Could Beauty Be Killing Cinema?

'Children of Men'Credit: Universal Pictures
Cinematography has gotten so clear and perfect—but is that within the essence of cinema? 

I love going to the movies. There's something about seeing a story on the largest screen possible that totally envelopes you. You aren't looking at your phone or chatting with the person next to you (hopefully), just being totally absorbed by the story at hand. 

Most of us would agree that the best movies to see on the big screen are the beautiful ones. The ones with cinematography and even special effects that can turn our ordinary world into something so much more. 

Advances in cameras, digital FX that can alter the lighting in post, and even just tips and tricks cinematographers can use easily now have made most mainstream films look beautiful. 

But I have a wild thought for you...

Is all this wondrous cinematography creating empty beautification that's killing cinema? 

Check out this video from The Cinema Cartography and let's talk after the jump. 

Could Beauty Be Killing Cinema? 

Even when I don't agree with The Cinema Cartography, I think they make some of the most compelling and interesting videos on the planet. I wanted to open this article with that unfiltered question about beauty killing cinema because I think it's an important one to ask. 

When beauty is easily attainable and forced upon us, I think it does become generic. 

It definitely is true that so-called ugly films like Gummo use their specific look and styling to evoke emotions from the audience and build more of a world. But a movie like George Washington happens largely in the economically devastated American South and is beautiful, again, still evoking emotions about where it's happening and what's going on. 

Cinema Cartography asks, is beauty so easily attainable now that it has nothing to say, and thus is killing cinema? 

Their point is that cinema's true potential lies beyond the conventional. You can unlock a lot of deeper elements in a movie if we are forced to reflect on the sublime, and not just see it and brush it away, which is what happens with most studio and Hollywood-esque movies now. 

Hollywood is delivering decorative and dishonest films, instead of using cinematic aesthetics to say something. 

While I agree that many or most Hollywood movies look polished, I'm not sure I would let them rest in the category of "beautiful." And I don't think the relatively good-looking competition changed the way I feel about the movies that stood out. Think about how Nomadland looked amazing, but used its handheld and largely shadowy existence to give us a new aura of the American West. 

Or how the polish of Da 5 Bloods varied with which timeframe we were in, and with the characters' points of view. 

I don't think those movies suffered because Marvel and DC also had polished visuals.

Is that killing cinema? My main worry with cinema is that it's turned into a factory where large conglomerates like AT&T and ViacomCBS make things based on profit margins and not art. Art is not dying because things look better. It's dying because the fine line between business and art is skewing very hard toward business. 

Sure, I'd love to see more studio films take chances with their aesthetics. It would be nice to see a Marvel movie that shot on 35mm or to see someone go raw digital like Michael Mann used to with Miami Vice and Public Enemy

The critiques are valid, but I think the "death of cinema" is a bit of an overreaction. But that's just me. 

Let me know what you think in the comments!     

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2 Comments

It is difficult to read the article with the annoying advertisements on No Film School. I disabled the ad blocker(s) but the feeling was unbearable. Turning Ad blockers back on.

May 10, 2021 at 2:56PM

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Tom Brown
Photographer
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I was too lazy to watch the entire film, but it states "empty beautification is killing cinema". It sounds a little film studenty. The crude point would be: if you put lipstick on a pig you're gonna have a pig with lipstick. But it is still sort of personal what strikes a nerve. And the impression of a film can change quite radically when viewed again. There is no right or wrong in art, only money.

May 11, 2021 at 3:43PM

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