My Bergmanesque despair is being dialled up to 11

The Oxford English Dictionary’s newest entries include more than 100 film-related terms

If you find yourself in “a strange or unfamiliar place or situation” then, like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, you are now officially “not in Kansas anymore”.

If you find yourself in “a strange or unfamiliar place or situation” then, like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, you are now officially “not in Kansas anymore”.

 

The columnist’s best friend has delivered yet again. We have another list of new entries to the Oxford English Dictionary. The dearth of potential topics for this week’s rant risked propelling me into Bergmanesque despair. The Bunuelian madness of American politics offered some possibilities. The Sirkian melodrama gathering around Strictly Come Dancing also seemed promising. But the OED’s latest dispatch did the job as usual.

Do you see what I’m doing here? It has just been announced that over 100 film-related terms are to be inducted into that dictionary. Working with the inestimable Mark Kermode, Oxford University Press has offered confirmation that cinema still has a firm grasp on the vernacular. If you find yourself in “a strange or unfamiliar place or situation” then, like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, you are now officially “not in Kansas anymore” (the definition can be found under the entry for the state).

Fans of This Is Spinal Tap will be happy to read the following addition: “colloq. (usually humorous) (up) to eleven: so as to reach or surpass the maximum level or limit; to an extreme or intense degree.” If you need any further explanation then you’re reading the wrong column.

Horror lexicon

Some quite elderly terms have made it in. Critics have been referring to movies concerning giant Japanese monsters as “Kaiju” for some decades. “Scream queen” has long been part of the horror lexicon. What would box office analysts do without the word “tentpole” as a descriptor for the summer’s biggest blockbusters? All those terms are now finally in the OED.

The most intriguing additions are, however, those adjectives derived from the names of important directors. Cineastes may be surprised by the ancient distinction of some new inductees. As Craig Leyland, senior editor, notes in his explanation, the youngest director to be so honoured is Quentin Tarantino. It is well over a quarter of a century since “Tarantinoesque” came to describe something “characterised by graphic and stylized violence, non-linear storylines, cineliterate references, satirical themes, and sharp dialogue”. (Neatly, “cineliterate” itself enters the pages in this batch.) Other adjectives arriving in 2018 include Godardian, Lynchian, Kubrickian and Bergmanesque. Glancing at that list, one is half-surprised to learn that Hitchcockian was already there.

The designation of an adjective is among the greatest informal honours an artist can receive. A few winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature can claim as much – “Pinteresque,” “Shavian” and “Beckettian” spring to mind – but most are still without such recognition. Does anyone really say Pasternakian? Is Bellowesque a thing?

Easily recognisable

Such adjectives are most usefully applied to artists whose aesthetic is distinctive, consistent and easily recognisable. One could dub actors such as Max Von Sydow or Liv Ullmann as “Bergmanesque” because they frequently appeared in Ingmar Bergman’s films, but the term is better used to describe work that shares the director’s preoccupations with – as the OED now has it – “existential themes such as suffering, insanity, and death”.

Sometimes directorial adjectives end up being used with a haphazard laziness that must drive the sources bonkers

When an adjective is applied to a director such as Steven Spielberg the definition gets trickier. If a film such as Lincoln or Amistad appeared under a pseudonym it seems unlikely that many critics would wave “Spielbergian” in their vicinity (which is not to say many would be all that surprised to subsequently learn our Steven was behind the camera). “Spielbergian” refers to certain corners of that director’s oeuvre. The dictionary focuses on those films “having fantastical or humanist themes or a sentimental feel”. One could, thus, facetiously argue that the TV series Stranger Things is more Spielbergian than Steven Spielberg’s own recent The Post.

Sometimes directorial adjectives end up being used with a haphazard laziness that must drive the sources bonkers. “Lynchian” is too often dragged out to describe any work of art that tends towards surrealism. “Kubrickian” can mean any science fiction film shot on a grand scale. And so on.

Still, David Lynch and Stanley Kubrick could surely live with such sloppiness if they achieved the greatest adjectival honour of all. You know you have entered the pantheon when your name escapes critical writing and enters wider discourse. How surprised would a revived Franz Kafka be to discover “Kafkaesque” in every second description of crushing bureaucracy? Dickens, who, unlike Kafka, died in nothing like obscurity, would have been a little less astonished to find “Dickensian” used for a class of Victorian hardship.

It seems unlikely any of the current inductees will make that leap. “Capraesque” occasionally enters into conversation on US politics. “Tarantinoesque” turns up in the odd report on gun violence. But film directors are no longer sufficiently prominent public figures to register beyond their immediate sphere.

The younger batch can forget about it. Sorry, Michael Bay. You will have to achieve immortality through your Bayesque work. Good luck with that. 

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