Postclassical Hollywood formal and cultural criteria

It is this high-impact, technologically sophisticated involvement on the part of the primary target audience that Hollywood needed to appeal to which has found in the notion of 'spectacle' a shorthand common denominator. Technological advances in very different fields of popular entertainment (from animatronics in theme parks to computer games on play stations) and at all levels of picture-making and sound reproduction (from IMAX screens to digital sound, from morphing to virtual reality environment) have indeed made inroads in such a traditional mass entertainment form as the cinema, and they have affected its staple product, the full-length feature film. One way, therefore, of interpreting the opposition spectacle/narrative - and with it, the division classical/post-classical - is to say that, just as in previous periods of cinema history it was new technologies that were putting pressure on the mode of production as well as transforming reception, so it has always been the task of story construction, mise en scène, and narration to absorb these changes, by adapting narrative structure and genre formats. Contemporary Hollywood gives every indication that it too has transformed and adjusted itself to recent technological changes, while in important respects retaining the features that have secured its success in the past. It is in this sense that one can say that the classical cinema is merely refigured within the post-classical, neither abandoned nor opposed - or, as we phrased it earlier, the post-classical is also the excessively classical cinema, a sort of 'classical-plus'. What this 'plus' in each case amounts to (including whether some see it in fact as 'minus') remains to be specified. Thus, one could think of the post-classical as a pastiche of the classical, or its meta-discursive and self-referential citation, but one could also picture a more two-way process of absorption, exchange, and modification, where technology is only one factor among many in the general realignment of Hollywood, its mode of production, story-telling skills, and audience/user expectations. For instance, one can imagine that the binary opposition classical/post-classical might disappear altogether, if Hollywood - as some predict and as we consider in subsequent chapters - were to concentrate more and more on developing narratives that are the blueprints or pilots for interactive computer games. Whether this is likely to happen or not, for the theorist the possibility alone is enough to suggest that such an interactive narrative might come to be looked at as the more general category, of which what we now call classical and post-classical would merely be the limited, transitional, or specialized instances.

This leads us back to the cultural aspect of the classical/post-classical interchange, notably the factor we have been calling 'work', the meaning-making processes whereby internal (formal, stylistic, rhetorical) procedures are transforming external (social, ideological, referential) materials into narrative. In the cinema, this conversion of sounds and images of the world into assertions and feelings about the world makes narrative, in its widest sense, a remarkable vehicle of cultural communication and social reproduction. What, therefore, happens to this 'work' in the 'post-classical' cinema, which we might consider as a mere phase in a continuous process of adaptation or realignment? At first glance, and given our analysis of the textual and ideological work in Die Hard, it does look as if it is 'business as usual' too in this respect. But then, we also noted how often the film puts on show its own rhetoric, as well as the ideological material it is supposed to transport and transform.

In a somewhat different vocabulary, and arguing within the framework of 'postmodernism' rather than post-classical cinema, these thoughts preoccupy Fred Pfeil, who introduces his discussion of 'male rampage' films as follows:

Thanks in no small part to the Lethal Weapon and Die Hard films I have come to see ... postmodernist cultural practices migrate, drift or [be] exchanged, like designer-label knock-offs or smallpox-infested blankets, across the porous frontiers separating hip from straight-out mass culture. In fact, one of the first things that struck me about these four films ... was precisely their unsettling affinities to previous, canonically hip postmodern works. True, their straightforward plots have little in common with the loopy surprises and multiple thematics of a Brazil or My Beautiful Laundrette

____But on the more formal level of cinematic style, narrative structure, and constitutive space-time, our fast-paced smash-'em-ups have a lot more in common with certified pomo art films like, say Diva, than you might think.

(Pfeil 1993: 124)

Pfeil then lists what he sees as the chief crossover features: the 'urban look' in the colour schemes ('washed-out pastels and dark metallic blues and greys'); the Bakhtinian chronotope of two sharply contrasted spaces within one diegetic temporal realm (in Die Hard, 'the spanking new high-rise office building ... and the functioning viscera [of] ventilation ducts and elevator shafts') where the space-time relations only seem to know one time (now) and one space ('the action is simply taking place here - and here - and here - in spaces whose distances from one another are not mappable as distances so much as they are measurable in differences of attitude and intensity'). As to the films' narrative structure, Pfeil adopts the view we have been arguing against, when we came across it in the reviews: 'an older model of plot development, moving from a state of stasis ... to a new and more fully resolved stasis, is largely superseded ... by the amnesiac succession of self-contained bits and spectacular bursts' (Pfeil 1993:124-5).

However, as we saw from his Greimasian square, what concerns Pfeil about these films more than a close textual analysis of Die Hard's surprisingly intricate plotting and careful mise en scène, both dedicated to the virtues of classical narration, is their handling of the large cultural formations of race, class, and gender, which he holds up against the political realities of the Reagan era, with its Iran-Contra cover-ups and Ollie Norths, and the economic realities of globalization with its shake-out of the labour market, squeezing the (manufacturing) middle while the (managerial) top, as Pfeil says, gets multinational and the (unskilled) bottom multiracial:

Our films ... depict a very specifically white/male/hetero/American capitalist dreamscape, inter- and/or multi-national at the top and multiracial at the bottom, in which the interracial is eroticised even as a sharp power-line is reasserted between masculine and feminine: in which, indeed, all the old lines of force between races, classes, and genders are both transgressed and redrawn. If the results of all these constructions and operations are scarcely to be extolled as examples of radical or liberatory cultural production ..., they nonetheless suggest a new and vertiginous psycho-social mobility, a moment of flux.

(Pfeil 1993: 147)

Thus, despite his qualification of the plot as 'amnesiac', Pfeil still expects the narrative of Die Hard to be doing its customary work of ideological 'constructions and operations', though no longer unambiguously in the service of the hegemonic value system, producing instead mobility and flux within the categories of race, class, and gender. 'New mobility' and 'a moment of flux' are, of course, terms which themselves belong to the (positive) vocabulary of postmodernist discourse, so that at this point the ideological work of the film and the critical work of the theorist miraculously mirror each other.

Yet, as Pfeil is only too aware, this effect is due to the fact that what is at stake in postmodern thinking is the very dissolution of binary oppositions, including those basic ones that for nearly three decades have informed much of textual analysis itself, such as radical/conservative, progressive/reactionary, critical/hegemonic, left/right. The consequence is that the mode of engagement with the object of analysis is also no longer the same, for instead of keeping its critical distance, the analyst's tactic now turns around notions such as 'appropriation', 'cooption', and 'deconstruction', where it is understood that even conservatives and hegemonic ideologues are now deconstructivists, adept at reading the mobile signs of hybridity and bricolage around the formerly radical or critical discursive formations of race, class, gender, and nation.

0 0

Post a comment