Support Hyperallergic’s independent arts journalism.
What does it mean to be “Perfectly Happy, Even Without Happy Endings”?
Early this week, The New York Times published an article under that title by longtime Philadelphia Inquirer film critic (and former Village Voice art critic) Carrie Rickey. It told the story of an independent film producer named Lindsay Doran, whom Rickey describes in the third paragraph as “a missionary for mood-elevating films.”
It seems as if Doran became enamored of a book by a University of Pennsylvania psychologist, Martin E. P. Seligman, and “began rewatching films through the lens of what Dr. Seligman identifies as the five essential elements of well-being: positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning and accomplishment. (He refers to these elements collectively as perma.)”
I didn’t investigate perma’s psychological applications, but I’m sure it has its uses. However, if Doran’s campaign — which she is carrying out “in a series of presentations to filmmakers” — merits coverage from the newspaper of record, how seriously should we take her influence? Does her “concept of cinematic Zoloft,” as Rickey puts it, become something worth reckoning with?
If it does, one of my first questions would be what Doran thinks of Joseph Mankiewicz’s All About Eve (1950), which I happened to watch, for the second or third time, not long before the article appeared.
For what it’s worth, All About Eve won six Academy Awards, including best picture, director and screenplay, and was nominated for eight others. The passage of time hasn’t been altogether kind. Much of the acting seems mannered and stagey. The expository patches get dull. Ann Baxter’s Eve comes off as one-note much of the time. And the story’s wordless dénouement quickly slips from subtlety into overstatement.
Still, the film shimmers with brilliance, and its most radiant passages are those that might be defined as inverse-perma. Emotions are anything but positive. Engagement is poisonous. Relationships are treacherous. Meaning is empty. Accomplishments are hollow. And watching them unfold is utterly euphoric.
Hollywood has had its systems and formulae from the very first crank of the camera, and so we shouldn’t be surprised by any scheme, however ham-fisted, that it might contrive in its quest for a sure thing.
But the upsweep implied in Doran’s standpoint not only makes, once again, a virtue of cheap sentiment, but it also reduces cinema to an instructional tool.
Doran is quoted in the article as saying, “I think the thing that they’re getting out of it is that the ‘happy ending,’ the one that is most memorable and might make people go back to see the film a second time, might not be about winning. It might be about not winning, about finding something deeper that means more than victory.”
Okay, sure. To be “Perfectly Happy, Even Without Happy Endings,” then, is not to get what you want, but what you need. But what else can movies do?
I keep thinking about the mutant-cheeked character known as the Lady in the Radiator, who emerges out of the darkness in David Lynch’s Eraserhead (1977) to sing in a threadbare voice, “In heaven, everything is fine.”
That interlude, with its devastating parody of forced good cheer, has no demonstrative purpose (which, of course, goes for everything else in the film). And yet its emotional and psychological pull is as magnetic, in its own way, as Bette Davis’ star turn in All About Eve as the grandiloquent, grandly operatic Margo Channing.
In the Times article, Rickey goes to the source and quotes Dr. Seligman thus:
“’Movies are a form of soma,’ he said, referring to the idea of an uplifting drug, and he hypothesized that ‘more perma-like movies would make people’s lives better, but nobody’s researched that.’”
The Lady in the Radiator and Margo Channing are both monsters. Their environs are unremittingly harsh and unforgiving. They impart no lessons, provide no insights, proffer no advice. They are both unerringly real.
Have they made my life any better? Nobody’s researched that.
A conversation with Richard Kraft about his artist book in which he created penalty flags for nearly 10,000 of Trump’s misdeeds
The guidelines are specifically meant to combat a form of online harassment known as doxing.
These multimedia works debuting on Voice include a “Death Mechanism” and allow fans to collect the artist’s origin story, told specifically for the metaverse.
Your list of must-see, fun, insightful, and very New York art events this month.
Your list of must-see, fun, insightful, and very Los Angeles art events this month.
On December 13, learn about the Sam Fox School’s graduate programs in Visual Art and Illustration & Visual Culture, as well as the university’s competitive financial aid packages.
When looking at images from the golden age of Sudanese photography, I was reminded to listen as much as look.
“I’m making a financial instrument as an artwork. That’s the new reality.” She stares unwavering into the distance. “What is existence on the blockchain? Does an NFT exist?”
Located in a historic industrial manufacturing facility in Utica, New York, this sculpture-centric program is accepting applications through January 15, 2022.
Oh, to Be a Painter! collects nine of Woolf’s published art reviews, catalogue essays, and experimental texts from 1920 to 1936.
Casual and obsessive fans of the band alike will appreciate the sheer volume of new material in Peter Jackson’s epic-length docuseries.
Thirty artworks entered the collections of the Blanton Museum of Art, the Hood Museum of Art, the Princeton University Art Museum, the RISD Museum, and the Hampton University Museum.