Monday, August 25, 2008
I sometimes think that we live in a time that denies all achievement, that the Web (especially "Web 2.0") has created a class of armchair-everythings who take pleasure only in cutting down the successes of the genuinely talented. The Olympics tends to bring this out. To some, Michael Phelps' athletic achievements matter less than the fact that he seems like a tool.
It's even worse when it comes to the arts. We know exactly how fast Phelps can swim, but creativity can't necessarily be quantified, nor the work and effort put into it measured.
Which may be why I found myself so attracted by two recent movies that give creativity its due.
My Name is Fame has one of those goofy Hong Kong movie titles, and its plot follows the well-trod path of Pygmalion and A Star is Born, but what really struck me about it was that it takes art seriously. The relationship between the two main characters - Fai, an embittered, washed-up actor, and Fei, the aspiring ingenue who at first idolizes and then surpasses him - is structured as an artistic rivalry, and the questions they confront regarding integrity, and what kinds of achievements and recognition really matter, are given the importance - and the ambiguity - they deserve.
If My Name is Fame is about the hard work of being a creative artist (especially in an industry that rarely values artistry), Be Kind Rewind simply revels in the pure joy of making stuff. The characters played by Jack Black and Mos Def are so unaware of how to make a movie that the obstacles that would thwart someone with knowledge but without means are hardly obstacles at all. Possessing neither means nor knowledge, they happily plunge in with a cheap video camera and whatever else they have at hand. These "Sweded" versions become more popular than the originals among the denizens of the video store where they hang-out, and this exuberance in creativity pervades the entire film (and beyond.)
In both films, creativity is, in itself, both labor and reward. The ingenious ending of My Name is Fame, which deliberately withholds what might have been Fai's triumph in another film, brings this point home in what I found to be a very moving way. The end of Be Kind Rewind is just as moving, but for a different reason. It, and the movie as a whole, evokes a lost Eden, where pure creativity exists unbound by mental or physical barriers.