Take Another Look
Hot Afternoons Have Been in Montana, a short documentary film by Ken Kimmelman, juxtaposes beautiful stills, artworks and video to illustrate the depth and sophisticated dualism of beauty presented in Eli Siegal’s poem of the same name. Kimmelman is an award-winning filmmaker and recipient of the 1995 Emmy Award for his anti-prejudice public service film The Heart Knows Better, airing nationally on CNN and Bravo. His Hot Afternoons has earned many awards, including “Best US Short Film” in the Avignon/New York Film Festival, the “Gold Remi” award from Houston’s International Film Festival, and the “Grand Festival Award in the Arts” from the Berkeley Film Festival.
The age-old question about the meaning of Beauty isn’t an easy one. Many historic and late writers, thinkers and philosophers have tried to tackle the issue. Pythagoras and Euclid’s definition of human beauty was defined by the Golden Ratio. Socrates believed that beauty “gives one pleasure,” and he found pleasure in geometric shapes, single colors, and musical notes. Plato, on the other hand, believed that beauty was defined by a property of the whole thing. A more recent interpretation of beauty came from scholar, economist, philosopher Aron Katsenelinboigen’s theory of Predispositioning, defining beauty simply as a “predisposition to development.”
This question was also scrutinized by a renowned poet Eli Siegel, founder of the Aesthetic Realism Foundation. Eli Siegel defined beauty as “the making one, or unity, of opposites.”
What sparked the idea for this definition, which eventually led to Aesthetic Realism, was a poem Siegel wrote called Hot Afternoons Have Been in Montana. Siegel uses the paradigm of Hot Afternoons to explore the intricate beauty of the world on a macro level. He writes, “The world is waiting to be known…” while asking the reader how much of it he really knows. Siegel continues, “…the past is in it… things of beauty, of books and desires in it…” Yet what of beauty do we recollect?
Kimmelman heightens our understanding of Siegel’s poem through his choice of visual and sound effects. Everything in his work beautifully compliments the poem and the montage. The film does an excellent job of illustrating exactly what Siegel had intended to in his poem.
Kimmelman’s intuitive sense for smooth and rhythmic editing makes it easy to watch the movie and enjoy the lovely selection of artworks coinciding with the voiceover. And his choice of sound effects gives us a sense of the times conveyed through the poem, thereby adding another layer through which the viewer can experience the film.
If you watch the film multiple times, each round will reveal new details that make this memorable project grow on you. While neither the poem nor the video intends to define beauty, after watching the film and channeling into its tone and atmosphere, one can’t help feeling a higher sense of reality. And, at a time when it’s easy to lose sight and appreciation of our surroundings because of our self-centered nature, Kimmelman’s Hot Afternoons reminds us to take another look.
(Hot Afternoons is under fiscal sponsorship of the International Documentary Association [IDA] and has aired on PBS.)