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Monday, June 4, 2007

Sight/Sound in the R-Rated Public Square

One of the odd things one notices about recent contemporary speaking, writing, and perhaps even film-making is the constant tendenz to break things down to their snallest constituents. Call it the New Physics of Communication, a quest for the Quarks among the Qualia. How just Ducky! But the ensuing reality that unfolds in our public dialogue and discourse is often less than clear, and much less rational. This, I contend, is the result of our reliance on modern connotations for what are essentially Ancient words and thought-forms, or art-forms, or just Forms.

For example I frequently find myself feeling (or sounding like) a complete babe in the wordy woods online whenever I attempt to go after a clarification for something someone has uttered on a listserv, blog, or whatever. It is as if we live in a time when it is no longer worthwhile to speak clearly, only just to to speak and speak some more. How this derives from Talk Radio (see Liev Schreiber's current play on Broadway) or the politics of self-righteousness and victimhood or Culture Wars or Red v. Blue or Retro/Metro is all beyond me. Nevertheless, it is abundantly clear that a kind of Cultural Manicheanism has established itself as claiming the floor in our civic conversation. Ever since Richard John Neuhaus's minor classic, The Naked Public Square: Religion and Democracy in America, this has been presumed to reveal a critical fissure between state and church. Neuhaus wrote in the 80's, but more recently his model of church/state miscommunication has become endemic in all the
spheres of human life.

The coming of the Internet has surely intensified this breakdown in the clarity of our society's communication. And so thirst-like is the nature of this process that the only remedies we are offered seem to involve either quantitatively MORE (or qualitatively BETTER) communication. That this dilemma echoes Neuhaus is made clear on page 1 of TNPS, where he describes a famous New Yorker cartoon lampooning a NEW box of "NEW!" breakfast cereal, wherein the only thing new is that word "new"....

Something similar happens when one listens to our political leaders, movers and shakers engage in what calls itself "debate" these days. It was Thomas Hoving of the Met who long ago wrote that our "consummate art-form is Packaging." And in these (latter) days of YouTube, podcasting, Mefeedia and cetera, the Packaging has over-taken us all.

I got to thinking about all this during a showing of "Paris, je t'aime" at the Avon Cinema in Providence. [By the way, one of the nice things about Providence is that it is a big little city which adores movies. In addition to the Providence Place IMAX complex next to Gloria Dei Lutheran, the Avon and the Cable Car Cinemas are longtime rivals vying for the best of current foreign films. Meanwhile many of the best arthouses in New England (The Orson Welles in Cambridge, the Lincoln and York Square Cinemas in New Haven) have all but vanished.]

"Paris, je t'aime," although a bit hectic for some filmgoers, does not disappoint as a virtual smorgasbord of modern film-making. It contains nearly twenty short films by 18 directorial teams, all set in the neighborhood quartiers of Paris. The casting is drawn from a satisfying blend of familiar stars, wonderful character actors, and several even risen from the dead. The film is rated R for language and brief drug use, and the story lines follow adult romantic themes, yet it it makes a wonderful introduction to the the OTHER consummate art-form today, the movie playing in your neighborhood. Sadly, this film will likely not be seen in many American neighborhoods or Naked Public Squares. Who knows? Maybe we'll also catch it on Youtube or DVD. The Coen brothers' foul-mouthed comic vignette in the Quartier Tuileries is by itself worth the cost of admission--alongside several other hilarious adventures in the City of Light.
For those of us who cannot afford a trip to Paris...even more so. (Who could forget the Vampire Sequence with Elijah Wood?)

Your obdt. svt.,

dave buehler |

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