30 MARCH 2004

A Buddhist Observes
Humanity With Sharp and Stern Eyes


Published: March 31, 2004 New York

“Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter . . . and Spring” is an exquisitely
simple movie. Written and directed by Kim Ki Duk, it was filmed at
a single location — a remote and picturesque mountain lake in a South
Korean wilderness preserve — and it concentrates on the relationship
between a Buddhist monk and his young protégé, characters
whose names are never spoken. But like Blake’s “Songs of Innocence and
Experience,” the film’s lyrical plainness is the sign of a profound and
sophisticated artistic sensibility. In five sharp, concise vignettes
that correspond to the seasons of the title, Mr. Kim manages to isolate
something essential about human nature and at the same time, even more
astonishingly, to comprehend the scope of human experience.
    The subject of “Spring” is spiritual discipline,
which the older monk distills into a set of lessons that are, like
the film, self-evident and enigmatic. They also reflect aspects of Buddhism
not always sufficiently appreciated in the West, often witty and occasionally
    In the first chapter the child monk, indulging
a boyish taste for cruelty to animals, ties rocks around the bodies
of a fish, a frog and a snake and laughs as they struggle to move. That
night the older monk ties a stone to the boy, saying he will remove it
when the animals are free. There is an element of slapstick in this punishment,
as well as a severe and uncompromising notion of responsibility. If any
of the animals have died, the teacher tells his pupil, “you will carry
this stone in your heart for the rest of your life.”

    Animals figure in other chapters: a cat’s tail
is used as a calligraphy brush, and there is a quizzical rooster and
a deadpan turtle. They are emblems of the natural world, Aesopian metaphors
offering silent commentary on the foibles of humanity.
    The master and his protégé live
in extreme isolation; their small wooden house, on a raft in the middle
of the lake, is the only habitation for miles around. But emissaries
from the outside world occasionally reach them. In “Summer” they are
joined by a young woman seeking treatment for an unspecified disease.
(The style of her clothes is one of the few indications that the film
takes place in modern times.) She and the younger monk, who since “Spring”
has become a man, slip into a love affair that marks his fall from innocence
into experience. “Lust,” his tolerant mentor warns, “awakens the desire
to possess, which ends in the intent to murder.”
     When the mentor is proved right in “Autumn,”
the proof may at first seem melodramatic and literal minded. For all
its hushed, philosophical mood, Mr. Kim’s film, which will be shown
tonight and tomorrow at the New Directors/New Films series before opening
commercially on Friday, has moments of intense, theatrical feeling.
To illustrate the ideals of harmony and peace, a certain amount of discord
and dissonance must be endured. The music sometimes tests the limits
of such endurance; it sounds better suited to accompany the sinking of
the Titanic than the progress of the monk’s creaky rowboat.

     But the story, effortlessly joining the
cycle of the seasons to the larger rhythms of the life cycle, has
a beguiling perfection. Along the way there are numerous surprises,
and you are never sure, as one chapter gives way to the next, how many
changes will have taken place. But by the end — when you are back at
spring, with a young acolyte and a gray-haired master — the film takes
on the heft and gravity of one of the smooth stone Buddhas that decorate
the old monk’s house. It seems less a modern work of art than a solid,
ancient object that has always been there, waiting to be found.

Written (in Korean, with English subtitles), edited and directed
by Kim Ki Duk; director of photography, Baek Dong Hyun; music by Bark
Ji Woong; art director, Oh Sang Man; produced by Lee Seung Jae; released
by Sony Pictures Classics. Running time: 103 minutes. This film is rated
R. Shown tonight at 6 and 8:45 at the Walter Reade Theater at Lincoln
Center, 165 West 65th Street, Manhattan, and tomorrow night at 6 at
MoMA Gramercy Theater, 127 East 23rd Street, Manhattan, as part of the
33rd New Directors/New Films series of the Film Society of Lincoln Center
and the department of film and media of the Museum of Modern Art


29 MARCH 2004

The Bethlem art collection
specialises in work by artists
who have suffered from mental health problems, though there are some
exceptions (such as drawings by spiritualist mediums – not currently
on show).  Since 1982 it has included the Guttmann-Maclay Collection,
which was founded by Drs Eric Guttmann and Walter Maclay when they were
working at the Maudsley Hospital in the 1930s, and was later housed
in the Institute of Psychiatry. 

    The pictures come from many different sources. 
It should not be assumed that all the artists have been patients in either
Bethlem or the Maudsley Hospital, or necessarily in any hospital at
     Pictures and other works currently on
show include:-

Thirteen watercolours by the Victorian artist Richard Dadd
(1817-1886), who continued to paint throughout his forty two years
of confinement in Bethlem and Broadmoor hospitals.  The museum holds
some of the finest examples of Dadd’s watercolours in any public collection,
some of them acquired in recent years with generous help from the National
Art Collections Fund, the V&A Purchase Grant Fund, the National Heritage
Memorial Fund and the Pilgrim Trust.

Watercolours and drawings by Louis Wain (1860-1939),
‘the man who drew cats’, who spent his last fifteen years in Springfield,
Bethlem and Napsbury hospitals – still drawing cats. 
museum holds a substantial collection of Wain’s work, much of it dating
from his period in Napsbury Hospital, though only a small selection is
on show.

The Maze by the Canadian artist William Kurelek, painted
in the Maudsley Hospital in 1953.  This famous autobiographical
painting by the 26-year-old Kurelek depicts the inside of
his own head, cut open to reveal scenes from his past and present life
which form the psychological maze in which he is trapped.

Drawings and paintings by Cynthia Pell, whose lifelong manic-depressive
illness led to her suicide in 1977.  These vivid and powerful
drawings, made in Bexley Hospital shortly before her death, record with
great courage the daily life and suffering around her.

Late paintings by Charles Sims RA (1873-1928), whose dramatic
change in style during the two years before his suicide seems to reflect
his mental turmoil during this period.

Apocalyptic dreams and visions by Jonathan Martin
(1782-1838), drawn while he was confined in Bethlem after his attempt
– almost successful – to burn down York Minster in 1829. 

Ceramics by Bibi Herrera, who came to England as a political
refugee from Chile after imprisonment and torture under the Pinochet
regime in the 1970s.  She learnt to make her distinctive and colourful
pots, their decoration often inspired by Chilean Indian art, during
an admission to Bethlem in 1994.