June 23, 1963 [Jason and the Argonauts]

Coleridge counted on the "poetic faith" that willingly suspends disbelief to detain us from the marriage-feast with his Ancient Mariner’s "glittering eye" and a tale of Life-in-Death and Death-in-Life.

Where would poetry be without such faith? I will not belabor a point made by my betters: scholars, certainly, but more so the poets themselves. They have laid down the laws and issued the licenses that allow all artists to make their advances, entreating our belief--and this is especially strange-but-true in the movies, where so much realism is possible that such suspension seems unnecessary--the faces and places so cleanly photographed, their slightest glance and whisper captured by the devices that insinuate themselves into the experience, recording it all so faithfully.

But of course another truth is inescapable: the falseness of the movies, their two-dimensional "stage," music from nowhere, the fabricated solemnity or mystery of black and white, the mocking cheer of Technicolor--and the insinuating camera itself, going places it shouldn't, or couldn't. And so on, all of it patently fake--just walk to the screen, and lay your hand on it, the movie now on your skin, a moving shadow.

I am not writing a new thesis for the movies. Even the casual moviegoer knows this paradox intimately--and could care less, as long as the film doesn’t break and there’s nothing sticky on the seat. But when I watch a movie like Jason and the Argonauts I know how important is the polar balance achieved by truth and fabrication. Nothing else works the way a movie can, nothing else is so careless/reckless with its special place, its unique capabilities. And again--if I’m indulging in contrarieties tonight--this carelessness, this lack of restraint, is essential. How else am I going to watch those giant faces kiss and tell--or those Hydra’s teeth sprout skeleton-warriors, their bony brows knitted as they duel with the heroes--if it all is not simply there, the movie just itself, unconcerned with me--despite its pandering, wheedling entreaties to be watched?

I’m not certain what I’m getting at; but I know that even in Jason and the Argonauts it all comes together: thoughts High and Low, truths and lies getting along famously--in short, Coleridge’s hope for a "transfer from our inward nature a human interest and a semblance of truth sufficient to procure for these shadows of imagination" a "momentary" surrender--a partnership between the movie and the moviegoer, the two conspiring to accept the real sky and the animated puppets, the grunting Argonauts and the wire-and-clay nemeses they will never see as clearly as we in the theater, plunking down our contractual dollar, waiting to see which of us will live up to the deal. When both do, then the bronzed Talos rises from his marble base and the Harpies swoop--and the kisses mean love, and the frowns, anger--and the camera can travel where and when it will--quick or slow, up or down--and we’ll keep up, if only to see how it turns out.


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