February 27, 2005

Zahir

Oscar night -- such things don't interest me especially, since art is, after all, not a competition. Still, the circus around the Oscars is hard to resist. My favorite part is the endless discussions of the gowns of stars and starlets -- who made them, how they look and what they signify. (I can assure you -- there are shows in which someone's red dress at the Oscars signifies a coming of age, while someone else's red dress is an avatar of a career collapse, while a third red dress is an ironic jab at the roles Hollywood has for women.) Oddly -- or perhaps not, since we're talking about the one art form which most people actually see and a form of commerce in which billions changes hands -- such criticism actually makes sense to me, or is sensible in a way that much literary, dance or art criticism I've read does not. And, more broadly, it struck me the other day that I really enjoy the prose of Stephen Hunter, the Washington Post's film critic, and read him even if I have no interest in the movie he's reviewing. He's a good writer with a keen eye and the ability to convey to a reader something of the essence of an unseen film -- not a bad skill set for a critic to have. (I quite enjoyed his recent love letter to the trench coat.)

As to the parade on the red carpet, and the semiotics of evening gowns, I'm reminded of a passage from (who else?) Borges, in the short story The Zahir:

The Hebrews and the Chinese codified every conceivable human eventuality; it is written in the Mishnah that a tailor is not to go out into the street carrying a needle once the Sabbath twighlight has set in, and we read in the Book of Rites that a guest should assume a grave air when offered the first cup, and a respectfully contented air upon receiving the second. Something of this sort, though in much greater detail, was to be discerned in the uncompromising strictness which Clementina Villar demanded of herself. Like any Confucian adept or Talmudist, she strove for irreproachable correctness in every action; but her zeal was more admirable and more exigent than theirs because the tenets fo her creed were not eternal, but submitted to the shifting caprices of Paris or Hollywood. ...She was in search of the Absolute, like Flaubert; only hers was an Absolute of a moment's duration.

...like the moment an actress catches the cameras while making her entrance on the red carpet....

Posted by Ideofact at February 27, 2005 09:42 PM
Comments