Art House Bootcamp: What is an Art House Film?

WHAT IS AN ART HOUSE FILM

Art House, Schmart House: Why Labels are Bad (Sometimes)

[Here’s some music to listen to while you read.]

Sometime during middle school, I Googled the term indie music. It was still pretty new back then, at least as an established genre.

Wikipedia defined it as independent underground music. In other words, independent label stuff that not many people know about.

In this situation, being aware of this label was both good and bad. It was good because it helped narrow my search as I was trying to find new music. I knew that it would share certain qualities with other music I liked.

It was bad because it gave me tunnel vision. I felt a weird kind of ownership of the term, and started to resent other genres, or people who had negative feelings about what indie meant at the time.

Labels like these can help categorize something in our mind, making it just a little bit easier to understand the world around us.

But it can also create a rigid set of expectations that can lead to closed-mindedness on both sides of the word.

Just for kicks, here’s another example: punk.

what is an art house film

It’s a word that got bigger and bigger as it aged. It stopped referring just to music. Suddenly it was referring to an entire lifestyle, one so big and broad that its members fought amongst themselves as to what it really meant.

And the word determined how certain people perceived punks out in the wild. It became an insult.

After a certain point, this label seemed so loud and insistent that there was no way for ‘punk community to expand’. Everyone had already made their mind up.

So here’s our problem: here at Glitterati Lobotomy, we like art house movies a lot, but the term itself is not great. It’s helpful as a way to separate these kinds of movies from more mainstream fare, but it also has a stigma. It has this weird implication of walls and gatekeepers, something for the upper-crusters only.

And that’s just not true.

So what is an art house film?

Let’s take a look at when the cultural mainstream defines as art house and pit that against what we define as art house.

The Mainstream Definition

According to popular contemporary feelings, art house refers to low-budget movies, typically foreign-made, that are slow, dull, difficult to understand and even masturbatory in an artistic sense.

These movies get seen by very few people, and almost exclusively by those who are already members of the ‘art crowd’ in some sense.

And for the average moviegoer, these factors all mean that they shouldn’t bother watching art house movies.

art house film

And so when movies they’ve never heard of before win Oscars, there’s this immediate reflex of distaste, which just enforces what they already believe about these movies.

I feel qualified to talk about this perspective because I used to share it. For much of my life, I actually resented it when people around me said positive things about movies that struck me as being pretentious, boring, and highly exclusionary.

And I was even angry when someone tried to make me watch one of these movies. It took a lot of time, effort, and failed attempts at deprogramming and keeping an open mind before I could enjoy art house movies without feeling ashamed of myself.

Our Definition

We define art house movies as generally small productions that make use of visionary artists among cast and crew; we see them as movies that have something to say and say it well.

It’s a broad definition, and even so, it still has room for exceptions.

We define art house movies as bold works of art that, if nothing else, you will remember long after watching them.

There are also pieces of the mainstream definition that we agree with. They certainly can be foreign productions, as well as domestic. They’re pretty often low-budget, mostly because they don’t tend to make very much money at the box office.

And, unfortunately, these movies can be exclusionary and inaccessible to many members of the general public.

That’s not really on purpose, or at least we have to hope that it isn’t. It has more to do with art house creators not having millions of dollars to spend on distribution and advertising.

It’s also true that art house movies can be dull and slow. But we also don’t think that has to be a bad thing. (It would take an entire article to defend that statement, so I’ll just leave it until I get around to that other article.)

But art house movies are special, and they have something to offer, something we think is pretty valuable. And that’s why we’ve spent so much time building this website.

what is an art house film

There Need to Be Some Changes

Ok, so there’s a clash between how most people see art house and what the genre actually offers to viewers.

So what do we need to change and why do we need to change it at all? Let’s start with the what.

WHAT?

Art house movies deserve wider audiences. For one thing, this would help feed the small community of filmmakers worldwide who want to make movies without much studio oversight.

But it also stands to benefit the people who watch them, which we’ll talk more about in the WHY section.

We all need to stay open to unfamiliar movies, regardless of their genre or any other labels that become attached to them.

Responding to the actual content of movies, rather than to their categorizations or any other peripheral information, makes for more intelligent conversations.

Responding to what a movie is saying and doing, rather than to the brand and franchise it’s attached to, might actually help us watch movies more honestly.

WHY?

So why does any of this matter? Why do we care about altering the meaning of ‘art house’ or watching movies in general?

Do we actually believe that movies have the power to change your life or the world as a whole?

Well, if we’re looking at it objectively, in a life-and-death kind of way, movies don’t really matter all that much. Entertainment can be a symptom of the culture that created it, but more enlightened entertainment can’t save us from brain-dead culture or political or societal systems that encourage docility.

And no, movies prooobably don’t have the power to change the world. Maybe even art, in all its forms, doesn’t really have that power, at least not on its own.

Any power that art has is the direct result of how that art affects the people who consume it.

Movies can be very powerful, but it all depends on how someone feels while watching them and how they feel after watching them. And it depends on what they choose to do as a result.

Just for kicks, I’ll try to come up with an example.

[20 minutes later …]

Remember that movie A Ghost Story from a few years back? For all intents and purposes, I would consider that to be an art house movie, and people had very different opinions on it, so it works well for what we’re trying to say here.

I watched that movie and enjoyed it straight through. I thought it looked great, I thought the story was thoughtful and original, and I loved the music.

And when I really like a movie, I tend to get evangelical about it, telling friends and family (people on a website), or just anyone who’ll listen. Because for me, this movie made me feel something, and it improved my life in a very small way. And I think it had affected the way I view the world.

To me, all that means that it was a good movie. And I want other people to have a similar experience, or at least an experience that is largely positive.

So when I tried that with A Ghost Story, friends and family got back to me a few weeks later and told me they had to shut it off halfway through.

Their reasons were completely valid. They thought it was boring, aimless, and uninteresting.

For them, the movie wasn’t worth their time. For them, it wasn’t powerful. They didn’t feel the same things and it didn’t make them change the way they saw the world.

We created this website because for us, the whole life-changing thing happens a lot when we watch movies. It’s a good feeling, and it can be addicting, too. For us, it’s worth our time to go looking for more movies that make us feel that way.

And we want to share our findings with as many people as possible, not because we want people to like the same things that we like, but because good movies can be helpful, especially in times of confusion.

They can be a way to organize life into digestible portions, a way to look at other sides of life that you’ll never get to experience for yourself.

For us, there can be hope in movies, and words of wisdom and a weird kind of temporary inner peace. And in this exact moment in time, those seem to be things that a lot of people need more of in their lives.

So Yeah

That’s why we started Glitterati Lobotomy. None of us had very good resources when it came to starting out with art house movies, or movies in general.

So we talk about some of our favorites as a way of offering some inroads into movies and filmmakers you might not have come across otherwise.

If you keep coming back, we’ll have more recommendations. Simple as that.

And who knows, maybe at some point audiences will start to be a bit more adventurous with the movies they watch.

About Mike Schuck

Mike Schuck is a Los Angeles-based writer, animator, and musician. He watches too many movies and then writes about them for this very website.

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