One night a lack of options drove me to walk across the mall to the art house section. Since then - much like beer - I have acquired a taste for art house movies. For those who don't know, an art house or independent film is one with a serious plot focussed on reflecting reality or telling a story as accurately as possible. The story is portrayed in as realistic a tone as possible too, meaning little background music is employed to add to the mood or CGI effects used to dazzle you. The focus is on the dialogue and story that unfolds. Often the stories carry a message for the viewer to take home as well.
Given the seemingly never-ending lack of decent choice on the main cinema circuit, I now find myself strolling to the art house section first. Movies of note I recommend to anybody are True Grit, A Better Life and the best I've seen yet, The King's Speech.
I've tried to list why I have become partial towards these movies:
• Minimalism: I'm a proponent of minimalism. The way the entire art film is presented appeals to me. No excessive noise, effects or over the top acting here. No fast moving slick camerawork either. It's clean, simple and easy for your brain to consume.
• Focus: The plot is not really about reaching some point or equilibrium. The world isn't going to get saved and the fighting couple aren't going to eventually discover their love for each other then get married. Often the plots in these movies have no groundbreaking agenda and that's fine. I don't want to see the world being saved or taken over every time I watch a movie. What you do get to see is a movie centering around a real life issue and how a real person engages such issues.
• Real people: The characters who act out the plot aren't impossibly perfect in appearance, dress and mannerisms either. The focus rather is on the their personal ambitions, flaws and good qualities. You are given a look into their psyche (rather than their physique) as the movie unfolds.
• Reflection: A Better Life actually made me appreciate how easy I've had it compared to so many others. Often we get consumed in our struggles and compare ourselves to the one person better off than us, but a movie like this can bring a perspective that you often fail to see. A Better Life was about a Mexican father and son struggling to find their feet in America as illegal immigrants. The daily uncertainty these characters lived with caused me to reflect and realise just how good I've had it.
• Lack of blaring music: I hate the sound of incessant instrumental and background music during a movie. I must say that contemporary movies have cut down on this compared to the nineties, but there is usually always background chatter or some strange hum to fill in any quiet moment. (No, I'm not imagining the hum.) Sit in an art film and you will experience true silence during the pauses in dialogue and action. Pauses and the accompanying silence these pauses bring allows you can pick up finer tonal and expressional changes from the actors.
• The Surroundings: Hollywood films have a tendency to only show the best angles of a place. In an art house film you will always see the real city with warts and all, be it New York or New Mexico. You get to see crumbling roads, litter, graffiti and beggars in the middle of a first world city. And while these movies are all about reflecting life as accurately as possible, often you get to see the beautiful side of it too. It's not all about "hard reality" as you may suspect. This world has both ugliness and beauty, and from what I've seen so far both are portrayed in an independent film.
• The Space: These movies have lower budgets and more specialised plots, so they don't appeal to the everyman. This means ticket sales are much lower than even a B-Grade movie on the main circuit. What the lower ticket sales and emptier theatre means though is there usually isn't anybody in my immediate proximity. I don't need to call dibs on the armrests and there isn't someone's head blocking the my lower line of sight.
• The Crowd: Following from the point above, you will find a more refined, intelligent crowd watching an art movie. Most annoying to me is when people over-react, and this typically happens during a "normal" movie. People laugh excessively at something that wasn't all that funny, or get a shocked at something that was predictable. Maybe it's the hysteria being in a large crowd creates, but I suspect it's more to do with the calibre of people that watch the average mainstream movie. Independent films have a more mature and usually more intelligent audience who don't thrive on cheap thrills and slapstick. Watching a movie with an appreciative, intelligent crowd enhances the enjoyment you derive from the movie.
• Exclusivity: Because they arent marketed as heavily, art house movies are lesser known and have an exclusivity about them. It just rubs the snob in me the right way.