Sunday, June 04, 2006

girl with a pearl earring

Chris's parents, a few years ago, gave me a copy of Girl With a Pearl Earring. I, surrounded by my shelves and boxes and piles of books, never quite got around to reading it. But the other night we watched the film version of this book finally, and it was strange. It was like watching a moving breathing re-enactment of a still life, and not a movie in the traditional sense, with characters and plot developments or twists. The details were taken straight out of Vermeer's masterpieces, the brocade fabric and the way the light slants down through the windows and washes over a table, across a black and white tiled floor. Every scene is staged as if it could have been a Vermeer painting, even though really he only left behind about 35 paintings by the time he died. And the Girl is in almost every scene, a nearly silent observer, the still center of a still movie, moving between the saturated colors of helping her master with his paints and the billowy empty whitness of hanging the laundry to dry in the house's courtyard.

But there is little emotion in the movie, little sense of gravity to keep it from flying off into a beautiful and amazing and hollow embodiment of a painting. Nothing much happens, and the Girl's blank stare and open mouth, the awe and fear reflected in her huge wide eyes, can't carry the film forever. In the end, I felt both moved by and disappointed in the emptiness at the core of the movie. So I decided I'd read the book, and am now almost done with it. The book provides the Girl's inner world, the thoughts that fill in those long spaces between her words. Yet it cannot possibly capture in words the simple sensuality of grinding down lapis lazuli or burned and blackened ivory tusks into a powder and mixing it with linseed oil to create paint.

In the end, while neither the book nor the movie stands entirely on its own, they complement and complete each other in a lovely balance of lush, saturated visual images and distilled thoughts and speech.

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