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Art Cinema Essay

2735 words - 11 pages

I never apologize for combining the word “art” with the word “cinema.” You would need a nineteenth-century conception of art—a cliché even then—to cast it as effete. After Freud, Trotsky, Benjamin, and Adorno, after futurism, constructivism, dada, surrealism, and the explosion of pop, it seems hard to remember that art—and the art film—was once considered the spiritual playground or retreat of a bourgeois elite. True, there had been “Film d’Art” around 1910, best remembered for the black-tie audience assembled for the premiere of L’Assassinat du duc de Guise at the Paris Opéra with music composed by Saint-Saens. And in the 1920s certain patrons of “The Seventh Art” treated cinema as though ...view middle of the document...

A terrific book, it pointed to the most telling and complex moments within a spectrum of films from Hollywood genre pieces to silent classics. As his title announced, Perkins oriented us to experience and to explore films on their own terms. He adjusted his rhetoric so as to enter not so much the discourse as the world projected before him. You can argue that art cinema, like art in general, serves contradictory functions (as cultural capital—indeed as actual capital—as propaganda or cri- tique of ideology, as mass entertainment, etc); but those who live their lives in tandem with cinema care precisely about the function of film as film, even while understanding it to be congenitally impure—as Bazin insisted—and enmeshed in the terrestrial and the social.
Global Art Cinema: the first adjective of this title binds what it mod- ifies to a mesh of relations that keep the whole thing from floating up and away like a balloon. At the same time “Art Cinema” is by defini- tion pan-national, following the urge of every ambitious film to take off from its point of release, so as to encounter other viewers, and other movies, elsewhere and later. The title in fact begs a question debated in comparative literature over the vexed term, dating from Goethe, of Weltliteratur. For David Damrosch, a text joins the com- munity of world literature when it finds sustained reception beyond the borders of the specific community out of which it arose. World literature comprises not just a huge bibliography of works, but more pertinently the complex interactions among these works, as they form the mixed traditions absorbed by later writers, as they are consumed by various communities of readers, and as they are tracked and inter- preted by scholars and academics. Perched on the promontories of their carefully erected theories, scholars have been tempted to sense intelligent design in the evolution of world literature. On behalf of literature they take note of contributions that come from unlikely quarters where new topics, new techniques, and new generic hybrids stretch language across more and more realms and types of experi- ence. As for the rest of writing (all those newspaper essays and serial stories that are thrown away, those folktales never leaving the local language, that doggerel whose echoes remain in homes and cafés), is this not material for the anthropologist more than the literary scholar? Such materials give insights into what is valued by individuals and groups, but, if never translated, these texts interact not at all with
readers outside the community. Goethe and Damrosch would leave them alone, and so does global art cinema.
No one would dispute the value of the visual culture of any given time or place, or even the beauty of some of its expressions; no one would doubt the artistry, intelligence, and wit that has gone into in- numerable state-commissioned documentaries, popular television shows, advertisements, home movies, and episodes of local...

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