Films for differing, conflicting readings to both be

 

Films
are art. And just like any other form of art, they are always about something,
and therefore demand interpretation and simply cannot exist without some form
of interpretation of them (Danto, 1981). There are different forms of
interpretations and contradictory ways of interpreting. Interpretations can be influenced
by a number of dissimilar fields of thought or levels of knowledge, as well as different
reasons for interpreting, and it is possible for differing, conflicting
readings to both be correct. Compared to other forms of art, the interpretation
of cinema is also influenced by more aspects – such as the narrative, the
camera movement, the composition, the editing, the acting choices, music –  which makes it especially difficult, as well
as different approaches to interpreting them. These will all be explored and
elaborated upon in later paragraphs.
The essay at hand will explore the different ways of reading and understanding
films, different approaches to interpreting, and will look at how, similarly to
interpreting any other form of art, there are no definitive interpretations.
This essay and the claims made in it will be supported and influenced by the
writings of aestheticians, art critics, film theorists, and art educators. This
essay will also discuss the different layers of meanings that exist in films and
will bring examples from films such as Yorgos Lanthimos’ Dogtooth (2009) and The Lobster (2015), and Chris Marker’s La Jetée (1962).

I

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The
interpretation of art can be said to be the least understood, most often
confused, and the broadest form of art criticism. To freely include films in
this statement, it is first necessary to determine film’s role as one of the
Arts. Art as such is a remarkably difficult term to define, for it covers such
a wide range of human endeavour (Monaco, 1981). In the early days of cinema, it
was often claimed that film was not art, ‘for it does nothing but reproduce
reality mechanically’ (Arnheim, 1969). Film’s place among the Arts is
questioned by some even today, claiming it first and foremost entertainment
rather than art. The French actor Vincent Cassel, for example, has said in an interview
(2018) that film was a business and entertainment, but very rarely an art form.
However, Rudolph Arnheim, in his book Film
as Art (1969) argues that film follows the same age-old canons and
principles as every other art, and therefore does coincide with the definition
of Art. This claim is supported by Bela Balazs who, in his Theory of the Film (1952), has said that cinema does not reproduce but produce and through which
it becomes an independent, basically new art. Furthermore, Soviet-Russian film
director Vsevolod Pudovkin wrote in his book Film Theory and Film Acting (1958) that, ‘Between the natural event
and its appearance on the screen, there is a marked difference. It is exactly
this difference that makes the film an art.’ Furthermore, the ancients
recognised seven activities as arts: History, Poetry, Comedy, Tragedy, Music,
Dance, and Astronomy (Monaco, 1981). Each had its own rules and aims, but they all
shared a common motivation: they were tools to describe the universe, as well
as our place within it. They were used to understand the mysteries of our
existence. In each of these seven arts we could discover the roots of
contemporary cultural and scientific categories. The development of recording
media centuries later was as significant historically as the invention of writing
seven thousand years earlier (Monaco, 1981). The recording arts provide a
direct line of communication between the subject and the observer, and while
they have their own codes and conventions, the language of recording media is
both more direct and less ambiguous than either written or pictorial language. The
recording arts comprise an entirely new mode of discourse, parallel to those
already in existence. The ‘art’ of film, then, bridges the older arts rather
than fitting into the pre-existing spectrum (Monaco, 1981).  

Therefore,
having shown that cinema can be considered one of the Arts, it becomes possible
to view the similarities between interpreting film and any other form of art,
and to interpret films in the context of art. We cannot, however, expect the
assertion of truth in cinema to be a simple operation. Like oratory art, it
requires many rhetorical instruments and communicational prerequisites (Ehrat,
2005). Once people realised that films could do much more than provide simple
entertainment, a variety of theories and approaches were developed to help
analyse film in order to understand how they created responses in viewers and
just what they might mean (Jacobs, ND).