Accessibility Options — The Right to Art’s Universal Truths
I thought I’d watched most of the French New Wave when I was younger but sitting down to watch Les Quatre Cents Coups (“400 Blows”) this weekend with my kids, I swear I’d never seen it. Truffaut tells the story in a linear fashion. And then and then and then. But it’s the long takes that tell the tale.
The endless footage of Paris streets include Montmartre, yes, but also neighborhoods like Pigalle and Place de Clichy which are not the ones swarming with tourists and gilded gates. The whole movie is marching, marching, walking here, walking there, from above, at eye level, from below, patterns and signs and honking horns. the plodding march of an untethered childhood existence.
Adults in Truffaut’s late 50s Paris are selfish and unknowable. All the kids are escaping or enduring or placating authority. In one scene, the gym teacher marches school children around the neighborhood and in 2s and 3s they sneak off until there are only a few stragglers left.
I know the theme is one of a discarded child, but it’s also about flying by the seat of your pants and breathing the world in even as you feel it casting you aside.
As I followed the journey of a kid (the movie is said to be autobiographical) of a far different era, one where kids were not kings, not coddled, not a focal point,but rather begrudgingly tolerated and exposed to a brutal marginalization (there’s a scene where a sea of kids are watching a puppet show of Little Red Riding Hood parentless. The camera lingers on their lit up faces as they take in that brutal and beloved tale of deceit). In there faces sparked the universal truth of coming to terms with the shock of life.
I thought of someone I recently met who believes that some people should skip a liberal arts higher education and pass go to trade school after high school. Why set expectations so high? Some are just not interested (read: not included).
In the U.S. education system, that shift is a natural one. We were barely choking by as it is. Why pretend. People could skip the French New Wave, or the entire cannon of artistic expression, which far from dismissable as east coast elitism should be a birthright. And it’s those years past high school where you can best start to discern the value of art, find relevance. To rob people of a humanities and arts education is what is elitist. Not the championing of it. Be more inclusive, yes. Do away with it? You’re talking Napoleon’s tone shift in Animal Farm.
To shut off future welders, bankers, nurses, linemen, and chemical engineers from Les Quatre Cents Coups or The Bicycle Thief or Guernica or the Bauhaus or Giovanni’s Room or Joyce, Faulkner, Morrison, Ntozake Shange, Coltrane, to remove them from dialectic, is frightening stuff. It cuts them off from the full significance of life, the hard won universality of masterful storytelling.
We’d be left with stories solely about and from upper crust MFA grads with repressed and mannered family histories. That’s not universal truth. I’d argue Eat, Pray, Love, the extreme of the cloistered western girl’s fantasy of other people, is definitely not universal truth. Exiling all of humanity from the context of history and the simple banal moments of life captured in beauty, is a slippery slope indeed.
My 100 Day Project is dedicated to process, to reading, writing and contemplating as I build on 2 longer works of fiction and try to finish new drafts to submit.