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Lecture 11: Genre Professor Michael Green. 2 Previous Lecture Previous Lecture What is Film Theory? Film Theory: Realism Film Theory: Formalism The Bicycle.

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Presentation on theme: "Lecture 11: Genre Professor Michael Green. 2 Previous Lecture Previous Lecture What is Film Theory? Film Theory: Realism Film Theory: Formalism The Bicycle."— Presentation transcript:

1 Lecture 11: Genre Professor Michael Green

2 2 Previous Lecture Previous Lecture What is Film Theory? Film Theory: Realism Film Theory: Formalism The Bicycle Thieves

3 3 This Lecture Genre Recognition Genre History Social Functions of Genre Genre and Hardboiled (1992)

4 4 Genre Recognition Lesson 11: Part I His Girl Friday (1940) Directed by Howard Hawks

5 5Origins The word genre is originally French, and it simply means “kind” or “type.” It is related to the word genus, which is used in the biological sciences to classify groups of plants and animals.

6 6 Genre and Film When we speak of film genres, we’re indicating certain types of movies. –Science Fiction –Action –Comedy –Romance –Musical –Western –War –Spy

7 7 Not an Exact Science Genres in film are really are only convenient terms that develop informally. Filmmakers, industry decision makers, critics and viewers all contribute to creating genres. Genres also change over time. Because of all this, defining genre boundaries can be tricky.

8 8 Genres are Flexible “Genres are flexible, subject to constant process of change and adaptation. Generic boundaries can never be rigidly defined, and all generic groupings are susceptible to extensive subdivision. Oklahoma! (1955), for instance, is both a Western and a musical, and to suggest that it should be excluded from either category on the grounds that it belongs in the other would be to use genre classification in a very reductive fashion.” –Richard Maltby, Hollywood Cinema

9 9 What Places a Group of Films in a Genre? Subjects or themes –A gangster film centers on large scale urban crime. –A science fiction film features technology beyond the reach of contemporary science. –A Western is usually about life on some frontier. –Horror films feature a monster that threatens humans, often as punishment for folly. –Sports films usually climax with a big game.

10 10 Marketed by Genre

11 11 Other Ways of Categorizing Yet subject matter or theme is not so central to defining other genres. –Musicals are chiefly recognizable by their manner of presentation. –Detective films are partly defined by their plot patterns, including the protagonist. –Some genres are defined by the distinctive emotional effect they aim for: amusement in comedies, tension in suspense films.

12 12 The question of categorization is complicated by the fact that genres can be more or less broad. We refer commonly to thrillers, yet that term may encompass horror films, cop movies, or hostage films such as Die Hard and Speed, among many others. “Comedy” likewise encompasses a number or different kinds of films. The Broadness of Genres

13 13 Subgenres of Comedy –Romantic comedy –Slapstick –Farce –Parody –Satire –Black comedy –Teen comedy –Gross-out comedy –Musical comedy –Sex comedy

14 14 Straddling Several Genres Films often seem to straddle several genres. –Is Groundhog Day (1993) romantic comedy or fantasy? –Is Alien (1979) horror or science fiction? –What about Being John Malkovich (1999) or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)?

15 15 How are Genre Categories Used? They affect industry officials’ decisions about what films to make. They are shorthand for the media to characterize a film under discussion. For viewers, genre often provides a way of finding a film they want to see.

16 16 Value to Moviegoers Many moviegoers are fans of a certain genre and they may seek out films from that genre above others. Genres can lead to subcultures, such as those that form around certain science fiction and comic book films.

17 17 Genre Conventions Genres are based on a tacit agreement among filmmakers, reviewers and audiences. What gives films of similar type some common identity are shared genre conventions that reappear in film after film, such as swords in a Samurai film.

18 18 Examples of Genre Conventions Mystery films will contain an investigation. Revenge plotlines are common in Westerns. The gangster film usually centers on the gangster’s rise and fall as he struggles against police and rival gangs. Biopics will contain major episodes in the main character’s life.

19 19 Thematic Conventions Other genre conventions are thematic: – Hong Kong Martial Arts films celebrate loyalty and obedience. – A standard theme in the gangster film is the price of success. – The Western often emphasizes the loner status of the hero, whose individualism is both representative of the American spirit and anathema to the community.

20 20 Conventions of Technique Still other genre conventions involve characteristic film techniques: –Somber lighting in the thriller or horror film –Rapid cutting and slow motion violence in the action film –Poignant music in a melodrama –High contrasts between light and shadows in film noir –Sweeping cinematography in an epic

21 21Iconography As a visual medium, cinema can also define genres through conventional iconography, which consists of recurring, symbolic images that carry meaning from film to film. –A Tommy gun in a gangster movie –Swords and kimonos in a samurai film –Spaceships in science fiction –John Wayne in a Western –A kiss in a romantic comedy

22 22 Stars as Icons

23 23 Clips Watch the clips from –Singin’ in the Rain –The Searchers Identify each genre and some of the conventions that go along with it.

24 24 Playing with Conventions By knowing conventions, the viewer has a pathway into the film. They allow the genre movie to communicate information quickly and economically. Alternately, a film can revise or reject conventions associated with its genre. –2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) –The Bourne Supremacy (2002) –Little Miss Sunshine (2007)

25 25 Expectations of Genre Audiences expect the genre film to offer something familiar, but they also demand fresh variations on it. The filmmaker may devise something mildly or radically different, but it will still be based on convention. The interplay of convention and innovation, familiarity and novelty, is central to the genre film.

26 26 Genre History Lesson 11: Part II Steel Helmet (1951) Directed by Samuel Fuller

27 27 Similar Genres/Different Approaches Because filmmakers play with conventions and iconography, genres seldom remain unchanged for very long. The broader, blanket genres such as thrillers, romances and comedies never go out of style, but a comedy from the 1930s, such as It Happened One Night (1934) is much different than a comedy from the 1980s, such as Porky’s (1982).

28 28 Influences Many film genres become established by borrowing conventions from other media. –Melodrama from plays and novels –Comedies from vaudeville –Musicals from opera and dance –Superhero movies from comic books and graphic novels. Yet the film medium always imposes its own distinctive qualities and circumstances on an adopted genre.

29 29 Setting the Standard Most cinema genres and subgenres become established when one film achieves success and is widely imitated. After several films that resemble one another appear, people begin to compare and group them. Recent examples include: –Blaxploitation (1970s) –Slasher films and teen comedies (1980s) –Gross-out” comedies and ‘indie’ films (1990s) –“Torture Porn” (2000s)

30 30 Evolution of Genres Once a genre is launched, there seems to be no fixed pattern of development. We might expect that the earliest forms in the genre are the purest, with genre mixing coming at a late stage. But genre mixing can take place very soon.

31 31 Cycles Typically, genres do not remain constantly successful. Rather they rise and fall in popularity. The result is a phenomenon known as cycles. A cycle is a batch of genre films that enjoys intense popularity and influence over a distinct period. Cycles often occur when a successful film produces a burst of imitations.

32 32 Examples of Cycles Disaster movies in the 1970s Teen movies, slasher films, and buddy/cop movies in the 1980s. Urban black-themed films in the early 1990s. Comic book movies in the 2000’s.

33 33 Life of a Genre Cycle Rather than dying out, genres usually pass out off fashion for a time, only to return in updated form. The sword and sandal epic, popular in the 1960s, returned with Gladiator (2000). Science fiction, popular in the 1950s, came back with Star Wars in 1977. The Western seems to briefly come back about every ten years, since its mid-20th century heyday.

34 34 Genre Mixing A genre may also change by mixing its conventions with those of another genre. –Science fiction and horror in Alien (1979) –Teen movie and musical in Hairspray (2007) –Science fiction and comedy in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005) and Sleeper (1973)

35 35 In some cases, genres influence and mix with each other across cultures. The Japanese Samurai drama and the Western: –The Seven Samurai (1954) –The Magnificent Seven (1960) Hong Kong movies and American crime/action movies: –Hardboiled (1992) –The Matrix (1999) Mixing across Cultures Mixing across Cultures

36 36 Social Function of Genre Lesson 11: Part III Gojira (1954) Directed by Ishiro Honda

37 37 Hollywood’s Complex Reflection “One way of appreciating Hollywood’s complex reflection of, and influence on, American culture is by looking at how such everyday phenomena as the family, romance, heroism, femininity or childhood have been represented in different genres at different times.” –Richard Maltby, Hollywood Cinema

38 38 Genre and Culture Many scholars believe that audiences like seeing the same kinds of movies over and over because they serve as ritualized dramas resembling holiday celebrations – ceremonies that are satisfying because they reaffirm cultural values with little variation.

39 39 Social Functions of Genre Some scholars argue that genres go further and exploit ambivalent social values and attitudes. The gangster film, for example, makes it possible for an audience to relish the gangster’s swagger while still feeling satisfied when he receives his punishment. A movie may exploit media-driven fears and represent Arabs as terrorists.

40 40 Channeling Emotions Genre conventions arouse emotion by touching on deep social uncertainties, but then channel those emotions into approved attitudes. Unfortunately sometimes these approved attitudes are uncritical on how genres represent such issues as race, class, gender and sexuality.

41 41 Hollywood Genre Heroes Most Hollywood genre heroes tend to be white men. How does this reflect our culture?

42 42 Social Trends Because genres are so frequently changing they often respond quickly to social trends. –Depression-era comedies often reflected social inequality. –Recent films such as 50 First Dates (2004) and Wedding Crashers (2005) have been tailored to a generation of single twentysomethings. –1950s monster movies reflected fears of nuclear energy and racial integration.

43 43 Social Process in Genre Social processes can also be reflected in genres. Ripley, the female protagonist in Aliens (1986), is a courageous, aggressive warrior who also has a warm maternal side. Many scholars saw Ripley as a product of the women’s movement.

44 44 Social Processes (Continued) Other scholars have argued that the aliens in the film represent a perceived threat to non-whites. The film, made in the very conservative 1980s, sets a band of (mostly) white heroes against dark aliens.

45 45 Reflection Such ways of looking at a genre are called reflectionist, because they assume that genres reflect social attitudes as if in a mirror, though many critics feel as though this is an over-simplification. Whether we study genre’s history, its cultural functions, or its representations of social trends, genre conventions remain our best point of departure.

46 46 Genre and Hardboiled Lesson 11: Part IV Hardboiled (1992) Directed by John Woo

47 47 The Hong Kong Cinema Hong Kong has a rich cinematic legacy. Though Hong Kong cinema has produced films in many genres, it is known globally for action, sword-fighting and kung-fu films that feature acrobatic and violent action. Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan and Jet Li emerged from the Hong Kong cinema to became worldwide superstars.

48 48 A Cinematic Movement The Hong Kong cinema of the 1980s and 1990s surged with reckless energy that caught the attention of action fans and filmmakers around the world. John Woo emerged as a preeminent filmmaker in this new movement, directing seminal films such as A Better Tomorrow (1986), The Killer (1989) and Hardboiled (1992), each of which starred Chow Yun-fat.

49 49 Cross Cultural Influences Hardboiled, like many films from the movement, drew on a number of influences from Chinese and American films. Hong Kong directors such as Woo were particularly interested in emulating American film noir and gangster movies. Watch the first clip and pick out elements of film noir such as jazz music, neon lighting, hard liquor, smoky nightclubs and urban cityscapes.

50 50 Genre Mixing We talked about how films are often genre hybrids and Hardboiled is no exception, combining the police thriller/crime film, film noir, action picture and buddy movie. It draws on – and pays homage to – many of the standard scenes from American cop movies, including the common scene of the cop being called on the carpet by his boss, shown here in clip 2.

51 51 Lasting Influence The style of the action sequences in Woo’s movies, including constant camera motion; staccato cutting interspersed with dramatic pauses; acrobatic fight scenes, sometimes rendered in slow motion; and graphic violence, was admired and emulated by such American directors as Quentin Tarantino and The Wachowski siblings in The Matrix (1999). Watch for these techniques in clip 3.

52 52 End of Lecture Eleven Next Lecture: Authorship

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