Last month a "time ball" dropped on Times Square to herald in the New Year; New Yorkers dutifully formed a crowd. Wireless messages fly from the top of the Eiffel Tower--and Count Zeppelin also promises to fill the skies, with airships. Movements heatedly press to prohibit women from smoking in public. Last week a mob assassinated the King of Portugal. And just a few months ago, a Spanish painter committed a beautiful atrocity, Les Demoiselles d'Avignon. Earlier today, an eagle plucked a small child from a farmyard and soared to its aerie. Rescue, thank goodness, was forthcoming.
And I am not sure which of these disconcerts me the most, sends me reeling. The filmed abduction occurs in a typical cinema-space whose loyalties are torn between artifice and Nature--and neither manage to reconcile; instead, a dream ensues, in which the world is at first painted and flat, then deep and precipitous--like Picasso's stunning mule-women, the mob's surge, the New Year falling through the lighter-than-air. In the cinema-world, the innocent is coveted by mechanical prey--but to reach the papier-mâché height, actual slopes must be clambered, branches parted, the sweating rescuer emerging amid prop-vistas.
In Hezekiah Butterworth's The Log School-House on the Columbia , the Indian and white worlds meet--on Romantic terms, mingling awe and condescension, tragic loss and sentimental yearning. I remember the Fourth of July incident, a flag plucked by an eagle:
"It was a beautiful sight. The air was clear, the far peaks were serene, and the glaciers of Mount Hood gleamed like a glory of crystallized light. The children cheered. The bird soared away in the blue heavens, and the flag streamed after him in his talons. He dropped the flag at last over a dark, green forest. The children cheered again."
Once more, as in a half-remembered tale, the cinema smoothes the jarring rhythms of the world, and cobbles together a tune for children to sing. And as usual, despite myself I sing along.