Volume 93, Issue 34

Friday, October 29, 1999


Public Enemy's Chuck D still fighting the power

Supersuckers heading up club rock revival

Boneyard Man digs up radio noir

Woo married to music

OLP confuse Happy with crappy

Changing face of film

Changing face of film

The place and face of Hollywood is under assault. Once the Mecca of film idea and production, Hollywood's remarkable longevity is showing its rust – literally and narratively.

The single largest film producer in the world is suffering under an increasingly dense smog of geographic fragmentation and ideological dilution. Many other North American cities have realized the financial viability of film production. The industry has added jobs and prestige to many cities like Toronto, Chicago and Vancouver.

Just as threatening as this invasion on Hollywood's monopoly are the changing perspectives on established stories and conventions. Generally, Hollywood films offer an escape into idealized families and scenarios which make the viewer feel happy for about 90 minutes. In the past, these rules of proper, socially accepted conduct and eventual redemption were only subverted by token irregularities such as Three Men and a Baby.

Clearly, there have been other subversive movies made by Hollywood but they were thought of as non-threatening because that's not what "we" do, its what "other" people do.

A good example is A Clockwork Orange which has subversive ideas, but is placed in a futuristic nowhere land which most viewers cannot identify with. In contrast, the recently released American Beauty strikes at the heart of Hollywood idealism by painting a different picture.

This film goes out of its way to use conventional Hollywood distances and framing and boasts a cutting-edge cast which features Annette Bening and Kevin Spacey. However, the family situations are far from conventional.

The mother (Bening) is a depressed-but-in-denial psychological wrecking ball, while the father is a completely emasculated drone – a hollow shell of a man who has lost something in life. He is essentially a victim of a society which demeans individuality and the film includes this within its consciousness.

These are not classical Hollywood values of normalcy, crisis resolution and ideas of same versus otherness. The characters of American Beauty embody characteristics of otherness, a sense of "this can never happen to us" subversiveness, yet they are positioned as the norm. They are the people who we are supposed to relate to and the beauty of it is that we do.

This movement away from idealism within the mainstream context has been developing throughout the '90s mainly in the hands of directors Todd Solondz (Happiness) and Neil LaBute (Your Friends and Neighbors).

One recent colleague, Life Smith, commented on the subject, "We have trained ourselves to ignore, or do away with, anything that is not ideologically safe. Do we, as a society, crave stability and order which is reciprocated in the films that are regurgitated over and over again?"

I'll leave that one open to discussion.

Mark Lewandowski can be reached at mlewando@julian.uwo.ca

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Copyright The Gazette 1999