At the beginning of his article, Bordwell distinguishes between art and classical narrative cinema; art cinema opposes classical narrative in that it loosens cause-effect sequence of events (“characters in the art cinema lack defined desires and goals” (582)), emphasizes reaction over action and the individual over group/society, and the narrative is driven by realism and authorial expressivity (“what is essential is that the art film be read as the work of an expressive individual” (584)). To this latter point, Bordwell states that the author is “a formal component, the overriding intelligence organizing the film for our comprehension” and that “deviations from the classical canon—an unusual angle, a stressed bit of cutting, a prohibited camera movement, an unrealistic shift in lighting or setting—in short any breakdown of the motivation of cinematic space and time by cause-effect logic—can be read as ‘authorial commentary’” (584–5). Furthermore, Bordwell concludes his article with a discussion of Hollywood’s inclusion of art cinema techniques.
“Just as the Hollywood silent cinema borrowed avant-garde devices but assimilated them to narrative ends, so recent American filmmaking has appropriated art-film devices . . . More interestingly, we have seen an art cinema emerge in Hollywood . . . Yet if Hollywood is adopting traits of the art cinema, that process must be seen as not simply copying but complex transformation. In particular, American film genres intervene to warp art-cinema conventions in new directions (as the work of Altman and Coppola shows). It is also possible to see that certain classical filmmakers have had something of the art cinema about them. Sirk, Ford, and Lang all come to mind here but the preeminent instance is Alfred Hitchcock” (587–8).
While Bordwell’s article illuminates the distinction between art and classical cinema, I can’t help but read his comments as primarily a reinforcement of the distinction between “art” and “popular” or “good” and “bad.” Of course, this division does not belong solely to Bordwell or even to film.
In music there is privileging of the composer as a “tortured artist” who must turn to music convey their inner soul. Beginning with Beethoven, the composer becomes a Romantic hero who overcomes adversity through their art and, as a result, haunts the next generations of composers. There is then an emphasis placed on innovation and uniqueness that must be found throughout the composer’s oeuvre, a way of distinguishing the “good” composers from the ordinary composers, whose music might make enjoyable listening but not be “worthy of study.” Through this privileging, one can retrospectively make an esteemed lineage of great composers and, subsequently, great genres and musical nations—Mozart over Dittersdorf, opera over musicals, Germany over the United States. However, the determining factors of “greatness” are arbitrary, used equivocally to justify valuing one thing over another or to raise a “popular” thing to the level of “art.” Similar to the way the classical filmmakers cited by Bordwell incorporated art cinema techniques into their films thus reinforcing their privileged status, certain composers of popular genres are deemed more worthy of recognition for their incorporation of art techniques.
Returning to this week’s readings, we find the concept of the “tortured artist baring their soul through their work” in the profile of David Milch. Does the knowledge of Milch’s relationship with his father, drug abuse, and self-destructive behavior make us watch Deadwood with greater fervor? Do we now view Deadwood as the work of an “expressive individual”? Maybe. But I’m not sure that means we should view other shows or films as less significant. While Hitchcock, Beethoven, and the like may be worthy of study, the importance Bordwell places on the overriding intelligence and organizational prowess of the author appears to be an unnecessary justification for valuing certain works over others.
 For example, Stephen Sondheim is a music theater composer who writes in an operatic style and is, therefore, considered better than other music theater composers while not quite achieving the elevated status of opera composer.