Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Genre Films

I've been thinking about some things currently debated a little on a_film_by. I wonder if there's something substantial and cohesive to be said about impersonal genre cinema, or to put it in more genealogically precise terms, a 'termite cinema' for today--and not one redeemed by auteur politics generally understood. There's no uphill battle insisting that the films of Romero or Mann or Cohen are authors of their own distinct cinema (well, OK, for Cohen there's a battle in some company). At any rate, defenses mounted for filmmakers like these are usually done in service of their collective oeuvres which bear a distinct personal stamp, stylistically and thematically, very much in the spirit of Sarris and 1950s Cahiers.

But what about John McTiernan, Renny Harlin, Paul W.S. Anderson, et al.? (I realize these are all 'masculinist' directors of action and sci-fi films: I don't want to give the impression though that this is the only kind of commercial/genre cinema where this kind of thing can happen.) Auteurism understood in a really broad, catholic sense can include filmmakers like these, but auteurism as the thing which most people now implicitly accept does not, because the films of these "authors" are quite often unsigned--someone like Anderson isn't, I suspect, so much the cine-writer of texts which are expressive of his vision as he is the modestly gifted enabler of films which are expressive purely or primarily unto themselves.

Where's the dividing line between the two types of commercial narrative cinema? I'm not entirely sure. Maybe there's not one. But recently as I've thought about this question it certainly feels like there is one. Resident Evil and Event Horizon don't seem quite like authorial expressions, but their expressivity is nonetheless there. I think of these as films which produce something extra, some kind of quality of vision that goes above and beyond (or beside) the requirements of the moneymaking apparatus. (Insofar as we can define 'excess,' I think there are basically two kinds, consumptive excess and productive excess. In commercial genre cinema, at least, he former tends toward reactionary-capitalist ideas because it accumulates experience and things into a massive, mountainous point [ > ]: to me this is Michael Bay's cinema. The latter tends toward breakages because it proliferates and comes undone [ < ]: perhaps this is Takashi Miike. I'll think more on how tenable this kind of distinction is, though.) There's a remainder or a dividend in these films that can't be fed into an easy equation of these films' material function as commercial products, but isn't easily understood as part of an authorial vision, either. Accidental interest? Maybe, maybe.

This artistically viable impersonal genre cinema (IGC for short?) has got to be one of the more neglected areas in film criticism. Where is our Manny Farber, the Manny Farber of this era and my generation, who will turn his or her attentive eyes and ears upon the messy, modest, occasionally thrilling joys of this kind of film? Doing so would involve seeing heaps of awful films, and practically no masterpieces, with a lot of attentive love in the process, so maybe it's an historian's task more than a proper critic's.


Jaime said...

If I ever see THE SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELING PANTS, it'll be a secret that I'll take with me to the grave...but the name Ken Kwapis has come up in conversation quite a lot lately because of that film and because of his TV work. Bill Krohn is a fan of the latter and has mentioned as much on film_and_politics. Another friend really likes SISTERHOOD. And this article/interview paints a portrait of a fascinating guy, a so-called "anonymous" H'wood director who claims to draw upon Borzage, Murnau, Bertolucci, Wyler, etc.


Jaime said...

Er...by "anonymous" I mean: somebody who doesn't occur to you might "have something" until you start hearing his/her name bandied about by folks like Bill K., others. And it sure wouldn't have occurred to me that the auteur of SESAME STREET PRESENTS: FOLLOW THAT BIRD would have something. Guess I'm not a big game hunter!

Steve said...

I've long suspected that the next McTiernan, if not the next Romero, will come up through made-for-Sci-Fi Channel films, Skinemax softcore porn and/or straight-to-DVD fare. What little dabbling I've conducted hasn't turned up anything promising, though. The problem may be that while in the 70s, young directors would debut with genre films as a way of breaking into the industry, their contemporary counterparts make Sundance "indies" instead.