As Petals Fall

house and home, part three by Danielle Nelson on Flickr“Why are you in the dirt?” he asked, trundling to where I crouched.

“I’m pulling weeds.”

“Why?”

“So that there’s there more room for the flowers.”

“Why?”

“Because I like the flowers.”

“Why?”

“Because they’re pretty.”

By that time his mother arrived. “He’s three,” she said. “We hear a lot of why.”

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A Conversation with Ron Austin

Hollywood Sign (Vintage) by Mark Fugarino on FlickrThis post is a web-exclusive feature accompanying Image issue 93.

In the conversation around faith and film, Ron Austin is an elder statesman. He has worked a lifetime in the entertainment industry, and his essays and books, including In a New Light: Spirituality and Media Arts, have influenced generations of filmmakers (much of his writing is also on his website). His seminal essay “The Spiritual Frontiers of Film” is reprinted in our summer issue. It’s a challenging and worthwhile read—but on the lighter side, we also wanted to ask him to tell a few stories from his career.

Mary Kenagy Mitchell for Image: You once met Charlie Chaplin. What was that like?

Ron Austin: I was very impressed, of course, by Charlie Chaplin, once the most famous man in the world, and at that time only in his sixties. He directed our dress rehearsals at a theater company in Hollywood that included his son Sidney. He also hosted our opening night party at his luxurious home, so I did get a close look. To realize that this great man and true comedy genius was a mere human being, charming but with flaws, was a vaccination against celebrity worship. But to this day I refer to him as Mister Chaplin. [Read more…]

Necessary Images, Part 2

2823This post, continued from yesterday, appears as the Editorial Statement in Image issue #93 on the art of film guest edited by Gareth Higgins and Scott Teems.

Kieślowski’s Blue is a master class in film form—everything there is to learn about editing and sound design can be found in its first ten minutes—but what lingers longest in the memory is the slow softening of Juliette Binoche’s face over the course of its exquisite hour and a half. Though time and tragedy have rendered her countenance hard as stone, behind the eyes of the woman we see a hurt and helpless little girl. And we can’t help but love her.

I sometimes imagine this is the way God sees us—through the eyes. Despite our strivings for self-sufficiency, our eyes reveal our deepest needs—to love and be loved, just as we are. God responds in kind.

Similarly, in Lars von Trier’s Breaking the Waves, Claire Denis’s 35 Rhums, Asghar Farhadi’s A Separation, John Cassavetes’s A Woman Under the Influence, Götz Spielmann’s Revanche, Bruce Beresford and Horton Foote’s Tender Mercies, Lucrecia Martel’s The Headless Woman, Todd Field’s In the Bedroom, Paul Schrader’s Affliction, and Paweł Pawlikowski’s Ida, we sit alone in quiet rooms with characters who seem at once very different, yet somehow familiar to us.

In the eyes of another, we find a soul that knows neither gender nor ethnicity. We find a shared experience, while at the same time we approach an abyss as fathomless as the stars and space that surround us.

We approach the essence of creation.

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Necessary Images, Part 1

the_return_filmsandpies_004This post appears as the Editorial Statement in Image issue #93 on the art of film guest edited by Gareth Higgins and Scott Teems.

not beautiful photography, not beautiful images, but necessary images…
—Robert Bresson

For years I’ve wrestled with this seemingly straightforward declaration from the notebook of revered French film director Robert Bresson (a small book, but a bounty of inspiration). I’ve wanted to believe in his “necessary images” and therefore aspire to create them. To use simple, unadorned imagery to distill the filmmaking process to its fundamental elements: juxtaposition and montage, sound and music. To tell a story with pictures. To eliminate beauty for beauty’s sake. And to resist the urge to manufacture emotion, lest I betray my lack of faith in the form.

The realization of this principle, in theory at least, would compel the audience to project themselves onto the screen, to bridge the gap between the expressed and the intended. It would necessarily result in the creation of films in which—to paraphrase Flannery O’Connor—“two plus two equals more than four.” That is to say, it would result in art.

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The Beauty Dialogues, Part 7

Today philosopher Santiago Ramos steps in with the last word (we think) of “The Beauty Dialogues,” a periodic exchange between Image contributor Morgan Meis and Image founder Gregory Wolfe.

For a while now I have borne the fearful hunch that sooner or later, Image would have to confront Immanuel Kant. A journal whose reason for existing rests on the idea that beauty is a source for personal redemption and cultural renewal—in other words, the idea that “beauty will save the world”—would have to eventually come to terms with the aesthetic theory that has provided the framework for Western thinking about beauty in the last three centuries.

For this reason, I was happy to read that Morgan Meis had at long last set the stage for this confrontation in his most recent installment of his ongoing dialogue with Greg Wolfe about beauty. However, I don’t agree with his take on how Kant’s theory poses a challenge to the idea that beauty has a “salvific” power.

Meis argues that Kant’s theory poses such a challenge because it disentangles aesthetic judgment from all other types of judgement; beauty must become its own category. This disentangling has radical effects for the history of beauty: “Kant’s argument basically collapses both poles of the Christian/Greek approach to beauty,” because while the Christian links beauty judgments with spiritual ennoblement, the Greek approach links it to sensuous pleasure or (in Plato’s special case) to the intuition of the divine forms.

Post-Kant, we must contend with an aesthetic realm that is completely autonomous. [Read more…]