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Genre Research - Social Realism/Drama

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Liv McMahon

on 12 December 2013

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Transcript of Genre Research - Social Realism/Drama


Social realism films will typically aim to act as representations or reflections of society and it's many issues that impact upon different groups of society. It is fair to say that within the genre, topics such as drugs, crime, poverty, sex and marginalisation are the most commonly featured in films. British directors such as Ken Loach, Andrea Arnold, Shane Meadows and Danny Boyle are known for creating films like 'Fish Tank', 'Train Spotting', 'This Is England', 'Wasp', 'Sweet Sixteen' and 'Kes', which attempt to highlight social issues and their impacts upon minority groups with hard hitting content which provokes an emotional reaction from audiences. They present realistic situations, most often reflective of a deprived British working class, in order to act as a statement or comment on the social injustice within the hierarchical structure of British society. However, while social realist films aim to educate audiences by showing them the grim reality of the more deprived and vulnerable groups in society, these films may also use more a dramatic storyline in order to entertain and thrill audiences, and also intensify and stress a certain didactic message.
As a means of achieving a sense of realism for audiences, many British social realist films are set on council housing estates; with high rise flats in urban areas being almost archetypal and iconic of the genre due to their repeated use as settings within British films such as Andrea Arnold’s 'Fish Tank'. These urban locations are most commonly used due to the larger concentration of poorer working class families, and the areas tend to be more grimy in order to represent and reflect the deprivation and poverty of those who live there.
Since social realism films will typically focus on the more vulnerable, isolated and deprived groups in society, in recent years ethnic minorities and youth have become the most common groups used. Prior to the 21st century, the white working class tended to be the most commonly featured within social realist films. Ken Loach, Danny Boyle and Shane Meadows have each produced films based on the lives of the British white working class, with their films 'Sweet Sixteen', 'Train Spotting' and 'This Is England'. These films and directors in particular have created and enforced the stereotype within British social realist film of the angry, frustrated and troubled young man - e.g. the character of Renton in 'Train Spotting' and also the character of Liam in 'Sweet Sixteen'. However, with the turn of the 21st century and the emergence of directors such as Noel Clarke, the focus has turned to ethnic minorities due to their now larger place in British society and significantly in the working class group. Typical main characters are young, black men who are somehow involved with drugs or crime. Films such as 'Bullet Boy', '', and 'Kidulthood' have especially focused on the aspects of crime, recklessness, violence and drugs with relation to young, working class people - particularly young Black people, and have furthermore enforced extremely negative stereotypes with the depiction of an 'ASBO'/'chav' culture.
Women are a group which have not been a great focus within this genre of film, with only a few films such as 'Rosetta' (the Dardenne brothers), and Andrea Arnold's films 'Fish Tank' and 'Wasp'. These are examples of films which present examples of women who have been marginalised and live in poverty. Andrea Arnold's films Fish Tank and Wasp both highlight the hardships of single motherhood and destitution within working class life as being a further unsolved social issue which is goes unnoticed by a government who cater to the middle class rather than the working.
Social Realism/Drama
British social realism films tend to be shot in a natural light so as to make the film appear as realistic as possible to audiences. The lack of artificiality in this sense will offer a clearer sense of realism and clarity, meaning that therefore audiences will feel a greater connection with the film's storyline and characters. Natural light is often used as part of the popular style of 'Dogme 95', which many directors such as Andrea Arnold, Ken Loach and the Dardenne brothers have used when producing social realist film.
In social realist/drama films, the storyline or plot will usually be surrounding a social and sometimes political issue. For instance, though 'Billy Elliot' was mainly based upon the plot of a boy wanting to be a ballet dancer, the political/sociological background (in this case being the Miners' Strikes and Thatcher) contributed largely to the film as a whole. For this reason, this film is an example of a social realist/drama hybrid film as it combines both genres and they both have an equal value in the film. Other social issues that films are then based on are such as drugs (e.g. 'Train Spotting'), crime, violence, poverty etc. These issues will be used in order to raise awareness and educate audiences (as part of the Uses and Gratifications Theory), not only to entertain them. Some directors will attempt to create a social or political didactic message for the audience to take away with them and consider after viewing the film, which is arguably why the aspect of drama is included in many social realist films. Directors of foreign social realist film, such as the Dardenne brothers and Jean Luc Godard also present their films in similar ways - with films such as 'L'Enfant', 'Rosetta', and 'Breathless' attempting to shed light on similar social issues within urban areas in France and Belgium. Pawel Pawlikowski's 'Last Resort' is an example of social realist film that focuses specifically on a foreign minority group (in this case a Russian mother and son) seeking asylum in Britain and having difficulties to make a living in a stable and safe job. Many social realist films will also revolve around the idea and theme of escape, through how the main character will typically want to escape from their life of poverty, deprivation or crime but struggles to do so - as seen in films such as 'Bullet Boy' and 'Rosetta'.

The sound used in social realism/ drama films will largely depend on the social group that will be featured; for example if the characters are young adults then the music is likely to be music that will appeal to young adult/teen audiences (such as 'Kidulthood'). However, it will also aim to be realistic by being music from the time it was set - for example 'This Is England' is set in the early 1980's and features an 80's soundtrack in order to increase the realism for the viewer.
However, since Dogme 95 is a popular style of shooting a film for social realism (particularly in the case of Andrea Arnold), the sound or music heard used will be diegetic and played through a radio or other equipment already in the shot as demonstrated in her 2009 film 'Fish Tank'. This again increases the sense of realism for the audience as the music is actually being played in the scene, rather than played over it as a non-diegetic soundtrack. Though music will be used in social realist films, it is far more likely for them to be more dialogue-heavy, so as to once again make the scenes appear more realistic and reflective of real life.
Camera Movements
Conventionally, social realist films will mainly use an array of close-up, medium close-up and medium shots, as in order to be convincing and realistic, as well as hard hitting, it is more important that such shots which display a character's emotion or feeling are used. However, there will also usually be a number of long shots or establishing shots to establish a certain setting. For example, as council housing estates and high rise flats in urban areas are the most common settings used in British social realist films, they will always be established as the setting through an establishing shot. Furthermore the viewer will then instantly be able to identify this setting as being typical of the british social realist genre and will recognise it as a key setting for the film. As an additional means of achieving a sense of realism for the audience, many social realist films will be filmed with a hand held camera, meaning that scenes/sequences will always be filmed with shaky hand movements.
Again, this depends on the social group that is presented within the film. More often than not, it'll be found that in the case of presenting youth in British social realism the costume will most likely be tracksuits and trainers, which is part of the 'chav' stereotype of the working class which has extremely negative connotations. This type of clothing is chosen as it immediately gives audiences the impression that the wearer is involved with criminal activity or drugs or is aggressive/violent, and this stereotype has been repeatedly enforced in 21st British social realist films such as 'Bullet Boy', 'Fish Tank' and 'Adulthood'. In particular, the use of a hooded jacket acts as a further representation of a reckless and violent youth within the working class, as it is used to represent gang culture. The use of hooded jackets or coats in this genre of film will also be used to present character as shady and dangerous - as they are attempting to conceal themselves from society. However, this is not always the way in which characters will be presented through the use of costume. Women, for example, will be presented in less clothing often to show either their vulnerability as a group or to present them as those who are exploited due to their desperation - as is the case in 'Last Resort'.
In contrast to other genres of film such as action or horror, there is far less emphasis on the aspect of editing when it comes to social realism. In order to maintain a sense of realism and attempt to truly reflect everyday life, directors will mainly use cuts as a way of changing scenes as it shows the shift or change in time (but typically it will not be a large gap in time). Editing overall in social realist films will be generally of lower pace, though with the combined element of drama the editing will become faster around the climactic points in a film in order to entertain audiences and maintain their interest. This is shown significantly in social realist/drama hybrid films when there is a situation such as a chase (e.g. Fish Tank). Social realist films may also be likely to feature a time lapse as a way of showing the passage of time between one event and the next.
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