Monday, February 15, 2010

Valentine's Day Report Card

To deal with Valentine's Day, let's start with the cast, which is an exercise in covering the demographic bases.
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Jessica Alba, Kathy Bates, Jessica Biel, Bradley Cooper, Eric Dane, Patrick Dempsey, Hector Elizondo, Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Garner, Topher Grace, Anne Hathaway, Ashton Kutcher, Queen Latifah, Taylor Lautner, George Lopez, Shirley MacLaine, Emma Roberts, Julia Roberts, Taylor Swift
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See what I mean? Something for everyone. Young-old, black-white-Hispanic, stars-character actors, movie stars-TV stars, hunks-geeks, babes-mere cuties, and so on. The more you study this cast, the more demographic calculations you see, but it's a game with diminishing returns, and boring to begin with. So, on to the main point, which concerns genre.
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Valentine's Day is a romantic comedy, right? But not just one. It is many romantic comedies interwoven, so many that each snippet of plot is like a clip that a star might bring to a talk show—or, and here it gets interesting, a clip that might be run at an award show. Because that is the other genre in play here: the award show, which is often more popular than anything it celebrates.
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As a mixture of romantic comedy and award show, this movie is an attempt to cash in on the sad state of the contemporary attention span. Stories, however fluffy and obvious, are just too complicated. As for character, it might as well be quantum mechanics. People want logos—in other words, stars not as personalities or emblems of some virtue (Gary Cooper as manly integrity, Katherine Hepburn as feminine elegance) but as sheer image. Image of what? Of some variant on contempo glamor, which, for the contempo audience, is some unarticulated, inarticulable sort of power. Transcendent power, power so dazzling that it blots out everything else and fuses the circuits of the imagination—or whatever you want to call the faculty that a mature mind employs in making sense of such things as fictions, not to mention the real world.
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So that is the brilliance of Valentine's Day. It has been panned and may well turn out to be less than a mega-hit. Still, its mixture of genres shows the way to an ever more efficient delivery of the services craved by today's audience: a quick succession of star images plus snippets of story-lines, just enough to provide transitions from one star-image to the next.
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What does this have to do with art? Stayed tuned.

1 Comments:

Blogger Oscar Devonian said...

I've always wondered how the people responsible for the making of these 10000 vignette types of films anticipate them functioning well at all, and thanks to you I have realised the answer - they don't. Well, they don't expect them to "function well" as I see it at least. You're right, it seems like a tasting platter of human experience presenting what the film has got rather than what it can do.

June 24, 2010 at 3:25 PM  

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