Cinematic Heritage / True Works of Art

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I'm just going to assume that everyone chose to argue the merits of the Avengers because we all unanimously agreed with the towering achievement of what I brought to the table: Showgirls.



I'm just going to assume that everyone chose to argue the merits of the Avengers because we all unanimously agreed with the towering achievement of what I brought to the table: Showgirls.
You took up the last spot in the museum, so now we gotta turn other movies away.



You took up the last spot in the museum, so now we gotta turn other movies away.
There's always someone younger and hungrier coming down the stairs after you.



Per this:

That said, once we've talked about it this much, I guess I'll just have to write something up anyway, since at this point it feels sillier not to.
Guess I'm doin' this.



The criticism that makes the least sense to me, by far, is that these films have no "personality." They have oodles of it. They're kinetic. They're irreverent. And yes, they're thrilling. The action sequences have a clear sense of geography and physical consequence that is, frankly, missing from the actually mindless blockbusters. It's no small task giving a character ridiculous powers without simultaneously pulling them out of a world still mostly recognizable as our own, but they manage it. I didn't really appreciate how well it's done here until I saw other high-budget action films after, and was shocked by how thin and weightless it all seemed.

More importantly, they fit the time. The various characters think of themselves as the good guys, despite having very different ideas about how to be good. And however inevitable their victories seem to be (more on that in a second), they must always be earned. There must always be a period in which they have their Hegelian clash before they can actually affect any change together. To say this speaks to our current cultural and political situation would be an understatement. It's become more salient since it started, and you can view it as a commentary on the concept of representative government. About the inherent difficulties of pluralism and the American experiment. It's not for nothing that its creative peak is called Civil War.




About that inevitable victory thing, and general criticisms about formula: I don't think of this as much of a criticism, since any classic tale of heroism has the same "problem." But insofar as it is a problem, it's less of a problem for the MCU than most. This is a series that will sacrifice catharsis for entire films, ending in borderline despair, just to lend potency to future installments. Civil War is genuinely sad. It does not come to a satisfying emotional conclusion. It does not end with peoples' favorite characters reaching some kind of compromise or grudging respect. It ends with them as distant as ever. And we just sit with that, as an audience, for years.

Whether this works for someone or not, they have to be impressed by the restraint, by the commitment. I think this contradicts, all by itself, the idea that these things are always safe, always focus-grouped creative gollems ambulated by mere money.

And yes, the context of it all matters, beyond what's just on the screen. The patience and dedication required to tell a story over decades is itself an important artistic expression. How silly would it sound if someone started to talk about the production of Boyhood and were told that they should stick to the film itself, that they had to evaluate it pretending not to know how it was made? The value of a film extends everywhere and in all directions. It is not made in a vacuum, and not consumed in one. You wouldn't accept a critique of The Empire Strikes Back centered around its failure to introduce its characters or come to a satisfying conclusion, because you'd expect any critique to account for the fact that it was the centerpiece in a trilogy.




Here's something else The Avengers does particularly well: it encapsulates characters with staggering efficiency, often without resorting to clunky exposition. This should hardly be surprising, given that Joss Whedon wrote it. Quick little story about that:

My wife and I saw Serenity having never seen Firefly. We loved it. Great movie. We naturally went back and watched Firefly. And it was only then that we realized how good Serenity really was. When you go back and watch the opening 5-10 minutes of that movie, you appreciate just how easily Whedon established the fundamental traits of (and relationships among) the major characters, essentially all in one tracking shot through the ship and a couple of lines of dialog each. It was breezy and fun when we first saw it, but when we went back with knowledge of the characters it was kind of staggering how expertly it conveyed what it needed to for people like us, new to the world. Sometimes I go back and just watch that opening scene.

Unsurprisingly, The Avengers does the same thing. It embeds character data and exposition in quips and arguments. So many things in it pull "double duty" in that they're amusing or valuable in their own right but push the ball a yard or two forward at the same time. In many places, there's no distinction between the sugary amusements and the plot-and-character medicine. It's meat and potatoes and dessert all in one. It may not be as showy to merely have basic things go down so smooth, but it isn't easy, either. A good blockbuster film is like good design: when it's done well, you're not even supposed to notice it.



Now that you're all thoroughly persuaded we can talk about which deleted scenes to enter in the Library of Congress.



@Mr Minio: I regret that this has taken over your thread. If you'd like me to move some/most of it into its own thread so your original topic can continue, just say the word.



The original Avengers is now ten years old. When Star Wars was ten years old it was already established as a critically revered classic, regardless of its enormous financial success.


Same with Jaws. And ET. And Raiders when they were ten years old. All simple and crowd pleasing successes that also happened to be more.


If anything the universe of related Avengers movies is what has kept it in the discussion this long, when maybe it probably deserved to be forgotten with lots of other succesful flavors of the month from years gone past. Because where exactly are the critical appraisals of that films particular greatness. Who is actually even talking seriously about The Avengers anymore?
Well, I don't agree with him on it, but...





I might be a little jaded about that after 22 years running this joint, it's true. I'm a weird mix of optimistic, overall, about the power of argument and discussion to persuade, while being pessimistic about it in any one example. Especially if that example is about art, and even moreso if it's about art and seems fairly well entrenched.


If our questions had answers we could Google for quick confirmation, our discussions would be all to hollow? Is the atomic weight of Cobalt 58.9? Who cares? Google it (or ask Egon). We discuss the tough cases in aesthetic, ethics, and politics. That's the thrill of it.



I submit that our conversation are powerful and transformative. Just because your interlocutor doesn't confess on the stand like the baddie in an old Perry Mason episode, does not mean that they have not confessed in their heart or that a seed of change or curiosity is not implanted by conversation.


I speak here of no obligation to engage in endless point-by-point refutation, but merely to not despair too much of our endless attempts to climb the mountain.



Sorry if I'm rude but I'm right
@Mr Minio: I regret that this has taken over your thread.
This was bound to happen. And it's not unusual for MoFo to steer away from the main topic into digressing about some peripheral things that hardly matter in the bigger picture of the thread's original idea. You can move some of the posts to another thread as you see fit. Or keep them all here. Up to you.
Guess I'm doin' this.
This is certainly well-written. I won't try to refute any of these points because:

1. It's been a long time since I watched Avengers and I can't remember any of it. I also have no intention of rewatching it. So it'd be hard to address specific points you made.

2. Discussing Avengers was never the point of this thread. And while digressions are the usual thing that happens around internet forums, the last few pages of this thread eschewed discussing anything relating to the original intent. Yes, all of that is kinda related. But anything cinema is connected to anything cinema, really.

3. I'm not interested in getting so deep into the topic of Avengers. In this thread. Or any other thread. My immediate dismissal of Avengers is not based on that I deny it has something in it. It's based on that I deny it has something worthy of consideration in light of this thread's premise. I mean, every film has something in it, including Paul Sharits' N:O:T:H:I:N:G. But after weighing whatever Avengers has, how it performs artistically, and so on and so forth, Avengers pales in comparison to some of the best films ever made I had in mind when creating this thread. Of course, you can draw comparisons to the current political situation in the US or you can talk about how well it does this or that. But at the end of the day, you yourself admitted that Avengers probably wouldn't be on your list. You also said that belonging to cinematic heritage does not require being a work of art. But that's orthogonal to what I meant by creating this thread.

Nobody has attempted to create a list that would fit the thread's original premise, including me. I started, but creating a list like that is harder than I thought. In the end, two lists are possible. The first one would be objectively subjective and the other would be fully subjective. None of them are perfect, but oh well. I'm surprised how many films (or at least directors of those films) would be on both of those lists if I made them. I think that's because most great films are intuitively good. But most people don't have good film intuition. Hehe.
__________________
Look, I'm not judging you - after all, I'm posting here myself, but maybe, just maybe, if you spent less time here and more time watching films, maybe, and I stress, maybe your taste would be of some value. Just a thought, ya know.



If our questions had answers we could Google for quick confirmation, our discussions would be all to hollow? Is the atomic weight of Cobalt 58.9? Who cares? Google it (or ask Egon). We discuss the tough cases in aesthetic, ethics, and politics. That's the thrill of it.

I submit that our conversation are powerful and transformative. Just because your interlocutor doesn't confess on the stand like the baddie in an old Perry Mason episode, does not mean that they have not confessed in their heart or that a seed of change or curiosity is not implanted by conversation.
You honestly don't need to persuade me of any of this. This is the tune I'm almost invariably singing. You'll find me making basically this exact argument in a dozen other threads. I explained it here, but the "what's the point?" stuff was not in response to the idea of discussing subjective things. It was a direct response to the issuance of some kind of implied challenge to do so. And the bristling that I would suggest maybe larger circumstances were playing a role in people's views, instead of engaging with the (somehow?) more substantive subjective stuff.



Victim of The Night
Is there a reason were trying to frame this through a generational or anti-elitist lens? I know for a fact that Im at least a decade younger than both Crumbsroom and Wooley, and Ive been controlling for similar levels of budget and commercial success in my argument.

Do we really need to hand it to this one movie because of what it represents and not actually tackle the movie itself, or imply the detractors are coloured by resentment for its commercial aspects (despite citing numerous commercial movies in comparison)? Are we giving movies participation medals on this thread?
Well, I made a whole long argument about why the movie is good but that seemed to fall on deaf ears. No matter, to me, it still goes under Cinematic Heritage, not Work Of Art per se. But it actually had to be good to do so because the Transformers movies were big big, CGI action-hits too and they are crap and the sooner forgotten the better.



Victim of The Night
Also, sorry that I planted the seed that "derailed" the thread but I honestly think it's engendered an interesting discussion about what is Cinematic Heritage that is bigger than the one movie we ended up using to parse that discussion.



Of course, you can draw comparisons to the current political situation in the US or you can talk about how well it does this or that. But at the end of the day, you yourself admitted that Avengers probably wouldn't be on your list.
Yeah, it definitely wouldn't, based on the criteria you've outlined.

You also said that belonging to cinematic heritage does not require being a work of art.
Aye, that's really all this branch of the conversation is about: whether The Avengers belongs to that category of classic action-adventures without a lot of depth, but which are classics nonetheless.

Nobody has attempted to create a list that would fit the thread's original premise, including me. I started, but creating a list like that is harder than I thought. In the end, two lists are possible. The first one would be objectively subjective and the other would be fully subjective. None of them are perfect, but oh well. I'm surprised how many films (or at least directors of those films) would be on both of those lists if I made them. I think that's because most great films are intuitively good. But most people don't have good film intuition. Hehe.
It's tough, for sure. I may still move the other posts into a separate thread so we can keep discussing the issue without trampling on yours here, but for now: maybe you can help me understand the goal here a bit more.

Obviously, on paper, I follow what you're looking for. But play Devil's Advocate with me for a second: what's really the distinction between this and just "what movies do you think are really great?" There seem to be a few more reallys this time, "no no, I mean REALLY great! Really great you guys!" As if the sheer force of insistence will bridge those pesky artistic divides we always have. Is there some kind of common ground here we can use to answer this question in the way you want that isn't just people doing the usual thing of listing whatever they were personally moved by the most? Obviously you're trying to introduce some kind of cross-person standard here, I think, but I'm not entirely sure how that would work.



Also, sorry that I planted the seed that "derailed" the thread but I honestly think it's engendered an interesting discussion about what is Cinematic Heritage that is bigger than the one movie we ended up using to parse that discussion.
The question: What is Cinematic Heritage?
The answer:
WARNING: spoilers below
Showgirls



Sorry if I'm rude but I'm right
what's really the distinction between this and just "what movies do you think are really great?"
There are many films I deem great but I wouldn't classify them worthy of cinematic heritage. There are even some of my all-time favorites that I would think hard before deciding whether I want to include on a list like that. This is because I'm semi-subconsciously introducing some factors with varying weights of value in terms of film quality. For example, the entertainment value is not quite as important a factor for the heritage list as, say, the ability to elicit transcendental feelings. Nor is the fact the movie was entertaining as important as the fact it was humane. A film that was humane teaches us to love other people and to look differently at the world. It teaches us mercy and benevolence. It could technically be also entertaining while doing that. But most movies like these aren't your average popcorn flicks. And throwing in some pure entertainment to the serious message can actually skew the strength of the message. This is one of the reasons why sad/serious/solemn films are usually seen more often on lists like that.

Anyway, case in point: Bela Tarr. My favorite film of his is Werckmeister Harmonies. I think it's a better film than Satantango and it's also more personal to me than Satantango. But I also think that it somehow fits the list of cinematic heritage better than Werckmeister Harmonies. It's mostly intuitive, but when I try to answer why, the first thing that comes to my mind is its sheer scope (7 hours long!) and what an experience it is. On the other hand, the fact that Werckmeister Harmonies achieves the same in just 2 hours might be the reason for choosing it over Satantango. This is sort of a fool's errand choosing between those two. But it's very clear to me that a Bela Tarr film must be on the heritage list. Maybe even both of them if we're not greedy. Then we could also throw in The Turin Horse for a good measure. Now it also depends on how many places we have. If Bela Tarr takes 3 places already, and there are so many other great art film directors, there's simply no place for entertainment or less-than-perfect movies! Summing up, I think Werckmeister Harmonies is better but Satantango is more important/seminal!

Is there some kind of common ground here we can use to answer this question in the way you want that isn't just people doing the usual thing of listing whatever they were personally moved by the most?
I have no idea! Creating a cinematic canon is as meaningless as anything. It's quite an obsessive endeavor, too. I'm just trying (maybe in vain) to achieve a somewhat agreeable canon of cinematic heritage that contains the highest in an art film. But all too often, it all veers on subjectivity.

My approach to the cinema is highly intuitive. There are many different factors that go into my evaluation of films I deem masterful. Those usually fall into one of the following categories: 1. humane 2. metaphysical/transcendental/mystical/orgone-oozing 3. personal/relatable/portraying life close to my own or close to one that I deem ideal 4. none of the above but movies with sheer brilliancy and artistry that leave me speechless and that just scream to be rated 10/10. Perhaps the fourth category is the most fitting for the cinematic canon. Especially when it goes well with any of the other three.

I've never watched a film, sat down, thought about it, then rewatched it 20 times, analyzed every scene, read 200 reviews and critics' opinions about it, and concluded it's an all-time masterpiece. All-time masterpieces are much more apparent to me than that. It's something like, *click*. That's it. I did change my opinion about a film several times. But it was mostly after several years. I just rewatched the film. And it clicked. I think this approach is more sincere, more true. After all, who said that cinema was the art of the illiterate? Was it Herzog?

But I daresay, not to sound full of myself but, appreciating both trash art and "true" art (whatever that is) is a very valuable trait. It's snob-less, and regardless of what many MoFos think, I believe I'm one of the least snobbish people here. I find it almost laughable that every time I make a point about a mainstream film or so on MoFo, there's always somebody ready to point out I'm a snob/poser, or something along those lines and I dislike that movie only because it's mainstream/not obscure. They totally ignore how many mainstream films I actually love. Sure, I tend to be facetious or even flippant. That's the way I like it. But the core of my posts (unless they are dismissive snarky comments just for laughs) is, I hope, always insightful. Shut up, Minio.

But back to the topic, I think we underappreciate how much music actually does in films. Like, I bet 90% of scenes that make you cry, wouldn't make you cry (or at least wouldn't be as effective) if you took away the music. There's a reason silent movies had music over them. Why am I saying this? Because Stan Brakhage's Dog Star Man is meant to be watched without any soundtrack (just the way Brakhage intended). I rewatched it that way and it was quite an experience. Brakhage created a film that's film as a separate art, not soiled with any other art form. The lack of theater, literature, and music is obvious - there is no acting, no words or plot, and no sound. But there is no painting either because it doesn't matter what you see. The composition of the frame is not important. What is important is movement. I think Dog Star Man is one of the purest films. Purest in how cinematic they are. So even though I don't deem it a personal masterpiece, I wouldn't mind it being on a cinematic heritage list. Because it actually does with the medium what most films don't even dream about doing.

So maybe, next to humane, transcendental masterpieces there's also a place for another kind of films in the cinematic heritage list. Films that ask us what film is and what it should be in this metatextual way. Films that challenge the notion of film. Films that destroy cinema. And films that rebuild cinema from scratch. This feels like a somewhat objective factor.



Phew. I'm glad to see my hope for talk that actually had to do with the movie we were talking about didn't result in any fatalities. I'm sure there are things that could be continued to be talked about considering some of the fair points brought up (and maybe a few contentious ones) but I won't extend such suffering any longer. Let sleeping dogs be dead.



In more pertinent non-Avengers discussion (another phew), even though we would probably have different verdicts on what would qualify, much of Minio's criteria for what makes art in film Art would also be very similar to mine. This should invariably lead to a couple of Tarr films being considered. But I feel at times his earlier work is unfairly neglected, and would suggest The Outsider, Family Nest or Prefab People as being of considerable value, even if not nearly as formally accomplished as Turin Horse or WH.


And I will also align my sympathy towards the notion that championing art films or supposedly difficult films has anything whatsoever to do with snobbery. As far as I've always been concerned, most of these sorts of films are usually so completely direct in their obvious passions and emotions and humanism, that they very much should appeal to populist tastes, even if it is clear the populace general shrugs them off. Art isn't that complicated. At most, it simply asks for patience. And honestly, not that much. And it is why Minio is also correct in recognizing that there isn't that much distance between a Bela Tarr and a director of exploitation or supposed trash. They are two sides of the same coin. They are often very personal statements, frequently full of feeling and emotion. The only main difference is that they frequently don't employ tacky manipulative ways to reach the emotional core of their viewers. They are much too honest for that.


Hence, my offering.





Smart and stupid. Passionate and dispassionate. Terribly lonely and deserving to be lonely. Great and definitely great.



Sorry if I'm rude but I'm right
The Outsider, Family Nest or Prefab People
Sure, all Tarr films are worth seeing, but I'd rather take The Almanac of Fall or Damnation over the films you listed.

Well, I didn't like it very much but I like what you said before. There definitely are some trashy films that I absolutely love. What's stopping me from putting them into the cinematic heritage is the sheer number of untrashy films that deserve the place much more than trash. But also because they don't usually fall into my categories for all-time greatness. But hey, there's some obscure Taiwanese/Hongkongese trash erotica that is as metaphysical as something by Tarkovsky. Just in a different, more vibrant/orgone/neon way.

I mean, nobody in their right mind would put 3 Days of a Blind Girl on the list of the best films ever made. Now, the list of favorite films ever made is a different thing. For one, I put it on mine.



No deaths, but no discussion either. But I'll remain open to it: if someone does wanna use either post (mine or Wooley's) as a jumping off point to discuss the film more, worry not: I possess the awesome ability to move existing posts off into their own thread, and would be happy to do so to facilitate that discussion.

To Minio's criteria:

There are many films I deem great but I wouldn't classify them worthy of cinematic heritage. There are even some of my all-time favorites that I would think hard before deciding whether I want to include on a list like that. This is because I'm semi-subconsciously introducing some factors with varying weights of value in terms of film quality. For example, the entertainment value is not quite as important a factor for the heritage list as, say, the ability to elicit transcendental feelings. Nor is the fact the movie was entertaining as important as the fact it was humane. A film that was humane teaches us to love other people and to look differently at the world. It teaches us mercy and benevolence. It could technically be also entertaining while doing that. But most movies like these aren't your average popcorn flicks. And throwing in some pure entertainment to the serious message can actually skew the strength of the message. This is one of the reasons why sad/serious/solemn films are usually seen more often on lists like that.
Okay, this is helpful. I've already said my thing about some emotions seeming more valuable than others so I won't interrogate any of this, happy to just accept the criteria to see where we can get with it.

I gave a little thought to what kinds of films would qualify, for me, and a fair number of the ones I came up with are, well, obvious. Well-known. I don't know if you'd eschew them for that reason alone or not (Citizen Kane is totally on the nose, but there's a reason for that). But I'll throw out two that are a little less obvious but provoke, for me, very deep and complicated feelings about being a person:


The Lives of Others




I doubt I need to elaborate much, but I particularly like this choice because I think it satisfies your criteria in two different ways: it's a deeply moving story about connection amidst oppression and it's a wonderful meta commentary on storytelling/filmmaking, and I think it would be among my choices for either of those reasons all by itself. I am particularly impressed by any film (or anything within a film) that accomplishes more than one thing simultaneously, the way this one does.

It gets a little extra oomph for being in a language other than my own, in a "degree of difficulty" sense, because working in spite of that that only enhances the underlying themes.


The Apostle




You used the word "humane" above, and that's the word I'm keying in on with this choice. This is a very humane film. It's protagonist is deeply flawed. It also shows us that he means well. It also shows us that meaning well is not enough to absolve him. And it even shows us that he knows all of this. And all of that dances around the themes of faith beautifully.

I've probably said this four separate times in various threads, but this is maybe the only movie I've ever seen where I just straight-up forgot I was watching an actor play a role. I even remember the moment in the film I "remembered" it. Duvall is so, so good in this, inhabits Sonny so completely. You can tell this film was a personal passion of his, and it's a shame more people didn't see it.

I tend to think it was ahead of its time, that audiences would be more receptive to a bad good guy (or maybe a good bad guy?) today, even if the manifestation of that isn't usually this textured or true to life. I don't know. Part of me thinks this portrayal is challenging enough and deep enough that it was always going to be buried, and would always need to be unearthed and studied and polished, revealing it for the gem it is.



I also thought about mentioning Fargo, but for some reason I feel bad just mentioning a film and not expounding on it much, perhaps because your criteria is all about the ways in which the films on this list (for lack of a better word) are supposed to lift us up, which makes it feel like any suggestions require a testimonial. If not, well, I can probably come up with more, even if I might not be able to find the time to provide a personal story or experience for each.

One reason I've said all this anyway, though, is because Fargo is not one of my favorite films, and it might not even be in my top three favorite Coen films, but I still think it meets the criteria you're talking about despite that, and maybe that fact alone helps flesh out what you're looking for?



Three Colors Blue
Under the Skin
Long Day's Journey into Night (2018)
Ordet
The Passion of joan of Arc
Shame (1968)
Germany Year Zero
Come and See
Taste of Cherry
Beau Travail
The Passenger
Russian Ark