Genre revisionism in these post-Tarantino days is about as close as you can get to armchair activism without having a Facebook account. It wasn’t always this way. In the late ’60s and early ’70s, reverse engineering the symbolism in a genre film meant subverting the expectations that decades of studio programming had groomed. It meant unpacking the myths that were sold to the “masses” – who were rather falsely assumed to have swallowed the illusions whole. Audiences may not have believed the myths, but they enjoyed the comfortably structured fantasies and accepted them, and to the counterculture who saw that acceptance culminate in racism and violence, this was a dangerous delusion. Genres were stand-ins for conventionalism, which was itself a stand-in for authority – albeit one that seems quaint and almost benign in retrospect. The remedy, it was believed, was to respond in the same language – with Westerns featuring cowboys as mercenaries (A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS) or as butchers of Indians (LITTLE BIG MAN) or gangster films about criminals who were less objectionable than the authorities they fled from (BONNIE AND CLYDE). These winks of subversion would later fall under the umbrella of “culture jamming.” But the sad truth of the matter – from a political though not an aesthetic point of view – is that disrupting people’s fantasy lives is not always the same as changing their behavior.
Tag: The Big Lebowski
Joel and Ethan Coen are perhaps one of American cinema’s most versatile and surprising writing/directing duos. They’ve made a Western (TRUE GRIT), a screwball comedy (INTOLERABLE CRUELTY), a fable (A SERIOUS MAN), a Hollywood satire (BARTON FINK), two noirs (MILLER’S CROSSING, THE MAN WHO WASN’T THERE) and a mystery (FARGO) among others. Going through so many of Hollywood’s mainstay genres, the Coen Brothers have become symbols of cinema Americana.
The Big Lebowski – dir. Joel and Ethan Coen – 1998 – Original Theatrical Trailer
It’s a little ironic that The Dude, Jeff Bridges’ slacker character in the Coen brothers’ 1998 comedy The Big Lebowski, is introduced as “the man for his time and place” (in this case, that time and place is early nineties Los Angeles). I say this partly because critics and audiences routinely peg The Dude as a sixties throwback, a longhaired stoner comfortably out of his time; and partly because The Big Lebowski itself feels like a film out of its time, and even ahead of it. While it’s true that Lebowski harks back to the cinema and pop culture of other eras – from its drawling cowboy narrator out of an old western to its messy Big Sleep-inspired noir plot – and to the Coens’ prior body of work (traces of Raising Arizona abound), it feels like a weirdly prescient piece of filmmaking today.