Friday, November 30, 2012

Genre Makes the World Go Round...

I find it curious and, to be honest, rather bizarre when an occasional critic condemns the BBC Sherlock television show for not doing something new. Why? Because Sherlock is a genre show. It is a detective show that plays off of the work of detective fiction that set the template for detective fiction, detective films, and detective television shows and from which intellectual and action detective fiction has their origins and gets their formulaic themes in large part, Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes. It is a show that doesn't attempt, in other words, to be anything other than what it is, a detective show.

Genre literature, film, and television as a general rule doesn't offer anything new. It generally offers sameness. And it is this sameness, this repetitiousness, that audiences, as Hollywood learned long ago, loves, or can be taught to love, and which, along with stars, draws audiences into the cinema or onto the couches in front of TV sets. Hollywood, be it Hollywood film or Hollywood TV is the ultimate genre cinema and television and has been so essentially since its beginning. There is, as far as I know, no art cinema auteurs in Hollywood. Hollywood has no Ingmar Bergman, no Federico Fellini, no Eric Rohmer, no Alain Resnais, no Robert Bresson, no Jean-Luc Goddard, no Dardennes Brothers in Hollywood though I do realise that these giants of art cinema do have their American counterparts in American cinema particularly American independent cinema. Woody Allen was, at leat in his early days, in part an American Bergman and Fellini and the poster child for serious Hollywood "art". But even Woody tried his hand at the Hollywood thriller (Match Point), uses Hollywood stars (Will Ferrell), and today seems relegated to making picture postcard films set about in mythical European cities for Americans with an irrational fear of foreign films and subtitles. Richard Linklatter is an American Rohmer. Todd Solandz is an American Bresson. David Lynch is a very pale and depolitisiced version of Luis Bunuel

It is Hollywood cinema's and Hollywood television's generic repetitiveness that is one reason, the other is its childishness, why I find so much contemporary Hollywood cinema and television to be, aesthetically, one of the least interesting national cinemas in the world. Now don't get me wrong. I like my occasional genre film and television programme. I love the films of Howard Hawks be they Westerns, Screwball comedies, action adventure films, or musicals. I love the suspense films of Alfred Hitchcock. Ah the days when Hollywood made films for adults with thinking brains. I like the original Dragnet, I Love Lucy, the Honeymooners, the Dick Van Dyke Show, and the Twilight Zone. I love the genre blending knowingness of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly. Genre blending and reflexivity seem one of the few ways a genre cinema and television can be innovative in today's Hollywood. And I love the BBC Sherlock which, like the wonderful American TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer, plays with genre and plays with genre expectations in fascinating ways and which adds something somewhat new into the cinematic mix in its use of text on screen and in its use of montage to reflect what is happening in the jump cut mind of its protagonist, the great detective himself, Sherlock Holmes. Sherlock is a show made, in part, by Sherlockians for other Sherlockians and that is one of the reasons why I like it so much.

Oh, by the way, I will take the BBC Sherlock over that tired, cliched dinosaur of an American Sherlock meets Mentalist rip off Elementary any day, I will take the more visually innovative, better acted, and more Sherlockian BBC Sherlock over the Hollywood version starring Robert Downey any day, and I will take the more interesting and innovative, if I can use that term in reference to television situation comedies, Channel 4 nerd sitcom Spaced over the tired and cliched CBS "nerd" sitcom Big Bang Theory any day. Comparing Elementary to the BBC Sherlock reminds me once again why I have long found British television so much more interesting, emotionally compelling, and intellectually stimulating than American TV. British television has always seemed to me more willing to experiment, more willing to take chances, even with genre shows.



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