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Film As Art Essay, Research Paper

In The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, Walter Benjamin discusses the changing role and meaning of art throughout history. He states that the mechanical reproduction of art lessens the meaning of the art to those who view it. The very existence of mechanical reproduction of art has itself spawned new forms of art which are completely subject to or, like the film, founded in, mechanical reproduction. [p.230 Benjamin] Benjamin focuses on the art of film for the majority of this essay. Film, to Benjamin is the perfect example of art losing its value for both the artist and the beholder of the art. In fact, films have little to no artistic quality whatsoever, especially when compared to stage theater. The physical separation of the film actor from the audience subsequently diminishes, even destroys, the artistic quality of the acting which the film actor presents.Benjamin maintains that the audience of a film, whether or not they enjoy watching the film, is deprived of the experience of observing true art because they are not in the presence of the actor. For something to be art, there needs to be a connection between the beholder and the art itself. The aura [p.222 Benjamin] of a work of art, which is comprised of that work s authenticity, history, and originality, must be observed, or at least noticed, by the beholder. The audience of a film, however, is deprived of the ability to experience the aura of the film actor, For aura is tied to his presence; there can be no replica of it. [p.229 Benjamin] The presentation of the film comes from the camera, the projector and the screen, from a replica of the actor. The audience therefore becomes isolated, having only the camera and the screen to identify with instead of the part played by the actor. Because this separation occurs, the very art of the actor and of the screenplay itself does not effectively reach the audience.According to Benjamin, the film actor s experience of the art also suffers because the film actor lacks the opportunity of the stage actor to adjust to the audience during his performance, since he does not present his performance to the audience in person. [p.228 Benjamin] The film actor does not act for an audience, he acts for a mechanical contrivance in the case of the sound film, for two of them. [p.229 Benjamin] The film actor has no proper connection with his surroundings, and a lost sense of purpose for playing the role. The film actor, as a result of this disconnection, represents himself to the public before the camera, rather than representing someone else. [p.229 Benjamin] Consequently, the end product of a film cannot be called drama because the point of dramatic art has been stripped of it. The film is simply a moving picture of a famous man or woman, possibly, and even worse, an advertisement of that particular film actor. Benjamin feels very strongly about this matter, but there is another side to this argument. Does the physical distance between the film actor and the audience detract from the art of the film itself?

An actor does not lose his aura when he appears on a screen, he gains it, and the audience feels this. The nature of film dictates that the film actor be able to be able to transcend the space between himself and the audience and to throw his aura through the camera into the souls of his audience. Such actors exist, for example Al Pacino. When Al Pacino s character steps on screen, the audience feels his character s presence. Pacino creates a rapport between himself and his audience, and by doing so, connects the audience very deeply with the art of the film in which he acts. The audience of a film is still just as captivated, perhaps even more so, by the work of the actors in film as with the work of the stage actor. This captivation is due to the fact that there is that camera that mediates between the actor and the audience, and that the actor can push himself through it.The physical separation of the audience from the film actor is unavoidable considering the inherent nature of film, but the fact that the actors themselves are not in the presence of the audience does not have any bearing on the artistic quality of the film itself. Although the technique of the actors in the film genre might be somewhat different than that of the stage actor, the main point of the art is the same. The art of film is one that is founded on reproduction, and because this is what it is founded on, the art itself is different than an art which is founded on limited availability. Simply because the art of film is more widespread than that of the stage does not mean that it is less effective. The literature of Fitgerald does not hold less artistic integrity simply because there exist thousands of copies of the book in thousands of homes. To put it simply, availability does not define artistry.It is true that the film actor lacks the opportunity of the stage actor to adjust to the audience during his performance, [p.228 Benjamin] but this certainly does not cause any ill effects for the audience member s experience in terms of the art that they observe. The job of the actor is to imitate human thought by the reactions he makes as a character in response to onstage stimuli from other actors characters. In most cases, even in stage drama, the audience is not an actor, and the actor s onstage character is not supposed to be aware of it s existence, so the true actor should not react to the audience at all. In fact, if a stage actor does adjust to the audience [p.228] the entire illusion of character is harmed, and the audience believes less in the character he is trying to portray. Therefore, by separating the actor from the audience, it improves the illusion of the character that the actor is trying to provide.


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