FilmScene — Tuesday, April 4 at 6 p.m.
FilmScene, located in the Pedestrian Mall at 118 E. College, will join more than 90 independent film theaters across the country who are screening 1984 on April 4 (the date that protagonist Winston Smith begins his diary entry) as a way of articulating protests against the policies of the Trump administration (including the elimination of the National Endowment of the Arts). Every cinema participating in the screening is donating a portion of proceeds to a local charity, and FilmScene has selected the ACLU of Iowa as its recipient. The suggested donation for the event is $10 — which also nets those attending the film a paperback copy of Orwell’s novel, courtesy of the Tuesday Agency.
Many readers of critical opinion essays written over the past six months have encountered descriptions of the parallels connecting the totalitarian world that George Orwell constructed as a reflection of his 1949 encounter with the politics of post-war Europe and the authoritarian state confronting Americans today. Orwell’s dystopia depicts how ideologies thwart individual tendencies. What grips our contemporary imaginations is less the actual plight of the character of Smith, but an awareness of parallels to our present predicament.
The misnamed ministries (Love, Peace, Plenty and Truth, which govern over Punishment, Military, Rationing and Propaganda) manage to keep the citizenry situated in a state of confusion as propaganda polarizes them against enemies whose supposed ferocity keeps them in a continual state of war. Trump’s cabinet appointees — to Education and the Environment, for example — and their stated intentions seem to mimic the antithetical leadership positions that the U.S. Congress has confirmed. Those who remembered reading Orwell in their high school literature classes were wise to recognize the parallels in tone. The use of terms such as “fake news” and “alternative facts” that have been used unironically by the White House staff point to a kind of intentional confusion that seems aligned to the dystopic logic at the heart of Orwell’s narrative.
Those who attend the 6 p.m. screening at FilmScene will be invited to stay for a discussion moderated by Garrett Stewart and Loren Glass from the University of Iowa English Department and Lisa Heineman and H. Glenn Penny from UI’s History Department. The discussion, in line with FilmScene’s commitment to community education, promises to provide filmgoers with an excellent grasp of ways that the narrative of 1984 (likely moving from book to movie and back again) provides residents of 2017 with a map with which to navigate our new political terrain.
This sort of discussion is especially helpful given the ways that the complex truth of the arts have been overwhelmed and lost in a sea of spectacle and the easily digested morsels we find in entertainment. Numbed by sequels in theaters, or trilogies of teen fiction, we sometimes chew through works of art with the goal of distracting ourselves from boredom or escaping from a reality that drives us to repeated encounters with mass entertainment. Assuming that the purpose of a movie or book is diversion or amusement — constructing a non-reality into which audiences can make a temporary escape — we lose the potential messages that a work of art would disclose.
The force of art confronts audiences with a shock, a sense of tension that seems to defy convention. It often requires a more attentive and thoughtful engagement throughout the presentation of truth (whether watching films or reading books) than mass entertainments. And whereas most movies and books are meant to be disposable — lasting for a weekend of sales or a summer of reading, but no longer — art’s virtue is its persistence. This is why books like 1984 can be remade into multiple movies without incurring audience impatience. Unlike Spiderman’s continual reboots, each iteration of 1984 provides a reflection of the truth of the novel’s logic framed through the values and anxieties of the world in which the film is done. It offers a fusion of those artistic worlds, one that audiences (in different time periods yet) are invited to appreciate. Entertainment tends to become dated (which one hears with complaints about special effects), while art tends to be timeless (and, in film, often deploys effects that age well).
The work of art is always ongoing. Films often find it difficult to capture the truth of novels — as most readers know, or learn, the vast complexities afforded by language are difficult to recreate in a two-hour movie, no matter what sorts of visual spectacles are offered. The best film adaptations are those that understand the truth of the source material and attempt to recreate or represent that truth in their own visual and auditory language, using a sense of compression rather than simplifying the plot to provide a form of entertainment. Each of these becomes its own work of art rather than a re-presentation of a work art. Because each medium has distinct advantages and disadvantages, poets, authors, painters and directors are forced to translate the content of a truth captured in one artwork to a different, specific situation.
But just as the business of art is to provide a sense of a world to an audience — a world in which the truth embedded in the art is realized, even (or especially) in contradistinction to the shared world of the audience — so also does the work of art flourish in community. Most easily digested entertainments are more quickly forgotten than they are found, and few are worth more than an, “Oooh” when leaving the theater or a, “Woah!” when closing a cover. Works of art — and 1984 merits this — often require thoughtful conversation in order to start unpacking the truth that it holds. The panel following the film promises to provide exactly this.
Those whose appetite for 1984 is only whetted after the panel and those who are unable to attend the movie screening and conversation have a second chance just ten days later: A community symposium centered on George Orwell will be held on April 14 from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. at the Iowa City Public Library and Public Space One. More information about the symposium will be released soon.