Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Now Playing: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (spoiler warning)

This summer has been a great one for fantasy/sci-fi...Iron Man, Prince Caspian. But I was honestly afraid that Indiana Jones would disappoint. It just had all the trappings of being another Temple of Doom....confusing plot and no real spark.

I have to say I wasn't overwhelmed by the film, but neither was it as dreadful as I feared. It was simply a fun ride for the summer with some old friends.

If you've missed the hype...the story takes place in 1957... well after the late 30s/early 40s settings of the earlier films. So we have homages to all things 50s ... soda fountains, the red meanace, the a-bomb, "I like Ike", and even aliens....yes aliens.

Therein lies the weakness of the film. I didn't have a problem with the introduction of Soviets as villans. It was the plain kooky idea of introducing interdimensional aliens as benign givers of ancient technology. This just seems to fly in the face of the precedent of supernatural powers in the great religious artifacts (particularly that of the Ark of the Covenant, which closely follows the Biblical accounts of its power). This felt absurd to me .... and thus the climactic scene was not breathtaking and cathartic as it was in Raiders or in Last Crusade. The climax simply felt....done.

Also, it seems that Indy hasn't learned much over his years of work. One would think that his hard nosed skepticism would be softened by his prior supernatural encounters, but at the beginning of the film, he's dismissing the tales of wonderful treasures as a "bedtime story".

He has at least learned something relationally....he reconciles with Marian, he discovers the son he never knew, he seems to have had a long and fruitful relationship with his father (after Last Crusade). And we get a sense of the academic friendships that have carried him in the new characters introduced to fill the gaping void left behind after Denholm Eliot's death (who still appears in the film in photo, painting, and statue -- apparently his character Marcus Brody, while a daft eccentric, was well loved at Indy's university).

All told, a fun adventure, but devoid of any of the spiritual content that we enjoyed in Raiders and Last Crusade.


Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Bubba Sorensen -- a folk artist who rocks....

I normally don't like email forwards of "inspiring" or "shocking" stories .... I've seen most of them. Usually they're urban legends or misrespensentations that could quickly be cleared up by a google search. I believe every email user ought to do a little legwork before hitting the forward button ... check out Snopes.com or some other resource to at least try to verify a story.

However, every so often, one of these comes along that makes the forwards worth it. Ross Aldrich sent me one today about Ray "Bubba" Sorensen, a young man in Iowa who painted a large rock outside an old quarry on Highway 25 in Iowa.

A quick google search on Ray Sorensen showed that the story is better than the email indicated. Back in 1999, Ray saw Saving Private Ryan and was so touched by that film, he wanted to make a tribute to veterans on Memorial day. Now, every Memorial Day since, Sorensen has repainted the rock with a new patriotic theme. The website indicates that it takes him roughly 1-3 weeks to re-paint the rock each year. This talented young man is now working in Ames, IA as a professional panter and designer.

The nice thing about his website is the retrospective look at each year's "freedom rock"....go back and see how he started with a mural on one side, and then see how he has developed it each year. On his website, you can find information about contacting this impressive young man or supporting him through purchasing his artwork.

Here's what I really like about this project: not only is it heartfelt, but it is original. Sorensen's work is an expression of creativity that promotes good positive culture. The annual change is akin to the Well Dressing customs in the Peak District of England....it's a charming and delightful way to celebrate local culture. I also like that this is celebratory art...it's devoid of irony. Sorensen isn't trying to undercut anything, he's simply trying to say "thank you" to veterans. Indeed, his work becomes something of a prophetic statement against the jaded irony of much contemporary artwork.

I find Sorensen's work a refreshing contrast to Aliza Shvarts senior project at Yale. Shvarts made headlines for her controversial work in which she repeatedly impregnated herself and then took the morning after pill. She collected the blood from these various abortive pregnancies and smeared it within a plastic cube, then on the side of the cube, she projects video of herself collecting the blood samples. According to a Yale online article "The goal in creating the art exhibition, Shvarts said, was to spark conversation and debate on the relationship between art and the human body." She insists the motive was not shock value.

Another quote from the Yale online article: “I believe strongly that art should be a medium for politics and ideologies, not just a commodity,” Shvarts said. “I think that I’m creating a project that lives up to the standard of what art is supposed to be.”

Shvarts defends her work in the Yale Daily News: "As an intervention into our normative understanding of “the real” and its accompanying politics of convention, this performance piece has numerous conceptual goals. The first is to assert that often, normative understandings of biological function are a mythology imposed on form. It is this mythology that creates the sexist, racist, ableist, nationalist and homophobic perspective, distinguishing what body parts are “meant” to do from their physical capability. The myth that a certain set of functions are “natural” (while all the other potential functions are “unnatural”) undermines that sense of capability, confining lifestyle choices to the bounds of normatively defined narratives. "

So we have the contrast of two artists....one an artist in the heartland who strives to honor the values of self-sacrifice, the other an artist at an elite institution who strives to deconstruct social norms. Here we have a contrast of earnestness and irony. Here we have a contrast between a desire to build and a desire to subvert.

Now here is the supreme irony....Shvarts epitomizes the "establishment"....educated at an elite institution, and even though her project was disallowed by Yale, she has garnered acclaim in artistic circles and national fame. Sorensen, on the other hand, is the ultimate outsider... his work calls into question the whole enterprise of the artistic establishment. His very earnestness completely undercuts an artistic millieu that must advance through increasingly shocking and nihilistic statements.

Gene Veith of World Magazine comments on Shvarts' project: "Traditionally, art was an affirmation of meaning. Art imitated, in sometimes complex ways, the forms of nature. Beauty was connected with both truth and goodness. For Shvarts, Yale's art department, and a significant swathe of today's art world, art has nothing to do with aesthetics. Instead of creating something intrinsically pleasing, these artists try to shock and repulse people, while those in the know smile ironically."

I think with this view in mind, we can be pleased with Sorensen's work.

Soli Deo Gloria

See also
The Arts as Soulcraft: Love
A Tale of Two Artists
Christianity and Art - take one