Thursday, July 26, 2018

Film vs. Movie

I was recently began teaching a course on the history of film at a local university. A friend asked whether I make a distinction between a “film” and a “movie” when discussing the subject.

I knew what he meant by this: the idea that a “film” is something to be taken seriously, something worthy of being studied, while a “movie” is something essentially disposable, lightweight, for entertainment only.

Thinking for a moment, I replied that, no, I do not make such a distinction, and that, if anything, I take very much the opposite point of view when discussing cinema. Rather than drawing an arbitrary distinction between a so-called serious “film” and a frivolous “movie”, I prefer to take the approach that all films are equally valid, and worth considering on their own terms.

This, of course, is not to argue that all films are equally successful, only that as works of art, they deserve to be viewed and considered on their own terms. A phrase that I often use is, “a movie is a movie”; meaning that, whatever else their individual merits, all of these works are part of the rich tapestry of cinema, and should be allowed to speak for themselves.

To illustrate how detrimental imposing such limiting viewpoints can be, consider the large number of films that were embraced and acclaimed upon their initial release, but have seen their reputations slip in subsequent years, usually due to a shift in the artistic or social values that the film represents. Or alternatively, think about how many films are widely cherished today that may have been ignored or dismissed when they first appeared.

Shifts in critical consensus reflect a change in values, and these shifts ultimately reveal how fleeting such values are.