Wednesday, March 21, 2012

I Just Want To Be Wonderful

“I Just Want To Be Wonderful.”

This is one of Marilyn Monroe’s most well known quotes and surely one of her many wishes that came true. The actress, one of the world’s most memorable icons for over fifty years, has been chosen as this year’s Icon Of The 65th Film Festival In Cannes, France. This was not only to acknowledge her as the pop icon and sex symbol that she was and is, but more to celebrate that even 50 years after her death in 1962 the impact of Marilyn Monroe has never ceased. In fact, she persists as one of The Major Figures Of World Cinema, grace, mystery and seduction.

In a previous post on this blog was a discussion of the phenomenon of certain Pop Icons remaining as popular or become even more so with time. Marilyn Monroe has become more than the name of an actress or even a person, in fact, she has been a phenomenon herself and for decades. It is astonishing to consider that simply mentioning her first name, Marilyn, causes most who hear it to associate her image with that quite common name before anything else.

Such triggered images are followed without fail by an array of additional associations. Some will imagine Marilyn as a Platinum Blond with her white Skirt Blowing In The Air. Others will think of her as the sex goddess who sang happy birthday breathlessly to president John F. Kennedy. Still others will be reminded of a beautiful woman who rose to international fame as an actress, admired if not worshipped by millions, dying mysteriously and alone in her room. These and many more fascinating stories make Marilyn Monroe a cultural - and wonderful - iconic personality, and timeless historical figure of grand proportion.

Her performances came across to the world as new, unique, pressing the sex appeal envelope and challenging self conscious restrictions on self expression. She was talked about constantly by a populous that was both attracted and fascinated by. Fifty Years After Her Death, Marilyn still holds that attention, captivation and great appeal, perhaps more now than ever. Her performances, her beauty and her story leave us with a bittersweet infatuation, an out of reach love whose lack of fulfillment leaves a subtle ache of sadness.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Storytelling Large Enough to Transport Us

Robert Mitchum
©Terry O'Neill
Heroes and heroines capture our imaginations and can inspire us to pursue dreams we had not considered before. Literature, mythology, biography, folklore are among the places we come to drink from fountains of youth, courage, love, meaning to carry us through our days and years. To have visions and dream dreams.

There is no way to demonstrate possibilities with concrete visual illustration more than film. Larger than life ideas. Larger than life personalities. Larger than life events. These are carried to our consciousness through the larger than life storytelling of filmmakers in a medium that expresses in a fashion that makes for the most intimate personal impact.
Mia Farrow, John Cassavetes, Rosemary's Baby

©Shahrokh Hatami
Those same storytellers, interpreters of dreams and explorers of ideas, actually share the same personal hopes, needs and aspirations as any of us. They have the same desires to be greater than they think they are by “speaking” with their full persons on screen. Movie theaters, super-screens and TV screens are where our storytellers now gather us together, just as our ancestors were gathered by storytellers around campfires, to hear legends of heroes and great deeds.

We all personally resonate with our favorite interpreters and they become in some way our personified evidence that we are, or can become heroes, too. The imagery we exhibit in our downtown San Francisco gallery as well as on our website is a broad collection of the iconography of film that speaks both grandly and intimately to us. The force of artistic presence that a photo of a great actor or actress, either in character or not, pushes us and pulls us through our imaginations involuntarily toward some personal mission we may not even recognize.
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

©Lawrence Schiller
As a touchstone, images with this kind of resonance become as much a personal reflection upon individual possibilities as they stimulate us to wonder, test fear, aspire to courage, explore feelings of love, and ride our imaginations to new places. We need our symbols, perhaps slightly out of reach, and filmmaking makes those symbols nearly tangible enough to touch.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Of Magic, Balloons and Cinematic Artists

Marilyn Monroe, Jewels
©Bert Stern
Marilyn Monroe and James Dean. Short careers that cast long cultural shadows decades after they died so young and so long ago. Why do their names and images carry with them such complex emotion and thought? There are many sociologists, psychoanalysts and psychologists who have so thoroughly discussed what might truly be called a phenomenon, that spending too much time here on the possible reasons would be embarrassingly redundant.

Regardless of the reasons academic analysts might offer as to why an icon like Marilyn (simply her first name is enough to conjure up all associations), as art dealers we are required to weigh meaning, impact and symbolic associations of the popular iconography we curate into the ongoing narrative of San Francisco Art Exchange.

Well beyond the marketing of imagery for the commercial purpose of manufacturing popularity, certain kinds of individuals in conducive environments can, for a time, be elevated in the social consciousness, but not indefinitely. An inflated balloon can stay aloft for a bit if tossed into the air. Keeping the balloon in the air by blowing or batting it will work for awhile, however, once effort ceases to be exerted to keep the balloon from falling to earth, that’s exactly where it ends up. Other personalities have self-generating popularity that can grow in mystique and influence with the passage of time, staying culturally meaningful, endearing or compelling across generations.

James Dean, Giant
©Richard Miller
Visiting the subject of the artists themselves, their personalities, their skills as artists might at least give some insight into why we believe certain personalities become celebrated cultural icons of varying stature. Returning to Marilyn, her talent as an actress, comedienne and contemporary beauty helped her build a persona within the unique atmosphere of her time. The persona that grew from those efforts, ironically, came to obscure her talents from popular view. Few to none are successful as the result of “being a natural” or being “born” with talent. The discipline and hard work it takes to refine whatever talents one has into true skills often gets lost in the celebration of the persona that rises from those artistic labors.

Artists like Marilyn or James Dean, Steve McQueen or Elizabeth Taylor, Robert De Niro, Brigitte Bardot, and Michael Caine or Audrey Hepburn, Natalie Portman, and Penelope Cruz, as well as countless others express, or expressed, themselves brilliantly. They make what they do on screen or stage look easy, authentic, natural because of all the prior personal effort and commitment that took place out of our view. To fully surrender to expressing what one’s talents and skills allow an artist to do is an act of personal courage and will.

Frank Sinatra, Tony Rome
©Terry O'Neill
Like watching a magic trick, when an actor or actress causes us to “go somewhere” with them, to suspend disbelief, to draw us voluntarily into the illusion they have created, our amazement sometimes provokes a form of nostalgia when the props of the magic trick are cleared away. These artists become the embodiment of the magician we want to spend as much time with as possible, in part because they feed our imaginations with possibilities that they, with their skill, have proven exist.

At the San Francisco Art Exchange we present some of the most iconic imagery of Hollywood - for want of a better term, though the weight of this term packs some symbolic wallop of its own. To revisit a previous metaphor, the art of keeping an inflated balloon in the air can often have more to do with what the balloon contains. Once it’s in the air for awhile, organic cultural support and a kind of endearing fascination can keep it afloat effortlessly for a very long time.