The fourteenth edition of Garageland magazine is out now, and this one’s theme is ‘Film’. With articles on Rebecca Thomas’ ‘Electrick Children’, Nollywood, work out videos, the New French Extremity of Catherine Breillat, Drive, Dagenham fish tanks and Emo cinema – it’s the wonderfully eclectic mix we’ve come to expect from this arts, culture and ideas magazine, based in Transition Gallery in East London. To buy a copy, you can go here, or pick one up in a number of stockists including the ICA and the Tates. Yours truly has a piece on film genre, below:
For all its soaring LA skylines and Friday night sex music, Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive (2011) was an attractive disappointment. When I grumbled to friends about my frustrations with its overly familiar 1980s neon-drenched landscape, its unbelievable central romance and stilted dialogue, I was told that that was the point. This is because ‘Drive’ is essentially a genre movie, a modern neo-noir that plays with the conventions of classical genres. The avenging lone wolf Ryan Gosling cruising around LA in his white bomber jacket is the All-American hero, a nameless (and thus mythologised) Noughties cowboy. His crusade, like that of ‘Taxi Driver’ (1976), resembles that of a Western, while Carey Mulligan is the innocent girl needing to be saved. ‘Drive’ is a fairy tale, a Western, a neo-noir, a romance, and an art film, but most importantly, it is an ironic yoking together of all these genre conventions.
This is what the film critic Jim Collins explored in his essay “Genericity in the Nineties” (1993). He introduced the concept of the “new sincerity” to film criticism, by contrasting films that treat genre conventions with “eclectic irony” to those that treat them with a “new sincerity”. ‘Drive’ is the perfect example of Collins’ description of the “ironic hybridization of pure classical genres”.
Susan Hayward (1996) has noted that conventions of genre change “according to the ideological climate at the time”. We see this in Lena Dunham’s work. Her debut film ‘Tiny Furniture’ (2010)and popular HBO television series ‘Girls’ has moved on the generic conventions of ‘slacker cinema’ and the archetypal lost boy/ lovable rogue, and made it female, with chunky thighs. My frustrations with ‘Drive’ lie in its lack of awareness of our ideological landscape. Apart from a brilliant soundtrack (which nonetheless has the 80s to thank for its synths), is says nothing about now, with its various traits and tropes stuck in the glossy sheen of our cinematic past.
The Frankfurt School viewed film genre as a symptom of mass assembly-line production. This makes sense to me: a genre label informs us of what we’re buying, so we know what to expect when we go see a Katherine Heigl film or a Béla Tarr. Where does this genre label come from? Pretty much everything it seems. Some genres are based on the film’s location (“drive-in films”), on sexual preference (“Queer Cinema”), racial identity (“Black Cinema”), gender (“the Woman’s Film”), style (“German Expressionism”), film budget (the “Blockbuster” or the “Indie”), subject (“High School Films”), or actor (“Elvis Presley films”). Some emerge as the result of the present: for example, how digital technology and increasing gentrification have resulted in the “mumblecore” genre, while others are created posthumously, such as how “film noir” emerged as a term much later than the 1940s.
At its best, genre can help us explore different elements of a film creatively – what if we look at ‘Taxi Driver’ as a Western, ‘Clueless’ (1995) as a 20th century comedy of manners, and ‘The Human Centipede’ (2010) as a postmodern bricolage? Genre should not be limiting but a tool for creativity, and a springboard to jump forwards (and not flip backwards) into new forms of cinema and film writing.
Can anyone around here help me find the “Postmodern Post-1950s Diner Films” section, please?