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?

July 17, 2004 4:50 AM |



PRC Pop 

The Chinese pop music scene is like no other ...

Remembering Elvis 

The best part of him will never leave the building ...

Beyond Country 

Like all chart categories, "country" is an arbitrary heading under which one finds the ridiculous, the sublime, and everything in between. On the sublime end, a track that I have been listening to over and over for the last six months: Wynnona Judd's version of "She Is His Only Need." The way she sings it, irony is not a color or even a set of contrasting colors; it is iridescence.

Miles the Rock Star? 

Does Miles Davis belong in the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame? Here's my take on his career ...

Essay Contest 

Attention, high school jazz listeners ...

more trax

Me Elsewhere

Edward Hopper 

Painter of light (and darkness) ...

Dissed in Translation 

Here's my best shot at taking Scorcese down a few pegs ...

Henri Rousseau Revisited 

"Henri Rousseau: Jungles in Paris" appeared at the National Gallery of Art in Washington this fall ...

Paul Klee's Art 

Paul Klee was not childish, despite frequent comparisons between his art and that of children...

Our Art Belongs to Dada 

Rent my "Dadioguide" tour of the Dada show (before it moves to MoMA) ...

more picks


About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Chris Mackie, Principal, Covelly Strategies published on July 17, 2004 4:50 AM.

It's A Wonderful Flight was the previous entry in this blog.

Brush Up Your Aristotle is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Creative Commons License
This weblog is licensed under a Creative Commons License.