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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Musing Pictures: The Informant!

A brief thought on this nice little film from a filmmaker whose career I envy (in the best way, of course). Steven Soderbergh's story is set in the early and mid '90s. As such, it should be considered a 'period piece'. This is one of the first times that I've watched a 'period piece' and recognized the period being depicted as one that I've experienced first-hand. Until now, I've thought of films in three categories: First, there are those films that don't take place in a version of our real world -- fantasy films, some sci-fi, etc. Second, there are those films that take place contemporaneously with their production (so, a film set in the '50s that is made in the '50s is not a period piece, even if it might seem like one today). Third, there are period pieces -- films set in our world, but in a different era (be it past or future). Those are films that must both weave a compelling image of a world, but tie it so thoroughly to our reality that we can imagine them as being a part of the continuum of our history. Each of these categories can be sub-divided further, of course, but it's that third category that intrigues me. After seeing "The Informant!", it occurred to me that there are three kinds of period pieces -- films that re-create a past (or future, arguably) beyond recollection (films that take place in the middle ages, for example, or in the 19th century), and films that re-create a relatively recent past, one that can be remembered and reminisced about. This distinction is an interesting one because it is partially subjective. A film set in 1969 may be within the scope of memory for some viewers, but it depicts a world that other viewers have never experienced, and therefore, can not remember. One kind of film is full of interesting historical details (the roller-skating telephone operators in "Changeling", for example), meant to evoke in us not a memory, but a sense of wonder at the way of life that once was. The other kind is full of those details that are meant to evoke recognition and memory (the large cell phones, black-and-green computer screens, and boxy cars of "The Informant!") I think it would be interesting to look at films about the '90s that are made by people too young to remember that decade. It'll be a while before that happens, but I wonder what the differences will be between the depictions of the generation that remembers and the generation that re-creates.

-AzS

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