February 5, 2013 – FILM LECTURE
Today’s Topic: Genre, Part One: Defining Genre
For the last four weeks, we have been emphasizing the textual (looking at the classical
film, art film, radical film, postmodern film). Now we know what distinguishes these
texts both narratively and figuratively.
In order to discuss the intertextual and the extratextual we have to engage with a text’s
relationship to other phenomena. These other phenomena are other film texts.
We will study genre, auteurism and stardom.
This week we will talk about the western and think about how genre plays itself out. We
won’t be able to look at just one film alone, we need to think about the network of
connections, the intertextual echoes among different individual westerns (when studying
genre, always need to study the intertextual echoes amongst different genre films).
Today, we will see clips from “High Noon”, “Shane” and “Red River”.
When we study auteurism, we will look at Federico Fellini’s film “8 1/2”, “Roma”,
“Fellini Satyricon”, and we will think about “La Strada”
Finally, we will think about stardom and look at Bette Davis films “Now, Voyager”,
“Jezebel”, “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?” and “All About Eve”
To jumpstart our discussion, we will think about how genre and classical films are
Genre films are more associated with classical Hollywood cinema than any other
kind of film (they both have a systematized and standardized mode of
production). This mode of production helped get films out quickly. There is some
variation between the products in the look and the feel for all the production
companies (Paramont, MGM, Columbia all had their separate feel). Certain
studios became known for certain genres of film (if audiences kept coming back
for a certain popular genre). Ex: MGM was incredibly well known for its musical
productions, like “Singing in the Rain”, “Gigi”. Warner Bros was well known for
its gangster films, like “White Heat” or “Little Ceasar”, and Universal was known
for its horror films
Also, even though the genre film is linked to Hollywood, it isn’t linked to
Hollywood. Many films made in recent years are classical in form, and many of
the popular genres in Hollywood’s Golden Age influenced film production in
North America and abroad. The transnational circulation of genre = the way
genres move across space and around the world.
What is a genre? We confront genres every time we choose to watch a film. A genre is a
grouping of films that possess some common set of characteristics. The idea of a “deep
structure” is central to the idea of genre. To identify the shared attributes of certain texts,
we need to find texts of a similar genre.
What comes first -> the film genre or the genre films? To resolve this issue, we need to
use common cultural consensus regarding any genre to begin analysis.
“Genre is what we collectively believe it to be” (Andrew Tudor’s “Theories of Film”). As audiences gain repeated exposure to certain types of films, they come to recognize the
figures and the context in which the figures interact. They build the genre into a
Definition of genre -> “A genre is a grouping of films that filmmakers and film viewers,
film financiers and film critics assume to possess some common set of characteristics”.
Genre provides a visual and narrative vocabulary employed to fulfill the filmmaker’s
vision. For viewers, it allows them to make meaning while they are watching the film.
For the film financiers, it facilitates the marketing of the film, allows them to sell the film
on the market. For film critics, it provides them with a vocabulary and a reference point
to judge a film.
There is a contract between filmmaker and film viewer (especially in documentary
filmmaking -> the contract is that the information delivered is truthful). In genre cinema,
the contract speaks to those conventions that will be employed strategically by the film
and by the filmmakers. The types of conventions that define a particular genre:
Visual, aural and technical (visually a genre film is characterized by certain props,
certain costumes, aurally is has certain sounds and technically it has certain
lighting schemes) -> there are different feels for each genre
Narrative (classical film depends on initial state of equilibrium that is then
disturbed. This very rudimentary narrative is common to most genres, but they
differ when it comes to the types of conflict, to the nature of the solution that is
posed, to the types of protagonists that propel these series of events in the pursuit
of a particular goal)
Thematic (this convention leads scholars to talk about myth as convention or
ideology. How does genre work within the context of a society? What is its social
function? There is an existence of thematic continuities within genres)
Genre we will privilege this week: The Western
We will try to define the western, at least provisionally. The origins of the western
predate the development of cinema. The western was present in a great number of media,
which were present before cinema (paintings from the 19 century for example, the
literature of authors like “The Last of the Mohicans”, pulp romances of the 1880s or Wild
West shows like “Buffalo Bill Cody’s”). The west was an arena of tremendous symbolic
importance. The Western is the single most American genre that there is. But is has also
been taken up in many other nations as well.
In the western film, the man is associated with the plains, the open space while the
woman is contained, she belongs indoors (very typical of the western film)
Typical things of the western (from the clip of Shane): the creak of saloon doors opening
and closing, the juxtaposition between very slow speech and very abrupt gunfire. We are
introduced to a saloon setting, to certain iconography (we clearly have a good guy and a
bad guy -> signaled by the color of the hats, one is black and the other is white. We know
who is the hero and who is the antagonist). Shane is made to be a hero not only by his hat
but also by the visual treatment of him (many low angles are used so that we are looking
up at him). Also, mise en scene and cinematography work together to create a very
limited color palette (westerns are dominated by fairly neutral colors). In w