Genre as Director

Last winter as I was watching a lot of crap superhero movies, I wondered what could possibly interest me about them. This spring I had an idea related to genre and my dissertation of all things.

My thinking, sketched out, is that in generic films, everyone knows what to do. The props guy, the editor, the sound people. Everyone already knows what the film should be. So a director, Joss Whedon for example, can just say “I need X” and person A will know what X is without much direction. Whedon–a fan of the genre–can simply enjoy and cheerlead and brainstorm as the people around him make the film. And so, genre manages the production. In a sense, genre is the direction.

So what’s Whedon’s contribution? Writing. He creates the situations that offer and legitimate generic pleasures as enjoyable and again-new.

Thinking about superhero films generally, I think that, for me at least, they foreground this specific writing task and, thus, focus my critical attention. I don’t really care very much about the effects or the situations or whatever. I watch and I am thinking about:

1. the choices made in adapting the source

2. the system of motivation and stakes devised to move the action

3. how effective 1 & 2 are in normalizing the rest of the film’s work

In other words, I think the superhero movie–which I am more or less sick of now–served as a kind of controlled experiment about the topic of my dissertation while I was writing it.

I suspect that these films may offer a similar focus to other viewers interested in other things.