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Genres

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Bryan Johnston

on 7 October 2012

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Transcript of Genres

the categorization of narrative films
by the stories they tell and the ways
they tell them.

Genre helps to shape our
expectations. Genres Theme - the unifying idea that the film expresses through its narrative and imagery. For example, the Western usually has a central conflict between civilization and wilderness. Genre Conventions Deeply rooted in the American Dream;
Prohibition (1919) and the stock market crash (1929) led to a distrust and dislike of formal government institutions and led to the common man relating to "gangster" type heroes. Gangster A descendant of early gangster films; emerged in the 1940s; darker outlook, style, and tone; "black film" Film Noir More about humanity's relationship with science & tech than the science itself. Sci-Fi existed as a literary genre long before films. Science Fiction Born of the need to vicariously experience and DEFEAT things totally outside our control - death, insanity, and the unknown. Death - ghosts, zombies, vampires, ("normal") killers are the "other", matched in terror only by the threat of becoming one ourselves. Horror Learning Objectives

*Understand what genre is and why it is important

*Explain the most significant (or defining) elements of
each of the six major American genres Setting - where a movie's action is located and how that environment is portrayed. For example, Westerns (American West, 1880-1890s), Sci-Fi (usually in the future, often in space, futuristic Earth cities), Gangster (urban locations), and Horror (isolated communities). Presentation - genres often feature certain elements of cinematic language. For example, Horror films utilize low-key lighting and shadows, Sci-Fi (ironically) uses the latest high-tech special effects to often warm against humanity's dependence on technology, and Westerns frequently use the long shot to dwarf the "civilized" character
against the vast wilderness. Character Type - genre films often
utilize character "types". Westerns use the
hero and villain, the greenhorn, the sidekick,
the schoolmarm, the prostitute. Horror films
highlight the "otherness" of the villain compared
to the protagonist. Story Formulas - the story structure can help to determine a
film's genre. For example, Gangster movies tend to fall in to
one of three formulas: rags to riches, crime does not pay, or absolute power corrupts absolutely. Stars - actors are often typecast in a particular
genre. Certain expectations follow them. Ironically,
stars often receive critical praise for going outside
their expectations. Films need not, and do not, adhere
to all these conventions. The Western The Musical At odds with the production codes of the time that forbid creating sympathy for any crime or wrongdoing, so main characters usually got their just reward by the end of the film.
Follow a classic rags-to-riches-to-destruction pattern, introduced some of the first antiheroes, include more sympathetic secondary characters (usually female) to humanize the antihero, often incorporate a sidekick for the antihero, and the antagonist arrive as either agents of law or fellow gangsters. The antihero's downfall is generally a by-product of his own corruption rather than some "hero" law agent. The gangster is his own worst enemy.

Little Caesar (1931), The Public Enemy (1931),
Bonnie and Clyde (1967), Scarface (1983), Miller's
Crossing (1990), Reservoir Dogs (1992) Fed off the post-war disillusionment of WWII; initially considered as low-budget "B" movies not worthy of A-list stars and directors, its emphasis on corruption and despair was seen as unflattering. Defined by its visual and narrative style; "hard-boiled" characters (hard interior beneath brittle shells); fatalistic themes, cynical tones, gritty, realistic night shots. Protagonist is also an antihero, but also an outsider who rarely pursues or achieves leadership status. Frequently a private detective operating halfway between lawful society and criminal world. He is small-time, world-weary, aging, and not classically handsome. His antagonist is usually a far smarter woman (femme-fatale). Visual style - black film, in both its attitude and look. Lighting emphasizes contrast and creates deep shadows, nighttime locations, drawn shades that scatter light... Complex narratives, often nonchronological or convoluted, plot twists, goal shifts, betrayals, unreliable narrators, skewed morals and expectations. Often framed by enforced predictability of the genre - fatalistic voice-over narration reveals future events and outcomes that create a sense of predetermination and hopelessness. The Maltese Falcon (1941), The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946), The Naked City (1948), Asphalt Jungle (1950), Touch of Evil (1958), Chinatown (1974), The Usual Suspects (1995), Memento (2000), Sin City (2005) Plays off our dread of tech and change; science is "outside" of ourselves and totally out of our control; power to help and destroy. Science-inspired anxiety is the main conflict, the antagonist is often a robot, computer(s), aliens, new virus/bacterial threats, etc. Malevolent aliens dehumanized; Positive interactions have humanoid and/or cute aliens (Chewie, anyone?); Protagonists tend to be regular down-to-earth characters. Their humanity seen as a liability until it is the reason for their success is defeating the enemy. Setting is often speculative, and most often a future profoundly shaped by advances in technology (and their effects on humanity). Humanity vs. technology themes often reflect developments in science at the time. A Trip to the Moon (1902), It Came from Outer Space (1953), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), Fahrenheit 451 (1966), The Fly (1986), Twelve Monkeys (1995), Gattaca (1997), Children of Men (2006) Dread - terror - catharsis (we survive, even if protagonist does not). Horror and Sci-Fi share many elements and may be considered "siblings" in the realm of genres. Establishment of a normal world threatened by the "other" that must be destroyed in order to return to normalcy. Protagonist is usually the first to recognize the threat, whose warnings are ignored until the final showdown where s/he "defeats" the villain. Protagonist often summons the "other", placing even greater responsibility to defeat it. The main character is generally a loner who ultimately must save the community that rejects him/her. Set in a "normal world" of small town and thrusts protagonist in to role of protector, or very isolated rural areas to physical separate and offer little hope of assistance. Night time scenes and action, complete with shadow and low lighting (often shot from below),
a mainstay. Freaks (1932), Rosemary's Baby (1968), Night of the Living Dead (1968), The Exorcist (1973), Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), The Oman (1976), The Shining (1980), The Silence of the Lambs (1991), Ringu (1998), The Blair Witch Project (1999) Explores the tension between wilderness and civilization. A very popular literary and stage genre before the age of films. Continued popularity - modern mythology; narrative representation of Americans as rugged, self-reliant individuals taming the wild frontier. The west was a land of opportunity - dangerous and lawless, but also ripe for the taking to the right sort of person (The American Dream). "Wilderness" can be the physical landscape, the native population, rough-and-tumble settlers, or the personal demons and interests of the protagonist. A duality of order and chaos is almost always present, the lines between "good" and "bad" are often blurred (corrupt lawmen, outlaws with a conscience, etc). The hero is a man of action, not words, and uncomfortable with the "trappings" of civilization. He is strong, but silent. Tertiary characters are complex - Native Americans are both savages and symbols of dignity, prostitutes are symbols of lawlessness and low morals, but long for marriage and family. Schoolmarms are educated and cultured, but drawn to the wildness of the frontier. The greenhorn is sophisticated and successful back East, but a hopeless bumbler in the West. Westerns are firmly rooted to their setting, be it prairie, desert, or mountain. Regardless of the specific locale, the setting is a dominant visual and thematic element that further represents the duality common to the genre...it's a deadly wilderness of stunning beauty. As such, Westerns feature many exterior scenes, shot on location, in bright daylight. The LONG SHOT, which emphasizes the vastness of the environment and dwarfs the characters, is a staple. The Iron Horse (1924), Fort Apache (1948), The Gunfighter (1950), 3:10 to Yuma (1957), The Wild Bunch (1969), McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971), Dances with Wolves (1990), Unforgiven (1992) Feature a combination of singing, music, dancing, and spoken dialogue. Musical performance was obviously a well-established form of entertainment. Needed a reliable system in place for recording sound. Early examples set on Broadway, thus allowing the singing and dancing to exist as a result of the environment. The main character was a young starlet waiting for her big break, and a stable of stock characters including the hard-bitten producer, the jealous (but fading) star, and the forgotten veteran with a heart of gold. The "integrated musical" developed later, where the singing and dancing advanced the narrative. A balance from the change in tone and style between the drama and musical performances; suspension of disbelief. Musicals still tend to favour romantic comedy over any other type of narrative. The Jazz Singer (1927), The Wizard of Oz (1939), Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942), An American in Paris (1951), Singin' in the Rain (1952), Cabaret (1972), Jesus Christ Superstar (1973), Grease (1978), Moulin Rouge! (2001), Rent (2005) The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

*"When forced to work within a strict framework, the imagination is taxed to its utmost - and will produce its richest ideas." ~T.S. Eliot. Filmmakers challenge themselves to make art within strict confines of genre.
*Familiar formulas, conventions, themes, conflicts, and characters, as well as visual icons, provide and ready-made blueprint. We know it.
*Leads to stagnant films, mediocrity, and recycled stories. Subgenres
Develop within the confines of genre:
Comedy - slapstick, verbal wit, romantic comedy,
screwball comedy, farce, sentimental comedy,
gross-out comedy, etc.
Horror - zombie, slasher, psychological thriller,
splatter, torture porn, vampire
Western - revenge, spaghetti, bounty-hunter, cattle-drive, gunfighter

Evolution and Transformation
*Blending of genres; e.g. horror musical
*Generic Transformation - process by which a particular genre is adapted to meet the expectations of a changing society
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