Really loving a film but really hating its DVD artwork is the motivation behind this series of unprompted DVD packaging redesigns, usually performed over the space of an average lunch break. Quick and fun. More nerding out here.
Seeing Chuck Close’s Philip Glass portrait above made me want to jump on the redesign of this documentary on the musician. Close’s amalgam of patterned micro dots perfectly captures the process of listening to Glass. Simple repetitions that don’t seem all that drastic or different when seen next to each other, but create a rich narrative when taken in as a whole.
Chuck Close’s unique technique of working within a pixilated grid system came out of a suffering from seizure in 1988, which left him paralyzed from the neck down. Close continues to paint with a brush strapped onto his wrist with tape, creating large portraits in low-resolution grid squares created by an assistant. The two artists have been friends and Close has painted Glass many times. They met in 1964 but didn’t become friends until 1968, when Philip Glass was pluming their lofts.
Close first painted Glass in 1968 (above) – using a hyper realistic technique. Before his accident, but still dividing the huge canvases in small sections. Photo on left, painting on right.
I was able to see the 4 hour opera in September of 2012, written by Robert Wilson. Above is my redesign of the from cover of the cd box set, and below the back cover. It stands as one of my favorite artistic experiences and I was completely taken aback when I heard Wilson talk about his source inspiration for Einstein’s mysterious text:
“One of the biggest influences was when I met Christopher Knowles, a 13 year old child who was living in an institution for brain damaged, brain injured children. He was preoccupied with mathematics and geometry. Especially with language. And the way he was arranging words and sounds was not unlike Mozart. “Classical compositions” and things placed not arbitrarily but for content of the language but also very much with the sounds. And that’s when I introduced words in my play (his previous play was a 7 hour silent opera).
I asked Chris once – who is Einstein? And he said – I don’t know. And I said, Chris who is Einstein? And he said I don’t know. I said, Chris who is Einstein? And he said I don’t know. And I said, Chris who is Einstein? And he said I don’t know. And I said, Chris who is Einstein? And he said I don’t know. I said, Chris who is Einstein? And he said I don’t know. And I said, Chris who is Einstein? And he said I don’t know. I said, Chris who is Einstein? And he said I don’t know. Chris who is Einstein? And he said I don’t know. And I said, Chris who is Einstein? And he said – let me think.
And then he wrote 12 chapters and he gave them to me a couple of days later and it went something like: Would it get some wind for the sailboat. And it could get those for it is. It could get the railroad for these workers. It could be a balloon. It could be Franky, it could be very fresh and clean, it could be. It could get some gasoline shortest one” … which became the text in the piece.
Five comments and observations taken after seeing Einstein on the Beach:
1 – Surprised that the Opera had already started when the doors opened, as people found their seats. Reminds me of a comment made about India music concerts. People are openly encouraged to come in and out whenever they want. An that there is an interesting moment that happens as the musicians tune up and people settle in … where the concert finds itself already started.
2 – Puzzled about people brushing their teeth and suddenly sticking out their tongues in the piece, till I saw this photo taken in 1951 where Einstein was persuaded to smile – but instead did this:
3 – Movement and music. Not about narrative, but setting of mood – the delight in how they interact with each other. How the whole image / frame was flickering, little movements here and there from characters. Always mixing slow motion with normal speed, always in deep state of repetition. The effect is that it only takes a small shift in the image to suddenly OPEN up the piece. Setting it up where a sudden turn of a character’s head becomes an element of drama. You have to carefully build towards this kind of effect.
4 – Wondering about all the train imagery in it, then read Einstein’s train thought experiment: “A flash of light is given off at the center of the traincar just as the two observers pass each other. The observer on board the train sees the front and back of the traincar at fixed distances from the source of light and as such, according to this observer, the light will reach the front and back of the traincar at the same time.
The observer standing on the platform, on the other hand, sees the rear of the traincar moving (catching up) toward the point at which the flash was given off and the front of the traincar moving away from it. As the speed of light is finite and the same in all directions for all observers, the light headed for the back of the train will have less distance to cover than the light headed for the front. Thus, the flashes of light will strike the ends of the traincar at different times”.
5 – The emotional highlight, and eventual payoff for me in experiencing the 4 hour Opera is found in the last piece called Knee Play 5. For some, Einstein on the Beach could be called modern, abstract and maybe even a little clinical in its presentation. There are highs and lows of emotions, mostly felt through the music – but its narrative doesn’t lean towards sentimentalization. And it’s all the better for it. In our over saturated world of plastic over-dramatization experienced in advertising and Hollywood films, knowing how and when to present proper drama to invoke genuine emotion is unique.
The last minute and a half of Eisnstein on the Beach does such a thing and explodes in an outpour of tenderness. The scene features an old couple holding hands on a park bench, expressing their love for each other. The emotional pull is all the more impactful because the piece has not abused, and maybe even refused to indulge in allowing such relief. The 4 hour build up of cryptic image making allows for the last minute and a half to give you contrasting kick in the face, but a gentle one full of heart.