Monday, February 4, 2008

respect for the craft

I am a creative writer. As in, I write fiction. I know this makes me an "artist" in some senses of the word. Art is subjective, it is creative, it is the product of the human drive toward expression of the chaos within. But in a way, I think that's a lot of words being thrown at something relatively simple. I write because I love words the way some people love numbers, or or shapes, or sex. I write because after reading Cormac McCarthy's No Country for Old Men the word sockfeet resonated in my mind for two months. Producing stories, prose poems, etcetera is a task, and doing so with mastery and expertise is something I believe I can improve at (in my case, by practice combined with study in the form of reading and revision). I try to approach writing as a craft, whose guild is the community of student, working and aspiring writers, and whose task is simply to grapple with the human condition and reflect it with expertise and wit. This is both work and art.

This weekend, I saw There Will Be Blood again, with a friend (I saw it with NH the first time and was so exhausted that I admittedly slept through crucial bits), at the Chelsea Clearview. We were this close to hanging around and seeing the midnight showing of the Rocky Horror Picture Show instead, but didn't. There Will Be Blood is in my opinion a brilliant movie, but a difficult one (not unlike reading a rewarding author, like Proust, and yes I realize how cheap of an example that really is, but I am in the library with S right now). It is three hours or more long, and a bit light on the plot in some areas while maintaining far too many plot threads, but the acting is top notch and the score actually made me notice how much a score can change a film. I'm actually outraged that the score wasn't nominated for an Academy Award. For shame, Academy, for shame. We both left the theater feeling thoughtful about the movie, and while B stepped away for a moment I sat on a couch and listened to the various moviegoers exit the theater and comment on the film. This is a wonderful way to people watch and I recommend it to any writer; no one talks quite as much as people who haven't been able to talk freely for a period of hours or more.

Many of the patrons loved the film, some pointed out its flaws while expressing admiration for the whole effort, several didn't get it. This is, in my opinion, a fairly good indicator of good art, i.e. it produces a full spectrum of opinions from those who absolutely loath the effort to those who declare their lives changed by the experience. I did however hear a man with a British accent, probably in his thirties, remark that the acting was poor, that he could spit on someone too and it didn't make him an Academy Award winning actor.

I beg to differ.

Daniel Day-Lewis does an exceptional job in the film. He literally carries it, because the film is almost exclusively about his character, Plainview. Surely, if Daniel Day-Lewis convinced this film patron that he was simply spitting upon one character or another (and really, he does, the Plainview character is so disconcertingly both polished and rough), then he has done his job. He has removed the evidence of craft from his action and dissolved his regular trappings, becoming the almost primitive Plainview with oil smeared across his cheeks and a complete disregard for human beings. Acting, in my opinion, and I am no actor (I was wretched in high school musicals), seems like a craft as much as writing is a craft, with the goal of expression and with perfection or near-perfection existing in the eradication of the evidence of effort. When acting ceases to look like work, it is success.

I thought this movie-going fellow seemed crass, and disrespectful and ultimately thoughtless about the goals of filmmaking. People will have their own opinions, and There Will Be Blood is certainly not for everyone. Still, it seems harsh to criticize an actor because we believe so much in his effortlessness, as it is really a mark of achievement, and perhaps the only mark of achievement.

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