Sunday, March 26, 2006

Originality of Vision

The New York Times has a story today, This Shamus Goes to High School. It won a Sundance prize for "originality of vision," based on its "genuinely inspired conceit — the notion of setting an old-fashioned noirish detective story in a contemporary Southern California high school, a world as bleak and mysterious and as filled with stock characters (jocks, goths, stoners, theater kids) as anything Chandler or Hammett ever dreamed of."

Yeah, inspired all right.

It's not that I have anything against the filmmaker or the film, which sounds interesting and which I'll rent (I don't get to theaters much anymore). But this obsession with originality leads us to ignore context and predecessors; why not just say he's told a cracking good story? I assumed from the story's title and its placement in the Arts section that it would be about Veronica Mars, and I have to wonder whether the story didn't even mention VM because it's (a) a TV show (and thus less artistic than a movie) (b) about a girl. Clearly there are differences -- the dialogue quoted in the story is less naturalistic than VM's, which at its best has that Buffyesque feel of "this is what we'd say if we were always at our wittiest." But of course there are differences; there are also a lot of similarities, and part of the fun of watching for me, and I suspect for others, will be to compare and contrast.

What set me off, I suspect, is that the story is full of discussion about how this movie fits into its genre and thus calls on our preexisting knowledge. "Contemporary Southern California" is, indeed, the setting of the classic noirs, though they're not our contemporaries any more -- but the idea of corruption out in the beautiful bright light is a defining feature of the genre. So why not recognize the current generic context?

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