Regular readers of this blog (and Italians the world over) will recollect a long-ago post in which I avowed my dislike of Fellini’s “8 1/2”. I remain unrepentent on that point, but the great thing is that this weekend I saw a film that has much the same style and message, but in my mind is so very much better: Bergman’s “Hour of the Wolf” (“Vargtimmen”).
Here is a movie about the artist’s process, frustrations and, most importantly, insecurities. I immediately identified with the message of this film, the idea of isolation and the fears that an artist faces on a daily basis. “8 1/2” simply left me cold, alienated and bored.
Of course, “8 1/2” is actually about a film-maker, whereas in HotW, a painter stands in for Bergman. No concerns there. However, this does get me thinking about the immense amount of art that concerns the artistic process, and the particulars a given artistic medium.
My favorite, and possibly the earliest example of a film about film-making has got to be “The Cameraman’s Revenge”, a parable about infidelity among the insects, created by the Polish entomologist Ladislas Starevich:
TV about TV goes back to at least the Jack Benny Program, and up through Seinfeld, and to a new favorite of mine, Extras. Painting about painting, well isn’t that kind of what the 20th century was about? Examples of writing about writing are too numerous to mention. Ballet about ballet? Well, I have no idea, but I have a sneaking suspicion that much of Tchaikovsky’s music is Music about Ballet.
And then of course, there’s music about music. Here, I immediately think of Stravinsky, who said, and I quote:
In general, I consider that music is only able to solve musical problems; and nothing else, neither the literary nor the picturesque, can be in music of any real interest. The play of the musical elements is the thing.
Well put, Igor. Or, even better put: https://www.willcwhite.com/audio/Octet%20trim.mp3
This is actually the main reason why I find myself so interested in Rufus Wainwright’s new opera, Prima Donna, despite all of the nasty gossip about it — it’s subject is opera about opera. How many of those do we have, really? Tosca, I suppose, and… I can’t really think of any others (though there must be some). There’s opera about singers (Meistersinger, et al…) but I can’t really think of any opera about opera, though I have a sneaking suspicion it’s the only trail left for new opera.
[And Mary Zimmerman’s bogus staging of “La Sonnambula” at the Met does not count, but it does perhaps indicate that the opera world is crying out for some new repertoire that would cover these issues, but they just don’t know how to get it.]
Of course, the list of backstage musicals goes on and on and on, from Kiss Me, Kate to A Chorus Line. Oh, speaking of which, I saw this great movie yesterday, all about the casting of the 2005 revival of A Chorus Line: Every Little Step. There’s a film about auditioning for a musical that is about auditioning for a musical. It’s so meta that my head is schpinning.