ACF Critic Series #28: Never Look Away


There is a new Donnersmarck movie, Never Look Away, a brilliant successor to the famous The Lives Of Others, so we are getting the team back together. @FlaggTaylor and Carl Eric Scott join me on the podcast for a long, wide-ranging discussion about art and tyranny, about the relationship between beauty and politics, and what great movies can offer by way of meditation on our search for freedom. Flagg and Carl co-edited the book on Donnersmarck’s marvelous, Oscar-winning debut, The Lives of Others.

Here’s the trailer for the movie:

Also, an interview with director and cast at the Toronto IFF:


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There are 14 comments.

  1. Member

    Is anyone listening to these .flac files? Am I the only one who does not understand why they are only released in an almost unused file type?

    • #1
    • April 12, 2019 at 11:00 am
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  2. Contributor
    Titus Techera Post author

    Hello, Mr. Oyen. Our numbers are improving, for what that’s worth, & the audience likes the quality. Regrettably, I cannot double the file, which I would do unhesitatingly.

    • #2
    • April 12, 2019 at 11:08 am
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  3. Member

    Evening Titus,

    In the visual arts I would say that a work either works or not, without having a meaning which can be stated. Sorry for the awkwardness of my statement. In a simple example, the statues of David by Bernini and Michelangelo are capable of being compared and one preferred over another and even viewing one as more beautiful than the other without knowing much about King David’s life, or Bernini’s life and times, or Michelangelo’s. Or maybe to say it in another way, whether a visual work succeeds or fails is or should be independent of supporting text or understanding. The quality of instrumental music or its effect on us is independent what may be part the composer’s history or the listener’s history. When you note that a viewer may be perplexed by a work upon first experience and that later the viewer might learn more and might become less perplexed. I would go further, I would say that speaking of myself, I am perplexed by what falls out of my own brain, and I do not know why certain images have stuck with me and were urging me to chase this image because of its beauty. So to ask what an image means, when referring to my sculpture, I would say you are asking the wrong question, because I could not tell you what many of my pieces mean, if they meaning anything that could be expressed in words, even many of the representational pieces. I am thinking that many other artists, are like Temple Grandin, who think in images without words, or understanding why what drives them does.

    • #3
    • April 12, 2019 at 5:48 pm
    • 1 like
  4. Member


    Evening Titus,

    I forgot to say what a pleasure the podcast was, thank Flagg and Carl.

    • #4
    • April 12, 2019 at 5:49 pm
  5. Contributor
    Titus Techera Post author

    Jim, it is difficult to say what inheres in the sculpture & what depends on its story, but sculpture is an imitative art & ultimately dependent therefore on stories. Look at the Renaissance–either Greek or Roman myths–or Biblical stories. All our lives are passed in the circle of what we call culture or civilization, but which is only properly understood as politics. The David statues would not exist without the story, since they are imitations of it; some things inhere in the statues, but other things don’t–to make the point painfully obvious, consider Michelangelo’s Pieta: If you do not know who that woman & who that man are, do not you miss the most important things? Or Michelangelo’s Moses or his Risen Christ?

    Then there is this other matter–we are not in control of images that fascinate us & we cannot give a reasonable account as we could of other things. In that sense, love of images resembles dreaming. This is true, but inconclusive, since it is still possible that a proper education in storytelling would elucidate these things.

    • #5
    • April 13, 2019 at 12:36 am
    • 1 like
  6. Member

    Morning Titus,

    I would argue the opposite. If we think about Greek sculpture, the contrast between our interpretation and understanding of the pieces and how the Greeks understood and viewed their own art is great. We see plain, cool nudes, of young, healthy men and women, the are the sculptural version of black and white nudes of more modern photography, spare, ideal. The Greeeks painted their sculpture in life-like colors which to us would look like realistic Barbie and Ken dolls. Why they are more attractive to us stripped by weather of their color, is that we are left with the rather flawless forms of young men and women to which we have been made to be attracted to. This attraction is woven into all humans, thankfully, or we would have gone extinct ages ago. If we say that this is the meaning of pick your favorite Venus, then yes, the sculpture has meaning, but if this is not enough then the sculpture does not have a meaning different than a piece of Greek pottery. It is part of a culture and a time, and is interesting for that, and important for that but to say that these nudes are better appreciated once we know that they were painted in a life like manner is, I think, not accurate. If they would be better appreciated as the Greeks viewed them, then we should do reproductions and paint them, and see if they become more beautiful, I think not.

    Concerning the Pieta, what are we seeing, what story enhances our understanding. I would argue that its power comes from its presence without the faith reference and that the faith lense does not clarify what one is seeing, or why Michelangelo chose this image. Did, he see this image in a particular block of marble, like it is said that he saw David in a paraticular unused block of marble? A woman holding a dead man, they could be brother and sister, the man could even be older than the woman, they are young and again we have cool, spare attractive humans, one semi nude. If we analyze the piece in light of the story, the content of piece becomes less strong. The mother looking younger than her son gazes, neutrally, without sorrow, across the waist of her dead son, her left hand not even touching him. How is it that she had stayed so young and unmarked by such a hard life, is this how one views one’s dead son, whose life even confuses you, how is it that she is at least 7 feet tall, or the size of her son’s body would overwhelm her. Christ looks pristine, even the veins in his left arm are full with blood, how is that in one whose heart has stopped hours before. This is one of my favorite pieces but I don’t think comparing what we see to our thoughts on Mary and Christ aid to our appreciation of the piece, better not to ask how she holds an adult man without being buried by him, better to let the piece look beautiful, if unreal. 

    • #6
    • April 13, 2019 at 5:26 am
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  7. Member

    Morning again,

    When you say that the images which fascinate us are in a sense like a dream, compelling, maybe strange, and beyond our rational understanding, I agree entirely. I also agree that we may find pleasure in trying to understand those things that fascinate us. What gives me caution, other than my own experience in sculpture, is that it is man’s nature to create a story that becomes more a Thematic Appreciation Test, which tells us more about the author than it tells us about the object of his analysis. I am not saying that further information on the artist, or the culture from which he comes, or the tradition in which he works is not worthwhile in and of itself, but much of modern art seems to be propped up by its background story. Maybe it is necessary to have a support story if the work is ugly, think about all of. De Kooning’s women. Does De Kooning’s work look less ugly if we know anything, or everything, no it is still ugly and in a sense tells us either, the artist’s view is distorted or he thinks that his audience should appreciate his ugly work as if he is showing the audience something new and fascinating. He wants us to appreciate and take note of his ugly interpretation of women, if he did not want this attention to his work, he would not exhibit it. Or think about Les Damoiselles d”Avignon, is it more or less attractive if we know about Picasso or his interest in African art, I would say, irrelevant, does the piece standing alone, work? Or, looking at the Richter work, which is not representational, is it attractive, not is it attractive if we know the back story.

    • #7
    • April 13, 2019 at 6:06 am
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  8. Contributor
    Titus Techera Post author

    Jim, there’s a difference between an opinion about whether sculptures should be painted or not & whether they can even exist independent of their stories. Culture in the way people these days think about it doesn’t really matter. You’re not Greek, much less a Greek man in the Bronze Age, but that’s not what counts when it comes to Homer. If your notion of Homer’s Iliad is that military aristocracy is what American girls today think about princesses–essentially fairy tale creatures–then you’re not going to understand anything–that would be the real problem, not whether you read the text or hear a rhapsode as originally intended. But if you do not understand Greek poetry, it’s very unlikely you will ultimately understand the Hellenistic or Roman imitative arts. This is not to deny that there is something natural & universal in the attraction, but that doesn’t spell things out. It was natural beauty back then, too, but people sculpted in obedience to the poets. It was needed then, including to inspire the imitative artists. It’s needed now for comprehension. The sculptures, painted or not, are not capable of saying much about individuality. The stories do that.

    As for the Pieta, if you don’t know it’s the dead Christ held by Mary, then you know almost nothing about the sculpture. The strange choices Michelangelo made are actually all related to the Christian faith & must be understood by going back to it & considering why he would do it this way. His intention itself, not just the inspiration, depends on knowing the Gospels & certain other traditions, of course. The technique is not worth much without those stories.

    It was the abandonment of the beliefs of the Renaissance; also of Christianity; that led to the abandonment of the imitative arts they inspired. If people cared about those beliefs in a somewhat similar way again, they would again be inspired to make beautiful works, though of course not as beautiful, since the aristocratic obsession with perfection is not much seen in our democratic times.

    Cultural changes don’t count for much, I repeat. Just because you might read a Shakespeare play or see a movie made of it does not mean you will not understand Shakespeare on account of, you’re not in a theater like in Elizabethan times. But if you do not understand the stories, their political meaning, & the directing opinions about what life is worth living on which they rely–then you’re not going to understand much. If somebody makes a computer game of his Histories next year, then what’s going to matter–aside from, can he get it to work & attract lots of people to play–is whether he understood Shakespeare & made something that leads people to some degree of understanding.

    Sculptors are not as rational as poets, broadly speaking, but that’s why the former depend on the latter & not the other way around. But since I have seen paintings & sculptures that make sense if I think about them, then I am inclined to think the painter or sculptor did it on purpose–at least if it keeps happening, so that it’s unlikely that accidents keep piling up…

    Now, with modern artists you rightly are skeptical of–people may love or hate their works, some are very popular, some are prestigious without being popular–few make beautiful things–but whether they’re worth anything is somewhat complicated. What’s obvious is that they’re inferior to the great achievements of the past, since they cannot bring everyone together as the imitative arts used to be able to do. But they may have certain achievements. But the problem is not whether you know about Picasso’s biography–that’s no more decisive than the paint on the statues–it is instead whether there is anything to learn about being human from his work, at least for those people who think about it the way Picasso wanted them to think about it. I’m not sure there is much to learn there.

    If someone asked him whether there is much of political & theological interest in Michelangelo’s work, I’d have no doubt or hesitation–since I have seen a number myself & have noticed many interesting things. I assume someone more learned would see even more. But not by abstracting from the stories he rehearsed.

    • #8
    • April 13, 2019 at 10:58 am
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  9. Member

    Afternoon Titus,

    Thanks for your response and sorry for the delay. We are going to disagree on this. The visual artists, and I am guessing the musical composers, are in their own cultures and we are not, but the wordless language that they are speaking unconsciously to themselves is one we speak to ourselves. The concepts of that language are composition, proportion, balance, volume, tempo, shading, form, etc. The visual artist is not even saying these things to himself, he does not say, my composition needs work, he is looking and trying to start a line or a curve just right and after successive approximations he might find the look he is looking for. It is true that on occasion a work falls out of you as if you were a vending machine, but often as one like Michelangelo one is always adjusting. Yes the artist is working in the materials and for of his time, but that is the same as tying on a typewriter vs a computer. If the artist is fortunate enough to create an an image that not only sings in his heart but in the hearts of many men, then his work will not be bounded by time or historical understanding, because the language he used in his creation and evaluation will be the same language his viewer will be using in their own hearts. The Winged Victory is a force of nature even as it is abstracted from its time, its intended use and context, because it speaks a wordless universal language. It is unlikely that the artist, and we do not even know if the designer was the carver or not, which means that the piece may have multiple authors, imagined that his piece would be timeless. It is also likely that most visual artists are so focused on matching the imagine in their head with what they are materially producing, this is more than challenging, that they never think on the timeless nature of their work. I argue that is the imagine, its beauty, impact, are timeless and independent of source. One human heart is speaking via image to another, see this, isn’t it beautiful, or striking, and the viewer responds, yes, that image or sound sticks in my mind. This interaction occurs even when seeing the works from times where our knowledge of the artist or his culture are almost nonexistent.

    • #9
    • April 14, 2019 at 9:40 am
    • 1 like
  10. Contributor
    Titus Techera Post author

    Jim, on the one hand there is craft. But there is on the other hand, why the thing you make matters–without this, there would be no thing made. The purpose of the work of art is fundamental to it, but the purpose comes from a master whom the imitative artist serves.

    Michelangelo worked because people paid him to do certain things that they wanted. His craft wasn’t enough–he also had to have a brain to understand what people wanted & make his own choices within boundaries set by a pope or a prince. He didn’t make what he wanted when he felt like it. Your theory of what a sculptor is & does must include obedience to clients.

    Now, to obey those clients is to understand certain things & reflect on them, since their desires are tied up with their highest beliefs. People didn’t hire great artists for trifles or for fun. There was a lot of money, prestige, & a lot of reflection on the world & the future involved in these things.

    To try to understand Michelangelo, we have to be willing to notice how many sculptures are of a religious character, or else we are deceiving ourselves about why these things were made in the first place! Now, it’s a free country, so anyone who likes it can deceive himself. But it wasn’t a free country back when & where Michelangelo lived. People had to be serious about political-theological demands back then. If people cannot see it today, it’s because they are half-blind.

    Artists centuries back were given orders; more, their work was limited not just by a specific order they could accept or refuse (not that all was up to choice, but many times it was a choice–one with consequences, of course), but their work was limited by orders that ordered up the whole community. Artists therefore had to order their own imaginations in relation to what was demanded of them. They were servants of popes & princes, to summarize, therefore following the orders of theology & politics. 

    • #10
    • April 15, 2019 at 1:14 am
    • 1 like
  11. Member

    Morning Titus,

    I grant all of what you say about how artists are hired by their patrons. As a small footnote, even when an artist is commissioned and desires to be the eyes and hands of his patron, he has greata freedom, because most folks can’t visually imagine the image they desire until they see an image before them, then they can say that they want more x. In addition as artists are thought to have a reputation, clients, bend to the vision that has their artist has created for them. One does not easily ask Michelangelo to change his marble carving, even if you have paid for it. But if we think of the Winged Victory, we do not know the artist, the patron, where it had been placed during its original life, what folks thought about the gods, we know almost nothing about the world in which it was seen, none the less its impact is not limited by our ignorance. Even explaining its charm escapes our rational understanding.

    • #11
    • April 15, 2019 at 6:34 am
    • 1 like
  12. Contributor
    Titus Techera Post author

    When Michelangelo is nothing but a stripling, yet very talented–or any other sculptor who acquired great fame young, like Bernini–then people are amazed at these unsuspected powers. They may give him honor because they marvel at what he has done, already leaping ahead to what he will do.

    To acquire a reputation, however, to get to the point where people trust him & indeed more than trust him, but even expect to learn something from him, to acquire all that–he must show that he knows what is in people’s hearts better than they do. If he were to do that in an irrational way, by chance, then it would be luck-of-the-draw; that by itself would incline us to the opinion that craft is in fact worthless, given the power of irrational chance over art. Or if he did it not by irrational chance but by a supra-rational grace, then he would succeed beyond nature. & this is also something we see is not the case, since grace in whatever way we may identify it, still depends on art & cannot dispense with it.

    But if we instead say art is more important than chance, then we have to say that the artist knows his heart well & the hearts of his patrons, too. We need not assume he is coldly rational like a machine & incapable of mistake. But the evidence of success, of coming from a mere nothing & making a great & lasting reputation, of much work done over many years with coherence & predictable achievement, which we can, furthermore, see in so many different artists, all of whom have to serve their different audiences, sometimes at the risk of their lives, not merely fortunes–all of this must incline us to say that art is partly craft, partly craftiness. It requires some prudence.

    Then there is this other matter, the Winged Victory. We know some things about it–or else we had not the name. But we know more, since we know much about the Greeks & the Romans, from their own speeches, not infrequently from writers far superior to any we can boast now. & know too, given our historical studies, that we come at the end of very long traditions that again & again, against catastrophe or decadence, return to the art of the Greeks & Romans. We are influenced in ways deeper than we can usually understand, since we are not in control of our own imaginations, nor do we any longer live in societies where the imagination is controlled, through political-theological control of the arts. We are lucky to be able to see many different things, therefore, but unlucky in that we do not know how or why things pop up in our heads. This is some kind of insight into the natural human condition–but it would require serious elucidation before we could make any judgment on it. For now, we can say that it is at least as likely that our wonder at the Winged Victory is tied up with our cultural memories as it is that it’s a spontaneous, unprompted or unprepared love. Besides, both the cultural memory & whatever there is there of spontaneous love can as easily, upon reflection, turn out to be not a guarantee but an invitation to a more adequate learning about the character of the beautiful & the purposes of the imitative arts. It is at least possible that our love of beautiful art is supposed not to confirm us in ourselves but instead to draw us toward a higher learning & a higher love-

    • #12
    • April 15, 2019 at 6:58 am
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  13. Member

    Titus Techera (View Comment):

    Hello, Mr. Oyen. Our numbers are improving, for what that’s worth, & the audience likes the quality. Regrettably, I cannot double the file, which I would do unhesitatingly.

    I was wrong; it turns out that my mp3 player will handle FLAC files. The program was good, as usual, I will be sure to catch the fillum when it hits video.

    • #13
    • April 17, 2019 at 8:28 am
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  14. Contributor
    Titus Techera Post author

    Duane Oyen (View Comment):

    Titus Techera (View Comment):

    Hello, Mr. Oyen. Our numbers are improving, for what that’s worth, & the audience likes the quality. Regrettably, I cannot double the file, which I would do unhesitatingly.

    I was wrong; it turns out that my mp3 player will handle FLAC files. The program was good, as usual, I will be sure to catch the fillum when it hits video.

    Glad to hear it! Thanks for the compliment.

    • #14
    • April 17, 2019 at 11:20 am
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