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playing for keeps
March 19, 2011 (slightly revised in the second half, April 1—no joke)

Friday, 18

I’m in love with a film I saw tonight, “Certified Copy.” Juliette Binoche is darling. And the travelogue of Tuscany is pretty.

A viewer can’t be sure what the two characters are “actually” doing, but the writer’s unwitting play into her improvised, performed “writing” was exciting to follow.

The film evokes a dramaturgical sense of relationship (foreground and background, text and subtext, person as authentic character, etc.) which I want to explore in coming weeks.

Saturday, 19

The NYTimes reviewer I link to above is wrong to find the couple carried “into a metaphysical labyrinth.” It’s a psychological labyrinth. Even the characters’ professed understandings of art are psychological: about the readymade accessibility of things. At the extreme, the story is about authenticity and authentication, which belongs only to minds (in a non-metaphysicalist way, I say—the film characters don’t pretend otherwise). Binoche’s character is the real, valid presence (even in her fictioning of a past they might agree to share), while he’s not credibly present at all (even as he writes about the genuineness of representations).

But the reviewer fascinates me when he writes that the film:

…is such a conspicuous leap from neo-Realism to European modernism, it sometimes feels like a dry comic parody. As the movie goes along, it begins to deconstruct itself by posing as a cinematic homage, or copy, if you will, of European art films of the 1950s and ’60s, with contemporary echoes.

Not quite, I think (though his view is evocative; I’d prefer to accept it). The reviewer seems to give more insight to the film than it warrants (yet, I love it no less)—while the play/presentation of any work in[to] an environment implicates its relations to predecessors, quite apart from intentions in the work—which is an especially salient fate (apart from authorial intention) when the work is about derivativeness! However, the reviewer has lots of associations with earlier films, which is instructive (and I should yield to his imagination, I guess, if not his lack of any warranting details from the film under review).

By the way, I like the reviewer’s note of the “arrogant” writer-character’s fatuous “point that human beings are the only species to have forgotten that pleasure is the purpose of existence,” since idealization of hedonism is common among writers on happiness (exclusive of desire for Meaningfulness which some leading researchers on happiness discern), and the writer character of the film is an instance of that forgetting (while Binoche’s character is not).

Happening upon a wedding party is a large part of the story. A viewer rightly disdains (as does the reviewer) the writer-character’s “impulse…to sneer at the naïveté of newlyweds who believe that their happiness will never end.” Yet, we know that most marriages don’t last, despite all the confidence going in. One can’t blame a middle-aged character for displacing grief in dismissiveness (I read into him, mirroring myself).

* * *

It all touches the theorist in me, I hope not arrogantly.

What’s the merit of representation? What is being fair to the first instance (the original)? What’s the difference between singularity and originality? Is a genuine presentation of an experienced past always an authentic one? What’s an inauthentic experience? Are genuine [re]presentations of authentic experience always fair to the experience? How can one know? What is the stature of narratability (i.e., making oneself available to narration) irt being narrated? What’s the character of narrating experience not presenting itself for narration?

“I so felt you with me,” yet who’s there? Did we both write each other? An author resorts to what others call fiction, and s/he acquiesces, along with accepting failures of memory’s purity in light of imaginative time and gravities of ongoing life.

How do we know we’ve escaped The Simulacrum? That and so much more comes into play with psychological explorations. The appeal may echo a manifold of cultural fates in symbolization (e.g., “true” vs. false sophistication) and pretense; simulation of membership vs. real belonging; etc.—as translation belongs to everything, even simple reading—looking, listening. Simple walking may be a dramatic performance, especially to an enframing sensibility that entertains it. (I think of women in high heels—well, men, too.)

Art after Warhol, authorship after the Internet, countless weddings wanting to be authentic in terms of kitschy emblems…. Actually, the script of “Certified Copy” doesn’t show between the characters a very sophisticated sense of art. This is delicious for a story overtly about pretenses. Does the screenwriter thereby make himself immune to critique because all blame for lack of insight belongs to “the character” of his study? Or maybe he’s quite aware of his character’s worn views (though not to the degree, in my view, that the NYT reviewer might warrant), so—to some degree—holding in reserve a better sense of art—the film itself?—than he’ll let his writer character have?

Coincidentally, if you’ve seen the film, you would appreciate the advent, in the current issue of The New York Review of Books, of an essay about a suit against an authentication board that denied the authenticity of a Warhol print that they agreed he had signed. This complements the mirror plays of the film (which mentions Warhol in passing), where people unwittingly mirror storylines they overtly locate as elsewhere.

“…Simon-Whelan’s complaint alleged that the board had denied the authenticity of a Warhol self-portrait in his collection, despite knowing it to be genuine.” A self portrait, of all things, is at stake, while the very notion of self representation is—as a Derridean would say—“under erasure” (which, like transluscence, is not negation!) in a pretense of standing (like Warhol’s), as if the strikethrough feature of one’s software (which is not literal erasure) was always invoked (invisibly) in simple articulation. “I write, therefore I’m alive.”

Writing in these pages in November 2009, I called attention to what I believe is the “sublime idiocy” of the authentication board’s statement…: “It is the opinion of the authentication board that said work is not the work of Andy Warhol, but that said work was signed, dedicated and dated by him.” All I asked [the board president] to do is to tell us how this was possible. He has not replied.

An eerie resonance may inhabit any phenomenon, as if resembling itself in its pretense of first instance (being the original, being authentic)—as if “True Love” is likely (without quote marks).

Where are we, as the clock of our lives can’t be slowed, and we make commitments that are the best we can do when we must act, given needs and enmeshments?

What’s the nature of hope for lastingness, as some 2/3 of betrothals will fall apart way down the road (or not so way down)? There’s no prescience in will.

Such a question is just a special case of: What’s the nature of confidence about our lives? What’s the truth in will? Is truth in will an insistence on the permanence of beginnings? Or is truth in will an invited growth that transforms time—being not merely a transposing in time—a transformational growth (with, at best, milestones of transportation) which always calls for careful tending? I proffer the latter, “of course” (such pretense). So, how? (He gives obscurity to a course and expects the reader to translate? “No.”)

Does turning away from questions annul the “reality” of quote marks? (Is a portent of erasure implicit in an unquestioned avowal, like a foreboding in the face of another—a Shadow?)

Look, my interest isn’t nihilistic. It’s not that all confidences translate into mere pretense; rather that questioning is fair—and good for self-authentication of real prospects. To blame another for questioning is simply a sign that questioning was credible (too implicative to bear?). Living truth is unafraid of skepticism, which is healthy in moderation. Exclusiveness may be a form of nihilism, like excommunication.

In the end, questioning is all about what’s really good—and true, as so much is—so much does last.

How so, given our world in which so much is wishful pretense?

The film ends with the writer looking into a mirror, presumably, as—literally—he looks into the lens, the frame, the screen, the time of being read (without pretense, in a sense).