Godzilla

Godzilla Thoughtfully

Godzilla

I am a die-hard, life long fan of Godzilla. As a child, growing up in New York City during the 1970’s, I tuned in every time WWOR / Channel 9 had their awesome “Monster Week” movie marathons (check out this terrific YouTube video of an actual WWOR advertisement https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zOZciXXbSCo from that era). As I got older, WWOR seemed to undergo changes and played those films less frequently.

By the mid-1980’s, Godzilla had been absent from my life and imagination when, during my freshman year at John Jay College, Godzilla 1985 was released. Godzilla ‘85 was a direct sequel to the original (American) version starring Raymond Burr, which ignored the subsequent films of the 1960’s and 1970’s (with Burr reviving his role). With the advent of the VCR, I was able to rent and sometimes buy my favorite Godzilla films. Since 1985, Godzilla has remained a constant part of my life, imagination and sometimes, my art.

My initial attraction to Godzilla was purely visual: as a child, I often imagined what it would be like to see Godzilla walking by my window, or to see him in the distance wreaking havoc on upper Manhattan. Later I saw the deeper meanings and themes that were explored, particularly in the first (Japanese) version. The most typical was Godzilla as the physical manifestation of fears stemming from humanities’ ability to literally destroy the planet. His origins are in the early atomic age. Sixty years later, one has to ask: has humanity learned anything? That is the deeper question being asked by the current American-produced version of Godzilla. We have seen the disasters created by the folly of man, yet we have done little to address and prevent them.

The most thoughtful aspect of Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla is the exploration of humanity and disaster, whether by man or nature. Edwards reminds us of recent disasters including the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and Hurricane Katrina in 2005. He also reminds us of the human toll these disasters have and how they can sometimes be prevented. Why are we still using nuclear power when technologies to harness the power of the sun and wind have been developed? Humanity has to live in harmony with the planet and not destroy it or we will pay the consequences ( As seen in the New York Times earlier this week: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/13/science/earth/collapse-of-parts-of-west-antarctica-ice-sheet-has-begun-scientists-say.html?action=click&module=Search&region=searchResults&mabReward=relbias%3Ar&url=http%3A%2F%2Fquery.nytimes.com%2Fsearch%2Fsitesearch%2F%3Faction%3Dclick%26region%3DMasthead%26pgtype%3DHomepage%26module%3DSearchSubmit%26contentCollection%3DHomepage%26t%3Dqry319%23%2Focean%2520levels&_r=0 ). In this, Edwards is in step with Godzilla’s tradition of exploring contemporary fears.

Many have already grumbled that title character doesn’t make an appearance until nearly the end of the first hour and is then not given as much screen time as he should have. As in the very first film, Edwards holds Godzilla back for some time. The protracted build up may not agree with a contemporary audiences’ appetite for quick storytelling and non-stop action, BUT once the monsters get going, it is truly something to see. Edwards is a filmmaker in the tradition of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, NOT Michael Bay or Roland Emmerich (the director of the disastrous–no pun intended—1998 Godzilla wannabe). Godzilla is a beautifully crafted science fiction film in the tradition of Jaws, Jurassic Park and Aliens. Like those films, Godzilla deserves multiple viewings and a sequel (helmed by Edwards). I predict that this film will age well.

Godzilla

Directed by Gareth Edwards

Written by Max Borenstein, based on the character “Godzilla,” owned and created by Toho Company Ltd., and a story by David Callaham

Director of photography, Seamus McGarvey

Edited by Bob Ducsay

Music by Alexandre Desplat

Production design by Owen Paterson

Visual-effects supervisor, Jim Rygiel

Costumes by Sharen Davis

Produced by Thomas Tull, Jon Jashni, Mary Parent and Brian Rogers

Released by Warner Bros. Pictures.

Running time: 2 hours 3 minutes.

 

STARRING: Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Ford Brody), Ken Watanabe (Dr. Ishiro Serizawa), Elizabeth Olsen (Elle Brody), Juliette Binoche (Sandra Brody), Sally Hawkins (Graham), David Strathairn (Adm. William Stenz) and Bryan Cranston (Joe Brody).

 

Allegorical Animals: The Connection Between Paganism and Early Christian Art (Part Three)

PART THREE: FANTASTIC CREATURES INSCRIBED AND ILLUSTRATED

The third and final part of my detailed (well, detailed for a blog) look at the connection between paganism and early art.  If you haven’t read the first two parts, here are the links:

Part One: https://theartistworks.wordpress.com/2014/02/17/allegorical-animals-the-connection-between-paganism-and-early-christian-art-part-one/

Part Two: https://theartistworks.wordpress.com/2014/03/02/allegorical-animals-the-connection-between-paganism-and-early-christian-art-part-two/

Saint Augustine writes that what is important is not whether the animals existed, but what they meant: the focus is clearly on doctrine. The Bible is filled with an assortment of stories involving animals, fantastic and real. In Joel 2, an army of locusts resembling horses appears, they shake the earth, darken the sky, and shoot out flames that burn everything in their path. In Revelation 5, a dead lamb with seven horns and seven eyes comes back to life. In Revelation 9:17, fire-breathing horses with the heads of lions appear wearing breastplates of jacinth and brimstone. In Revelation 13:1-3, a seven headed beast with ten horns comes out of the sea wearing ten crowns on each horn: it resembles a leopard but has the feet of a bear and the mouth of a lion. One of his heads dies, but it comes back to life. In Revelation 13:11, a beast with horns like a lamb and a voice like a dragon comes out of the earth. In Revelation 16:13, unclean spirits in the shape of frogs come out of the mouth of a dragon, a beast, and a false prophet.

Ezekiel, in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, is acknowledged as a prophet. Ezekiel has visions of four living creatures coming out of a cloud. Each creature shaped like a man, but each had four faces: the front face was human; the right was that of a lion; the left was that of an ox; and the back was that of an eagle (Ezekiel 1.4–14). Saint Jerome, translator of the bible, interpreted the human face as representing the rational part of man, the lion as the emotional, the ox as the appetitive, and the eagle as the spark of conscience by which we discern that we sin.

The Griffin

The griffin is a legendary creature with the body of a lion and the head and wings of an eagle. The griffin was thought to be an especially powerful and majestic creature because it combined the lion, considered the king of the beasts, and the eagle, the king of the birds. In antiquity it was a symbol of divine power and a guardian of the divine. George Chase noted that the Greeks borrowed the griffin from Asian art, but that the Greek griffins present a much livelier appearance than their Asian prototypes. The photograph on the right shows the head of a griffin from a Greek cauldron from the third quarter of 7th century BCE.

Head of a griffin from a cauldron, third quarter of 7th century BCE. Greek (from Olympia) Bronze On Display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Head of a griffin from a cauldron, third quarter of 7th century BCE. Greek (from Olympia) Bronze
On Display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Griffins, in the ancient world, were symbols of royalty and protectors of the dead. They continued to play these roles for Christians. A popular legend in the Byzantine era told of griffins carrying Alexander the Great through the sky so that he could view his empire. The second photograph on the right shows carved griffins found on Byzantine tombs, where they may have been placed to identify the dead of royal status and to afford them protection. The design of the relief is similar to patterns on Byzantine and Islamic silks.

Panel with a Griffin, 1250–1300 Byzantine; Possibly from Greece or the Balkans Marble On Display at the Metropolitan Museum of Ar

Panel with a Griffin, 1250–1300
Byzantine; Possibly from Greece or the Balkans
Marble
On Display at the Metropolitan Museum of Ar

The Physiologus

Between the second and fifth centuries19 CE an unidentified Christian writer compiled a book about animals, some of them fantastic, drawing on the work of pagan predecessors, but adding allegory. The Physiologus was comprised of fifty allegories in which each entry began with a biblical quotation, followed by a description of the animal which might be whimsical, followed in turn by an analogy or moral which would instruct the reader in some Christian truth.

The Physiologus was condemned as heretical in 469 A.D. by Pope Gelasius, but his ban had no real effect, as later Christian writers quoted from and even added to it. The photo below is of the Bern Physiologus, which is a 9th century copy of a 5th century manuscript of the Latin translation of the Physiologus. Many of its miniatures are set, unframed, into the text block, which was a characteristic of late-antique manuscripts. It is one of the oldest existing illustrated copies of the Physiologus. In the later Middle Ages, three works stand out as noteworthy in animal lore: De proprietatibus rerum by Bartholomaeus Anglicus; De apibus by Thomas of Cantempre’; and the Speculum aturale by Vincent of Beauvais.

The Bern Physiologus is a 9th century illuminated copy of the Latin translation of the Physiologus. About 825-850.

The Bern Physiologus is a 9th century illuminated copy of the Latin translation of the Physiologus. About 825-850.

Conclusion

A terrific book for anyone interested in New York City history is Top Cats: The Life and Times of The New York Public Library Lions, by Susan G. Larkin. The book surveys the two lion sculptures that sit in front of the New York Public Library on 5th Avenue. Specifically, Larkin notes that the two lions have had several nicknames over the decades. First they were called Leo Astor and Leo Lenox, after The New York Public Library founders John Jacob Astor and James Lenox. Later, they were known as Lady Astor and Lord Lenox — even though they are both male lions (female lions do not have manes). During the 1930s, Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia named the two lions in front of the Public Library on 5th Avenue, Patience and Fortitude, for the qualities he felt New Yorkers would need to survive the economic depression. These two names are still used today.

From books like Charlotte’s Web (an allegory for true friendship) to films like Godzilla (an allegory against the use of nuclear weapons) and Over the Hedge (an allegory about the effects of deforestation) animals play a part in telling mankind’s story: they stand in for humans in allegories and take the place of people in morality stories. The personification of animals is so common that we inherently accept animals as representatives for human behavior. Mankind, as the dominant species on the planet, should take better care of their cohabitants.

In Animals in Art and Thought, Francis Klingender writes, “neither the real relationship between men and beasts, nor the symbolic meanings attached at various times to beasts should be neglected to interpret the ever-changing forms of animal art.”

Sources:

Brett, Gerard. “The Mosaic of the Great Palace in Constantinople.” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, Vol. 5, (1942), pp. 34-43

St. Augustine, the Literal Meaning of Genesis. vol. 1, Ancient Christian Writers., vol. 41. Translated and annotated by John Hammond Taylor, S.J. New York: Paulist Press, 1982

Chase, George H. “Three Griffins’ Heads.” Bulletin of the Museum of Fine Arts, Vol. 48, No. 272 (Jun., 1950), pp. 33-37

Evans, Helen C., Melanie Holcomb, and Robert Hallman. “The Arts of Byzantium.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, v. 58, no. 4 (Spring, 2001).

19  Scott, Alan. “The Date of the Physiologus.” Vigiliae Christianae, Vol. 52, No. 4 (Nov., 1998), pp. 430-441

20  Diekstra, F. N. M., “The Physiologus, the Bestiaries and Medieval Animal Lore,” Neophilologus, LXIX (1985), 142-55

Supplemental Videos:

From The Met’s video series, 82nd and Fifth, “Bricks”: http://82nd-and-fifth.metmuseum.org/bricks

From The Met’s video series, 82nd and Fifth, “Drama”: http://82nd-and-fifth.metmuseum.org/drama