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31 mette hjort Flamboyant Risk Taking Why Some Filmmakers Embrace Avoidable and Excessive Risks While many scholarly books and articles devoted to film make passing reference to risk, no attempt has been made systematically to explore filmmaking as a process involving the actual taking of risks as well as the depiction of risk taking. As a mostly cost-intensive, collaborative activity that spans the worlds of commerce and art and aims to engage large numbers of people—often in a range of different places—filmmaking is necessarily caught up with, at the very least, economic risks. That the phenomenon of risk should be rather neglected in the scholarly literature on film is in many ways surprising, given how central it is to any number of other disciplines, many of them relevant to the study of film. Risk, after all, is a concept that economists, sociologists, and anthropologists consider crucial, as their already voluminous and still growing literature on the topic clearly indicates. “Risk” is not only a technical term used by experts and scholars, but one that figures centrally in the kinds of discourses that shape and inform everyday life. As John Tulloch and Deborah Lupton point out, risk has come to assume significance for “‘non-experts’ or ‘lay people’” as a result of a “climate of heightened awareness and publicity about risk.” Filmmakers, it would seem, are well aware of the pervasive interest in risk that is a feature of life in most parts of the world today, for risks and risk taking are recurring themes in both fictional and nonfictional films. New Zealand director Roger Donaldson’s biopic The World’s Fastest Indian (2005) is a good example of a fully blown thematic treatment of risk through filmmaking. Focusing on the motorbike racer Burt Munro, Donaldson’s film explores risk taking as a way of life and as a precondition for setting the racing records the New W5717.indb 31 W5717.indb 31 1/20/12 11:05 AM 1/20/12 11:05 AM 32 Mette Hjort Zealander achieved. In addition to the many films that foreground risk as the main theme, there are countless films that make passing—yet striking— reference to risk, some of them reflexively so, as a comment on the risks of filmmaking. Mr Bean’s Holiday (dir. Steve Bendelack, 2007) for example, concludes with the character played by Willem Dafoe narcissistically intoning the creative risks that filmmakers of a certain caliber necessarily and admirably take. And in Sprængfarlig bombe (Clash of Egos, dir. Tomas Villum Jensen, 2006), a parodic take on Lars von Trier, and especially his art-film attitudes, the filmmaker Claus Volter responds to the poor performance of his new film at the box office, and to his girlfriend’s concerns about his producer’s resulting financial problems, with a laconic, “That’s the way it is. We risk ourselves artistically. He risks himself economically.” It is not difficult to think of any number of other examples of cinematic depictions of risk, both reflexive and nonreflexive. The point, though, is that filmmakers’ clear interest in risk has not prompted the scholarly uptake that is in fact warranted. I am not interested in speculating about the reasons why risk has played a negligible role in film scholarship to date. More interesting, in my view, is the task of understanding what film scholars stand to gain by focusing some of their critical efforts on the complicated phenomenon of risk. In this chapter the intention is to begin to explore several research questions: 1. What are the different available models for thinking about risk, and how is the multifaceted phenomenon of risk best approached in the context of film? 2. What are the implications of relative degrees of risk discernability in various films? In some films the risks taken to produce them are indiscernible ; in other cases the element of risk is manifestly present in the finished film, as a result of the film’s “aboutness” or its visual style; and there are also cases of filmmakers working hard not only to take risks that are in fact avoidable but to foreground or even magnify them through a process of flamboyant risk taking. 3. What are the different types of risk that arise in connection with film? 4. Why do some filmmakers relinquish favorable “risk positions” in order to take up unfavorable risk positions involving what are in fact both avoidable...


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