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All Quiet in the Western World of Art

Posted by March 8th, 2023 1 Comment »

All Quiet on the Western Front (2022)
Starring Felix Kammerer, Albrecht Schuch and Daniel Brühl
Directed by Edward Berger
By Peter Cameron

World War I changed everything. It created the modern world. Violently.

Before the First World War began, forces of unimaginable power were converging across Europe. These powerful forces led to the creation of new and revolutionary art, such as Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring. After the War laid waste to millions of lives, modern art emerged fully formed and forever changed. Fast forward one hundred years, and there is no world war. There are powerful forces at work, but they aren’t leading to any paradigmatic shifts in our notions of art… A.I.? Please…

That said, I really enjoyed Edward Berger’s All Quiet on the Western Front. “Enjoyed” might be the wrong word considering the utter bleakness of the subject matter. Let’s just say I was very moved by the filmgoing experience. I don’t know how anyone couldn’t be. Berger’s film brilliantly captures the tonal shifts of this horrifying saga. When our main character, Paul (convincingly portrayed by Felix Kammerer), starts this saga, the lighting is warm and the skin tones are rosy. By the third act, everything is mud-soaked and anemic. When tanks and flamethrowers rain down on the German trenches, the shift is devastating.

This film is great. And I use the word “great” in the same way we toss it out to a young child who barely colors inside the lines. All Quiet on the Western Front is great… in a relative sense. Compared to the other films produced last year, or in the previous ten years (and certainly in comparison to the other Best Picture Oscar nominees), this film is great. The set design is meticulous. It feels like one of the most accurate depictions of trench warfare (way better than 1917) ever filmed. And kudos to the actors. The camera work, cinematography? All gorgeous and masterful. But is it changing my understanding of art?

All Quiet on the Western Front is a bleak tale told beautifully. It is a deeply moving experience and I recommend it to everyone. It’s great, relatively speaking, because it gives me the feeling of trench warfare as a wasteland. But when I compare it to T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland, there is no comparison. That poem is an endlessly overwhelming ocean of meaning.

I am no expert on art or history. So, I won’t try to explain why there is this infinite gap between art of the early twentieth century and the art of today. In my humble opinion, there just is… And when I think too deeply on it, the art world of today looks and feels a little too similar to No Man’s Land — barbed wire and all.

Great film (wink wink). Very Cinema.

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