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The Quest for Authenticity Answered

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.

Discussions

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gmoon

10 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?

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...

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....

Perfect Blue, Millennium Actress, Paprika, Tekkon Kinkreet, a fair amount of Metropolis, good stuff...

Did you happen to catch "The Place Promised in Our Early Days"? I'll have to check out some of the ones you mentioned. Haven't heard of them.

Paprika is a very surreal story that I totally dug. Tekkon Kinkreet is a story of two talented kids in a city who fight evil outside and inside their heads. A love/hate movie. I loved it. Perfect Blue is an intelligent take on the way that the internet can affect our lives. Over here we get The Net. Also check out Lain. Cowboy Bebop is excellent as well.

Is there a Metropolis series, as well? That's one of the Osamu Tezuka inspired works...

Just the movie that's based on the original Metropolis.

Darn. I believe the movie was based both on Osamu Tezuka's manga (from the 50s? 60s?) and the original Fritz Lang movie... But the style is pure Osamu Tezuka.

Well, I think even ideas from other cultures derived incrementally from ideas already in their culture. I imagine there's much in anime that is completely cliche that I'm amazed by.

I really enjoy seeing western culture mirrored back through the filter of Japanese culture...
I agree completely! I love when I see Biblical stories or even the symbols on playing cards reused in ways that are second nature to Japan, but "foreign" to me! I imagine that the way we use some Japanese conventions, i.e. the "Avatar" cartoon, must feel the same to them.

How can you not love Myazaki? I think my absolute favorite was Princess Mononoke.

By the way, ever read Akira? In many ways it's even more impressive to me than the anime.

The Akira manga is much better. It also has a ton of post-apocalyptic Neo-Tokyo stuff that is fun to read.

I leaf through it a Borders...;) Yeah, there enough there to fill several movies... But the Manga compilation is a little steep at $130... (their copy is a leetle beatup, too.)

Yeah, I borrowed a friend's copy. Actually, I'd probably only buy one or two of the books, strictly for the artwork. Scanned in some pages before I returned them, too.

0
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westfw

10 years ago

You can see "Authenticity" taken to illogical extremes in a LOT of the gear sold to "audiophiles."

Authenticity is an ugly realm where everything both is and is not punk rock and, by the time you climb your way out of that deep dark hole of despair consumer capitalism has won... Either which way, it doesn't make a difference whether or not something is authentic since if you can even debate the matter, it's already too late to make a conclusive winning argument... Or even hope for a clear-cut side to stand on... I think the point I'm getting at is that I am more authentic than you are. So there.

Punk rock is a great area to look at for authenticity. Trying to figure out what that phrase means, if it can mean anything at all, will lead you to few good places. In the end you're listening to old 7 inches on your busted stereo because that's how it was meant to be heard, dammit. It has long been a stylistic choice and to try to imbue it with much meaning these days is useless.

Well I'll have to agree with the the painted statues. As analytic spectroscopy seldom lies.

In fact people restoring Grecian art art often went under the assumption that most Grecian art was white, and therefore this impure blue pigmentation must be removed to make it white.

If the statues weren't restored to white with great vigor, it might be possible to figure out the pigmentation used and therefore how the statue really looked with something along the lines of X-ray spectroscopy.

Hmm, which is "more" authentic. That is a question isn't it? The original work was the best they could to do to reproduce what they saw. These reproductions of what they "may" have looked like are "most likely" not as authentic (think of all the possible ways it "could have looked, colors and all"). At least, the original artist was working from "reality" (when doing a real person) and not just imagination.

I'd hope the Greek sculptures had painters as skilled as they, those reproductions look like they were done by house painters. I think the search for authenticity stems from mass production, almost no item the average person owns is unique to them, and since we measure peoples worth by their possessions in our "keeping up with the Joneses" culture, perhaps authenticity is simply an attempt by people to one up themselves in their social group.

*cough*
Vatican = Christian = Post-ancient Greece.
And I know you're not talking about post-ancient Greece sculptors, as their beliefs prohibited icons ;-)

Just being picky...

I suppose I'm more familiar with authenticity as it deals with personality. Being true to one's self, and knowing one's self, then being true and honest (though not necessarily open) with others. I suppose if one creates objects for use that do not conflict with one's personal integrity, then for you, those objects are authentic. Someone with vastly different priorities might see your creations as diametrically opposite "authentic". Objective authenticity is probably the question you're after, and with that I think it would have to be anything created according to the principles that God has, because he knows things as they really are and has his priorities straight. We're far more imperfect than that. And this brings us back to Socrates was it? The idea that there is an "ideal" chair in a spiritual realm that we try to fashion earthly chairs after, even though we'll never get there. So then, is this the same question as, "What is the ideal fill-in-the-blank?"