the current longevity of this site - nigh on twelve months, now...and a
veritable epoch by current reckoning - I’ve yet to have any reply to
mine flat refusal to review films, of whatever age...
This - along w/the drastic paucity of almost any
form of reply to what I’ve hereto posted - has genuinely disappointed
me. Hence, I’m gonna issue an open invite here: if there are any
fans of romantic comedy films out there - and, I don’t care of what
sort - please attempt some sort of reply to this one...if’n you read
Cause I’m getting damn-well sick of addressing a blank page throughout this process.
Enough of my complaints, eh? - and (clearly) time to cut to the chase...
Reason I came up w/this paricular outburst right now is simple... I’m damn-well sick
of my favourite movie genre being (oh-so cuttingly) dismissed as mere
“chick-flicks” - the latest excuse for non-”serious” critical attention
- whilst purely one-dimensional (but highly-stylized, mind you) and
testosterone-laden nonsense...like the Frank Miller-scripted Sin City
effortlessly garners (in some ways unearned) critical plaudits...
Now...as one old-time Frank Miller fan - dating right back to the (groundbreakingly brilliant) work on Daredevil
that launched his career - I’d have to say that I’m (deeply) sorry to
deliver such a verdict on his big screen debut. After all, this is one
of the very
finest graphic storytellers of recent times...and, yet, I’d still
have to say that his characterizations - particularly of women - have,
in recent times, fallen off to the point where they come across as
nothing but negative parodies of the worst excesses of film noir at its
This - to put it bluntly - is horseshit
masquerading as character - and, lest you be mistaken...p.c. has absolutely nothing to do with said verdict.
Cause, my problem is...just when I was damn-well excited about a viable
Frank Miller film adaptation, along comes this bloody excerpt (amidst a
rave review, I’d have to say) that left me in gales of suppressed
laughter. Because this wasn’t the sort of nonsense that any sensible
viewer could (viably) treat as a “real” character... And, yet...here
were (two) highly-regarded critics - one of them female! - falling over
themselves to award said film high scores?
What goes on, I asked myself?
Answer is - and I should’ve spotted this easily - is that our
post-Formalist take on all the arts overly privilege overt manipulation
of formal devices over the (much more subtle) arts that realistically
portray the nuances of individual character. Sure, this is an
exaggeration...but, it’s a damn-well accurate
one. As well - getting right back to the point at hand - it also helps
us to make sense of the (consistent & very real) devaluation of
romantic comedy in (all) critical approaches to film extant...
Cause...that’s exactly what I’m going to address in the remains of this essay.
Allright - one truism of comedic direction is that you shoot comedy at
midrange - no (or only fleeting) closeups...and few distance
shots...the sort that allow archetonic-style direction the chance to
frame (mere) human action against some implacably artistic background.
So - right away - you’ve ruled out
two of the major tools of direction, the favourites of, say Frank
Borzage & King Vidor (to stick to the classics)... And, on top of
that, the veritable guts of romantic comedy are the actors & the
script. Consequently, a brilliant piece like Breakfast for Two
(1937) - despite a marvellously witty/heartfelt script & consummate
acting performances by all concerned - is (currently) still relegated
by the critical establishment to the sidelines...despite the opinion of
most who’ve recently had the fortune to view it...simply because its
director was (basically) a hack...
And the rot doesn’t stop there... Not only are scriptwriters and actors
- despite the (repeated) pleas of literateurs & (most) film fans -
ignored by the (filmic) children of Formalism... No, then there’s also
the - formidably negative - litcrit history of both
romance and comedy to contend with...irrespective of “modern” film
critics (repeated) claims that they’ve cast off such outmoded
Because, dating right back to the very beginnings of the “critical”
enterprise - read: Aristotle & co. - the “elevated” genres - epic
& tragedy - were privileged over the “lower” forms...read: comedy
(especially) and also anything that dealt - in any way - w/ordinary
people. And, well-over two thousand years later, we’re STILL damn-well
offered-up the same
bloody condescension that this model implied!
So...you wanna know what this means today? Well...I’ll tell you - and
the (accidental?) confluence of Classical & Formalist “artistic”
criteria is damn-well fatal for my favourite film genre. Firstly...any
genre that plays the “unhappy ending” game is in (read “tragedy”).
Secondly, action films - as the natural inheritors of the epic form -
privileged over more intimate modes...(unless - and, it’s a BIG “unless”) they succeed in adhering to model number one...
Now...given that - in “real” life we do (actually) encounter happy
endings - albeit they don’t always last, eh? - exactly WHY are these
somehow verboten in critically-rated visual storytelling today? Well,
I’ve given you the answer - right here - albeit in a schematic
form...because the confluence of these two dominant critical traditions
has meant that any genuinely useful critical appraisal of forms - such
as “romantic comedy” - that fail to meet their so-called “standards”
has met with crushing condescension...even before their (actual) merits
are even addressed.
As soon as I lay said criteria out so bluntly, I’m sure you can (easily) think of exceptions to same. Still, any honest
reader of this essay will have to admit these two points: unhappy
endings are (much) more popular w/all the critics (read: tragedy), and
filmic stylization (read: against almost any attempt at intimate modes
in middle distance) is likewise privileged...
The Prosecution rests.
Cause, that was exactly the point I was trying to make. Romantic comedy
- per se - is damned to condescension on two fronts...and,
consequently, supposedly “attractive” pastiches (such as every Meg Ryan
film I’ve attempted to sit though...not to mention the - truly -
nauseating Shakespeare in Love
) are saddled w/similar ratings to edgy contemporary works such as One Fine Day
...or any genuinely warm (and risky) film like Ever After
This - to put it bluntly - is condescension masquerading as criticism.
And it damn-well ought to stop right now. Because...all fans of this -
most-dismissed - genre should be able to EXPECT (just like the rest of
the film audience) some real
divergence amidst critics...and, hence, a real chance to build some
reliable reliance upon those whose tastes correspond w/ours...
Instead, what we’re “offered” is, basically, a bland appraisal of the
“plausibility” of the script, and the actors in said roles...shorn of
any real engagement w/the film as an experience...despite the
the thirties (at least) films answering to this description have been
prominent among the finest that have ever been produced.
End of rant...
Now, the main reason that I produced this essay today - albeit I’ve
been stewing over its main points for the last few years - is that I
just (finally) got around to viewing Amelie
(2001)...having previously (and stupidly!) been put off by some
critical comments re the film’s “sentimentality”. What I found, instead
- and, I’m still cursing myself for having unthinkingly given-in to
such unabashed snobbery - was an amazingly successful amalgm of
traditional romantic comedy, self-conscious story-telling (read, for
the unenlightened, “postmodernism”) and a variety of filmic techniques
- especially the close-up - hitherto considered “inappropriate” to said
genre. This is - purely - a ground-breaking masterpiece
, and...it made me laugh and cry - repeatedly - but, I suppose, this is not within the critical “canon” as so far construed...
Joke is that - (correctly) shorn of its (supposedly) “postmodern”
trappings - self-conscious narration has its origin in what we would
now - unfortunately - view as “sentimental” fictions. The birth of same
- as Wayne C. Booth established - was in Cervantes’ marvelous Don Quixote
if you don’t think the Don was “sentimentally” portrayed, then I’d have
to say you haven’t even read the damn book! However - and, this is the
clincher - the key link between same and all subsequent
“self-conscious” fictions (given that this one substantially upped the
ante) was Laurence Sterne’s The Life & Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman
you’ll forgive me for the pedantry here, as mine own Honours thesis was
devoted to this (wonderfully-strange) novel...and I have a surpassing
fondness for its unique blend of self-conscious narration, sentimental
effusions, and an irony which enriches
rather than impoverishes the reader...
And...as you might guess from that aside, I feel that Amelie
similarly blends these - supposedly - incompatible “virtues”. To be
sure, it isn’t as outrageous a meld as Sterne’s masterwork. On the
other hand, I suspect that the film form - literally - would not allow
such a hybrid monster to function effectively...and, that it was only
the (peculiar) state of mid-eighteenth century written fiction that
enabled it to be birthed in the first place. Still, that takes
absolutely nothing away from Amelie
properly conceived. For artistic forms have their own strengths - and
weaknesses - and now, finally, the romantic comedy film has also
offered up a truly successful model that takes in, at least, some of
the favoured devices of formalist critics.
However...let us (please) hope that, in the wake of this, such critics
will bother to subject their baggage to the same unblinking scrutiny
that they have, hitherto, reserved for the long-suffering films under
their gaze. Because, if they do - and are honest in their
self-appraisal - it should become nakedly clear to them just how
indebted they have been to long-discredited philosophical models of
what art “should” be...and, how much better off we would find ourselves
if they cast off said shackles...and genuinely tried to engage every
work upon its own ground...
John Henry Calvinist