Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Words and Pictures: A Fitting Return

I'm baaack! I've returned from Europe filled with some fabulous ideas about Italian cinema and Baroque art that's sure to creep into this blog every now and then. I'm sorry for the silence over the last six months. Between school, travel, and my own travel blog that I was upkeeping in Rome, I didn't have much time to focus on the art of film, though I certainly had plenty of time to focus in on art. Like I just wrote, don't be surprised when my blog takes a distinctive turn towards the Baroque. I'm now an avowed Bernini and Caravaggio enthusiast. Which is perhaps fitting since the art that usually appears in movies (and even artfully done movies) employ their then-original techniques of bold lighting, simplicity, and darkness to create an atmosphere of bold drama. (Sounds like film noir, no?)

But I also engaged in the contemporary art scene of Rome which kind of led me to this film that came out a few years ago, "Words and Pictures." I'm a huge NPR listener and I remember hearing adds for this movie about two years ago and never seeing it, so I've corrected that fault. I originally decided to watch it because I saw that the film was about an English teacher and an art teacher and, as a future member of the profession, I was just interested to see the take of the English teacher (played by Clive Owen) and the art teacher (played by Juliette Binoche). I was not disappointed.
The film is essentially a romance between a charismatic but troubled English teacher, Mr. Jack Marcus and the equally troubled Miss Desanto. But most of the film isn't focused on their romance. It's focused on the struggle of the teachers to engage their gifted students (I can definitely relate to that struggle) and the "battle" that Jack and Desanto rage against each other about which is a more powerful medium: words or pictures (hence the title). What a great concept for a film which is, in its essence movie pictures with words).And isn't that one of the most classic debates among film lovers: which is more powerful: the words crafted by the screenwriter or the the images created by the director.

One of the final scenes in the movie features the apex of the "battle" both romantically and philosophy between the two great teachers. They have a debate focusing on which of the two arts is more powerful. Desanto shows a series of paintings and speaks of the emotional power of images (more of these paintings in a bit) and Jack gets up and ultimately cedes that any artistic expression which can make us greater than ourselves and serves a higher purpose. In my own mind I was freaking out because recently my new Rome-inspired definition of  beauty is that very same thing: anything that lifts us up out of normality into something greater. It's what attracts me to art, music, literature, and film. And, without realizing it, it probably inspired me to write this blog.

But, this is a real Art of Film post, not merely some ramblings about art and beauty or a screenshot of a picture as some of my "latest" posts have been about. Because, this film obviously pays a lot of attention to both pictures and words. And pictures in this film are obviously created by Desanto, the tortured artist. In actuality, Desanto's pain is real, she is suffering from severe rheumatoid arthritis that makes even the simplest tasks difficult and cause her major challenges in creating her art. Some of the most beautiful scenes are those in which she is trying to paint again-- not just the process but the emotional energy of painting in which she creates her art. You really see the emotional investment of her painting-- the pain and frustrations she feels but also her sense of discovery. Some of those scenes even reminded me of documentary footage of Jackson Pollock and how much his art was about the emotional process of creating it. There's an actual joy you feel when she finds the medium for creating her art in her studio with her "broom paintings." They're beautiful and raw and wonderfully convey the emotion.

Of course, all these scenes of creating art and all the art in the studio where this process occurs made me ask that classic question "who created this art?" And for once, it was very easy to answer. Because, the art imitated life. Because Juliette Binoche, besides being a wonderful artist, is an incredible painter as well and the art that appears in the film was painted by her. That includes, of course, the paintings we see her paint but also the ones we see in the studio. I just thought that was incredible and probably explained why Binoche was really able to convey those artistic frustrations of the wonderful Desanto because she actually experienced them herself.

In Words and Pictures, I found a film that not only expressed the emotional context of the art of film, but also exhibited beautiful, powerful contemporary art with a known, even well-known artist. I'm back, baby!


  1. I was honestly amazed with how well this blog was done, beautiful layout, professional writing, great job!
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  2. I wish you posted more!

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  3. Hey there,

    I think we have very similar passion regarding film art and artists. Would love to email you and shows you what I've learned. I'm currently designing a film art of the Marx Brothers book, which shows a lot of artwork from their stage, film, and television careers.


    Daniel Kinske
    West Hollywood, CA


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