Saturday, September 18, 2004

Shadow of the Vampire

is a depraved film. I mean that philosophically. It is a vivid picture of the vast distance between art and morality (a concept I first learned from Dennis Prager). Appropriately set in the German culture of the 1920’s, the film depicts people at the height of art and education who are shockingly amoral. This mirrors the most educated and artistically advanced culture on the planet in the early 20th century, which produced the gas chambers and ovens of “The Final Solution”.

The depravity of Shadow of the Vampire lies in its characters. Each one stares apathetically or voyeuristically as innocents are slaughtered for the sake of ‘art’. The values (or lack there of) of German culture at that time are the necessary backdrop for the premise of the movie to work. You have to believe in a shared culture of amorality to believe the eerie moral degeneracy in this movie. For instance, one could not have made a similar film if the cultural backdrop was Depression era Mississippi, as in O Brother Where Art Thou. The irony is that the Coen Brothers depict a simple, almost backward culture in Mississippi in roughly the same era as the one in Vampire. Yet this poor, uneducated, uncultured (at least from the perspective of Europe) culture, would be outraged and horrified by the evil that is coolly accepted in Vampire. Art, education, and culture devoid of morality is not progress, it is primitive.

The beguiling nature of great art fools us into equating it with human greatness. Great art is about perception. A microscope or a telescope can provide super-human perception, but we do not revere the microscope, though we may marvel at its insights. So I marvel at the insight of great artists but I must be careful not to confuse insight with virtue.

True greatness is measured by morality. To do what is good and true and therefore beautiful is so difficult, and so rare, that it merits praise and reverence far above the achievement of the great artist. The greatest artist is the one who perceives clearly the difference between evil and good portrays both with such realism that humanity perceives the difference and is able to choose between them. The vision of the film is artful and clearly depicts evil, but no good exists within the film throw its evil into bold relief.

Perhaps the film is an allegory of the immorality of Europe, plunging the world into two world wars and sucking the blood from the young promise of democracy. It is difficult to say definitively. As an illustration of amoral artistry, it will remain in my memory for some time.

My Rating: Rentable

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