Monday, November 21, 2005

An ode to the genre director

Auterism can be a real bitch. Sure it’s a great way to elevate our favorite directors to superstar status and no one doubts the cohesiveness in the body of work of say, Stanley Kubrick, but it’s had some virulent side effects that no one seems to notice. In addition to empowering several generations worth of balderdash faux-deep interpretations of Hitchcock films (hint: he just wanted to entertain), auterism has gone from promoting the idea that a director could have a cohesive vision within genre film to relegating said genre films to the bottom rung of the filmic ladder; even more so than they were before. After all, how often do you hear the words it’s just a popcorn movie, from misinformed pseudo intellectuals trying to justify their trip to the multiplex? This in turn causes perhaps one of the gravest sins in all of film: Genre directors overreaching. From Kyoshi Kurosawa’s Bright Future to Gore Verbinsky’s recent Weatherman to anything Guy Ritchie has done post-Snatch; cinema is full of talented genre directors who swing and miss in an attempt to gain some sort of elitist credibility. Now I’m not saying that directors should be boxed into one thing, but common sense is the key: when your best picture is a pirate epic, maybe you shouldn’t go for the melodramatic non-indie. I mean, imagine if Ray Harrihausen decided: “well, I’ve conquered stop-motion, let’s see if I can do a musical!” It wouldn’t have been pretty.

Guy Ritchie is an example of the gravity of this situation. Snatch and Lock Stock and Two Smoking barrels are widely acclaimed and are personally some of my favorite genre movies in recent years (no really!). That said I wouldn’t trust the man with camera for any other purpose than to film British people doing illegal things. His output since has been rancid. I sat through his Madonna movie in disgust and was glad that he returned to gangster movies for his upcoming Revolver, but unfortunately, it got laughed out of Toronto so I’m assuming he lost his groove or his mojo trying to be serious. Back in the day, things would have been different though: Ritchie would have been cranking out 2 gangster movies a year and they’d have been GOOD. That’s how directors like Seijun Suzuki, Kinji Fukasaku, Alfred Hitchcock, John Ford, Jean-Pierre Melville and Sergio Leone made their living. There’s certainly nothing less honorable about making films like those guys did as opposed to another Sundance-movie. Plus, all of those directors GREW from their genre films into mature, post-genre cinema and it WORKED because they had the necessary experience. Imagine if Hitchock tried to do The Birds at 40 years old? Pretty bad vision huh? Plenty of modern examples support this theory as well: Takashi Miike has gone from a straight to DVD maverick to the man who made this year’s greatest experimental film in Izo. Tarentino continues to twist genre to his particular liking turning his Kill Bill saga into a Leone sized epic. Scorcese is doing another gangster movie imbued with so much personal style it’s unfair to even call it genre. I rest my case.

The fault doesn’t lie solely on the directors though. Hollywood’s blockbusters have drained the budget for smaller, more nimble genre films as well and film-schools have spent years hammering the idea into future directors heads that anything without a grand artistic concept is a waste of celluloid. Additionally, audiences certainly demand more complex films today and cut and paste gangster movies, westerns, spy stories and their ilk aren’t the sure bets that they were in years past. But if there’s anything to be learned from Japan (and trust me there is), it’s that if you update the formula, they will come. And that way Hollywood can compensate for it’s Annus terribilis and I can get a decent British crime flick.

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