- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 6, 2004

Wide-angle epics

“The whole point about cinema, surely, is the close-up of the human face. … Even in vast paintings — of battles, landscapes, coronations — the human beings tended to be no more than twice or thrice our size. But Great Garbo’s inscrutable face was hundreds of times bigger than that of those who read their own thoughts into it. Therein lies the wonder of the movies.

“It is perhaps surprising, therefore, that cinema is currently undergoing a flight from close-ups. … Instead of bringing the camera close … movies today are retreating to the apparent splendors of the wide shot, the panorama, the spectacular vista intended to make us say, ‘Wow.’ This was the ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy’s technique, and is that of the Brad Pitt-starring ‘Troy,’ and the eco-disaster picture ‘The Day After Tomorrow.’ …”

“This trend towards wide shots is in part explained by the landmark technological changes which cinema is undergoing. … At times of great change in cinema, it seems, the movie world abandons its unique selling point, the close-up, to impress audiences in more conventional ways. In retrospect, ‘Titanic’ — still the most commercially successful film ever made — was [computer-enhanced] cinema’s declaration of intent.”

Mark Cousins, writing on “Cinematic truth lies in the close-up,” in the June issue of the American Prospect

Pursuing happiness

“[T]hough happiness itself already possessed a long history by the 18th century, the idea that institutions should be expected to promote it — and that people should expect to receive it, in this life — was a tremendous novelty. …”

“The belief in the intimate association of happiness and virtue was widely shared in the 18th century. The same man who coupled liberty and the pursuit of happiness so closely in the Declaration of Independence could later state without equivocation that ‘Happiness is the aim of life, but virtue is the foundation of happiness.’ Jefferson’s collaborator on the draft of the Declaration and an early member of the American Academy, Benjamin Franklin, similarly observed in 1776 that ‘virtue and happiness are mother and daughter.’ This assumption had for many the status of a received truth.”

Darrin M. McMahon, writing on “From the happiness of virtue to the virtue of happiness,” in the spring issue of Daedalus

Super fantasy

“Calling the new ‘Spider-Man’ film the best comic-book movie ever made — and it is, without a doubt, the best comic-book movie ever made — is a little like calling a Chicken McNugget the best processed fast-food poultry product ever produced. It’s praise, but how substantial can the praise really be, given the source? …”

“There’s no question that superhero comic books offer pre-teen and teenage male a very potent fantasy outlet — the idea of a powerful man who is hidden inside a frightened, neurotic boy’s body. …”

“Comic books developed a bad reputation because of the violence they depicted, which was and is a silly reason to dislike them. Here’s a better reason: They’re a cultural embarrassment. They weren’t when they were the province of powerless boys, but they have become a cultural embarrassment because the common culture has unthinkingly and stupidly accepted them as an art form. This was a natural outcome of the youth-worship that took over American culture in the 1960s, because if you’re going [toward] immature and illiterate energy in all its guises, why not go all the way into the most immature and illiterate of cultural forms?”

John Podhoretz, writing on “The Best of the Worst,” Thursday in National Review Online at www.nationalreview.com

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