THURSDAY, 22 DECEMBER 2011
The World War II Museum (also known as the D-Day Museum) is in New Orleans solely because of one guy, without whom the Allies would have either lost the war or gone about winning it in an entirely different way, and with whom I have a feeling of affinity based on shared names:
Andrew Jackson Higgins.
Probably no relation.
He designed the boats that were used on D-Day, and he lived in New Orleans and built his boats there. Hence the New Orleans connection.
Now, since this blog is supposed to be about art, I'm only going to tell you about one aspect of the Museum. It is a remarkable, sobering, informative place to visit and I highly recommend it. But I want to talk here about the use of art -- specifically, film -- in narrating human tragedy and horror.
Throughout the museum, there was a kind of visual theme in the use of film installations that I've not seen much elsewhere: the use of split screen. There were lots of small/short installations showing and/or narrating important moments of the War, such as the invasion of Normandy, and they all used split screen in one way or another.
Then there was the big highlight film, so important that visitors can buy a ticket for just the movie and skip the museum (or, as in our case, pay for both; but you don't just get the movie thrown in with museum admission). It's called Beyond All Boundaries, and it stars (if that's the right word) Tom Hanks. It's called a "4-D Experience" -- which wikipedia helpfully notes is not actually, geometrically, 4-dimenional -- involving chairs that shake, the actual nose of a bomber plane lowered in front of the screen, a real anti-aircraft gun, etc. While it is not 4-dimensional, it is a very powerful physical/emotional experience designed to put the viewer either into the position of a solider on the front lines or into the mood of some back home waiting in agonized suspense for news of the beloved solider on the front lines.
I'm a bit confused where to go from here. That's because I'm a bit confused about the purpose of such a film. Is it to make us sad that such an awful thing happened? Proud that our country survived such horrors? Impressed with the technology of the film? I felt some of each of those.
Then there's also the question of making art -- to make money -- out of suffering. Now, I don't suppose this one was designed to make money. And even though the admission price was the same as that of a normal movie theatre, I don't suppose it was for profit. Do you think this is an example of the cheap exploitation of suffering for the sake of something bordering on entertainment? I'm not sure.
On the other hand, part of what humans need to do in the face of horrors is to pass along the stories of those who suffered, in an attempt to preserve their memories and the enormity of what they accomplished. This film does do that.
What do you think?
On a related note, I do think that so-called 4-D is the wave of the future. I think we'll probably keeping combining 3-D visuals with more and more special, physical effects until that's the movie norm. Although you'll see from this list that the U.S.A. is way behind Asia and England in using these techniques.
It may be a while yet, but I'm guessing Huxley was right.