Aristotle at the Cineplex
Like most people who saw "The Day After Tomorrow," I found the special effects brilliant. And eerie: the tidal wave rolling through Manhattan recalled the dust-and-debris one of 9/11. Spectacle is spectacle, and computer-imaging whiz kids can't be blamed, I guess, for cannibalizing a big one. More fun, and less troubling, were the mega-storms that freeze-dried El Norte and (in the film's only comic sequence) sent frantic gringos scurrying illegally into sunny Mexico.
But this particular blockbuster also widened the usual gulf between the brilliance of the special effects and inanity of the plot and characters. Here, that gulf became an abyss. Happy ending: neglectful dad learns to say "I love you" to son, and son learns to say "I love you" to girl. Backdrop to happy ending: destruction of all life in the Northern Hemisphere.
Which brings me to Aristotle's Poetics. At the end of that short treatise, after dissecting classical Greek tragedy, Aristotle asks whether this relatively new art form is better or worse than the older, more revered epic poetry of Homer. The main difference, he says, is that "Epic poetry is addressed to a cultivated audience, who do not need gesture," while ragedy appeals to "an inferior public" by combining poetry with gesture, music, dance, and "spectacular effects."
His conclusion? That tragedy is superior precisely because of these add-ons, which "produce the most vivid of pleasures." In other words, it's fine to listen to a rhapsode pluck the lyre and sing the Iliad, but it's even finer to watch actors strut across a stage whose scenery can be raised and lowered by hidden water pumps, while gods in gilded costumes sweep overhead suspended from cranes.
This conclusion comes with a caveat, though. Tragedy cannot succeed on "spectacular effects" alone. They are "important accessories," but the play must also possess "all the epic elements," meaning plot, character, and thought -- in that order. It is wonderful, is it not, that just about every moviegoer over the age of 12 would agree with Aristotle's priorities?
AJ BlogsAJBlogCentral | rss
Terry Teachout on the arts in New York City
Andrew Taylor on the business of arts & culture
rock culture approximately
Laura Collins-Hughes on arts, culture and coverage
Richard Kessler on arts education
Douglas McLennan's blog
Dalouge Smith advocates for the Arts
Art from the American Outback
For immediate release: the arts are marketable
No genre is the new genre
David Jays on theatre and dance
Paul Levy measures the Angles
Judith H. Dobrzynski on Culture
John Rockwell on the arts
Jan Herman - arts, media & culture with 'tude
Apollinaire Scherr talks about dance
Tobi Tobias on dance et al...
Howard Mandel's freelance Urban Improvisation
Focus on New Orleans. Jazz and Other Sounds
Doug Ramsey on Jazz and other matters...
Jeff Weinstein's Cultural Mixology
Martha Bayles on Film...
Fresh ideas on building arts communities
Greg Sandow performs a book-in-progress
Exploring Orchestras w/ Henry Fogel
Harvey Sachs on music, and various digressions
Bruce Brubaker on all things Piano
Kyle Gann on music after the fact
Greg Sandow on the future of Classical Music
Norman Lebrecht on Shifting Sound Worlds
Jerome Weeks on Books
Scott McLemee on books, ideas & trash-culture ephemera
Wendy Rosenfield: covering drama, onstage and off
Chloe Veltman on how culture will save the world
Public Art, Public Space
Regina Hackett takes her Art To Go
John Perreault's art diary
Lee Rosenbaum's Cultural Commentary
Tyler Green's modern & contemporary art blog