Home > [99 Problems] Series > [99 Problems] Primavera, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, Live at the Apollo

[99 Problems] Primavera, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, Live at the Apollo

Originally published 8 June 2010

I am surprised that it actually took Chance 10 tries to throw me off. But the time has come. After thinking and studying for a little more than a full day, I might have found an impossible trio. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, in all of its classic spaghetti-flavored mexican standoffs – Primavera, Botticelli’s loftiest allegory – and none other than James Brown’s Live At the Apollo, a landmark in soul music.

It’s great that this happened on the tenth entry because this gives me a chance to talk about some things that have been on my mind.

When I started this project, I was speaking with Josh, my intellectual consultant, about the idea. He gave me a pretty decent analogy. He said that everything ever created or done was a part of a Great Tree with different ideas taking up leaves or branches or whole limbs. The goal of this project was to find the roots that connect the three random topics. Sounds good, right?

I couldn’t be more sure that all of our thought habits and all of our cultures bear inescapable similarities. As members of the human race, we are inclined to follow certain patterns or procedures drawn from geography, psychology, philosophy, or many other words that end with a ‘y’.

That said, what if the three artworks lie on branches that are naturally far away from each other? What if one of the branches, though old, still hasn’t matured? And, most likely, what if I don’t have the maturity to see the tree for what it is?

The last of these is what I have run into today. Seeing the options last night, I knew there was going to be a problem. I was dealing with a highly highly highly cryptic and mythological Botticelli painting, a long and largely plot-based Western made by Italians, and a 37-minute James Brown album, recorded live in Harlem. I could maybe go fishing for a few generic words to tie them together, but that isn’t the point of this project. Truthfully, this is about seeing how things relate to the world around them and each other.

And while we are being honest, I don’t have a clue what the Primavera painting is getting at. It would be easy for me to copy a wikipedia page or plagiarize one of my art books, but that would be a waste of time. I’m not the first to feel this way, though. While, like Ruskin says, the piece works off of a brilliant rhythm, shows glorious examples of figure/ground, and is an advancement in the depiction of both humanity and divinity, its subject matter and cultural message has evaded critics and historians for centuries. (Even though people didn’t care about Botticelli for a long long long time after he died.) I can’t even pretend to have an opinion about the piece because none of the opinions from people who knew what they were talking about sounded decent. Indeed, it would take a person of profound knowledge in Medieval and Renaissance literature, as well as classical mythology, to make a go at this painting. To the eye, though, it is a delight. The figures stand out with clarity against a dark backdrop. They also work in groups, allowing the observer to inspect it piece by piece – a donor to its ambiguity.

***

I have never heard a pop album with a higher concentration of 6/8 use in my life. All but two songs lilt around in triple-time. I’m hunting for the explanation of this, but so far my best guess is the shuffle blues that really hit the scene after Miles Davis made it a standard on Kind of Blue.

James Brown is unrelenting. He shrieks and hollers and improvises his way into the hearts of the girls screaming in the audience. You can’t listen to the album without noticing their omnipresence. His interplay with the audience and his purposeful inclusion of them in the record is one of genius. It is a truly live album that is barely repeated until Johnny Cash in Folsom Prison, which I looked at a few days ago.

No links for this one. The beauty of it is in the flow. It is a true record, played in full on the radio with frequency. If you dig soul music or listening to girls scream at someone other than Justin Beiber, you might like it.

***

The Good, the Bad, and the Uglyput me to sleep twice. Once about 1:20 in and again at around 2:15. The western is a weakness of mine. Some people really love those films and I hope that I can eventually learn how.

Ultimately, the story doesn’t try to make any points bigger than itself and it doesn’t try to hide the fact that it is a corny throwback. The music was a staple on playgrounds when I was a kid and still gets used during 50% of all showdowns. The directing by Leone is tight and consistent with plenty of expansive pictures. The film was done in widescreen – the correct choice. While Clint Eastwood is alright as The Good and Wallach is definitive in The Ugly, van Cleef stole the show as The Bad. It is a solid portrayal as a psychopath with no soul. His defeat is one of the few instances of symbolism in the film. (I would appreciate being wrong.)[Note (24 April 2012): I was wrong.)]

***

Three people have asked me if I am having fun doing all of this. The answer is always ‘yes’. I knew it was going to take serious time but I also knew that the dividends would be high. As I continue to get some much needed insight on art, music, and film, I admit defeat today. Not a self-defeat, but one of vision. Put simply, I couldn’t see the roots. Maybe you can. Back tomorrow with a vengeance.

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