Monday, 15 October 2007

Hare Puts the Boot In (Or Does He?)

Genre has almost destroyed cinema. The audience is bored. It can predict the exhausted UCLA film-school formulae - acts, arcs and personal journeys - from the moment that they start cranking. It's angry and insulted by being offered so much Jung-for-Beginners, courtesy of Joseph Campbell. All great work is now outside genre David Hare

I’m not quite sure what Mr Hare is on about here: does he perhaps mean that ‘formula’ is destroying cinema, rather than genre? In that case, I agree, but 'genre'? I think Dave's got a screw loose. I mean, Stanley Kubrick was an immensely talented writer and director, but certainly someone who almost exclusively made genre films. I think what Mr Hare meant to say is that the application of formulae has almost destroyed cinema. And besides, I don’t think that Joseph Campbell had the film industry in mind when he wrote The Hero With a Thousand Faces, so perhaps it’s a little unfair to single him out for particular criticism.

Far be it for me to make heretical suggestions, but maybe if The Hours had been made with an eye towards a consideration of genre, perhaps it would have been a little more entertaining.


Elinor said...

So what genre would you put 'The Hours' in? Biopic? Drama? Gay? I liked it though 'harrowing' rather than 'entertaining' was my verdict.

Chip Smith said...

Maybe The Hours belongs in the 'worthy drama' genre, but I'm sure a couple of car chases, a drug deal gone bad and a corrupt cop would have livened things up a bit (sorry, I'm being silly now).

Oli said...

'Genre' has become a byword for 'pulp', which isn't the same thing. Don't get me wrong, I love pulp, but it's not the same thing. When people say a 'genre' movie, they usually mean something with vampires in it.

Chip Smith said...

That's the weird thing with Hare's quote - it all depends on what your defintion of 'genre' is. One of the best films I've seen recently was 'Hidden', which is most definitely a thriller.

Personally speaking, I think the most exciting type of film is one that takes generic subject matter and bends it out of shape until it resembles something completely different - which is why I think David Hare should be writing vampire movies! (it'd be more interesting than The Hours at least).

Jon Peacey said...

Such a huge issue that I’m in real danger of being serious!

By and large, I’d agree with the general tenor of Hare’s remark; I’d also tend to disagree with it as well! Having done the film-school thing and read (or tried to read, because they’re frequently turgid badly written pseudo-scientific dross) some of the scripting books I would suggest that the truth lies somewhere in between.

I believe we’re living in the era of Genre 2.0. The trouble is not genre but formula but via the books and courses the genres have been effectively reduced down to formulas within formulas: the three act structure gets more codified (such as inciting incident becomes cute-meet in rom-com). The problems get worse when you include time pressure, financial pressure, desire for easy money, lack of imagination and pure laziness. In the 40’s and 50’s film noir and gangster pictures were subversive film-making frequently smuggling difficult (often left-leaning) issues into ostensibly mainstream entertainment. This is the world that Kubrick was nurtured in: The Killing would easily fit into that; 2001 and A Clockwork Orange, sci-fi both and yet not an alien or intergalactic war in sight (could you imagine Warners forking out for that now) and both with very serious thinking wrapped inside. (On the Movie Connexions about Shakespeare In Love they mentioned how hard it was to convince Miramax that Shakespeare couldn’t go off with Viola because it didn’t fit audience expectation and genre necessity.)

By the time Campbell and the screenwriting courses had started to take their effect there were only 3 Kubrick films left: The Shining, horror with the horror elements stripped (compare with King’s TV version); Full Metal Jacket, theoretically a War film (where’s the mission or the victory) and Eyes Wide Shut, a disaster movie (lol). (Campbell didn’t have cinema in mind: he had barely seen a film until he was in his 70’s when he was shown Star Wars by Lucas.)

These days, nothing can apparently exist outside of genre. Genre pictures used to be the backbone of Hollywood (Westerns, Gangsters, etc.), sometimes lauded, sometimes derided but part of the problem now must surely be that what would previously have been B-movies (Independence Day, Jaws, even Alien, etc.) are now the mainstream films leaving little room for alternative fare.

People are now making up ever more convoluted genres just to claim it’s a genre film even when there isn’t one their work easily fits into: coming-of-age vampire film noir, anybody? If you look at Hare’s 5 named titles they could/ would all be given genres now: 2 coming of age (A Murmur Of The Heart, Summer Interlude), 1 prison film (A Man Escaped), melodrama (Room At The Top), family drama (Tokyo Story). Are these genres? These days they have been considered to be.

Isn’t the real problem that most film makers now only feed off/ reference other films (this particularly started with the 70’s Movie Brats) and have very little that they really believe in or want to say?

(Sorry that got a little long!)

Chip Smith said...

Blimey, Jon! There's enough issues in your comment to fill up a few posts.

I too am somewhere in the middle of Hare's argument, but I don't think genre itself (the 'old' concept of genre anyway)is to blame - the problem is, as you say, the codification of specific elements of genre itself into a series of catch-all formulas. Which is partly why a film like Hidden works so well - on the face of things, it appears to be a reasonably straightforward thriller, but it subverts its generic limitations by introducing a very powerful subtext. Or maybe there's a case for not calling it a genre film at all, on the basis that we are now in the age of Formula 1.0, rather than Genre 2.0?

However, I still think Kubrick is a genre filmmaker (that said Eyes Wide Shut was a bit of a mess). FMJ came out at the same time as a lot of Hollywood films concerning Vietnam (Platoon, Hamburger Hill, Casualties of War), so it also fitted into its own mini-genre as well. I did my MA thesis on FMJ so I might post something about it this week for a bit of fun (don't worry, I won't post the whole thesis - I'm not that sadistic!).