The term “Smart Film” was coined by Jeremy Sconce (2002 and 2006) to refer to a group of films produced in the 1990s, and the early years of the new millennium, largely in reaction to the intellectual mediocrity of most Hollywood blockbuster films produced in the large studios…
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This paper defines what Sconce means by this term, “Smart Film,” showing how it emerges out of both classical and art film cinema history, and provides some examples from two key films which have been categorized within this genre. There is then a discussion of the validity of the term, considering several possible objections to this classification. Finally, the paper concludes that the term “Smart film” is a valid genre descriptor, so long as it is understood in the ironic way that Sconce originally intended, and not as an indicator of quality or status. One of the main features of the “Smart Film” is the absence of a single plot line, or main character to unify the action. The way that the characters relate to each other is more complex, and the audience has to work harder to make sense of the connections and dis-connections that appear on the screen. This shift of focus from more traditional linear approaches is described by Sconce as a narrative style “centering not on a central unifying character’s dynamic action (as in classic Hollywood cinema) nor on relatively passive observations (as in previous art cinema), but rather on a series of seemingly random events befalling a loosely related set of characters.” (Sconce, 2002, 362) ...
Kristin Thompson argues that this has been a tendency of blockbuster movies right through the 1970s and 1980s: “... Hollywood continues to succeed through its skill in telling strong stories based on fast-paced action and characters with clear psychological traits. The ideal American film still centers around a well-structured, carefully motivated series of events that the spectator can comprehend relatively easily.” (Thompson, 1999, 8) This so-called “classical” style of movie production endures because it has become the accepted “norm” for the majority of film audiences. Thompson acknowledges the importance of episodic films, and the emergence of post-modern cinema, which breaks with many of these traditions, but maintains that Hollywood will doubtless continue to be fascinated by genres such as the action film which tend to be both “formulaic” and “overblown” (Thompson, 1999, 338) The impact of non-classical films like Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, has, according to Thompson, been minimal, leaving a legacy which encourages imitators to dwell on the extremes of sex and violence rather than engage in novel approaches to narrative structure. Thompson makes valid points, but the “Smart Film” genre shows that some independent film-makers working together with the large studios have managed to break away from the stranglehold of classical expectations. Sconce’s reference to art films, as well as classical film, is highly relevant, and although Sconce is keen to point out the differences between his new genre of “Smart Films” and the art film genre, there are also many similarities between the two genres. The work of Bordwell has done much to explain the specific art film
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