The term “art cinema” has been applied to many cinematic projects, including the film d’art movement, the postwar avant-gardes, various Asian new waves, the New Hollywood, and American indie films, but until now no one has actually defined what “art cinema” is. Turning the traditional, highbrow notion of art cinema on its head, Theorizing Art Cinemas takes a flexible, inclusive approach that views art cinema as a predictable way of valuing movies as “art” movies—an activity that has occurred across film history and across film subcultures—rather than as a traditional genre in the sense of a distinct set of forms or a closed historical period or movement.
David Andrews opens with a history of the art cinema “super-genre” from the early days of silent movies to the postwar European invasion that brought Italian Neorealism, the French New Wave, and the New German Cinema to the forefront and led to the development of auteur theory. He then discusses the mechanics of art cinema, from art houses, film festivals, and the academic discipline of film studies, to the audiences and distribution systems for art cinema as a whole. This wide-ranging approach allows Andrews to develop a theory that encompasses both the high and low ends of art cinema in all of its different aspects, including world cinema, avant-garde films, experimental films, and cult cinema. All of these art cinemas, according to Andrews, share an emphasis on quality, authorship, and anticommercialism, whether the film in question is film festival favorite or a midnight movie.