ART versus "This is what I think"

There's a big discussion going on over at Jim Emerson's ::Scanners:: Blog about some remarks (a bit of a point/counterpoint) made at the Telluride Film Festival between Tarkovsky and Richard Widmark. (read the post and discussion here *EDIT* the username of the person I reference is Gouthem*EDIT*) I'm, of course, taking part in it, as there's a bit of an arrogant tone to some of the proceedings that I just couldn't stand, particularly on the part of one guy who disses Hitchcock, Welles, Scorsese and John Ford all in the same paragraph as not being artists on the same level as Robert Bresson and Andrei Tarkovsky.

CITIZEN KANE, arguably the most influential movie ever made, and the one film that single-handedly
developed many heretofore unheard of filmmaking techniques is, apparantly, not art.

Apparantly, it's okay for someone who has no real knowledge of the workings of the Hollywood studio system, but has been living in his own arrogant, snotty filth for the better part of his 19 years to make a statement like this. He claims to have seen many classic Hollywood films, but there is no way in Hell that he actually watched them. If you can't recognize the artistry that goes into making a film as hilarious and subversive as SOME LIKE IT HOT or as shocking and influential as PSYCHO in a system that was churning out, literally, hundreds upon hundreds of pictures a year and that often stifled artistic input, there's clearly something that you just don't get.

RAGING BULL, by many accounts the greatest American film of the 1980s, is apparantly not art.

Regardless of how one feels about a particular film, the validity of art should not be the point up for discussion. I don't like the majority of Stanley Kubrick's work because I find it boring, just like Tarkovsky (whose SOLARIS, I should note, is about as perfect as can be, but still a pretty boring film). But just because something bores you, as I'll admit a fair amount of what people consider "art cinema" does to me, does not mean it's any less valid a form of artistic expression.

Neither CASABLANCA, lauded for its screenplay and politically subversive story,
nor VERTIGO, recognized by many critics as Hitchcock's best film, qualify, apparantly, as art.

Tarkovsky may be an artist, but that doesn't give you the right to say that someone like Hitchcock or Scorsese aren't artists. I love how, in one of his posts, he calls Godard an entertainer, then uses a quote by Godard to validate his statement about how one differentiates art and entertainment, all while simultaneously dissing Hitchcock's cred without ever noting that Godard wanted to un-entertain people very often and also how Godard was one of the very influential critics that lauded Hitch as the greatest filmmaker ever. This guy either doesn't understand cinema history, or he's completely off his rocker.

Weigh in and let me know if I'm just completely wrong, or what. Because honestly, I'll admit that maybe I'm just in crazy, obsessive mode right now and am taking things a bit too far... What do you think about it all?


Julia said...

Agreed, wholly and completely. It took me awhile to find the comment you referenced, but once I read it, I was driven to go "OOF!" out loud at my workplace. What's a 19-year-old doing on that discussion board in the first place?

Hitchcock, Scorcese, Ford, etc. ARE artists, IMHO. All film is an artistic venture, just as writing and painting are artistic ventures (now that I think about it, film is all three of those things combined, in a sense). Those three, especially, are amazing solely because they've made films that are both highly artistic and beautiful, as well as "entertaining" (if you want to use the narrow definition offered in the blog).

That kid oughtta shut his mouth, is all I'm saying.

Samuel Cooper-North said...

Hi Matt. I found your blog because you commented on mine. Also, we've both joined in on this discussion on Jim Emerson's blog.

I think you've made a very valid point, to wit, just because you don't like something doesn't mean it's not art, and justly considered great. I don't like George Bernard Shaw, but I recognize he's a master playwright. I also don't like Treasure of the Sierra Madre, but I'd admit it's a great, canonical film. One doesn't have to like everything that's great (although you don't want to be like Voltaire's Pococurante). This is just what Widmark was saying: cinema allows for expressions of many sorts.

On the other hand, I'm dubious of some classic Hollywood directors myself, especially Howard Hawks. This is the point I've tried to make in the post of mine you commented on: that in cinema we have a tendency to consider anything enjoyable great. I like Hawks' films, but I can never find any meaning in them. I think Gouthem is trying to get at this at times, but he often contradicts himself, so I have no idea what he really thinks. However it may be, he does have a point in that art is about expressing something, but calling it a 'message' is too simplistic. It's as Mahler says in Ken Russell's film Mahler, Where the words stop the music begins.

I hope I've convinced you to be a bit more merciful to those of us skeptical of (some of) the Hollywood classics. But Gouthem's criticism of Vertigo or Orson Welles is just ridiculous. Welles very consciously strove to be the Shakespeare of cinema.

matt said...

of course. i'm skeptical of hollywood classics myself. i'm simply against writing off entire swaths of film history in the event that it's lacking in personal interest. i'm trying to convey that, though i know my own argumentative weaknesses tend to skew toward my own obsessions (as do everyone's...)