‘Genre study is nothing more than putting a film or group of films against a checklist.’ How far do you agree with this statement?

This post was made before I learnt about genre theory in depth, please see some newer posts for a more sophisticated understanding.

The idea of genre put simply means ‘type’. The purpose of this idea is to organise large numbers of media texts into smaller groups. This may be done by identifying typical characteristics of a film and placing ones of a similar nature together. In order for another film to be placed into this file- it must display similar characteristics to the other ones. Therefore genre classification by definition requires you to place films against a checklist.

One reason genre study can be defined as simply placing a film against a checklist- is by using the idea of Repertoire of Elements. On one hand, this can be viewed as a method of determining genre via a list of predetermined conditions. For example, if a film contains a victim and a murderer- it must automatically be classed as a horror film. Many traditional Film Noir’s will have very similar character types and storylines due to their basis in the same genre. For example ‘Double Indemnity’ features a ‘Fall Guy’ named Walter Neff who is manipulated by the ‘Femme Fatale’ character of Phyllis Dietrichson into killing her husband and committing insurance fraud. Of course, in the end, Walter is caught out- resulting in his own demise. The film ‘The Postman Always Rings Twice’ has a very similar premise. In this film again, the ‘Fall Guy’ Frank Chambers is convinced by Cora Smith to kill her husband Nick- resulting in John’s downfall. Both of these films follow a nearly identical plot because they are from the same sub-genre. As well as containing a similar plot, these films follow the same stylistic features and iconography present throughout the genre- for example, Venetian Blinds and cigarette smoke.

Although there is evidence to believe that genre is not always definitive against a checklist. James Damico believed that film noir has a certain narrative pattern but should be considered a genre. Upon closer examination of the genre, it is clear that whilst certain visual styles are paid to homage to- there is not a set series of traits. Within the Neo-Noir sub-genre, there are many differences which can be identified. Some films such as Looper contain themes of time travel, mobs and gangsters, whereas Nightcrawler focuses more on the media representation of crime within America. These films can be higher budget (The Two Jakes) or lower budget (Brick). This demonstrates that genre can fluctuate and can change over a short period of time. Duff believed that “Each genre has its own conventions which evolve over
time– it’s not fixed which was the traditional literary view.” It is true that this emergence of Neo-Noir as a sub-genre meant that the stereotypical nature of Film Noir faded away. Films were made in colour and due to the abolition of ‘The Production Codes’, film-makers had far more freedom in what they wanted to make. Nowadays films are analysed in much greater depth by audiences than ever before, with genre merely being an initial basis of which to judge a film from a distance. Leading Frank Krutnik to say “There are so many varying conceptions of film noir that there is at times a danger that it will become redundant as a descriptive or analytic
category.”

Furthermore, it must be noted that, in an evolving industry, many films will satirise a genre or blend multiple together in order to form a hybrid. Examples of this include romantic comedies or crime thrillers. This is done purposely in order to give the audience elements that are both familiar and different. If the producers are able to surprise the audience by changing the typical conventions- they are able to make content that is new and refreshing to watch. However, it can also be argued the fact that these conventions are not set in stone and can change means that genre is not putting a film against a checklist. Steve Neale said that “Genres are instances of repetition and difference…difference is absolutely essential to the economy of genre: mere repetitions would not attract an audience”. Therefore it is clear to see that genre is not always definitive.

Overall it is clear to see that genre is necessary for basic categorisation of films, but films must be examined by far more than just their genre. Films, specifically noir, are constantly in flux, changing due to the contextual nature of the world that they were made in. Whilst the ‘Repertoire of Elements’ may make it appear fixed- the real nature is that films may be Hybrids or Satirisation of a genre, leading to adaptation and change. Therefore concluding that genre is more than just placing a film against a checklist.

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