"Cinema is the most beautiful fraud in the world."
"I was born when she kissed me..."
Since the inception of the medium of film, filmmakers have explored new concepts to incorporate into their work, both in terms of style and content. From here, different film genres were created and developed to tell different stories in different ways. The genres of high-tech, animation and film noir, though seemingly very different from one another, actually have a great deal in common, most notably through their departure from the more traditional styles and methods of filmmaking and their exploration of stunts, subject matters or thematic ideas that are often avoided in more mainstream genres.
One of the earliest departures from mainstream cinema was the rise of the genre known as film noir, which arose as an expressionistic and individualistic art form that allowed more particular filmmakers to customize and distinguish their films from their counterparts. Film noir is recognized by its stylistic approach towards a subject matter that is considerably darker or more cynical than most film genres. This was in part a response to the generic formulaic hollywood star system and a way of incorporating the expressionistic art form of the early to mid 20th century into the medium of film. Early films by German director Fritz Lang use shadows and mystery as an integral part of telling a particular story. American filmmakers like John Huston and Orson Welles and British filmmakers like Alfred Hitchcock and Carol Reed were early adopters of this style of filmmaking and helped to define the genre for generations to come.
The term film noir is generally used to describe heavily-stylized crime dramas. As such, elements of noir include not just the dark shadows and fog-drenched cinematography used as an element of establishing tone and atmosphere to tell the story, but also the very elements of the story that is being told. Film noir centers around a crime early in the story that is then investigated by the film's characters, often to reveal a much deeper mystery or unknown elements than previously suspected. Though the golden era of noir is considered to be the 1930's and 1940's with films from the aforementioned directors, the genre has been resuscitated periodically from more recent films that celebrate and incorporate the elements of film noir.
The 2010 Australian drama, ANIMAL KINGDOM, is an excellent example of how noir elements can be incorporated into a 21st century movie. Centering around a character known simply as J, the film depicts the world of Australian organized crime and one man's descent into this world. The movie not only incorporates the shadowy and starkly contrasted visuals that are so closely associated with film noir, but also is built from the ground up by seedy elements in the story including drugs, crime, family relationships and deceit and mystery. The story of this movie is one that is best told through the style of film noir, allowing the criminal elements to play out with a sense of cynicism and stylization for which other styles don't often allow.
In much the same departure that film noir was, animation is one of the most cynical styles of filmmaking, as it replaces traditional actors and sets with animation that can be manipulated and shaped to the exact specifications of
the filmmakers. Whereas filmmakers had previously been confined to the logistical limitations of their vision, animation allowed a greater range of filmmakers to explore visuals and concepts that were simply not possible with live-action filming. Moreover, the filmmakers could have complete control over every step of the process, drawing the animation and shaping the story to go with it rather than opening up the creative process to a slew of actors and other participants.
The Revolution of the High-tech Blockbuster
It is interesting to study how feature-length animation came about. Animation began as merely a pre-feature attraction for children. Pioneers like Walt Disney, however, established that feature length cartoons could hold an audience's attention as long as a live movie could. Similarly, much like film noir was defined by shadowy backdrops and stark contrasts, animation established its style through the use of numerous bright colors, the extremity and combination of which was impossible to achieve in real life. Like other film genres, animation had a humble beginning that through pioneering efforts of auteurs became legitimate and acceptable.
WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT? is truly a unique hybrid of a film in many ways. First and foremost, the film combines animation with live-action film and was revolutionary in this process that has been used so prevalently since this movie first perfected this blend. Secondly, the film mixed elements of several different genres. The crime-driven detective story of nostalgic Hollywood is pure film noir, while the animation involved is slapstick comedy. The movie proved the success, both on critical and popular levels, what was possible from merging different elements of different styles in order to attract the widest base of potential audience members. Similarly, the combination of noir elements for more mature audiences and the animation elements for younger viewers proved a lucrative formula for family audiences in the years to come.
In many of the same ways as the previously described genres, the high-tech style of filmmaking expanded on the elements of noir and new types of filmmaking, which were a departure from classic mainstream Hollywood, by expanding into a genre that included elements that would never be found in movies of previous generations. In this style of filmmaking, there is an elevation of action and adventure that might objectively seem absurd, but combine to form a very unique film experience. In high-tech style films, the absurd is not only tolerated, but expected and celebrated.
Like any new genre or art form, high-tech filmmaking came about as a product of the times. The 80's are marked by a celebration and overindulgence in excess. No longer were audiences satisfied with one or two action sequences in a movie; they now craved an entire movie centered around this action. Many credit this genre's birth with the blockbuster movie, DIE HARD, in which the story was a rather simple one that was propelled not by plot twists or heavy character development, but visually-stimulating action sequences. The success of DIE HARD ensured many movies of this style to follow and the genre would be further explored into the 1990's, when this style of filmmaking reached its zenith. Movies like CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER operate on thrills from action sequences and
elaborate stunts. Though the premise is one of international intrigue and national security, the characters are rather one-dimensional and only serve as the vehicles from one action sequence to the next.
Yippee Ki Yay...
Undoubtedly, one of the most entertaining and successful high-tech movies is TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY. While James Cameron had previously and has since left his mark on Hollywood with over-the-top spectacles of filmmaking on a grand and epic scale never before seen, TERMINATOR 2 marked his finest achievement up to that point. Building on the success of its predecessor, TERMINATOR 2 emphasized action over character development and was a truly magnificent aesthetic and visceral assault on the senses. There was not a single climax with an explosion--there was a mini-climax every 10 minutes or so, taking the audience on a thrill ride they had not previously experienced. Moreover, the non-action sequences of the movie serve not so much to further the story or explore the depth of its characters, but rather as an explanation of the logistics of the action that has occurred and is yet to occur. Accordingly, there is not a classic score over the movie's soundtrack, but instead the use of pulsating sounds and loud, energetic rock music is incorporated to match the frenetic pace of the stunts.
With this style of filmmaking, the stars of such movies were not celebrated for their artistry or creativity or believability, but rather for their physical appearance and action-sequence capabilities. This style produced stars like Schwarzenegger, Stallone, Willis and many others who would probably not have found great success in other generations, but in the excess-driven high-tech culture of the 80's and 90's were Hollywood's top draws. Yet, this does not inherently ensure that these movies or stars are without merit. As the world grows ever more complicated, audiences more than ever before are looking for escapism--a mini-vacation from the dramas of their own life. They don't often wish to spend their time or money for entertainment on social dramas that reinforce the issues they encounter in everyday life. Rather, the absurdity of high-tech filmmaking becomes a guaranteed adrenaline-filled ride that can simply be enjoyed for what it is and not carry over any implications into their own lives.
In recent decades, the incorporation of documentary-realism style has been increasing in major movies. This style allows for a more realistic tone and style of filmmaking than the highly glamorous and refined process behind most movies. The very nature of this style of filmmaking, which demands an episodic structure and location shooting and realistic portrayals of people and places heavily shape the film that is being shot. In attempting to mimic real life, the more traditional structure of storytelling of a hero and villain on a quest to accomplish a goal is forsaken for the more realistic search for meaning of profundity, even within the tame and ordinary confines of everyday life. Actors are not made up to be movie stars. Rather, they wear regular clothes and strip away the concealing effects of makeup and let the truth shine through, hoping to portray the beauty of the positive traits of their character while allowing the negative traits to shine through with equal, if not more, screen time.
New Forms of Expressionism
Documentary-realism style of filmmaking can easily be traced back to an alternative to traditional, mainstream moviemaking. This started as the old Hollywood system collapsed, giving way to a new generation of filmmakers. The New Hollywood era, with filmmakers like Scorsese, Coppola, Nicholson and others sought out this style as an alternative to the old way of doing things. Furthermore, this style proved cheaper and easier and often, quicker which satisfied studios and financiers who were taking less risk than a traditional Hollywood movie.
It is important to note that a major part of the prevalence of this style of filmmaking is dependent upon a search for truth or genuineness, both by the filmmakers and the audience. For example, by forsaking the formulaic Hollywood movie, filmmakers aim to capture the realism of life and an authenticity that is inherently unavailable in heavily-staged productions. Similarly, audiences tired of this formula are more open to documentary-style filmmaking as they feel the filmmakers are looking to produce something genuine rather than manipulate their emotions. While
Recent films like THE FIGHTER and WINTER'S BONE have used this technique in order to stylistically influence the tone of the film. In THE FIGHTER, the film begins and ends with Christian Bale and Mark Wahlberg's characters addressing the camera directly, being knowingly filmed, presumably for a documentary. What is unique about this approach in this movie is the fact that much of the first half of the movie involves a documentary film crew following Dickey around for what is supposed to be the preparation for his comeback fight. Cameras are hand-held and shake around as the characters walk or travel from one place to another. Similarly, the shots are cramped and confined, just like the quarters in which the characters reside, in stark contrast to the wide open spaces of movie sets of early Hollywood. The characters move about on the streets of Lowell, Massachusetts, requiring nearly entire on-location filming rather than doing the majority of it on a secluded Hollywood soundstage. This style is particularly effective in this movie, as it tells a very compelling story of two brothers that could easily become over-saturated with sentimentality or manipulation of feelings with a different style. The gritty documentary-realism style allows an objective portrayal of these characters and the events that take place without using sentimental scores or other devices to manipulate the audience into feeling something specific. This really allows for the raw power of the story to shine through, unadulterated by any cheap gimmicks of filmmaking.
These film genres might seem at first greatly distinctive from one another. While this may be true in terms of story or style elements, there is a fundamental principle that connects them all. Each genre came about from a filmmaker desiring to break out of the restraints of mainstream Hollywood and establish his own style. As the medium of film has evolved, more and more genres arise as a way of exploring new creative territory and differentiating one movie from all that came before it. Artistically, this is a wonderful thing as the future will certainly hold new and exciting concepts and styles that are as radical and fresh as those that came before it.
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Apr 30, 2012 12:42 AM
|Very informative article, Jeremy.|
But a lot of your groundbreaking films had predecessors long before.
Incorporating animation and real-life goes as far back as the 1946 Disney classic, SONG of the SOUTH, and even MARY POPPINS, both also Disney. The action genre goes back to the serials of the 40's, with FLASH GORDON. Interestingly enough, the SUPERMAN serials of the 40's incorporated animation and real life, because they didn't have the time or money to do real flying effects.
The blockbuster came from the Epic Movies, like BEN-HUR, and Lawrence of Arabia, that actually had a cast of thousands, not CG people (think PHANTOM MENACE).
Even the trilogy, as opposed to the sequel, again came out of the old serials, tying a single story arc over several movies
Still, I enjoyed your column, because it made me remember where these "groundbreaking" movies of today actually came from.
Keep 'em coming!
May 15, 2012 11:13 AM
|I wrote about The Fighter giving it high praise for its realism and great acting. The two brothers and their bonds are impressive. I tied that film to The King's Speech which also featured the bonding of two men. Enjoyed your column, if a bit long. Thanks.|
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This column explores the fascinating world of movies, through a slightly different perspective. There is no greater reflection into the soul of man than through the camera's lens.
I am a freelance writer from Winston-Salem, NC. I have been fascinated by movies since I was a child and have spent my free time on an unquenchable journey of exploration into films and the meaning and messages behind them.|
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