Perspective | Edward Hopper’s ‘New York Movie,’ at MoMA, evokes disappointment that makes it feel real


As you approach this 1939 painting by Edward Hopper, it’s exciting to see the canvas weave through smooth paint. Especially on the edges of red curtains and where shadows meet tan walls.

It’s fun to think that the hopper used paint to represent the painted wall itself. The appearance of the woven canvas is like a small cut in these layers of facts and illusions, a flickering eerie, like when a child sees his mother putting on makeup in the mirror.

What are you looking at here?

A female usher in a movie theater.

what else?

Well, it’s dark. And for some reason, I feel that darkness is as important as what is illuminated. Shadows enliven our speculative abilities, our longing for stories. Doesn’t that make going to the movies so exciting?

The hopper also shows a variety of light sources, including movie screen fragments. There is no doubt that action is mercilessly rushing towards the climax of Hollywood.

But the hopper’s attention is elsewhere. It’s a pioneer. A lamp on the wall illuminates her blonde hair. Her uniform — a fashionable red striped blue jumpsuit — is decorated with pumps and a flashlight. She is fascinating. However, her attitude is pensive and, like many in Hopper, quite stiff. It reinforces the feeling we have for her … Deadlock..

She may have appeared in the movie herself. But she is not the leading actress. She is an usher and she is waiting. The loose, purposeless pockets of time she lives in are at odds with the unnatural and efficient time of the film.

What a pity!

Imagine her disappointment, remembering a passage from a wonderful essay by literary critic James Wood. Wood found that an army officer in Anton Chekhov’s story “Kiss” was disappointed with the account he had just given to his fellow officers. A special event in his life. He thought it would take a long time, but “it only takes a few minutes to say.” In addition, Wood finds that “many of Chekhov’s characters are disappointed with the stories they tell and are somewhat jealous of the stories of others.”

I think we can say something similar about the hopper character. Combining the drama of Lamplight with the suspense of Degas’s “Interior” and the boredom of Manet’s “Folly Bergère’s Bar”, this painting reveals jealousy and disappointment.

Asher (my prediction, Hopper recommends us to guess) is struggling to reconcile her youth and beauty with her rude, low-paying work. She has watched enough movies: she knows there must be more in her life.

Something about her obvious disillusionment makes us believe Her more. Chekhov’s character can also look surprisingly realistic, which Wood attributed to a kind of literary special effects.It is produced by Chekhov Disappoint his character in their own story..

By allowing his fictional work in “Kiss” to be disappointed with the story he just told, Chekhov implicitly allows him to be disappointed with the story Chekhov gave him. “Like this,” Wood writes. The character writes, “From the story of Chekhov, to the bottomless freedom of disappointment.”

I love this idea. It’s subtle, but it’s something big. It is the freedom promised by art. And it helps explain why Hopper’s paintings are so artificial and radically stripped, but still get that reality.

We are all in the position of guides. We are waiting Our story feels fatally out of shape. They are not organized. We didn’t become movie stars. It’s not viral on TikTok. The next person has fewer followers. It’s all obviously disappointing.

But, as Leonard Cohen sang, we are free “like a bird on the network, like a drunken choir in the middle of the night.” Not only can we bow down from the fiction that society is trying to impose on us, but we can do it at our own time, on our own terms.

You can go through the velvet curtains and climb the carpeted stairs into the disillusioned sunshine. Or, in this gorgeous mythical state, with its rich colors, heavy drapes, perfumes, popcorn, and potentially musty air, the presence of this penumbra can stay exactly where we are. I can do it.


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