A chessplayer friend once told me “Your style is all about creating dynamic imbalances – if the normal move is …b6, you play …b5.” I was flattered for about thirty seconds but then realized this was a really nice way of saying “Positionally, you stink.” I don’t play these moves because I recognize the conventions and decide to break them. I just don’t know or understand the conventions.
Picasso, I am told, went through a normal art school curriculum. He mastered it all at an amazing rate, then got bored and started experimenting, looking for new ways to express old concepts. In other words, he knew how to draw normal hands before he started drawing weird ones. He understood the conventions and chose to break them.
Genres are loosely defined sets of conventions, not formal necessarily, but recognizable. The crime/mystery novel that served as my beach reading (Killing Floor) this summer had all the hallmarks you’d expect – hardbitten ex-military investigator as narrator etc. You know what you’re getting from Step Brothers when you see the preview – pure unadulterated juvenile stupidity. (Had low expectations but then laughed myself silly.) Kung Fu Panda is funny partly because it so faithfully uses all the tropes of bad 70s karate flicks.
Genre-bending is risky business. That helps explain why The Fountain grossed $10 million in its entire theatrical run. Was it sci-fi? Historical fiction? Medical drama? A tragedy, a philosophical rant? It was a little bit of each.
Sometimes, maybe often, you know exactly what kind of genre you’re in the mood for. You don’t want fusion cooking, you want meatloaf. You don’t want The Fountain, you want Step Brothers. You don’t want to play an irregular opening, you want the white side of a Dragon. You don’t want Oysterhead, you want some toe-tapping Buckwheat Zydeco.
But when a movie sets itself up in one genre and then intentionally, intelligently refuses to obey the conventions you expect – that can be really daring and interesting and fun. And gross. And shocking. And sad. And sly and funny. And unsettling.
And that’s why you should rent In Bruges.
(Watch it *after* the kids go to bed.)