10 November 2010
Michael Nyman/Cine Opera? Please.
Last night, in a garage-turned-photo studio for the high fashion industry just a block from Bastille, The American University of Paris hosted Michael Nyman as part of its Arts Arena series. Nyman, known best for his lush, churning scores bordering on a sugary Minimalism (Evidently, he coined the term during his early years as a musicologist.) for Peter Greenaway’s filmed deconstructions of human foolishness, Shakespeare and everything opulently visual. And now Nyman himself claims to make films. Taking from years of video footage collected while on his travels, he has recruited a pair of young editors to assist him in composing (blessedly) short studies or “kinetic events” as he calls them. Of the seven selections screened-- mostly candid sequences of one-trick sight gags taken of both human and non-human subjects—only one was actually been edited to fit some tune or excerpt he grabbed from his iTunes archives of his own music. And he seemed to dismiss this one work as a kind of “dance”, as if it was inferior or the easy way out. For the most part, he is willing to let a “lucky moment” caught on his video recorder tell its own story or create its own rhythm. He is like a nerdy kid exhibiting his “finds”, a privileged, gleeful Allen Funt/Candid Camera meets amateur anthropologist riding on the coattails of his own fame and fortune. Call this “Cine Opera”??
It’s hilarious to read Richard Cork’s puffed-up program notes that proclaim Nyman’s arrival into the world of high art museum installations-- split-screen, multiple screen or otherwise. Words like powerful, arresting, supple, various and attentive, poignant, profound, elegiac… Yes, like the hype for every other experimental film festival short and gallery installation; works that almost always disappoint with their mundane moments attenuated, re-framed or accompanied by a famous film composer’s music to evoke meaning and significance. To be fair, the program notes mention larger-scale works that sound more substantial than the slight fare we were being shown. Or maybe that says more about Cork’s skill as an arts writer/promoter.
Arts Arena sat Nyman on a charming, worn loveseat next to French filmmaker, Sacha Goldman, who was invited to engage the special guest in conversation between screenings of the work. Goldman seemed uneasy, as if to make any profound pronouncements with such thin material was a bit of a stretch. Goldman tried to draw connections to Russian Constructivist filmmakers minimalist esthetics. I was cringing in my seat. Alas, even in Paris!
If I sound a bit bitchy, it’s because I abhor the arrogant pomp surrounding this noted film composer's feeble attempts to cut and package his kinetic events nd call himself video filmmaker. If only he had invested in the visual materials the craft, the care, the degree of intention and deliberate choices he displays in his music. He himself spoke of the ambiguous, problematic relationship between the two universes and his hesitancy to interrupt the spontaneous richness and inherent rhythms of his “found” video imagery. He mentioned John Cage as a curator or emulator of “accidents”. I wanted to ask him if he’d bothered to see Merce Cunningham’s Company while here in Paris, to witness a serious attempt to explore this relationship. All I can hope for is that he will find the courage to gather and edit his visual imagery with a kind of rigor and responsibility that communicates the sense of meaning invested only by its forger. Otherwise, he is merely being seduced by the art world culture that feasts upon celebrity and the latest spectacle or marketing opportunity. And curators such as Arts Arena should not fall victim to the same hype.