Sunday, May 18, 2008

Notes on Twee #3

This is from Franco Moretti's article "Planet Hollywood," about the global diffusion of film genres. He's trying to explain the fact that, in the US, one in four box-office hits are children's films:

"'Children's films' is a sloppy definition, of course: it points to the audience, not the film — and to an audience which is moreover quite problematic. Children, after all, don't usually go to the movies by themselves and, as adults must take them, a little generic paradox ensues: whom should the film be for — the adult, or the child? Faced with this problem, the fifties offered either straightforward fairy tales (for the child: Cinderella, Snow White, even Fantasia), or those Jules Verne novels I mentioned earlier (which were much more successful than the fairy tales: another sign of a market directed at the adult). But today the two forms have converged, blending into a hybrid which appeals to children and adults alike: E.T., Roger Rabbit, Back to the Future, the various Star Wars and Indiana Jones — these are stories designed for a new human species of savvy children and silly grown-ups (Homo puerilis). Their god is Steven Spielberg (and Benigni is his prophet: Life is Beautiful — what a childish adult wants a child to know about Auschwitz.).

"In one film after another (
Jaws, Close Encounters, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Jurassic Park; even the uncanny detail of the girl in red, in Schindler's List), Spielberg has not only chosen stories in which children and adults are somehow involved together, but where the ambiguities so typical of (adult) life are defused by the (child's) desire for polarization so well described by Bruno Bettelheim. The best example is Schindler himself; this Third Reich shark turned benefactor, who offered an incredible chance to study the contradictions of historical existence. But Spielberg is not interested in understanding complicated things, and in his hands this figure out of Dostoevsky, or Brecht becomes — nothing."