Friday, April 23, 2010

Movies will never be art

[Let’s imagine for a moment that I am a Pulitzer-prize winning art critic. I started looking at paintings when I was a kid and I was fascinated by them so I got a job looking at them. The New York Times or Chicago Sun-Times or some such has paid for me to go around to a bunch of museums and shows and review thousands of paintings. People know who I am and even respect my opinion about particular paintings I have seen. I have never been in a movie theater and I’ve never watched a movie all the way through, but I have seen movie trailers, movie review shows, and there have sometimes been movies on a friend’s TV when I was over playing poker with my buddies. I saw part of that movie Gigli one time.]

Movies will never be art

Having once made the statement above, I have declined all opportunities to enlarge upon it or defend it. That seemed to be a fool's errand, especially given the volume of messages I receive urging me to watch this movie or that and recant the error of my ways. Nevertheless, I remain convinced that in principle, movies cannot be art. Perhaps it is foolish of me to say "never," because never, as somebody named Gloria Swanson said, is a long, undependable time. Let me just say that no movie goer now living will survive long enough to experience the medium as an art form.

What stirs me to return to the subject? I happened across a blog post by some guy named Roger Ebert in which he seemed to claim that there was one movie or other which was art. I read it. He seems like a nice enough guy, and tells some interesting stories. But he is mistaken.

He went on and on about what art is and how some movie maker is now filming some art somewhere to make a 3-D movie.

One obvious difference between art and movies is that you can’t just watch or listen to a movie. It has cinematography, visual effects, action, lighting, dialogue, sound effects, and music. You have to watch the action, listen to the dialogue and music, and try to figure out what’s happening all at once. Ebert might cite a silent movie that has no action, but I would say then it ceases to be a movie and becomes a representation of a painting. You don’t have to follow or figure out a painting; you can only experience them.

Ebert then goes on and on about what is art and blah blah blah. Man, can that guy go on.

He also brought up an example of a movie that he thinks is art. None of the stills from this movie seemed of more than decorative interest on the level of a greeting card. Is the movie scored? He doesn't say. Do you have to follow action and dialogue and figure out what’s going on?

The movie he chooses as an example does not raise my hopes for a movie that will deserve my attention long enough to watch it. It is, I regret to say, pathetic.

Why are movie goers so intensely concerned, anyway, that movies be defined as art? Why aren't movie goers content to watch their movies and simply enjoy themselves? They have my blessing, not that they care.

Do they require validation? In defending their movies against parents, spouses, children, partners, co-workers or other critics, do they want to be able to come out of the theater and explain, "I'm studying a great form of art?" Then let them say it, if it makes them happy.

I allow movies the last word. At the end of some movie that was on that TV at the poker game there were like 15 minutes of credits: Director, Cast, Writers, Producers, Composers, Cinematographers, Editors, Casting, Production Design, Art Directors, Set Decorators, Costume Designers, Makeup Department, Production Department, Second Unit, “Art Department”, Sound Department, Special Effects, Visual Effects, Stunts, Electrical Department, Animation Department, Casting Department, Costume and Wardrobe Department, Editorial Department, Music Department, Transportation Department, Accounting Department. I rest my case.

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