But that's not the only experience of art that I like, that I crave, that I need. Sometimes — albeit rarely, I want an affective intensity, an emotional reckoning, an intensity of human emotional experience that makes me shudder in every fiber. Joni Mitchell's Blue, Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks: these have rocked me (when I was much, much younger; I find that kind of emotional intensity through art harder and harder to come by — because of me, not because of the art).
And then there is the experience I crave the most, the one that really turns me on. This is when the art creates a kind of vertigo as it cannibalizes its own frame, throwing structure and form into the mix. I'm thinking of William Burroughs, David Lynch, Godard. These are the ones who most push my buttons as they don't use the form to express themselves (as Roth uses the novel and Larry David, the sitcom). No, Burroughs, Lynch, Godard each refuse to take the form of their medium for granted. As they create, they assume nothing; they question everything; they make art a question, a questioning, about what's possible.
And this vertigo, this infinite play, moves me in profound ways. Perhaps I don't cry when I watch Godard's Weekend — although I could cry it's so fucking smart and funny and cool — but I am moved. How? I am moved by the interrogation itself; I am not allowed to be complacent as I watch the film; it never wants to confirm me. On the contrary, it asks what it is to be a viewer, what it is watch, to record and be recorded — just as Burroughs asks, with each sentence, what it is to write, to read, to speak, to be in and of language.
This is one of the greatest scenes from a film ever.
Burroughs, Lynch, Godard: they don't let me rest easy. They don't reassure me. And yet, in a funny way, they do — they let me rest easy knowing that they get it: they get that life is in flux, that we can't take environments (in McLuhan's sense) for granted, that life is best lived when it's not anchored, when it's set free to roam.
Cassavetes is interesting: he is a formalist who reinvents cinema by privileging affect over character. That is, he seems to give us representations of human beings. But that's not the case at all. His films don't shoot action in real space and then represent them: they use affect in the way Pollock uses paint. Frankly, this makes the casual or frequent watching of Cassavetes difficult. Rare is the evening I think to myself, "Well, perhaps I'll just kick back and watch me some Faces."
I like kicking back sometimes and watching some silly Hollywood narrative film. It's easy. And, sometimes, the films are very good — have funny moments, smart moments, a great line of dialogue (I am a fan of Tombstone, a film with a great screenplay).
But when it comes to art, I want more than a nice, easy experience. I want to be made to sit up and pay attention, to heed the moment, to reckon sense, to risk nonsense. I don't want to be distracted; I want to be turned on to life.