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Title: AMERICAN%20FILM%20GENRES%20TET2040e%203%20op

  • lecturer Eija Niskanen

American Film Genres syllabus http//
  • 18.4. Definitions and theories of film genre in
    the context of Hollywood
  • 19.4. at 10-12 The birth and historical-industrial
    development of American film genres
  • 19.4. at 12-14 Genre examples The gangster film,
    Sophisticated comedy
  • 21.4. Genres, society, and ideology The western
  • (Note_at_ room 8 )
  • 25.4. Film noir and melodrama genres or film
  • 26.4. Genres The musical

  • Participation in lectures 80
  • home reading (articles) and/or viewing of films
  • Either a study diary or two essays. The essays or
    study diary should comment on the lectures, the
    films seen, and the home reading, as well as
    possibly draw on examples of own viewing of films
    (for example contemporary examples of American
    genre films).
  • In both cases the minimum requirements are
    total 10-12 sheets
  • Sheet approx. 30 x 60 characters (dbl
    spacing) Check Word file/properties/statistics
  • Written work must be submitted within two weeks
    after the last lecture to the lecturer by email,
    in a word or rich text format.
  • for writing directions, see Department home page
  • http//

The course is about
  • The course focuses on the meaning and centrality
    of genre films in Hollywood cinema. Topics
    covered include birth and evolvement of genres
    side by side with the rise (and later demise) of
    the studio system, major Hollywood film genres,
    such as the western, musical and sophisticated
    comedy in historical light up until today. All
    this will be discussed both from the industrial
    and aesthetic point of view, including the social
    and ideological interpretation of genres.
    Theoretical approaches include the terminological
    definition of genre as well the problematics of
    classifying genres/styles such as melodrama and
    film noir.

What is genre?
  • genre type or kind? theme or form?
  • genre comes from the French (and originally
    Latin) word for 'kind' or 'class'.
  • literary genre Aristotles Poetics tragedy,
    epic, lyric Medieval lit. for ex. romance
  • poetry, prose and drama, within which there are
    further divisions, such as tragedy and comedy
    within the category of drama
  • genres in painting landscape, portrait,
    religious etc.
  • mass media genres born
  • film genre
  • national film genres
  • film industry and genre production,
    distribution, exhibition, studio marketing

Major Hollywood genres
  • Action-adventure
  • Biopics
  • Comedy
  • Detective, gansgster, suspense thriller
  • Epics and spectacles
  • Horror, science fiction, fantasy
  • Musicals
  • Social problem films
  • Teenpics
  • War films
  • Westerns
  • Film noir
  • Melodrama and the womans film

On genre
  • Thomas Schatz "All film genres treat some form
    of threatviolent or otherwiseto the social
  • narrative closure (genre films vs. art films)
  • technique, style, mode, formula or thematic
    grouping may be treated as a genre
  • David Bordwell 'any theme may appear in any
  • Robert Stam, genre definition often based on
    story content, borrowed from literature etc.
  • 'family resemblances' among texts
  • How we define a genre depends on our purposes

Film genre - critical definitions historically
  • books articles in the U.S. and Europe, 1940s
    and 50s
  • French New wave critics and filmmakers Andre
    Bazin, Claude Chabrol to take Hollywood
  • 1960-70s UK US academic study, to displace
    auteur criticism (Cahiers du Cinema, Screen)
  • phases iconographic (Erwin Panofsky)
  • structuralist, semiotic, psychoanalytic,
    ideological analysis (Screen writers)
  • feminist interest in genres, esp. womens films
  • narrative-stylistic industry history study
    (Tino Balio, David Bordwell, Steven Neale)
  • cognitive study (Noel Burch on horror)

Ideological study on a genre cycle
  • To Live and Die in L.A., William Friedkin, 1985
  • Reaganism in 80s films, Jane Feuer, Susan

Genre and audience
  • audience knowledge and expectation
  • specific systems of expectation and hypothesis
  • gt recognition and understanding
  • verisimilitude probability, possible, likely
  • Todorov generic verismilitude and social or
    cultural verisimilitude
  • rules of the genre - the audience uses the
    concept of genre in order to make sense of a
    particular movie
  • Semiotically, a genre can be seen as a shared
    code between the producers and interpreters of
    texts included within it.
  • Alastair Fowler 'readers learn genres gradually,
    usually through unconscious familiarization'

Pure genre?
  • often genres are hybrid, overlap each others
  • genre or style? melodrama film noir
  • genre cycles new gebres (catastrophe movies)
  • genre parodies
  • sub-genres
  • cross-cultural hybridization
  • Noel Carroll on horror
  • 1. Discvovery plotgt onset, discovery,
    confirmation, confrontation (sexuality)
  • The Isle of Dead, Mark Robson, RKO, 1945
  • 2. Overreacher plotgt preparation for experiment,
    experiment, experiement goes wrong, confrontation
    of the monster
  • The Body Snatcher, Robert Wise, RKO, 1945

Casablanca, Variety, Dec. 2, 1942
  • Exhibs, in selling the picture, will do well to
    bear in mind that it goes heavy on the love
    theme. Although the title and Humphrey Bogart's
    name convey the impression of high adventure
    rather than romance, there's plenty of the latter
    for the femme trade. Adventure is there, too, but
    it's more as exciting background to the
    Bogart-Bergman heart department.
  • Casablanca, dir. Michael Curtiz, Warner Bros, 1941

Genre evolution (trad. view)
  • John Cawelti 1970s changes in American genre
    movies. Aware of themselves as myth, genre movies
    of the period responded in four ways humorous
    burlesque, nostalgia, demythologization, and
  • Francis Ford Coppola's (b. 1939) The Godfather
  • Robert Altman's (b. 1925) McCabe and Mrs. Miller,
    The Long Goodbye (1973), Nashville (1975)
  • Rocky Horror Picture Show

Genre evolution 2 critique
  • Rick Altman (studied musicals)
  • intra- and intergeneric processes of genre
  • criticises the compartmentalised manner to study
  • generic evolution, later genre films are assumed
    to build on earlier films of the same genre
  • Thomas Schatz's examination of Westerns in
    Hollywood Genres (1981), which focusses almost
    exclusively on the work of John Ford
  • Altman cross-pollination occurs across genres

Genre evolution (cont.)
  • almost all classical Hollywood studio directors
    worked in more than one genre Howard Hawks
    directed westerns, screwball comedies, and
    science fiction films
  • genres start out with a set of semantic elements,
    and only achieve true genre status when they
    complete a process of evolving an accompanying
    syntax. After all, the syntactic and semantic
    elements both continue to shift after this
    process is completed.
  • A set of promising semantics simply hijack an
    existing syntactic framework from another genre.
  • science fiction exists almost entirely as a set
    of semantics). There is, no syntactic framework
    existent a parasitical genre, relying on hybrids
    between its semantics and the syntactic
    frameworks taken from elsewhere. science fiction
    / horror films (Alien)

Hollywood film industry and genre
  • 19.4.2008

Classical Hollywood period 1925-1950s 8 majors
and others
  • Big five vertically integrated
  • Loews-MGM
  • Paramount Publix
  • Fox (20th Century Fox)
  • Warner Bros
  • RKO
  • Little three production and distribution
  • Universal
  • Columbia
  • United Artists (UA)
  • Poverty Row producers (Republic, Monogram, Mascot
  • Independent producers Goldwyn, Selznick
  • Animation studios Fleischer, Disney

Studio genres?
  • Paramount European style, Josef von Steinberg
    Marlene Dietrich, Ernst Lubitsch, Maurice
    Chevalier, Marx Brothers, Mae West, Bob Hope
    etc... comedy Cecil B DeMille gt historical
  • Loews-MGM visible producers Louis B. Mayer,
    Irving Thalberg, lavish style and sets, musicals
  • 20th Century Fox Shirley Temple
  • Warner Bros smaller budgets than MGM, James
    Cagney, Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart, Erroll
    Flynn, recycled plots, Busby Berkeley musical,
    gangster, problem film, bio-pic, war films,

Studios and genre cont.
  • RKO King Kong (1933), Fred Astaire Ginger
    Rogers musicals (1934-38), distribbuted Disney, i
    the 1940 Orson Welles and Broadway plays, Citizen
    Kane (1941), creative B unit (horror, crime...)
  • Universal visually striking horrors w/ bela
    Lugosi and Boris Karloff (Dracula,
    Frankenstein...), targeted small-town audiences
    (Deanna Durbin), Bs (Sherlock Holmes series) and
    slapstick comedies

Studio and genre 3
  • Columbia borrowd stars and directors from other
    studios (for ex. His Girl Friday/Howard Hawks),
    Frank Capra, B westerns, 3 Stooges comedies
  • UA D.W. Griffith, Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin
    and Douglas Fairbanks owned UA 1935 on,
    distributed others films (British imports),
    released indep. producers films, slapstick
    musicals w Eddie Cantor, some Hitchcock films,
    Wuthering Heights

Independents made
  • prestige pictures (Selznick Gone with the Wind
    for MGM)
  • Oscar Michaeaux - black films
  • different language films (Yiddish films)

Studio differentiation of films
  • A and B films prod. budget
  • A superspecials (prestige, big budget musicals
    w. top stars 1milj., Selznick, Golwyn as
    producers ) - upscaling genres, for ex.
    Monumental Westerns
  • Gone with the Wind, prod. David O. Selznick,
    1939, dir. George Cukor Victor Fleming
  • specials (bulk of the class A, normal length),
  • programmers (lowest budget, original stories,
    minor stars, shorter, even 50 mins, Poverty Row
    made only these)

  • vertical integration declared illegal in 1948
    big five sold their theaters
  • demographic and lifestyle changes
  • decline in film attendance, television
  • inhouse staff laid off
  • RKO collapsed
  • From Production Code to Ratings system

post-60s cont.
  • big five make less but more expensive films,
    abandoned Bs, widescreen, other new technologies,
    blockbusters, co-productions, , international
    markets, target audiences production of TV
    programs, screening film library on TV, acting as
    distributros, facility rentals, financiers etc.
    for independents
  • stars went indie talent agents rise
  • one-off production basis package production
  • drive-in theater, multiplex, abandonment of
    production code in 1968
  • congloramate take-overs of studios

The New Hollywood
  • package and indep. prod.
  • mini-majors (Miramax, New Line, Tri-Star) along
    the old majors
  • freelance workers
  • a few heavily pre-marketed blockbusters, blanket
    release, made for teens and 20s audience, special
    effects and sound innovations, spin-offs and
    tie-ins (CDs, games etc.), video, DVD, cable
  • synergies, global, multi-media

Media conglomerates
  • Bertelsmann
  • Sony-Columbia
  • Disney
  • General Electric
  • News Corporation
  • Time Warner
  • Viacom
  • Vivendi
  • Grupo Televisa

New Hollywood cont.
  • recycling of established stories, characters,
    ideas and performers, sequels 1970s and 80s but
    same in 1930s
  • audience movie consciousness popular culture
  • allusion, pastiche, hybridity
  • multi-platform popular culture already in the
    1930s, Tin Pan Alley and Broadway, sales of sheet
    music etc.
  • so different but same

Genre samples Ideological claim
  • Hollywood film, like US society, should be seen
    as a contested terrain and films could be
    interpreted as a struggle nof representation over
    how to construct a social world and everyday
  • problem who decides in practice? Studios,

Genre example Ganster
  • The Musketeers of Pig Alley (1912)
  • Warner Bros early 1930s cycle of topicals
  • Little Caesar
  • Public Enemy
  • Scarface
  • star vehicles James Cagney, Edward G. Robinson,
    early Humphrey Bogart
  • The Production Code (Hays Code), 1930, started
    enforcing 1934, self-regulation within the
  • The Motion Pictures Producers and Distributors
    Association (MPPDA

Gansgster genre deals with
  • threats to law and order
  • social stability within and urban society (vs.
  • public sphere as opposed to the domestic sphere
    of social comedies, melodramas and musicals
  • dear and fascination of criminals
  • cultural conflicts, economic rise - making the
    American Dream
  • attractive, vital characters

Clash with censors
  • text insert at the beg of Little Caesar
  • "to honestly depict an environment that exists
    today in a certain strata of American life,
    rather than glorify the hoodlum or the criminal
  • ending crime does not pay
  • later same actors played touch cops

Later gansters
  • The Killing, Stanley Kubrick, 1956
  • The Godfather, 1972
  • GoodFellas, Casino, etc. Mafia cycle
  • American Ganster, 2007

1970s Blaxploitation Shaft
Genre sample Sophisticated comedy
  • womans film x comedy
  • the influence of literary naturalism on the
  • sexual antagonism
  • A film stars
  • a decisive shift in 1920s American cinematic
    sensibility and taste-from 'hokum' to
    'sophistication,' Lea Jacobs
  • domestic x womens films comedies of remarriage

Sophisticated comedy/screwball comedy
  • Bringing Up Baby screwball comedy 1934 It
    Happened One Night, Twentieth Century (1934)
  • CLIP Desire, dir. Frank Borgaze, 1936
  • CLIP Arsenic and Old Lace, dir. Frank Capra,
    Warner Bros 1941, stars Cary Grant
  • CLIP Gis Girl Friday, dir. Howard Hawks, 1940

The new romance
  • Neale Krutnik the new romance
  • When Harry Met Sally, 1989
  • Woody Allen-like "nervous romance"