Monday, 5 May 2014


“Cinema should make you forget you are sitting in a theatre.” - Roman Polanski

I received a message a couple of days ago asking me why I referred to the art of cinema as the “seventh art”.  The art of the cinema is the “Johnny-come-lately”, the newest of the generally recognised “fine arts.” Many of its early critics initially dismissed film because of its supposed slavishness to commercial interests; its appeal to the “uninitiated and uneducated”; its seemingly mechanical technique, and for its apparent lack of an identifiable single artist as its primary creator.

The fine arts (as distinct form the applied arts) have been traditionally categorised thus:
1) Literature (including poetry, drama, fiction, etc),
2) Visual arts (painting, drawing, design, sculpture, modelling etc),
3) Decorative arts (enamelwork, furniture design, mosaic, etc.),
4) Performing arts (theatre, dance, music as performance),
5) Music (as composition),
6) Architecture (often including interior design).

Cinema was added as the “seventh art” when towards the middle of the middle of the 20th century, the motion picture was recognised as legitimate an art form as painting, music or literature. Critics and connoisseurs of the cinema feel that the greatest films are the artistic and personal expression of directors, who are considered to be the primary creative force behind a motion picture. The spectrum of cinema, however, is greater than the creation of movies as “art for art’s sake” (this is the famous “Ars Gratia Artis” motto around the growling lion of Metro Goldwyn Mayer). The art of the cinema has been exploited to create documentaries, experimental films and finally (the most popular), the fictional, story-telling mode.

The documentary mode incorporates those films relying primarily on cinema's power to relay events in the world. Included in this mode are the ethnographic or geographic type of documentary, the newsreel, and also the propaganda film.

The experimental film is an interesting one as it often uses the medium of film unconventionally, sometimes being influenced by new movements in other arts (eg surrealism in painting was followed by surrealist films). It may use film at its technological limits and capabilities. It encompasses animated (non-photographic) and computer-generated images.

The fictional mode is most often thought of as “the movies” and is the most popular one as far as film-makers and public are concerned. There are many genres in this mode and Hollywood has refined and popularised these so that the public is aware of them, for example: The western, gangster film, police thriller, melodrama, musical, comedy, science-fiction, or social problem film, epic or historical, disaster, fantasy, play adaptation, etc.

An interesting film that I think highlights the complexity of the art of the medium of cinema is Ed Wood”, (1994) directed by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp, Martin Landau; Sarah Jessica Parker and Patricia Arquette. It is a biopic (but not only!) of the life and work of the legendary “worst director of all time”, Edward D.Wood, Jr. It concentrates on the best-known period of his life in the 1950s, when he made “Glen or Glenda”, “Bride of the Monster” and “Plan 9 From Outer Space”. The film touches on both his transvestism, his personal relationships and his moving friendship with the once great, but then ageing and unemployed horror film star Bela Lugosi.

“Ed Wood” is a multifaceted film about a man who believed in himself and did what he loved to do – make films (that they were considered to be the worse films of all time is immaterial). It is a poignant film, one to make you laugh and cry, one to make you ponder and one guaranteed to entertain also. It also made me want to look at some of this man’s movies and try to understand what motivated him.

Looking at these “worse films of all time” and knowing something about Ed Wood’s life made me look at them less harshly and made me try and judge them less dismissively. The question remained with me – was this man an artist and a genius or a deluded mountebank who could have spent his life more productively doing something better? If you have seen this movie and/or any of Ed Wood’s films, what do you think?

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