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Thread: Stu Presents, Genre Deconstruction In Film: A Crash Course!

  1. #1

    Stu Presents, Genre Deconstruction In Film: A Crash Course!

    The concept of genre in film can be a comforting one, helping us to both prepare our expectations before we start a film, as well as to better process what we experience as we watch (so, say, we're not incredibly confused when characters suddenly stop talking and begin dancing and singing during a Musical). But, at the same time, it can also be extremely limiting, pressuring filmmakers to deliver certain clichés just because that's what the audience will expect from "that kind of movie", without attempting something more ambitious. However, that's where deconstructionist films come in, movies that take the conventions of popular, well-defined film genres, and rather than just reinforcing those conventions, instead choose to subvert them and flip them on their heads, stripping away the clichés Hollywood had built up over time in order to shine a harsh, interrogative light, and challenge our preconceived cinematic notions (and "deconstructing" them, in other words; for more background on this subject, download John G. Cawelti's essay on Generic Transformation In American Film here).


    And so, this project will be dedicated to exploring this topic, by featuring "case studies" of at least 10 films that represent deconstructions of their particular genres, with explanations of the larger genre's typical characteristics & historical backgrounds, how each individual film in question deconstructed those genres, and the larger overall impact they had on them, with the entries organized by release date (so the oldest ones go first) for simplicity's sake. At any rate, the basic idea's pretty self-explanatory stuff, and I think you guys have gotten the gist of it by now, so I'll go ahead and stop rambling with this introduction and get on with the show, so get ready for some deconstruction on the MatchCut, guys!
    Last edited by StuSmallz; 11-27-2020 at 03:53 AM.

  2. #2
    Looking forward to it!
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  3. #3
    collecting tapes Skitch's Avatar
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    Yep I'm in

  4. #4
    Replacing Luck Since 1984 Dukefrukem's Avatar
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    I'm obsessed with digging into sub genres sometimes so yes, this sounds very fun.

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  5. #5

    2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick, '68)



    Deconstructed genre: Science-Fiction

    Historical background: While Sci-Fi movies have existed in the form of isolated releases as early as the 1900's, as far as being a major, stand-alone genre of film (and not, for example, a pre-film serial made with props recycled from other movies), it wasn't until the combination of the Roswell "incident" and the beginning of the Atomic Age, and the renewed interest in aliens/science that they brought with them, that Sci-Fi really coalesced as its own thing in the 50's, with such significant releases as The Day The Earth Stood Still, War Of The Worlds, and Forbidden Planet helping to define it at the time. However, while those films created an iconic aesthetic for the genre, it's also a fairly dated one in retrospect, one that practically scream "THIS MOVIE WAS MADE IN THE 1950'S" at us, as a number of common elements ultimately relegated Sci-Fi to mostly be perceived as a "B" genre by critics, with often hokey effects, pulpy tones that were remnants of the Flash Gordon era, and a grip on science that is laughably soft at times (my mind always goes back to the gag in the Mystery Science Theater Movie, where an alien in This Island Earth tells a character to grab a rail because it's been magnetized, to which Mike responds "And if your hands were made of metal, that would mean something!"). Anyway, following this rush of productions and the advent of the Space Race in the late part of the decade, an event which rendered these films' depictions of space travel even more inaccurate than they were already, the genre lay mostly dormant (at least as far as major Hollywood releases), that is, until the film in question here changed everything.

    How 2001 deconstructs it: By taking the genre, stripping away all of the camp that had characterized it beforehand, and replacing it with a sense of class that it had rarely been gifted with before on the silver screen, right from its iconic, "Thus Spake Zarathustra"-scored opening shot, with its Classical soundtrack providing the perfect musical accompaniment to the grandiose interstellar ballets it portrays, which are captured with the most realistic special effects, the most meticulous production design, and as much pain-staking attention to scientific accuracy as possible, with the noise-less vacuum of space and agonizingly slow pace of the spacecraft combining to create a state of cinematic hypnosis within us, ensuring that, even though it was released just the year before Apollo 11 took mankind farther than it had ever been before, 2001's depiction of space, technology and its overall vision of the future still feels far, FAR ahead of its time, and not dated by even a little bit, even over 50 years later.

    2001 further distinguishes itself from previous Sci-Fi films by forgoing the overly talky, exposition-heavy, wonder-sapping scripts that often characterized the genre beforehand, instead, choosing a far more visually-based, "show, don't tell" style of storytelling that lets us soak in its wondrous sights for ourselves and draw our own conclusions from them. This leads me to the most striking way that 2001 differed from old-school Sci-Fi, with its more cerebral take on the genre, which previously had a more action/adventure-oriented bend to it, as opposed to 2001's more thoughtful, contemplative mood, especially with its depiction of an alien species that, instead of a paranoid, Cold War-era portrayal as being unceasingly hostile to mankind in one way or another, the ones in 2001 instead seek to help us, in order for us to reach the next step in our evolution, even though we never actually see the aliens in the film, an absolutely brilliant decision, since not only does it convey how far beyond our comprehension they are, but it also keeps the film from having to visually conceptualize creatures that could never measure up to the feverish imagery our imaginations would naturally conjure up anyway (which, for the purposes of the film, beats a stuntman in a rubber suit any day).

    Impact on the genre: 2001's transformation of Sci-Fi into a genre that even the critics could take seriously lead to a revitalization of it in the following decade, from Kubrick's own Clockwork Orange, to other classics like Close Encounters and Alien, all the way to such modern “prestige” works such as Arrival, and, even though it placed a far greater emphasis on the Fiction than the Science, one can't help but wonder if 20th Century Fox would've taken such a big gamble on making Star Wars if it hadn't been for 2001 helping to pave the way for it beforehand. At any rate, the sense of cinematic respect that 2001 earned for Sci-Fi still hasn't worn off of it, and even over half a century since the film's release, its lasting influence on the genre can still be felt even today, and will probably continue to be felt for as long as Sci-Fi exists, even all the way beyond the infinite.
    Last edited by StuSmallz; 11-27-2020 at 06:40 AM.

  6. #6
    Quote Quoting transmogrifier (view post)
    Looking forward to it!
    Thanks trans (and skitch & Duke as well); I remember you saying something about not being a huge fan of 2001 somewhere, but hopefully you can at least enjoy what I wrote about it here anyway

  7. #7
    collecting tapes Skitch's Avatar
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    Are you guys making an interocitor?
    No!

  8. #8
    Quote Quoting Skitch (view post)
    Are you guys making an interocitor?
    No!
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    Last edited by StuSmallz; 11-27-2020 at 04:55 AM.

  9. #9
    collecting tapes Skitch's Avatar
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    Nailed it. Exactly how I feel about 2001, especially the analysis of the genre before and after it.

  10. #10
    Hoo boy. I don't wanna shit on your thread as you're just getting started (and I'm curious what else made your list), but it's odd to me that you're taking a sorta ahistorical view of both sci-fi as a genre and "2001" as a film.

    You seem to have a certain amount of disdain for the raygun and spaceship era of "Flash Gordon" and "Buck Rogers," writing off huge chunks of the genre's history, while ignoring early standouts like "From Earth to the Moon" and "Frankenstein."

    Likewise, the viewpoint mid-century sci-fi was all "Forbidden Planet" and "This Island Earth" style movies, but didn't also include "The Day the Earth Stood Still," "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," "The Fly," "The Thing from Another World," and "The Blob," all of which contain different point of views that aren't so easily reduced to "Cold War paranoia."

    I kinda half agree with the premise that American sci-fi slowed in the 1960s, but it still feels weird to suggest the genre itself was moribund in a decade that saw the release of "Alphaville," "La Jetee," and "Je t'aime, Je t'aime."

    But anyway: if you didn't find examples of good sci-fi during this decade, you weren't looking hard enough. You shoulda watched television. It's hard to suggest "2001" was some sort of major storytelling revelation when compared to "The Twilight Zone," "Star Trek," "The Prisoner," and "The Outer Limits." ("'2001' further distinguishes itself from previous Sci-Fi films by forgoing the overly talky, exposition-heavy, wonder-sapping scripts that often characterized the genre beforehand" ... uh, really?).

    "2001" was a critically divisive film on its release, but boomer kids made it a success (like the "Titanic" of its day). It's interesting your write-up references the special effects mutiple times, and then goes on to reference other effects-driven movies, because that's where I think "2001's" real legacy lies. Pay top dollar, create triple-A visuals, and the audience will somehow materialize. It really doesn't matter what the story is (and "2001's" story is largely hokum).

    PS: 1968 also saw the release of "Planet of the Apes," "Charly," and "Barbarella," so maybe the late 60s were not as moribund as you might think.

    PPS & Re: deconstruction
    Last edited by Irish; 11-27-2020 at 01:21 PM.

  11. #11
    Quote Quoting StuSmallz (view post)
    This guy's essay is interesting, but holy God does he stack the intellectual deck --- noting differences between novel and film with "The Searchers" but ignoring those differences in "The Big Sleep," "Farewell, My Lovely," and "The Maltese Falcon" because acknowledging them would destroy the premise of his essay.

  12. #12
    collecting tapes Skitch's Avatar
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    I dont think it was disdain for the camp. I appreciate those films as well. 2001 just made it feel real. And you're not wrong about scifi television but the thread title does say "film".

  13. #13
    Yeah, but let's not pretend "2001" existed in a vacuum. Clarke was a golden age sci-fi writer. The movie is based on a story from 1951. Its roots are in a form of pulp that Stu very clearly dismisses.

    We also can't claim that "2001" was narratively subversive when it wasn't. People watched television and went to the movies every week. "2001" isn't a response to a standing work or a trend. It isn't a resurgence, either, because filmic sci-fi never went away.

    To put it another way: 20th Century Fox spent around $5 million on "Planet of the Apes." NBC spent around $4.5 million per season of "Star Trek." So the Hollywood/ executive commitment to the genre was there all along. It just took a slightly different form.

    On top of that, you'd be hard pressed to find any movie -- not just sci-fi movies -- but any movie that's more concisely and economically written than "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" or "Thing from Another World." So the idea that sci-fi was laden with "overly talky, exposition-heavy, wonder-sapping scripts" just isn't true. Or, at least, it's no more true than for any other genre.

    "Flash Gordon" etc is only campy in retrospect, I think. That aesthetic preferences have shifted towards "realism" doesn't make realism the ultimate expression. Ie, this is the movies. So called "realism" ain't no more valid than fantasy.

    "2001's" staying power is in its visual effects. The film doesn't looked dated and that's no small thing. (They're also a standing rebuff to fans who complained when Lucas revised the "Star Wars" movies so many times).

  14. #14
    Quote Quoting Irish (view post)
    I kinda half agree with the premise that American sci-fi slowed in the 1960s, but it still feels weird to suggest the genre itself was moribund in a decade that saw the release of "Alphaville," "La Jetee," and "Je t'aime, Je t'aime."
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  15. #15
    Replacing Luck Since 1984 Dukefrukem's Avatar
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    I remember thinking 2001 paved the way for everything in the 70s and 80s. But that was very early into my movie watching years, no internet readily available and I had no idea about the other properties that preceded it. I somehow blamed Star Trek at getting a whiff at 2001 in pre-product for it to pan out the way it did.

    I haven't watched 2001 in years, but I remember being completely deflated when I learned about things like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the Fly and the Blob all were remakes from the 50s.

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  16. #16
    collecting tapes Skitch's Avatar
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    Irish you seem to read so much into posts that isnt there. I love ya man but he didnt say it existed in a vacuum or that it was narratively subversive. He said "rarely seen before", not never. He didnt say it was a resurgence. Did he even mention Invasion of the Body Snatchers? He picked a movie he thought of as a stepping stone. Sometimes that's just...it. sometimes it feels like you're trying to dissect something between the lines that they arent saying. I dont think it's odd to select 2001 as an achievement on science fiction cinema, hell, if anything, I could suggest it was too obvious! But i love the movie so i what do i know lol

  17. #17
    Skitch, what? I love ya man but your reading comprehension is so bad sometimes I wonder if you're skimming the thread.

    Stu is using "deconstruction" in a colloquial sense, as a synonym for "subvert" or "transform," eg, when he employs constructions like: "How '2001' deconstructs [science fiction]."

    When he begins a paragraph with "2001 further distinguishes itself from previous Sci-Fi films" he's calling attention to what he believes is notable about it. I'm saying those qualities of writing he claims for Kubrick's movie are not rare, in any sense, when several prominent counter examples leap to mind. (And, yes, this includes movies such as "Body Snatchers" and television shows like "Star Trek.")

    He used the word "revitalize" to describe "2001's" impact on the genre: "2001's transformation of Sci-Fi into a genre that even the critics could take seriously lead to a revitalization of it in the following decade..." Revitalize, resurgence, potato, po-tah-to? Either way, Stu implies that, before "2001," the genre was in decline.

    I don't think it's odd to pick "2001" either, except when you're describing it and its genre in the terms Stu employs. He looks at peaks (early cinema, the 1950s, the 1970s) and ignores the valleys. Then gives one peak credit for what happened in the valley.

    It's sorta like if you interpreted horror movies as the sole province of Universal monsters and slasher movies, ignored the likes of Lewton, Hammer, and Bava, and mistook the genre for the z-grade productions pumped out by Republic Pictures and American International --- then claimed those shitty teen exploitation movies and Corman flicks meant the genre hit the skids until "The Exorcist" came along and revitalized it. I mean, there's sorta a viable read there but as stated it isn't a very good one.

  18. #18
    Quote Quoting Skitch (view post)
    Irish....I love ya man....
    Quote Quoting Irish (view post)
    Skitch, what? I love ya man....
    And I like you both as friends.
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  19. #19
    Anyway, I think 2001 is one of the most overrated movies ever made, even if the effects are pioneering. Outside of its undoubted technical attributes, a lot of it is just campy with a serious sheen (the ape prologue is just silly), though it did illustrate that once the film community rallies around a film and/or director, it can become very difficult to hold a conversation over their shortcomings without it quickly devolving into attacks on the cinematic literacy of those involved in the debate. But I've had this conversation about Kubrick on here before within the last couple of months, so I'll let this one go (I'm not familiar with the sci-fi of the time, so cannot speak to the claims over its genre deconstruction.)
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  20. #20
    Quote Quoting Irish (view post)
    Stu is using "deconstruction" in a colloquial sense, as a synonym for "subvert" or "transform," eg, when he employs constructions like: "How '2001' deconstructs [science fiction]."
    In which case "genre revisionism" would probably be a better word, although it still carries the unfortunate connotation that genre conventions are rigid, inviolable rules that all films in said genre must obey--and thus, for example, a western ending with the hero's defeat is automatically a profound critique of the genre.

    Then again, maybe Stu is using "deconstruction" in the non-colloquial, Derridean sense of a critique of the logocentrism inherent in genre classifications, which do not refer to actual phenomena (the science fiction genre in itself) but are mere words which only gain meaning through their difference (différance) from other genres which are themselves no more real. (Il n'y a pas de hors-genre.)
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  21. #21
    Quote Quoting baby doll (view post)
    Then again, maybe Stu is using "deconstruction" in the non-colloquial, Derridean sense of a critique of the logocentrism inherent in genre classifications, which do not refer to actual phenomena (the science fiction genre in itself) but are mere words which only gain meaning through their difference (différance) from other genres which are themselves no more real. (Il n'y a pas de hors-genre.)
    Stole the words right out of my mouth.

  22. #22
    Quote Quoting baby doll (view post)
    In which case "genre revisionism" would probably be a better word, although it still carries the unfortunate connotation that genre conventions are rigid, inviolable rules that all films in said genre must obey--and thus, for example, a western ending with the hero's defeat is automatically a profound critique of the genre.
    The linked essay uses 'transformation' to describe how "Chinatown" compares against classic hard-boiled detective stories, but then falls into the trap you describe.

    Then again, maybe Stu is using "deconstruction" in the non-colloquial, Derridean sense of a critique of the logocentrism inherent in genre classifications, which do not refer to actual phenomena (the science fiction genre in itself) but are mere words which only gain meaning through their difference (différance) from other genres which are themselves no more real. (Il n'y a pas de hors-genre.)
    This is clever, starting with Stu and ending with the slight twist of il n'y a pas de hors-genre. I laughed, but then felt sheepish for laughing. TBH, I'd kinda like to come across that kind of discussion in the wild, outside an academic context. But in ~20 odd years on the internet, I've only seen it once.

  23. #23
    Quote Quoting Irish (view post)
    Hoo boy. I don't wanna shit on your thread as you're just getting started...

    *proceeds to shit on my thread just as I'm getting started*
    ; ) But, all kidding aside, I feel a lot of your points are based off of misunderstandings of what I've written here, so just to bullet point my responses to try to end this as quickly as possible...


    • I have zero personal disdain for the 30's Sci-Fi serials; the reason why I didn't count them as constituting Sci-Fi as a major genre of film is because they weren't films, they were serials, and like the title said, this thread is about studying genre deconstruction in film. Same reason goes for why I didn't mention The Twilight Zone, The Prisoner, The Outer Limits or Star Trek either (although I've always felt that Trek has more in common with 50's Sci-Fi films than the 2001-onward works in the genre, and that's before I even note how Roddenberry himself said the Sci-Fi films of the decade helped inspire him to create the show in the first place).
    • The reason why I didn't mention Frankenstein is because I consider it a Horror film with Sci-Fi elements, as opposed to being pure Sci-Fi, and I didn't mention From Earth To The Moon is because there was little reason for me to, seeing as how it's not only not one of the more iconic works of Sci-Fi from that decade, it's not even the most iconic Sci-Fi film from that year (so there's not much reason for me to mention that one instead of, say, It!, a film that actually had a measurable impact on the genre). Heck, it's not even the most iconic Verne adaptation from the 50's, which was a film that I already mentioned on the first place anyway. I'm not here to list every single Sci-Fi film ever made before 2001, because this is not a Wikipedia list, it's a "crash course" . I'm here to sum up the history of a popular genre in a paragraph (or two, if needed), write a couple more about how the film in question deconstructed and impacted it, and then move onto the next entry. If you're looking for a more blow-by-blow history of the genre, you should go watch this guy's videos (and then come right back here afterward of course, heh).
    • Unless you're trying to take a fairly reductionist view, and boiling it down to be nothing more than substituting commies for invading aliens, it seems odd to me to say that The Day The Earth Stood Still doesn't deal with Cold War paranoia in its own way, seeing as how its plot was obviously inspired by the fear during the atomic age of World War III breaking out, and destroying the planet in the process (which, of course, is exactly what Klaatu threatens could happen in that film).
    • It would be weird to suggest that Sci-Fi was a dying genre everywhere in the 60's, which is why I specified that that was only true "as far as major Hollywood releases went", a premise that you just admitted you partially agree with; what exactly is the issue here?
    • Yes, really; not every 50's film in the genre was guilty of having overly talky, hand-holdy scripts, but I've noticed enough of them for it to feel like they were one of the elements that 2001 was reacting against with its lack of dialogue, and emphasis on visual storytelling. The best example of this is in Forbidden Planet, during the sequence where Dr. Morbius is giving Leslie Nielsen the guided tour of the remants of Krell civilization...




    • ...and he literally doing nothing but talk about every piece of technology as he demonstrates them, explaining to us exactly what they are and what they do. And the video I posted is just part of that overall sequence, which legitimately lasts for a full 15 minutes in the actual film (I know because I timed the scene when I rewatched that movie for this thread). I can only imagine how much more wonder that sequence would've held for us if Nielsen had instead stumbled upon the remains by accident, without Morbius, and got to explore and figure everything out for himself. Anyway, while it's the most egregious example of choosing telling over showing in 50's Sci-Fi films I can think of, it certainly isn't the only one.
    • '68 obviously saw a number of other Sci-Fi releases (although Charly wasn't one of them, because again, film with Sci-Fi elements does not automatically equal Sci-Fi film), but none of them have had the same sort of impact that 2001 has, and with the exception of Apes, none of them had seen any sort of release date earlier than 2001, plus 2001 went into production before any of them, so it's not hard to imagine that the green-lighting of the other '68 Sci-Fi's were at least partially inspired by the news of Kubrick's film beginning shooting, as studios are often wont to do.
    • For the purposes of this thread, "deconstruction" when it comes to film genre is the process of stripping away the conventions that genres build up over time, in the process revealing previously hidden truths about the genre in question, which 2001 achieves by forgoing giving us any clear morals or easy answers about what exactly is going on with its story, as, unlike a lot of earlier Sci-Fi, it's completely honest about the fact that space, the future, and the universe as a whole are mysterious places/concepts that we'll never know all the answers to as a species, although none of that should discourage us from exploring all of them to the fullest.
    Last edited by StuSmallz; 11-28-2020 at 09:58 AM.

  24. #24
    Quote Quoting Irish (view post)
    Yeah, but let's not pretend "2001" existed in a vacuum. Clarke was a golden age sci-fi writer. The movie is based on a story from 1951. Its roots are in a form of pulp that Stu very clearly dismisses.
    There was no dismissal of old-school Sci-Fi literature in that write-up (it'd be news to me if there was, considering the fact that I grew up reading Asimov, and still love him to this day); again, the write-up was about Science-Fiction as a genre of film, and not as a collective media organism, since we're currently posting on a board for film discussion. Stop trying to invent agendas in my words that were never there.
    Last edited by StuSmallz; 11-28-2020 at 09:36 AM.

  25. #25
    Quote Quoting transmogrifier (view post)
    Anyway, I think 2001 is one of the most overrated movies ever made, even if the effects are pioneering. Outside of its undoubted technical attributes, a lot of it is just campy with a serious sheen (the ape prologue is just silly), though it did illustrate that once the film community rallies around a film and/or director, it can become very difficult to hold a conversation over their shortcomings without it quickly devolving into attacks on the cinematic literacy of those involved in the debate. But I've had this conversation about Kubrick on here before within the last couple of months, so I'll let this one go (I'm not familiar with the sci-fi of the time, so cannot speak to the claims over its genre deconstruction.)
    Well, while I obviously can't agree with you on your overall opinion of 2001, I still respect it for being a fair bit of feedback. At any rate, hopefully you'll enjoy some of my later choices in this project, so stay tuned, yo!

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