Film is an art form, but many often perceive it — first and foremost — as a leisure activity.
Just look at the disparities between the potential awards contenders. This year, some of the most likely awards contenders span all of genres and audiences: Skyfall (action-adventure), Lincoln (biopic), Beasts of the Southern Wild (fantasy), Flight (character study), Argo (political-thriller), Django Unchained (spaghetti western, of all things) and Les Misérables (musical).
It is this diversity, precisely, that makes the current film market interesting; it allows filmmakers to experiment and appeal to the multifarious wants of the consumer.
There is no problem, then, with films having different goals, but there is an issue in that many audiences have an either-or mindset on what film should be. The divide: Film as entertainment versus film as art.
If we want to be informed and fulfilled moviegoers, though, this mindset needs to be changed.
After a hard day’s work, many filmgoers don’t want to be challenged — they want mindless entertainment. And that’s completely understandable.
There is a time and a place for certain films. I’ve been putting off seeing Lincoln, not because I don’t want to see it (this is Daniel Day-Lewis we’re talking about here), but because I have to be in the mood, in the right state of mind to see a 2 ½-hour biopic.
On the other hand, sometimes I’m in the mood films such as Michael Haneke’s Amour. The love story looks at an elderly couple at the end of their lives, telling a story of love slowly fading away into the grasps of death. The film practically screams depressing, but still the critics love it because it touches on something real.
Entertainment Weekly’s film critic Owen Gleiberman describes the film as, “Transfixing and extraordinarily touching, perhaps the most hauntingly honest movie about old age ever made,” and that’s an endorsement if I ever heard one. And yet many moviegoers will probably skip over this film because it isn’t the typical “enjoyable” or “entertaining” piece of cinema. Moviegoers as a whole have this idea that entertainment generally consists of cars blowing up, people falling in love (and it working out), crude humor, etc. But who’s to say that entertainment has to be restricted to such defined terms?
Audiences need to re-conceptualize rigid definitions of entertainment and extend that definition to include what engages them.
For me, a big part of what makes a film great is whether or not it carries the capacity to make a viewer really feel or think about something and become invested in the story.
Bridesmaids made me laugh like no other comedy last year, Tree of Life made me think about the meaning of our existence, Looper kept me on edge and excited and Silver Linings Playbook made me feel a little bit of everything.
The point is, all these films made me feel something. They are all works of art — and some proved incredibly entertaining as well — but more importantly, they have the capacity to instill emotion into the viewer and that’s what really matters.
Film can be artistic and entertaining, but we can’t ignore art just because it isn’t necessarily “leisurely” per se. If anything all film is art, but all art isn’t necessarily entertaining. We just have to learn to pay more attention to films that might not excite us in the way Skyfall did. We also must look to films like Amour that create something real with feelings.
As awards season continues to heat up, keep in mind film is not necessarily just about leisure. Maybe a film doesn’t keep us entertained in the typical sense of the word, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth seeing.
Ultimately, film viewing should be inclusive, and if we want to be informed viewers who are exposed to well-made, emotionally stimulating works, we need to be open to all films, both artistic and entertaining.
C. Molly Smith is a junior majoring in communication. Her column “Keepin’ It Reel” ran Wednesdays.