Monday, February 9, 2009

A slogan that needs changing

“Limes regiones rerum.”

That's the Latin inscription that appears on the gateway to the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts. The school's new facilities were designed -- at least in the earliest stages -- by George Lucas, who donated $175 million for construction. Warner Brothers, Fox and Disney threw in another $50 million. The University is looking to raise another $50 million, most of it for its animation department. That would make a grand total of $275 million for an institution that has a fine reputation when it comes to film schools. It's the oldest in the nation.

But about that motto. I gave up on Latin as soon as it ceased to be compulsory; i.e., at the end of the seventh grade, an altogether miserable year made worse by endless conjugation. I was happy that the New York Times, which ran an article on the USC school in today's editions, translated. It means: "Reality ends here."

At first, I misread the quote, mistaking "rerum" for "rerun," which would have a whole other meaning, one that might prove a little too apt for an industry dedicated to formula; i.e., attempts to mine future profits by repeating the elements of past success. But even an accurate translation bothered me.

Look, reality is a construct, so in a way the quote is grandly and pretentiously meaningless, particular when rendered in Latin. But I'd be more encouraged about the future of "film" -- better termed "moving images" because the long-term future may be mostly digital -- if the slogan were changed to read, "Reality begins here." How about a school with a commitment to the arts as a quest for personal and social truths that resonate deeply?

The discussion of reality and art could sink any blog entry, an anchor of gravity tossed off a rowboat built for quick-hit observation. So I offer my suggestion in the same genial spirit that once inspired the late Jimmy Cannon, a fine New York sportswriter. Cannon occasionally wrote columns -- actually collections of one-liners -- entitled, "Nobody asked me, but..."

Nobody asked me, but I think it's time that cinema renewed its commitment to reality -- even when it's fantasizing. After all, what's artifice for, if it not to bring us closer to what's real?


Anonymous said...

I may be a little late on this, but I figured I should chime in and let you know that the original idea behind the slogan was based in the fact that the film program at USC was so difficult that the course load was unreal. It is not a comment of film not reflecting reality, just a comment that by undertaking the work of being a film student, your normal reality ends.

Anonymous said...

Not as late as me, Poster #1!

Actually, the Latin doesn't mean that at all.

A limes is a frontier or border region or a road, and a regio (regiones is plural) is a direction or a spatial region, so it means (at best) something like "The frontier (is) regions of things". Which is as nonsense in Latin as it sounds in English.