Every House Is An Art-House

August 8, 2007

The Auntie Mame of Academe looks for the heirs of Ingmar Bergman and Michelangelo Antonioni and finds . . . George Freakin’ Lucas?

On the culture front, fabled film directors Ingmar Bergman and Michelangelo Antonioni dying on the same day was certainly a cold douche for my narcissistic generation of the 1960s. We who revered those great artists, we who sat stunned and spellbound before their masterpieces — what have we achieved? Aside from Francis Ford Coppola’s “Godfather” series, with its deft flashbacks and gritty social realism, is there a single film produced over the past 35 years that is arguably of equal philosophical weight or virtuosity of execution to Bergman’s “The Seventh Seal” or “Persona”? Perhaps only George Lucas’ multilayered, six-film “Star Wars” epic can genuinely claim classic status, and it descends not from Bergman or Antonioni but from Stanley Kubrick and his pop antecedents in Hollywood science fiction.

Yeash yeah, the Narcissistic Sixties, blah blah blah. Only in the mind of Camille Paglia can Jar-Jar Binks push aside Antonius Block to play chess with Death on the stony beach. I’d always considered the mutual starfucking between George Lucas and Joseph Campbell to be the last word in intellectual vacuousness, but one should never underestimate Camille.

Paglia’s right that the art-house movie experience of her generation is dead and gone, but that’s because the whole moviegoing experience has been transformed over the last 30 years. Movies used to be like comets that flashed through theaters once and then disappeared, never again to be seen except in butchered form on television. Now movies are more like books — in fact, they’ve all but replaced books as off-the-rack entertainment. If you miss a movie during its theatrical run, all you have to do is wait seven months for the video, or program TiVo to catch it on cable, or add it to your Netflix dance card. The days when the moviegoing experience was a singular experience, so different from anything else that people would sometimes go to anything just to see a movie, are pretty much over.

Just as moviegoers went to Bergman and Antonioni (and Kurosawa and Ozu and everyone else) in search of something more probingly adult than Rock Hudson-Doris Day movies, so are present-day film buffs dropping their kids off at the cineplex to watch Transformers and saving the real grownup movies for the hours after the sprouts are asleep. The older great movies are easier to find than ever, and the new ones are being sorted out on DVDs. A lot of the hunger for something deeper has translated into a renewed taste for documentaries; there are more good nonfiction films out there than ever before, and DVDs have given them a marketing channel that bypasses the cineplexes.

So now every house is an art-house, or can be.

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One Response to “Every House Is An Art-House”


  1. […] lot of bloggers are reading this and doing a double-take, as if to say, “Did she just say George Lucas is as good as Bergman? […]


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