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July 1994


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Philip Shane <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Fri, 29 Jul 1994 15:26:48 EDT
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Edward R. O'Neill" <[log in to unmask]> writes, (in an excellent,
longer, post):
>...Dare I mention the word post-modern?  It seems that the joke-y
>self-referentiality is, first, not far from a commercial technique
>for inscribing subliminal messages within the text, and, second, it
>is a form of metacommentary, which, far from being merely an in-joke,
>has become a very widely understood game...
We should recognize, as well, the genres of most of the films mentioned:
 comedy, suspense, horror, and adventure films.  These are they types of
films that rely, more than most, upon playing with Hollywood conventions.  I
think the pleasure in watching these films comes from that extreme tension,
like jumping in a fast-moving elevator, between actively whipping in and out
of the typically passive "suspension of disbelief".  And, of course, no one
laughs harder than the in-crowd enjoying an in-joke.  Filmmakers need to
endear us to themselves and their films, and little rewards for those who
work hard at watching all their films are perhaps tokens of appreciation for
their audience.  A close relation of these references, most of which have to
do with props, is the ever problematic "homage" - in which filmmakers not
only produce physical artifacts from other movies (posters, toys, etc.), but
replicate the style of previous films. These are often a little more subtle
(except in the case of Hitch/DePalma) aren't always meant for the audience to
As far as postmodernity is concerned, Hollywood film is definately in a
precarious situation when it comes to entertaining today's young audiences
(where the money is, and for whom most of these films were made).  Television
(and video), the great "enemy" of film, has recycled Hollywood's films and
conventions so much that today's audiences are extremely literate (!) when it
comes to movies.  This is certainly an aspect of postmodernity, the basis of
which is not the breaking with the past (which was "modernity"), but,
instead, is a melting together of all cultural objects from all eras into one
channel-surfing digi-sampling mix.
While many of the "subliminal backgrounds" noted so far are fun winks at
those quick enough to recognize them - they can be used to much greater
effect in the hands of certain filmmakers.  Unfortunately, I can't make any
accurate citations right now (a challenge to you :) ) but directors like
Scorcese, and to a much greater degree, Godard, use their incredible breadth
of knowledge - which, as I say, *many* young audiences possess today - not
only to wink at the audience with film references, but also to comment on the
story at hand, and the experience of watching that particular film.  A
collection of these types of references would be very interesting indeed.
Philip Shane
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