Monday, May 25, 2015

Johnny Guitar, Creativity, and Insanity


Last Wednesday my husband talked me into (sort of) sitting through Johnny Guitar.

If you do not know this film, don’t worry.  It’s bizarre and you don’t need to waste two hours of your life on it.  I had watched it before a few years back and was perplexed by it.  It was laughably bad but I wasn’t sure why.  Was it intentionally campy or did the director shoot for something and miss it, resulting in a mess? 

My husband kept insisting that there was value in it, because he reads Wikipedia and IMDB while we watch movies and he said it was a veiled metaphor for McCarthyism.  (By the way, much of what we have been led to believe about Joseph McCarthy is not entirely true.  We have believed Hollywood’s narrative, covering up the fact that they were defending being communists in a time when Mao and Stalin were killing millions of people.  If a Hollywood actor today were a member of ISIS or Al-Quaeda, would we think they were heroes for not speaking to Congress about it, even if the actor hadn’t killed anyone himself?)

So I sat through it again, appalled by Joan Crawford’s lipstick, huge eyebrows, monochrome outfits,  and b-tchy acting.  (or was it butchy?)  Sterling Hayden absolutely cracks me up—how can someone be deadpan and overact at the same time--and Mercedes McCambridge is maniacal in her scenery chewing.  The rest of the cast seems confused about why they are there.  The young gunslinger who gets killed has too much makeup on, and Ernest Borgnine plays a cowboy from Brooklyn in his pre-Marty days.

Apparently, whatever Nicholas Ray (who directed some great films) was going for he just didn’t achieve.  His creativity exceeded the bounds of what was acceptable to audiences at the time (the French loved it, though) and what seems logical or believable for us today.  Or perhaps his skill, and that of his actors, did not reach the heights of his creativity.

That is the curse of an artist, and perhaps one of the reasons for madness of the creativity.  The vision in our heads is unreachable, or it is reachable but not accessible to others.

Czickzentmihalyi (I need to spell check that!) claims that creativity only matters if there is expertise in a domain (field of knowledge), the work is new, and the work is accepted by those who are the gatekeepers in the domain. Most of us would question that last one, but the gatekeepers let the work get an audience.  In this day of self-publishing, we authors can skip the gatekeepers, but that doesn’t mean the work gets a wide audience (despite the capability of it in a digital world) or that the first two criteria—freshness and expertise—are met.

I have a number of writing projects:  at least two scholarly articles, a grant application, a book on leadership in the book of Daniel, several novels, and possibly another speech textbook, plus a journal to edit.  I could spend 40 to 50 hours a week writing, which would mean about that much frustration.  I don’t think it will drive me to drink.

No comments:

What I Learned about Empathy Last Night

Last night in the English as Second Language that another teacher and I conduct at church, we had a class of six.  One Chinese young woman w...