Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Aesthetic Pressure 2 - are your ears popping?

Another subtle and fascinating aspect of any creative work is the level of aesthetic pressure it exerts on your perception. How to explain... hmmm... let's take old Stanley Kubrick down from the shelf and dust him off a bit, shall we?

At some level, Kubrick's films are all about enveloping your perceptions in almost smothering amounts of what I'm calling "aesthetic" or sometimes "narrative pressure." It's a kind of barometric hypnosis that increases psychic pressure in our skulls.

Certain art is perceived as powerfully enhanced or perplexingly warped into non-reality. How? How does any illusion work? Something in its aesthetic makeup dazzles and derails our senses with atypical information. Once we're slightly off course, our perception tubes get bent, kinks form, more pressure builds, incoming reality is altered. Art is drugs.

For example, I'm thinking specifically of those walking-around-the-space-station scenes in 2001 where the ship's atmospheric sounds and Dave's space suit breathing and HAL's creepy monotone combine with wide-angle, handheld camerawork to create a high pressure system in one's senses - so much so in this case that it nearly causes our eyes bulge out of our heads as we watch.

So much of Kubrick's work "hums" out at us at vibrational frequencies that completely captivate our perceptions and hold them in a deeply pressurized and altered state of aesthetic arrest. Deeply curated moods that colonize our minds to the exclusion of all else.

By contrast, have a look at Duncan Jones' recent space film homage, Moon. The scenes where Sam Rockwell is just wandering around the ship are not at all aesthetically pressurized. He could be shuffling about in his kitchen reading a cereal box. It just looks and feels too familiar. Our senses are not being noticeably squeezed or warped by the artist's choices in delivering the scene. Stanley's bending lenses and audio mazes are not evident.

Which is fine. This too can be a calculated and highly effective creative choice: the un-enhanced. And just maybe in the case of Mr. Zowie Bowie's film, it works to bring an element of the mundane into a space (i.e. Space) that has been overly pressurized in so many of its fictional renderings. The most pressurized fictional vacuum ever.


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