RLChianese’s Art Blog 8/2/22 Two Films about Living a Lie

In these benighted days of the early 21st century, we have crises galore to haunt our dreams. Another form of dreaming comes from art, which can shape our consciousness and heal our psyches. Works of art that do that are precious and worth experiencing. I search them out and will from time to time recommend them to family and friends. Most of the works themselves will necessarily have to be viewed online. If you can, you might want to visit them up close and personal.

I want to recommend these two strong films (both on Netflix) for a number of reasons. First, the actors and conflicts and insights about human love, life and loss are first rate. They both straddle emotional realism and psychological collapse in a unique form that slides between comedy and tragedy quite easily. The quality of writing, plot design, emotional realism and cinematography in them makes them stand out. It is hard to find all these elements in many films these days.



Blue Jasmine (2013), written and directed by Woody Allen, is a slightly older film and has received much acclaim, winning an Academy Award for Best Actor for its star and protagonist Cate Blanchet. We watch her every move and facial inflection. Alec Baldwin is her husband antagonist. The lush world of the super-rich and sophisticated dazzles Jasmine and us, as long as Jasmine stays in New York City. Escaping to San Francisco, she’s thrown into the world of low-class banality and grunge. It doesn’t hurt too much to divulge that the film echoes A Street Car Named Desire, by modern playwright Tennessee Williams committed to high design despite its low-life characters and setting.


Night Owls (2015) has not received much attention at all, but its director Charles Hood and writers Hood and Seth Goldsmith know how to make a well-wrought and troubling sex-comedy, something Woody Allen has excelled at over the years. This intimate look at two incomplete young people blends disturbing drug and suicide desperation on the part of the female protagonist. Played by the deeply sexy Rosa Salazar, Madeline is a misguided gold digger, and her somewhat nerdy seducer and rescuer Kevin is played by Adam Pally. But this relationship is not anyway stereotypical, nor depressing. For most of the film these two characters are trying to rescue each other and themselves in exchanges and emotional ups and downs that hold your heart as much as they antagonize you. One might say, it’s all talk; but what talk it is. And Salazar mesmerizes with her shifts of emotions and tone as she parades around her body as a power source and deploys her voice as a shrill weapon. Her gestures are hypnotic. Lots of the dirty talk of Madeine and Kevin forms the core of later revelations.

But what impresses me most is that both films are so well designed. In fact, they have a classical structure we need to notice so we see where each drama is heading. We learn that the well-made drama (either a staged play or narrative story) follows a five-part structure: 1. the introduction of the conflict, 2. the rising complication of the conflicts, 3. the crisis or climax of the conflicts where things get so tense and entangled they can’t go any further so they explode in tragedy or dissipate in comedy, 4. followed by the falling action or the consequences of the crisis and then 5. the resolution at the end, how it all shakes out, winners or losers. (You would study this in almost any traditional course on literature or theater.)

There is a key moment in this form of drama at the crisis point known as the recognition and reversal, or peripetia, where the protagonist comes to the realization of what he or she missed or was blind to that allowed the crisis to peak or explode. This can be called the turning point, and it typically comes toward the end and not in the middle of the drama. Both films are magnificent in the dramatization of the peripetia so that we are shaken to the core when we understand what each protagonist finally sees or doesn’t see.

I’m not going to spell this out and you will need to see each film and feel their magic and powerful presentation of the effects of ultimate awareness or blindness. What I want to sketch is the unsettling true-life political drama we are stuck in as a frustrated, threatened, seemingly powerless chorus with Trump as the raging protagonist. Most of us in our society can’t see Trump or his millions of supporters coming to the realization that, as Huck says, you can’t live a lie, but that is what they persist in doing.

What do those who reach a peripetia about this mass deception come to see and say? They have testified about it in the Jan 6 committed hearings. One witness lost too much to hold on to the “Big Lie,” and another heard an insane expansion of that lie he could not stomach, and turned in a different direction. Will others reach a similar insight without being destroyed by it? A painful fall from belief after long dependence on it is not easy to face nor endure. Living a lie in my view ultimately results in an explosion, whether inwards or outwards. We should be ready for it–duck or face it or counter it as best we can.

The two films as different as they are and far removed from the Trumpian world (except for a key part of Blue Jasmine) offer potential models and outcomes of how we might gain awareness to our self-deceptions. Very American, they might allow us to see what coming to awareness might mean for the country. That, we can say, is what art can provide. Picasso says, “Art is the lie that enables us to realize the truth.” We should recommend right wingers see these movies—it could be an opening for discussing awakening from the ‘big lie.’

RL Chianese’s Art Blog July 17, 2022

In these benighted days of the early 21st century, we have crises galore to haunt our dreams. Another form of dreaming comes from art, which can shape our consciousness and heal our psyches. Works of art that do that are precious and worth experiencing. I search them out and will from time to time recommend them to family and friends. Most of the works themselves will necessarily have to be viewed online. If you can, you might want to visit them up close and personal.


One of the most creative sculptors I know today is Julian Voss-Andreae. (He’s in my forthcoming essay in American Scientist magazine.) He embodies difficult science ideas in his large works, which have attracted me to him over the last ten years. His Quantum Man series is startingly beautiful, emotionally moving, and communicates complicated ideas.

This example is from 2011 and can be seen “when one takes a stroll on the southwest waterfront” says Voss-Andreae, in Portland, his home base. It’s made of bronze and stands 100” tall and 44“ wide. The sculpture viewed head on projects a solid abstract form of a human being seemingly made up of layered plates.

Marcel Duchamp. Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 (1912). Oil on canvas. 57 7/8″ x 35 1/8

It appears as something of a metal embodiment of Duchamp’s painting, Nude Descending a Staircase (1912). That work tries to trace motion over time by painting each step in a series of overlapping images conflated into two-dimensional space.

Quantum Man from the front looks like a human being striding toward us, but from the side, we see through the thin, evenly spaced shapes and the figure seems to disappear.

This can represent the very odd, unseen world of quantum physics where sub-atomic particle theorists posit that reality itself at that fundamental level is insubstantial and changes depending on our perception of it. Symbolically, the sculpture likewise disappears depending on our view points of it.

Voss-Andreae’s sculptures like this have the power of pulling us into their postures and shifting substantialities. We feel the weight, tensions and energies of his human forms, bent, stretching, walking or sitting, but when we can open up to their effervescent transformations, they become chimeras, or angels, or airy spirits. We then become Alice in Wonderland ourselves, with figures appearing and disappearing as we move around them, some of them with little more remaining than a shoulder or a mocking smile, like the Cheshire cat.

These sensed postures we feel are intrinsic to our experience of human-form sculpture, as our brain and body respond to the poses in front of us, our muscles and bones imitating mentally or even actually the forms we see. There is a special term for this kind of bodily seeing and responding—proprioception, our felt sensations of what we see.

And, with Voss-Andreae’s quantum figures, our proprioception gets the added treat of responding to their changing forms, and we may feel magically lightened, disembodied, ourselves changing into airy creatures by seeing them. This may not actually allow us to experience the quantum world as if we were transported inside some sub-atomic reality, but we may virtually get the idea of what an unfathomable and spooky world might lie at the core of existence. That’s an awful lot for a work of art to give us.

Art that moves us, delights us with its imitative forms, allows us to stare and contemplate the beauty of human form is a rare sensuous treat that can make us love and respect our humanity in all its dignity. Despite our potential dark view of humanity these days, Voss-Andreae’s figures are typically composed, secure, both centered in themselves and immersed in reality, and still dignified. When they seem to disappear, we embark on a journey to another way of seeing ourselves and the phenomenal world itself. We will have to trouble ourselves even more about how fascinating and miraculous we may really be.

Many more of his works can be experienced on his Instagram account:




Sustainability, Adaptation, Regeneration: Understanding Responses to Global Warming

We strive to ensure our future by living, growing, and building sustainably. I’ve written about “Sustainability” since  the 1970’s, starting with my prize-winning essay on forming a local Sustainability Council which I did here in Ventura County. I became a true believer in its promise to reduce our impacts on the planet through its very tough tri-fold requirements: use renewable energy, no toxics, cause no loss of biodiversity.

I later saw its promise fade as it became lost first in the fraudulent use of the term to “green-wash” all sorts of products and processes–lying about their sustainability. The FTC issued “Green Guides” in 2012 to push back on unsubstantiated claims about so-called green products, but corporations ballyhoo the term even more now. We hear boasts about the eco-friendly products of Clean Coal Energy, ExxonMobil, Monsanto, Dow Chemical, Malaysian Palm Oil and the Fur Council of Canada. Short-term ugly profit is more like it.

Even more disturbing are current reports about our failures to shift off our carbon-hungry diet. Through our human-caused, “anthropogenic” actions, we cloak the globe in a heat shroud, intensifying droughts, wildfires, floods and sea level rise. Nothing sustainable here.

Teenage phenom Greta Thunberg spent almost a year investigating how well we are meeting our environmental challenges. The documentary, “I Am Greta,” follows her through various countries and climates in search of sustainability successes, but she’s mainly discouraged and defeated. She even confronts the dean of environmental programs, David Attenborough about his gorgeous nature films in the time of climate systems collapse. He half-concedes he needs to change his pitch. His new series “A Life on the Planet” tries to atone for glossing over our very un-gorgeous damage to the earth.

Ecologists have come up with new concepts we need in order to save the planet. Some say we need to adapt to the new climate realities, which implies accepting the damage we have done and adjusting to it. But neither adaptation nor adjustment get defined clearly. 

Biological adaption requires a random reshuffle of DNA that results in a living plant or animal  better suited to changed conditions. This is evolution from happy gene mutation. Tibetans, we learn, have evolved lung and oxygen capacities that enable them to live at high altitudes. This kind of adaptation results from many genetic accidents over long periods of time that favor survival. Not all such accidents do. Three cheers for the Tibetans.

Some people try to accommodate sea level rise by raising their beach homes on stilts. This is a temporary solution of course, and it’s not adaptation: nothing genetic has changed. This should rightly be called adjustment. Our efforts to deal with climate change are really adjustments, not adaptations. Shifting to renewable energy is an adjustment. We might adapt to burning fossil fuels if we could evolve lungs to process carbon dioxide and methane and other green-house gasses–folly of course, unless we can re-engineer our genome to adapt to breathing toxic “air.” This would be an anthropogenic adaptation to an anthropogenic disaster.

We also learn about environmental “resilience,” an ecosystem’s ability to recover from damage, often with the help of human interventions. A university I helped launch, after teaching literature there for twenty years before it became Cal State Channel Islands, actively practices resilience. It restores nearby habitats and a local creek, plants native species, and limits light pollution. It also takes on the large task of studying, protecting and managing the flora and fauna of off-shore Santa Rosa Island.

This focused effort at resiliency gets greatly magnified and transformed when it expands into regenerative practices in agriculture. This most promising human interaction with our planet restores the health of the soil used to grow our food. It brings back biodiversity, draws carbon dioxide from the atmosphere into the soil and restores what we have turned into dry, inert dirt that needs fertilizers and pesticides into living soil, full of microbes and living critters that foster huge crop yields of diverse grains, fruits and vegetables. 

In the amazing documentary “Kiss the Ground” (https://kisstheground.com), we learn not only does regenerative farming  make for higher ag profits and healthier foods, but enables us to restore diverse natural plants to cropland, and also re-introduce cattle into fields on a rotational basis. Why? because they actually help carbon sequestration by trodding on vegetation and adding manure to top soil to make better humus. Destructive monocultures to feed cattle and fatten them in feed lots both disappear. Beef raised this way can be on the eco-menu.

Woody Harrelson narrates this quality documentary streaming on Netflik. Its radical innovation is to promote a “new, old approach” to farming. We learn details about bio-sequestration, carbon drawdown, non-tillage, humus-building, food waste composting, toilet to tap water reclamation and many other practices, some with fancy names such as agroecology, but that are actually easy and economical to implement. (Some criticize the film for using some celebrity presenters and pop eco-slogans such as “heal the planet” and “save the soil,” but that’s useful phrasing for folks new to the ecology of agriculture. However, it does need ethnically diverse presenters.)

We learn that regenerative food production and farming on a wide scale are keys to saving the planet. This film got me optimistic again about our ability fix our environmental damage and live sustainably on the planet. It’s practical, real, and focused– dare I say down to earth. Three cheers for savvy food producers everywhere. They can heal the planet and reverse global warming as they grow healthy food for the world. We can all help shift to these “old new” methods by learning about and supporting the many programs conducted by the Kiss the Ground organization. I’m on board to do that–as a new Member. 

Prof Bob’s Blog

I will post comments, essays, poems and photos here that amplify my more formal and published works on my website. The topics will go beyond environmental topics and include general and personal issues that may prompt you to comment.

But here’s evidence of our changed climate in the west, where two large dams forming Lake Isabella from the Kern River in Kern Co. CA are being repaired, but will serious rainfall occur again to fill the lake?