The Quest for Authenticity

Every so often I get a bit lost in thought about the word "authentic" and how it applies to the world around us. I've seen lots of people who fought over what is authentic in the States and Japan. It probably happens elsewhere, too, but that's where I've lived.

So many people are in the hunt for what is authentic in the world. There is a constant complaint of modern objects being too plastic, even if they aren't made up of plastic. So wood and organic foods become almost fetish items. They are seen to be inherently closer to the source. This is not a bad pursuit and to me it is close to the hunt for meaning in the world, but the desire to hold something up on a pedestal and worship it can lead to false idols.

What reminded me of this today was a story about an exhibit at the Vatican Museum where classic statues have been recreated with what they imagined how they were originally painted. The results are often bizarre. Caligula in the image below looks straight out of Akira.

full story

It can be hard to have the images of the marble statues that we know match up with these colorful images, but they are part of the same world. So what is now more authentic? The white marble or the primary colors? What about the creaky old chair that is never used any more versus the new chair that is simply using modern methods to the same end?

It all leads to some more questions, too. Is authentic an elitist ideal or a purist one? Do we seek our own identity by aligning it with something else that nobody can copy?

It's all fun and games, but I have to go and take care of more family errands and go out to eat while I'm out here near Boston. I hear the clam chowder at the local restaurant is amazing.

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gmoon10 years ago
Do we differentiate between 'historically accurate' and 'authentic?' Authenticity certainly seems to strive for a ideal, rather than a representative interpretation of the past...to fit the 'spirit' of an age (as if we knew .) I love these stories, they repudiate generations of art historians and critics. And illustrate that the nature of most 'classical' art was of a political or popular nature. Egyptian statuary was painted in similar garish fashion. Hey, why buy a B&W TV when you can have color? Historical American architecture (Colonial, Federal, etc.) is usually painted white today...but generally they were not white in their time. Is this a symptom of our belief that "things were simpler then?" And why, oh, why are movies of 'olden times' (even as recent as WWII) printed with sepia tones, muted colors, etc.? Is our color perception better today?
fungus amungus (author)  gmoon9 years ago
I think it's funny that by having a recently outdated view of authentic, many people have been holding up a false reality as an ideal. It's easy to think that the people in the past were nobler and had higher ideals and didn't need garish colors, but it's pretty silly. As for the different color schemes, I think the directors are just using the visual language. The movies we have from the olden times are in black and white and so we associate b&w footage with that time. The same for the sepia-toned photos and video. One thing that's ridiculous is that lots of the silent movies are played at a higher speed than originally intended. It was a result of changing over from slower fps movies to 24 fps projectors, but now it's how we know that movie is truly from that era.
Warning--Rant follows.

As for the different color schemes, I think the directors are just using the visual language. The movies we have from the olden times are in black and white and so we associate b&w footage with that time. The same for the sepia-toned photos and video.

IMO, color palette is so over-used by directors today. I recall how irritated I was by the movie 'Out of Sight' (Steven Soderburgh Dir.) He uses very cold tones for scenes in Detroit, vs. very warm tones for other climes, like Florida. It's been used in other movies, and California is the state chosen as neutral, I guess

But it's ridiculous to impart a context based on temperature. If you did that, you'd need to change the tint for inside scenes, etc. So it's an emotional context instead....but being a midwesterner, I think it's rather lame.

I liked the use of a green palette for 'Fight Club'; by the time it was used in 'The Matrix,' (and it's sequels and knock-offs) it was just an excuse for bad film making... It was acceptable in 'Payback,' simply because that film is a modern take on 'film noir'. TV's CSI is the absolute worst at overusing this technique.

Additionally, when it's used for a gritty, 'realistic' florescent-light look--well, people don't perceive the differences in color temperature for more an a second or two. Your eyes (or brain) adjusts to the light source.

Being a photographer, I understand the technique, even like it if it's done subtly. I just think it's overused; and so obviously...
fungus amungus (author)  gmoon9 years ago
You're saying that the eyes (or brain) adjusts to the light source and yet you're complaining about the use of color palettes. I'm not saying you're being hypocritical there, but doesn't that help to justify the use of color palettes?

The use of the color palettes is a valuable tool that directors can use. Like any tool it can be used to poor effect, but that doesn't discount it. Some directors use the hyperactive editing technique well (like Aranofsky in Pi, but not in Requiem) and others can be hacks at it (Guy Ritchie).

I actually liked the use of color in Out of Sight. It was a Detroit winter so naturally it should "feel" cold. In fact I've been in Detroit in the winter and it was pretty grim.

As for The Matrix (which came out earlier than 'Fight Club btw) there was a good reason for the green tint. It helped to define that those scenes were in the matrix as opposed to the real-life in the ship and tunnels.

I gotta disagree with you on the fluorescent light thing, too. It looked really good in The Limey (Soderbergh again) and helped to make the scenes grittier.

I think that with most of the uses of the color palettes it is a shock at first for any of the scenes, but as the movie goes on you adjust and are drawn in to the action at hand with the light effects playing more of a supporting role.

Yes, the oversaturated colors of CSI are ugly. Totally agree with you on that one.
You're saying that the eyes (or brain) adjusts to the light source and yet you're complaining about the use of color palettes. I'm not saying you're being hypocritical there, but doesn't that help to justify the use of color palettes?

Well, it might explain the overuse of the technique--directors afraid that the audience will become accustomed to the palatte, so subtlety-be-damned and beat 'em over the head.

I don't dispute the use of techniques that are outside of the actors perspective--obviously editing, structure, etc., don't need to be perceived by the characters themselves. But if the whole movie is dependent on color (that wouldn't be perceived by the characters) to carry the mood, then I consider it no better than a schmaltzy soundtrack.

Like I said, I think it can be used effectively, but it generally isn't... As a tool, it's overused.

I actually liked the use of color in Out of Sight. It was a Detroit winter so naturally it should "feel" cold. In fact I've been in Detroit in the winter and it was pretty grim.

Kinda why I think it's simplistic and 'regionalistic' (is there such a word?) California is always the baseline for 'normal.' I'm a Midwesterner, and winter is my favorite time of year....

You may have a point about the Matrix, but I found those movies so poor, I can't be very objective about them...
Surprised you thought the first Matrix was poor! I agree that overusing colorpalettes (and using with the wrong motivation) is, well, poor storytelling. However, I find the bold color use in some asian features a very compelling element. Can't remember the name of the film right now, but there was one that used a different color to represent different points of view in retelling events. I was blown away by it. What do you think of bold color palettes in those cases?
I recuse myself from commenting on the Matrix...;-) Bold (or subtle, for that matter) palettes impress when they are an integral part of the production, and not added in 'post.' It can become a bit of a crutch in post-production. But I guess I need to 'get with the program,' as more films create a huge percentage of their sets with CGI in post. The urge to 'be creative' will be irresistible, even if hollywood steals most of those ideas, too (I'll just keep watching anime, instead.)
Bold (or subtle, for that matter) palettes impress when they are an integral part of the production, and not added in 'post.' It can become a bit of a crutch in post-production.

I think that digital has finally given filmmakers the ability to choose their color palettes just as specifically as animators. I guess they're still getting used to it as a tool.

The urge to 'be creative' will be irresistible, even if hollywood steals most of those ideas, too (I'll just keep watching anime, instead.)
Two things, "originality" I've started to think is more like "drawing from really disparate/obscure sources that the audience has probably never seen before". Seems like most ideas are incremental improvements on previous ones.

I didn't know you liked anime! I'm a Myazaki fan myself, though I did quite enjoy Akira back in the day and Millenium Actress. How do your tastes run?
Yeah, artists have always been 'inspired' by the influx of other cultures, etc. And a case can be made that just about all art is derivative in some ways...Still, if that were true then where do the original ideas in the other cultures come from? ;-)

Artistically, I think we're in a relatively static period right now, but that will change...Maybe the last recent truly original idea was Rap.

How can you not love Miyazaki? Spirited Away is so good...

And Akira may be dated, but I think it remains an amazing work...I love anything based on the work of Osamu Tezuka--maybe that's from watching the original Astro Boy series as a kid ;-)... Vampire Hunter D was an pleasant surprise, I thought it was pretty striking visually. Perfect Blue is a great movie...

Series: Trinity Blood is OK, xxxHOLiC is very cool (no, it's not porn)...lots more.

I really enjoy seeing western culture mirrored back through the filter of Japanese culture...the digestion, mangling and regurgitation of western names, phrases and ideas is wonderful. It's an example were style-over-substance becomes a substance all it's own...

And there are some great scenes in Blood: The Last Vampire set on an American military base in Japan. You thought only non-caucasian faces could be caricatured in a brutally effective way? Think again....
fungus amungus (author)  gmoon9 years ago
Perfect Blue, Millennium Actress, Paprika, Tekkon Kinkreet, a fair amount of Metropolis, good stuff...
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