Saturday, January 31, 2004

NZ Culture Part 2

I wasn't going to comment on Kim Hill's interview with Gaylene Preston, since Gaylene sounded about as understandable as a poorly written essay by a first year film studies student replete with half digested references to Lacanian and Marxist film theory, but in terms of the artist's role with respect to culture and identity in NZ its worth a visit.

The phrase of the moment is "telling our stories". When Kim asked Gaylene what "our stories" were Gaylene was somewhat flumoxed, responding that her films fell into this category since she herself is a NZer. Whale Rider, while set in NZ, has themes that are universal. Sometimes when I hear this argument put forward it just sounds like special pleading, the opening paragraph in a funding application.

Not to say that I have any problem with State support for the arts or with the notion that art plays a part in establishing cultural identity, but its worth taking what artists say about their own importance with a grain of salt.

Gaylene Preston's concept of her work as challenging conventional story telling techniques so as to protect us from George Bush is remarkably grandiose and quite frankly not based on any evidence from modern psychology. Does anyone think that that classic Hollywood-styled epic spectacular - with conventional narrative formulas, deliberately pulling on heart strings, relieving tension with humor, portraying clear cut good and evil, and is made purely to entertain - The Lord of the Rings, actually embeds itself into human consciousness in such a way as to support Bush?

I'm not sure why some people have such a problem with "genre" movies. Does anyone have a problem with genre in music - classical, rap, blues etc? And really, this idea that genre busting is something new and potentially earth shattering is absurd. The undermining and ironic use of genre has been around for a long, long time. Goddard, Tarantino, Kubrick, The Simpsons. And let's face it, for all The Battleship Potemkin's exploration of narrative technique it didn't exactly save Soviet Russia from its fate.

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