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Saturday, February 17, 2007

art as sacrifice

E. Elias Merhige’s Shadow of the Vampire, Bill Condon’s Gods and Monsters, Federico Fellini’s 8 ½, and Spike Jonze’s Being John Malkovich are a testament that being an artist entails doing ultimate sacrifices for the love of the art. Filmmaking, like any other artform, is such a rigorous process, and it is not uncommon for me to be hearing directors, scriptwriters and actors raving about their product as one done in an extreme labor of love. As the offshoot of their respective makers’ creative juices, these films are no less than the artists’ children and, as such, are bestowed with extraordinary devotion and treatment.
For instance, in Shadow of the Vampire, director F. W. Murnau (John Malkovich) went the bizarre length of hiring a genuine vampire (Willem Defoe) in filming his horror film Nosferatu. Apparently, the director was this serious in his craft that he should be willing to endanger the lives of his whole crew if only to achieve verisimilitude in his film. On the other hand, Gods and Monsters recounts the last months of the life of a gay director (Ian McKellen) whose horror masterpieces, Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein, attained eclipsing qualities. As a Hollywood director, Whale—in a true artist fashion—practiced extreme freedom in his filmmaking career. As a result, his two aforementioned works not only upstaged all other works but also gained so strong a life that he, their creator, cannot even control how these films should be remembered. Based on Gods and Monsters, it occurred to me that an artist, for the love of the craft, has to make the sacrifice of losing control of his own works once they get consumed by the interpreting public.
Meanwhile, 8 ½ is the story of a director (Marcello Mastroianni) who was problematic over what to say in his next movie and his affairs with several women. The former problem reflects the sacrifice an artist has to make after having possibly exhausted all his creative efforts in his previous works. It happens: just when an artist is in the process of producing the most brilliant piece ever to spring out of his head, he realizes not only the second-best status of his immediate past work but also the fact that he might fall clueless of what to do next.
Lastly, Being John Malkovich tells the account of an actor (John Malkovich) whose body got usurped by someone else, thereby leaving him zero control of his own mind and emotions. As that someone was an artist himself (John Cusack), he was willing to sacrifice—at the expense of the body’s owner—transferring from his body to another in pursuit of fame in the field he loved but perpetually failed in, puppeteering. Being John Malkovich afforded Craig, the puppeteer, to achieve huge popularity since Malkovich was well-known, being in universally-renowned Hollywood. In the same vein, being John Malkovich resulted to his being estranged from his bisexual wife (Cameron Diaz), a reality that said so much about the sacrifice of solitude an artist must undergo in seeking for his stardom’s fulfillment (although he was living in with the Maxine character in the movie, the artist was virtually all alone, all lonely at the top).All these films say that the artistic process is so complicated that at the work’s ultimate destination, sacrifices litter along the way. Sometimes, the end justifies the means; sometimes, not.
In Shadow of the Vampire, the director gets his due via his immortalization through his art, but not without having practically fed his whole staff to the vampire as well as having sacrificed his own humanity for the realization of his artisitic purpose. In Gods and Monsters, Whale’s Frankenstein works got interpreted in many ways from hilarity to terror to ludicrousness, although for the director himself, these reactions were possibly not the ones he was expecting but came about as a result of his works’ acquisition of life. In 8 ½, the artistic process is presented as a struggle from which one must be able to untangle himself. Director Guido’s exertion of effort to liberate himself from being dried up temporarily or permamently is one such manifestation of that struggle, but the film director himself joyfully indulges in the fact that he is unlike his character in that his creative makeup is not sterile, proven by the production of 8 ½. In Being John Malkovich, the road to Craig’s renown was paved with sacrifices, as on his way to succeeding as a puppeteer, finally, he had to use a host, be estranged from his partner in life, and live a life of hypocrisy as the world knows him to be Malkovich, not as himself. In the long run, he can be said to have emerged unhappy after all.
These films’ statement on the artistic process points to my life as something not unlike art: it is inextricably linked to sacrifices. My life, although I may not be so focused on it, is a continuous production of artform, from this reflective essay to other pieces which I come up with as school requirements or as personal articulation. Either objective entails sacrifice on my part: time, brainpower, sometimes capital, but it is an ultimate joy when the destination proves favorable, as when I get good marks or when I feel satisfied with my work. The artistic process can be a pain along the way, but can be a glory in the end.

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