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Narrative Cinema

Craig Middleton

on 1 June 2017

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Transcript of GENRE

Consistently regarded as a pivotal moment in the emergence of poetic realism, film noir and the emergence of the anti-hero as a staple of mainstream popular entertainment (Blakeslee 2009).
Mickey Rourke in
Angel Heart
(1987) by Alan Parker
The word genre is originally French, and it simply means "kind" or "type" ... When we speak of film genres, we're indicating certain types of movies. The science-fiction film, the action picture, the comedy, the romance, the musical, the Western - these are some genres of fictional storytelling cinema.
Genres are convenient terms that develop informally. Genres also change over time, as filmmakers invent new twists on old formulas. Thus defining the precise boundaries between genres can be tricky.

When we think about genre, the examples that come to mind are usually those of fictional live-action films. There can be genres of other basic sorts of cinema, too. There are genres of documentary, such as the compilation film and the concert movie. Experimental films and animated films have genres as well.
What places a group of films in a genre?
Most scholars now agree that no genre can be defined in a single hard-and-fast way. Some genres stand out by their subjects or themes. A gangster film centers on large-scale urban crime. A science-fiction film features a technology beyond the reach of contemporary science. A Western is usually about life on some frontier (not necessarily the West).

Yet subject matter or theme is not so central to defining other genres. Musicals are recognizable chiefly by their manner of presentation: singing, dancing, or both. The detective film is partly defined by the plot pattern of an investigation that solves a mystery. And some genres are defined by the distinctive emotional effect they aim for: amusement in comedies, tension in suspense films.

The question is complicated by the fact that genres can be more or less broad. There are large, blanket genre categories that fit many films. We refer commonly to as thrillers, yet that term may encompass horror films, detective stories, hostage films such as
Die Hard
, and many others. Thus subgenres can be devised by critics, viewers, or filmmakers to try to describe more precisely what films are like
(Bordwell & Thompson 2005).

The Proposition
(2005) by John Hillcoat
"You may also find that some reviewers tend to dismiss genre films as shallow and trivial, assuming them to be simply formulaic: It's only a Western; it's just a horror film. Undoubtedly, many films in all genres are cheaply and unimaginatively made. Yet some of the greatest films also fall into genres.

Singin’ in the Rain
is a musical, but it is arguably also one of the best American films.
Grand lllusion
is a war film.
is a thriller.
The Godfather
is a gangster film. On the whole, genre is a category best used to describe and analyze films, not to evaluate them" (Bordwell & Thompson 2005).

Apocalypse Now
(1979) by Francis Ford Coppola
Genre Conventions
Certain plot elements may be conventional. We anticipate an investigation in a mystery film; revenge plotlines are common in Westerns; a musical will find ways to provide song-and-dance situations. The gangster film usually centers on the gangster's rise and fall as he struggles against police and rival gangs. We expect a biographical film ("biopic") to trace major episodes in the main character's life.
Still other genre conventions involve characteristic film techniques. Somber lighting is standard in the horror film and the thriller. The action picture often relies on rapid cutting and slow-motion violence. In the melodrama, an emotional twist may be underscored by a sudden burst of poignant music.
As a visual medium, cinema can also define genres through conventional iconography. A genre's iconography consists of recurring symbolic images that carry meaning from film to film. Objects and settings often furnish iconography for a genre. Even stars can become iconographic - John Wayne for the Western, Arnold Schwarzenegger for the action picture, Jim Carrey for comedy.
A film can revise or reject the conventions associated with its genre.
2001: A Space Odyssey
violated several conventions of the science fiction genre: beginning with a lengthy sequence set in prehistoric times, synchronizing classical music to outer-space action, and ending with an enigmatically symbolic fetus drifting through space.
The filmmaker may devise something mildly or radically different, but it will still be based on tradition. The interplay of convention and innovation, familiarity and novelty, is central to the genre film (Bordwell & Thompson 2005).
Genre cycles
Ridley Scott's
(1979) blended science-fiction
conventions with those of the contemporary horror film.
The Ring
(1998) by Hideo Nakata
Typically, genres do not remain constantly successful. Rather, they rise and fall in popularity. The result is the phenomenon known as cycles. A cycle is a batch of genre films that enjoy intense popularity and influence over a distinct period. Cycles can occur when a successful film produces a burst of imitations

Pulp Fiction
(1994) by Quentin Tarantino
Batman Begins
(2005) by Christopher Nolan
A Fistful of Dollars
(1964) by Sergio Leone
Dirty Harry
(1973) by Don Siegel
Gran Torino
(2011) by Clint Eastwood
(1992) by Clint Eastwood
The Proposition
plays like a Western moved from Colorado to Hell. The characters are familiar: The desperado brothers, the zealous lawman, his civilized wife, the corrupt mayor, the old coots, the resentful natives. But the setting is the Outback of Australia as I have never seen it before. These spaces don't seem wide open because an oppressive sky glares down at the sullen earth; this world is sun-baked, hostile, unforgiving, and it breeds heartless men (Roger Ebert 2006).
The neo-noir film
Angel Heart
(1987), is both a hardboiled thriller and a supernatural horror movie, a throwback to the classic noirs of the 1930s and 1940s, with a plot straight out of a classic gumshoe detective story
(Daniel Mumby 2015).

"Too monumentally unwieldly to be regulated to the formal stringencies of genre" ... Adventure, war film, Vietnam film, action movie, psychodrama, travel film -
Apocalypse Now
contains figural shards of all these genres, and thus the film may best be categorized as transgeneric" (Gronstad 2004).
Contemporary theorists tend to emphasize the importance of the semiotic notion of intertextuality: of seeing individual texts in relation to others. Katie Wales notes that 'genre is... an intertextual concept' (Wales 1989, 259). John Hartley suggests that 'we need to understand genre as a property of the relations between texts' (O'Sullivan et al. 1994, 128). And as Tony Thwaites et al. put it, 'each text is influenced by the generic rules in the way it is put together; the generic rules are reinforced by each text' (Thwaites et al. 1994, 100).

Roland Barthes (1975) argued that it is in relation to other texts within a genre rather than in relation to lived experience that we make sense of certain events within a text. There are analogies here with schema theory in psychology, which proposes that we have mental 'scripts' which help us to interpret familiar events in everyday life. John Fiske offers this striking example: A representation of a car chase only makes sense in relation to all the others we have seen - after all, we are unlikely to have experienced one in reality, and if we did, we would, according to this model, make sense of it by turning it into another text, which we would also understand intertextually, in terms of what we have seen so often on our screens. There is then a cultural knowledge of the concept 'car chase' that any one text is a prospectus for, and that it used by the viewer to decode it, and by the producer to encode it. (Fiske 1987, 115)

In contrast to those of a traditionalist literary bent who tend to present 'artistic' texts as non-generic, it could be argued that it is impossible to produce texts which bear no relationship whatsoever to established genres. Indeed, Jacques Derrida proposed that 'a text cannot belong to no genre, it cannot be without... a genre. Every text participates in one or several genres, there is no genreless text' (Derrida 1981, 61).
(Chandler 2014)
Like other borrowed terms (mise en scène, genre, realism), when applied to film the definition becomes hazy. Film noir has been referred to as a genre, a cycle, a movement, a mood, and a style. In a more recent study James Naremore refers to film noir as belonging to a history of “ideas” tied to “commercial strategies and aesthetic ideologies,” an idea we have “projected into the past”.

Those referring to it as a genre are inclusive, stretching the definition to include contemporary films (
, Roman Polanski 1974,
The Last Seduction
, John Dahl, 1994 and
The Usual Suspects
, Bryan Singer, 1995, those referring to it as a cycle or movement are exclusive, restricting the films to a specific period (usually somewhere between the years 1940 and 1960). Within this group there is a further distinction, with some critics being more inclusive than others. When defined as a mood the films are selected cross generically (
Leave Her to Heaven
, John Stahl, 1945/Melodrama,
, Raoul Walsh, 1947/Western,
Beat the Devil
, John Huston, 1954/Comedy,
, Ridley Scott, 1982/Science Fiction,
Sin City
, Tarantino/Rodriguez 2005/Science-Fiction/Animation (Totaro 2007).
FILM noir
is something quite rare–a truly popular big-budget Hollywood movie with a rich aesthetic pay-off. Genuinely experimental, blatantly predicated on the formal possibilities of film, ... Call it blockbuster modernism (Hoberman 2013).

At once a nervy experiment in blockbuster minimalism and a film of robust movie-movie thrills, restoring a sense of wonder, terror and possibility to the bigscreen (Chang 2013).

It is hard to think of another mass-audience film in recent years that has so thoroughly departed from the current technological and stylistic conventions of mainstream filmmaking (Thompson 2013).
There was no way to rely on anything we knew before this film. No character was like Stone, no film set was ever like these sets, not one member of this crew had ever done this before. We all were doing something that had never been done before (Sandra Bullock).
The first really satisfying, really fearless dramatic assault on the scandal of Iraq (Bradshaw 2009). Political satire is one of the most difficult of crafts, demanding well-informed practitioners and a responsive, sophisticated audience. Shot in a hand-held cinema-vérité style, the camera constantly panning from face to face instead of cutting, the film attempts to give the impression of documentary reality (French 2009)
In The Loop
Le Doulos
(1962) by Jean-Pierre Melville
One of the few examples of a prestige horror film and one of the biggest grossing films of all time (O, Neill 2010).
2001: A Space Odyssey
, from a short story by Arthur C. Clarke starts with a dawn-of-man sequence in which apes play and fight, the film suddenly jumps to the year 2001 in perhaps the most audacious edit in film history. An ape throws a bone into the air. It rises and rotates in slow-motion. Then a soundless cut to a spaceship gliding similarly. From the earliest years in the evolution of editing, cuts have been used to shorten time. Only occasionally has the opposite been the case.

Here Kubrick not only shortens time but elides the whole of human history. He uses the functional economy of a cut to remove from his film virtually everything that has ever been thought or done (Cousins 2012).
At its most fundamental level, "
" is a movie about things that can jump out of the dark and kill you. It shares a kinship with the shark in "
," Michael Myers in "
," and assorted spiders, snakes, tarantulas and stalkers. Its most obvious influence is Howard Hawks' "
The Thing
" (1951), which was also about a team in an isolated outpost who discover a long-dormant alien, bring it inside, and are picked off one by one as it haunts the corridors. Look at that movie, and you see "
" in embryo.

In another way, Ridley Scott's 1979 movie is a great original. It builds on the seminal opening shot of "
Star Wars
" (1977), with its vast ship in lonely interstellar space, and sidesteps Lucas' space opera to tell a story in the genre of traditional "hard" science fiction (Ebert 2003).
Cull (2000) explores how the film exploited issues that most worried Americans in the early 1970s, and embeds the film in a genre context.

A key player in the evolution of the genre, the film’s success owed much to the artistry of its director, William Friedkin.
The Exorcist
is an astonishing piece of cinematic manipulation. Friedkin’s camera technique, restrained by the structure of the house, and borrowing from documentary, builds the sense that we are in a real space, surrounded by real sound. In this context, the eruption of the demonic voice is all the more terrifying.

Its success ushered in a new golden age of American ‘A Movie’ horror: director’s like John Carpenter and Wes Craven came forward to revitalise the genre … The legacy of
The Exorcist
was a rich and frequently subversive vein of horror cinema, with themes like social fragmentation and the questioning of family relationships, which had surfaced in earlier films like
Rosemary’s Baby
(1968) or
Night of the Living Dead

In Richard Donner’s
The Omen
(1976) Satan’s son wreaks havoc in the life of his adopted father, an unsuspecting American diplomat. In the wake of Watergate it was not that surprising that by the end of the movie the evil child had moved in to the White House. Some directors used the genre for social satire. In George Romero’s
Dawn of the Dead
(1979), Americans resurrected as flesh-eating zombies still feel compelled to congregate at the shopping mall and go through the motions of consumerism. Others like David Cronenberg in
(1982) suggested new ways of thinking about the human body and its relationship with technology (Cull 2000).
Quentin Tarantino’s
Pulp Fiction
played so completely with the norms of, for example, assassin scenes in gangster movies, that the performers were able, knowingly, to slip out of character to talk about foot massages. This reveals how 1990s post-modern cinema transformed the movies which inspired it.

Pulp Fiction was full of such digressions and atypical discussions of minutiae. One critic commented that the “verbal set-piece takes precedent over the action set-piece”. This effect became known as “Tarantinoesque". He breathed new life into the cardboard characterization of American genre cinema and for years afterwards, ardent young male directors copied his approach (Cousins 2012).
A 'making of' short doco. Interesting for its insight into both the storytelling aspect, and the technicality of the production.
During the 1940s, American cinema took a dark and cynical turn. The classic film noir was a style which showcased a dreary landscape with morally ambiguous characters that battled corruption and crime. Cinema was largely a form of escapism and most films were made to keep peoples’ spirits up, especially during the era of the Great Depression. However, classic film noir shifted towards a pessimistic view of the world and mirrored the growing anxieties that plagued American society following World War II. But over the years with events such as the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal, film noir became more and more sardonic and soon a new era of cinema emerged during the 1960s and 1970s known as Neo-noir.

Film noirs were usually composed of several genres such as gangster films, melodramas, crime drama, as well as elements of the horror genre. The style was influenced by German Expressionism which emerged from European cinema during the early 1930s and was known for its dark aesthetics and subject matter. The characteristics of this particular style included low-key lighting, canted and inverted frames, and a gloomy landscape. Thus film noir utilized these darker elements to create a sense of mystery and a “specific sense of malaise” (Borde & Charmeton 13).

Most noir films star a morally ambivalent character, a loner, who gets lured into a fictional urban landscape which has been neglected and plagued by violence and crime. The setting is a reflection of society’s post-war attributes, symbolizing a damaged world which has become morally anarchistic (Hutflus 2013).

The story of a criminal on the run and his North African safe haven, Pepe Le Moko marked the beginning of a wave of French cinema that focussed on characters ground in tragedy, much in the same way that the Film Noir movement would inspire the American cinema in the years following the second World War. Julian Duvivier and his star, Jean Gabin, were elevated to the highest reaches of cultural importance following the success of the film, with the tone and subject matter going on to inspire a generation of cinema (Sanjek 2003).
Pepe Le Moko
(1937) by Julian Duvivier.
Some of those who write within a genre work in creative 'tension' with the conventions, attempting a personal inflection of them (Gledhill 1985: 63). From the point of view of the producers of texts within a genre, an advantage of genres is that they can rely on readers already having knowledge and expectations about works within a genre. Fowler comments that 'the system of generic expectations amounts to a code, by the use of which (or by departure from which) composition becomes more economical' (Fowler 1989: 215).

Genres can thus be seen as a kind of shorthand serving to increase the 'efficiency' of communication. They may even function as a means of preventing a text from dissolving into 'individualism and incomprehensibility' (Gledhill 1985: 63). And while writing within a genre involves making use of certain 'given' conventions, every work within a genre also involves the invention of some new elements (Chandler 2014).
Genre analysis situates texts within textual and
social contexts, underlining the social nature of the
production and reading of texts. As well as locating texts within specific cultural contexts, genre analysis also serves to situate them in a historical perspective. It can help to counter the Romantic ideology of authorial 'originality' and creative individualism (Chandler 2014).
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