Uncharted Territory dot com

In man’s early years, he had still to occupy the entirety of the globe, on top of which he didn’t even know how much of the world was still unoccupied. Imagine: knowing your territory, but facing a frontier at all sides. How much further does it go? How big would primitive man have imagined the uncharted territory to be? With respect to this unknown unknown, those early times were correspondingly quite violent. Wars and genocide were constantly going on as men coped with the conflicting notions of discovering the world and sharing it with others.

Over time, the discovery was made that the world was round, and humankind swiftly moved to occupy it all. Wholly overtaking the planet, closing the loop, is an act that justifies itself. It ties the knot of discovery within a perfect package. Our unconscious must have felt immense relief circa the Enlightenment. Though we still have wars and genocide, violent deaths connected to the control of territory are decreasing, now that that territory is no longer unknown. We comfortably analyze the violence of the past as primitive and barbaric.

However, humankind’s drive to seek new frontiers is insatiable. Sometimes, when the frontier is either unseen or unfeasibly remote (like the bottom of the ocean or deep space), we resort to creating new frontiers ourselves. The latest example of this is the internet. The world wide web is a brand new world, also full of uncharted territory. Notice, too, how our exploration of that world has reverted us back to our violent past. We are turning against each other because we have become unknown to each other once again.

Do we create worlds because we strive for the thrill of creation, or for the thrill of discovery? Do those impulses overshadow the artificiality of our surroundings? Does that thrill cheaply distract us from more difficult undertakings, like learning to get along with each other?

The Leap

This article highlights a new and particularly exciting cinematic lineage, sprouting up in ever-increasing numbers, which some intrepid film student should definitely trace. It encompasses unique, violent, heavily documented acts that blur the line between art and reality. Let’s call this lineage The Leap.

Requirements/parameters: 1) Theatricality. Cinema is in so many ways a child of the theatre: there’s a viewing space and a theatrical space, divided on a single axis by a proscenium, and a 4th wall. Part of the reason we enjoy going to the movies or to the theatre is because we enjoy our own performance in a very structured event… with rules, guidelines, limits, and expectations. But we also enjoy going because there’s at least a small bit of us that wants that traditional structure to break down somehow, to get reinvented, not by ground-up reconstruction, but from within, by violent coup. 2) Bridging divides. Not only do these moments inject one form of art into another (performance art into fine art, film into theatre, etc.) but at best they inject the spirit of art into daily life– that is to say, daily life becomes charged with tension, the possibility that a never-before-seen creative act can happen at any moment. This bridging erases the mundane out of the routine, revealing a rhythmic latency, an empty stage with an audience, that exists in every room, every car, every street, every elevator cab, every DMV line. And this leads to 3) Immediacy or instantaneousness. Or as John Malkovich’s character in Art School Confidential says, a certain “nowness” that connects us to the world at large. These acts are like social wormholes: they allow us to grasp things much larger than us, which by some natural laws we weren’t supposed to be able to experience.

This is a refreshing tonic to the locked up starving artist stereotype of the middle of the 20th century, the new rubric for the essential ‘narcotic moment of creative bliss’. It could, with the aid of smartphones and social media, become the driving force of a new movement in art, just like grand political shifts spawned dozens of movements 100 years ago. Here are our examples:

Art School Confidential

Where a struggling art student gets falsely arrested for murder, which he doesn’t care about because he is desperately in love with a girl.

Max Minghella as Jerome in Art School Confidential, 2006

Birdman

Where a commercial actor desperate to demonstrate his artistic integrity actually shoots himself on stage.

Michael Keaton as Riggan in Birdman, 2014. Image via thetempohouse.wordpress.com

Relatos Salvajes (Wild Tales): La Bombita

Where an explosives contractor is so desperate to speak to a human being at the DMV that he commits an act of terrorism.

Ricardo Darin as Simón in Relatos Salvajes, 2014. Image via elprincipedeveerleer.com

Go watch those three movies if you haven’t yet. They all celebrate that Leap, as the protagonists, in transgressing, finally gain the recognition they’ve been desperate for.

A couple of appendices:

Stockhausen on 9/11

Stockhausen’s quotation beautifully meditated upon by Nathan Callahan on PRX.

Karlheinz Stockhausen at Barbican Hall in 2000. Image via telegraph.co.uk

And who better than Thom Yorke to disdainfully give a nod to this very phenomenon when he sang “You’d kill yourself for recognition” on High & Dry.

High & Dry music video, Radiohead, 1995. Image via contactmusic.com

A character taking a leap out of everyday life, into something totally new, that no one thought was ever possible. Often it is a violent act, but there always remains that hue of madness which tethers it to the sandbox of art.

Stockhausen’s statement, while crude, was very incisive into such acts that tear down barriers between art and life. In a reality where most of us are conditioned to believe that “art imitates life”, at moments like this the creative act leaps ahead and for a moment takes the lead in the march into the unknown. When art like this is made, it suddenly has serious consequences. Consequential art is a seldom-encountered, continually endangered creature. The Leap may help proliferate it once again.