The Two-Tiered System of Allusions

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In Hollywood today, most films can be categorized according to the genre system. There are action films, horror flicks, Westerns, comedies and the likes. On a broader scope, films are often separated into two categories: Hollywood films, and independent or foreign ‘art house’ films. Yet, this outlook, albeit superficial, was how many viewed films. Celebrity-packed blockbusters filled with action and drama, with the use of seamless top-of-the-line digital editing and special effects were considered ‘Hollywood films’. Films where unconventional themes like existentialism or paranoia, often with excessive violence or sex or a combination of both, with obvious attempts to displace its audiences from the film were often attributed with the generic label of ‘foreign’ or ‘art house’ cinema.

In recent times, such stereotyped categorizations of films are becoming inapplicable. ‘Blockbusters’ with celebrity-studded casts may have plots in which characters explore the depths of the human psyche, or avant-garde film techniques. Titles like ‘American Beauty’ (1999), ‘Fight Club’ (1999) and ‘Kill Bill 2’ (2004) come readily into mind. Hollywood perhaps could be gradually losing its stigma as a money-hungry machine churning out predictable, unintelligent flicks for mass consumption. While whether this image of Hollywood is justified remains open to debate, earlier films in the 60’s and 70’s like ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ (1967) and ‘Taxi Driver’ (1976) already revealed signs of depth and avant-garde film techniques. These films were successful as not only did they appeal to the mass audience, but they managed to communicate alternate messages to select groups who understood subtleties within them.

This was achieved via a two-tiered system, in which films could be viewed and interpreted on different levels. On one level, audiences could appreciate the film at face-value; the cohesive union the plot and acting of the characters to bring about a story which entertains and sometimes, carried messages or morals, such as Lumet’s ‘Dog Day Afternoon’ (1975), which had political implications. On another level, the other group of audience – those who have knowledge of film history or are learned in film culture – were able to admire artistic craftsmanship of film techniques the director employed, or appreciate the subtleties and allusions embedded within the film. As Carroll (1981: 56) explained, most movie-goers in the late seventies often felt as if they were watching two films simultaneously – the simple genre film, and the art film, coordinated with allusions in which the film-literate could pick out. He states that this system allowed Hollywood to remain faithful to the mass audience, yet popular among the rising film-literate generation.
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