When I think about what makes a great film, I initially to think exclude films that are primarily for entertainment—films that aren’t trying to say something profound about the life or the human condition. They just want people to have fun and sometimes that fun is pretty superficial. But can these (and should we) include these films when considering great movies?
When I think about the question more, I think the answer has to be yes. Singin’ in the Rain comes to mind. To me, that’s a great film. It’s not serious or arty (well, except for that weird montage dance sequence, which really was indulgent and unnecessary), but it’s a lot of fun. And it’s great. If Singin’ in the Rain can be considered a great film—great Art__then shouldn"t films that are basically lite entertainment be also considered__or at least not automatically excluded from the discussion?
In answer to the topic question: yes.
i believe it was kurosawa that said entertainment is a requirement for great art. in all great films there is a balance between artfulness and entertainment; a good example of this is citizen kane, as it is thought provoking, cinematically brilliant and full of wry humor and dramatic suspense. films that are created solely as entertainment, such as big daddy and true lies, have merit too in that they do achieve their goal of entertaining, even though there is little else to be found there. a great film will keep you entertained while you are watching it and leave you with plenty to think about once it is over. in answer to your question, lite entertainment shouldn’t be automatically excluded from a discussion of cinema since cinema is a multi-faceted industry and art form, but the standards for judging entertainment are not the same as those for judging art. but, like i said earlier, a great film must be both art and entertainment.
Bolo, I knew you would show up (and say what you would say—the gist of it anyway). I would say encourage you to say more, but somehow I have the feeling that won’t be necessary. :)
A great film must be both great art and great entertainment? I don’t know if I would go that far. Do you think Singin’ in the Rain is a great film? If so, what makes it a great work of art? Also, you don’t think we could name great films that weren’t very entertaining?
I don’t think a great film has to be entertainment. Unless one considers what Tarkovsky or Tarr do entertaining. Certainly they are thought-provoking and thus pleasurable to watch but do not fall under the conventional definition of entertainment. Or in retrospect, perhaps this is where Woody Allen’s quote that art is just entertainment for intellectuals comes to play.
What will be considered “entertainment” is extremely abstract and subjective. For example, what percentage of people would consider Mouchette to be entertaining? Or Stroszek? Or Happiness?
Jazz: It’s pretty simple. Unless somebody wants to argue that there is an objective definition of “great” (i.e. that we don’t all make up our own slightly or radically different definitions using our own experiences and sensibilities), then yes, a movie that is merely great entertainment can be a “great” movie as well. Will that often be the case? Who knows? It’s up to the individual.
At its most fundamental level art is the expression of emotion; any musician or painter can attest to this. Emotion (disgust, horror, joy, bliss, sadness, elation etc…) is immanently entertaining, and therefore cannot be seperated or categorized as strictly other than entertainment.
Into the Void is correct in that entertainment is subjective. Obviously what is entertaining for some is undoubtedly tedious for others.
Also, consider that entertainment, and “saying something” (thematically or otherwise), are not the only two components required in a great film; craft, visual style/originality, acting, etc… must also be considered.
here is dictionary.com’s definition of the word entertainment:
1. the act of entertaining; agreeable occupation for the mind; diversion; amusement: Solving the daily crossword puzzle is an entertainment for many.
2. something affording pleasure, diversion, or amusement, esp. a performance of some kind: The highlight of the ball was an elaborate entertainment.
3. hospitable provision for the needs and wants of guests.
4. a divertingly adventurous, comic, or picaresque novel.
5. Obsolete. maintenance in service.
‘agreeable occupation of the mind’.
i think that solves it.
The original question “Can great films be merely entertainment?” also brings up an equally convaluded and complicated question: What makes a film great? Without getting into such a lengthy topic my short answer to the original question is yes. I consider a film like “Raiders of the Lost Ark” to be great, just as great as an intelligent and thought provoking film, because the originality, craft, skill, imagination, and absolute love of filmmaking that is required to make such a film is, to me, of equal value to the intelligence, originality, craft etc… that is required to make a thought provoking film.
While some people may find films like those made by Tarkovksy entertaining, a majority of people (including many cineastes) would not call these films entertaining. Certainly, they wouldn’t describe it as “lite entertainment”—including those who consider purely cerebral exercises entertaining. What qualifies as entertaining varies from individual to some extent, but there are limits, too—otherwise, the words loose their meanings.
I do think we can define greatness in an objective sense—although there are limits. We can come up with some general criteria of what constitutes greatness, but it won’t be absolute or precise. For example, some great films may not have all the criteria, or they may possess some attribute that would normally preclude that film from being great. I would also say that every individual would understand and define some of the criteria differently. For example, if one of the qualities is cohesion or unity (all the parts coming together in an organic fashion), people will have slightly different understanding of what cohesion is. I think this partly explains the differences in opinion. I’ll stop there because I’m sure you already have a lot to say.
Jazz: Then it’s not objective. I mean, I think these qualifications, limits, etc. that you’re coming up with are not just a minor footnote to the issue at hand. They are exactly what precludes these standards from being objective truths. I think the main reason why you seem to be objecting is because you want to make a provision for agreement on some things. Yes, people can and do agree on things. My position doesn’t exclude that possibility at all, whatsoever. But again, just because some people agree on something doesn’t make it an objective truth.
I think, given the history of art in the last century—the century of film—not all great art must also be entertaining. Prior to the last century, in order for a work of art even to exist in the public eye, and remain in history as it gets passed along, it had to be intended for popular consumption, or it had to be fashionable, pleasing to the eye and the ear and the general moral sense. We live in a much more fractured age, so there is no general moral or aesthetic sense when it comes to art, or even film. While most would agree that narrative film is the most important (with some dissenters, no doubt) current aesthetics—and even popular aesthetics—allows for non-narrative, essayistic and abstract film to thrive. With the democritization of art came the inclusion of work that some would call downright displeasing or disturbing or boring. Now the only criteria for a work of art, and especially a film, to be seen is money.
And in answer to your question: “Singin’ in the Rain” is a masterpiece.
Sounds like some of these arguments are getting bogged down in semantics. Most likely, the gist of Jazzaloha’s question is whether fluff made for the sole purpose of keeping you awake and amused for a couple of hours is still a valid work of cinema even if it has no deep, intellectual aspirations. I believe it is. It still requires skill and mastery over the medium to be able to create something that doesn’t leave people bored to tears or walking out the door because they have something better to do. I’m often disappointed that the major film awards don’t give adequate recognition to these kinds of filmmakers. Comedy, sci-i, fantasy, action and horror are often overlooked, because they don’t carry the same prestige as drama. But could Tarkovsky have made Singin’ in the Rain, and kept it as charming and sweet as it is? Could a master of slow-paced dramas juggle a frenetic action movie like Die Hard without dropping the ball?
Mugino: I don’t think anything is “getting bogged down in semantics.” In fact, I answered Jazz’s question with a simple “yes,” and he said he wanted more info. Why are certain people so quick to shut down this type of conversation around here?
Sorry, got carried away with a side observation. But I came back to it at the end.
Sure, making entertainment requires skill, and many pure entertainment films can be regarded as great films. The problem with genre films is that they must by nature follow a formula, including not just the storyline but the editing and camerawork as well, and are therefore not as adventrous artistically. Can a genre film be a great film? Yes, but it must also bend the aesthetic of that genre a bit, claim some original ground, not just repeat what’s been done before, however well-done. Just like a serious drama, a genre film has to surpass expectations. Examples of highly regarded genre films: Comedy: “Annie Hall.” Sci-fi: “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Fantasy: “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy. Action: “The French Connection.” Horror: okay you got me there. Sure there’s some snobbishness surrounding straight drama, epic drama, romantic drama, biography and the other straight “genres” that typically garner acclaim. But I think any kind of film can gain that much attention if it’s well done. There are action directors, comedy directors, horror directors, and all have their specialty. But the real question is: Could Stanley Donen have made “Andrei Rublev”?
could stanley donen have made andrei rublev? yes, but andrei might have done a little tap dancing or jumped through a wall or two. would it have worked? the world will never know….
jazzaloha: i do think singin in the rain is great art, because of the snappy and hilarious dialogue, charming songs and the balletic precision of the accompanying dancing. i do see your point about “great films that aren’t very entertaining” but i think that since the term entertainment is so broad that it can be applied to anything that keeps one’s attention throughout. films from tarkovsky and fassbinder are not commonly thought of as entertainment, but i have rarely been anything but entirely absorbed while watching their work. i wasn’t slapping my knee or gripping the arms of my chair, but i was entertained, although i wouldn’t use that term without explaining myself due to its ambiguity and aforementioned broadness.
How can we define great or entertainment here? That, I think, is the real question. Art is subjective, therefore I am the only one who determines what is great or not. I would say there are plenty of films I think are great, for various reasons, that many others would not. For me, movies which explore the “human condition” are entertaining. For others, maybe not. So where does entertainment begin and end? Like greatness, it is derived from the individual.
A movie is a moving picture that serves merely for entertainment. A film is art through moving pictures. In that sense, I’d answer NO to your question.
At the same time, I understand that art is subjective, and what many people may find to be just entertaining may be meaningful to many others. If objectively you believe that a film was made with the purpose of profit through entertainment (as action pictures often are) then you can definitely discard it.
Yes. It’s not a question about defining art and entertainment separately, which is what this discussion has turned into. And I would keep a straight face on someone who called ‘Back to the Future’ art. So there.
Something doesn’t have to be art to be great. I love ‘Back to the Future,’ and I think it’s great. It’s also entertaining. Also, it doesn’t matter why a movie is made, for profit or not. The question is what is great and what is entertaining. And that can’t be answered on an objective level. I know at least one person that thought ‘Transformers 2’ was great and entertaining. I thought it was neither.
This question is about definitions. How can you ask generalized questions and expect to get any intelligent response? You have to understand what is meant in the question, and you have to know what you mean by “great” and “art” and “entertainment,” which clearly, many people haven’t thought of.
I never rejected the idea of knowing what is it that we’re being asked, I was merely scoffing the thought that full blown entertainment can’t possibly be considered art by trying to make a distinction between both, and I only used ‘Back to the Future’ as an example because I genuinely think it’s great, too. =)
“Can Great Films be Merely Great Entertainment?”
either its entertaining or its a boring piece of shit.
Well that’s good, because, seriously who doesn’t like ‘Back to the Future?’ I was only raising the questions so others might think what those concepts meant to them (art, entertainment, etc.), and so we wouldn’t be so quick to categorize or label anything. It is easy not to think about it, or to disregard film as being one or the other (boring or not) when doing that would be the equivalent of saying: is it good or bad?
Bolo said, “Then it’s not objective. I mean, I think these qualifications, limits, etc. that you’re coming up with are not just a minor footnote to the issue at hand.”
Oh yes, I wouldn’t necessarily call them minor, but these qualification, limits, etc. also doesn’t signify that the greatness is entirely subjective—i.e. strictly dependent on the individual.
I’m not claiming the existence of greatness is an “objective truth” as I think my response to you makes clear. To be more precise, I think that the concept of greatness exists somewhere between the two extremes of pure objectivity and pure subjectivity. Based on other posts you’ve made in other threads, I would guess that you would agree with that. The big difference is that you’re comfortable describing that situation as subjective/relative—which I am not; I think it’s totally misleading.
Later you say, “I think the main reason why you seem to be objecting is because you want to make a provision for agreement on some things. Yes, people can and do agree on things.”
Well, I think the main reason I say this is because I want to rebut the sentiment expressed in this line of yours: “…that we don’t all make up our own slightly or radically different definitions using our own experiences and sensibilities), then yes, a movie that is merely great entertainment can be a “great” movie as well. Will that often be the case? Who knows? It’s up to the individual.” I don’t think the definition of greatness is radically different or completely up to the individual. Instead, I believe we can come with certain criteria for greatness—with the caveat that these criteria are not absolutely essential nor are they evaluated and perceived in absolutely the same way.
Btw, I didn’t take Mugino to call for shutting down the argument—just a clarification about what this discussion boils down to. I absolutely agree that the is about semantics. But that shouldn’t stop us from continuing the discussion.
I got it. I think we’re basically the same page.
For horror, how about Texas Chainsaw Massacre or even Psycho.
Jazz, what you are saying, seems to me, that there is, or could be, a collective understanding of “greatness.” That while “greatness” is subjective, it also contains certain “qualities” which may allow it to categorized. In many ways, I agree with this. That same idea is applied to many aspects of life – take Law for example; while an individual may hold a set of morals, the collective creates criteria for what is moral or immoral, and what should be accepted and not be accepted in society (these are what I believe to be ethics). (Who creates them is a much different story.)
That being said, I think using the term “great” is incorrect. It is too broad, like “good” or “bad,” it really says nothing. As I understand the original post, or at least the theory behind it, the question is whether a film with no attempt to reflect or explore the human experience (how I define art) can be considered art. Any movie, or thing really, can be “great” depending on who you are speaking with. Art, as opposed to greatness, has specific aims. Do I consider “Transformers” art? Not really, but that is when I apply it to my understanding of art, and what I believe is the collective understanding of art. In that sense, there must be collective understanding and some criteria for definition, otherwise we would all be floating in our own worlds.
Even if it is a semantic debate, there should be nothing wrong with that. This is just what happens when people ask complex questions with general terminology.
Also, sorry for getting in on your discussion. I read what both you and Bolo said, and I found it very interesting. I think it is difficult to understand art, and no doubt having any type of “criteria” for it will offend people. But is it necessary for our understanding? That is another interesting question at hand.
One of my favorite films is The Dark Knight. If you aske me it is a great film. Ive heard people talk about a film called Wavelength and saying it was great but I watched it and thought it was boring as hell. It was just a a camera looking at a photo on the wall for 45 minutes, so I dont think that films great at all. The Dark Knight was very entertaining and some of it was quite thought provoking too.
I found Wavelength very entertaining.
Do you also find waiting in a dentist waiting room entertaining? Isnt watching Wavelength just the same as sitting in a waiting room looking at a picture on his wall?
No, because Wavelength forces you to follow the perspective Michael Snow has fixed and experience the sound design and editing he has imposed. Through this, I felt like I was experiencing an other-worldy sensation, hence it was entertaining to me. But to prove subjectivity, it could obviously be just as boring to another person, just as how The Dark Knight can also be boring. In fact, for any film that one does not pay attention to can be boring.