basement, to find some terrible remnant, some closure, but this will not happen, not unless they are deluding themselves, because whatever they find, whatever they choose to believe they found, they will never find the moment.

All over Manhattan today there are tents to shelter the Tribeca film-goers as they enter venues. Maybe this is closer to an excavation: the documentaries will dig and probe, onscreen actors will speak and confess, rage and make love, expose and deceive... but this is still all just a 2-dimensional conversion of something. The festival ticket-holders will view endless footage of stopped time: stories with closure, stories without closure, but still that moment is not viewable, is not rated, is not fathomable no matter how many feet of concrete will be invaded.

There are people here, and not even especially here, who substitute blood for ketchup, who are stalked by monsters that defy mortality and statistics, who are hungry beyond platefuls and rich beyond human need. Some of them walk among us while they are 'hovering'.  Their stories are entertainment. For some reason, the recent parade of contemporary horror films on cable seems to have plateau-ed at Halloween frequency. What is the meaning of this? We have plenty of on-demand Mad Men, Breaking Bad, 24-hour Law and Order; does not local news satisfy the voracious appetites of those who want to see cutting, stalking, fear, blood and guts on the sidewalk, child molesters, kidnappers and baby-killers?  Apparently Secret Service scandals do not even register on the meters of predatory minds which have been stroked by Quentin Tarantino and Eli Roth.

There are ticket-holders this week who would maybe prefer to watch the spectacle on Prince Street, like a real-time NCIS episode. So what are they looking for? If I were the parent, and I admit my heart would be pounding as I heard pneumatic drills...what possible truth will they want? Will breaking concrete reveal the movie of what it is they fear, or believe? Or perhaps it will show an accident gone wrong-- a bad decision, guilt and shame, that their child never suffered, that the murderer was kind, that he served cookies, that Etan is a 40-year old man somewhere in Idaho whose memory was whitewashed by an endless car-ride and a Christian life with potato cultivators and he is quite alive and well and looking distractedly past a photo in the Idaho Statesman of a blue tent on Prince Street in far-away Manhattan on page 11 as he eats his Captain Crunch with farm-fresh milk.

The unbearable endless freight train of not just death in our lives, but inexplicable suffering--- disease, war-wounds, bone-crushing crashes and building collapses, elevator decapitations...is this not enough? There must be a word in German for vicarious horror/pleasure in someone else's crippling pain, because this parade of on-screen horror seems downright competitive and not always in the name of art, although I do appreciate the irony of gratuitous violence in-- well, say Tarantino, to be conservative.

But this is not about film criticism. It is not about the nepotism and celebrity cult of the film festivals which, like everything else, for the most part have lost their 'edge' and who can really organize a successful event without the kind of 'bait' our culture requires? Writerless here has not purchased a Broadway ticket in so long, I wouldn't know what they look like. I have, I confess, skulked out of a musical at intermission,and I still maintain that real art takes away your appetite, so the success and culinary sophistication of concessions testify in my defense.  I am not buying.

There are cultures still where after a day of labor, and food, one lies down with one's mate or lover and enacts something. Or picks up an instrument and plays something we Americans find folksy and charming. Something real. Not myriads of self-promoting pro-tools users' musical products and digital emetics, but something maybe not meant for an audience. A message. Love. Something like that. Something to someone who is not online or texting but under an old quilt naked. Not Victoria's Secret naked either. Are we all immune to this stuff here? Have we externalized love, and the ingredients of art into something marketable and ripe for reproduction? Something that won't lose in the translation? Because it seems to me that anything of value loses in the translation, in the publicity phase, which maybe means that true art must be the tree that falls in the woods, or maybe I mean the conception of art, but we are all allowed to celebrate the baby.  And life, too... the horror of life, like the torment of Etan Patz's parents who were condemned to suffer some mythical fate of endless searching and missing, and how the theatre of the blue tent on Prince Street will not affect this myth because it is part of the artistic program of their life. Yes, art, like love, can be cruel. Picasso was endlessly cruel. Joseph Beuys, Chris Burden, Tony Oursler, even Warhol some will say (but I believe it was fear of cruelty).

So some of the films are cheap versions of life. Some of them are beautiful and important. Some of life is cheap. Beauty is unfathomable--- it sometimes comes with intelligence and soul and sometimes it is painfully disappointing and superficial, but beautiful nevertheless. Moments disintegrate; the concept of art and beauty does not, but our lives no longer take these things into account. We are inundated. By the good, the bad, the ugly, the horrific, the unbearablyfragile, the unapproachable. Most of us, in this culture, hoard the digital souvenirs. We parade and display them. We stockpile against future pain and loss, our Facebook fortresses will assure that we won't be ugly and old and alone. We have a Timeline. We can change our profile and our digital face.

Not. As my kids used to say. Not. But I will stay alive and create and try to spend a really naked night under an old quilt with only the passing traffic as soundtrack and say under my breath, because poetry is maybe not meant to be spoken-- quote that is, because to invent seems pretentious and narcissistic in a moment of intimacy, "while we are mortal, my love, to you nothing will be denied".