September 17, 2010

More Notes on Film and Literature

A note on satire in film and literature, inspired by a viewing of the new film Easy A. This film, a skewering of the shallowness of high school gossip and peer perception, has garnered good reviews--especially for the first half of the film. The first half, like most satires, is the harshest, prickliest, the sharpest. That's how most satires function, since Moliere, since Mark Twain.

Even a weak satire, like the 90s Eddie Murphy film, The Distinguished Gentleman, inspired reviews that complimented the first half.

We might call the first half of a satire the "saber-rattling," and the conclusion the "truce." For whatever reason, be it only the end of the story, the skewering, pricking, and cutting stops. Sometimes, in a silly movie satire like The Distinguished Gentleman, the message-making happens and it comes across as disingenuous and cheap to the audience.

In good satire, like Easy A, the rush of good feeling at the end--in this case a girl gets guy scene--is delightful, if a bit cheap. In grand satire like Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels, or A Modest Proposal, the saber-rattling is so rich that any respite, any break, any truce is sweetly earned. We still remember and celebrate Moliere, Swift and Twain. And their satirical works transcend the genre. But why is that so?

My follow-up question is simpler:

Is the first half of a satire always better than the last? Is that just a natural facet of satire? Should good satire even attempt a denouement if critics and cynics are just going to throw their hands up and complain about "tying everything in a bow"? Or, is good satire evenly talented throughout? If a metaphor is a tenor and a vehicle, what is the break-down of a satire?

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