Arts and Entertainment

INDEPENDENTLY SPEAKING | Movies, despite their ubiquity, are an art form

What’s Up's newest columnist Craig Smith muses on moving pictures and a few good things he’s seen lately.

Can you name the seven lively arts? They are architecture, painting, sculpture, dance, drama, music and literature. In the last 100 years or so, there has been another that has arguably eclipsed all others in mass absorption: moving pictures.

Do you read more books than watch television shows or movies? Do you go to as many plays, operas, ballets or art museums as to a movie theater or rent a DVD? This medium, movies, is older than all of us, yet is young in the history of storytelling and expression of the human condition. Something we take for granted: A whole generation has been raised with access to a video store, which has morphed into mail order, digital downloading and demand via cable.

With the inundation of choices, accessibility and breadth of quality, do many even consider film as an art form? Is there any appreciation for the artist’s original intent, primarily to be seen on a large screen with a shared emotional response by an audience larger than one? A comedy is funnier with shared laughter, a drama more touching, an action more powerful when shared and therefore connecting a group or community of people caught up in the intent of the film maker. As our ancestors danced and sang and told stories around the campfire sharing meaning in their lives, we have the good fortune of lasting images that can be replayed, capturing moments in history and what was current culture. It's now a document of times past. "Birth of a Nation" comes to mind. In 1915, it was an excepted blockbuster, now a racist portrait unaccepted by today’s standards.

Art and/or entertainment? That is the question if anyone bothers to ask. Did I like it, did it affect me, did it leave me wondering more about the subject, question my beliefs — or even just for a moment — allow me to escape my life and enter into another? To go further, why did it affect me? We are all critics, defining our emotional/intellectual reactions is the criticism. In selecting what we watch, are we swayed more by millions of dollars in advertising thrust upon us, word of mouth, personal research, or a trusted professional observer (a known film critic)? The truth can only be told within ourselves by experiencing for ourselves and then to agree or disagree. For a discerning mind, that is much of the fun of post film watching.

These are some of the smaller, independent films that have affected me during and after viewing:

"Sweet Land" (2005) told as a flashback about the love of his grandparents who have just left him the rural Minnesota homestead. Mostly taking place in 1920, a hard-working Norwegian immigrant takes a mail-order bride who unexpectedly comes from Germany and is not accepted by the locals. With humor, it touches upon the need for a personal relationship above what may be acceptable norms and narrow moral views overcome with love and conviction. Starring Elizabeth Reaser (Grey's Anatomy) and great character actors, all working for scale to help make this film; Alan Cumming, John Heard and Ned Beatty.

"The Village Barbershop," (2008) A small-town barber whose partner just died has to hire the last person he would consider: a young woman. Both flawed characters help each other grow and change. One's stuck in a sad past, while the other faces a potentially scary future. They begrudgingly support and shed light on how to be the better for it. Dryly funny too. Starring John Ratzenberger in an understated performance.

"My Architect," (2003) nominated for best documentary by the Academy Awards, is a loving story of famed American architect Louis Kahn by his bastard son Nathaniel. Besides visiting his buildings and exploring some of his never-built designs, the younger Kahn interviews friends and contemporaries and doesn’t share Louis was his father until the end of the interviews. Like all great documentaries, the powerful real emotions captured are so moving it cannot but affect the viewer. Nathaniel also is searching for the father he barely knew by making the film and is revealing at every step. It's of the most personal and profound documentaries since "Harlan County USA" (1976 Academy Award winner).

These are but a few that didn’t play in the mainstream and have gone unnoticed but hopefully worth a view for a discerning mind. If you don’t agree, it might be fun to discuss why.

When not Independently Speaking, Craig Smith is a business partner in the Kingston Firehouse Venture and owner of Kingston's Peninsula Video.

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