The Most Beautiful: Expression in Time

Art and Literature, Culture, Music

The Most Beautiful: Expression in Time / True Heart Susie (D.W. Griffith, 1919)

Ah, the face, the expression of the face is a beautiful thing, captured in time, it is the most beautiful thing in the universe. You may say, what is expression of the face captured in time? It is those little split of second, when only the visual expression is capable of connecting the emotion that one is hiding, as time slows down into eternity, at that split of a second, language become secondary to the visual in connecting one’s deepest thoughts, almost like a magnate, both side are at the end of the receiving, giving and experiencing the same feeling.

Albert Camus (1947) © Henri Cartier-Bresson

If you ever been love, if you ever been out of love, meet the one you love most again, but unable to talk, you use expression in time in showing your emotion, you maybe be talking in language about Nuclear Physic, but your face express your emotion more than your deceiving language, as time slow down into eternity.  Ever been guilty of something and the person you talk to know your guilt, but both avoid talking about? or ever lied to someone and the one knows you are lying? or ever expressed a moment in which your life in a danger, you think you will die any second? as time stops, everything slow down, and you expression is lost in time, language in unable to express you emotion at those times, your memory became almost like a mirror reflecting the imagery in your expression, that is the most beautiful, because it is the only time in which one can tell that the ultimate truth in communication is reached.

The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals (Charles Dawrin, 1872)

Charles Darwin wrote a brilliant small treatment on Expression of Emotion, not just in Human, but all other creatures, it is a recommend reading; The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals (1872)

Setsuko Hara in Tokyo Story (Yasujiro Ozu, 1954)
“When the emotion became too much to carry on silently…”

In life, those precious seconds passes in real time for an observer, stored in the subconscious, it is the task of Art to capture it, and above all the arts, it is Cinema that can capture that split second of magic of the human face so brilliantly, and no one, and I say it loudly, no one can capture that magnificent emotion like the great Japanese master, Yasujiro Ozu. The last 10 minute of Tokyo Story (1954) is a text book of capturing Human Expression in Time, such masterly in little calculation of gestures, actions, and movement of the face, just watch the great Setsuko Hara, how she avoid in language showing her true feeling, but the expression on her face communicate her emotion to the audience as if in whispers,  it is such a universal language in communication that you could read all her thoughts, and you can’t help yourself bursting into tears with her in the train, at the end of the film, as finally, the emotion became too much to carry on silently.

Boy carrying a wine bottle (Rue Mouffetard, Paris, 1954) ©Henri-cartier Bresson

After cinema, it is Photography that manages to freeze those tiny moment in time, to me, Henri-cartier Bresson comes to mind, once in high school I saw his famed photograph,  Boy carrying a wine bottle (Rue Mouffetard, Paris, 1954) in a textbook, and the happy expression on the  face of that little boy, carrying those wine bottles was stuck in my mind, so stuck, that even now, I could clearly recall his happiness; so pure, innocent and gentle, and that little girl behind him, mouth wide opened, clapping, eyes full of laughter as if saying, “oops, I’m in the picture”, the images spoke the language of emotion.

A Girl at a Window (Rembrandt, 1645)

Portrait of a Boy (Rembrandt, 1665-1660)

There is also Painting, the master of capturing expression in time is no other than the Dutch master, Rembrandt, at times, looking at his painting, one could hear sounds, language spoken in gazes of the eyes alone, or the little twisting the lips, whispers, communicating a world full of secretes.

Audrey Hepburn as Natasha in War and Peace (King Vidor, 1956)

Then comes language, describing that magic moments in literature and poem, for poetry, Poe is the master, for he speak in images. For literature, it is no other than my favorite author, Tolstoy. The moment that always comes to my mind is from War and Peace; when Natasha meet Prince Andrew, after so many years, she meet the wounded and dying Prince Andrew; he got little tome to live, and Natasha, well, Natasha is incapable of expressing in word what her emotion express:

War and Peace (King Vidor, 1956)

From War and Peace (Leo Tolstoy, 1869)

“….and she saw Prince Andrew clearly with his arms outside the quilt, and such as she had always seen him.

He was the same as ever, but the feverish color of his face, his glittering eyes rapturously turned toward her, and especially his neck, delicate as a child’s, revealed by the turn-down collar of his shirt, gave him a peculiarly innocent, childlike look, such as she had never seen on him before. She went up to him and with a swift, flexible, youthful movement dropped on her knees.

He smiled and held out his hand to her.

Prince Andrew collected all his strength in an effort to recover his senses, he moved a little, and suddenly there was a ringing in his ears, a dimness in his eyes, and like a man plunged into water he lost consciousness. When he came to himself, Natasha, that same living Natasha whom of all people he most longed to love with this new pure divine love that had been revealed to him, was kneeling before him. He realized that it was the real living Natasha, and he was not surprised but quietly happy.

Natasha, motionless on her knees (she was unable to stir), with frightened eyes riveted on him, was restraining her sobs. Her face was pale and rigid. Only in the lower part of it something quivered.

Prince Andrew sighed with relief, smiled, and held out his hand.

‘You?’ he said. ‘How fortunate!’

With a rapid but careful movement Natasha drew nearer to him on her knees and, taking his hand carefully, bent her face over it and began kissing it, just touching it lightly with her lips.

‘Forgive me!’ she whispered, raising her head and glancing at him. ‘Forgive me!’
‘I love you,’ said Prince Andrew.
‘Forgive what?’ he asked.
‘Forgive me for what I ha-ve do-ne!’ faltered Natasha in a scarcely audible, broken whisper, and began kissing his hand more rapidly, just touching it with her lips.
‘I love you more, better than before,’ said Prince Andrew, lifting her face with his hand so as to look into her eyes.

Those eyes, filled with happy tears, gazed at him timidly, compassionately, and with joyous love. Natasha’s thin pale face, with its swollen lips, was more than plain, it was dreadful. But Prince Andrew did not see that, he saw her shining eyes which were beautiful.”

Sebastopol Sketches (Leo Tolstoy, 1855)

A year ago, I experienced  a near death incident, and for a split second in time, everything stopped, it is hard for word to describe that feeling when one’s life is in danger to someone who had not experienced it, for it is beyond the law of Science and Logic, time seems to stop; as I was running, in the span of a short time, covering no more than 8 feet, so many different images and emotion flashed one after the others in my mind. Let Tolstoy describe best that split seconds of expression in emotion as time stops, how masterful the following description is of the last 5 second in the life of Praskukhin, only 5 second in time, but eternity in emotion:

Siege of Sevastopol (Franz Roubaud, 1854–1855)

From Sebastopol Sketches (Leo Tolstoy, 1855)

Praskukhin, who was walking abreast with Mikhaylov, had just left Kaliigin, and was beginning to revive a little, as he approached a less dangerous spot, when he saw a flash gleaming brightly behind him, and heard the shout of the sentry,” Mortar!” and the words of one of the soldiers walking behind, ” It will fly straight to the bastion!”

Mikhaylov looked back. The bright point of the bomb had just stopped in his zenith, when by its position it was impossible to determine its direction. But this lasted only a moment: faster and faster, nearer and nearer, so that the sparks of the fuse could be seen and the fatal whistling could be heard, the bomb was settling down straight over the battalion.

” Lie down,” cried somebody’s voice.

Mikhaylov and Praskukhin lay down on the ground. Praskukhin closed his eyes and only heard the bomb’s thud against the hard earth near by. A second passed, — it seemed an hour, — and the bomb did not explode. Praskukhin was frightened: had he been cowardly for nothing? Maybe the bomb had fallen some distance off, and he only imagined that the fuse was hissing near him. He opened his eyes, and it gave him pleasure to see Mikhaylov lying near his very feet, motionless on the ground. Just then his eyes for a moment met the burning fuse of the bomb spinning around within three feet from him.

Cold terror, which excluded all other thoughts and feelings, — terror seized his whole being. He covered his face with his hands.

Another second passed, — a second during which the whole world of feeling, thoughts, hopes, and recollections flashed through his imagination.

” Whom will it kill, — me or Mikhaylov ? or both of us ? And if me, where will it be ? In the head, — then all is ended ; but if in the leg, they will amputate it, and I will insist on their giving me chloroform, and I may still live. And, maybe, it will kill only Mikhaylov: then I will tell how we walked abreast, and how I was bespattered by blood, when he was killed. No, it is nearer to me — I will be the man!”

Here he thought of the twelve roubles which he was owing Mikhaylov, and of another debt in St. Petersburg, which he ought to have paid long ago; the gipsy melody which he had sung the night before passed through his mind. The woman whom he had loved appeared before his imagination in a cap with lilac ribbons; he recalled a man who had insulted him five years before, and whose insult he had not yet avenged, — though inseparably from these and from a thousand other recollections, the feeling of the present, the expectation of death, did not leave him for an instant.

” Still it may not burst,” he thought, and, with desperate determination, wished to open his eyes. But at this moment, even while his hands were closed, his eyes were startled by a red fire; with a terrible crash something struck his chest; he ran, tripped over his sabre, which was dangling between his legs, and fell on his side.

“Thank God! I am only contused,” was his first thought, and he wanted to touch his breast with his hands; but his arms felt as though fettered, and his head was as if in a vise. In his eyes flashed the soldiers, and unconsciously he counted them: ” One, two, three, soldiers ; and the one with his overcoat rolled under him is an officer,” he thought. Then a lightning flashed in his eyes, and he was wondering what it was they were firing, — a mortar or a cannon. Then they fired again; and there were more soldiers: five, six, seven soldiers passed by. He was suddenly horrified at the thought that they might crush him. He wanted to cry out that he was bruised; but his mouth was so parched that his tongue cleaved to the palate, and terrible thirst tormented him.

He felt that it was wet near his breast; this sensation of wetness reminded him of water, and he wanted to drink even that which caused that moisture.

” I must have braised the flesh as I fell,” he thought, and, beginning more and more to succumb to the fear that the soldiers, who continued flashing past him, would crush him, he collected all his strength, and wanted to shout, ” Take me !” But instead of this he groaned so terribly that he was horrified at the sound he himself made. Then some red fires leaped in his eyes, — and he thought that the soldiers were putting rocks on him; the fires leaped about ever less frequently, and the rocks pressed him more and more. He made an effort to push aside the rocks, and he no longer saw, nor heard, nor thought, nor felt. He had been instantly killed by a splinter that had struck his chest.

Tristan and Isolde (Jean Delville, 1887)

How about Music, the most abstract of all the art, can it capture human expression in time? Yes it can, when music speak in images, Richard Wagner does it best, he uses silence in order to stretch the time, painting pictures in Music, those magnificent long chords in Tristan und Isolde, stretched into eternity.


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