BY LARA GARIBIAN
Arshile Gorky has played a role in shaping and influencing not just 20th century American art, but he has also been a deep rooted inspiration for many artists and individuals. If art is meant to inspire, then Atom Egoyan is living proof of that. In 1995 it was evident what an impact Arshile Gorky had made in Egoyan’s life when he created a short film about the artist called A Portrait of Arshile. Continuing to be further inspired by his love for Gorky and his ethnic heritage, Egoyan went on to write and create one of his accomplished motion pictures called Ararat. While the movie was notoriously known for depicting the history of the Armenian genocide, one of the most prominent story lines was about Gorky’s life and artwork.
As a tribute to Gorky’s current exhibition at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, on June 24th, 2010 Atom Egoyan decided to screen his movie Ararat for viewers at the Pacific Design Center SilverScreen Theatre in West Hollywood. Following the screening, Egoyan graced audience members with a question and answer session that proved to be informative and a true testament to the filmmaker’s passion for the work he created.
Eight years ago, every Armenian across the world was waiting with deep anticipation for a film, which would possibly validate a piece of who they are and where they come from. Many sat at the edge of their seats waiting to see what a talented director would make of a controversial and historically driven topic. True to his skills and talent, Atom did not disappoint. However, having had the opportunity to see the film again eight years later, really allowed for viewers to focus more on the story of the characters, instead of searching for the story telling of genocide as they did when they watched it the first time around. The distance in time allowed for viewers to contextualize the story in a way they couldn’t when they watched it years ago.
The element of Arshile Gorky within the movie represents our story as Armenians. The haunting we face with our history, how we all feel “unfinished” in our own way, and how our elders and generations before us live and face the story of “unfinished” hands is a perfect reason why Gorky’s story would be the one told in the film within the film.
More than anything, Ararat proved what an influential figure Gorky is in Egoyan’s life. When visiting France many years ago, Atom was in a museum where he was face to face with one of Gorky’s abstract pieces. At that very moment the abstract became completely real to him and he felt as though he was seeing what Gorky was seeing. The moment was so powerful it moved him to tears. It was from then on that he felt a strong artist connection between Gorky and himself. The incorporation of Gorky in Ararat was not just due to his passion for the artist or history of the artist. Gorky’s role was the one character that didn’t change due to all the distractions occurring in the film. Another major element was the actual artwork itself. Atom described the art as “available, but deeply mysterious.” The intricacy of the work moved him, so much so that he even named his son Arshile.
When asked how much of a difficulty he faced when creating a film depicting a sensitive issue like the Armenian genocide, Egoyan said, “It was a tall order. The film was made naively, because at the time I didn’t know what to expect from people’s reactions. It would be impossible for me to attempt it now that I know what I really face.” He explained, “In essence, the film was about the nature of truth. Betrayal makes you so distrustful and so truth itself becomes untrustworthy.” He then went on to explain that that was the reason he used such an American perspective within the film to tell the story of genocide.
While he faced a lot of realizations in retrospect, Egoyan also talked about how he would possible change certain elements of the film. One thing he would have made more prominent is the dark humor that currently has a very low undertone in the movie. He admits that the movie has a complicated set of tones and to clarify just one would be difficult, but the element of irony and humor might have given it a different type of edge. However, at the time, incorporating a more bold taste of dark humor was something he didn’t want to really risk doing in a film that dealt with genocide.
Egoyan sat in the back of the theatre, at times quietly snickering while watching certain scenes, almost as though the nostalgia of his creation flooded him with memories that felt as though they happened yesterday. You could see how every moment of that film was embedded within him and even through his silence his passion for creating spoke volumes.