By Jacob Feiser
When we approach movies with a willingness to think, the art form has so much to teach.
Changes in art consumption
When I sit down and watch a film, rarely do I look at it as I would a Rembrandt or listen to it as I would Bach. For many people, considering cinema (or, to be less pretentious, movies) to be art is a strange comparison to the stuffy paintings and the boring sculptures they have at museums. Movies are in so many ways an easier medium to process and appreciate for a modern audience – because of the economic structures of movie production, it is incredibly difficult to find a film that is not meant for popular consumption and commercial success, although one could say the same about art from centuries past. Nonetheless, movies are meant for as wide-reaching an audience as possible, and the flow of films to the screen ensures most are quickly forgotten.
100 years ago, of course, art was not so. Fine art was regularly an individual undertaking, meant for individual enjoyment. Recreations or printings of great works are regular, but if I want to actually see “The Night Watch,” I actually need to go to a specific geographic location (Amsterdam). I still cannot stay at home or go to a local art gallery and expect to actually behold “The Night Watch” any more so than I can expect to meet Rembrandt himself. Conversely, music has undergone a significant shift over the past 100 years. While modern listeners may debate over whether vinyl or digital has the better quality of sound, 100 years ago there one only one option – live music. Music was furthermore a collective endeavor; you went to the concert hall and you saw people playing their instruments, all the while likely sitting with other people. You could not really get recordings very easily, and when you went to hear a symphony or an opera, you were there to listen and learn the story being told, not be distracted by your phone or fall asleep. Now, music is a strangely lonely experience – you can listen to it alone, often for the sake of cutting out other people. It performs an ancillary and background function – we hear, but we do not really listen, and several songs can go past on my playlist before I realize I am even listening to something new. All the sounds just blend together, and I imbibe the noise.
Movies have taken up a largely unconscious role in modern society – we go to be entertained, we might like a few of the quips in the dialogue, the story has a nice ending, and then we leave the theatre to go on with our days. We can even enjoy movies from home through digital ownership, streaming services, and digital video discs and video home system tapes (I am showing my age). Rarely do we actually have to deal with any complex themes behind the images on the screen. Indeed, there is a whole genre of film dedicated to mindless violence and thin plot – the use of CGI only encourages these types of film. And this mindlessness drives the watching of movies. In my own home, when the sun has set and we want to spend time as a family, we pick a certain movie because (a) everyone can agree to it or (b) it is mindlessly enjoyable. The two are not mutually exclusive. But movies are a form of art – they take skill to create, and good movies (often those films based on literature) do last. While it is true that the director and the actors and even the writers are making this movie to make money, they also are trying to communicate something. And the good movies communicate something worth imbibing.
Appreciation through analysis
This past semester, two other students at Grove City College and I have been able to start a sort of “Philosophy in Film” series, discussing the socio-political commentary offered by good films. These films are often films that are popularly enjoyed, but rarely so analyzed. The popularity of the films, however, often betrays the depth of messaging, and by engaging with willing faculty, we hope to bring to students a further appreciation of this art form. Film teaches us quite a bit: history, economics, theology, and so much more. Yet we can only truly learn (and discern) what these films are saying if we approach them critically. Great film is something that persists against the flow of time, and in this program, we hope to present to the student body an opportunity to expand their cinematic pallets and truly grow in the liberal arts. The medium is so often the message, and when we approach movies with a willingness to think, this newer art form has so much to teach.
Jacob S. Feiser is a research fellow for the Institute for Faith & Freedom and a junior political science major with minors in Biblical and religious studies, economics, and history from Havertown, PA. As a third-generation pastor’s kid, Jacob has always been engaged with the intersection of culture, theology, and politics. On campus, Jacob is the executive vice president of academic affairs for the Student Government Association, the executive content editor for the Grove City College Journal of Law and Public Policy, the senior chair of worship for Homecoming, and a ranking member of the Student-Faculty Review Committee. He also competes for Grove City College on the Classical Fencing team.
Jacob Feiser works in the Career Services Office as a career ambassador and chair of the Career Fair, is a teaching assistant for both Dr. James Bibza and President Paul McNulty, and is the campus Latin tutor. He has placed in several academic competitions, focusing his research on Christian doctrine, procedural justice, legal metaphysics, and ancient economic thought.
In the summer of 2021, Jacob worked as a grassroots canvasser for the Freedom Foundation, informing Pennsylvanians across the state of their right to work and helping them leave public unions.
In the summer of 2022, Jacob worked as an intern for the Pennsylvania Family Institute. As a summer intern, Jacob analyzed the effects of electoral redistricting upon voting trends and modeled several state-legislature races. He also enjoyed helping with the youth leadership and worldview camp, City on the Hill, which involves highschoolers with the legislative process from a Christian perspective.
Upon graduation, Jacob anticipates going to either law school or seminary, pursuing a doctoral degree, and hopes to teach afterward.