Restraint is creating boundaries. It is the furthest one can reach in any direction. It forces a scale, but not a hand.
The other night LL and I watched Chanel & Stravinsky. I’m a sucker for romances between great artists (such as Henry and June) usually because of the bombast that ties the sex to the art and the art to the sex.
The film was visually stunning. Chanel was pitch-perfect in her elegance and control. Stravinsky was delightful in his befuddled passion.
The movie suffered, though, from uneven pacing and an overabundance of restraint.
LL dislikes movies that depict infidelity. I can’t say that I’m fond of them either, but they sure do create some instant drama.
Restraint creates drama. Give a character something, anything, they want. Then tell them that they can’t have it. They want strange ass? Give them a spouse. They want freedom? Make them a woman in the 19th century. They want artistic expression? Make them suffer from an ailment that limits their range.
It’s a pretty simple formula, actually.
But the point of restraint, dramatically speaking, is to let it all go in the last act. The point of sexual tension is to finally have sex. The point of wiring a bomb is to watch it explode. The point of cutting off the pianist’s fingers is to watch her learn how to make music without them. This is where Chanel & Stravinsky fell apart. Even when they started fucking, there was no passion, no intrigue. It was just two people having emotionless sex while his wife suffered. It was the film equivalent of screwing up the punchline of your favorite joke.
Restraint in art is awesome. It forces you to contemplate the entire space in which you are confined. The edges of a piece of paper, the word count of a short story, the colors in your crayon box. These limits demand your acknowledgment of them, which force you to be creative with the actual tools you have.
But you have to know what happens when you untie those bounds. You have to feel the catharsis. If not, the audience won’t feel it either. Restraint in art isn’t really about the boundaries, it’s about what those boundaries force, and in releasing, what they allow.