Here’s a classic topic with a little variation, Has anyone ever seen a film that everybody thought to be mainstream/arthouse but you thought it was the contrary?
no country for old men and the darjeeling limited are both mediocre films… wow! they have one symbol! That definitely makes them valid arthouse films!
Who said No Country For Old Men is considered an arthouse film? The Coen Brothers wouldn’t even make that claim—they’re not arthouse directors.
Let it be said before this conversation gets out of control (which it looks like is already happening)
All good film-makers understand that film-making is an art.
What people consider to be “art-house” and mainstream really depends on a lot of factors other than the director. It depends on marketing, it depends on studio and budgetary control, it depends on the director’s background as a film-maker, I mean I could go on but you get the idea. So this discussion should not bring in directors or bodies of work, but individual films themselves.
That being said, I don’t think it is fair to put the Coen brothers into a category as mainstream directors because I think they’ve shown that they if anything they aren’t completely conventional (O Brother, The Big Lebowski, Miller’s Crossing, Barton Fink, etc.)
But back to the conversation, I would say that No Country for Old Men is a perfect example of a film that crosses both boundaries of mainstream and what is considered “art-house”. It was well marketed, had a strong run at the Oscars winning Best Picture and it stars three leading men who are all considerably different from one another. So it got a lot of publicity, but in terms of the film, I wouldn’t say it is the most mainstream by any means. The aesthetic, pacing and execution of the film are all quite unconventional if you compare them to mainstream Hollywood films (they tend to be blockbusters, Dark Knight is a good example). And on top of that, it is a mature and somewhat cold film, so in terms of storytelling it does differ from the a lot of mainstream films.
As the poster above says, this terminology is often very murky and misleading. Films that might be considered art-house in, say, the United States, might be quite mainstream in their countries of origin.
David, I totally agree with you in terms of the aesthetic quality of the Coen Brothers—they are in fact probably among my favorite directors. I own all of their works, and I will defend them to the death. I wasn’t saying that they’re mainstream, just that they’re not “art house.” When I think art house, I think weird, experimental, artsy, dramatic films. Coen films are still marketable to a wide audience because they’re entertaining, and I don’t mean that in a bad way.
JONATHAN: Yeah I understood what you were getting at, my response was more geared toward Nate because I didn’t understand his comment about one symbol or whatever. But I think your opinion of their work being very entertaining and marketable, yet still keeping to their own unique aesthetic and narrative style is a valid one because I don’t think that many other directors are able to do that as well as the Coens nowadays (there are exceptions of course). They can make pictures they want, how they want and still be able to be successful, which is really the dream of any director especially any auteur.
I recently screened ‘Punch Drunk Love’, the so-called rom-com by rogue director Paul Thomas Anderson. Looking at the trailers and the way this film was marketed, I was expecting a cynical romantic adam sandler comedy with frenetic panning and scorcese-esque (is that a word? Tarantinoesque is) steadi-cam’s.
(1 Hour, 35 Minutes and 7 Seconds Later)…
After watching it, I was blown away. PTA implements the understated idiom, ‘show, don’t tell’. This was one of the few films I’ve seen that truly made me FEEL the characters plight. PTA had evolved, using his own camera techniques that perfectly evoked the thoughts of the characters, and Adam Sandler proves once again that sometimes the best person for a dramatic role is a comedian. I hope whoever came up with the marketing strategy for ‘Punch Drunk Love’ got the sack. If I had known how much of a dynamic and original film it was, I would have seen it in the cinemas. However, I don’t know too many people who would consider PTA ‘arthouse’ given the success and exposure of his films such as ‘Magnolia’, ‘Boogie Nights’ and ‘There Will Be Blood’, but ‘Punch Drunk Love’ (to me) is definitely art house.
I think that having a mainstream success like Paul Thomas Anderson or the Coen brothers doesn’t necessarily make them mainstream, because in the end, they do what they want to, they’re not controlled by studios and you can see that in their films, I mean, I know no one who really understood No Country for Old men because even though they’re not film experts or even people who like ‘art films’, they knew there was something else to it, so I think arthouse or mainstream are categories that should be given to films because of their intention, I mean, there’s films that are clearly made to be sold to an audience, for example all the comic book adaptations that have been coming out since X Men and Spiderman, and speaking of this, Michael Bay came to my mind. I tend to think the guy is trully an auteur, you can see his trademarks very clearly in his films since Armegeddon, he’s very talented, although the movies themselves are designed to be blockbusters, so What do you think about him, is he an artist who makes blockbusters or a very gifted director with no artistry whatsoever?
Alonso: That’s an interesting point you bring about Michael Bay, because I haven’t thought of it that way.
I would say that visually and creatively in those terms, he’s got a very distinctive style and the way he wants the narrative to play out with the action is very consistent in his films. But if you are trying to ask if he is an artist as opposed to being a strong visual director, then I would probably have to lean toward the latter.
He is what I would consider somewhat of an auteur because the visual and narrative direction of his films are very much in control and it shows his distinct style. But I think a crucial element of being an auteur takes place in the writing. He’s never had a writing credit, and though I’m sure he has input in the screenplays that he works on, they don’t really show a uniform vision and that has shown because he’s worked on films with terrible dialogue and films with dialogue that is fine.
He makes pretty successful blockbusters even though I have to say some of his films have really cheesy dialogue (Transformers, Pearl Harbor, etc.). That’s just his style and you can really see that come through when he talks about films and ideas he has for films because he’s very visually oriented and he’s all about using CGI whenever possible. That’s just his own style and you can’t knack him for having a style, but you can critique the style itself. A good example is James Cameron. He admits all the time that in all his films he just loves throwing in as much as he can and push the envelope as much as he can because that’s the kind of film he wants to see. He really isn’t afraid to admit that some of his film’s are a bit ridiculous but he loves the sheer entertainment value of it.
David: I totally agree with you, and you made me realize something I hadn’t thought about, there is no consistency in regards of what his films are about. There is not a consistent body of work in terms of themes, and that leaves him only as maybe the greatest action director I’ve seen, but not an auteur like John Woo, in chose films there’s the subjects of honor, friendship, loyalty, and othe themes that make me think fo him as a modern samurai cinema maker, whose characters are gangsters instead of ronin, who use guns instead of swords, I wish he could go back to stuff like Hard Boiled, Bullet in the Head or The Killer, seems to me like it isn’t like Hollywood spoiled him, but he’s rather confused on how to make movies, he makes American blockbusters with a chinese point of view, so, to me, he has to either change his approach or go back to China, hope his new film is better than his Hollywood years.
John Woo has definitely dropped off and he has for a while. He recently made Red Cliff which is about the Ancient Kingdom in China, but I’ve heard really mixed reviews about it. Broken Arrow, Face/Off, MI2, Windtalkers, Paycheck, I mean all those movies are on TV here in the U.S. because TNT has all his movies on contract (which goes to show you something)
He’s a pure action director in my opinion, and his older, more mature gritty cop action films were his better work. As a fellow Chinese film-enthusiast, I’ve always felt he was quite limited in his repertoire. I find Ang Lee to be the best Chinese film-maker alive right now.
Overrated by leaps and bounds. Never got the hype around Woo. Hey John ? Can we get another slow motion explosion scene with 4 cameras covering the action ? Yes ! Just like the old A – Team episodes.
David: Once again we agree, although I think Jonh Woo’s the greatest action director (referring to his Hong Kong years) I’ve seen, Ang Lee is one of the finest Asian directors both in his homeland and in America, but my personal favorite is Yimou Zhang.
“I think Jonh Woo’s the greatest action director” – The greatest ? Ever ?
James Cameron – T2, True Lies, The Abyss, Aliens, Titanic
George Miller – The Road Warrior series
Steven Spielberg – Raiders, SPR, Minority Report …
John McTiernan – Die Hard, The 13th Warrior
Mel Gibson – Braveheart, Apacalypto
Ridley Scott – Gladiator, Black Hawk Down
They seem to really get action sequences. QT in the Kill Bill’s and Deathproof got my attention as well.
J.R.: The guys you mention have some wonderful action sequences, but Woo’s are actually very different, when you watch things like Hard Boiled, you see a display of characters dancing around shooting each other, it’s like ballet, the choreography is just great, and I said I thought he was the greatest I had seen, I don’t think a director can be put on top of all others, so maybe I wasn’t very clear, what I meant was that he was the best I had seen, and my favorite, but that doesn’t mean there can’t be anoyne better, I just think he was more creative and unique, and actually, I wouldn’t call many of the directors you mention “action film directors” most of them have action sequences in their films, but I don’t think Saving Private Ryan, for example, is other than a war drama, Don’t you agree?
Mainly art for me, and arthouse is my second favourite genre. Although I do like some mainstream films, they are mainly mainstream arthouse films though.
Jonathan: True they don’t fit the definition of ‘art house’ directors, but some, if not most, of their films I might consider ‘art’ films because of how well I think they were made as well as how they were made. The uniqueness of them and so on.
The categories may be problematic. Some critical analysis is required for each film we are classifying. One of the arguments I always have is because, in addition to obviously mainstream films there are films that seem to be “arthouse” or "independent that when deconstructed actually follow typical mainstream patterns. Then, of course, there are films that are truly unique in there structures, themes or mise en scene. The question of which is which causes much debate. I agree P.T. Anderson or the Coens are not automatically mainstream because they make money, however it could be argued that their films don’t really challenge audience expectations enough to be anything but mainstream at the core.
There are films which make very little money, have dark or cynical themes, and a grainy handheld look that I would call very mainstream.
Mike: That’s true, but I’m not sure I’d call how their films are presented ‘mainstream’. I can’t think of another word at the moment, but mainstream seems to discard the craftsmanship of these films, which imo alone makes them worth considering as ‘art’. I’ve always seen art as both having the capacity for complex and the straightforward.
I am not sure what level of craftsmanship elevates mainstream ideas into the level of great art. Titanic is extremely well crafted, unless you count Billy Zane as a poorly made prop, and yet I would never consider it close to being art.
Mike: It’s difficult for me to describe, but while Titanic is well-crafted there’s something about There Will Be Blood and the Coens’ films that is several notches above that. Maybe it’s that those films rely on something in their scripts and director’s personal visions [characterization, dialogue, etc.] that Titanic lacks.
It’s interesting ‘cause there are many films from the past that were considered, and still are to some extent, mainstream but their reputations grew in such a way that they became ’art house’ films.
all great art has great craftsmanship at the core. i dont know any that doesnt.
I think the methods of creating films from loosely structured improvisational rehearsal that Mike Leigh and other greats have utilized may have great craftsmanship towards the editing stage but at what I would consider the core they are not really all that concerned with craftsmanship.
I think the problem is that “art-house” and “mainstream” don’t really accurately describe anything other than where a movie happens to play. As Spence said, critical analysis is necessary before classification can really occur. And if we always have to engage in critical analysis in order to categorize a movie as “art-house” or “mainstream,” those terms aren’t really very useful or relevant to our needs.
I’m much more interested in why people are inclined to make this distinction, what they gain from doing so, etc. It seems like a waste of time to engage in critical analysis just so we can sort movies into empty categories. Our critical effort can be better spent working toward a crystallization of personal sensibility, ideas of value, quality, style, etc.
And John Waters’s Polyester is a perfect example of a movie that has poor craftsmanship and yet nonetheless manages to be great. Craftsmanship is a bad yardstick, because it implies that there is an objective, ideal standard of craftsmanship for “great” movies to live up to.
I didn’t mean to suggest a focus on the ‘craftsmanship’ factor, but rather why I see films like Blood or the Coens work as art even if they seem rather ‘mainstream’ as far as they don’t push boundaries, are revolutionary, etc.
these kind of distinctions are more important as marketing points than as evaluations, I think.
Godard once said (I’m paraphrasing): “Whenever an artistically conceived film becomes a commercial hit, it means that there’s been a BIG misunderstanding.” :-)
I think the majority of Jim jarmusch films straddle that line of arthouse/commercialiality…
Ops….Confusing terms here, I think. Mainstream and arthouse are categories in capitalism, but they not reflect the real artistry of every movie, I think. I don’t think Star Wars is even a great movie, but George Lucas has the money and the freedom for constructing a pop-movie with a rare freedom these days. We are not interested, and Star Wars is, above all, a triumph and a revolution in terms of business, but Lucas made every movie as he wanted, specially the new trilogy. Hitchcock wasn’t refering himself as an artist, but he was. Do we need the card? The bad distribution? Spielberg made A.I. which is a superior movie and Kubrick died admiring E.T. as a perfect movie.
There are great pieces of art (some popular, some high) in both mainstream and arthouse. Some arthouse auteurs lack depth, but have recognition. Hollywood can made big, huge productions (2001, A.I. are two examples) and arthouse can appreciate the work of a little team and no studio interferences, but the Cahiers school was the first to say that Hitchock, Hawks and Ford were auteurs, that means truly artist.
We need the process for judging every work, but if we think that every movie (arthouse and mainstream) has the same process and the process is essential to the quality we are terribly wrong. So, more Walter Benjamin and less easy distinctions between mainstream and arthouse. :D