Many people see Kubrick's film as "art", not "entertainment." What's the difference?

This common distinction is not necessarily hard and fast. Many people
think that Kubrick's films (esp. THE SHINING and DR.STRANGELOVE) are 
very entertaining. The hard categories are best seen as poles on a 
continuum.

Still, most people would be more likely to see 2001 as "art" versus 
"entertainment" (due to 2001's slow pace and seeming lack of action and 
variety; to some the film is deadly boring). So what's the difference 
between film-as-"art" and film-as-"entertainment"?

The best fast argument against film entertainment as art is the 
following web server

      http://www.well.com/user/vertigo/cliches.html

which documents hundreds of film cliches, like:

* Dogs always know who's bad, and bark at them.

* When men drink whiskey, it is always in a shot glass, and they always
  drink it in one gulp. If they are wimps, they will gasp for air, then
  have a coughing fit. If they are macho, they will wince briefly,
  flashing clenched teeth.

* Bombs always have big, blinking, beeping timer displays. Evil geniuses
  who devise bombs to destroy things/people are always thoughtful enough
  to include a visible display (usually LED) of how much time remains
  before the bomb detonates, giving the hero accurate feedback on   
  exactly how much time remains.

* Explosions always happen in slow motion. When an explosion occurs, 
  make certain you are running away from the point of detonation so the 
  blast can send you flying, in slow motion, toward the camera.

* Pedestrians in Hollywood have the world's best reactions, so don't
  worry if you have to drive down a sidewalk. Mr. Pappodopolus is quite
  used to having his fruit cart smashed, and despite his gesticulations
  and curses, he always manages to get out of the way in time.

and so forth. Thanks to the Web, now you don't have to pay $8.00 to get 
a healthy dose of visual cliches. They're free for the asking.

That's a short differentiation: "entertainment" is the recycling, flow-
chart style, of images which "worked" before. To those who have seen 
these images umpteen-cubed times, the images, funny how it happens, sour 
up on the mind, kind of like orange juice which has worn out its 
welcome. Yes, Virginia, that's NOT entertainment.

Here's a long, wordy one:

The "art" object, like its cousin the "entertainment" object, is a means 
of communication. This communication is via a medium [whether rock 
(sculpture), oil on canvas (painting), sequential varying images 
projected on a screen (film), words on a page (poetry, novel), metallic 
tube (trumpet), and a whole host of other media]. Here the similarity
begins to end.

A primary difference between film "entertainment" and "art" is in the 
quality and quantity of the messages sent and the level upon which they 
are pitched; the intentions of the two vis a vis the spectator are very 
different. Entertainment typically hews close to the base level of the 
human psyche, tugging at the most elemental emotions -- pushing buttons, 
to be pejorative about it. Art, while also seeking to engage the viewer, 
generally attempts to tap into more complicated and rarer emotions, and 
invites the viewer to not only be hypnotized (i.e. "get into" the work), 
but also to examine the work objectively -- an integration of cognition 
with emotion. While film entertainment frequently sends only one primary 
message, the greatest film artworks are sending many messages at once, 
and echoing and/or counterpointing these messages across many different 
domains (e.g. verbal, set design, montage, lighting, performance, etc.), 
in the same way musical works do. Because of this, the "entertainments" 
frequently exhaust themselves after a few viewings, while the greatest 
artworks, on the other hand, frequently get richer and richer upon 
subsequent viewings. On the philosophical dimension, (at the risk of 
oversimplifying this issue), the entertainer is typically focused on 
telling the audience what it WANTS to hear, while the artist is more 
often focused on what it NEEDS to hear. For this reason, many people 
would say that entertainment is "light," art "heavy," and thus, on 
Friday night after a hard week's work, would check out DIE HARD or DUMB 
AND DUMBER from the local BLOCKBUSTER, and not, say, Bergman's THE 
SEVENTH SEAL.

If art is communication, then information theory comes into play when 
evaluating art. The following is a list of parameters partially derived 
from information theory that sets some lines of demarcation that will 
enable us to say "while both are food (communication), art is more like 
the main course, and entertainment is more like dessert."

I have included after these parameters some films which, in my view, are 
prototype (but non-exclusive) examples satisfying that particular idea.

========================================================================

  1) Totality of Conception
     ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
     2001, CITIZEN KANE, ERASERHEAD, THE SHINING

  2) Multi-dimensional Voicing
     ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
     2001, CITIZEN KANE, ERASERHEAD, THE SHINING

  3) Complexity of Information
     ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
     MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH, ERASERHEAD

  4) Formal Beauty
     ^^^^^^^^^^^^^
     BARRY LYNDON, 2001, NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS

  5) Excellence of Parts
     ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
     WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?, HUDSUCKER PROXY, CITIZEN KANE,
     NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS

  6) Metaphoric Significance
     ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
     WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?, 2001

  7) Understanding of Film Language
     ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
     CITIZEN KANE

  8) New vision/Exploding possibilities of the medium
     ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
     CITIZEN KANE, ERASERHEAD, BLUE VELVET, MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH, 2001
     VERNON FLORIDA

  9) Power/Impact
     ^^^^^^^^^^^^
     WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?, SWEPT AWAY

 10) Verisimilitude (feeling of reality)
     ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
     MIDNIGHT COWBOY, WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?

 11) Lack of superfluous information (high signal, low noise)
     ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
     2001

 12) Necessity (feeling it could only be done that way)
     ^^^^^^^^^
     2001, RAISING ARIZONA, WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?, ERASERHEAD

 13) Expressionistic
     ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
     ERASERHEAD

 14) Number of parameters satisfied
     ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
     2001, WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?

 15) New content
     ^^^^^^^^^^^
     MARAT/SADE, ERASERHEAD

 16) Theme and Variation (reworks and transforms conventions)
     ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
     HUDSUCKER PROXY

 17) Unpredictability/Freshness
     ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
     ERASERHEAD, VERNON FLORIDA

 18) Depth (number of interpretations possible)
     ^^^^^
     2001, THE SHINING, MARAT/SADE

 19) Creation of salient mood
     ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
     MARAT/SADE, ERASERHEAD, OBSESSION, BLUE VELVET, TITICUT FOLLIES,
     BARRY LYNDON

 20) Form follows content
     ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
     2001, ERASERHEAD, NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS

 21) Significance of themes
     ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
     2001, MARAT/SADE, SWEPT AWAY, WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?

 22) Striking imagery
     ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
     ERASERHEAD, AGUIRRE: THE WRATH OF GOD, NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS

 23) Integrity/Uncompromising
     ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
     ERASERHEAD, 2001, NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS, MY DINNER WITH ANDRE,
     MINDWALK

 24) Universality (speaks to everyone regardless of spatial, temporal 
     ^^^^^^^^^^^^  location)
     
     WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?, THE SHINING

 24) Communicativeness
     ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
     
     SWEPT AWAY, WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?

 24) Intellectual (engages cognition)
     ^^^^^^^^^^^^
     
     MINDWALK, WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?, 2001, MARAT/SADE, 
     MY DINNER WITH ANDRE

========================================================================

Another important aspect of art as a medium of communication is 
avoidance of the following negatives:

     Cliche

     Pretentiousness

     Art-by-numbers (e.g. doing what the "school" tells you to do)

     Unethical imagery (e.g. positive framing of sadism, etc.)

     Contrived images

     Reliance on cheap "effects"

     Compromising: going down the mountain and cheapening the
                   message

Those who are fascinated by the issue of "what is art?" (a question 
around which a whole discipline, aesthetics, revolves) must get the 
brilliant PUZZLES ABOUT ART: AN AESTHETICS CASEBOOK by Battin, Fisher, 
Moore, and Silvers (St. Martin's Press, NY, 1989). This book uses, quite 
uniquely, the case method found in law schools to explore this very 
complex question, discussing in the process well over a hundred 
hypothetical situations in non-technical language, introducing the 
layman to "the issues" in a very accessible way. Highly recommended.

                                                               (B.K.)

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