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Elizabeth' as an Example of Art Cinema

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Bordwell and Thompson define the art film as "a film which, while made under commercial circumstances take an approach to form and style influenced by "high art" which offers an alternative to mainstream entertainment" (1). Like avant-garde film making, this style offer the audience with a movie that takes glory in cinemas stance as a modern art form, for art house films are not just intended to be entertaining, they are designed to be imaginative.

Shekhar Kapur's 1998 film 'Elizabeth' presents us with a contemporary art film. Although it does offer entertainment through a fascinating narrative, the film as a whole is presented in a creative way, owing to the auteurish vision of Kapur. Indeed, as the film is arguably British, abroad 'Elizabeth' by definition becomes as 'art film', since Bordwell and Thompson also define the term 'art house' as a phrase "used by the U.S film industry to describe imported films of interest to upper -middle class, educated audiences" (2).

In America, 'Elizabeth' was packaged solely as an 'art film', or at least an 'art' interpretation of the British Heritage thriller film. This labelling is of course debatable and by comparing the fundamental ideas regarding art films to 'Elizabeth', one can access the validity of its claim to being 'cinematic art'. The characteristics of an 'art cinema' film are best outlined in David Bordwell's article 'The Art Cinema as a Mode of Film Practice' and this text will form the basis of my assessment of 'Elizabeth'.

Bordwell suggests that "art cinema defines itself explicitly against the classical narrative" (3), yet 'Elizabeth' is clearly conventional in narrative style. Film analyst Wendy Ide, even suggests that 'Elizabeth' follows the tradition three act narrative set-up precisely, with climaxes at the end of each act. As proof she suggests that Queen Mary's death is the climatic resolution to the first act, "which takes place exactly 30 minutes into the film" following the traditions of narrative ideals (4). Bordwell, goes on to also suggest that the "cause effect linkage of events" is "tenuous in the art film" (5), yet this narrative technique is used continually to advance 'Elizabeth's' narrative. For example, 40 minutes into the film, the royal court debate the danger of an impending "French attack" (6). Queen Elizabeth resolves to send an army, prompting a new narrative strand. The result of this (cause) is shown almost immediately (42 minutes into the film) for in a graphic scene the audience comes to realise that English army has been defeated; the resolution to this specific narrative strand has been provided. Consequently, a cause effect trail of events has been established, opposing Bardwell's view and jeopardising 'Elizabeth's' claim as an art film.

Borwell goes on to suggest that "Art cinema defines itself as a realistic cinema" (7) and consequently its films exhibit realism. This idea is supported by the content of 'Elizabeth' as the director Kapur strived to achieve "historical accuracy and realism" (8). To achieve this level of realism, a large proportion of 'Elizabeth' was filmed in authentic locations. 'Elizabeth' adheres to Bordwell's belief that 'art films' present "Documentary realisms" (9), as the film is retelling historical fact in the fictional form of the movie.

A large proportion of the characteristics that makes up 'art films', are the results of character reflections on screen. Indeed, Borwell suggests that in 'art films', "characters and the effect on one and other remain central" (10). This is reflected in 'Elizabeth' a character driven piece with little action. The film follows the struggle of the central protagonist, a pre-requisite of the art house style, as Elizabeth struggles to enact her beliefs to a royal court that opposes her. The queen becomes "a supersensitive individual" as she is forced to decide between her obligations as a queen and her personal desires; "social forces impinges upon the psychologically sensitive individual" (11). As one is able to introduce Bordwell's art house requirements into an 'Elizabeth's' critique, its claim as an art form becomes all the more valid. Having said that, Bordwell also suggest that 'art' "characters lack defined desires and goals" (12). This naturally is not true in 'Elizabeth' as both Norfolk and Elizabeth are driven by ambition. Perhaps, this is because the ambition of the queen is central to the narrative; consequently Kapur felt obliged to include Elizabeth's ambition. Indeed, this diversion from 'arthouse' conventions may be an attempt to broaden the audience for 'Elizabeth'.




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