Thursday, November 12, 2009

Evil Genius

All critics were floored by the cinematography, the acting, screenplay, and the original score of the movie... all these elements were so brilliantly rendered. But they also had to concede that the movie was morally repulsive. It presented a worldview that one race was the most superior, and that the members had the right to deride and mistreat humanity. Cruelty to the old was shown as necessary, and childless women were justified to be abused by men. Despite the movie perpetuating such horrendous injustices, some critics argued that it was a great work of art from the perspective of technological artistic rendition. Such innovative, praiseworthy techniques were employed that they felt that the movie should be released from a cinematic art standpoint. However to many, the message that the movie conveyed couldn't be separated from the medium through which it was conveyed, that they couldn't appreciate one aspect while utterly loathing many other aspects. Should the movie be exempted from being banned purely due to its artistic merits? Are the art enthusiasts right in citing freedom of expression of art? (Original Source: "The Pig that wants to be Eaten", Julian Baggini)

I have been mulling over this for the last few days, trying quite hard to step away from the apparent, nagging practicality of the issue. My greatest difficulty (as faced by the critics in the excerpt) is to tease apart the medium and the message. To me, it just doesn't make sense to call something a work of art unless both the concept and the technique come together holistically. The greatest artists of our times are lauded for not merely their technical merit... if so, there are tens of thousands of art students in accomplished universities who are flawless in their technical adroitness; artistic genius comes together through conception, and rendition of a concept that is clothed with technical brilliance.

However, on my recent pondering, I was reminded of a particular challenge in Food Network's Challenge series. The competition was to design and put together a crystallized sugar display that artistically depicted the theme of a literary classic. I love watching such challenges, and this particular competition really piqued my interest. However the results were a little disappointing to me. This is probably the only instance when I could differentiate the technical and artistic components from the theme/concept depicted. Of the 4 groups, there was one team whose display exhibited expert technical skills and was visually very aesthetic; however their depiction of the book's theme was not up to mark, and in fact I couldn't find much correlation in their design to the actual story of the classic... but the piece by itself was a beautiful abstract piece of art. On the other hand, there was another team whose depiction of the classic was expertly done, but they lacked in technical expertise and their piece did not come together with much visual appeal. The judges seemed to be in much deliberation, but finally the team with expert technical and visual representation won. I would have probably awarded another team which did reasonably well in both components, in spite of their not greatly excelling in each component.

Another example of a movie that faced a similar fate is the Hindi movie Khaagaz Ke Phool, directed by Guru Dutt. It has been documented that when the movie was initially released it was met with cold disapproval, for the concepts it explored seemed to be too revolutionary in the 1950s of Indian society. Many were deeply offended by its open exploration of "morally depraving" ideas such as infidelity. Despite its great artistic value from a technical, cinematic point of view, the movie failed to appeal. But in recent times, Guru Dutt has been posthumously acclaimed for the movie, and the movie is still hailed as a memorable work of art.

However, in contrast to Guru Dutt's movie, the one in the excerpt doesn't deal with merely revolutionary concepts that are currently hard for society to digest; neither does it offer much intellectual speculation on progressive changes in society. I doubt that in the coming hundreds of years, humanity would ever rationalize to go back on certain very basic virtues, such as treating women, elderly and the whole of humanity with respect and consideration. In all these thousands of years, humanity still abides by some very basic principles of living that have remained untouched by all our numerous societal revolutions. Putting aside the debates on artistic merits, it's obvious that the welfare and harmony of society come first. Any work of expression that vilifies human instincts in such negative ways should not be allowed to perpetuate. Such thoughts and ideas pander to extremely inhumane instincts, that the argument on freedom of expression of art is very trivial to me. And the elite art enthusiasts form such a very slim percentage that the movie is bound to reach a majority of audiences on whom the message will leave a stronger impact, than the artistic splendour. Finally, my definition of art is a representation which integrates a delicately beautiful thought in an aesthetically appealing manner; one without the other cannot be suitably called as art. I think the movie should be banned.

No comments: