Perhaps because it’s one of the youngest artistic forms, cinema is often assessed in much different manner that literature, or the visual arts. We discuss it in terms of genre, not in terms of thematic offering. Comparing, for example, Corpse Bride and Up because they’re both animated leads to some dubious discussion especially when – like any art form – thematic elements examined in cinema and the way different filmmaker address them make for some stimulating discussion. Motifs in Cinema is a discourse, across eleven film blogs, assessing the way in which various thematic elements have been used in the 2011 cinematic landscape. How does a common theme vary in use from a comedy to a drama? Are filmmakers working from a similar canvas when they assess the issue of the artist or the family dynamic? Like everything else, a film begins with an idea - Motifs in Cinema assesses how the use of a single idea changes when utilised by varying artists.
2011 is already in the books, but it is far from forgotten. As the Academy Awards are just days away, many film lovers are scrambling to catch up on many of the 2011 film they may have missed. Capitalizing on this 2011 nostalgia, and the lack of must see new releases, Andrew from Encore’s World of Film & TV commissioned several film bloggers to partake in his Motifs in Cinema blogathon. Each blogger was given a theme to tackle and was charged with looking to how that theme related to films released in 2011. I opted to tackle the theme of Art and Artistic Pursuits in cinema.
Why take such a subjective topic you ask? Well the easy answer is that film itself is a form of art that has the ability to evoke various emotions. The more complicated response is that cinema saw an artistic resurgence of sorts in 2011. More than any other year, filmmakers really took the time to explore the artistic merits of cinema, literature and visual forms of art. No film exemplified this more than Abbas Kiarostami’s Certified Copy, a film in which the main characters (played by Juliette Binoche and William Shimell) debate the importance of original art versus artistic replications. Kiarostami makes the case that art is all about the emotional response and not the form in which it is presented. To emphasize this he structures his film in such a way that the audience is not quite sure what aspects of the interactions are real and what is false? Kiarostami wants to prove that his characters are still engaging despite the way he plays with the audiences’ perception of the events. He wants to break the audiences’ preconceived notion of what they think art should be, and what “true” artists should strive for.
The idea of following the path of what others deem as art is a prominent aspect of several films released during this past year. No one needs to look further than Woody Allen’s charming film Midnight in Paris for an example of this. The protagonist, Gil (Owen Wilson), is a successful Hollywood screenwriter struggling to write his first novel. Though he makes good money writing scripts for mindless films consumed by the masses, Gil longs to write something on par with the great intellectuals and writers of the past. He views the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Salvador Dali, and Gertrude Stein as the benchmarks he needs to achieve. The fascinating thing is that Gil is oblivious to the fact that true artistic success comes from paving your own way instead of mimicking others. This is one of the reasons a film like Hugo works so well.
Martin Scorsese ‘s first attempt at 3D not only plays like a wonderful lesson in cinematic history, but it is also a loving homage to the brilliant Georges Méliès. Embracing his artistic impulses, Méliès (Ben Kingsley) always strived to push the limits of creativity. Instead of trying to copy others, Méliès found ways to bring his visions to life on screen, even if the funds were not always available. Georges Méliès did not care about achieving fame like Paris’ Gil, he merely wanted to share his creative passion with the world. In Hugo, Méliès only reaches his lowest point when it appears that he will no longer be able to share his art with a world that has changed so drastically due to the war.
The fear of the changing world leaving art behind is a theme that runs throughout, Michel Hazanavicius’ film The Artist. Silent film star George Valentin (Jean Duradin) soon finds his world in turmoil when the studio, that he has made so many memorable films for, decides to move from silent films to talkies. Valentin does not view this new invention as true cinema and dismisses the notion as being nothing more than a gimmick. However, Valentin’s reluctance to change soon makes him obsolete in the world of cinema. What is even more crushing for Valentin is the fact that his protégé, Peppy Miller, becomes a huge star in the world of talkies just as his career is on the decline. The Artist serves as a reminder that embracing change does not have to stifle creativity.
On a smaller scale, several artistic pursuits in 2011 entailed trying to take ones career to the next level. In The Trip, Steve (Steve Coogan) is constantly trying to land that big American role and must conceal his jealousy when long time colleague, Rob (Rob Brydon), seems to be getting more fame than him. Similar to Coogan in The Trip, musician Goh Nakamura plays a heightened version of himself in the film Surrogate Valentine. Reduced to taking a job teaching guitar lessons, Goh struggles to get both his musical career and love life in order. The struggling artist motif is also found, though briefly, in Mike Mills’ film Beginners. Oliver (Ewan McGregor) is an artist commissioned to create an album cover for a up and coming band, but his work is deemed too ”out there”. While he wants to do something truly ground breaking, the band wants something simple but effective. At the end of the day it seems that this is something all of these films have in common. All of the characters are striving to create something exceptional in the face of a world that only wants their art to be simple. Though there are many films in 2011 that dealt with family and love, it was the films that focused on art and artists that left a lasting impression.