With many, many films watched over the span of my lifetime, I’ve never really understood “Art” films. Whilst I’m sure I’ve understood what they’re saying and the meanings behind the scenes, I just don’t appreciate them on a level that many critics do. Believe me I’ve tried, but directors like David Lynch, Lars Von Trier, Terrence Malick and to some small extent Darren Aronofsky, make films that do nothing but get on my nerves.

I’m sure many of you dear readers will even take issue with what I have to say on the subject and I fully understand the simple fact that I am just one guy with an opinion that doesn’t represent anyone else’s BUT to me most arty films are a steaming pile of ….. confusion and I won’t buy into the usual reasoning that accommodates these films that it’s clever and made by a visionary. When pretension seeps through the screen at me, I want to put a brick through it.

The seed of this little personal rant was planted when I recently watched Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life” trailer on the tube. I saw one of his other films fairly recently, “The New World” starring Colin Farrell with a retelling of the Pocohontas story. The film had some beautiful shots, and sweeping majestic scenery, then some more beautiful shots, followed by more sweeping majestic scenery and a teensy bit of acting and plot development…… followed my some beautiful shots, well, you get where I’m going with this. Malick seemed to be more interested in the scenery than the actual story arc. My god it was boring. People might say that this is to immerse you into their world and marvel at the wonder of a new undiscovered country as they would have themselves. I see it as a director basically saying to the audience “look how clever I think I am!”. You can portray this without going to such lengths (pardon the pun). Anyway, back to the “Tree of Life” trailer. Yes it actually looks quite touching. I get nostalgic feelings of a life aging and longing for what is forever gone. This feeling is quickly ruined by a megaton of pretty imagery that serves no purpose but to dazzle you with it’s cleverness and I just know that this film will be utterly full of this sort of fluff.

Watching Valhalla Rising by director (insert pretentious douchbag here), I was expecting an interesting film about the Norse folk and their tribulations but instead I got some people sitting around, covered in shit, hardly talking at all and….yep…..more beautiful shots and sweeping majestic scenery. Save for a couple of intensely violent fights, there was little in the way of plot development, or logic even, to break up the monotony. I’m sorry, but just because you may find a vista that’s incredibly beautiful doesn’t mean you can make half the film about looking at it. If I want scenery, I’ll take a holiday that has some. The Lord of the Rings trilogy had plenty of scenery to show off too, but Jackson didn’t linger on them for what seemed like an eternity. Valhalla Rising would put Odin himself to sleep.

Lars Von-Trier and his recent film Antichrist, which whipped up a frenzy with do-gooders the world over because of some questionable content, had me very interested to see it. Anything that courts controversy I simply have to see. The only controversy that this film should’ve ever been accused of is watching a director jerk himself off for two hours. Well, okay, that’s not totally true. It was an hour and forty minutes, it just felt like two. There may be people out there that like wasting their lives watching films filled with five minute scenes where nothing happens and no one speaks so they can ponder the hidden meaning of it all. I personally have better things to do. Yes, I’m aware of the freudian concepts, subliminal imagery and batshit crazy developments in plot but that does not make it great to me. Its more like performance art than a film really, and I hate performance art. The less said about talking foxes and genital mutilation the better.

I admire art. Many of the shots in the aforementioned films are more than worthy to be framed and put on a wall. I am in no way saying that you can’t have beautiful scenery in films, just have things happening in front of it that actually, you know, moves the story along. You can linger and ponder on things all you like but your audience will grow weary, spare a few die hards that will stick it out. The cinematography of these films is impressive, I’ll certainly give them that. But it’s all style over substance.

Aronofsky’s “Black Swan” trod a close line with me. I enjoyed it though never understood why the world became so enamored with it. People were gushing over this film and still do. Nothing happened that rocked my world, and the story itself was pretty predictably underwhelming really. Still, Natalie Portman is always worth watching. Aronofsky himself though? I quite liked the soul destroying Requiem for a Dream and The Wrestler. He kind of teeters on the edge of serious Director and Art film Director. So far, I like him but if he gets too full of his own hype then that’ll change. Don’t get me started on David Lynch. I’ve never understood his mind and do not care to. I’ve seen half of a lot of the things he’s made, including the Twin Peaks series. Lynch and I do not gel well together. The only thing I can give him any credence for is Wild at Heart. Any film that has Nic Cage losing his shit in a psychotic rage gets a thumbs up from me.

Thankfully, some people are doing things right. “Hanna” for instance, was very arty and very interesting all at the same time. Albeit for a few moments of disbelief. It really did have the feel of art film but still maintained it’s allure on me till the very abrupt end. I won’t hoist it up as an amazing movie though, just pretty good. Some of it felt like a film clip for a song. The point is that arty stylings can be put into film without uneducated heathens like myself getting too upset about it. I can’t be too far wrong though. A lot of these movies obviously don’t hit the spot with a lot of people. You only have to look at their IMDb ratings to see that.

I’d be interested to read people’s opinions on what they like and dislike about Art Films or whether or not there are certain classic Art Films that I should know about that I’ve never given a chance. Maybe there’s some that went right over my head entirely but I’ve never realized their genius until someone points it out. In fact, someone please point it out as I’m clueless as to why anyone would enjoy these films. I’ll be up for suggestions for films to watch that you would view as classic Art Film too, believe me, I’d like to see things that most people don’t in a film but I always end up seething at their seeming smugness with themselves.

James McDonald