Monday, February 1, 2010

My Favourite Genre(s)

I love movies. I've been a movie buff since I was old enough to learn how to work the VCR and the remote control and an amateur film historian since I learned where the film books were kept in the library downtown (I would have been about 8 or 9 then). I think that I've seen between 1000-1200 movies in my short life. Recently Amy Jeanne did a post about her favourite and non-favourite film genres, so I thought that I would follow suit. This is only a very, very basic list of my favourite genres, or at least what I consider to be genres. (ie. the genres I could think of off the top of my head and a simple image search)

Technicolor Musicals
I adore all musicals. From the blue humour of the Pre-Codes, to the clean lines of Busby Berkeley's kaleidoscope choruses to Fred & Ginger and Eleanor Powell's unbelievable dance numbers to the war-time pictures. However, my absolute favourite era is technicolor. It's just something about the heightened colours that really make them entertaining (also the '50's is my favourite fashion era). Watching the simple plots and beautifully choreographed numbers can really brighten one's day. When I still had to take French in high school, I would always rush home after stumbling over conjugating verbs in the final exam in order to watch Funny Face and no matter how many times I watch it, I still feel the same level of happiness as when I first watched AH and Mr. Astaire waltz away to Gershwin's score.
Woody Allen
Yes, I have seen every Woody Allen film and he is my favourite American auteur. I've never understood why people make snide remarks whenever I mention that I love Woody Allen's films and his humourous essays, though I do find that these people have either never seen one of his films, or have only seen one or two and are the sort of people who are quick to make vast generalizations. Although his films do revolve around the same themes (life, love, death, urban living, et al.) I watch his films again and again because each one is unique in terms of how he uses the human condition (which is what everything that has ever written, painted or dramatized is about) in order to tell the story of his characters. If I were to name only two of my favourites, then I would have to say Manhattan, for combining New York, George Gershwin and beautiful Black and White cinematography and The Purple Rose of Cairo, as it is the ultimate fantasy film for movie lovers while maintaining a connection to the real world.
Screwball Comedies
In their brief time span, Screwballs were able to defy the Code through their use of wit (which is really the only way to defy censorship as censors tend to be dry, humourless people, or at least easily bribed). From Nick & Nora's perfect banter, ("That's not true, he didn't come anywhere near my tabloids.") to dizzy heiresses reeking havoc in society and always getting the guy ("Godfrey loves me!") to Claudette Colbert's hitchhiking lesson to the scripts of Preston Sturges and Ernst Lubitsch and the comic timing of Misses Lombard, Arthur, Stanwyck and Russell, to...the list goes on. The point is that Screwballs always seem to be the perfect combination of wisecracks, slapstick and madcap romances which have made them to be timeless.
Film Noir
Ah yes, the hard boiled detective, the femme fatal, the mysterious stranger, the imperfect crime, the narrator and the chiaroscuro lighting. I prefer Film Noir to the Gangster film, because they are more complex, less jerky and have the antihero rather then a tough guy who will die in the last reel. I also prefer the whodunit element and finding out who has or will double cross someone. I'm also a sucker for chiaroscuro lighting.
Canadian Cinema
Why have I characterized the films of my own country and tax dollars as a genre? After reading several books on Canadian film and taking the Canadian film course, the general consensus that Canadian films all tend to deal with the same hallmarks: outsider protagonists (not the antihero or hero), dysfunctional relationships, cinema verite (direct or true cinema), intimidating landscapes, identity crises, challenging sexual extremes and the struggle for survival, nonlinear narratives and the open ending. In other words, Canadian films mirror Canada's own struggle for a national identity. Not every film has all of these elements, but they all do have a quirky sense of humour, which is what I like best about them. If you would like to understand exactly what I'm taking about, then I would recommend watching Last Night, Back to God's Country (one of the funniest silent films ever) and the films of Guy Maddin.
Pressburger and Powell (The Archers)
Although they made less then twenty films together and only the handful made during and just after the war are the ones which are classics, Pressburger and Powell made some of the most beautiful, fantastical and innovative films ever produced. I once heard their films described as "painting with light" and that is as good a description as I could ever hope to come up with. What really makes their films classic is that under the independent banner of The Archers, they were able to put together the best artistic teams on both sides of the camera in order to tell stories which could never have been film had they not had complete creative control. I shall devote March to four of their films here on Cinema Tuesdays.
They're bad, they're cheap, they're laughable but they're also awesome! Who doesn't love the genius of Ed Wood, or the rubber suited monsters or the blonde screaming in the corner or the pie plate on a string. Even though they are bad movies, they are still watchable because they are just so funny and camp without even realizing it. I don't watch B-Movies all the time, as their novelty would quickly wear off, but every once in awhile, one does have to watch something cheap but with a terrific title. I would have to say that my favourite is It Came From Hollywood (currently in 8 parts on YouTube) which is a clip show made in 1982 with John Candy, Dan Aykroyd and Gilda Radner.
From Ernst Lubitsch in Berlin, to Duck Soup to Mel Brooks, parodies are fun to watch, but their humour can only really be effective on those who have seen the major genre films and stars which are being parodied. I would also like to point out that Young Frankenstein is the most accurate protrayal of Mary Shelley's original Creature.
Silent Film
Ever since I first watched Buster Keaton's shorts and The Thief of Bagdad when I was four, I've been in love with every silent film genre. There's just something about their brilliant camera work, the acting, ("We didn't need dialogue. We had faces!") their innovation, the humour, their fantasy and that they are truly the only universal language (just change the title cards). What I love most is the ability that silent film has to keep an audience's rapt attention and that they can convey emotion through one close up then any monologue ever can (the end of City Lights is the only film where I will acry at the end every time I watch it).
The only auteur to have a recognized genre. The first time I really saw the brilliance of what Hitchcock did in films was the scene in Notorious, where the camera slowly zooms down from the top of the stairs to the key in Ingrid Bergman's hand. I love how he combined the thriller with wit and a macabre humour in order to make films that keep you on the edge of your seat until the end, especially the one with the carousel and the other with the bell tower.

The Modern Fairy Tale
From Terry Gilliam to Amelie, The Wizard of Oz to The Princess Bride, everyone loves a good fairy tale, though not necessarily a happily ever after. Like Alice, what people tend to enjoy most about the fairy tale is the fantastic adventure, something largely unattainable in real life, and yet it has to heavily permeated our written culture from The Odyssey (and earlier) to Pan's Labrinth.

'50's/'60's British Comedies (from Ealing to the Bolting Brothers and so on)
I don't quite know if it's the comic genius of Sir Alec Guinness, Ian Carmichael and Peter Sellers, or the stories or the final result, but I really like watching post-war British comedies. The most understated of all of my favourite comic genres and yet the most believable to watch. I do, however, guarantee you that Kind Hearts and Coronets is the blackest comedy that you will ever see.

What I Dislike (I rarely turn down the chance to watch a movie, but I would rather watch paint dry then these genres)

Maybe it's because they're lavishly expensive but highly unwatchable. Or because I'm Jewish and have never fully understood the Christian version of the Bible. Or maybe it's just because I find Charlton Heston too hilarious to watch, but I just don't get Biblical Epics. The only exception is, of course, Life of Brian, which is also historically accurate.

Several words spring to mind whenever Westerns are mentioned: outdoorsy, rugged, mythology. Maybe one has to be American in order to understand the appeal of both Westerns and John Wayne. The only Westerns I actually like and have understood are Destry Rides Again, High Noon, Blazing Saddles and Star Wars.

I've always found the imagining of a future of complete government control, dependence on machines, extreme social divisions and overpopulation to be highly depressing to watch. But that could also be excessive use of grey in sets and costumes as a contributing factor to the general level of sadness and despair that the characters display. However, I do like watching Brazil (director's cut) and Metropolis, which are both very important films and everyone should watch them at least once.

Historically Inaccurate
I love a good costume drama (thank you BBC) and watching a historical event play out.
However, I developed a love of history and reading about history at a very early age. As a result, I do
find it difficult to watch anything that is inaccurate. I understand that historical dramas made under the Studio System
are about making a beautiful film and making the stars look good and I can watch some of those films.
It's the recent historically inaccurate films, almost entirely the American ones, that I can't stand, simply because they are presenting fiction as fact.
One would think that within the last twenty-five years, with an increase of information being available at our fingertips
and more university graduates with History degrees and cheap consultant rates that historical dramas would have become
more accurate then ever, while still being entertaining. Since this has not been the case, I find that I am unable to enjoy a movie that keeps
getting things wrong (such as a small group of American soldiers single-handedly winning the war for the Allies)
or applying the modern importance of political correctness to historical persons. I suppose that my vehement dislike for inaccurate films began
at the age of eight, when I saw for the first and only time, Elizabeth with Cate Blanchett (who is no Glenda Jackson) and have since developed an
involuntary facial twitch whenever anyone mentions that movie.

Sherlock Holmes
In just four novels and fifty-six short stories, Doyle created one of the most complex characters in literature. I have read and reread the Canon so many times that I have lost count. He is one of my favourite characters, not only because he is a genius, (where do you think forensic deduction came from) but also because he is flawed, but he recognizes that. However, every filmed version of Holmes just gets it wrong. Either he is shown as always smoking the wrong pipe (he smoked wither a briar or a clay pipe and not that large one you can find during Hallowe'en) and also for always wearing a deerstalker cap (something which no gentleman would wear in Town, and Holmes is a gentleman). Or he is shown as some sort of a hallucinating drug addict, waiting to get into a fight. And Watson always tends to be shown as a bumbling idiot, which he isn't since he is a medical doctor and he serves as the narrator and asks Holmes the questions that the reader wants to ask. What I don't like the most about Sherlock Holmes movies is that not only have the various directors never even read any of the Holmes stories, but the films also discourage the average viewer from reading them as well. If you want to know what Holmes is really like then please read the Canon and look at the original illustrations or at least watch the television show with Jeremy Brett, who is the definitive Holmes as he did take great care to play him just right, even down to his humour.

What are your favourite genres?


Andi B. Goode said...

My favourite film genres also include technicolor musicals and film noir but I think my third favourite genre is definitely queer cinema. I'm with you on most of the dislikes, however I'm a bit keen on dystopian settings, like A Clockwork Orange (though the book is far superior) and Bladerunner - I suppose they count?
-Andi x

The Cine Queen said...

I loved this post! I'm a movie lover myself and I adore all of your movie (and book) posts! Interestingly enough I find that my favored movie genre changes with what type of style I'm currently coveting. Most recently I've been into bohemian/1970's looks and I've been seeking out movies from that era. Horror (all horror, but many times Asian horror), disaster movies, and 1980's action are always at the top of my list of favorites no matter what fashion mood I'm in.

Susan said...

Ha ha! The picture from Braveheart reminded me that my other always commented, "Sure, look at those guys in their blue paint. And every one of them has perfect teeth!"