Art and Literature

Sunday Special Edition: getting it right side up… March 17th 2013

Dear Friends –

How can we talk in a fresh way about the extreme socio-economic inequities that plague our globe in the 21st century? Or better, how do we show them to ourselves and each other in ways that make us stop, think, wonder, ask?

I would like to say that it is easy for artists to ask what is upside down in how we live, what is skewed in what we “value,” in what we treasure, in what we seek. Does upward mobility really constitute “up”?  What is “up” and who decides?  How great is it really to be in the 1%?  We know that being at the bottom of the 99% is terrible, but what’s an alternative to thinking bottom/top, up/down?

But it isn’t easy for most artists to ask those questions in a way that doesn’t feel like preaching, or that doesn’t just reproduce old answers – answers that many of us suspect don’t really answer the questions. So many answers feel tired, because the questions do. Because the way of conceptualizing the world feels tired and wrong and out of step. Itself a distortion – an upside down version of whatever the elusive reality is.

The film UPSIDE DOWN understands this problem and it does what all effective expressionism does – it makes those figurative questions into literal ones. The story is a very simple one – a fairy-tale, boiled down to its simplest constitutive parts. But the visual points that the film makes are powerful ones – drawn from Escher, Caspar David Friedrich, and Laing’s Metropolis.

Courtesy Wikipedia

Courtesy Wikipedia

At one point, the hero talks to 2 kids about the “other place” he’s been. “I’ll bet it’s a paradise,” says one kid. “No,” says the hero. “It’s not.”

So what appears to be a simple duality isn’t.

Take a look at the film if you can.

Here’s wishing you  — whatever your art form (be it fiction, medicine, teaching, or stock-investing) — the means to ask the questions in a new way that makes us see differently.

2 replies »

  1. The photos make me think of Calvino’s Invisible Cities (I think one of the cities hung in the sky–it’s been a long time). And your post makes me think of Chekhov, who urged writers not to provide answers, but to ask the right questions.

    • Thanks Jpon! YES, there’s a real Calvino connection, and I wonder if the director didn’t know Calvino’s writing. There’s a very strange story about the moon and the earth in COSMICOMICS that works according to a similar premise as this film, and some of the imagery is reminiscent. I think you would enjoy it. Thanks for the comp lit reference! You know I always love those… 🙂

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