Sex, suicide, torture: are arthouse movies truly so sophisticated? | Catherine Shoard

Sex, Suicide, Torture: Are Arthouse Movies Truly So Sophisticated? | Catherine Shoard

Despite their image, many of todays highbrow movies are merely the cinematic equivalent of exploding fireworks

Sex, Suicide, Torture: Are Arthouse Movies Truly So Sophisticated? | Catherine Shoard

North Korea is not a regime whose choices one is generally eager to endorse. Yet my sympathies were with that country at the start of the year, when its New Years Eve firework display was universally pooh-poohed. Whats with all the flickering, cackled other nations. You call that a spectacle, scoffed Sydney, merrily lighting the fuse on 4m-worth of sparklers.

Fireworks can, obviously, be spectacular. Their cultural origins in seventh-century China, where they were intended to scare off evil spirits, are to be respected. And yet an understated display Pyongyang went for sporadic bangs with synth soundtrack is not something to dismiss. Rather, one goggles at the hubris elsewhere, where millions in public funds are sent up in smoke; this at a time of spiralling homelessness, massive spending cuts and instructions that we all mug up on first aid lest we fall victim to rather more malevolent blasts.

Everyone already knows that fireworks are fantastically dangerous (this 31 December there was a fatality in Hawaii, there were mass casualties in Malaysia, and rocket assaults in Hamburg and Malm); that they are enormously polluting (in Munich, revellers bathed in an atmosphere that had 26 times more sooty particulates than the EUs recommended safe limit); and that they frighten animals, children, the frail and indeed anyone who isnt lucky enough to be able to sit unblinking through an endless load of explosions.

But fireworks are also, Id argue shock value aside quite boring. At least if they dont carry special spiritual import for you, or if youre over the age of two, or after the first 10 seconds or so. Rather, they seem to be a throwback to a time when lights in the sky were a significant distraction. When a night of bonfire stories was the nearest you could get to bingeing on a box set. Before entertainment had, for better or worse, evolved. Thats why Ive never been especially desperate to see a display through to its climax. Theres only so many oohs you can manage before you start thinking about your shopping.

We live in an age uncertain about its level of primitivism. Liberals bemoan a resurfacing of basic bigotry. The world is going backwards, they fret. Kneejerk fears have quashed reasoned debate. Yet liberals are people too and, as such, just as susceptible to the primal pulls. They too embrace fireworks one thing going for them is their egalitarianism.

And when it comes to more contemporary forms of entertainment, they too are animals at heart. The likes of The Girl on the Train and the novels of Katie Price are disparaged as trash, but in fact this seasons most acclaimed arthouse films also rely on some pretty tabloid drives.

JACKIE - Sex, Suicide, Torture: Are Arthouse Movies Truly So Sophisticated? | Catherine Shoard
Natalie Portman in Jackie, a movie whose chief sell has a lot to do with watching someone wash famous brains off their frock. Photograph: Twentieth Century Fox

Take Jackie, Pablo Larrans biopic of the first lady in the aftermath of JFKs assassination. It is a brilliant, moving examination of grief and national fairytales, with a central performance by Natalie Portman that will win her the Oscar. It is also a movie whose chief sell has a lot to do with watching someone wash famous brains off their frock.

Likewise, Sundance sensation Christine offers an intriguing look at the machinations of a regional news outfit in 1974, with an intense central turn by Rebecca Hall as a woman battling mental illness. Its hook, though likewise that of a documentary released on the same subject last year is that its about a real-life newsreader who committed suicide live on air.

Much of the publicity, as well as buzz, around Silence, Martin Scorseses latest movie, boils down to the extreme weight loss of its stars and really yucky forms of torture suffered by their characters. Even Moonlight, Barry Jenkins drama about a bullied gay man at three stages of his life which has been universally championed by right-thinking cineastes cant fully duck accusations of titillation. It is beautifully played and shot, highly sensitive, politically and emotionally incisive; but its success does also come down to the audiences investment in the sexual activity, or lack thereof, enjoyed by its protagonist.

Brutality is as key an ingredient of high culture as low. More, even. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story might have been the biggest movie of last year, but not a drop of actual blood is seen, much less a snog. Being preoccupied by sex or death does not make art any lesser, nor the person watching it any baser. What does degrade though are those claiming sophistication while still lapping up big bangs and soaps about the sexual hangups of a really ripped fella with a rackety mum.

North Korea did not completely opt out of giving the crowd some kneejerk thrills, of course. It just indulged this desire in a much more modest way and, in doing so, exposed the ravening appetite across the rest of the world, as well as some strange double standards about what constitutes entertainment or worthwhile use of the public purse.

So, hooray for those low-key explosions a few nights back. Unless of course North Korea is just saving its big guns for later in the year.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

Sex, Suicide, Torture: Are Arthouse Movies Truly So Sophisticated? | Catherine Shoard
Sex, Suicide, Torture: Are Arthouse Movies Truly So Sophisticated? | Catherine Shoard
Sex, Suicide, Torture: Are Arthouse Movies Truly So Sophisticated? | Catherine Shoard
Sex, Suicide, Torture: Are Arthouse Movies Truly So Sophisticated? | Catherine Shoard
Sex, Suicide, Torture: Are Arthouse Movies Truly So Sophisticated? | Catherine Shoard

Sex, Suicide, Torture: Are Arthouse Movies Truly So Sophisticated? | Catherine Shoard

Sex, Suicide, Torture: Are Arthouse Movies Truly So Sophisticated? | Catherine Shoard

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