Classical Hollywood versus Art Cinema Modes
November 7th 2008 @ 2:38 pm Bordwell,Uncategorized

A la the closing comment of Professor Mittell yesterday, I left class thinking about the distinction between Hollywood and Art Cinema as modes of narration, and how they applied to our screenings thus far. Reflecting on the year to date in light of these distinctions, I find our first screenings to be the most interesting blend of Classical and Art modes. Stranger than Paradise and Delicatessen both blend elements of these modes without fully subscribing to either one.

At first glance, Stranger than Paradise seems to be the epitome of the art mode. The style is self conscious: long takes separated by black of varying lengths throughout the film. There is almost no “plot” as the Hollywood mode would conceive of it, and what little there is, is explicitly interested in the character’s psychology. The film is author-driven, especially once you discover the way it was funded and filmed. However, there is really no blurring of objectivity and subjectivity, which is part of the Classical Hollywood mode. Additionally, the film is temporally linear, the narration is omniscient, there is a tenuous thread of causality tying the plot together, and the film is fairly redundant. But what causes me the most problems when trying to categorize Stranger than Paradise is the character psychology that would seem to place it in the art cinema mode. Yes, the film is interested in the murkiness of Eddie’s mentality. But we are never really let inside his mind. In La Jettee (which we described as an unabashed art film) we know what the protagonist is thinking. We follow his logic through the voice over. In Stranger than Paradise we are never really sure why Eddie does what he does, or even if he goes through a psychological arc. Is it necessary to experience the character’s psychology in the art mode? Or just to understand that it is operating below the surface?

The case of Delicatessen is the reverse. The story circles around a goal driven protagonist and an antagonist. Questions in the plot are quickly answered and the story moves forward efficiently and in a linear manner. But the style is not completely in service of the narrative. Yes, the color scheme serves to identify the world as apart from ours. But the rhythmic editing does little for the story, and, in fact, distracts the viewer in its purely formal aspects. Once again, a film doesn’t fit into either mode completely. Which begs the question, does any film completely subscribe to a single mode as described by Bordwell?

-Leslie Stonebraker
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  1. November 10th, 2008 | 10:33 pm

    Leslie – good questions. I’d say that these two films (perhaps as chosen by some devious person trying to make a point!) both exemplify differences and complicate categories. I agree that neither of these particularly fit either category fully – but that many other films do. Fodder for discussion on Tuesday…

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