Tuesday 19 July 2022

Sixty Years of International Art Cinema: 1960-2020 - Part Five of Bruce Hodsdon's history of art cinema - International Film Guide Directors of the Year, The Sight and Sound World Poll, Art-Horror

Editor’s Note: This is the fifth part of a series by Bruce Hodsdon in which he analyses the history and impact of Art Cinema. Part One appeared on March 10 and can be found IF YOU CLICK HEREPart Two appeared on 16 May and can be found IF YOU CLICK HERE Part Three appeared on 3 June and can be found  IF YOU CLICK HERE Part  Four appeared on 2 July and and can be found IF YOU CLICK HERE


Part 5  commences the 'main game'. There will be 811 film-makers provisionally identified as art film directors in 87 countries over six decades. This will complement  an annotated guide through the sixties. A summary table  will show numerical distribution at a glance by decades and geo-political groupings. A separate listing of women 'art film directors' will be grouped chronologically.  


The first and last editions of 
International Film Guide

 IFG Directors of the Year

In the introduction I acknowledged the ‘International Film Guide’ as the first publication in the anglosphere  to systematically begin to draw attention, in its annual production survey, to the revival of art cinema in the late 50s while also noting the international growth of art house exhibition and subsequently of film festivals. In summarising attempts to retrospectively define art cinema in part 2 I drew upon the introduction by the editors of ‘Global Art Cinema’ in 2010 where they argue for the value of the concept in its “impurity” as an institutional space “neither experimental nor mainstream” that can be understood in a variety of ways as outlined. It has been noted how ‘Global Art Cinema’, in a series of 20 wide-ranging essays frees up the meaning of art cinema from ‘high art snobbery and aesthetic complacency’, using the term in its multiple meanings to explore the global reality of the moving image in the service or confounding of the narrative screen.   

In this listed world selection, where they coincide, are identified, the International Film Guide's“Five Directors of the Year.”  While not specifically acknowledged, it seems likely that the final selection was made each year (1964-2012 ) by the editor and assistant editor. Directors selected, with occasional exceptions, had been notably active directing films in the preceding decade or so, his/her's overall career achievements to date, the major determining factor. The field was fairly clearly not restricted by the IFG panel only to those comfortably able to wear the mantle of ‘art film auteur ‘: a primary requirement of stylistic and thematic consistency. The apparent Wellesian paradox, “consistent inconsistency,” is the exception that confirms demarcation between mainstream journeyman and auteur.  As noted above, in effect, Welles challenged auteurism by, in his lifetime, book-ending his work with his only two fully realised feature films plus an echoing statement from the grave: The Other Side of the Wind. He ensured that each of his films is stylistically different from the preceding one in the ongoing treatment of “the theme of death.” 

Quentin Tarantino

Although their films are produced on mainstream budgets with commensurate box office, there are examples of “art film” outliers in a select few IFG chosen auteurs :  Quentin Tarantino (1995), Michael Mann (97) and Luc Besson (98). Additionally are examples of ‘mainstream commercial’ directors that were not IFG selected such as George Miller, Brian De Palma, Sam Raimi, David Fincher, Peter Jackson, Sergio Leone, and post IFG say Denis Velleneuve, and Ryan Coogler, in art film terms, auteurs whose ‘impure’ genre based work is marked by points of departure for stylishly innovative and thematically inventive films.

Many likely agree with Adrian Martin (see part 2 above) that the demarcation between “art and non-art” films based on an imprimatur of 'quality', and a distinction between high and low (cult) art be considered redundant where, like novels, fiction films should be  approached in terms that are “egalitarian, value-neutral, culturist.” As Andrew Tudor has pointed out, we do not speak of, and in fact to my knowledge, have never spoken of ”art novels”  “art paintings” or “art music”, an exception of “art” rock’s brief currency as a label seems to confirm the point’

The attendant Victorian moralism in the horror of the Frankenstein story, the generally agreed origin of the cross media horror genre, was first rendered sympathetically on the screen by Boris Karloff’s playing of the monster’s discovery of feelings. When the immensely popular classicism on the screen of the gothic horror of Frankenstein and Dracula in the thirties, was challenged at the beginning of the sixties by the contemporary nihilistic secular horror of PsychoPeeping Tom and Night of the Living Dead, much of the anglosphere’s critical establishment was appalled it seems.

And there is the notion of “art-horror,” at first sight coming to the fore in philosopher and film scholar Noel Carroll’s undertaking the first serious analysis of the cross media aesthetics of horror seemingly by his attaching of the “art” prefix to the genre which seems to point to the origin of “art horror” in say Murnau’s Nosferatu (1922), and Vampyr (1932). The latter was made by Carl Dreyer against Tod Browning’s Dracula which in comparison to Vampyr, in his book on Dreyer, Bordwell identifies Browning’s film, in its coherence, “as canonic a vampire film as exists” (Dreyer 94-5). In fact in defining art cinema in his book, Carroll does not enter into the realm of the high versus low/art versus non-art controversies, overlooked or dismissed as irrelevant by the editors of IFG, the debate on screen based horror peaking in the 80s and 90s. In attempting to answer the paradox of horror (why does anyone like horror at all, since being scared is usually a bad thing) Carroll simply uses “art,” for purposes of analysis, to distinguish between horror as a cross-media genre and natural horror, the latter being the sort of horror that is expressed in identifying say nuclear horror or the horror of the Holocaust.** 

What should be borne in mind in the high /low-art distinction is cinema's short history and the overlap of cultural aspiration and commercial commitment. As previously noted (art cinema impurity part 2), the definition of 'art cinema' uneasily resides in its value as an institutional space, an outsider that has not been assimilated by mainstream tastes ( G&S 7). The main point, is that, like “documentary”, the term “art cinema” at this time remains a going concern, except perhaps in academia, somewhat paradox-ically because of the meaningful flexibility of its parameters.



The Sight & Sound World  Poll                       

While not specifically identified as such, an invited constituency in the decennial world poll conducted by the British Film Institute selects and ranks all-time best art feature films and directors.  Beginning with 63  primarily critics' entries in 1952, input was still only 245 four more polls later in 1992.  Numbers in the 2012 poll increased to 1204 entries (846 critics, 358 directors). Separate 'critics' and 'directors' poll results were first published in 1992. No restriction is placed on voters to confine their selection to fictional features. Only four non-fiction features (Man with a Movie Camera, Shoah, Sunless/Sans soleil and Histoire(s) du Cinèma), one experimental short (Un chien andalou) and two fictional shorts (La Jetée and Partie de campagne) were voted into the top 100 films in 2012. Films are not identified as 'classical' or 'art', these categories are not meant to be pejorative in the Deleuzian sense, but are based on narrative mode; they are unofficial and films are not identified as such in the published results. For voting there is only a single 'open category' for fiction features and shorts, documentaries and experimental films; in voting fiction features have dominated.  

In 2012 three-quarters of the 100 feature films including 17 of the top 20, are in my view art films. Some path-breaking features made in the classical mode are retrospectively regarded as art films. An example is Jean Renoir's social comedy Rules of the Game, an audacious mix of melodrama, comedy, realism and fantasy banned as divisive by the French government in 1939. It has been voted into the top three in all six world polls since it was released in complete form for the first time in the mid fifties.  Most of the films listed below appear in the 2012 poll's top 100 and are identifiable as classical narratives are also genre films

James Stewart, Kim Novak, Vertigo

Directors with strong auteur credentials, such Kubrick and Hitchcock, with the freedom to select and shape their own material, expressively 'personalise' generic material.  

City Lights, The Gold Rush, Brief Encounter, The General, Singin' in the Rain, The Searchers, The Godfather 1&11Some Like It Hot, North by Northwest, Modern Times, Sunset Boulevard, Rio Bravo, Blade Runner, La Grande Illusion, Les Enfants du Paradis, The Third Man, Once Upon a Time in the West, Chinatown, Lawrence of Arabia, Casablanca, The Wild Bunch, A Matter of Life and Death, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, Seven Samurai, The Leopard, Madame de...

The highlighted titles are for films made after 1970 and optionally, it is suggested, could be identified as post classical or post modern art films. In Japanese film history Seven Samurai is 'modern' i.e. not in the classical Japanese style of, e.g., Ozu and Mizoguchi. Hitchcock art films voted into the top 100 are VertigoPsycho and Rear Window.


*  The selection of  the “Five Directors” was suspended in 1984 in the IFG with only Alan Pakula selected as director of the year and Spielberg as producer/director. It was not resumed until 1994, in effect leaving  48 director slots unfilled.  When a director was selected as one of the five in IFG, the year is indicated in parenthesis.        

**  Central to art-horror is the monster defined by Carroll as primarily signifying danger and impurity  producing in the reader/viewer an emotional state caused by the thought of the monster which is generated by the fiction or the image.  Carroll acknowledges that technically, if strictly applied, this rules out what are generally thought horror films, like Psycho, Peeping Tom and Repulsion, as art horror since the main protagonists by nature of their psychoses are not ‘impure' beings. Norman Bates, for example, is a schizophrenic, a type of being countenanced as such by science, not a monster, even if the film suggests otherwise. There are also other reasons to suggest Psycho is a horror film such as the old dark house, the shrieking music score as shock tactic and the woman alone unleashing forces of sexual assault, murder and incest..

Mark Betz  “Beyond Europe : On Parametric Transcendence” essay in Global Art Cinema Galt & Schoonover ed.                                                

David Bordwell  Narration in the Fiction Film Universiy of Wisconsin Press 1985 ; “The Art Cinema as a Mode of Film Practice”  Poetics of Cinema 2008                                                                                

András Blint Kovács  Screening  Modernism  op cit                                                                                                         

Noel Carroll The Philosophy of Horror or Paradoxes of the Heart  1990

In general, a director will appear in the listings in part 6 in the decade in which s/he first attracted positive critical interest  subsequently sustained over at least several features.


Coming Soon: Part Six - The Sixties and Orson Welles

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