“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?