Thursday, July 05, 2012

Cubism, Surrealism and Pop Art in Pablo Picasso

'Art should comfort the disturbed and disturbed the comfortable.' This is certainly true in appreciating the baffling paintings and sculptures by Pablo Picasso - the most original and ingenious artist in the 20th Century

In Visite à Picasso, a short 20 minutes black and white Belgian documentary, Picasso drew on large glass plates in front of the camera - like a live show of a great artist in visually presenting his flow imagination, with a few rough brushes or sometimes just one continual brush that outlines a dove, bull, flowers, man and woman, and whatnot.

With these simple lines and almost child-like arts that look more similar as caveman painting than any great historical or mythological scenes from the Renaissance or Baroque arts, Picasso sought to deconstruct the reality with geometrical shapes and to reunite them into multi - perspectives - the birth of cubism.
Portrait d' homme (Portrait of a man) 

Homme à la moustache
(Man with a moustache) 
It is hard to imagine that the same artist has painted the Portrait d’homme and Homme à la moustache, both showing a man with moustache but with vastly different style. While Picasso stuck to the conventional art technique in Portrait d'homme, with heavy emphasis on blue colour - expressing his deep depression at the time due to the suicide of his friend - he changed to Cubist style in drawing the same man by deconstructing him into geometrical shapes, along with  pieces of papers, cardboard, wallpaper and wooden frame that 'synthesize' or overlap with each  other to add rich texture and a tangible touch to the object of the painting. 

Le sculpteur (The Sculptor)
Refusing to confine in one style, Picasso proceeded to base on his Cubist training to experiment with surrealism - an art movement that explores the subconsciousness of human mind. In Le sculpteur, Picasso described a Roman myth about a sculptor, Pygmalion, falling in love with a statue he carved and loving it so much that he made a wish to Venus to transform it into a real woman. Yet as blood and flesh, she will eventually age and wrinkle, Venus warned. Pygmalion wavered. 

On one hand, the dreamlike scene created by bright colours and curved figures is a distinctive surrealist feature. On the other hand, the anxious Pygmalion and his mirrored visage, showing the Hamlet indecisiveness, strongly reminds of the presentation of simultaneous perspective in Cubism. 

Figure et profil (Figure and Profile)
Another interesting surrealist painting is Figure et profil that left a hint of autobiographical note. How many faces can you see? I see three: one on the left hand side, beside the window; another is the geometrical white figure itself; and the last is the alien - looking black outline - respectively representing Picasso's progression from classical drawing in early years, then Cubism, and Surrealism later. 

Picasso broke conventions with Cubism and Surrealism and it is no surprise for him to reinterpret masterpieces as a form of pop art during his late years. The rough brushes and unscrupulous splash of colours in Le déjeuner sur l'herbe destroyed  the natural grandeur and a harmonious balance painstakingly constructed by Édouard Manet in his original Le déjeuner sur l'herbe but interestingly instead of pure destruction, Picasso's reinterpretation suggests more of mischievous naughtiness to see the world as a child does. 

Le déjeuner sur l'herbe
 (Luncheon on the grass) 
Already a distinguished painter in the early years (he can't scribble like a child since he was ten, he said), he spent his life to unlearn the academic and classical drawing skills and to rediscover the world with imagination and childhood's curiosity. As Laozhi admired the innocent unconsciousness of children, Picasso reinterpreted the world with childhood originality. 

A cynical person might see his shifting style of art as a very good marketing attempt to boost up his reputation. What I see, however, is a man who tried to break free from the all too realistic world with his free flowing imagination in Cubism, Surrealism and Pop Art.

Below is a clip in Visite à Picasso. The full documentary is available here

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Police Officer's Force is Illegal, Unnecessary and Disproportionate

The Police Officer who forcibly removed and detained the Reporter

The news reported*:

Increasing intervention from Central Chinese Government and heavy - handedness of the police against peaceful protesters - evidenced by more frequent and intense use of pepper spray and assignment of restricted areas for media - only serve to show the 'mainlandisation' (i.e. a complete disregard of human rights) of the Hong Kong police. 

The above news report is one of the other many examples showing police force against dissidents and protesters are dubiously illegal, unnecessary and disproportionate. 

Admittedly, freedom of speech and freedom of movement (as stipulated in Article 27 and 31 of Basic Law respectively) are not absolute rights but restrictions are only justified provided they pass the legality, necessity and proportionality test. 

From the facts in the news, the police officer did not even bother to give reply to a question from one journalist on what guidelines he relied on that delegated him the power to forcibly remove and detain the reporter. 

Neither it seems necessary in a democratic interest in the interests of national security or public safety and public order for him to not only remove but to detain him for another 15 minutes. Surely asking a question, though a political sensitive one, to President Hu Jintao will not disrupt the public safety or order, on the face of a large amorphous army of black - suited guards, along with numerous police officers and other unknown covert policemen, and let alone damaging any national security. 

The force is only proportionate when it rationally connects with a legitimate purpose and is no more than necessary for accomplishing it. Granted, protecting President Hu is a legitimate purpose  but it is his personal safety that matters, not his face. The purpose of the police officer is to save President Hu from a politically sensitive question, at the great expense of infringing human rights. 

The means employed are neither rational nor no more than necessary. From the TV news, President Hu has already gone after he heard the Reporter's question. In other words, the police officer's removal and subsequent detainment were wholly irrational and unnecessary, as further questions from the Reporter would have gone unheard or unheeded when President Hu was already out of sight. 

Hence the police officer's force toward the Reporter is illegal, unnecessary and disproportionate. It is not a scarecrow or a fallacious slippery slope logic to argue one compromise following another for the Hong Kong police will eventually mean a complete 'mainlandisation' of the whole police force. Accumulated reports and this incident are only too obvious to show this sad and unfortunate trend.

The South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported, below is an excerpt:

'Police forcibly removed a journalist from a press area after he shouted a question about the June 4 Tiananmen Square crackdown to President Hu Jintao while the president was visitng the Kai Tak Cruise Terminal on Saturday.

As Hu walked by the press area accompanied by government officials, the Apply Daily reporter shouted “President Hu, the people of Hong Kong want the truth behind June 4 to be revealed, do you know this?”     

Hu heard the question and turned to the journalist before continuing on his way without responding.  The reporter was immediately taken by a policeman to a stairwell where he was questioned for 15 minutes and eventually reprimanded

He told me that my yelling was breaking the rules,” said the reporter...'

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Createe and Creator in Prometheus (2012)

David - A Createe of Humans
"So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created him; male and female" (Genesis 1:27). Not so, according to Prometheus directed by Ridley Scott. In the beginning, a humanoid - one of our alien ancestors - drank a unknown substance, disintegrated, poured to the great fall and flowed to the ocean - the origin of life.

The secondary question under this origin of life is, no doubt, the human nature to rebel; or, to put it more precisely, the defiance tendency in a createe against a creator. Why did David put the organic substance in the drinks to poison Holloway? Surely, it can't be a little mischief arising from an error in the circuits of android? The motive, we can only guess, from his remarks that children can only kill parents to gain freedom. 

As an android, a createe from human hands, he already acquired the desire for freedom - something that can't be granted by parental obedience but must be fought by defiance and rebellion. We, the creator of android but a createe of unknown God, strive for the same freedom. Adam's eating of the forbidden fruit behind God's back is petty in comparison with Ahab's unholy war against the invincible Moby Dick - a symbolic representation of a fallible human against the infallible Fate or God. Alternatively this defiance is best captured by Nietzsche 's remark: 'God is dead'. 

Less dramatically - yet more enigmatically -  David's act of poisoning seems trivial and unexplained but is it not a simple act, though mischievous in nature, of rebellion against a creator, i.e. us? 

Nevertheless, David, though inherited the defiance from human, will never understand why humans or specifically Elizabeth Shaw want desperately to know the origin of life. With the cross on her neck, she believed life has a divine origin. It is a faith - an irrational belief in impossible thing - that the rational android can not get. Are the white humanoid the creators? How did they create humans? Why did they want to destroy us? 

These questions are meant to be asked, but hopefully to be answered by a sequel. The odyssey continues.

Prometheus is directed by Ridley Scott, written by Jon Spaihts, Damon Lindelof, starring Noomi Rapace, Logan Marshall-Green and Michael Fassbender.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Bounty (懸紅) (2012)

Fiona Sit (right) and Chapman To (left) in The Bounty

Bounty hunter, wanted criminal, a small wooden inn in an isolated place and gangsters in a small community are reminiscent  of the lawless Texas in the good  and old American western cowboy movies in the late  1950s, prominently represented by Shane (1953). Yet that's the setting of The Bounty (懸紅) directed by 馮志強, starring Chapman To (杜汶澤) , Fiona Sit (薛凱琪 ) and Alex Man (萬梓良). 

In The Bounty, the ex - police Cho (Chapman To), relying on bounty for living, searched for a wanted criminal that last appeared in a small inn (Lazy Inn) , situated in an isolated island. He found the bizarre innkeeper (Alex Man) and her eccentric daughter (Fiona Sit) during his investigation that sparked off a chain of events, proving to be a challenge for Cho.

The overall red - bricks wall, wooden floor and furnitures, and even the old-fashioned trunk are quite refreshing and complimentary with the brown and tarnished cowboy shirts and jackets of Chapman To; the jockey - styled outfit from Fiona Sit. 

The Bounty is clearly intended with black humour that unfortunately just doesn't work and is bored at times. Fiona Sit's pretty dolly face can't help Chapman To much to start off his usual dark jokes. Alex Man, a very experienced actor indeed, balanced well between humour as the strange innkeeper and the weak fallible father as times required. 

Nevertheless a surprising lot of casts, each playing a small cameo scene, did throw some eye - opening entertainment that added much liveliness to the movie. 

On the bottom line, The Bounty is a refreshing comedy in summer and shows promises for 馮志強 to break from being a mere screenplay writer to a comedy director. 

The trailer: 

Rating: 2.5/5
The Bounty directed by 馮志強, starring Chapman To (杜汶澤) , Fiona Sit (薛凱琪 ) and Alex Man (萬梓良). 

Monday, June 18, 2012

Psychology in Master of Play (心戰)

Master of Play 

In Master of Play, Ivan, in a rage, killed Eric, Michelle, Martin and Edwin in the Jekyll Bar; they died in flesh and blood but incorporates into the dark side of his psychological mind - representing his evil, lust, violence and pride, respectively. As he sank into decadence, broke away with his fiancé, slapped his sister and eventually killed Jerry, he struggled continually with them.

This bears semblance to the 6 realms (六道) in Buddhism where people in the earthly world will fall into one of the realms:  god, human, jealous god, animal, hungry ghost and hell (or 天道、人間道、修羅道、畜生道、餓鬼道、地獄道 respectively). The popular belief is about afterlife but a Buddhist friend of mine told me each realm rather represents a psychological stage of human mind. The deed committed at one psychological realm produces the 'seed' or the consequence. 

A Thangka (唐卡) on the 6 realms 
As Ivan got enraged by Jerry's remark, he fell to 'jealous god' realm (修羅道) and killed him. His lust or rather the 'animal' and 'hungry ghost' realms (畜生道 and 餓鬼道) caused him not only to seduce his own assistant but to engage in one - night stands. Finally his schemes of murders and cover - ups are unmistakably 'hell' (地獄道). Each psychological mind produces the corresponding deeds and the final 'seeds'. 

Or insanity and the corollary hallucination have totally engulfed his mind to produce the four personae who vanish as soon as he regain his consciousness. Voices within his head, coupled with strong imagination for visual images (as a professional magician), plus emotional stress (breakup with his fiancé), have unlocked his floodgate and flows a distinct set of psychological logics from the 4 strange people. 

His seeming sanity in the everyday life, however, betrayed he is simply insane. Although an insane person can indeed act sanely - like the man in Poe's Tell - Tale Heart (a story about a man keep emphasizing his sanity while narrating his murder of an old man for nothing more than his intense irritation against his blue eyes) - he shows the intelligence of a psychopath. 

Psychopathy, strictly speaking, is not mental disorders as it's not included in the DSM IV - a manual of disorders - but the top characteristics for identifying psychopath from the Bob Hare Checklist includes superficial charm, pathological lying, lack of remorse or guilt, impulsivity and juvenile delinquency. 

As a professional magician, Ivan never failed to win charm and more importantly the profession itself is pathological lying. As a child, he already participated kidnapping and has done patricide, fulfilling more than enough the juvenile delinquency. Nevertheless, he did feel remorse and guilt for having kidnapped a girl or really? Is it simply a lie he tried to convince himself? (Read how Toto Constant, who mass - murdered pro - democracy activists, gang - raped women and mutilated dead bodies in Haiti, feigned remorse and emotion in his interview with Jon Ronson in The Psychopath Test)

All in all, are we going anywhere? Is he undergoing a psychological struggle or sinking into the quagmire of insanity or being just a downright psychopath? These questions rise from the fact that  the line between sanity and insanity; reality and imagination often blurs. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

A Talk on The Saint and The Lottery

Afternoon coffee with 50 Great Short Stories - a recommended anthology of short stories for leisure reading or daily dose of creativity 
Short story is like a shot of vodka red bull that injects a short - lived yet intense dose of idea into the brain. Works like Dream of Red Chamber (紅樓夢) or War and Peace give such a panoramic picture of life that span a thousand or so pages. Short story as it is nicely put 'is uniquely capable of conveying, for in its very shortness lies its greatest strength'*. 

The Saint by V. S. Pritchett and The Lottery by Shirley Jackson, each with its different style and highly condensed plot, throw light on an aspect of religion. 

The Saint tells of a story that religion is either reserved for the ignoramuses or a manipulative tool for the hypocrite; in fact they sometime go hand in hand. The unnamed narrator's family has converted to the Church of the Last Purification that taught a rather tautological doctrine: any bad thing can not exist in reality, since God could not have made them to harm his creatures. 

The narrator naturally followed his family to believe in it (the evils of family influence) until the coming of the Mr. Timberlake - a figure of almost sainthood in the church for reportedly performing miracles, including raising the dead - came to his home and upon the request of narrator's uncle had a chat with him in a boating. 

During the boating, Mr. Timberlake got caught by the tree branch, because of his foolish refusal to avoid it  (believing God would not have put the tree to harm him) and fell down from the water. Yet he remained in such calmness that he must have regarded any harm as merely illusory and erroneous, since God would not have made anything to harm his creatures. 

Sixteen years later the narrator discovered Mr. Timberlake has died out of a heart attack. The doctor found it a miracle he has lived so long as the slightest shock would have caused him death. 

His religious belief was, after all, a mere baby's security blanket where he can desperately hold on to  avoid any shock. Any shock is unreal and non - existent; God would not have created any of it. 

This is scary. Supposedly he is a miracle performer, leader of the church and a saint to the believers but even him has a hidden agenda of his own. It seems a cliché to quote religion as 'opium of the people' and yet that's what this story has shown. 

Another short story, The Lottery by Shirley Jackson, stung me with shock at the ending. The story opens with a seeming cheerful rural community in a distant part of America organising a lottery - a tradition for a good harvest ("Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon" as the old proverb said) . Children gathered stones, while Mr. Summers, the volunteer, carried the black box that was locked up the previous night to ensure no one has touched it. 

After waiting everyone to arrive, Mr. Summers announced the rules: He'll read the names; each family head draws a paper and keeps it folded until everyone has had a turn. It proceeded smoothly and Bill Hutchinson 'got it'. Tessie, his wife, shouted 'It wasn't fair.' 

In due course, another round started with only the Hutchinsons: Bill, Tessie, three children (Bill Jr, Nancy and Dave). 'I tell you it wasn't fair', Tessie insisted. To no avail, each picked a paper and kept it folded until everyone has had turn. 

The papers of Bill, Bill Jr, Nancy and Dave were blank. Tessie got the one with a black spot on it. In a business - like manner, Mr. Summer said 'All right, folks. Let's finish quickly'

Adults and children alike, including Bill and the three children, began to pick stones and threw at Tessie Hutchinson. 'It isn't fair, it isn't right', she screamed. 

The suspense holds to the last. The unthankful 'prize' of the lottery is to get stoned to death. This all starts from a tradition with a vague promise for good harvest and one that few remembered its origin. While some traditions are relatively harmless and even entertaining (like the Cargo cult or the treat or trick in Halloween), others can be deadly. It get worse when some overzealous believers blindly follow it, just like the community in The Lottery

The stoning carries such a clear religious overtone that it seems religious tradition, in particular, has its part of destruction. From the Crusades in the Middle Ages to the present fundamentalists' opposition against gay marriage, blindly following a doctrine or tradition, devoid of the changing circumstance, can be deadly. 

The Saint and The Lottery with two highly condensed plots show two elements of religion. One one hand, it often falls into the hands of hypocritical people as a tool to manipulate the ignorant people and on the other, it has the power to push people into the dead corner. Either way, be an atheist. 

* From Milton Crane in the foreword for 50 Great Short Stories 

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Saint

The Saint

"The success of our prayers had a simple foundation. We regarded it as 'Error' - our name for Evil - to believe the evidence of our senses and if we had influenza or consumption, or had lost our money or were unemployed, we denied the reality of these things, saying that since God could not have made them, they therefore did not exist. "