January 15, 2013 – FILM LECTURE
Today’s topic: The Art Film
The Art Film distinguishes itself from the Classical Film with its narrative structure,
formal attributes and themes.
The Classical Film orients the viewer very comfortably; this is not the case with the Art
Film (which creates a certain mood).
The Classical Film shares certain attributes with classical art in general (like harmony, a
capacity to imitate reality, cool control of the beholder’s response). This week, we will
associate Art Film with modernism. Art Film is representative of a broader art form
(modernism). We are going from a classical text to a modernist text.
What is modernism? It is an umbrella term that encompasses a lot of things in art (like
expressionism, pointillism, cubism…) It is a profound shift that began at the end of the
19 century. It marks a break with the 2 artistic movements prevalent during the 19 th
century (realism and romanticism)
Realism = artistic movement that attempted to find an objective truth in the world. It
assumed that we can only trust that which we actually see and hear and touch for
Gustave Courbet: “The essence of realism is the negation of the ideal”. Courbet painted
real and existing things. He saw in the world around him average people performing
mundane events, and then he would produce paintings to document that reality. Famous
painting of Courbet: “The Stone Breakers”. He captured the mundane reality captured by
average people. Emile Zola, Gustave Flaubert were both realists as well.
Romanticism = an endeavor to discover the truth within oneself. The romantics valued
what the Realists rejected (the irrational, natural, subjective…). Charles Baudelaire was a
Association of art with truth = tendency of both realism and romanticism. But modernism
questioned the notion that there was a singular Truth to be discovered, it questioned art’s
role of depicting reality/truth. Art moved away from those working in a classical tradition
so as to reflect on itself. Artists examined the mechanics of art.
Self-reflexivity: When an art work is self-reflexive, it acknowledges its own construction
(and it announces as much to its audience). In the visual arts, the abstraction of figures,
the fragmentation of forms and the refusal of representation helps to highlight the fact of
the paint on a canvas. This shift to modernism is a challenge (we see the world in a
different way), there is an increased degree of difficulty. It poses more problems, more
questions than answers to the receiver. The point is to confuse, to shock him, to make
him ask questions. We are destabilized; artist does not try to make us comfortable.
There are several reasons for this change (role of urbanization, industrialization,
increased secularization of society, the founding of quantum physics, the rise of mass
communication, the world wars…).
Early film directors, however, were not modernists. Filmmakers relied on conventions of
realism (which became classicism). They relied on the principles of theatre in the 19 th
century (like D.W. Griffith).
German expressionism: (ex: The Scream, Edvard Munch) Was a film movement that
blossomed in late 19teens and into late 1920s. It was quite modernist in sensibility. Also, silent Soviet Cinema was quite modernist in sensibility (ex: Battleship Potemkin,
October…). French Avant-Garde Cinema was also quite modernist (ex: Ballet
Mecanique). Once sound came in the scene (1927), modernism lost its effect on cinema.
It was as if sound anchored film to reality. Starting in 1950s, this trend finally reversed
itself and modernism appeared in film (especially in Europe) stronger than ever. There
were changes in the international film market (especially with the emersion of the
television), which produced increased opportunities for filmmakers. The cinema that
emerges is a cinema of formal complexity, which rejects preexisting conventions, prone
to stylization, wears its status as art on its sleeve. It brings attention to its creator and to
the fact that it has been created.
But how do we distinguish art film from avant-garde film? Both are heavily influenced
Differences between the 2 films:
1. Avant-garde films are rather non-narrative or they play with narrative so much
that they are non-sensical. On the other hand, Art films have a narrative (there is a
story at hand)
2. Avant-garde films are more experimental and art films (which are limited in their
experimentation). Avant-garde films are concerned with form, they are all about
3. Avant-garde films tend