Monday, June 13, 2011


If you're thinking of going to see THE TREE OF LIFE, consider watching THE POWER OF ART first.  You don't need to watch the entire eight hour series, maybe just pick one or two artists.  I think Rothko is an especially appropriate episode, but you can't really go wrong with any of 'em.

I spent the first 30 minutes of THE TREE OF LIFE talking myself into staying in my seat.  Part of me really resisted it, and found the whole thing annoying, pretentious, indulgent, unfocused, and/or possibly a brilliantly subtle satire of a bad art-house film.  The more adventurous part of me found a way to silence all of that bluster, and I eventually relaxed into the film.  I won't go so far as to say that I got it, but I think I got a hint of the essence of the thing.

Both Simon Schama and Terrence Malik are focused on transcendence through art - Mr. Schama analyzing, and Mr. Malik creating - potent images used to evoke huge sensations, and to put a person in mind of the big, the eternal...  life.

I frequently hear people referencing the E.M. Forester quote, "only connect," as if it were the final word on the goal of any creation.  It is a top-notch notion, but its significance has been diluted through overly generous interpretations.  Now, it's as if a shared chuckle over a spit-take counts as such a connection.  And it does, but there's so much more that should be going on at the same time.

This is dicey territory for me, this blog exists because I wanted to examine the value of the comedy and sundry things that are often dismissed as frivolous or devoid of cultural value.  And this film and mini-series are kind of the opposite.

For now, I'm going to take the easy way out and say that there is commercial art of cultural significance, and there is art.  I think THE TREE OF LIFE is, or at least strives to be, art.  Not an art-house film, or a significant film worthy of academic study and/or screenings at universities and museums, but plain, flat-out, art.

As per usual lately, I am having difficulty being articulate.  And, obviously, individual results with this sort of Extended Play DIY Double Feature will vary.  But, if you've ever played a Beatles record backward, if you've ever watched THE WIZARD OF OZ while listening to DARK SIDE OF THE MOON, and especially if you've never done either of these - you owe it to yourself to watch an episode or two of THE POWER OF ART, then go see THE TREE OF LIFE.

If you're lucky, like me, your experience will be something like this:  You'll watch THE POWER OF ART and wish that your teachers had zipped-it and run Simon Schama DVDs all semester, because - odds are - your entire life would be better; and then while watching THE TREE OF LIFE you will feel conflicted and uncomfortable and awestruck by Stan-Winston-meets-KOYAANISQATSI images that shouldn't work, but really do (cumulatively if not immediately); and then you'll leave the theater to sit in your car and cry.  Just for a little bit.  Just enough.