"I have come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element. It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather. I possess tremendous power to make life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration, I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis is escalated or de-escalated, and a person is humanized or de-humanized."
- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Charles and Ray Eames were collaborators in art, life, and love. Their story is told in the brilliant 2011 documentary Eames: The Architect and the Painter. Charles, an architect by training, was behind the design of the eponymous and extremely influential chair, in addition to countless other creations, not least of which was the home he shared with his wife, Ray, a painter who studied under the Abstract Expressionist Hans Hoffman. She was not just "the woman behind the great man," although some had relegated her to that position; rather, Charles depended heavily on her aesthetic sense. With voice-over narration courtesy of the latter-day Renaissance man James Franco (whose recent film/NYU Master's thesis The Broken Tower was a rather interesting, but not completely great, reflection on the life of poet Hart Crane; Howl was better), the film tells the Eames story through interviews with Charles and Ray as well as with the designers who were, as they readily acknowledge, fortunate to have been in the orbit of two of the most intensely fertile minds of the time. It made me wish I could have been a part of that world; watching this documentary is the closest I'll ever come.
I have always enjoyed films that depict Los Angeles during the time when it held out great possibilities and promise. Chinatown, In a Lonely Place, The Postman Always Rings Twice, and Sunset Boulevard are just some of my favorites. Modern-day versions of films that capture a similar mood, but of a later era, include Blue Velvet, Mulholland Drive, and Somewhere. I recently saw the HBO series, Mildred Pierce, based on the James M. Cain novel of the same name. Kate Winslet is wonderful in the title role and the excellent supporting cast includes Guy Pearce, nicely roguish and handsome as ever. The story is about a woman whose husband leaves her and she must care for her two daughters. She becomes a waitress and then manages to open a successful restaurant. Some plot twists and turns deviate from the original book and film, but the overall atmosphere of depression-era Los Angeles is evoked in somber colors and comes to life as the characters struggle to make their way in a city which appeared to offer much to many, but came through for few. Just like today.