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Theorizing Art Cinemas: Foreign, Cult, Avant-Garde, and Beyond

David Andrews
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    Theorizing Art Cinemas
    Book Description:

    The term "art cinema" has been applied to many cinematic projects, including thefilm d'artmovement, the postwar avant-gardes, various Asian new waves, the New Hollywood, and American indie films, but until now no one has actually defined what "art cinema" is. Turning the traditional, highbrow notion of art cinema on its head,Theorizing Art Cinemastakes a flexible, inclusive approach that views art cinema as a predictable way of valuing movies as "art" movies-an activity that has occurred across film history and across film subcultures-rather than as a traditional genre in the sense of a distinct set of forms or a closed historical period or movement.

    David Andrews opens with a history of the art cinema "super-genre" from the early days of silent movies to the postwar European invasion that brought Italian Neorealism, the French New Wave, and the New German Cinema to the forefront and led to the development of auteur theory. He then discusses the mechanics of art cinema, from art houses, film festivals, and the academic discipline of film studies, to the audiences and distribution systems for art cinema as a whole. This wide-ranging approach allows Andrews to develop a theory that encompasses both the high and low ends of art cinema in all of its different aspects, including world cinema, avant-garde films, experimental films, and cult cinema. All of these art cinemas, according to Andrews, share an emphasis on quality, authorship, and anticommercialism, whether the film in question is film festival favorite or a midnight movie.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-74775-3
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xvi)
    David Andrews
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xvii-xx)
  5. INTRODUCTION: Correcting Art Cinema’s Partial Vision
    (pp. 1-16)

    Seven Blind Mice(1992) is a children’s story by Ed Young based on the Indian fable of the six blind men. In it, seven mice investigate a new “Something” standing by their pond. They touch it each in turn before describing it and naming it for the group. Green Mouse, having felt its long trunk, deems it a snake, and Orange Mouse, having felt its floppy ear, thinks it a fan. The seventh rodent, White Mouse, takes a completely different approach, running all over the animal, and reports back that the first six were all wrong, for the Something was...

  6. PART 1. Art, Auteurism, and the World

    • CHAPTER 1 Art as Genre as Canon: Defining “Art Cinema”
      (pp. 19-34)

      Way back in 1981, in his seminal article “Art Cinema as Institution,” Steve Neale noted that “art cinema” had rarely been defined as a cinematic concept. Over time, the failure of scholars to confront this foundational notion has led to its becoming, in Eleftheria Thanouli’s estimate, one of the “fuzziest and yet least controversial concepts in film studies.”¹ Lately, however, theorists like Thanouli, Andrew Tudor, Karl Schoonover, Rosalind Galt, András Bálint Kovács, and Mark Betz have shown renewed interest in “art cinema” and its several offshoots. Thus, in a fairly recent analysis, Tudor points to the peculiarity of the term...

    • CHAPTER 2 No Start, No End: Auteurism and the Auteur Theory
      (pp. 35-55)

      In a June 2009 letter to the editor, Michel Ciment argued thatSight & Sound’s celebration of the French New Wave in its May 2009 issue was deceptive, for it implied that the movement was “the origin of everything” and had even “established the auteur as the supreme creative force.” To be clear, as the editor ofPositif, Ciment did not have a problem with this idea of authorship. But he did have an issue with the idea that the New Wave inaugurated it. In his eyes, Ingmar Bergman, Luchino Visconti, Robert Bresson, Jacques Tati, and Andrzej Wajda had all...

    • CHAPTER 3 From “Foreign Films” to “World Cinema”
      (pp. 56-72)

      Though terms like the “mainstream” or “mainstream cinema” are often used with contempt in cinephile discourse, they are not always terms of derision in actual art films. After all, these terms reflect common human desires ranging from a straightforward, even hard-wired taste for accessible movies to an equally natural desire to fit in. We often see such desires dramatized in art-film narratives, depictions that are not always negative. For example, in my epigraph, Dolores “Lolita” Haze signals her desire to return to the mainstream norms of American childhood by rejecting “those foreign films.” It does not bode well for Humbert...

  7. PART 2. Formats and Fetishes

    • CHAPTER 4 Recovery and Legitimation in the Traditional Art Film
      (pp. 75-94)

      Which art-movie format is now truest to art cinema’s most legendary function, the legitimation of cinema as a high art? This is a question I seem destined to return to, for the answers that once tempted me—including cultart cinema and mainstream art cinema—currently look misleading. On the one hand, the films and auteurs of these illegitimate and quasi-legitimate formats are today more popular than ever with global audiences—and their full legitimation as high art could validate gigantic swaths of the film world, much as the legitimation of classic art films once did during the auteur era of...

    • CHAPTER 5 Losing the Asterisk: A Theory of Cult-Art Cinema
      (pp. 95-113)

      In a 1986 interview with Andrea Juno, the cult-horror director Frank Henenlotter made it clear that, unlike Sam Raimi and his cult classicThe Evil Dead(1981), he was an unimportant director and his own classic film,Basket Case(1982), was an unimportant work, one that deserved at most a “footnote with an asterisk” by comparison.¹ What made his judgment something other than a straightforward expression of humility was the fact that it came at the tail end of a conversation that took it for granted that there was value in cheap, unimportant things and in any project governed by...

    • CHAPTER 6 Revisiting “The Two Avant-Gardes”
      (pp. 114-139)

      In 1975, Peter Wollen published his article “The Two Avant-Gardes” inStudio International. There he proposed that two experimental cinemas were at work in Europe, with one centered around a cooperative movement of avant-garde filmmakers like Peter Gidal, Malcolm Le Grice, and Birgit Hein, and the other around experimental auteurs like Jean-Luc Godard and the team of Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet, who often worked in a more commercial, feature-length format that relied more consistently on narrative. Wollen argued that the New American Cinema was the model for the first European avant-garde but that the United States lacked the second...

    • CHAPTER 7 Sucking the Mainstream: A Theory of Mainstream Art Cinema
      (pp. 140-154)

      So far, we have used the term “mainstream cinema” without establishing what it is. This may be par for the course, since one function of this seemingly straightforward idea is to relax us into thinking it is okay, even natural, to crowd gigantic groups of movies into a degraded background about which little is known but much is assumed. Using the phrase this way is a habit of convenience, for it helps us to think about the movies as a complex whole. Unfortunately, this habit also limits our understanding of how the “movie movies” lumped together as “mainstream cinema” relate...

  8. PART 3. Institutions and Distributions

    • CHAPTER 8 Re-integrating Stardom (. . . or Technology or Reception or . . .)
      (pp. 157-171)

      One point I make across this theory is that art cinema’s high-art status is dependent on consistent myths that are circulated through equally consistent intellectual discourses. By highlighting the anticommercialism or the auteurism of a given cinema, these discourses lend that cinema an air of disinterested seriousness crucial to it being perceived as high art. That said,manyfactors must coalesce before such perceptions can crystallize, for the status of an art world results from what Howard Becker has called the “collective activity” of that world.¹ Though many of these activities are just as crucial to the cultural elevation of...

    • CHAPTER 9 Art Cinema as Institution, Redux: Art Houses, Film Festivals, and Film Studies
      (pp. 172-190)

      In a recent issue ofScope, Eleftheria Thanouli observes that, thirty years on, the two most influential articles on art cinema remain David Bordwell’s “The Art Cinema as a Mode of Film Practice” (1979) and Steve Neale’s “Art Cinema as Institution” (1981). Thanouli then critiques Bordwell’s “canonical account” of art cinema—which, as she notes, he expanded inNarration in the Fiction Film(1985)—“to underline a number of weaknesses that undermine the applicability of art cinema as a cohesive paradigm of narration.”¹ In the course of her essay, Thanouli argues that Bordwell’s account of this category is incompatible with...

    • CHAPTER 10 Art Cinema, the Distribution Theory
      (pp. 191-207)

      Though film studies has come a long way since the heyday of the auteur theory in the 1960s and 1970s, the field still circulates many auteur biases. Such biases are plainly evident in what I call the “bad old story” of movie distribution, which amounts to any anecdote that presents distributors as moneygrubbing philistines who interfere with the activities of cinematic artists, especially auteurs. Because this interference is usually imagined as happeningafterproduction has been finished, distributors often come off even worse in this sort of story than do executive producers, whose overlapping (and frequently identical) financial functions seem...

  9. EPILOGUE: Beyond, Before Cinephilia
    (pp. 208-214)

    Cinephilia has played a structuring role in art cinema from the silent era onward. Since that time, the passionate love of serious movies and serious moviegoing has led to what Sigmund Freud might have calledthe overestimation of the object—for there could be no art cinema if people could not mystify their experience of objets d’art through their own love, their own passionate enthusiasm. Cinephilia went mainstream in the postwar era, when it became synonymous not just with a love of film as a medium but also with a passion for specific films, particular auteurs, exact movements, and definite...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 215-246)
  11. Filmography
    (pp. 247-256)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 257-272)
  13. Index
    (pp. 273-289)