VOL. 1  NO. 1  AUGUST 1999



[On Screen]

How Postmodernism Killed the Movies

"Note to self. Rent 'Goodfellas,' 'Casino' and 'Godfather' parts one, two and three," Hugh Grant tells himself in the trailer for "Mickey Blue Eyes." "This is SO 'Jerry Springer,'" a character yells in the trailer for "Teaching Mrs. Tingle." "What's with the 'Addams Family' House?" from the trailer for "The Haunting."

And these lines were just in the trailers. Imagine the actual movies. Sparkling dialogue about how each and every event resembles, reflects or is similar to a famous movie or movie moment, spoken with knowingly jaded irony. The point? Instant connection with the audience in a hipper-than-thou postmodernist spin on the idea that, hey, if everyone constantly references movies in real life, they should in the movies too. But what it really reflects is something worse. A substitute for actual creativity and character development. When Jar Jar Binks says "Exqueeze me!" you know we're no longer in a galaxy far, far, away.

These days almost every movie Hollywood churns out engages in at least a few moments of postmodern self-indulgence, openly happy to give up the effort of maintaining a narrative fantasy and just go for the jaded its-just-a-movie retread to get a laugh (or substitute creative dialogue). It's akin to a sculptor not bothering to actually sculpt; just to describe how what he was going to do is similar to a better sculpture he can never duplicate. And for an artform like cinema, it's a death knell.

1960's philosopher Marshal McCluhan once remarked, "The medium is the message," a comment on how our culture had altered the medium of communication into its own subject matter, ingrained in its subject. And this was 20 years before OJ. If he only knew the sad state that would befall what some call the only new art form of the 20th Century. The medium has taken over the message. And the result is hollow.

So where did it start?

Around for decades, postmodern self-reflection truly reached its creative zenith with the launch of "Reservoir Dogs" onto the cultural zeitgeist. When seven guys in black riffed on Madonna videos, a new style of dialogue was born. Just as rock music begat the art of sampling, so too film dialogue begat referencing. Tarantino gave birth, but his baby was a monster. Sure it was funny in "Dogs" when Keitel warned Tim Roth that if "anyone thinks they're Charles Bronson in 'The Dirty Dozen,' break their nose with the butt of your gun". "Pulp Fiction" was amusing when referencing "Scooby Doo" cartoons and 50's movie icons. People felt "in." Part of the joke. Everybody play along! Hollywood smelled new blood, and from there on it spread like a disease.

"Scream," otherwise known as the movie that isn't really a movie, grossed enough money to cause a creative fragment in Hollywood, building on what had begun in the indie movement as a style of hip asides to acknowledge that the audience was in on the joke. Forget suspension of disbelief. Society's way too cynical to keep that facade up. We've all seen too many movies, so new movies are just extensions of that knowledge. There are no real stories left anyway, or so movies today tell us.

LL Cool J can't help but remark, "The black guy always dies in these situations!" in "Deep Blue Sea," and the audience goes wild. LL knows he's in a movie; isn't it funny? When the characters in "Go" begin spontaneously reciting dialogue from "The Breakfast Club" to each other ("Are you a virgin, Claire? Answer the question!"), you know we've reached rock bottom. Nothing new left to say. I can't think of anything to write, so I'll write the movies I've memorized.

Ring a bell, the creative death knell for movies has been sounded. And "Scream III" is on the way.

- Joshua Moss

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