Discuss critically the claim that films cannot be serious works of art
The Oxford English dictionary defines art as, ‘production of something beautiful; skill or ability; paintings or sculptures etc; subjects other than sciences requiring sensitive understanding rather than use of measurement;’ On further examination of the word art in a thesaurus it suggests other descriptions as ‘painting or sculpture’. As you will already see there is no mention of the word film or filmmaker in either of these descriptions.
However the Oxford dictionary’s analysis that art can be defined as something beautiful, a skill or ability or something requiring sensitive understanding does help in arguing that film’s and film making is the greatest art form of the modern era. In it’s most basic form films are simply photographic pictures imprinted on celluloid projected on to a screen but films are also a form of expression that can not only entertain us but also enlighten us. Traditionally when art is mentioned to somebody they will immediately think of paintings or drawings, names such as Van Gough and Monet may jump to mind.
Alternatively some may think of the written word, a novel by Charles Dickens perhaps, or a poem from the pen of Oscar Wilde. So then, how is it that some can argue that film is not an art form when it is simply a soft blend of all these form of art. It should be clear that I am not arguing that all films are forms of art, I would find it extremely difficult to argue that Kevin ad Perry Go Large can in any way be compared with the likes of Cinema Paradiso although they both communicate messages in their own ways.
When looking to judge film from as an art form it is important to look at it in two ways, we must consider both the aesthetics of the film and it’s philosophical impact. It is important to understand why a filmmaker has chosen to produce the film in the way it has been, here, we will consider the mis-en-scene with particular reference to semiotics. How does the film work to communicate it’s quality and values through what is seen on the screen. The Philosophical aspect will look at the content of the film and how it expresses it’s meaning to us.
How does the film realise human relationships and the lives of people and the world in which they live? Although we may not realise it when watching a film, the things that we see on the screen are all placed there with intent in order for us to draw messages from them. An excellent example of this would be ‘American Beauty’ directed by Sam Mendes in 1999. The symbolism of the red rose shown throughout the film denotes love and lust, the binary oppositions of the narrative. Staying with the example of ‘American Beauty’ it can be argued that all aspects of the film reflect modern art in their most intense and obvious manner.
The symmetry of the mis-en-scene coupled with the short swift overtones of the xylophone and deep sarcastic narration of Kevin Spacey lend a modern open aired piece that enables people to think and interpret the film in a manner that relates to them. The philosophical aspect of ‘American Beauty’ portrays the intensity of the American dream, the search for, in the main narrative, sexual freedom but also the freedom to express our opinions and feelings about society. The differing groups within the film reinforce this idea.
The idea that art needs to include a sensitive understanding vouches more for the argument that film is an art form. Directors need to have an understanding of the messages that they send to their audiences, this is especially true in our society today, where so many leading actors are role models for future generations, it is important for film makers to portray sound reasoning and judgement for what they include and how they include it. This is especially true with social taboos such as sex and drugs. It is critical when looking to judge a piece of work as a piece of art to look at how the piece is composed.
With film this means looking at the technicalities of the making of the film, this includes camera angles, lighting effects and sound integration. A good film to look at to examine this is Cinema Paradiso. The lighting is soft and the camera glides smoothly from shot to shot. The music is subtle which provides the film with a heart-warming glow. The mis-en-scene is simple and composed beautifully throughout. From the beginning it is easy to tell that this film is an artistic piece. The camera slowly tracks out for about thirty seconds, revealing a bowl on the balcony overlooking the sea.
This provokes many questions, such as, why is that bowl there and how does it fit into this film? More importantly however this bowl can tell us a great many things about the film. As already mentioned the bowl is an artistic shot showing us that this film is going to be a type of art house film. It sets the location for us, we know that the mis-en-scene does not belong to the British coastline therefore the film is set within an exotic location. I think it is important to ask the question when does a medium become a piece of art? It is generally accepted that the artist creates a work of art.
They take their canvas and paint, compose or build. I think that it can be argued however that a medium becomes a work of art on reception from its audience. Once they look at it and find meaning within it becomes a work of art to them. This argument would sustain the opinion that a piece of work is not art to everyone that views it. Take the latest works of the turner prize with artists such as Tracy Emin and Martin Creed, these works are thought of as ridiculous by many people, they find it hard to find meaning within it therefore cannot call it an art form.
Therefore if a film has no meaning, if it’s messages are not conveyed to its audience through whatever means the director deems fit, then can the film be classed as a serious work of art? I don’t think so. Films use several different types of medium in order to intensify their genre or meaning, for example the film may be shot in colour of black and white. It is generally accepted that modern films that use black and white are more artistic than those that use colour. Schindlers List directed by Steven Spielberg uses both.
The emotionally provoking use of colour to signify the horrors of the Nazi regime can be seen as artistic on their own but when coupled with the slow yet intense orchestral score and actors performances it can be claimed to be the greatest work of art of its period. It has been argued that film is the only form of art that man has developed in its evolution. Since the beginning of time man has been drawing on cave walls and using their natural surroundings to make interesting sounds (music).
Film is the portrayal of events seen through the eyes of a person with a vision, a dream. A person who wishes to communicate their dream in a way other than drawing, other than music and in a way other than writing. They want to show their dream to people, they want to place people into that dream, and they want to share who they are and what they believe. I cant argue that film is not an art form, it provokes emotions in people which only they can relate to and I believe that this is the most important form of art available in today’s society.
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