Productive Monsters: the up-side of Hollywood’s most destructive characters

With finals coming and PhD applications looming for many of us, it is no
wonder WIRED’s retrospective “The Creatures that Ate Hollywood” delighted me.

King Kong Vs. Godzilla, 1962

Cloverfield, 2008

Oh how far we have come!

This gallery of monsters reminded of how far cinema’s monsters have
developed. However, cinema has not only
developed in monster creation; in tandem, the cinematography of those monsters
has changed. Monstrous realism is not the only difference between these still
frames. Film technology has facilitated
a shift from objective camera positions to increasingly subjective cinematography.

Upon the release of Cloverfield earlier this year, the WIRED reviewer
writes
: “With the exception of few-and-far between steady shots, the view
from the handcam pushed upon Rob’s friend Hud, played by T.J. Miller, is the
viewer’s lens as well
. It’s a vantage we are stuck with for the rest of the
film.”

As a student of Laura Mulvey, I would identify this increasingly common
technique as Hollywood’s
way of confessing – without apology – the despotism of the male gaze in mainstream
film. Beyond that rather obvious
feminist critique, I think this trend has significance for conventions of
horror films in particular. Filmmakers
are not only taking on the challenge of creating realistic monsters – they are representing
them subjectively, placing the viewer within the mise-en-scene.

Critics seldom praise monster and alien films as cinema’s most prestigious creations.
Never the less, in an effort to create
new spectacles and visual horrors, these filmmakers have championed
technological developments that have changed filmmaking in the 21st century.
One of England’s
most famous filmmakers, Peter Greenaway, states: “We (filmmakers) keep talking,
keep paying lip service to the multimedia revolution. We should try and do
something about it, harness its energies, utilize it, try and make the
artifacts for the next millennium. There is a way that we ought to be able to
become Picassos and Michelangelos on our own, to utilize this vocabulary.”

Film theorist, Tom Gunning, argues that cinema before 1915 celebrated the
way of viewing created by film. The newness of the medium generated an art that
celebrated the visual pleasure, suspense, and pain of cinema. Greenaway seems
to suggest that the newness of this multimedia revolution can push cinema in a
similar direction. Digital film and multimedia techniques allow filmmakers to
revel again in the new experiences created through these technologies. Science fiction, horror, and anime filmmakers
were the forerunners of the technologies that revitalized spectacle of contemporary
filmmaking.

The moral of this story – sometimes confronting the unknown
monsters and aliens can be the catalysis for very rewarding change. Now
I’m going back to work on my applications.