Social Conscience: Art vs Entertainment vs Trash

8 04 2008

 

 

Movies are not art.

 

I suppose that I have your attention now. Allow me to remind you that the above statement comes from a movie lover. I can almost regret saying it, indeed I wish that it were not true but it is.

 

This fact was made stunningly clear to me recently as I watched film advertisement after Oscar break-down after promotional tour. The films I have seen in theatre recently and the trailers for upcoming movies are so far away from the category of art that the sobriety with which they are approached is laughable.

 

Art is supposed to take everything that is great about a culture, reduce it and represent it in another form. A civilization’s advancement is measured by it’s art. Early peoples painted basic forms on cave walls, the Romans and Greeks created beautiful sculpture and architecture. It is only when a culture has achieved stability and structure that some of its’ citizens are able to turn to the arts. Theatre, painting, architecture and sculpture leave a lasting testament to the heights a culture can reach.

 

But film has abandoned that ‘higher reach’ in pursuit of the almighty dollar. Once upon a time, before the banks owned the studios, there was possibility for artistic achievement and blockbuster status to coexist. That desire for greatness has been left behind in the hopes of finding power in money.

 

But perhaps you don’t believe me. Allow me to elaborate.

 

For example, a little film named Penelope. A modern day fairy tale about a young woman cursed with a pig’s face but desirous of love and life, Penelope is quaint and loveable. I laughed and cried and enjoyed myself. It was a lovely night out. However, it would be a wild stretch of the word to use the term “art”. I left with no thought in my head beyond “That was cute”.

 

Compared to even the most ‘fluffy’ of the classics, any movie produced in the last 15 years in Hollywood is a finger painting done by a three legged dog.

 

And before you go crazy, thinking that I am completely dismissing movies as having absolutely no value take a deep breath and read on. Movies have a definite purpose, it is just somewhat more humble than Hollywood would like to admit.

 

Movies are entertainment. Pure and simple. One does not go to the movies to engage with one’s culture. Unlike theatres, where a packed house is desired and an audience adds to the experience, going to a movie is a strictly personal experience. If someone sits by me in a movie theatre I am discomfited and distracted. If the seat next to me is empty when I go to Village or the 5th Avenue, I worry that the show is no good.

 

Do you see the difference?  Where one encourages people to gather and enjoy an experience together, and hopefully to think about something beyond themselves, movies are an isolated experience designed only for escape.

 

I’m as big a fan of escape as the next girl, but I would not call such flights of fancy art.

 

And that is why you see the wide discrepancy between what makes movies in theatres and what the Academy repeatedly nominates for Oscars. The Academy of Motion Pictures cannot quite grasp the decades-old truth that what they do is not Art. It is entertainment. So they nominate the envelope-pushing, the depressing and the macabre for awards.

 

And who can blame them? If I spent my life doing something that got me a lot of attention and a great deal of money, I would want to think that that job had cultural value; that I was adding something to the universe. The sad part is, they could be.

 

This might make me a snob. It probably does. The difference between me and most artistic snobs is that I can see the potential for change. I can see a world where film is a form of art and movie-going brings people together and makes them look at a new and admirable aspect of their culture.

 

What does this have to do with social conscience? Well, one of the least encouraging results of Hollywood’s obsession with money is that the producers will do anything to make a buck. And by ‘anything’ I mean, explotation of people, disregard of any kind of moral code and anything else they can come up with.

 

This particular rant is direct result of a new prom slasher movie due to hit theatres soon. The plot (such as it is and as far as I can tell) revolves around a psycho teacher obsessed with a young [blonde] student. He locks the entire senior class in a hotel, cuts the power and proceeds to kill and maim and so on and so forth.

 

It makes me sick.

 

I would think that anyone with a social conscience would be horrified at the idea of feeding more killer/slasher movies into the mainstream media. Do we so easily forget Columbine and so quickly dismiss the more recent campus shootings? Honestly, what purpose do such movies serve? If someone can give me a rational answer I am more than ready to listen. If you can you will be an author of no small persuasive skills.

 

That is not to say that we can’t make “issue” movies, or movies that deal with the less pleasant sides of our culture. We can and should, but lets not pass off mindless slaughter as entertainment. And please, God, let’s not let our kids think that this is what is normal or inevitable.

 

Please, no.

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10 responses

8 04 2008
Jennifer James

Good post Meggers! I like alot that you are tackling a subject with such…eruditeness? Is that the word I want…. anyway. I love your face.

8 04 2008
Mother Smith

Wow!
Good for you Meg. I like that you think about these things and then share your thoughts. They are good questions to ask.

9 04 2008
Jason

Unfortunately I don’t really have the time or energy to respond as fully as I’d like, but…ha, suffice it to say I disagree with you almost completely. 😛 I’m sure you’re not surprised by that, though.

I guess my two main thoughts are: 1) just because you don’t immediately see examples of movies as high art doesn’t mean they either don’t exist or that movies are inherently incapable of being art. And 2) I don’t fully understand your point about what makes movies inherently incapable of being art. I.e. they can only be entertainment. Watching movies is not at all a solitary experience for me, I prefer to watch it with people, exactly the same as theatre. On the other hand, books are a much more strictly solitary artform, so does that make books a lower artform? I just don’t follow.

As for production companies (NOT directors, I need to point out) just in it for the money, well that’s true. But that’s true everywhere, for every art-form. The difference is that movies are ridiculously expensive, so the producers are less willing to take risks. Besides, I honestly believe that anything that is enjoyable to watch has artistic merit. Even the dumbest of stupid dumb comedies; if they’re actually funny, that means the people behind the movie have mastered the art of comedic timing. There’s so much art that’s poured into making a movie that the sheer conglomeration itself is a thing of artistic beauty, in spite of the final product. But if the final product works, then it can be elevated to even higher levels than other art-forms around it.

And as for movies made in the last 15 years being universally worse than older movies, that’s crazy talk. Just browse through a Half-Price Books somewhere and you’ll know what I mean. The shelves there will be FULL of old half-baked, awful, pathetic little sci-fi and horror films such as It Came From Outer Space and Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. In fact, despite the fact that movies were less expensive back then, that was an era where production companies were much more focused on marketing and selling and star power. Those “classics” stand out because they’re gems. Not because that was the standard of the time.

Point is, those gems can still be found in the midst of the dreck like Prom Night and Meet The Spartans. City of God. United 93. Children of Men. Primer. And some other movies I consider high art that would be difficult to get past some people: Reign Over Me. The Prestige. Ratatouille. Finding Nemo. Those are just a very few movies I can think of from the last 15 years, but I have very high regard for all of them beyond mere entertainment (I have many other “favorites” that are more just for entertainment purposes than anything else).

And yes, this is me not responding “fully”. 😛 I have way more I could say, but I should probably stop now.

9 04 2008
Meghan

And this is the part where I get to laugh a little. Firstly because when I was writing this it was fairly slap-dash and, instead of clarifying, I thought to myself “If I keep this vague Jason’ll have a hay-day”. I was SO right.

I’ll write a full rebuttal to your rebuttal later today (hopefully) but let me point out two things; one, I never said movies were incapable of being art. I said exactly the opposite. Two, I didn’t say that old movies were better, I said that they had a better chance of being able to achieve artistic status because the goal was not solely money, and early movies were less director dependant and more of a company piece of work.

And third, the focus of this piece was meant to be major Hollywood blockbusters. Big-budget, big-name stuff. To assume that nothing ever captured by a motion camera was art would be presumptive and WRONG.

More to come later.

9 04 2008
Meghan

(Oh and don’t even get me STARTED on the book thing.)

9 04 2008
Jason

Ah yes, well Hollywood blockbusters I can sort of understand. You did say “movies are not art” though. So I just kind of assumed that meant “movies”… 😛

And again, I think you have the perspective on older movies a bit off. Movies back in the “golden age” used to be much more into “auteur”-style film-making, meaning the director was the author and everyone else just fell into place. Hitchcock was famous for treating his actors like cattle, basically positioning them where he wanted and allowing very little room for adjustment. Also, companies that sponsored movies had far more say in what went into a movie back then than they do now (as in, the executives who know nothing about artistry would often dictate the artistic content). It was also much more common practice to pull in actors that didn’t fit the part at all just to bring star power. Believe it or not, audiences are less influenced by star power now than they were back in the day.

And I knew I would get you on the book thing. Bwahahaha.

9 04 2008
Meghan

I’m not sure Hitchcock can be used as an example of the typical director. (Yes I know you weren’t doing that but your argument’s structure allows for that interpretation.) Yes producers are famous for butting in, and that was no different in the golden ages than now. The difference is that when a bank, with a board of directors, is in charge of what gets financing, the end product will be different (ie worse?) than when it is one man running the show FROM the studio grounds. The personal touch of one person on-lot controlling the movies is much different than a group of people who look at reports on a page.

Though neither of us has actually made a blockbuster so our knowledge is inherently limited.

I still say that the movies being produced today are hamstrung by their very nature. They must make a profit. When you oppose that to theatre, where profit is sought but not idolized, theatre is going to be more free to make artsy stuff vs pure entertainment. Theatre functions because of grants and donors. Movies function because they are businesses. Made to make a profit and hopefully win an award or two.

9 04 2008
Mother Smith

This is all very interesting……perhaps it might be best to define “art”.
When I think of the movie industry I often think movies are made ‘because they can be’. And I wonder…just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should. 🙂

10 04 2008
Meghan

Good call mother Smith.
Art:
1. the quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance.
2. the class of objects subject to aesthetic criteria; works of art collectively, as paintings, sculptures, or drawings: a museum of art; an art collection.
3. a field, genre, or category of art: Dance is an art.
4. the fine arts collectively, often excluding architecture: art and architecture.
9. skill in conducting any human activity: a master at the art of conversation.

11 04 2008
Jason

Okay I’m honestly confused now. Are you saying that a movie made in the auteur style (where the director is the author of pretty much everything) is better or worse? And when I say there’s more sponsor involvement, I’m talking about executive producers rather than producers. The difference being (for movies anyway) that the executive producers are more in charge of where the money comes from, and thus have more of a final say. The producers are generally interested in the artistic value of the movie as well, they just approach the creation of the movie from a business side. The executives, however, very rarely are interested in artistic quality, and just want to get the movie funded. It’s always been and always will be the case that the executives make some major decisions in how the film gets made, but nowadays it’s more common that the executives sign on for the project and then don’t say a whole lot afterwards (unless they think something really awful is going to happen to their movie). In the golden age, they were more hands-on.

However, like I said, movies are way more expensive now, so the types of projects that get greenlighted are given probably more thought beforehand (so risky movies get less of a chance). However, some topics that would have been considered cultural taboo back then are given more freedom now. There are just loads of differences in general, but if I were to honestly pick, I would say I’m a slightly bigger fan of modern movies than “classic” ones. I love them both, but I like the way experimental cinema is going.

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