Tuesday, September 12, 2006


I want to do homage but don't know how to distinguish the difference between that and plagiarism. Can you reference in romantic comedies or are there specific genres where this is acceptable? Also, if you can think of any examples who do this. I know Severance did, and also Spaced.

Homage: acknowledgement of superiority; respect, dutiful reverence (pay homage to; do homage to).

I think there are very few films that deal with homage for the entirety of their story. Homage usually presents itself in the form of an imitable style, or reference, or an influence from another film, and these references could be in the form of a line of dialogue, a particular shot/camera move or a whole scene/sequence.

Usually, when homage occurs, it is the writers or filmmakers’ personal reference to material that has heavily influenced them in their career (and personality). Homage should not be mistaken with spoof. Spoof is where you parody a certain genre or story elements for comedy value, whether it’s affectionate or scathing is up to you.

Spaced (written by Jessica Stevenson & Simon Pegg, directed by Edgar Wright) and the subsequent Shaun of the Dead (written by Simon Pegg & Edgar Wright, directed by Edgar Wright) pays homage to a lot of styles and genres. Shaun of the Dead was a comedy horror, and a very affectionate and energetic homage to the films that rock the filmmakers' world. They knew their genre inside-out, and Shaun of the Dead was their love letter to that particular style and fun.

Similarly with Quentin Tarantino, arguably all of his work is homage to the films and filmmakers that have fired his imagination and fuelled his inspiration. From Reservoir Dogs right through to Kill Bill Vol 2, QT rifles through his encyclopaedic cinematic brain to champion and copy the stories that excite him the most. Critics may pan his approach as plagiarism but there’s no denying his verve and distinctive style with these well known genres and techniques.

With Severance, it’s clear that writer James Moran and director Chris Smith have a love of the genre but they didn’t just sit back and crank out the horror-by-numbers scenario of people being picked off in the woods. They went a bit further with style and content, putting their own mark and approach on a familiar genre, and the final result makes for a deadly entertaining flick.

Plagiarism is the shameless use of other people’s work and claiming it as your own. It has nothing to do with homage. Look at Spaced, Shaun of the Dead and Severance. Plenty of homage to be enjoyed there but lots of new ideas and individual voices within that framework. There’s no blatant rip-offs or copied bits of material. It’s all to do with your own particular style and approach on something that has inspired and entertained you to want to make films in the first place.

Homage in any genre is acceptable. Lots of writers/directors put in references to their favourite scenes, dialogue or films but it could be so oblique or hidden that only they know it’s there. Homage in romantic comedy doesn’t particularly come to mind but the leading figures of the genre like Richard Curtis, Woody Allen, James L Brooks, Rob Reiner, Billy Wilder and Nora Ephron have all created iconic moments, imagery and dialogue that have invariably seeped their way into pop culture, and possibly even into other romcoms that are keen to impress.

On a subconscious level, every writer and filmmaker is paying tribute to the films and stories that have inspired them along the way. It’s probably impossible not to; we’re all influenced by our cinematic mentors and the opportunity to put in a nostalgic reference or two is hard to resist.

More deliberate attempts at homage should be an entertaining and fun experience in itself (kids’ animation films regularly homage dialogue or famous scenes from other movies so that adults get their kick too). Ideally, homage will not come at the expense of the original story that you’re trying to tell within your chosen genre. Keep it new and interesting, and the homage references will create an added benefit rather than a lazy sense of plagiarism.


Anonymous said...

I LOVE homage. Done well, it can be fantastic. Done badly, it can suck ass.

I don't like Tarantino's films much. Natural Born Killers in particular for me just was a re-run of BADLANDS. His talent for dialogue is what saves him from outright plagiarism in my view, but even then it doesn't always push the story forward, just reveal character, but too much of it.

Having said all of that tho, really liked TRUE ROMANCE, maybe cos of Tony Scott's influence!

Stephen Gallagher said...

Homage is a grace note you can add to original thought.

If you're using it in place of original thought, that's when you're in trouble.

Anonymous said...

thanks a million for this post Danny. it has really clarified homage and its uses.


Lucy V said...

That's a fab definition Stephen! That's exactly what homage is. Thanks.