Genre ► Debbie Stone: We were up at "the top of the world" and we saw this shooting star and we decided to go look for it. But instead of finding the shooting star we saw this... this circus tent. And that's when we went inside, and that is when we saw those people in those... those pink, cotton candy cocoons. Dave, it was not a circus tent. It was something else. Dave Hanson: What? What? Mike Tobacco: It was a space ship. And there was these things, these killer clowns, and they shot popcorn at us! We barely got away! Curtis Mooney: Killer clowns, from outer space. Holy shit! ► (1988) Introduction to Film Genre ► Film genre is a concept that involves a process of categorisation and labelling of easily recognisable conventions that exist in any particular set of films ► It is used by both film producing/distributing institutions and audiences Institutional use of genre ► Film producers use genre as a means of minimising the economic risk in making films ► Film distributors/exhibitors use genre as a means of advertising and promoting films ► Both depend upon audiences‟ foreknowledge and past experience Audience use of genre ► Audiences use genre to give them predictable pleasures when consuming/watching a film ► Audiences have certain expectations of genre films ► Audiences expect genre films to involve innovation, inflection/subversion of the generic conventions Generic conventions ► A film genre is defined by its conventions ► These conventions must be present to make a film a genre film but should involve some aspect of innovation, subversion and/or inflection (otherwise it becomes a formula film) ► Generic conventions will vary from genre to genre but will usually involve such areas of repetition as: Mise-en-scene Setting Visual style Themes Ideology Stars Character-types (including stereotypes) Narratives (including events and resolutions) Iconography Cinematography Special effects Sound/music Function against genres ► captive audience ► against innovation + originality (romanticism) ► triviality of the interpreting activity, “low- art”, genre works=popular=bad ► marketing oriented in favour of genres ► a work has meaning in relationship to other works (Barthes) ► it brings in cultural context & historical perspective ► It helps us distinguish between works to avoid banal generalizations, i.e. “all games are violent” ► Genres are not simply features of texts, but are mediating frameworks between texts, makers and interpreters. Fowler argues that 'genre makes possible the communication of content„. Genre constrains the possible ways in which a text is interpreted, guiding readers of a text towards a preferred reading. ► Pleasures of identifying genre features (uses & gratification model) Science-fiction ► There are many sub- genres of SF films depending upon the mixture of conventions ► The basic premise of SF films is: The what if…. scenario It must involve some extrapolation of a scientific or technological development SF sub-genres ► Alien invasion ► Independence Day, Invasion of ► Disaster the Body Snatchers ► Adventure ► Earthquake, Deep Impact ► Hard SF ► Star Wars, Star Trek ► Fantasy ► 2001: A Space Odyssey ► Time-travel ► Conan the Barbarian ► Space travel ► Terminator ► Exploration ► Hybrid (film noir, horror, ► Blade Runner, Alien, Westworld western) ► Metropolis ► Technology gone wild ► Frankenstein ► Mad professor The Western ► “Western Films are the major defining genre of the American film industry, a eulogy to the early days of the expansive American frontier. Westerns are characteristically American in their mythic origins. Western films have also been called the horse opera, the oater, or the cowboy picture. The western film genre has portrayed much about America's past, glorifying the past-fading values and aspirations of the mythical by- gone age of the West.” (Tim Dirks) Setting ► Westerns are often set on the American frontier during the last part of the 19th century (1865-1900), in a geographically western (trans-Mississippi) setting with romantic, sweeping frontier landscapes or rugged rural terrain. However, Westerns may extend back to the time of America's colonial period or forward to the mid-20th century, or as far geographically as Mexico. ► '... Hollywood's West has typically been from 1865 to 1890 or so ... within its brief span we count a number of frontiers in the sudden rush of mining camps, the building of railways, the Indian wars, the cattle drives, the coming of the farmer. Together with the last days of the Civil War and the exploits of the badmen, here is the raw material of the western' (Kitses, 1969) Location ► The western film genre often portrays the conquest of the wilderness and the subordination of nature, in the name of civilization. Specific settings include lonely isolated forts, ranch houses, the isolated homestead, the saloon, the jail, the small-town main street, or small frontier towns that are forming at the edges of civilization. Plot ► Usually, the central plot of the western film is the classic, simple goal of maintaining law and order on the frontier in a fast-paced action story. It is normally rooted in conflict - good vs. bad, man vs. man, new arrivals vs. Native Americans (inhumanely portrayed as savage Indians), human vs. nature, civilization vs. wilderness, villain vs. hero, lawman vs. gunslinger, law vs. anarchy, the rugged individualist vs. the unknown, settler vs. nomad, and farmer vs. industrialist to name a few. Often the hero of a western meets his opposite "double," a mirror of his own evil side that he has to destroy. Generic Conventions Typical elements in westerns include: ► hostile elements ► guns and gun fights (sometimes on horseback) ► violence and human massacres ► Horses ► trains (and train robberies) ► bank robberies ► stagecoaches ► shoot-outs and showdowns ► outlaws and sheriffs ► cattle drives and cattle rustling ► posses and pursuit or 'search and destroy' plots ► distinctive western clothing Heroes ► Western heroes are often local law enforcement officers, territorial marshals, or a skilled, fast-draw gunfighter. ► They are normally persons of integrity and principle - courageous, moral, tough, solid and self-sufficient characters (often with trusty sidekicks), possessing an independent and honorable attitude. ► The Western hero can usually stand alone and face danger on his own. Binary Oppositions ► Levi-Strauss‟ theory of narrative based upon the principle of conflicting ideologies in the form of filmic elements is particularly apposite for the Western ► Consider location, character and plots of the Western, for example:- Civilisation vs. savagery Wild landscape vs. settlements (towns/homesteads) Indians vs. cavalry Sheriff/lawmen vs. outlaws Cattle baron vs. the homesteader All of these are based on the conflicts which existed in the frontier basis of the West. Summary ► In no other genre is setting the real basis for all other generic conventions. ► The landscape is an element which characterises the genre ► It is savage (the desert) and uncivilised; it contains elements which are opposed to civilised human existence (heat, expanse, dust, Indians) ► Within this landscape settlers try to impose law and order (a Garden) and live together in peace and harmony, pursuing the American Dream of equality of opportunity, freedom and individual liberty to pursue happiness ► Opposed to this American Dream are the Indians and outlaws who emerge from the outside desert; thus there are insiders and outsiders. ► Individuals have their place in this but are only seen as virtuous if they help the „insiders‟ achieve this Dream. ► The Christian concepts of purgation and reform (salvation?) are key concepts; thus an outsider can reform if he takes on these principles. The Western is dead…long live the Western… ► By the 1970s the western was in full decline and apart from the European spaghettis, and a handful of films like Dances with Wolves (1990) and Unforgiven (1992), died as a genre. ► However, because the western themes are so close to the American way of life, culture and ideology, they live on in other genres, notably in Science-fiction and action/adventure films. ► Frayling argues that the „man with no name‟ character played by Eastwood in the Dollars trilogy is the prototype for the roles that Stallone, Schwarzenegger et al have played in countless action films. They are the equivalent of the individual who comes from the outside to reinforce/restore the morality of the community, essentially the same as the lone rider helping the small community being terrorised by the outlaws. ► Consider SF films, where an outside threat (alien, invasion, natural catastrophe) is nullified/neutralised by our single hero and his deputies. ► Therefore, I would conclude that all films are westerns!
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