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Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar Voynar@moviecitynews.com

Film as Art vs Film as Entertainment

Just read this excellent interview with critic and cinephile Olaf Möller (thanks to Ray Pride for linking to it, and for always digging out the most interesting and obscure bits out of the vast array of information clogging the internet).
Whether you love his opinions or hate them, Möller’s knowledge, the way he thinks and writes about film, should humble anyone seeking to call himself a film critic. A quote about the “death of the film criticism” from the interview:
“As long as there’s art, there’s a need to make sense of it. As long as we’re talking about a bourgeois culture like the one we — nominally — live in right here and now. It’s that simple. Mind: “Make sense of it” is something quite different from having an opinion on it, however well-phrased that might be. Everybody has an opinion, but it’s the critic who can argue his, make it his contribution to society’s daily work on the common good.”
I’m going to have to make more of an effort to hunt down some of the films and directors Möller writes about for Film Comment and Cinemascope, if for no other reason than to broaden the depth of my knowledge about filmmakers who are out of the scope of even many of the more elite festivals. I read interviews like this, read Möller’s writings generally, and it makes me question (in a good way, mind you) everything I think I know and love about cinema. I happen to like a good many of the filmmakers Möller derides, but when I read him I think, “Ah, you may think you like these films, that this or that filmmaker truly aspires to ‘art,’ but if you saw what these other filmmakers he talks about are actually doing, would you still think that? Or would it make you question everything you think you know and believe in?”
Reading stuff like this makes me long to move to Europe for a few years and just immerse myself in hitting all the Euro fests and soaking in films from so many filmmakers I haven’t even heard of, much less have any knowledge of. We tend to be so mainstream-centric around here, even those of us who regularly attend fests like Sundance and Toronto and Telluride and Cannes.
Even going to the excellent Scarecrow Video here in Seattle overwhelms and humbles me … there are so many films I have yet to see, and ever fewer years left in which to see them all, and never enough time between mothering my brood and working to ever hope to catch up. It reminds me of when I was about 10 or so, really getting into books seriously, and standing in the public library looking at all the books on the shelves and realizing that even if I read at least a book a day every day for the rest of my life, I could never read them all.
I feel that way about film now … there is so much out there from directors I know of and want to see, and so much more from directors I don’t know enough about, and I feel like I will never catch up with everything I want to learn and know, much less ever get to the point where I’m truly writing at the level at which I’d like to write.
None of which is to say that I think you have to write about obscure, artsy films to be a “real” film critic; there is a place for more mainstream critics who write about more mainstream film, and I certainly wouldn’t argue that folks like A.O. Scott, or J. Hoberman, or Roger Ebert, or many, many more colleagues out there, aren’t all doing useful work that contributes to culture overall in reviewing those films. There is a place for writing about the mainstream for the mainstream, and there is a place for writing about the obscure for those who seek to understand art on a different level than the entertainment of the masses that Hollywood, for the most part, generates.
I write about mainstream films out of Hollywood, and I’m fortunate as well to be able to write about some less mainstream films that I see at Sundance, Seattle and Toronto, and for that I count myself truly blessed, but I still hunger, always, for more, more, more. And as for being able to spend my time watching and writing only about the kind of obscure, interesting, fascinating films that truly aspire to be art rather than just entertain? Probably someday I’ll be lying on my deathbed thinking, man, I wish I’d had time and the place in life to get to all that.

4 Responses to “Film as Art vs Film as Entertainment”

  1. Anonymous says:

    There is no objective superiority for art over entertainment. Thus, there is no reason to worry about fipms aspiring to be “art” rather than “entertainment”. Both types are just as useless at solving world problems or contributing to society, so the act of watching “art” and “entertainment” are both simply time wasters. Thus, I would rather watch entertainment thay keeps me happy rather than an intellectually challenging movie, as that intellect is better used at solving problems in the world, not problems in a piece of fiction.

    Art is overrated.

  2. Nanda says:

    Some movies can be only a piece of fiction, but it also can say a lot about a society. As a book, a movie has the power to help someone to grow, or at least understand about culture. It might not contribute as much for the change of the world, but has the ability to help people from another culture to understand mine, for example. Movies can tell stories, and can invent the future. Only someone who does not appreciate all forms of art can say that movies are a waste of time. I prefer waste my time challenging my intellect than watch a nonsense stupid comedy.

  3. David says:

    The whole problem for me is the concept of the word ‘movie’ which equates solely with ‘entertainment’. The moment you think ‘movie” you think ‘popcorn’, you think ‘thrills and spills’, you think ‘night out’, you think ‘fun’.
    You don’t think ‘contemplation’, you don’t think ‘art’, you don’t think ‘philosophy’ or ‘protest’ or any of the other possibilities cinema can offer.
    When one goes to an art gallery, very rarely does one expect to be ‘entertained’. But every time a ‘movie’ comes on, that’s the general, unthinking expectation.
    As a filmmaker myself, I find that appalling. That people cannot see, understand and accept a whole wide range of cinema. That they can mostly only see cinema as ‘entertainment’.
    It’s the result of decades of social conditioning by mega corporations whose sole motive is to make money.
    It makes it so much more difficult for the artist filmmaker to be seen and understood for what they are and what they do. Because if it’s slow, if it’s boring, if it’s ‘different’, if it’s challenging, if it fails to ‘entertain’, then it’s ‘crap’ in most people’s eyes. Simply because they have not been educated to understand different types of cinema. A great pity.

  4. Johny Walker says:

    I also go with the entertainment part because they can make us happy at least for few hours.

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“I suddenly couldn’t say anything about some of the movies. They were just so terrible, and I’d already written about so many terrible movies. I love writing about movies when I can discover something in them – when I can get something out of them that I can share with people. The week I quit, I hadn’t planned on it. But I wrote up a couple of movies, and I read what I’d written, and it was just incredibly depressing. I thought, I’ve got nothing to share from this. One of them was of that movie with Woody Allen and Bette Midler, Scenes From a Mall. I couldn’t write another bad review of Bette Midler. I thought she was so brilliant, and when I saw her in that terrible production of ‘Gypsy’ on television, my heart sank. And I’d already panned her in Beaches. How can you go on panning people in picture after picture when you know they were great just a few years before? You have so much emotional investment in praising people that when you have to pan the same people a few years later, it tears your spirits apart.”
~ Pauline Kael On Quitting

“My father was a Jerome. My daughter’s middle name is Jerome. But my most vexing and vexed relationship with a Jerome was with Jerome Levitch, the subject of my first book under his stage and screen name, Jerry Lewis.

I have a lot of strong and complex feelings about the man, who passed away today in Las Vegas at age 91. Suffice to say he was a brilliant talent, an immense humanitarian, a difficult boss/interview, and a quixotic sort of genius, as often inspired as insipid, as often tender as caustic.

I wrote all about it in my 1996 book, “King of Comedy,” which is available on Kindle. With all due humility, it’s kinda definitive — the good and the bad — even though it’s two decades old. My favorite review, and one I begged St. Martin’s (unsuccessfully) to put on the paperback jacket, came from “Screw” magazine, which called it “A remarkably fair portrait of a great American asshole.”

Jerry and I met twice while I was working on the book and spoke/wrote to each other perhaps a dozen times. Like many of his relationships with the press and his partners/subordinates, it ended badly, with Jerry hollering profanities at me in the cabin of his yacht in San Diego. I wrote about it in the epilogue to my book, and over the years I’ve had the scene quoted back to me by Steve Martin, Harry Shearer, Paul Provenza and Penn Jillette. Tom Hanks once told me that he had a dinner with Paul Reiser and Martin Short at which Short spent the night imitating Jerry throwing me off the boat.

Jerry was a lot of things: father, husband, chum, businessman, philanthropist, artist, innovator, clown, tyrant. He was at various times in his life the highest-ever-paid performer on TV, in movies, and on Broadway. He raised BILLIONS for charity, invented filmmaking techniques, made perhaps a dozen classic comedies, turned in a terrific dramatic performance in Martin Scorsese’s “The King of Comedy,” and left the world altered and even enhanced with his time and his work in it.

That’s an estimable achievement and one worth pausing to commemorate.

#RIP to Le Roi du Crazy

~ Biographer Shawn Levy on Jerry Lewis on Facebook