A friend recently emailed me and asked me for suggestions for movies he might show in his composition course, which includes some essays on art--from what I know of the reader our composition department uses, I'm guessing Aristotle's Poetics and the like. He didn't ask me specifically for movies that are about the power of art--rather, he specified that he wanted movies "the artistic powers of which are slightly better than what the students are used to. Yet I don't want to bore them either."
But that didn't matter because I read the message wrong at first--it was first thing in the morning and I was tired--and spent a couple of hours trying to think up movies about the power of art which would please an audience of 18-year-olds.
Two of my favorite movies about the topic--actually, two of my favorite movies, period--are Babette's Feast (in Danish with English subtitles, rated G) and Cinema Paradiso (in Italian with English subtitles, and only a little bit sexy), and it is my unfortunate experience that 18-year-olds don't tend to love subtitles.
There are plenty of movies--particularly of a certain era--about the power of movies and performance: Singin' in the Rain, perhaps, or All About Eve, or Sunset Boulevard. SitR is also one of my favorite movies but I realize not everyone likes musicals (although I also realize that not liking musicals is both a character flaw and a moral failing). I adore All About Eve but some people dismiss it as a chick movie. Sunset Boulevard might be a good choice.... I let students make up missed quizzes and such by watching movies and they consistently remark that SB knocks them out, and they also like knowing where the line "I'm ready for my close-up" comes from.
Another really great movie about the power of movies All About My Mother but it's got that subtitle thing again. And it's really good, but it's a downer--it's one of the few Almodovar movies I really don't want to see again.
In the right mood I might argue that Strictly Ballroom is a movie about the power of art.... but it might also be a movie a fair number of them have seen, since its director, Baz Luhrmann, also directed that nasty business Moulin Rouge.
Then there are always biopics of artists, Frida and the like--there are dozens of those. I can't think of any good biopics of writers at the moment except for Wilde, and the focus of that is the destruction wrought in his life by Bosie. Though that does remind me of a very old black and white version of The Picture of Dorian Gray, which is about the power of art....
So anyway, I don't very often poll my readers, but I'm asking for your help. I realize I'm framing this question in a way my friend didn't, but I figure, why not illustrate more than one point with the film he shows? So if you can think of a good movie about the power of art--or if you can remember seeing a movie when you were 18 that really knocked you out--please share.