Arthouse sf Film

Authored by: Stacey Abbott

The Routledge Companion to Science Fiction

Print publication date:  January  2009
Online publication date:  March  2009

Print ISBN: 9780415453783
eBook ISBN: 9780203871317
Adobe ISBN: 9781135228361


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In 1968, Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey encapsulated the two new directions facing sf cinema. On the one hand, its large budget and cutting-edge special effects, created by Douglas Trumbull, removed the sf film from the realm of the comparatively low-budget B-Movie of the 1950s and situated it clearly within big-budget Hollywood cinema. On the other hand, in its slow pace, poetic visual imagery, and narrative ambiguity, it had far more in common with arthouse cinema (or art film) than with previous Hollywood output. Arthouse cinema, originally associated with European cinema in the 1940s–1960s but now considered to range much more widely, refers to a type of filmmaking that exists in opposition to the Hollywood mainstream, and is defined as much by the means of distribution and exhibition as by a set of textual characteristics. Traditionally distributed by small independent companies, arthouse films are aimed at cineaste audiences and screened in alternative venues, such as independent or repertory cinemas, cinematheques, and galleries. As such, they are often associated with “culture” and “high art,” rather than “entertainment.” Having said this, independent and cult films that are often associated with “entertainment,” and which similarly exist outside the mainstream, also often find a home in arthouse cinemas and have much in common with the art film. Both largely emerged in opposition to the classical Hollywood system, which had come to dominate filmmaking practice, and the art film in particular enabled other national cinemas to establish their own indigenous style of filmmaking distinct from Hollywood (Bordwell 1979; Neale 1981). The one factor that scholars and industry practitioners agree on is that “art films are not mainstream Hollywood films” (Wilinsky 2001: 15).

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