Film as Collage

HillCinema and literature often mimic artistic practices. Postmodern literature and metafiction such as John Barth’s ‘Lost in the Funhouse’, for instance, imitates the way in which Abstract Expressionism foregrounds its own artifice. Similarly, nineties cinema often blurs several genres into one narrative to the extent that it can be difficult to describe exactly what type of film or series we are watching and thereby results in a work that resembles a collage, that is, an artwork made from an assemblage of different forms.

This is particularly evident in works such as Twin PeaksEdward Scissorhands and Toy Story.

For instance, while Twin Peaks is officially labeled a detective series, it incorporates supernatural elements. The series follows the investigation of the murder of a high school student. However, it does not offer solutions to the murder based on generic conventions in that the murderer is revealed to be a supernatural character whereas in traditional detective stories ‘all supernatural … agencies are ruled out as a matter of discourse’ (Knox). Furthermore, Twin Peaks seems to incorporate more than the supernatural. It can, for example, be viewed as a soap opera in that it contains romantic subplots and family disputes. Also, the characters in the series appear to be imported from different genres: Laura’s killer is a demon from another dimension called BOB and is based on the villains of horror films, forensic specialist Rosenfield derives from science fiction, (with his black suit and sun glasses, he brings to mind The X Files), Leland with his sudden outbursts of song seems to have come from a musical, comic duo Andy and Lucy are sitcom characters while Sheriff Truman is fundamentally a western character complete with a cowboy hat. In addition, Dale Cooper, the protagonist of the series, appears to stem from the realm of advertising. At random moments in the series, he comments on certain commodities around him. For example, when he drinks a cup of coffee, he dramatizes the event by inhaling it deeply and announcing loudly:

‘You know, this is a damn good cup of coffee. I don’t know how many cups of coffee I’ve had in my life…this is one of the best!’

This collage-like or ‘toy box’ ensemble of characters is similar to that of Toy Story in which characters such as a cowboy (Woody), an astronaut (Buzz), a dinosaur (Rex) and a tour guide (Barbie) join forces and bring together the genres of the Western, science fiction, the natural horror film and advertising.

Moreover, another film that similarly mixes genres is Edward Scissorhands. Like Twin Peaks, the film incorporates elements of advertising. For example, the character Peg Boggs, the local Avon representative, often faces the camera, holds up products and describes them loudly. At the beginning of the film, she is selling cosmetics in her neighbourhood and at one point announces:

‘I’ve come to show you our exquisite new line of soft colours in shadows, blushes and lipstick. Everything you need to accent and highlight your changing looks.’

The setting of this scene, an overly bright suburban street, further likens it to a commercial. However, the exaggerated performances of the residents and the pastel coloured 1950s suburban setting also liken the film to an American daytime soap opera. Furthermore, because Edward Scissorhands is essentially a fairytale about a man with scissors in place of hands, it, like Twin Peaks, fuses together the soap opera with the supernatural, or in this case, the horror, specifically the German silent horror film. For example, at the end of the brightly coloured cul-de-sac is an enormous haphazard-looking mansion where Edward resides, resulting in a bizarre juxtaposition of the suburban and the gothic. Indeed, it is like a strange crossover of Desperate Housewives and The Cabinet of Dr Caligari. Moreover. this juxtaposition between the two genres is further pronounced in the film when Edward moves into the suburban estate. Indeed, Edward seems to be in the wrong film. In contrast to the neon dressed, melodramatic suburbanites, he looks and behaves like a character of silent cinema. For instance, he is completely devoid of colour in that he dresses in black, white and grey. Also, Edward barely speaks. He generally relies on facial expressions as a means of communication and his exaggerated physical gestures channel performances such as those of Charlie Chaplin.

Therefore, by blurring several genres into one narrative, these early nineties works appear to be drawing on collage in that they cut and paste a variety of genres into one work and result in something completely new and unrecognisable.


An example of a ‘commercial’ in Edward Scissorhands:

And another in Twin Peaks. Note the exaggerated performances and focus on the product in both scenes:

A close analysis of Edward Scissorhands and the various genres it draws upon:

For further information on this idea of a ‘toy box’ ensemble of characters, here is an article that discusses how it operates in the video game Disney Infinity, the ultimate toy box experience:


Edward Scissorhands. Dir. Tim Burton. 20th Century Fox, 1990. Film.

Full of Secrets: Critical Approaches to Twin Peaks. Ed. David Lavery. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1995. Print.

Toy Story. Dir. Dir. John Lasseter. Pixar Animation Studios, 1999. Film.

Twin Peaks. Dir. David Lynch. CBS Television Distribution, 1990-1991. Television.


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