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Don't Eat With Your Mouth Full

Where can we live but days?

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Torso Torques
I was kind of annoyed by a Film Programme discussion the other week with Stephen Woolley, the producer of The Crying Game. The thing that annoyed me was this discussion of the film's famous twist:

We started the campaign [not to reveal the ‘twist’] in the UK. I wrote a personal note to all the film critics when the film was released, and I think 99.9% of them kept it quiet. … That twist became part of the reason the Americans flocked to see the film. At the height of its popularity in New York I used to slip into the back of cinemas, just for the moment, just for the revealing moment, because the audience would go crazy. … Obviously, it did work as a sort of hook for the film.


Well, of course I've talked about that film here before, since (because I like it in other respects) it got me thinking a bit about twists in general, what they do and when and why they work, or not - and when they're plain objectifying. That discussion is here.

But Woolley said something else that was rather interesting, and tangential to the other discussion. They were talking about the positioning of the twist and its relation to genre. Many twists come at the end of the story - but in The Crying Game it comes somewhere round the halfway point. And the effect is to change the genre of the of film - in this case from a fairly hard-bitten thriller about the IRA into something quite different (what would you say the genre of The Crying Game is by the end?)

Woolley's comparison was with Pyscho - where the midway murder of the apparent main character signals the change from its being a crime thriller to a psycho-drama. Another example that springs to mind is, of course, Madoka Magica...

I feel there must be at least a few others - stories that that reveal that the audience (and possibly the characters) have been wrong-genre-savvy, and make them reevaluate everything that's happened through the prism of a different genre template, but that also give them the time to do so, rather than using the revelation as a final-scene pay-off. A twist in the tail is fine, but a twist in the torso is better. It's a model that appeals to me, anyway - but how common is it?

Examples, please!

rachelmanija already mentioned both of my favorite examples, but the ones that instantly came to mind when you mentioned the question were Trigun and Hexwood. Trigun was very meaningful to me in my early twenties because of the way it went from comedy to - not quite tragedy, but serious drama that at least flirts with tragedy. When I had to teach tragedy as a genre in the past few years Vash the Stampede came to mind as one of the tragic heroes I actually identify with - although he really isn't a tragic hero, he has the qualities of a tragic hero much more than those of a comic hero, despite the fact that the entire first season posits him as a comic figure. In one of the final episodes of Trigun before the climax, there's a moment that goes back to the comic characterization of the first few episodes, and you see how superficial that is as a look into Vash's character, and that's really stayed with me ever since. It was very effective.

I feel like the genre shift of Hexwood was what Deborah's whole presentation at the first DWJ conference was about, and it was also a really memorable presentation for me - have been reading Hexwood through that lens ever since.

I would also second the We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves recommendation - that is a wonderful book I have been trying to get my father to read for years now. I don't know why he won't.

I feel like sometimes last minute genre shifts really work well too, though? I remember how moving and powerful I found the final episode of Blackadder Goes Forth as a teenager. And the best Shakespeare production I have ever seen was the Globe's travelling all-female cast Taming of the Shrew, which played the whole thing as broad comedy until the final scene, which grew more and more horrific, and even Petruchio was horrified, and I found that quite effective.

As I have some claim to being a scholar of the structure of Henry James novels, which are often clearly divided into two parts, I feel like there should be something to say there, but I can't think of it now. Hmmm. . . going back to graduate school in general, Endymion? We think it's a simple heroic quest but it actually gets much more complicated than that? Would Beowulf count, or is tragic fatalism intrinsic to the genre? I suppose there's no real twist there, either. I read Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping this way - I was expecting it to be a coming-of-age novel about how weird people eventually have to conform to society, and then it wasn't, and that struck me as a really awesome twist which made the genre a lot weirder than I was expecting, but I don't know if anyone else would read it that way.

Last-minute genre shifts can be awesome, indeed. (Or not. Having linked to one Family Guy clip in my other post, let me link more positively to this one as an example...) I suppose it depends how firmly the tail is attached. You need a strong tail to wag a whole dog, after all.

rachelmanija's distinction between genre shifts and tonal shifts is an interesting one, and might apply to your Henry James examples. But is it a difference of degree or kind? That I'm not sure of...

Amusing clip!

I suppose it's at least somewhat relevant that when I watched the first season of Family Guy I couldn't get into it because it was so depressing? I felt like I was watching it with the wrong genre lenses on.

I still don't have anything suitably academic or intellectual to say about Henry James divided novel structure in this context. The genre/tonal shift aspect of it seems to be kind of visceral for me, even as I have intellectual things to say about his novels' structures unrelated to genre/tonal shifts. Should post about that on my own journal, sometimes, maybe, as it's interesting but not particularly relevant to your own post.