actors, art, movies

Art in Films

Gustav Deutsch earlier this year released his feature film, Shirley–Visions of Reality, recreating 13 Edward Hopper paintings around a central character. A perfect example of art mimicing art. I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy.

Shirley and Hopper 3 IIHIH

Oscar Wilde said in his 1899 essay The Decay of Lying, “Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life”.  One reason I’m an Oscar Wilde fan is his philosophy of aestheticism. If beauty is art and art is beauty and art is the central ingredient to happiness, then what is art and who defines art and why is it healthy to surround oneself with beauty? Are you scratching your head yet?


If you appreciate any of the following: architecture, paintings, fine cars, ballet, poetry, the movies, or Brahms–you are a lover of art and no doubt filling your senses with these by-products of humans brings you happiness. If this is too much materialism for you, then step outside and savor the majesty of the mountains, the crash of waves on ancient rock, and hear the creatures of nature whisper God’s wisdom in your ears. Art is everywhere and beauty is art.

When I or my movie buff friends claim a film is “beautiful” are we talking about the cinematography?


Terrence Malick’s film, Days of Heaven (1978) was a gorgeous film capturing the glow of natural light to perfection.


So, too, was Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon (1975). Maybe the plot dragged, but this was one of the finest period pieces I’ve seen. I felt like every frame, every scene was like looking at a painting.


House of Flying Dragons(2004) is probably my favorite “beautiful” film.

What about art mimicking art? That is, what about films about art? Consider the biopic.


The story behind Johannes Vermeer’s 1685 masterpiece, A Girl with a Pearl Earring, was brought to life in the Peter Webber’s 2003 film starring Scarlett Johansson, Colin Firfth, and Tom Wilkinson. Poor Griet. It’s not fun being beautiful in a house full of dour shrews.  But oh, the mechanics behind painting and the oppressive lives for women in the 17th century makes it a good watch.

images Jackson Pollock in action

Ed Harris directed himself in the interesting 2000 film Pollock about the story behind the American artist Jackson Pollock. The film also starred Marcia Gay Harden, Tom Bower, and Jennifer Connelly. The tragic effects of alcohol stymied the life of the abstract expressionist. I loved the performance by Marcia Gay Harden, his wife who stood by her man even though he was a philander including his patron, Peggy  Guggenheim.


I have yet to see Goya’s Ghosts (2008) starring Javier Bardem and Natalie Portman and written and directed by Milos Forman. Has anyone seen this? How could it be bad with that pairing?

Does art bring you joy? Is film an art form, in which case, what’s your favorite beautiful film?

21 thoughts on “Art in Films”

  1. Great read! Film is definitely art and the films of Wes Anderson (Royal Tenembaums is my favorite of his body of work) definitely are able to be dissected on a frame by frame level as art. Also, Tales from the Crypt uses excellent lighting in seasons 1 and 2 specifically that really accentuate the drama of each frame (akin to chiaroscuro) film is definitely art lol


    1. Hi there! Thanks for stopping by. Wes Anderson is great. I like how you described his compositions as though frame by frame is a composition. Yes, you are right. Moonrise Kingdom is that way, too. Good call!


  2. Film is definitely an art form.

    Speaking about movies about art: I just watched Museum Hours (2013) last night. Haven’t publicized that the review is written yet, but it’s odd that you have topically created this conversation so close to me seeing a move about the very subject your pondering. 😉

    Anyway, for me beautiful can mean a number of things. It might be the performances, screenplay or cinematography, or even something else I’m not currently remembering. So what are my favorite “beautiful” movies? Gotta be my four favorite movies, in no particular order:

    1. Casablanca: for that astonishingly good screenplay with those terrific characters.

    2. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: for everything. The screenplay, the actors, the way natural light is played, manipulated, and enhanced, and the editing. What a well edited movie.

    3. Schindler’s List: Again, for everything. But especially the cinematography. It is fittingly dark and intense.

    4. Ordinary People: Mostly for the acting, but also for the score and soundtrack. I’ve seen this one near a dozen times, probably, but I still cry, multiple times over, each time.


    1. James, Hi! I look forward to your review–I have not heard of Museum Hours, but it’s sounds like what I’m in the mood for! Your favorite four films is an interesting quad. #1 is in my top four. #2 is a very good film, but I can’t say it’s that far up as a beautiful film–I never think about editing. I need to explore that topic. To say it is well edited–I never think to look at a film’s editing although I know it’s important, I can’t say why. I need a film student to explain it to me.;) #3 is a fantastically well-made film (no doubt edited well!) but so dark, too. I have a hard time thinking of it as beautiful. #4 is the biggest surprise. I think Robert Redford directs beautiful films–I thought The Horse Whisper was gorgeous. Timothy Hutton gave a great performance as well as MTM…Thanks for your comments 🙂


      1. I’m no film student, but I did make a short film once, for the one film/tv class I took. Editing the movie was easily my favorite part of the project, because I came to realize the importance of post-production. The way a movie is edited can make performances feel great or terrible, can make a director look brilliant or stupid. It can also generate emotion. In the case of many action films that emotion is excitement. We cut away from an actor’s face just as they are starting to respond to some stimulus, or we get an action cut where at first we see an actor throwing a punch, and then we see a close up of the fist hitting someone’s face. Or whatever.

        In the case of Eternal Sunshine, the editing creates confusion, in much the way Joel is often confused; it holds shots a beat longer than you expect, or a beat shorter. Or it takes Joel’s point of view in one shot and then a wide look at Joel in the next. Or whatever. It makes cuts we don’t subconsciously expect. And that’s why I call it beautiful. In that film, Gondry uses filmmaking elements audiences generally ignore so well that he produces an artistic masterpiece. Honestly, of the four movies I mentioned, Eternal Sunshine is the one I think most beautiful in a traditional cinematography/visual effects sense, as well. Some of those shots (Joel and Clem on the ice for the first time, etc) are visually impressive indeed.

        But if we’re sticking exclusively to cinematography/visual effects as beauty, then I’d have to say Life of Pi. I don’t love the movie, per se, but it is certainly gorgeous.


          1. No. Thank you. 😉

            I figure I’m not nearly qualified to talk about the art of filmmaking. It’d be like a Philosophy 101 student trying to teach me all about Existentialism. I have only a very surface level understanding of technical stuff in filmmaking; it isn’t even enough knowledge to know what I don’t know. You know?


          2. I disagree! Your opinion about what you know is interesting. If it’s your opinion why you think film editing is important and you give examples, that’s awesome. It’s opinion. No one is paying you for credits. None of us here are experts or the definitive authority on film critique. We just share a similar avocation. It’s hard reading 30 reviews about today’s release. I like to read about topics pertaining to film, too. Instigating a topic for discussion is where the comments really get interesting for me. Like this one! 🙂


  3. Most of us don’t know where Art comes from. We think we create it.
    I studied Art – sculpture. And for myself, I feel the high purpose of Art – of great Art – is something that inspires us. Lifts us. Adds to us Spiritually. Makes us know, remember who/what we truly are – where we come from – and where we must return. It’s interesting to me that Songs – most music, for instance, are about Love. Well Over 90%.
    A while back I wrote a very short joke/story and sent to some friends as amusement. I had no intention of taking it any further. I was finished – as far as I knew. Then as I was walking one day, parts of ensuing action and dialogue started to come to me. This was surprising to me, but I wrote them down.This continued over the course of weeks. This thing had a life of it’s own. Where was it coming from? Where was it going? But there was definite progression in the flavour that completely changed the whole complexion and texture of the characters and their story. It went from being the initial joke – to action – to adventure – to a Spiritual Quest – and eventually became a Love story. These are places I had no intention of going. The story is not complete, but as I looked upon this sequence of it’s evolution I realized two things: 1. Art / Love / Life is bigger than me. I can only be it’s humble vehicle. 2. That unless this story hadn’t eventually arrived at Love, it served no true or real purpose and would never reach the highest of what it could be or offer.

    Bless you all – have a wonderful season.


    1. J- what a great story and thank you for sharing! As a writer I feel the same way; I love the creative process especially when “it” takes over and the story wants to tell itself and I’m a conduit. Art, whatever medium, is like that, I feel. Art is the best part of humanity for when we create we are tapping into the universal. I hope you get your story on paper soon. 🙂


  4. I love the cinematography in Barry Lyndon, it’s so beautifully photographed. I know a couple of others who find the plot meandering, but it’s my second favorite Kubrick movie after 2001. Nice post.


    1. Thank you, my respect for Kubrick grows each year. How innovative. How unusual were his films. I read that in Barry Lyndon, he (they) invented a new lens so they could catch the low light better. I find the costumes in BL and the compositions of his work delightful.


  5. Lovely post Cindy! A lot of Malick’s films are truly beautiful, sometimes to a fault. I really need to see Barry Lyndon as I love period dramas, esp. a beautifully-shot one. Oh and I remember how much you loved House of Flying Dragons 😉


  6. Fabulous post Cindy. I’m a massive Edward Hopper fan so that film sounds brilliant. Haven’t seen Goya’s Ghosts but I really want to. In fact, I had forgotten all about that film. Thanks for the reminder 🙂


    1. I’m a massive fan of Ed’s, too. Caught a traveling exhibit in DC a few years back and learned so much.Standing in the middle of a gallery surrounded by his paintings, arms-length from Chop Suey and Nighthawks was a highlight of the decade for me. Glad to hear you are moved by him as well. Cheers!


        1. It’s in the queue for me. I can’t wait to see it. I love those two. Anything artistic is an added bonus for me. Take Wes Anderson, for instance. He sure knows how to compose a scene as though you were looking at a painting, one frame at a time.


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