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When Busby met Fritz

Posted by Mark Feeney  April 29, 2010 08:29 AM

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121306_mediumlarger.jpgAll movies are about other movies, but all moviegoing isn't about other moviegoing. It's as much about the life the moviegoer leads as it is about the movies that let us escape from that life. Maybe the most awful-wonderful thing about the experience of viewing moving images on a screen is the way that experience inevitably alters what we see off screen. How alluring were blondes considered before Jean Harlow became a star and Alfred Hitchcock a star-maker? Did parking garages seem quite so sinister prior to "All the President's Men"? If you encounter a creature with blue skin and a long tail walking down the street, does "Avatar" make you likelier to shrug than flee? (If you work for law enforcement in Arizona, it means you're that much closer to meeting your quota for the day.)

What inspires these thoughts is the above photograph. Called "Dangling Legs," it's from a show that runs at the Griffin Museum of Photography through May 9, "Thrills and Chills: Photographs by Isa Leshko." The show consists of 14 pictures from a project of Leshko's where she has photographed amusement park rides. "These images explore the fantastic and sinister place these rides hold in my imagination," she writes. "I am fascinated by the range of emotions -- from anger to shock to disenchantment -- that people exhibit in pursuit of the amusement these rides are supposed to provide." Note that word "supposed."

Maybe it's just me, but I suspect that anyone who's seen a Busby Berkeley production number, like this one, from "Dames" -- with the way he makes geometry of anatomy, and vice versa -- will find an echo in Leshko's photograph. There's a sci-fi aspect, too. The image is, after all, an emanation from what Leshko describes as "the murky realm that I imagine these mechanical beasts inhabiting." The fact that the picture is black and white, taken from a very Expressionist angle, and with a fiercely geometric component suggest Fritz Lang. Which means a very specific sci-fi film, the wildest and weirdest and most visionary of them all, "Metropolis." Berkeley and Lang never collaborated, of course. Just thinking about the possibility is more than a little terrifying, like the idea of Euclid on LSD or Ruby Keeler and Peter Lorre having a love child -- not that "love" would be quite the right word. But this is an example of how seeing a lot of movies can affect how a person sees the world. Legs dangle, that wheel spins, the shutter clicks, and a striking photograph becomes a still from a (thankfully?) imaginary film.

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Ty Burr is a film critic with The Boston Globe.

Mark Feeney is an arts writer for The Boston Globe.

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