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A few thoughts on The Road Movie Geoff Lealand Screen and Media Studies University of Waikato June 2008.

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Presentation on theme: "A few thoughts on The Road Movie Geoff Lealand Screen and Media Studies University of Waikato June 2008."— Presentation transcript:

1 A few thoughts on The Road Movie Geoff Lealand Screen and Media Studies University of Waikato June 2008

2 The Road Movie Frequently referred to as a film genre (as AS90279 Demonstrate understanding of a media genre), ie the grouping together of similar films, which share elements of: characters narrative settings music/soundtrack themes/values and, most specifically mode of transport Adapted from Jones & Thompson (2007) NCEA Level 2: Media Studies

3 Genre Genre is what we collectively believe it to be. Barry K. Grant Genre films essentially ask the audience, ‘Do you still want to believe this?’ Leo Braudy


5 Road movies: characters Stock (formulaic) characters eg the sullen driver, the joker in the back seat, the sexy young hitch- hiker Little Miss Sunshine (2007) - the angst-ridden teen - uptight father (driver) - the harassed mother - the gay (and depressive) uncle - the grandfather (with a drug habit) - the plump, slightly misplaced daughter A dysfunctional family, which becomes functional as a result of tragedy and triumph on the road journey?

6 Other characters Characters on the run from the law--or from both the law and the lawless (eg No Country for Old Men) Characters on the run from themselves, or their past (eg Sideways) Characters on voyages of discovery (or self- discovery) Characters along the way (eg crazed locals; corrupt sheriffs, helpful medchanics etc)

7 Road movies: Narrative Most road movies follow the classic Hollywood narrative structure (or ‘arc’) ie equilibrium/disequilibrium/equilibrium or, more specifically, set-up/turning point/catalyst/complications/climax/ resolution. Road movies have a beginning/middle/end, following a linear narrative and plot trajectory ie characters set out on a journey, complications develop along the way, and a final destination is reached.

8 Narrative theory It has been suggested that the great majority of Hollywood films are variations on two essential stories: The fish out of water The odd couple Both these stories are ideal for the road movie?

9 Road movies: settings Obviously, the road is paramount--usually highways which head towards an unknown horizon, crossing large expanses of unpopulated landscape. Cities are to be avoided, and small towns offer both temptations and threats. The road movie is primarily a continental (American?) genre (the lure of the West). Australia, another vast continent, also generates road movies eg Priscilla, Travelling North.

10 More on settings Island cultures (UK, NZ)--and highly ‘domesticated’ landscapes-- are less likely sites for road movies. NZ - Goodbye Pork Pie (1981) –Snakeskin (2001) UK?

11 Road movies: music/soundtrack The road trip is always accompanied by music, as either soundtrack (non- diegetic) or car radio/tape/CD player (diegetic).

12 Road movies:themes/values the search for freedom or release discarding or escaping the past on the run creating a new identity finding one’s self or love or family fantasies of adventure (financial, sexual, violent) the disintegration of the dream (dystopia) others?

13 Road movies: mode of transport Obviously, the car but also occasionally a bus or motor-home (eg About Schmidt) A sub-genre would be the long-distance motorcycle trip (Easy Rider, Motorcycle Diaries)

14 So … Is the road movie a coherent genre? There are many varieties of road movies and they often incorporate characteristics and styles of other genres (eg the horror road movie). Nevertheless, from the darkest, to the most banal, all road movies have something in common; a road and socio-economic reason d’etre…they reflect the times they are made in and the road is the great leveler. Sam North. ‘The Road Movie’,, 11/6/

15 The heyday of the road movie was in American cinema in the 1970s, when escape on the road still seemed possible, the roads still seemed to lead to adventure, and there was a yearning for a different life (eg the hippie dreams of Easy Rider or Zabriskie Point). In 2008, such dreams have largely disintegrated. The wilderness has been tamed, everything is mapped, the roads are crowded. In most contemporary versions of the road (with some comedic exceptions), we already know what lies at the end- -death, disaster and disappointment.

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