Culture Club: In Praise of the Genre Mash-Up
A new feature where Talia and David discuss what they've been reading, watching and listening to, for paid subscribers
Welcome to Culture Club, a new weekly feature where David and I (and sometimes both of us!) talk about what we’re reading, watching, and listening to each week. This feature is for paid subscribers only, but enjoy this free preview, and subscribe for the full post and more!
Because this is Oscars week—and because this column is scheduled to go out just as this year’s nominees are walking the champagne carpet—I’ve been thinking a lot about the movies, and about genre movies in particular. This year’s favorite to take home the Academy Award for Best Picture is Everything Everywhere All at Once, a movie which New York Times film critic A.O. Scott described as “an exuberant swirl of genre anarchy.” This recognition is a surprising development given the Academy’s notorious aversion to genre films (usually defined as films that fall into any of the following categories of genre fiction: crime, fantasy, romance, science fiction, and horror.) While the history of the awards is scattered with comedies and musicals, the vast majority of winners are what have come to be called stereotypical Oscar-bait movies. (Between 1981 and 2001, seventeen of the twenty Best Picture winners were period dramas.) You really have to go back half a century, to the heyday of crime films like The Godfather, The French Connection, and Chinatown to find genre movies dominating the ceremonies.
Coincidentally, this week saw the anniversaries of two masterpieces of my favorite movie genre: the hazy, shaggy, SoCal neo-noir. According to most scholars of this extremely specific micro-genre, Robert Altman fired the first shot with his 1973 adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye, starring Elliot Gould as a soft-boiled version of the typically hard-boiled Philip Marlow. Twenty five years later, almost to the day, the Coen Brothers seemingly took the genre to its illogical conclusion with The Big Lebowski, loosely based on Chandler’s The Big Sleep, and starring Jeff Bridges as the ever-abiding, ever-blazed Dude. The two movies have a lot in common: low-energy/high-charisma heroes, missing femmes fatales, rich assholes, weird subcultures, and copious substance abuse, all set against the Southern California backdrop so familiar to fans of the Golden Age of film noir.
The concurrent anniversaries had me revisiting both Lebowski and Goodbye, as well a handful of other films that fall into this genre … or subgenre, micro-genre, hybrid genre, or whatever you want to call it. And what would you call it?
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