Friday, May 13, 2011

Industry of the Monster Film

Godzilla(1998)/ Roland Emmerich
Monster films reveal the metropolitan nature of their setting more vividly than any other type of film – mostly because the monster demands an urban zone through which it can rampage. Therefore, a monster film features shots of skyscrapers, pavements, highways, bridges, sewer systems, lampposts, and general industry – but never of open spaces, such as a park, a playground, a town square or a sport stadium (unless the monster has to be hauled ‘out’, for the film audience to catch a glimpse of it in its totality). As such, the ‘monster’ in question is nearly always obscured from a wholesome view by one structure or another – the film never quite able to compress its entirety inside a single frame. A monster film functions thus, completely through speculation – ‘the anticipation of the bang’ – because unless it is explicitly attempted otherwise, the ‘monster’ is never visible, except in small portions. The commonly repeated line of a monster film is ‘Did you see that?!’, only because some character wishes to confirm that the fleeting foretaste of the creature wasn’t a hallucination. Mostly, one manages to glimpse only at one section of its anatomy in one single instant – its tail, its eyelid, its toenail, its horn or its foot – the director of the monster film has to shoot the monster like Bresson would shoot his ‘models’. 

A monster film is also laden with instances of affected irony. Two characters or a group of them are present in a scene that depicts them as being so completely unaware, so completely naïve, and so completely ignorant of the monster’s presence in their vicinity, that they will not hesitate to utter a line that will assume another context altogether when the monster materialises in a few seconds. An old man heads out to fish and settles on the jetee with his fishing apparatus - he says to his friends: “I hope I get a big catch!”(or something to that effect) – in a moment’s time, he does. It is Godzilla itself. Now, the reason why a ‘monster’ never quite emerges in the countryside is also because it permits the film the luxury of multiple levels of such hokey (and completely Hollywood) irony. Because it is only in a metropolis like New York, that a sequence which finally introduces Godzilla into the film can be followed by one where the characters sit in a diner in another part of the town, and discuss trivialities, oblivious of the menace heading their way. Sure enough, one of them mouths a line that invites irony in the face of the impending monster. The occupants of the diner hear a loud noise followed by a prominent tremor; the character: ‘It must be a parade.’

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