I got off work early, so I went to Berkeley and saw Guinevere, the movie I talked about Monday. My impression from seeing the trailer was that it was a movie at least peripherally concerned with the discipline of art, in this case photography. I was right. I liked it very much.
The photographer, at the end of his career, one book published, once able to sell through the galleries, now "fallen to shooting weddings", has had a series of lovers, girlfriends, whatever: women in their late teens and early twenties living with a man who is, I assume, my own age in his mid fifties. The screenwriter/director, Audrey Wells, hasn't particularly glossed over the realities of this kind of relationship, relationships of any kind not being particularly easy (except in the movies) and relationships like this one, twenty, thirty years between them, well, they have predictable endings.
The focus, the twist, is the demand the photographer makes on his young lover, his "Guinevere". She must pick and practice a discipline: art, photography, dance, whatever. She must learn the basics and do the work required to get her feet and that takes time and effort. He is a mentor and he says to his Guinevere that she has the talent, don't worry, he knows about talent and she has that talent whatever her doubts if she but follow his direction.
The scene with the mother clarifies his motivation: only by choosing very young women can he have a lover who looks into his eyes with worshipful admiration. No mature woman would ever be so fooled. Bernard Shaw, as I recall, wrote the same about Caesar in Caesar and Cleopatra. Women his own age would laugh at that laurel wreath he wears to camouflage his baldness. But so what?
So what if his talent is dead and he massages his ego with a string of young lovers who stay with him one, two, in one case three years altogether, none of them easy? He does give back. He is portrayed as a mentor who delivers. The women do have talent, their art a door to escape (at least in the case of Sarah Polley who, again, plays Harper, the Guinevere of this story) from a suffocating life and an intolerable (for her) future. The women, five of his six "Guineveres", who meet at the end, are by then artists in their own right, the sixth Guinevere on a shoot in Alaska sending a slab of freeze dried salmon to, um, poach in her absence.
I made it a point not to carry a camera, the image of an old fart pretend to be photographer getting
his rocks off in a darkened theater was just too embarrassing to contemplate. My idea of a younger woman is, after all, someone in her mid forties. The opening lines, recited by Polley, set the tone, a series of black and white photographs being displayed one after another: "I (Harper/Guinevere) shot the photographs using a Nikon F2 with a 105mm f2.0 lens using Plus X film pushed two stops...." An auspicious beginning.
The two negative reviews I read were negative, I think, because they didn't buy off on the premise. Connie, the photographer, exploits the women to his own ends, but gives back something of value. The whole treatment is honest, but lightweight in the sense it's a fantasy. A fantasy as told from the standpoint of the women: a May-December relationship, yes, but at a price they were, in retrospect, willing to pay. Told from a man's standpoint, you could never really trust that the outcome was honest, that the whole thing wasn't a one sided exploitation of the women. Ultimately the women said the fucking they were getting was worth the fucking they were getting, thank you very much. Hi, ho. Maybe I was blinded by the fact that all the main characters packed cameras.
One note: the movie was set in San Francisco and the couple hung out at Spec's bar across the street from City Lights Book Store. I haven't been in Spec's for twenty years, but I knew the people and the conversation at their table. A nice touch. Spec's is still there and I think Spec himself is still at the bar. He wouldn't remember me, but he'd remember the people I hung out with. He'd remember K. and S. Clay and the rest of the them. Nostalgia. I don't want to drink at Spec's anymore and I don't want to live in an unheated artsy warehouse space, but director/screenwriter Wells hit it right on the head: the characters, the art and life dialogue.
It gave me another push in my own minor decision to learn more of this photographic craft. I have no illusions about another career, I have no illusions that anything I'm doing could be described as "art", but I do have concerns about what the coming years may bring and what elements I can add to my life that might make me want to get up each morning smiling. This business of whether your photographs are good or not just puts up roadblocks to ever beginning. If it turns out well, then that's nice, but if it turns out badly, then that's nice as well. The pleasure is in the doing and showing your respect by doing your best. It's nice to buy a bunch of expensive equipment, it's nice to shoot photographs on the weekend, nothing wrong with that, but there's more and it might be nice to play at finding it.