Leo Braudy’s article was the most lively and interesting of the bunch to me. He spends a lot of time talking about films, true, but I felt like the main thrust of his article was directed towards how art works through the medium of film (and specifically how the concept of genre functions within the medium). I found his synthesis of historical and cultural trends across different mediums (poetry, prose, film) to be refreshing: it’s always nice to be reminded that “Art” is not a series of separate spheres, but is a dialogue between painters, novelists, dancers, directors, etc.
Genre films, Braudy claims, are “especially criticized because they seem to appeal to a preexisting audience, while the film ‘classic’ creates its own special audience through the unique power of the filmmaking artist’s personal creative sensibility”. This contrast between genre films and “classic” films is extended to a comparison between pop art and pure art. Braudy references the Romantic period as the beginning of the crusade against popular and folk art. As I understand it, the idea is that during the Romantic period an artist was necessarily an independent figure, a creator, a god, and most importantly a unique. The artist’s duty was supposed to be to reach into the abyss and pull forth wholly unique and individual creations, to be “the only one in a corrupt age who could summon up the artistic Eden of the past and collect its fragments into some coherence”. “Genre and convention”, Braudy says “were the fare of the multitudes, while originality and storming self-assertion, without a past, without any controls, was the caviar of the truly aware audience”. Therefore these energies have manifested, Braudy says, in a current mood of animosity towards films of convention and of exultation towards films of originality.
And so I find Braudy’s point of view very enlightening – that there is value in convention. Conventions, after all, exist for a reason. To reject convention entirely is to reject an aspect of our culture and of art. Most interesting of all Braudy’s points, to me, is his assertion that genre films achieve value because of their use of convention. Classifying a film into a certain genre causes us to make certain assumptions about it. When we imagine a genre, we imagine a set of conventional tropes. Therefore, genre instantly provides a wealth of ideas for a skilled director to toy with or to subvert – and likewise it can be very pleasing to take part in and to contemplate the thrill of the subversion. Chinatown, for example, is a film noir and it makes every effort to present itself as a film noir – it references older films in the genre, it delights in the conventional, in the music, in the atmosphere of the film noir. But behind its conventional presentation are a number of subversions and differences from the standard film noir; the pleasure of its main character and of its shocking end only exist, for me, because they have the background of genre to stand out upon. In this way Chinatown engages with its very building blocks and comments upon itself. Why is the end shocking? What about the main character is so fascinating? Why are we shocked and why are we fascinated? As Braudy says, “the joy in genre is to see what can be dared in the creation of a new form or the creative destruction and complication of an old one”. It may not be caviar, but what could be more "truly aware"?