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Showing posts from April, 2015

Paintings in Proust: Vesuvius Erupting by J.M.W. Turner

In Proust’s Swann’s Way, the narrator’s grandmother is described as one who inculcates in her grandson a reverence for the “elevated ideals.” Infinitely disdainful of the mechanical nature of replica, when shown photograph of the magnificent Mount Vesuvius his grandmother dismisses it with a lofty query as of whether other more acknowledged artists did paintings of the volcano in the first place. She is having in mind the great J.M.W. Turner, whose depiction of Vesuvius in flame displays, in her view, “a stage higher in the scale of art.”
The enduring fascination with volcanoes was especially evident in the 19th century, which saw an irregularly high frequency of Vesuvius eruptions that, at the time, alarmed many of the imminent cataclysm that a thousand of years before destroyed the city of Pompeii. Turner, according to a number of sources, may not be amongst the first-hand witnesses of those eruptions, but badgered his geologist friends, John MacCulloch and Charles Stokes, for scien…

Review: Viaggio in Italia (1954)

Now widely regarded as an epoch-making masterpiece, premonitory of the rise of Italian modernism, Roberto Rossellini’s Viaggio in Italia (1954) suffered a thorough drubbing in its box office, though was greatly admired by auteurs like Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard. The film is, at its core, a bracing study on the fraught relationship of reverse elements- George Sanders and Ingrid Bergman played a British couple journeying to Naples to sell an inherited property; the husband is a stolid rationalist whilst the wife a sensitive romantic. Their glaring disharmony is more acted out through their overt disdain for one another; both are susceptible, the moment they touch down the foreign land, to the immaturity of making each other jealous to express their longing for mutual understanding. Amongst many of the couples’ venomous exchanges, the wife, on one occasion, recalls a past fancy for a now-deceased poet, to which the aggrieved husband responds derisively: “He was a fool… [Poet a…

Leonardo da Vinci, Virgin of the Rocks (1495-1508)

Leonardo da Vinci’s Virgin of the Rocks, the version that is displayed in London’s National Gallery, is one of those paintings that do not seize your notice at first blush, but- once you stare at them long enough- seep into your consciousness by degrees, engendering in you a peculiar sensation that no other sort can possibly surpass. In the painting, the divine figures are huddled together against a rocky background. Virgin Mary, situates in the centre of the pyramidal ensemble, raises a hand above the head of the Child and stretches another to pull in slightly Saint John the Baptist, who is in the painting also an infant. It is this assertion of authority that is proper to all exemplary parents- a combination of grace and supremacy- that left in me an indelible mark, evoking the exact sort of persona I’m always aspiring to become- not just as a mother but a distinct character that I’d like be remembered by- in the near, possible future. “A practice of the power of gentleness” is my s…

Review: M (1931)

M (1931) was Fritz Lang’s first attempt at sound cinema, after an impressive corpus of silent classics including the Dr. Mabuse trilogy and Metropolis, the highly expressionist style of which earned him the epithet as the “Master of Darkness.” To be making films during the dawn of sound era, the filmmakers had the privilege and the license of exploring many unchartered territories- the effects of sound as incorporated with motions and images was a vitalising experimentation for many; given the luck and the inherent ingenuity an innovative work of art was engendered. Such is not to write off the many legendary figures as merely “chancing upon” innovations whilst experimenting without a determinate aim, but to underline Lang’s remarkable assurance and skill of tackling a new medium like an old hand- as a seasoned auteur whose previous films were noted for their austerity of technique and style, Lang, throughout his long career, never once explored or experimented like a reckless adventu…