Recommended Reading: 10 Things I Learned from an Artist’s Heart to Heart by Christine Nishiyama

Christine Nishiyama has written a wonderful blog post based on her lecture of the book Letters Of Note by Shaun Usher about the process of following your own artistic intuition and the struggle that comes along with it. I  very well relate to that feeling of ugliness and lost aim when putting the pen on paper trying to follow my own approach to drawing things. Only later on did I realize that this is the exact moment in time, when your own art starts. It's not the easy road, I can tell now. But it's well worth it, if you ever want to bring out what's inside of you. Please enjoy this highly motivational blog post:

10 Things I Learned from an Artist’s Heart to Heart

This Is My Least Favourite Life - A Sequence from True Detective

I remember the effect this scene from the first episode of the second season of the TV-series True Detective had on me when I was watching it for the first time. In the beginning of this introductory sequence I was in suspense about the exact whereabouts of the characters, played by the actors Colin Ferrell as "Ray" Velcoro and Vince Vaughn as Frank Semyon with a great cameo and music by singer Lera Lynn. Are they sitting across each other? Are they looking at each other? Or are they sitting apart from each other and having an internal dialogue with themselves?

For me, they were each sitting each in their own niche at a table, only juxtaposed by the cuts, but separated by physical space.

I think it is a great example of how to introduce a relationship between two characters by using mood, cutting and setting. It is made clear that they are sitting across each other with the slow tracking camera move following the waitress from the singer to the corner table almost exactly one minute into the scene. Even then the director is trying to hide the exact location of Colin Farrell's character to the very last second, by placing a bystander at the bar in front of him.
From that moment on, the sequence takes on another meaning, as the viewer tries to decipher what could be going on between the characters. There is something very intense with the characters simply looking at each other.

The visual staging supports the conception of something being off here, both are having their heads constantly in an oblique angle, changing from a frontal to a three-quarter position, looking above and side-wards. The use of props is great, while Ray is smoking in a grand manner that is making up an important part of the act, Frank in contrast is very subtly playing around with his whiskey glass, looking side-wards using half-blinks. There is something very determined and self-conscious but also lost about Ray, while Frank seems to be more reserved and careful, almost anticipating. In the course of the show we will learn that Ray, just as Frank, as a inclination towards heavy violence, but also that Ray has been manipulating him.  I ask myself if we learn in this scene, that Frank is actually afraid of Ray, who seems unpredictable to him.

The entire build-up of the mood collapses in itself as the two start talking business. All the internal dialogues end and they have to deal again with what is on the table.

Movies You Should Have Seen: Fellini's La Strada

La Strada is one of the earlier works of famous Italian director Federico Fellini (20 January 1920 – 31 October 1993). It follows the lives of two street performers traveling through the lands of post-war Italy, playing circus acts to entertain the people in villages. The release of the film in Italy caused quite the uproar, when a screening of the film at the Venice Film Festival resulted in a fistfight between Fellini's supporters and his critics. La Strada went on to win the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1957.
This great success and controversy stands in contrast to the more melancholic message and introvert undertones of the movie itself. Fellini  almost breaks with the Neorealist movement , in which he played a great part to initiate in the first place (and which caused all the ruckus), and moves towards some sort of magical realism or filmic fairy-tale which will dominate all throughout his later works.

A young Fellini
When I first watched La Strada, it felt like it took me to a strange place. The poverty and ruins of post-war Italy but also the first signs of reconstruction in the form of new buildings and roads, turn this into a world that feels familiar, yet also far away at the same time. Like a rift that opens up in daily life and that gives you insight into the lives of the inhabitants of another time and space. An effect that is strengthened by the black-and-white colors and the age of the film. In Fellini's movies the motive of dreaming comes up a lot and I would say in La Strada you could see his affinity towards symbolism taking shape. The composition of the shots is very carefully arranged, almost perfectionist and the resulting images show Fellini's draftsmanship. His first talent used to lie in drawing and I would like to say that we see the hand of an Illustrator in his style of cinematography. Or at least that of an avid comic reader.

A drawing by Fellini of
the character of Gelsomina
For me the film is a perfect metaphor for the struggles of life, seen through the eyes of the circus act. Now I usually reject the theme of the starving artist as a  bit of a cliché, but in my opinion the film manages to transcend that. Or put another way, if there is a blueprint for that cliché, this film would have been the first to deliver it the right way.

I would like to introduce to you the three main characters and shed some light on how I think they stand for certain archetypes of the artist or approaches to life in general. Warning, this contains some spoilers, so if you want to watch the movie now because of my introduction (which I hope it achieved), please do it beforehand.

gelsomina giulietta masina
Played by actress and Fellini's wife Giulietta Masina (22 February 1921 – 23 March 1994), this character represents the naive or I would say unassuming artist. Sold by her family to Zampanò  replacing her sister, whose whereabouts and fate remain unknown (a part of the story that shadows Gelsomina's fate), she joins him in his little motor-van to travel abroad and assist him in his acts. She comes to be an artist by accident. Having had no free choice about her destiny, she encounters the arts unprejudiced and therefore in its most innocent form. Being physically punished and treated neglectfully by Zampanò, she starts to enjoy the little freedoms and rebelliousness of her acts. It is her accomplishment to retain her sense of wonder despite the harsh realities she finds herself in. Only later in the movie she learns from Matto that there is some sort of higher purpose and meaning in her art, that it literally can transcend the confines of her earthly life.

zampano anthony quinnZampanò 
Played by Anthony Quinn (21 April 1915 – 3 June 2001) he is the representation of the hard-working artist, who lacks any real talent but manages to live off his acts by almost brute force of will. His acts aren't really funny, nor witty or well conceived, still people gather for his displays, as they are often a welcome distraction. He is probably the most realist character of the three, by having understood that you do not need any form of higher idealism in the world to get by. His strongman show speaks to the common people of the poverty ridden rural communities who are probably more like him in their daily struggle. Still his unidealistic form of introspection lets him also see clearly his own limitations. When they meet Matto, he sees all the talent that he has and he himself lacks.

Il Matto
Played by Richard Basehart (31 August 1914 – 17 September 1984) this character is the classical representation  of the fool. Of the three he obviously is the artist with the greatest gift of talent. His acrobatic demonstrations are effortless and daring and the audience is naturally taken toward his charms. In the movie he is introduced walking across a tightrope above the market square of a city. This literally puts him above all others. While Zampanò is playing in the dirt of dusty little villages, Matto takes to the sky. This puts the two characters in contrast to each other. Matto is the artist that makes his success seem effortless and lets him keep a lightheartedness that Zampanò, clawing for each little crumb of appreciation he needs to get by, has long lost. Gelsomina immediately recognizes this sort of level of high level of artistic skill in Matto.

In Rome there is a little puppet theater right next to the Piazza Garibaldi called I burrattini del Gianicolo. When I saw this theater for the first time, I immediately felt like their was a connection between the way that Fellini conceived his characters for La Strada and the simple yet powerful expressiveness of this old style of puppet play. It is very close to the the children's hospital in Rome and people use this route for leisurely walks or scenic views. So you always have a very diverse audience watching a show. In times of video games and cinemas it is a great feeling to see an audience young and old react live to a play of puppets. At first it feels kind of odd because of the music coming off an old cassette recorder and the high pitched voices of the figures. But then you just forget about all that and start to enjoy this elementary form of entertainment. Somehow I imagine this to be the world of Fellini's La Strada and I feel a closer connectedness to the powers of artistry.