Saturday, August 18, 2012

Are Superhero Films Art?

David Cronenberg hurt my feelings.

Posted By on Sat, Aug 18, 2012 at 9:33 PM

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In a recent interview with, David Cronenberg was quoted as saying "...I think people who are saying, you know, 'Dark Knight Rises is, you know, supreme cinema art,' I don't think they know what the f--k they're talking about." Naturally, this sent rockets into the hearts of the fanboy community, not just the ones who think Christopher Nolan's Batman Trilogy is the Holy Grail of superhero films, but also those who remember Cronenberg's output before he started making highbrow fare like A Dangerous Method and Eastern Promises.

David Cronenberg is one of the godfathers of the "body horror" genre of horror films. Body horror films are generally about characters losing control of their bodies in disgusting and painful ways, like in his 1986 version of The Fly or 1983's Videodrome, which is considered to be one of the first body horror films ever made. Basically, if it's a film about a character feeling like they're under attack from their own body, it's body horror.

Cronenberg's early movies are violent, shocking and sometimes silly, evoking feelings akin to reading a pulp novel by lamplight while drunk on Absinthe. Now, I respect horror films more than any other genre for their ability to add terror to the most mundane things and to make us question what, in fact, truly frightens us. But I also understand how most of America just uses those movies for a laugh and a jump and forgets about them the next day. Cronenberg trivializes the entire genre by saying "But a superhero movie, by definition, you know, it's comic book. It's for kids. It's adolescent at it's core." 

His 2005 film A History of Violence took him out of genre filmmaking he'd been dabbling in for decades and placed him squarely in the field with prestigious, Oscar nominated directors (his newest film, Cosmopolis, is based on a novel by the American master Don DeLillo). One thing Cronenberg might have forgotten: A History of Violence was based on a graphic novel. The "adult" way of saying comic book.

I don't think The Dark Knight Rises is "supreme cinema" either, especially when compared to The Dark Knight, but to out-of-hand dismiss an entire genre as "adolescent at its core" is pretty maddening. If the horror genre were dismissed so easily, where might Cronenberg be right now? Sure, there's terrible comic book films, just as there are terrible horror films, but none so bad as to render the genre's worthless. And for someone responsible for films like eXistenZ and The Dead Zone to call a genre that contains something like Heath Ledger's performance in The Dark Knight artless, Cronenberg seems to have forgotten his roots. 

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