Thursday, January 30, 2014

Humor = not transcendent

Vivian Sobchack has an essay in the February 2014 issue of Film Comment called "Stop Making Sense" on two difficult films from 2013, Upstream Color and To The Wonder. The gist is that neither film means. Instead, they exude sensory experiences "in the moment." They aspire to the crystallized nowness of poetry rather than the cause-and-effect thenness of the novel.

But in speculating as to why these films turn off so many viewers, she spins out with an odd take on poetry and humor: "Limericks and 18th-century verse aside, poetry is also generally humorless, this because it sincerely believes in its own power to transform the vagueness of vision into something not only concrete but also potentially transcendent." So does this not then mean that humor can never achieve transcendence? Maybe this is why some viewers cannot stand these films and art films in general - they've already received their transcendence elsewhere. Or, more precisely, they want nothing to do with artists who see no link between humor and transcendence. So they rest content with any number of masterpieces by Jerry Lewis. And they have a battalion of knee-slappin' pop songs to send them soaring, ABC's "That Was Then But This Is Now," say, or The KLF's "Justified and Ancient."


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