Advertisement

City Lights: Turning on new 'Lights'

November 27, 2012|By Michael Miller

This column has moved but will not require a new name.

"City Lights" — I originally thought of that title as a play on the city editor position. Now, as I move into the features editor spot, I'm reminded of from where else the inspiration came.

City Lights, for those who have been to San Francisco, is one of America's legendary bookstores, the epicenter of the Beat movement in the 1950s and, for any performance poet, the equivalent of playing Carnegie Hall. "City Lights" is also the title of Charlie Chaplin's greatest film, made defiantly in 1931 after talking pictures had arrived, and is home to one of the most moving final shots in history.

Advertisement

Years ago, I ran a blog for Times Community News and called it "Modern Times" — the title of another Chaplin classic. Those silent nuggets hold up, for sure.

Not many things created half a century ago hold up today. Cars? They've long since been junked, a few survivors at classic auto shows notwithstanding. Businesses? A handful still exist; most don't. Political speeches? We can find them online but rarely call them up. When we think of 1956, Elvis Presley and Dwight Eisenhower may both spring to mind. Which one's voice do we hear more often?

The other week, I talked with Dan Cameron, the chief curator at the Orange County Museum of Art, about that very issue. We had just taken a tour of the Newport Beach museum's new exhibit, "OC Collects," which features works, many of them decades old, from private collections around Orange County. Afterward, in the lobby, we put our amateur philosophers' heads together and talked about art itself. Why do people make it? What are their hopes for it? Is it just entertainment, or does it have a deeper value?

Cameron, who has curated shows in the United States and abroad for decades, had a simple theory: Art represents what a society values. That a work is a hit in its time makes it relevant to that time. That it survives its time makes it a gift to the world, and something of a miracle. Even while so many other things, art and otherwise, have faded from memory, we still have Chaplin's films on DVD and Allen Ginsberg's collected works on the shelf, ready in pristine condition whenever we need them.

Huntington Beach Independent Articles Huntington Beach Independent Articles
|
|
|