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barth
Posted on Wednesday, November 05, 2003 - 03:41 pm:   

so. ok. "twin peaks" is the best example of interstitial television that i could come up with.

you got your universal studios horror film, binary morality structure, a la "dracula" (an evil supernatural force lurking among an unsuspecting populace being tracked and thwarted by an agent of good, ha ha, who has unusual beliefs/skills), bestrewn with television 101 conventions (the who-shot-jr-style hook-the-biggest-market-share mystery), classically surrealist imagery alongside hoky tv comedy and love stories, all executed with art house production values. (i'm sure there are other elements i'm missing. point them out.)

it became vogue through the nineties to shoot and edit tv like film, even hiring studio names to produce and direct. but that doesn't make them interstitial. "twin peaks" _deliberately_ messed with tv audiences' expectations. consider "peaks'" the man from another place and his backwards dialog. or the surreal visions (horses in spotlights) that had no easy nor contextually symbolic explanation. or the log lady (!). these elements demanded that viewers stop and ask "what the hell IS this?" in a way that jarred them out of their typical tv viewing experience, while still making a grab for their attention.

other possibly interstitial tv: "land of the lost" (god how i'd love to write a screenplay for that show); early "sesame street"; "gilligan's island" (commedia del arte meets burbank); "red dwarf"; moments in pro wrestling and any andy kauffman sketch on SNL; "iron chef"; "fernwood tonight" and "mary hartman, mary hartman"; early MTV, and the cable access show i did ("Dan in Space") when i was 17.

discuss: is "the prisoner" intersitial or just whack?

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Veronica Schanoes
Posted on Wednesday, November 05, 2003 - 10:04 pm:   

Why only early *Sesame Street*? Why not the whole shebang? Except that I've heard that over the last few years practically the whole show has been given over to Elmo, whom I've never liked very much, including a whole 20-minute animated segment at the end called "Elmo's World."

How about *The Young Ones*? Interstitial, or just brilliant?
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Neddal
Posted on Thursday, November 06, 2003 - 03:56 am:   

Don't forget the *Muppet Show*. And how about shows like *Farscape*, *Angel/Buffy*, and *Six Feet Under*?
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barth
Posted on Thursday, November 06, 2003 - 06:03 am:   

veronica,

mainly, i was thinking about early "sesame street" as interstitial because it was creating a totally new form. there had been puppet shows on tv before, but not ones that also roped in fringe animators, film and video segments, vaudeville comedy, and performances by artists totally unconnected to "kid's" television (stevie wonder!). eventually it became widely imitated to the point that it wasn't rearranging expectations of what a kid's show could be anymore. it was the uber-kid show, widely imitated to the point where that format became its own genre.

(aside: it's telling that interstitial tv often trojan-horses itself in tv for kids.)

"muppet show" certainly allowed henson productions to experiment with wilder forms of puppetry on television, you're right, nedal. and dance too. i remember seeing "momenschanz" (sp?) and pilobolus for the first time on the freakin "muppet show."

"young ones" are brilliant, of course, v. i'm not sure how it's interstitial though. please, expound. hadn't "python" (oh my god, how did i miss THAT one!?) built their comic world for them already? into what cracks did "YO" fall?

nedal, you'll have to argue the interstitality of the other three shows you mentioned. i don't know them well enough to natter on.

ps. i'm not going to let my "prisoner" question drop.
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Karen Meisner
Posted on Thursday, November 06, 2003 - 09:30 am:   

Okay, I'll take up that gauntlet. Even though I'm reluctant to try and sort things into Interstitial Vs. Non-.

The Prisoner is what used to be called counter-culture in its sensibilities. 60's cold war spy mania gave us a set formula, and The Prisoner takes that formula and turns it overtly surreal. This in itself was nothing shocking; every spy series of the decade was doing that. Modesty Blaise (as my favorite example) brought in all kinds of fantasy elements. The Avengers played off a campy psychedelic hipster weirdness. What sets The Prisoner apart isn't its style but its content, because it uses the style to convey something more significant than just fashion.

Where other spy shows went counter-culture mainly as trendy fashion, I think The Prisoner attempted to genuinely question the status quo. The odd structure of the show -- not only the obvious trippy visuals but the choppy editing, the presentation of story as something we're shown but not told in any kind of authoritative narrative voice that would impose clichéd meaning onto it -- all this contributes to making the experience of watching it a challenge to our expectations of linear plot, externally imposed values, predictable good guys vs. bad guys and overt violence we expect from the spy genre.

So is it interstitial, or is it just a series that screws with the spy genre a bit and has an unusually interesting premise? Depends on how you're defining "interstitial", I guess. It doesn't really combine genres in any startling way. Sure, it's got fantasy/sf elements, but it's standard for spy stories to veer into science fiction, imagining gadgetry and doomsday devices and secret agencies quietly running the world. The Cold War was itself a kind of collective paranoid fantasy in this vein.

But as I understand the term, I'd say The Prisoner qualifies as interstitial because it's really offering a character study and abstract philosophical question, which play out against the trappings of a genre where action is typically what counts. As with much Interstitial Arts stuff, in The Prisoner the plot (per episode) is less interesting than the internal motivations of the characters. We know basically what's going to happen in each episode: Number Six will try to escape, and will fail. It's how he tries and what this says about his humanity that keeps us interested. It's his need to hold onto his identity in the face of dehumanization and his need to understand the hidden mysteries, his desire to control his own fate, that's the real story. His enemies are faceless unknowns and soft squishy balloon machines; there's nothing outside of himself for him to punch or shoot or triumph over. His victory is just in maintaining his own will and sense of self in a crazy world. At its heart, The Prisoner is a very quiet, internal struggle. And I guess that's part of what the IA people are talking about.

Also, it's kinda whack.
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barth
Posted on Thursday, November 06, 2003 - 10:09 am:   

"Where other spy shows went counter-culture mainly as trendy fashion, I think The Prisoner attempted to genuinely question the status quo."

yes yes yes! right right right! Man from UNCLE is a great example of a show that merely posed in that trendiness, whereas The Prisoner still "reads" like a message from another dimension.

and i think you've given me a good word in defining my favorite flavor of interstitial art: subversion. on the surface the production seems to be [insert genre here], but really it's either a combination of other forms or something else entirely. not all interstitial art performs this way, but it's the kind i'm most interested in. le trojan horse. modesty blaise might be a vampire hunting bond-ette, very interstitial in her way, but i don't see those comics/books as really undermining the spy genre the way, say, The Prisoner does.

wow. thanks, karen. it's like you read my stupid brain and answered the questions i couldn't form.

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JV
Posted on Thursday, November 06, 2003 - 10:13 am:   

Yeah, it so whack. Not only that, I was in the spy museum while in DC at World Fantasy, and guess what I discovered? Thomas Disch wrote one of the novelizations! See photos below.

Jeff

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Karen Meisner
Posted on Thursday, November 06, 2003 - 11:14 am:   

Yep -- where The Prisoner gets really subversive to the genre is that it uses all the conventions of tv spy series (even #6 is a familiar actor from his previous straight spy show), to tell a story which has almost nothing to do with espionage. War, country, etc don't seem particularly important any more in the Village. The show takes all the elements of the genre and then ignores the thing they're supposed to be about, applying them instead to a different kind of story entirely.

Plenty of spy shows/books/movies involve characters whose personal struggles play out against an external series of events and situations. But in The Prisoner, our character's personal struggle IS the event and the situation. For all we know, the entire Village is in his own mind. The Prisoner is like an experimental art piece in spy show drag.

Jeff, what a shame I missed that museum in DC. Looks like fun.
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Veronica Schanoes
Posted on Thursday, November 06, 2003 - 03:49 pm:   

Sadly, as a graduate student in an English department, I can no longer use or hear or read the word "subersive" w/o breaking out in hives (I've had the calamine lotion right next to me as I've been reading). It just got so overused and overextended in academe-speak to mean anything other than lock-step dominant ideology (Dora, back me up here). But, hey take it out into the non-university world and run w/it, I say.

Here's why I thought of *The Young Ones*. *Monty Python's Flying Circus* was a straight-up sketch comedy show w/some animation. But if you start to try to describe the premise of *The Young Ones*, you end up having to say, "Look, I know it *sounds* like a sitcom set-up, but it's not really a sitcom. It's more like sketch comedy, only a lot of the humor is based on these recurring characters. But they're not real characters. They don't do realistic things. Not in the normal sitcom-characters-not-being-realistic-because-they're-stupid way. In the kind of bizarre way that, for instance, one episode was kind of loosely based on a nuclear bomb falling into the house and not going off. Well, not really based on that, because there was a whole other thing about their not having a TV license. Then there was the one where they were all of a sudden back in the middle ages. And the one where everything outside the house is flooded and there's a shark. And Vyv's hamster? It talks. And they hit each other a lot and yell "you bastard," which doesn't sound witty, but it is. And then a band plays."

So, you go on and on as the person you're trying to describe the show to backs away slowly and gets bored. I'm thinking that the sheer anarchy of the show--the way it flouted conventions of sitcoms, character, continuity--propels it into interstitiality.

I was, sadly, too young to have caught *The Prisoner*. Perhaps on DVD, one of these days. Is it out?
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Theodora goss
Posted on Thursday, November 06, 2003 - 08:08 pm:   

Hi Veronica!

I've got your back and plenty of calamine lotion. I've disliked "subversive" since reading Rosemary Jackson's Fantasy: The Literature of Subversion, which divides fantasy into subversive (good) and conservative (bad, including Tolkien). But I also like the idea, based on what Barth wrote above, that the most interesting interstitial texts (in the broadest and most academical sense of that term) tend not only to cross the border between genres, but also to--maybe not always subvert, but ask us to examine more closely--the genres on which they're based. Like, perhaps, The Prisoner making us question and reevaluate what we expect out of spy shows and what they usually give us. (Since I'm not so knowledgeable about screens, on televisions or doors, I'll also give a literary example: Kelly Link's "The Girl Detective," which makes me think, "Hey, wait a minute, what was Nancy Drew about anyway?")

(And hey, I figured out how to use italics!)
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barth
Posted on Thursday, November 06, 2003 - 08:22 pm:   

veronica,

whoa. we see things pretty differently. i'd say python had far more in common with beckett, ionesco, and other absurdists than, say, tim conway and harvey korman. many of python's "straight up sketches," after all, shattered the form in which they supposedly operated - and linear tv-brain along with it (cf "confuse-a-cat").

YO was quirky, unconventional, and hilarious, definitely, but still remained pretty true to its form. maybe i just have a more restricted interstitial palett than you do. "seinfeld" was quirky and unconventional, too, but not interstitial by my taste.

i don't think i'm right and you're wrong, though. heinz fenkl looks at "neuromancer" and sees an interstitial work, whereas gibson says he thought of it as remaining true to the roots of sf.

both of them are probably right.
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barth
Posted on Thursday, November 06, 2003 - 08:31 pm:   

hang on. let me go over this a second.

so we can "flaunt convention" but not subvert it. and the "examination of expectations" is ok, but subversion isn't.

got it.

;)
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Karen Meisner
Posted on Thursday, November 06, 2003 - 11:05 pm:   

"Like, perhaps, The Prisoner making us question and reevaluate what we expect out of spy shows and what they usually give us"

I think it does that, and more. For example: it takes a basic premise of the spy show, which is that we are all being manipulated like pawns by mysterious groups and powers outside ourselves -- and suggests a greater danger is that we internalize societal messages and constraints so deeply that we become our own worst censors and jailers. So you've got the trappings of spy stuff with everyone running around engaging in plotting and intrigue, but how much of this is even real, and how much is masking subtler problems and our own responsibility?

I'm pretty comfortable applying the S-word to that. But dear god, let's not turn a discussion of what is or isn't interstitial into a discussion of what is or isn't subversive!

I don't feel qualified to define "interstitial" anyway. I'd rather just look at how and why certain works create the kinds of excitement and sense of freedom that Endicott Studios & Co are appealing to. Because damned if I can (or want to) delineate it too tightly, but it's sure fun to talk about all that interstitial stuff.

Oh, and Veronica: I wasn't yet born either when The Prisoner first aired. It's out on DVD.
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Neddal
Posted on Friday, November 07, 2003 - 03:53 am:   

I'm also a member of the "not born when The Prisoner aired" club. It sounds like I've missed out. Why Buffy/Angel and Farscape are Interstital in one sentence: How many other shows (and this goes for all three) go mad and combine elements of horror, science fiction, comedy, the musical, puppetry (for Farscape), fantasy, drama, pop-culture, and general freakiness into one hour? (Aside from the Simpsons, which does it in half an hour.) I know that wasn't very eloquent, but it's 8:30 am, and I'm not fully awake.
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Minz
Posted on Friday, November 07, 2003 - 07:16 am:   

Upon further review, I'm going to have to side with Veronica on TYO v. Python's Flying Circus. TYO was so all over the place, even any one given episode would be hard to classify, depending upon which character you follow. While you'd be tempted to call it a sitcom, that doesn't even begin to describe it.

MPFC, otoh, was pretty much straightforward sketch comedy. Absurdist to the extreme, and the finest, funniest version of the form, but it really was simply an absurdist sketch comedy show (the underlying themes & deeper intelligence that creeps in isn't really enough to change the basic fact that it was sketch comedy--imnsho). Just because it was brilliant and bizarre, doesn't make it unclassifiable, merely incomparable. Don't get me wrong, I am a way-beyond-huge Python fan, but why would you call it interstitial? Just because it was brilliant & absurd?
I could see the interstitial argument applying to the MP movies because they defy the expectations of the genre within which they're supposedly operating, but I truly don't think that applies to the Flying Circus.
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Minz
Posted on Friday, November 07, 2003 - 07:27 am:   

I've a tough time believing that Buffy/Angel are interstitial (haven't seen enough of Farscape to weigh in). Just because they successfully blend genres and defy some expectations, and can be brilliant and entertaining, I'm not certain that's enough--imnsho. They're too mainstream and definable; they simply happen to be well-crafted, but that doesn't mean interstitial to me.

Don't get me wrong, they're great examples of breaking down barriers and defying expectations, but they don't really "fall between the cracks." They're quite clearly horror/adventure shows that are extremely well done. (The best of _any_ form of entertainment should draw from the vastness of human experience and range of emotions. But doing this successfully is not grounds for interstitiality.)

Uh-oh. I think I might be an interstitial purist. Who'dathunk?
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Minz
Posted on Friday, November 07, 2003 - 07:29 am:   

Of course, I could just be a contrarian pain-in-the-keester who's too grouchy because he hasn't finished his coffee yet. Only history and/or my peers can decide . . .
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barth
Posted on Friday, November 07, 2003 - 10:05 am:   

hrm. i posted, but my post didn't post. forgive me if i wind up doubling.

minz,

i think python is a decent example of what heinz described in his essay as artistic works that (i'm paraphrasing like heck) emerge as something "sui generis" (ironically within a genre,) but then their very success creates a category that becomes its own genre and retroactively, in the midsts of controversy, quickly manifests a historical trajectory that precedes itself .

(that's at http://www.endicott-studio.com/IA/IA-theory.html
for those of you who want to read the whole schmeer)

i think in retrospect, python might come across as "straight up sketch comedy" because of python's own success. but imagine having "and now for something completely different" shot right into your vein in 1974 without "the young ones," "kids in the hall," belushi-era SNL, steve martin, robin williams, or other post-python absurdists to dilute it. indeed, i don't know if those post-python comics would have found a market without python.

what's interstitial about MPFC? television made them interstitial. on stage? like "MP meets beyond the fringe" (where they were paired up with robin cook's and dudley moore's very limited sketch comedy act) or "MP at the hollywood bowl"? yes you bet - straight up sketch comedy. but it's when you get them into an editing room that python starts breaking up the linear tv mind with non-sequitur characters interupting a "routine," end-credits rolling two minutes into the show, cutting away to non-sketch moments that may or may not have a point, and countless other melt-the-form techniques, that this becomes television that isn't television as it's been and a production that certainly would not be perceived as sketch comedy at the time. and it's not just wacky weirdness, either. it's absurd with a capital A - very much like "waiting for godot" (which several pythons and steve martin performed in the late eighties, to drive the point home that they totally knew what they were up to) eroding the very expectations of television, theater, and normality.

i do think veronica and you make good points about YO performing interstitially in a similar way to python. but that show just reads as sitcom in my beholder's eye: wacky as hell, but not really standing too far from its form's roots and not blazing a trail for imitators the way python did.

just my opinion. i got no special truth. like i said earlier, interstiality may be a matter of perspective in these grey areas.

(and i'm not dissing the young ones! they rock! rent them! go all of you and spit beer through your noses when they talk about blowing up pandas!)

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Gwenda B.
Posted on Friday, November 07, 2003 - 01:41 pm:   

I've been having some of the same thoughts, Minz, but then I've cut back on my caffeine intake altogether, which could explain it. It's hard for me to think of Buffy/Angel as interstitial rather than just good, but I could probably be convinced. I do think there are individual episodes -- like the musical -- that flirt more with the borderlands.

"The Prisoner" does seem interstitial to me, because it asks more of the viewer than might be expected of a show in that genre. So does "Six Feet Under" -- because even though it's not a fantasy show, it requires the viewer to enter a certain mindset that accepts fantastical elements for the show to truly work on all the levels it's building its narrative from.

I had more thoughts on this, but it's time to go to dinner.

Eddie Izzard is interstitial comedy. That everyone can agree on, right?
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barth
Posted on Friday, November 07, 2003 - 02:31 pm:   

-Eddie Izzard-

great example.

entrances made mid-sentence. drag-hall cabaret fabulousness. a performance art piece's unsure giddiness that makes audiences laugh even when nothing funny is happening. waaaaay intersitial.

at rare moments, he waxes seinfeld and reminds me i'm merely watching observational stand up in drag. but mostly i have the telltale "what-the-fuck-IS-this?" sensation i have when i've Crossed the Border.
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Minz
Posted on Friday, November 07, 2003 - 03:35 pm:   

Y'know Barth, it's been so long since I've seen an entire MPFC episode, rather than referential clips, individual skits, etc., that I had forgotten about the technical side, where they went after expectations of the medium itself. Many of the episodes indeed challenged the very foundations of tv itself.

I'm aboard--you could call MPFC interstitial and I won't take you to task for it.

But just because something's Absurd does _not_ make it Interstitial . . . except perhaps for the very first forays into Absurdism--which historically speaking were Interstitial. But it's an actual recognizable form/genre these days (and was by the time when MPFC was first hitting the airwaves), and I got the impression that you were waving MPFC into Interstitial strictly because it was Absurd.
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barth
Posted on Friday, November 07, 2003 - 04:02 pm:   

>I'm aboard--you could call MPFC interstitial and I won't take you to task for it.<

what a relief! i thought we were gonna have an artsy-fartsy cage match up in here. i was poised on the top turnbuckle.

> But just because something's Absurd does _not_ make it Interstitial<

we are of one mind. surrealism alone doesn't cut it either. nor does mere genre-blending. there's gotta be a sense of completely rearranging the rules or messing with the most basic expectations of the form. python just happened to use 20- to 30 year old absurdist techniques to do it.

>I got the impression that you were waving MPFC into Interstitial strictly because it was Absurd. <

glad we cleared that up, then. as a matter of fact i would say it's harder to make the case that their movies are interstitial. by "holy grail," their absurdist comedy was more a tool of satire than deliberately messing with What Film Is.
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Kristin Livdahl
Posted on Friday, November 07, 2003 - 05:48 pm:   

Two short-lived T.V. shows that I loved were The Adventures of Brisco County Junior and Firefly. Although they are very different from each other, both mixed science fiction and Western genres in original ways. I think my love of Westerns, for all their flaws, goes back to watching Gunsmoke with my family as a young child.
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Minz
Posted on Friday, November 07, 2003 - 10:32 pm:   

Brisco County was a hoot-n-a-half, though really just a fun weird western that blended in other genres. Not Interstitial, but lotsa fun.

All you Bruce Campbell fans should go see Bubba-Ho-Tep.

Firefly . . . yikes. There were some decent moments, but the show was a mess. The only truly great moment in the series was at the end of ep#1 when our hero, captain of the rebel crew, has some henchmen of crime syndicate tied up.

(Bad paraphrase warning, and spoiler warning, though in truth, they may have burned the tapes for the show, so you may never get to see it if you weren't watching.)

The #1 goon says, "I don't care where you go, I'll find you, and I'll kill you."
Cap'n asks, "Really?"
"Heck yeah," says goon.

So our hero kicks the guy into a running jet engine. Problem solved. It was GREAT! Unfortunately, it was mostly downhill from there. Some good moments, but a mess.

And for all you Western fans out there, try reading some Elmer Kelton books. They are the best the Western genre has to offer. A great way to kill an afternoon. Major fun, and short enough to read comfortably in one sitting.

And Barth: Watch out for my BIG ELBOW! (With nasty sharp pointy teeth.)
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Kendrick Goss
Posted on Saturday, November 08, 2003 - 08:03 am:   

The most interstitial TV I believe I have seen are the musical episodes of Buffy and Xena the Warrior Princess. I was riveted. But come to think of it, an entire season would be sheer torture. Sometimes a border crossing should be temporary I guess. A vacation not an extended stay?

Speaking of Red Dwarf, which, like the Young Ones, is probably simply brilliant instead of completely interstitial, I recall one holographic visit the crew has to "Jane Austin World" that is interupted by a jealous robot driving a Sherman tank. Including the SF/sitcom border I count 3 or 4 border crossings in that episode.
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barth
Posted on Saturday, November 08, 2003 - 09:40 am:   

i agree about Red Dwarf, kendrick, and after that illuminating and nearly violent discussion with minz, i think i have to reassess most of the tv shows on the interstitial list i made upstream.

really, there is very little IA tv (is it kosher to abbreviate interstitial like that? such a damn clumsy word). tv as a form is so rigid that the only way IA can make an appearance is through undermining it or through border crossings which may not be true IA efforts to begin with.

what on tv hits y'all as truly uncategorizable? maybe it's time to advance the discussion to cinema...(ominous chord)
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davey
Posted on Sunday, November 09, 2003 - 06:09 am:   

Well, in a far-ranging discussion Sunday night at WFC, I found myself at one point trying to explain Tampopo to several friends who'd never seen it; one of my partners' summary version is "a noodle western" since the characters are Japanese but the tropes of the main story are classic "spaghetti". The interstitiality is in the intertwining of that plot with the food-fascination-subtheme and the Yakuza (underworld)-subtheme as if they have relevance to the story, and somehow we go right along and believe that they do.

I don't enjoy that movie, but I think it's interstitial as all heck. Any takers?
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Karen Meisner
Posted on Sunday, November 09, 2003 - 08:38 am:   

As a big fan of ramen, I do enjoy Tampopo, and I'll buy it as interstitial. Consciously so; "noodle western" is the standard phrase used to advertise the movie.

Although this does raise the question of whether comedy can get away with strange genre blendings/crossings that more serious dramatic work can't. I think Tampopo -- a sexy food film structured as a spagetti western -- is a genuine oddity. But it can still be marketed as a wacky comedy, because there's room in comedy for a lot of deliberate screwing-with-genre to humorous effect.

That doesn't mean it isn't taking risks or breaking rules, only that in comedy, the rules tend to be looser and people are more willing to accept when the material crosses those lines. As long as it follows the main rule of comedy: be funny.
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Gwenda B.
Posted on Monday, November 10, 2003 - 04:54 am:   

I think examples of ia (nice abbreviation, Barth) TV and film are both probably rarer than in other media simply because they cost so much more to produce that no one (especially now) really wants to make something that "falls between the cracks."

I have a screenwriter friend who recently finished a brilliant, hilarious script only to be told by her agent that it shouldn't even go out for consideration because it blended too many genres: rom-com, fantasy and sports film.

I'm not sure whether I think film or TV is more flexible on this point...
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May Grey
Posted on Tuesday, November 11, 2003 - 12:37 pm:   

What about Being John Malkovich or M*A*S*H (the film), are those interstitial?
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May Grey
Posted on Thursday, November 13, 2003 - 07:36 am:   

I guess I can take that as a "no" then. :-(
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Connie Toebe
Posted on Thursday, November 13, 2003 - 10:59 am:   

Your talking about musical episodes of Xena and Buffy made me think of the movie "Wicker Man". What an odd, odd movie. Part murder mystery, part horror film, part musical and Christopher Lee skipping around in drag. I think interstitial is about the only way you can describe this film.
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Veronica Schanoes
Posted on Thursday, November 13, 2003 - 01:44 pm:   

One of my favorite movies of all time is, I think, interstitial. *Straight to Hell*, directed by Alex Cox, anyone? On the one hand, I guess you could describe it as an affectionate homage to spaghetti westerns. On the other hand, you've got the Pogues playing western outlaws, and bizarre musical interludes, and the use of three hitmen in dark business suits (clearly Tarantino *wishes* he made this movie--a friend of mine whom I made watch it commented that he lifted half of *Pulp Fiction* straight from Sy Richardson's character). It's a strange flick. I love it.
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William Smith
Posted on Friday, November 14, 2003 - 02:50 pm:   

Has anyone but me seen GREASER'S PALACE? I guess it's an "acid western" like Jorodowsky's El Topo. It's a surreal blend of religious allegory, John Fordian western, political satire and just about anything else you can think of.

In the film Jesus (in a zoot suit) parachutes onto the western plains and starts a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to become an "actor/singer/dancer." The Father and the Holy Ghost (under a sheet with a Gene Autry hat) make an appearance. We also meet Seaweedhead Greaser the king/high sheriff of the land who lives in a gigantic log palace with an outhouse at the very pinnacle. Seaweedhead is really REALLY constipated and all of his subjects come to watch and to see if he craps (and maybe cures the land some scatological Authurian parallel). Then there is a another grim thread about a slaughtered mexican family and a mortally wounded mother crawling across a desert.

The film was made by Robert Downey senior, has a bizarro folk score by Jack Nitzsche and is the best filmed equivalent of a Thomas Pynchon novel.
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Pat O'Connor
Posted on Monday, November 17, 2003 - 11:32 am:   

I finally saw El Topo just last year (a shocking lacuna for a Latin American lit professor like myself; and then the experience of watching it was shocking in a different way). I think it's good to include a movie like that, which was produced in a very different milieu than that of U.S. cinema.

I phrase it that way in the discussion because of May Grey's suggestions above. I am very happy to call Being John Malkovich IA cinema. On the other hand, I worry that it feels comfortable there because so many of us who have helped make the IAF happen have experience in the fantasy-novel community, and what the screenplay of BJM feels like is an interstittial fantasy novel. (What the movie adds to it, compared with most of the people I've been reading who do IA fiction, is the great good fortune of getting John Malkovich himself, and the entire star machinery around him, on board for the fun. I haven't seen any IA fiction that gets that kind of collusion from the "mainstream fantasy" whose border it hopes to blur.)

That movie is also a good one to think with for the same reason that M*A*S*H would be a good one to think with, as this thread has opened my eyes to: like a lot of the movies and TV shows mentioned at the beginning of the thread, M*A*S*H the movie is part and product of a '60s countercultural movment. Formally and technically it doesn't go too much beyond the boundaries of satire (although it's been a long time since I saw it, so I could be wrong on that), but what it really feels like is a contribution to a movement --spilling out beyond the borders of art and into politics and activism (although satire doesn't inspire people into action the way that agit-prop does, and on the whole that's fine with me). And yet it is a product that was meant to be consumed, and was slowly but very naturally mainstreamed over the course of twelve years in the TV show, a very good TV show, whose rough edges were smoothed off one by one without fully losing its [don't listen to this, Veronica] subversive charge, as it went from being radical to "merely" liberal.

Being John Malkovich is part of its own shift in the marketing of movies, as a poster boy for the indie cinema that won all those Oscars that year, with the result that the major studios bought up the little studios but preserved their independent decision-making power. So now on the one hand indie cinema isn't as indie as it was five years ago. But on the other hand Peter Jackson got to make The Lord of the Rings. For us liberal consumers, we learn to live with trade-offs like that; I don't know how the interstitial film-makers themselves are doing under this new regime--

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