Play as an irrational pre-cultural activity. Fairytales have profound psychological meanings. Or so though Helen Levitt. In Europe, Mussolini was washing the Italian public through a cinematic industry that would gouge out the real for the most kitschy dog-show nonsense and cheap escapist fare typical of the Fascisti spirit; unobtrusive cultural propaganda; generic modernism, psychological re-education centered around authoritarian cult figures.
At the other spectrum was a counter-movement to this fascination with technology and robotization which was at the kernel of nihilism; analytic cubsim as well, Picasso’s famous “sum of destructions” can also be thrown onto the scrapheap of the nihilsitic aesthetic, in a way something of a kitschy populism in its own sense of toning down classicism for the masses.So, Helen Levitt, James Agee, Janice Loeb, and others were tearing and peeling back what could be discerned as a kind of banality of fascism, the cold objectivity and conceptuality of Marcel Duchamp and the ready-made, the disruptive enigma, non comprehensible of the death camp as the apotheosis of an entire aesthetic of which society as a whole had been infected and permeated on a diluted level of “friendly fascism.”
( sse link at end)Originally entitled I Hate 110th Street, after an image of a sidewalk chalk graffiti that opened an early version of the film, Loeb, Levitt and Agee’s minor masterpiece emerged from the fervour for images of street life that characterised the culture of post-World War II New York City. The film was shot by Levitt, Loeb and Agee in 1945 and 1946 and finally cut together by Levitt and released in 1952. Initially the film is an extension of Levitt’s still photography of children and their graffiti that formed her first book A Way of Seeing, and which, Horak suggests, Agee proposed as an urban companion piece to Let Us Now Praise Famous Men….
…In many ways these images follow those contained in the books In the Street and A Way of Seeing; adults in conversation on stoops, kids playing hopscotch or under fire hydrants, people, young and old, at windowpanes. Like Levitt’s photography, the framing is remarkable, allowing figures in full flight to traverse the frame, or shift into the foreground in their games. Without containing them, children and adults live and breathe the street life, making their daily lives out of the interactions found there. Spanish Harlem is only a small part of the buzzing metropolis, and In the Street never understands itself as anything more than that….
The idea of this fascist populism was at heart animated, by what can be seen as a de-subjectification correlate with an over objectification, at least at the time. The presentation has been ingeniously adapted to a kind of individualism and the promotion of the “rebel” as catalyst in the consumerist chain, but the basic thesis: the prisoners are allowed more freedom of movement, they can stretch and flex in the yard, and are stuck with boundaries and melancholic sameness seems to remain. What Levitt , Loeb et al. were fascinated by was the cracks in this foundation that was letting in faint but discernible rays of light.
DT: I was just getting to that. Fascist is an interesting word because when we speak of the Degenerate Art show we are speaking of the condemnation of Modern art by this doctrine….
DK: But there is something else going on. Let’s go back to the Degenerate Art show. I have this theory which I have written about. I argue that the Nazis were perceptive; they saw something that was there in the art; but what they did not understand what was there in the art was in the society. The artists were talking about – if you want – the degeneracy in the society: the savage etc. So the Nazis – in their corrupted notion of purity or Aryanism – felt threatened. They did not like the underside showing. They did not like their own underside showing – their own aggression, their barbarism. But there it was in the art, so they called it “degenerate” because it was threatening. It was threatening because it touched them on the inside. The fascinating thing about the Nazis is that they had a passion for art. Do you know the book The Rape of Europa [Lynn H. Nicholas 1995]? Read More:http://web.me.com/dianethodos/Site/Complete_Kuspit.html
“The films I most eagerly look forward to will not be documentaries but works of fiction, played against and into and in collaboration with unrehearsed and uninvented reality.”
– James Agee