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Eight Tips for Watching "Art Films"

by Brett McCracken

For many moviegoers, watching a so-called “art film” can be an arduous task. But it doesn’t have to be. The following (taken from my new book, Gray Matters) are some tips for how to enjoy films that might at first glance seem difficult, esoteric, or painfully slow.

  1. Don’t try to understand everything immediately. Let the film happen to you. Let yourself be taken in, without feeling obligated to understand where it is taking you. You can think about all that later.
  2. Embrace ambiguity. Be OK with open-endedness, unresolved conflict, unexplained images or plot points. View it as an opportunity to provide your own reading/interpretation without being spoon-fed everything.
  3. Read critics. Both before and after you see a film. Don’t feel obligated to agree with them, but be open to letting them show you things you might not have noticed.
  4. Let yourself be moved. There’s no shame in crying in a movie theater, or being physically shaken, or laughing uncontrollably. That’s the power of cinema. It doesn’t have to be educational. It is sometimes simply visceral.
  5. Allow for simplicity. Not every art film is as complex as you may think. It doesn’t have to make your brain hurt to be good.
  6. Spend some time getting to know old films. The classics. The French New Wave. Italian neorealism. The more you discover about what has come before and been significant in film history, the more you will appreciate film in the present.
  7. Art can be pleasurable too! Don’t feel guilty if you actually enjoy the film or if it is (gasp!) highly entertaining. We often mistake “art” for something that is necessarily bookish, stale and cerebral. But sometimes the best art is even more funny, scary, thrilling and altogether entertaining than the “popcorn” blockbusters.
  8. Don’t let the discussion end by the time you reach the car in the parking lot. Rather, let the film sit for awhile before you discuss it. Don’t rush to snap judgments or simplistic assessments: “I liked it” or “What was that??” Set time aside at home or at a meal to discuss and digest the film’s complexity.
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