What is it that truly makes something art? We can define this nebulous concept in many ways. It could exist in painting and sculpture work. It could be music or film. Art is as interpreted by the artist, encompassing what individual humans want to express in different ways. In this case, we look more closely at film. What about film makes it art? Film is a way to take an idea whether it’s singular or an ideology of many, and use moving pictures to convey these ideas and emotions to the viewer. When we see something or hear something on the screen, we often have a response. It could be positive, or it could be negative. What matters is that we do respond. Art is about expression and response. What we should remember when defining this medium, is that not all the films made today should be considered art. Some films take away from the beauty of art, and they almost in a way, harm it. They do this by throwing loud and bland images at us, images that don’t make us feel anything.
We respond to art by showing emotion, art evokes these emotions, and it makes us feel. One could try to prove that film makes us feel these things more than almost anything else. In a way, it could be a higher form of art. It depends on the viewer, the ones who interpret it. A good point is made by author Armond White (Film Is Art, Television Is a Medium). He states, “Imagine Picasso’s “Guernica” (which once graced a full wall at the Museum of Modern Art) being shrunk to the size of an iPad mini! Cinema’s scale and detail give it an emotional and intellectual depth.”
A short sentence that sums up one of the reasons as to what makes film art. The things that stick out here are words like emotional and intellectual. Often a lot of the Indy films made today stand out as being intellectual. They tackle the topics of important issues and provide stories that make you think about what it is you are watching. If not for these emotions it is portraying, it would feel empty. Instead, it makes us as the audience feel an in-depth connection to the source material. Look at something like a giant action spectacle film. The films tend to be made by throwing loud noises and vibrant colors at the audience with no true direction. Try defining this in the art of pictures. If you were comparing a loud action set piece like Transformers to a more beautiful and poignant story like the film Room, it would be like comparing blotches of color scattered on a blank canvas, to something like the Mona Lisa. What’s the difference between the two? If you really look at it and think about it. Which one evokes more of an emotional response? We really can’t get a response from something that in some ways has less life. Which of the two would you see as the purer form of art? If we look at each of the works of art and process the ideas and themes they are conveying; we should be able to see the clear difference between the two.
The questions listed before, are questions we should ask ourselves when pondering the ideas and concepts of what defines art. A film that makes us feel and think rather than just throwing loud images at us is a film that is truly worthy of the label of art. Every so often you have the occasional “blockbuster” film that strays away from this formula.
I recently had the pleasure of viewing director Denis Villeneuve’s latest film, Blade Runner 2049. The film is a stunning piece of modern sci-fi filmmaking or art as it were. It takes the concepts and ethical debates of what makes us human and it expands upon them. It takes an idea that many people would be scared to cover and it approaches them within the bounds of philosophy and psychology. In the end, the $150,000,000 “blockbuster” film feels more like an arthouse film, rather than its other close relatives. So, what makes Blade Runner 2049 worth mentioning as art? Blade Runner 2049 is at its core a very human film. It takes us, the viewers along on a story of self-discovery and redemption. It asks us the audience to interpret through our hero’s journey, what it means to be human. The ethical questions of technological advancements and how far it should and will go. It would be considered spoilers to say much more, but read this brief note by Mr. Villeneuve in his interview with Time Magazine. He states “For me, one of my goals was to create a bleak world with strong sparks of beauty coming out of it. That’s why the first sequence, where Officer K (Gosling) is flying towards Los Angeles, is a gray, overcast, dark, austere landscape with winter light. Suddenly you have sparks of light coming out of the landscape’s technology, and that creates beauty. The humanity of the characters creates beauty” (Nash, Jenkins). What can we take from this note from the director? He is noting throughout this paragraph that beauty is an incredibly vital thing to this story. Isn’t art something that we wish to be beautiful? Art is at its core a beautiful thing; it’s meant to inspire, to leave someone in awe, to horrify and to shock.
As stated above, the idea of many films today is to inspire. Look at the film Unbroken directed by Angelina Jolie. Unbroken is the story of Louis Zamperini. Louis Zamperini was an Olympic Athlete in 1936, right before World War II. When World War II began, Louis was drafted into the military. In an expedition gone wrong, he and a few other soldiers crashed their plane and were stranded in the middle of the ocean. Louis was eventually captured by the Japanese army, and this was where the real story of courage and survival began. The film is both tragic and sad but is ultimately a story of inspiration.
As stated previously, art can inspire. It can teach us things. It can move us as human beings in many ways. So, what about Unbroken makes it art? What is the form of inspiration we can draw from it? The film is a beautiful and quite frankly inspirational look at the strength of the human spirit. It is the true story of one man’s journey from being a normal young man who has big dreams, to a man who struggles through forty-seven days lost at sea and a vicious POW camp in Japan. Louis learns incredibly valuable lessons in his hardships, namely, the power of forgiveness. He shows to us that with enough determination and faith, the human spirit is something that cannot be broken. Director Angelina Jolie states in her article with Elle.com that, “Like many of the greatest human stories, it (Unbroken) is about the capacity of regular men and women to rise above adversity. It reminds us never to give up, and that having the spirit to fight is what really matters. It is powerful because it speaks to the potential inside all of us” (Zemler, Emily). This quote alone sums up a good deal of what makes this film so special. The art that lies inside is a form that inspires. It inspires us to be the best we can be and like the director herself said, to never give up, and that’s a powerful thing.
If we look at a painting, what is more likely to grab our attention? A dull gray canvas with random strokes of paint running through it or a painting of an event told through detailed pictures. The one is just touching the tip of the iceberg of becoming a piece of art, and the other has already mastered the way and is out in the world, ready to shock viewers with its beauty. What is a film that fully encompasses the meaning of art? There are so many, but for this example, we will use Japanese anime film, Your Name (Kimi No Na Wa). In anime, you have both drawn art that has been animated for the big screen, and a beautiful story. Your Name is the story of a girl from the country and a boy from Tokyo. When the unexplainable happens, the two begin to dream that they are swapping places with each other and living their respective lives. Through this, they begin to fall in love with their counterpart, but in the background, is a more prominent problem, a coming catastrophe.
Your Name is one of those films that truly feels like you are watching a beautiful painting created directly in front of you. In some ways you are. Director Makoto Shinkai tells a brilliant story of love and mystery that transcends time and space, while also feeling grounded and real. The colors and the sounds are vibrant and seem to fly off their canvas. The story is emotionally grounded in both reality and fantasy. Here is an excellent quote by the director in his article with Entertainment Weekly. “Your Name’s success told me movies still have the power to connect with society. As a medium, it still has a power that resonates,” he says (Nolfi, Joey). We need to relate and to feel what we are watching. At each step, we feel a connection, a joyful connection, a sad connection, an inspired connection. The true meaning is right there in front of the viewer. It evokes these emotions from inside of us, and it wraps us up in a beautiful wave of pictures we will never forget.
So, what is Art? When asked to define this concept we will struggle to define it fully. The struggle to take such a vast and complicated medium can be difficult to tackle. The art in film is just one of many forms of art, but the ability to take moving pictures to make the audience feel pain, love, anger, sorrow, joy and a host of other emotions is what makes it so special. Film is art because, in the end, it is about telling us a story and each one of our stories is important and just waiting to be told.