Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Up Is The New Down


After reaching the age of 60, I thought my mind couldn't be blown any more. I mean, dude, its been - oh, years and years since they dressed up little cans of common spray paint, quadrupled the price and sold them to us guys as cover up for bald spots. Remember that? Thank heavens I was in the same room with someone who knew how to administer CPR when the ad for that first came on. Even so it left me with a permanent facial tic. I thought then, this will set the bar so high in the annals of doofus ideas that every simpleton out there looking for a more lame brained idea might as well pack their tent and go home. Naturally I was wrong.

I read an article in the New York Times this morning which left me with the feeling that maybe up is really down. It seems young film maker Andrew van den Houton (how do they make this stuff up?) applied to the state of Michigan for a state grant to help pay for his latest movie, "The Woman", and is a little miffed that the state turned him down. According to the state's film commissioner, Janet Lockwood,

"This film is unlikely to promote tourism in Michigan or to present or reflect Michigan in a positive light..."

Well good for her. Nice to know we have a public servant out there manning her post with vigilance. But before you ask why the state of Michigan has a public servant in charge of giving away tax money to private film makers in the first place, let's get to her reason for rejecting Mr. van den Houton:

"...this extreme horror film’s subject matter, namely realistic cannibalism; the gruesome and graphically violent depictions described in the screenplay; and the explicit nature of the script..."

Whoa! I mean really. I can see people being drawn to the state of Michigan by a movie about, oh say, Coho fishing on the St. Joe or camping at the lovely Tahquaminan Falls State Park in the Upper Peninsula. But cannibalism? Well, sure, its going to bring in a few people, but not exactly the kind you expect to spend a couple hundred bucks on Petosky stones and Hudson Bay blankets. And it serves Mr. van den Houton right. After all, the least he could have done was add a few cut-aways to his cannibals fly fishing on the Big Two Heart River between meals.

You'd think that would be the end of it. But back comes Mr. van den Houton with a counter. He thinks "The Woman" has every right to be financed by Michigan, since after all it is only a sequel to "Offspring", a movie he made a couple of years ago, 40% of the financing for which was underwritten by the state. And that movie was even more gross than "The Woman". According to Mr. van den Houton:

" “The Woman,” a sequel to “Offspring,” is a little less horrific," Mr. van den Houten said in an interview. “We had babies in the first movie,” he offered. "

Oh, I get it now. This whole "news article" is just an elaborate put on. No state in their right mind would finance a movie about cannibals eating babies hither and yon. Let's check...

Hmmmm, well bless my stars! By golly, Mr. van den Houton really did make "Offspring" a couple of years ago. According to one review:

" It concerns a group of cave-dwelling Neanderthals, basically, except here they're rendered as little more than wild men/women cannibals, who terrorize people and eat babies and the like."

What nasty people they are! You would think that starting flat footed with characters like this, the movie would be something of a tuff sale. And you would be thinking right. The review continues:

"The whole thing is barely watchable. It just grinds on and on and on, a seemingly never-ending parade of awfulness. Blood splashes across the screen, the actors are truly awful (and you could care less about any of the characters), and it looks like the cumulative budget was about $4.50."

What am I missing here Steve? Before you answer that, consider that the article goes on to say that 44 states have committed "heavy subsidies" to private film makers, and Georgia, facing a budget shortfall which runs in the tens of millions, is one of them. Kind of makes you want to find out which six states don't finance private films and go live there, doesn't it? Briefly, back to Michigan (current rate of unemployment: 14.9%):

"Ken Droz, the communications consultant for the Michigan Film Office, declined to discuss “The Woman.” But he noted that Michigan had approved 160 applications out of 320 submitted to date..."

" “This is not an entitlement program,” Mr. Droz said."

Oh yeah? Somebody needs to tell Mr. Droz to stay out of the pixie dust.

Steve, this whole thing is wrong on so many levels I really don't know where to start. Maybe I should begin by telling you that yes, I do believe in government support of the arts. But to me there is an obvious and crucial difference between preserving recognized works of art for future generations, and influencing the nature and direction of art. Call me crazy, but I do believe the first hurdle any artist in any medium should have to overcome, on his or her own, lies squarely in the arena of public opinion. If people like art, they will voluntarily buy it. If enough people buy it, it will become famous. And if it becomes famous, it recommends itself to preservation by the institutions of government we finance involuntarily.

Got that? We preserve redwoods and grizzly bears because they represent a precious and vulnerable resource which enrich our lives in clear and purposeful ways. We buy paintings by Manet and Bouguereau and display them in our museums to be viewed by people of average means like you and me who could not otherwise afford them. And yes, in the process there will be disagreements. After all, one man's art can often be another man's garbage.

But the one thing we should never disagree on, or even question, is that the state has absolutely no business getting involved in the creation of art. This should be every bit as obvious as it is that cans of spray paint don't cover up bald spots. Apparently it isn't.

1 comment:

  1. We're going to disagree Very Slightly. First, I agree 100% with your observations of the horrible, absurd situation itself. There are fools in Michigan (and elsewhere).

    That said, I also agree that "Art" deserves its patrons. We all understand that through the purchase of Art, the patron is directly supporting the CREATION process - and thereby encouraging the development of similar revenue-generating pieces for the livelihood of the Artist.

    This means "government" - using funds extracted from others by force - should *NOT* be a patron. It should only provide a means to accept DONATIONS of 'Art' from those INDIVIDUALS willing to PERSONALLY pony up the cash to buy it. I can see no reasonable mechanism by which government, as an entity, can 'support the arts' without crossing that difficult line concerning 'for who's benefit' and 'how to spend the money'. (Yes, there's nits to pick here, but you get my point.)

    It's simply better for government to step aside and take a back seat on this issue whenever possible. Spend the money elsewhere.

    - Steve