Everybody knows that the smallish “art-movie” houses are the dependable moneymakers these days, and everybody knows too that “art-movie” deserves the quotation-marks around it. Some peculiar things can pass for art if they are shown under the right physical conditions, and the wrong prices. But the term “art-movie” is probably here to stay in this corrupted sense, and the international movie industry has in fact developed a special popular entertainment style to produce non-works-of-art suitable to these conditions and prices.
Thinking about how to talk about the art-movie style reminded me of a fine low blow in Harold Rosenberg’s The Tradition of the New: he suggested that the reason the analysts of mass culture spent so much time with the stuff was that they really liked it. This was certainly unfair to the best operators in the field, who frankly admit and in fact examine their own susceptibility to the bad art they are analyzing. But I enjoyed Rosenberg’s crack because much routine mass-culture-analysis is patently self-protective and self-preening as it speculates about other people’s reasons—including my own—for liking junk. For I hadn’t been able to keep away from the formula Hollywood movies of the 40′s and 50′s. Perhaps I was merely protecting myself by acknowledging that I was not an analyst but an addict and by refusing to get interested in the cultural or personal implications of addiction. But it seemed to me then, and still does, that my addiction had led me to see something artistically valuable in those mostly bad movies; and it seemed to me that this value was what was worth talking about. I operate under the same principle about the art-movie style, to which I happen not to be addicted (though perhaps it is merely that I am no longer addicted to the physical act of movie-going). I am interested in this style not because it represents something about the state of our culture but for the moments of interesting art that, like the older Hollywood style, it makes possible. Now unaddicted, I can see that these moments are few and far between, as they are probably bound to be in any commercially-based art. Yet there are enough of them to make the style worth discussing and worth comparing with the style it replaced.
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