Wednesday, May 05, 2021

How to make an "Art" film

It seems at the movies we either have comic book summer tent pole flicks or “Art” films.  If you ever plan to write an art film (they’re way cheaper and you can get stars), here are some elements that appear to be in every “Art Films.”  

Cranky middle aged protagonist.   

Someone usually looks after him – wife, daughter, young neighbor.

Befriends a young person.

Lives in bleak surroundings.

Begrudgingly takes in a pet.

Is tortured by the past.

Fights with authority figures who want to take his house, tear down his art, fire him, commit him, take away his driver’s license.

Never any food in his kitchen.

There’s always a fire.

Flashbacks to horrific events.   Usually a child dies.  Usually he feels it’s his fault.

Has some skill with his hands.  Can build houses or do sculptures.

Has health problem, usually bad heart.

Is in the hospital ¾’s of the way through the movie.  Recovers but reoccurrence kills him at the end, one minute after he finally finds peace.  

Anytime anything good happens to him there is a tragedy one minute later.  

We watch him do boring mundane shit for half the movie.

He has comic quirks.  

At least three scenes at a cemetery. 

27 comments :

Max said...

Funny how one of the most artsy films I can think of that I've seen recently-- Jacques Tati's PLAYTIME-- is hilarious and has absolutely none of these elements. When did "art film" become a paint by numbers genre?

AlaskaRay said...

I saw that film!

Anonymous said...

LOL, priceless list, all true. What about the scene where he/she is sitting by themselves eating at the dining room table and all you hear is the ticking of the grandfather clock. If it's a big-budget piece of "art" after eating you'll get to watch gramps go into the bedroom and straighten his dead wife's clothes.

Scott Cooley said...

You just described ST. VINCENT with Bill Murray with about 95% accuracy.

Brian said...

Also, someone younger makes fun of him/her early on.

Great list. Reminds me of the halcyon days of my boyhood, watching the firemen's parade until...

Oh. Sorry.

Covarr said...

Ah, the art film. One of the exactly three film genres that exist, alongside big-budget action comedy and kids movie. If you're lucky you might even see a frat comedy, but those are pretty rare these days.

Family comedies? Romantic comedies? Forget it. Those don't get to be made anymore. And don't even ask for a legal drama or political thriller, unless they can somehow be shoehorned into a Marvel film.

Best picture goes to whichever art film featured Daniel Day-Lewis.

PolyWogg said...

On a completely different tangent, did you see Rolling Stone published their list of 100 best sitcoms?

https://www.rollingstone.com/tv/tv-lists/best-tv-sitcoms-1162237/

Paul
aka PolyWogg

maxdebryn said...

You might actually enjoy a film called "Driveways," which was one of Brian Dennehy's last films. It has the 'tropes of an "art" film, but it's well-made, and funny, and touching. I highly recommend the film.

VincentS said...

And if you can get a BRITISH actor for the lead (even if you have to change the gender), when do we start?!

Greg Ehrbar said...

One of most bitingly satirical episodes of WKRP was "Real Families" with the great Edie McClurg as Herb Tarlek's wife, Lucille. She was asked what programs she and her family watched and she said "only wholesome, family entertainment" and as an example she cited "Little House On the Prairie. Describing a typical show, she explained that "Every week, "someone goes blind, or their barn burns down. It's a wonderful show!"

Andrew said...

You forgot to mention the depressing but non-sequitur music. A modern string quartet works well.

Douglas Trapasso said...

At one point, a character speaks a line or two in French (even if the rest of the movie is in a different language).

Curt Alliaume said...

Not looking forward to Billy Crystal and Tiffany Hadish in Here Today, are we?

Cheryl Marks said...

At first I thought you were writing about "Up"

Pat Reeder said...

Thanks to Paul aka PolyWogg for that link to the Rolling Stone list of 100 best sitcoms. It was interesting, and while I didn't agree with all their choices, particularly omissions of classics to make room for too many meh recent shows and cartoons ("Bluey" but not "My World And Welcome To It?" "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" but not "Car 54, Where Are You"?), at least it wasn't an indefensible atrocity like their recent list of the 500 best albums that suffered from the exact same problem. And it's a lot of fun reading through and spotting all the mistakes (I'll get you started: Gracie said, "Goodnight," not "Goodnight, Gracie." That was a Rowen & Martin joke.)

Also, as someone who's sat through a lot of art films, I'd say you pretty much nailed it, except that sometimes the protagonist is a cranky aging woman. If it's Frances McDormand, she wins an Oscar.

Buttermilk Sky said...

Writing music for these films has financed Philip Glass's career, so he could write operas like "Einstein On the Beach." I'm not sure this is a good thing.

DBenson said...

Walter Kerr's "How Not to Write a Play" (1955) served up a similar hypothetical plot for the sort of sensitive, critically acclaimed but inevitably failed play he saw as a threat to the theater. The book makes the case you have to have people, not symbols; you need a story that moves rather than lolly over characters and moods; you have to avoid the too-pat mechanics of a "well-made play; etc. A still useful and entertaining book.

Necco said...

Honestly, what is the point of this post? Very snarky. I come in here for insights, not bitterness.

Stephen Gallagher said...

Harsh but fair. I'll add it to my all-purpose indie movie pitch, 'misfits find each other'.

Andre said...

@ Necco: You must be new here.

Xmastime said...

Ken are you a big fan of Neil Simon? When I was a kid I practically memorized "The Star-Spangled Girl; 30 years later when I finally watched the film it was quite a disappointment. Have you had an experience where on paper your script was cracking, but somehow didn't really work onscreen after it was filmed?

Thanks! :)

Xmastime said...

you forgot "finds out he is now the lone surviving member of his WWII army regiment" ;)

Tom said...

There are a lot of these elements in "Wonder Boys," too.

Necco said...

@Andre: No, I just haven't commented until recently.

Michael said...

Cannot argue with truth.

mike schlesinger said...

Don't forget the hot new trend these days: Dementia. If a limited-release film stars someone over 60, it's almost a fait accompli that (s)he'll be suffering from Alzheimer's. I was planning to see the new Billy Crystal "comedy" until I read that his character has, yes, dementia. I guess the title, HERE TODAY, should have been a tip-off.

That said, I should add that the topic is not necessarily a deal-breaker. I saw THE FATHER on Broadway and again on film, and loved it both times. But not every such project is so impeccably made.

Nikos Fotakis said...

Did you just describe Pixar's 'UP'?