I think this will always be a hard question to define art with the advent of photography and film. It’s kind of like the old adage that lawmakers used to define obscene and indecent materials: “I know it when I see it.” How does Ansel Adams’ photographic work while he was working for the Department of the Interior now get considered art and hang on our living room walls when I could technically take a picture almost exactly the same? I don’t know, but it is. Why is that new foreign film considered an “artsy” film over a summer blockbuster? I don’t know, but it is.
When photography came, anyone could now be an “artist.” Reproducing an image became too authentic. Painting a still life of a bowl of fruit was art; nobody photographs a bowl of fruit (at least not to hang on their living room wall).
With film, many believe that true acting has disappeared. Multitudes of re-takes to get the scene done just right when a stage performance has to be as perfect as it can be the first time. This does not make film any less, however, as an actor eventually showcases his best performance and then goes on a promotional tour to plug the movie.
Film and photography all of a sudden gave us a way to view life one image at a time, over and over again. A painter could touch-up a painting and interpret the actual image but originally the photo would show the bruise. Photos show us too much, revealing it all. It’s like the way that psychology terms shed light on everyday things in people. They were always there but these new terms cause us to notice them. Now we apply psychology on ancient events to gain further insights, even though it was already there—we now though can see it more clearly and have the terms to talk about it. Shakespeare may not have known the terms, but he was a master of psychology—but how? Should he then be the father of psychology? Does it go back even further?
Politics then plays into film and the filmmaker doesn’t even have to understand the terms of politics. It especially works that way on an unknowing audience. If I watch Fahrenheit 9/11 without knowing politics or any of the facts, I am going to probably think exactly like the director thinks about President Bush. The film is a great tool for debate but you cannot let it be your only source of information.
Oliver Stone’s JFK works the same way. Laymen (including myself) have not studied the Warren Commission, so then, these seeming experts have to be telling the truth. However my bias may appear, the movie does spark interesting debate. There are many things that need to be looked at again from this new perspective. Both sides may not have thought about these aspects of the assassination and the new stuff that this movie talks about (and in 1991 conspiracy theories flourished on this), much like we now perceive psychology as mentioned above.
Any other filmmaker is quite capable of making a film on the contrary position, with or without proof. They could make one called The Lone Gunman. They could be more or less objective or subjective. The problem with that though is it came second and will always be subjected to more criticism.