“Wow, that $5,000 slasher horror flick you made sure is a crappy movie.”
“It’s just a slasher flick, that’s the style. It’s about the blood, not the production values.”
“So slasher flicks can be bad movies and still be good?”
“They’re not bad movies. They have a different style.”
“Er… movies are movies, regardless of genre, right? I mean, it still has to be in focus, doesn’t it?”
I’ve had lots of conversations around the issue of “style”, particularly with regard to genre work. It’s often said that for indie filmmakers, certain genres are more forgiving of mediocre production or execution because the “style” of the genre has a different bar than the “style” of other genres. I think it’s an interesting area of conversation in a creative context, because the issue of “style” is used to place value on people’s work. It can be said that work is “servicable”, “technically competent”, but if it lacks “style” it can’t be taken seriously as an art form, nor can it compete on the larger stage (nee Hollywood) outside its small, forgiving, perhaps apologetic genre audience.
Following is an excerpt from a manuscript I wrote about 15 years ago, discussing the “Literary” work of Philip K. Dick and his “style”. Remove P.K. Dick and replace with the filmmaker of your choice. Remove “literature” and replace it with “filmmaking”.
“Freedman wonders about how sf might fit into all that. His focus is on Philip K. Dick, a writer whose enigmatic career seems anomalous. Most folks seem to agree, he says, that with respect to “the most prestigious test of literary significance – style – Dick appears to fail.” Specifically, Dick’s work fails to demonstrate “the evident polish, syntactic elegance, and allusive resonance of incontestably literary prose.” Dick’s Literary Stylistic tradition is rooted in the pulps, those early years of science fiction history characterized by adolescent adventure tales written by vaguely talented penny-a-word armchair authors, whose prose “has rarely been acclaimed as anything more than serviceable.” (SOC 33-34)
Nonetheless, he tells us, lots of folks consider Dick to be serious Literature; that his work is, in fact, the most important and interesting since Faulkner. Could it be, he asks, that Dick attains greatness despite his Style?”
I’ll pose the question(s): Can there be a “style of no style”? And if we can redefine style to include some (otherwise merely competent) work and thus push that previously substandard work to the same level as more traditionally stylistically polished work, does that strengthen or devalue the art form as a whole?