Sunday, August 10, 2008

the dark knight of artistic anything

the other day, my friend and i spent a better part of the afternoon wandering through the salvador dali exhibit at MoMA. this time around, the focus is on dali's paintings and film. i had no idea he was so infatuated with cinema. the visuals are fairly overwhelming, at first. it's high fun to let all of it overwhelm me, then find a piece that lets me get my bearings so i can ease my way through the rest of it, guided only by what intrigues me. everything is in chronological order, of course. what never fails to shock is how derivative his early work is. but i suppose that can be said about any artist.

when we left, i was feeling especially giddy. dali is a surrealist to the nth degree, so theatrical at times and very much a showman -- but somewhere in there, he was all business. how interesting to see how he dealt with hollywierd in its golden age. i'm fairly certain that his business manager/promoter/wife gala (who changed her name from elena, and who came from a family of russian intellectuals and who was 10 years his senior) was the one who was at the helm, constantly scheming on how to best manipulate the system to their benefit. God knows it's a full time job for somebody.

in his day, he was quite a brand. evidently, he still is.

afterwards, we went to see the dark knight. i'm not exactly certain how but the dali exhibit put me in the mood for this one. somewhere in there, in the capes and the drama and the explosions and the darkness, there was surrealism and a bit of camp and spectacle that took the edge off of watching The Dead Guy's Last Performance. i think that it was very important that mr. ledger had already established himself as a serious actor before he became a movie star. usually in hollywood, the movie star strives to prove that they can really act. in a day and age when most people who call themselves actors are waiting on tables or doing something else that's just as soul-destroying, it's a moment of triumph for any artist to see someone scale the heights and win.

and yes, i didn't love the movie but yes i did love his performance and yes, i would pay to see it again.

afterwards as we walked to the 70th street pier, i had mixed feelings. the whole world seems to be grieving the loss of such a young and talented actor, but if you stop and look around you, there are young and talented actors everywhere and once upon a time, mr. ledger was one of them. he was out of work, taking bit parts on tv shows and wondering what his next move would be, just like everybody else. once upon a time, halle berry was a hostess in a restaurant in this city. once upon a time, angelina jolie took classes at NYU after she did the movie Gia. somebody had to sit in the chair next to hers and pass her the class handouts and everything, like anybody else. once upon a time, richard gere was doing off-off broadway and taking bit parts in movies. that was him playing some greek guy in a kojak episode from 1976.

there's talented everything everywhere -- from the musician you just passed in the street, to that waitress you undertipped to the filmmaker you sat next to on the D train to the painter that sells his stuff on the curb in soho.

i'm not grieving for heath ledger, for all the work he could have done and didn't, because at least we got a glimpse of his talent. at least he did something. i'm grieving for the undiscovered ones -- the artists of every genre, from out of the remote past and into present day goings on in and out of the media's watchful buzzworthy eye. artists whose work didn't rank, not because it wasn't original or great or borne of genius but because it wasn't popular.

there were plenty of salvador dali's contemporaries who were more talented than he was, and who were doing much more interesting things. there is an actor who is giving the performance of a lifetime right now, off-off broadway -- far away from anyone's buzz bin. there are writers who are self-publishing, musicians who are self-releasing, visual artists who are laboring on and on in the bowels of academia. and they're all effing amazing. what about them?

there are so many unsung heroes and heroines in the world.

i know it takes more than talent to "make it," but some variables that have nothing to do with talent are way more overwhelming than others. like blind, stinking luck. but really, isn't that just strategic hard work? and what is making it, anyway? one of the hardest lessons that new york city has ever taught me is that everyone doesn't want what i want. some people are perfectly happy in a slayer cover band, playing bars and strip malls all over jersey and heidelberg. whatever blows your hair back.

what i'm talking about is something more -- a worldwide culture that glorifies what's popular instead of what's brilliant, or sometimes even good.

my friend carol fineman loves to say, "talent will out." it's one of her favorite phrases. i used to believe it but more and more nowadays, it's something that i can only hope is true.

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